Category: History


Little Pink House

May 4th, 2018 — 6:02am

****

Little Pink House

Whether you are an on-the-ground activist, a student of law, or an activist at heart, you will be drawn to this movie. It is a docudrama that tells the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a woman who worked as a dedicated EMT, had just been through a second divorce and found a quaint fix-up house in New London, Connecticut on the water where she decided to settle and build her life. Needless to say, the finishing touch on her hard work of fixing up the house was to paint the exterior pink (hence the film title).

And now the plot thickness. Pfizer pharmaceutical company begins to work out a plan with the town fathers to build a new large plant in New London. This has the potential to bring new revenue and jobs to this town which could well use the infusion. The viewer then becomes introduced to the term from the United States Constitution called Eminent Domain. A group of home owners, mainly elderly, are now threatened with either being forced to sell their home or be evicted.

Ms. Keener plays her character quite well as she becomes the symbol of the embattled home owners with the support of her boyfriend, Tim (Keith Rennie) and her lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) against the Director of Corporate Development (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the city attorney (Jerry Wasserman), and the governor (Aaron Douglas).

Director and writer, Courtney Moorehead Balaker, leads this band of actors to the Supreme Court of The United States where the case is settled (at least for the time being). This adventure is a worthwhile cinematic experience (2018).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History

Chappaquiddick

April 4th, 2018 — 12:28am

*****

Chappaquiddick

If you were around in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon, you may or may not remember another big news story that took place at the same time. Senator Edward Kennedy, youngest brother of John and Robert Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a small bridge in Chappaquiddick, which resulted in the death of a young woman by the name of Mary Jo Kopechne. Up until that moment, many people felt that the younger Kennedy was destined to become President of the United States. The actions of Edward Kennedy on that evening and in the subsequent week are a fascinating study of a man at the crossroads of his life where his honesty and integrity were truly tested and his human frailties were exposed.

This was a very well done script, which was written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan who were too young to have remembered or experienced this event as it unfolded in this country. They apparently reconstructed the story mainly from the voluminous record of the inquest of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

Jason Clarke was outstanding as Edward Kennedy and the supporting cast was excellent including Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne and a superb performance by Ed Helms who played Kennedy’s cousin who was a key player in the aftermath of this tragedy. Credit must also go to director Joe Curran for recreating a very realistic depiction of the events of this tragedy as well as an in depth character study. The story also shows an insight into the dominant role that the patriarch Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) had on his family even in the later years ,of his life.

We had the pleasure of meeting two of the producers of this film, Mark Ciardi and Campbell McInnes who tried very hard to bring to the screen this even-handed view of the events of this major news story and historic event. It appears that they may have gotten very close to the truth, but we probably will never know for sure.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

I, Tonya

March 2nd, 2018 — 9:40pm

*****

I, Tonya

This is a fascinating well-done but very sad movie. If you were on the planet in 1994 and vaguely aware of current events, you would have some idea of who Tonya Harding is and how she is linked to another ice skater by the name of Nancy Kerrigan. The story, which unfolds in this movie, presents an in-depth understanding of the character and the development of Ms. Harding from childhood to the present. Tonya is played by Margot Robbie. There are some younger versions of Ms. Harding also shown as well as some footage of what must have been the real Ms. Harding doing her jumps and twists. A key player in this movie is the “mother from hell” magnificently portrayed by Allison Janney who is up for an Oscar for her performance. While it is possible to generate a touch of sympathy for this horrific mother, we wouldn’t wish her on anyone. But we have to grant that her unflinching determination with no sympathy for her daughter’s feelings is what made Tonya a magnificent skater who was the first to land a triple axle jump in American Figure Skating competition.

There is also Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) who is Tonya’s boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband. He is depicted as a violent lover of Tonya who ultimately wanted to scare Tonya’s Olympic opponent but supposedly didn’t really want to hurt her. There is also Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) the “brains” behind the plan to do damage to Ms. Kerrigan” but really is depicted as not very bright. This film also raises the underlying question of what was the role of Tonya in the terrible deed. Perhaps as it was shown, she didn’t know about the plan but alas she didn’t say anything about it when she found out after it had occurred. In any case, Tonya was the big loser in court and essentially in life. She lost her skating career.

