February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm
Embrace of the Serpent
(In native language and in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles)
This movie was out of our comfort zone and for the most part out of our understanding zone. The purpose of this 2 hours and five minute film was to provide insight into the thinking of native people living in the Amazon region at the turn of the 20th Century, which probably reflected much of the way things have been for hundreds of years in the past. We also understand that there are still isolated groups of people living in this area today who think, speak, and believe in the metaphoric mysticism, which was conveyed in this film.
We did meet the filmmakers, director, and screenwriter, Ciro Guerra and his wife who was a producer of the film, Cristina Gallego. On the basis of seeing this film and hearing them speak, we appreciate that they are obviously very knowledgeable and thoughtful about film making and about the people and culture they are depicting in this movie. We should add that they shared with us that in order to protect the film crew and actors that they brought into the Amazon, they obtained standard film insurance but also hired a Shaman to provide protection for everyone.
The movie is based on the true story of two European explorers who travelled decades apart down the Amazon River, which is bordered by the territory the size of the United States, which includes parts of several South American countries. In this fictionalized account, each of them was shown to have the same native guide. The details of the story are not as important as it is to appreciate the way of thinking of the natives which are spiritual, mystical, close to nature, and rooted in the characteristics of the jungle. It was also a clear statement about the damage that the white man has done to their culture in the quest to exploit the trees that produce rubber, as well as in the attempt to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.
This film is the Colombian foreign film entry for the Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the five finalists. Despite this acknowledgment from the Academy, we found it overly long and not well constructed. We cannot recommend that you spend your time watching it (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
December 2nd, 2015 — 12:19am
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
November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am
Almost 40 years ago a film about investigative reporters who exposed the Watergate break-in and brought down the Nixon presidency was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture. That was All the President’s Men. Jason Robards, Jr. won for best supporting actor. Now today we have Spotlight, a terrific film about an investigative reporter team of the Boston Globe, who in 2002 dug into the hidden scandal of about 90 catholic priests who were molesting children. These horrific crimes were covered up and even when some of them were exposed, the priests were not prosecuted and would just be re-assigned to churches in other cities. The reporting team persisted in their work and even exposed the fact that Cardinal Law also knew about these activities and participated in the cover-up. This ultimately led to him being re-assigned to a posh position in a prominent church in Rome. This exposé rocked the Catholic Church and has implications that extend to the present time.
It will be very difficult to choose a best actor or supporting actor from these outstanding performances, since this was truly the work of an ensemble. The real life reporters, Mike Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Pfeiffer was played by Rachel McAdams, Matt Carroll was played by Brian d’Arcy and the Spotlight team team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson was played by Michael Keaton. There also were great performances by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the newly brought in overall senior editor of the Boston Globe who happened to be Jewish. John Slattery played Ben Bradlee, Jr. the long-time editor of the Boston Globe, who was a supervisor to the Spotlight Team. Interestingly, Ben Bradlee, Jr. is the son of the famed newspaper icon, Ben Bradlee who was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal exposé. There were some other fine performances by familiar faces which included Stanley Tucci as one of the many lawyers in the film and Len Cariou (who plays the grandfather on Blue Bloods TV program) as Cardinal Law.
The director of this movie was Tom McCarthy who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer. They made the decision not to collapse some of the characters in order to keep the team as the ensemble it was in real life. This may have somewhat diffused the potential drama of the movie. Early in the film, as each reporter went off on his and her own investigative aspects of the project, it was a little confusing as to who they were interviewing and why. This all came together as the two-hour and nine-minute film flew by with the tension mounting as the story progressed. We got the message that investigative reporting is hard, tedious work but when you see your subject in your “gun sight” and you realize you are dealing with a worthy subject, all the effort is worth it. The realism of the movie was also enhanced by some collaborative meetings by the actors with the real reporters. We understand that they held meetings with their respective characters and with some of them even watched how they performed in their workplace. The result is a movie that should not be missed or forgotten. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History
November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am
This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.
Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.
We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.
