Category: History


Mary Queen of Scots

December 5th, 2018 — 6:02am

**

Mary Queen of Scots

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

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

On The Basis of Sex

November 29th, 2018 — 6:46am

****

On the Basis Of Sex

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

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

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

55 Steps

October 24th, 2018 — 12:37am

****

55 STEPS

This film which is based on a true story, features two outstanding performances by well-known actresses who are on the screen together, probably more than 90% of the movie. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eleanor Riese, a young woman with a mental illness who is depicted as receiving potentially dangerous psychiatric medications against her will in a mental hospital. Hilary Swank plays Colette Hughes, the diligent attorney, two-year out of law school, who along with Mort Cohen, a law professor, played by Jeffrey Tambor, takes on Reise’s case and changes California State Law so that involuntary injection of medication is not allowed under certain circumstances. In the course of this moving story, the attorney and the patient become friends.

Unfortunately, one of us (MB) could not allow himself to simply enjoy this moving story and ultimate important legal battle. The reason being that I am a psychiatrist who has seen the evolution of the treatment of involuntary hospitalized patients and the role that anti-psychotic drugs have played in their care. I had to consider the context of the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. Prior to the 1960s and 1907s, there were mental hospitals all over the country with more than half a million patients who were hospitalized against their will because of severe psychosis (being out of touch with reality often with hallucinations and delusions). In the 1950s, a drug named Thorazine was developed, which could put psychosis into remission. Although this drug could have significant side effects, this medication made a tremendous difference in hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives. Between 1955 and 1994, 487,000 patients were discharged, leaving about 70,000 patients in state mental hospitals. In fact, most state mental hospitals were eventually closed. When I first stepped onto a psychiatric unit as a psychiatry resident in 1966, the newest antipsychotic drugs had not yet been developed and the drugs of choice was still Thorazine and similar medications. It would not be for another 20 years that much safer antipsychotic drugs were developed and put into use. However, the treatment with these medications was effective enough that in the 1970s, with the help of President Jimmy Carter outpatient clinics replaced most of the hospitalized psychiatric treatment in this country. With the development of new antipsychotic medications in the 1990s, there also were much safer medication treatment with many fewer side effects.

However, to this day, patients who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others (which will often include being out of touch with reality by responding to imaginary voices or to delusional ideas) can still be hospitalized against their will. We saw in this movie that the Eleanor Riese case brought about a change in the California law as the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that patients who are involuntarily committed to health facilities for short-term crisis may refuse to take antipsychotic medication. There is an exception that allows for involuntary medication if the patient is deemed “incompetent to make such a decision by the courts.” There was also the exception for emergency medications, meaning medication that is used for patients who are “considered an eminent danger to themselves or others either physically or psychologically and refuse to take the medication freely.” Of course, you can also be hospitalized against your will on the same grounds for people who are suicidal. All this only pertains to the State of California. Other states may have slightly different laws. I apologize for the technical psychiatric details, but I know that many of the readers of this blog are related to the mental health field and would want these things clarified. There should be one more detail concerning the real character portrayed in the movie. The young woman may not have had schizophrenia. It was mentioned that when she was younger, she had a brain infection related to a shunt put in her brain and she subsequently had some intellectual deficiencies. This may have been the cause of her depicted mental abnormalities.

Returning to the film, which was done very well and was quite moving. The viewers developed a feeling of understanding and empathy as well as admiration for both of the main characters. There also is a very interesting back story about the making of the film, which we learned about in a post-film discussion with the author and producer, Mark Bruce Rosin. He originally came up with the script 25 years ago when he heard a radio program about Ms. Riese and her lawyer who was fighting for her rights to refuse medication. The movie was almost made by two different studios, but it was ultimately dropped until it eventually came to be made with the director Billie August and now will be released nationwide in the next few weeks. Despite some of unaddressed complexity of issues raided in the film, it was one that will grab you and cause to think and is well worth seeing. (2018)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

The Captain

August 8th, 2018 — 7:10am

***

The Captain-sp

This film by veteran writer director, Robert Schwentke, which features a young German actor Max Hubacher, is a very powerful movie which shows the violence and cruelty of the German people during World War II through the depiction and actions of the German soldiers during the last two months of the war. However, it is somewhat unique in that the violence in this case is not directed towards the Jews or the allied enemy soldiers. Rather it is shown by the mass murder of German soldiers who may have been deserting at the end of the war and trying to survive by stealing food.

The story line is based on a true incident where a young German soldier isolated from his unit and being chased by other German soldiers as a deserter and a thief came upon the uniform of a German Captain and then took on the role of this officer. The story unfolds from there as this “Captain” becomes  cruel, sadistic and as murderous as anyone in the German army.

The film was shot in black and white, which according to the director, was to minimize the blood and gore of which there was plenty. The violence and murder shown in the film was strong enough to lead to a steady flow to the exit during this film from our preview audience. In the end, we are left with a very well done, all be it, uncomfortable movie which is quite provocative and no doubt will be unforgettable.

The film was in German with subtitles. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, War

Detroit

June 26th, 2018 — 10:47pm

****

Detroit-rm

One of our all time favorite films is The Hurt Locker, which was directed by Kathryn Bigelow for which she became the first woman director to win an Oscar. She certainly has not lost her touch. This film grabs the viewer and transports us into Detroit in 1967. Racial tensions were high and the National Guard and state police were called into the city as the riots exploded. There was an incident at a small hotel in the inner city where a several black men and two white women were held at gun point by four or five white Detroit Police Officers who believed that there was a sniper who shot at the policemen from the hotel. The prejudice and hate from the white police and how it was transformed into violence was quite dramatic and palpable. It did seem strange that there were no ranking police officers (Sergeants, Lieutenant or Captain), who were called to the scene. But this aspect he did not diminish the realistic and almost documentary feeling, which this movie conveyed. This slice of American history is very well presented with the raw emotion, which was part of it. While we hope that we have come a long way from this event, which occurred a half century ago, we obviously still are not free from prejudice that shows up in various manifestations in our society today. This is why such a film deserves our attention and should hold an important place in our memory.

This film also played homage to the Detroit Motown sound in the storyline as well as in the soundtrack. The actors were outstanding as was the setting, special effects, and editing which included film footage from Detroit in 1967. (2017)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, 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

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