While we can’t say if the script got it exactly right, but in this movie we certainly come to understand Tonya and what made her Tonya. We also have insight to how the “big incident” may have gone down and would say a pretty good feeling for the struggle that people go through when they try to become the best in a sport from no matter where they may start.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers and screenwriter Steven Rogers deserve the credit of putting together a complicated and intriguing story that still is as fascinating as it was when the real event took place more than 20 years ago. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

Divine Order

January 28th, 2018 — 6:48am

****

The Divine Order

The suffrage movement, women’s rights and women’s liberation is one of the most dramatic and heartwarming stories of American history. It also resonates in a country such as Switzerland where women did not have the right to vote until the 1970s. Screenwriter and director Petra Volpe shows to focus on the particular process around a countrywide referendum whether women should have the right to vote. The story takes place in a small town in Switzerland and follows Nora (Marie Leuenberger), her husband Hans (Max Simonischek), her sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), their family and mainly the women of this town. The story touches upon the changing traditional roles between men and women. It highlights generational differences and even puts the focus on women’s new awareness of their own bodies. The moving storyline about the interpersonal relationships as well as the emerging self-awareness of both men and women will push your buttons and touch your emotions. This has all the hallmarks   of a well done successful movie which is worth seeing now and preserving for future generations. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Politics

I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am

**** 

I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

The Florida Project

January 8th, 2018 — 12:23am

***

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The amazing aspect of this movie is the great accomplishment of director Sean Baker, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch, in assisting six or seven-year-old Brooklyn Prince to play Moonie, the perky daughter of an immature but loving tattooed mother (Bria Vinaite). They live in a motel named Magic Castle Motel, a stone’s throw from Disney Land. You may remember Mr. Baker’s previously well-received low budget movie titled Tangerine which was about transgender prostitutes and was shot with cell phones. The budget for the current film has obviously been upped and brings aboard William Dafoe who does a great job as the kind, compassionate motel manager. There are a bunch of cohort children living in the motel and they are partners in crime with lovable Moonie. Mr. Baker has once again shown us the underbelly of society which is before our very eyes but most of us never see it. We wanted the film to end in a happy romp in Disney World but imagined some terrible accidental or purposeful tragedy would occur. We didn’t leave the theater with any satisfaction but imagine some of you might find it in the spotlight that the movie puts on our societal shortcomings. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

Marie Curie:The Courage of Knowledge

June 20th, 2017 — 7:04pm

***

Marie Curie: The Courage Of Knowledge – sp

Wonder Woman may be the box-office bombshell that has women and young girls flocking to the movies (along with the guys) because she is an unequivocal super hero who happens to be a woman. Well, there is another woman on the block and in a few weeks Marie Curie is going to be released in Los Angeles and then in the rest of the country. While this film may not quite have the excitement and actions seen in WW, but certainly, she should be as big hero and role model.

Director and screenwriter of this film, Marie Noelle, shared her thoughts from Germany via a Skype hookup projected on the big screen after our preview viewing of this movie. Marie Curie had been her hero as a child because of her scientific accomplishments. However, it was what she learned about her personal life that fueled the filmmaker’s desire to work on this project.

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in Paris where she conducted the pioneer research in radioactivity. She discovered radium and how this could be used to treat cancer. She won two Nobel prizes and was the first woman accepted into the French Academy of Science despite great resistance because she was a woman.

A major focus of this film however was not only the resistance to her being recognized because she was a woman, but also because it became public knowledge that she was having an affair (after her husband died) with a married scientific collaborator and actually, had been threatened by the knife-wielding slighted spouse. This obviously would have been a non-issue had she been a man.

Karolina Gruszka was superb in her portrayal of Curie. Curie’s devotion to her work and her personal and professional passion to family and to equality were crystal clear. The film was in French with subtitles and at times we felt that something was missed in the translation as they flashed by. There were many bearded men in the movie and we weren’t sure at times who was who. Albert Einstein even made an appearance, but we didn’t exactly appreciate his role in the scheme of things. The photography, scenery and the characters sweeping across the screen sometimes made us lose track of the storyline. Both men and women will benefit by seeing this film and appreciate the trials and tribulations of this extraordinary scientist. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Hidden Figures

December 22nd, 2016 — 7:13am

***screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-53-57-pm

Hidden Figures-sp

Prior to John Glenn’s historic flight circling the earth as the first person in orbit, something went wrong in the planning which required new landing coordinates to be calculated. Glenn asked NASA control to “have the girl check the numbers.” He was referring to Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) in this fascinating movie about the little known story of the role that black women played in the space program.