The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport
November 16th, 2015 — 7:32am
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, the story of the 2010 Chilean Mine disaster and the 33 miners trapped underground, was one of the best books we have read in a long time (see book review). So a movie following in its footsteps has big shoes to fill. Director Patricia Riggen and the producing team led by veteran producer Mike Medavoy did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere as well as creating the tension and interaction of the beleaguered miners. They chose to make this film in English, which took away from the realism but we understand the reasonable necessity to do this to facilitate worldwide distribution. Much of the film was deep in the dark mine and the faces of the characters were understandably in deep shadows. While good for realism, it did take awhile for the characters to be clearly distinguished as individuals.
There was one interesting issue which we wonder if it was fact or creative license. That was when Laurence Golbourne (Rodrigo Santoro), the young government official who was Minister of Mines for the Chilean government told the veteran mine rescue expert exactly how he should position the last chance drilling effort, which was the only drill to reach the miners. Just as important as the interaction of the miners with each other was the role of the families putting pressure on the various officials to make an all-out effort to save their loved ones. The emotions of these family members, friends and one mistress was highlighted by the character of Maria Segovia, sister of one of the miners, who was well-played by Juliette Binoche. Another standout was the character of Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) who assumed the leadership role of the trapped miners.
This was the last film of the late James Horner who as usual created an excellent soundtrack to capture the changing moods of the film. At the conclusion of the movie, we see a postscript telling us that none of the miners received any compensation from the mine company. In a post screening discussion, we were able to ask producer Michael Medavoy if this film is financially successful, would the miners receive any compensation. The answer was, “You bet,” but it has to come after all the backers of the film receive their upfront money back plus a reasonable profit. We thought that why should the miners not receive their compensation upfront? But that apparently is the usual Hollywood way. Despite this concern, the film itself, while not meeting the standards of the amazing book is still worthwhile and should be seen and enjoyed by many viewers. Shortly after the actual disaster occurred I also wrote two blogs about the psychological implications of this experience ( see blog#1 and blog #2 ) (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
October 25th, 2015 — 2:17am
Steve Jobs- rm
We came to this version of Steve Jobs’ story, Apple’s iconic founder, having seen the recent documentary film of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and also having read Walter Issaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs. We are not so sure that we would have appreciated the nuances and the depths of how the relationships were depicted in this current movie, had we not experienced the two previous pieces. For example, we see a recurrent theme, which defines Jobs’ relationship with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) as he pleads with Jobs to give him and the Apple-2-team credit during the new Apple launches. Jobs refuses because he says he wants to emphasize the future. In fact, Jobs has treated his friend Wozniak, the real inventor of the first Apple computer, very poorly. They had been friends working in Jobs’ garage when they were in their 20s. While not shown in this film, it has been previously documented that one of the first projects that they worked together was designing a game for Atari where Wozniak did all the work and Jobs dealt with the interface with Atari but grossly short-changed Wozniak when they were paid for their work, a pattern they apparently continued later in life. .
Perhaps the most important and revealing relationship shown in this film and well described in the previous book and movie is the one with his daughter Lisa. Early on Jobs consistently denied his paternity of Lisa. When it was eventually proven by genetic test, he reluctantly paid minimal support for the struggling mother and child despite the fact that at that time he was worth at least $440 million. We see Jobs wrestling with his feelings about Lisa in this film and his ambivalence towards her and her mother.
The dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin was typical of his fast-moving style in both the words and the physical movement of the characters. The film did not attempt to be a biography of Steve Jobs. Instead, the storyline showcased three specific product launches of the Apple computer. It revealed the behind-the-scenes interactions of Jobs and other important people, particularly with his daughter Lisa played very well by three different actresses, Mackenzie Moss when she was five, Ripley Sobo when she was nine and most significantly by Perla Haney-Jardine when Lisa was 19. Lisa’s mother was played Katherine Waterston.
There was one very interesting foray in trying to show some psychological insight of the origin of Jobs’ self-centered personality. This occurred when Jobs was interacting with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) the Apple CEO who was originally hired by Jobs and then participated in firing Jobs at a later point in time. The discussion was about how Jobs was treating his daughter and how it might be related to his own childhood relationships. Jobs related how he was adopted as an infant but his new mother wasn’t sure that she would be allowed to keep him for certain complicated reasons, so she withheld her love during his first year so she would not become too attached to him. If that were true, it might explain Jobs’ apparent defective ability to relate to others despite his genius, unusual vision and talent in bringing his products to the world.
Credit has to be given to Michael Fassbender in his role as Jobs and to director Danny Boyle. A key role was also well done by Kate Winslet who played Joanna Hoffman an important member of the Mac team. The film will give the moviegoers the experience that they are transported back in time, and are seeing this iconic figure up close during some of his historic moments in the birth of the Apple computer. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
October 22nd, 2015 — 10:18pm
Bridge of Spies -rm
With Steven Spielberg directing, Tom Hanks staring, the Coen brothers being part of the writing team in this story of the spies in the cold war, this movie would seem to be bound for success. If you were around in the 1950’s, the story of Colonel Rudolf Abel, the Russian spy caught spying in Brooklyn and Francis Gary Powers, the American pilot shot down taking pictures over Russia should be quite familiar to you. That may take some of the suspense away from you as you know how the movie is going to end. On the other hand, if you were close to the millennial generation, the film might generate enough tension to put you on the edge of your seat.
The film did show very interesting depictions of two persons who became well known to the American public as the central events unfolded. There is the captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) who was very devoted to his cause and not really a bad person although clearly hated by most Americans. On the other hand, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) the American pilot on the secret spy mission taking pictures over Russia is shown as an all American-type handsome guy who is the center of attention because he didn’t do the expected, deadly self-destruct thing with the poison pin, before he was captured.
The main protagonist was James Donovan (Tom Hanks). It’s hard to say if we like him so much because he was Tom Hanks or was it because he was this idealistic attorney standing up for American principle’s of giving everyone a fair trial, even if his client were a despicable man of the times being a Russian spy.
Spielberg appeared to put his $40 million budget to good use as the scenes were all quite realistic. Especially dramatic was the building of the Berlin wall and the views of some attempted escapes from East Berlin and of course there was the bridge where the exchange was to take place. The shoot down of Powers’ plane seemed quite realistic (we hope no one was hurt in the escape from the plane – it seemed that good). There was a little too much repetition in this two-hour and fifteen-minute movie with much more talking than action. For those who didn’t live through this period, this film may very well become the mental representation of this period although we didn’t think it quite captured the fear and apprehension that existed in the country at that time. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, History
September 28th, 2015 — 5:58pm
Pawn Sacrifice -rm
This is the story of Bobby Fischer, the American boy wonder chessmaster, who at the age of 29 in 1972 beat Russian champion chess player Boris Spassky to become the best chess player in the world. We meet young Fischer as a preteen growing up in Brooklyn where his preoccupation with chess makes him a very unusual brilliant young man. It would appear that his limited social skills matched with his total preoccupation with chess and a genius mind that could visualize and memorize numerous chess games in his head, suggests that he had Asperger’s disorder. As we follow this brilliant genius into preparation and ultimately arriving at the classic series of matches in Iceland, we see how he became preoccupied with the belief that he was being spied upon. He took apart a telephone looking for listening devices and even insisted that the venue for the match be moved to a basement setting instead of the large stage where it was to be held. He limited the number of TV cameras demanded a certain distance from him. The film does suggest that this classic famed match had great significance to both the United States and Russian governments. We even see that the CIA may have been involved in meeting Fischer’s demands for money and other requirements in order for him to participate in the match. However the film also points to the probability that Fischer’s mental functioning was much more than the political paranoia of the time. In fact, we think that a case can be made that Bobby Fischer had a schizophrenic mental disorder.
This well done film is a recounting of one of the most important and widely followed chess matches in history. It is also a sad story of a tortured soul. Tobey Maguire who plays Fischer as an adult did a fine job although it was a one dimensional view of this man as we never saw any evidence of him having any joy or meaningful relationships which we would expect even with a severe mental disorder. Liev Schreiber was quite good as the large contemplative Russian master Boris Spassky who barely said a word in the film.
Even though most of the movie audience probably knew the results of the match, seeing how it developed and went down was filled with suspense and drama. The subsequent downhill slide of Fischer which was not shown in the film and only told to us in a post-script at the end of the film, with a few newsreel clips, might have taken the movie to a more dramatic and interesting conclusion had the writers Steven Knight, Stephen Rivele and director Edward Zwick chosen to extend the film to this subject. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES -sp
To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.
It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.
Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.
We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized
September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm
Woman in Gold – nf
This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.
We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.
Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.
Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History