The setting was the early 1960s. There were still “for colored only” bathrooms in the NASA Government facility in Virginia. A group of bright, black women mathematicians were working in a segregated office doing work, supporting the program. Another one of these women was Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) who was initially a supervisor in name only and deserved to be officially promoted to that position. Another black woman in this story was Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who despite being a recognized mathematician in the space program had to fight to be able to take some courses to qualify in order to get an advanced degree. At the end of the film, we learned that she ultimately became one of the top engineers in the NASA program. We also learned that Katherine Johnson at the age of 96 recently received the presidential medal of freedom for all her groundbreaking work at NASA.

So much credit deserves to go to Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi co-produces, who became aware of this story due to a book by Margot Lee Shetterly of the unknown situation where black women were excluded from positions which they deserved to hold in the NASA program. Fox Studios ultimately took on the movie and Theodore Melfi directed his vision of the story which was quite on target.

The cast was magnificent. In addition to the three women mentioned above, special credit should be given to Kevin Costner who played Harrison, the guy who ran the space program and headed up all the stuff at NASA that made things fly. We recall a cigar chomping Jim Webb who most probably this character was based on. There were also excellent performances by Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, Mahershala Ali, and Jim Parsons.

This movie should be seen by everyone in order to understand this piece of American history that has been overlooked for years. Although this was not, in and of itself a great film, the stellar performances and important story it tells are not to be missed.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Truth

November 27th, 2016 — 9:40pm

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-12-31-24-am

****

Truth-nf

In 1974, Robert Redford portrayed Bob Woodward, a journalist in the movie All the President’s Men who along with another journalist Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Now forty years later, Redford takes on the role of famed TV journalist, 60 Minutes host and CBS anchor Dan Rather in a movie that tells a story of an expose about President Bush that led to “hot water” for Dan Rather and his hotshot producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett).

Both films show the inside exciting, pulse throbbing workings of a top grade news team in pursuit of a major news story that has the potential to destroy a United States President. The title Truth says it all. Rather and his team not only have to find the truth, but they have to be prepared to prove that it is the truth. The opposing side who cross-examined them turns out to be the other TV networks who are eager to bring down the prestigious famed CBS news team. Also on their backs are CBS top executives themselves who feel they can’t take any chances with a story unless all the facts are perfect. The term “beyond a doubt” was never used in this movie, but really this is what it was all about.

The screenplay writer and the first time director is James Vanderbilt. The story is based on a book by Mary Mapes, the award winning lead investigative reporter and producer for the famed 60 Minutes TV show. Her portrayal by Blanchett is riveting and there are excellent supporting roles by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.

You may not follow every last detail of the story unfolding before you, but the film will hold you on the edge of your seat. It is certainly a must-see for history, political and news buffs. (2016)

Your comments are welcome on any review published in this blog and will be posted after a brief time lag.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Denial

October 11th, 2016 — 7:09am

 

****

Denial-spimages

We are always drawn to a good movie that keeps alive the memory of the Holocaust so we will never forget this horrific world event. This film certainly did not disappoint us. It is a docudrama based on the true story of a libel suit brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall) a British “so-called” historian who claimed that the Holocaust never occurred. He was viciously attacked for his “Holocaust denial” by Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) a professor from Emory University. She and her publisher Penguin Books had to defend themselves in a libel suit in Great Britain because of how she excoriated Irving for his denial of the truth of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.

In England, the law demands that the defendants in libel suits prove their affirmation which means in this case that Ms. Lipstadt’s side not only had to prove that her assertions were totally accurate but also that the Holocaust denial by Irving were purposeful lies due to his anti-Semitism. Her defense team consisted of her behind-the-scenes “Advocate” Anthony Jewels (Andrew Scott) who had actually been Princess Diana’s divorce attorney and his associates along with her “Barrister” Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who spoke for her in court. Agonizing decisions had to be made whether to allow Ms. Lipstadt to testify as well as various Holocaust survivors and whether to have a judge-only proceeding instead of a jury trial( no, no yes). This was a high-stakes courtroom drama, British style. Everyone was up to the task. The words flowed from the real Ms. Lipstadt’s book converted into a screenplay by David Hare directed by Film and TV veteran Mick Jackson.

We are given the impression that Ms. Lipstadt was passionately motivated in her teaching about the Holocaust and that Mr. Rampton was obviously devoted to making her case and proving Irving was a liar motivated by his anti-semitism. However, we are barely given a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters and what drove their passion. Nevertheless, we come away from this well done and very well acted movie with insight into another aspect of this never to be forgotten piece of history. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

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