December 22nd, 2016 — 7:13am
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
November 27th, 2016 — 9:40pm
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
October 11th, 2016 — 7:09am
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
September 18th, 2016 — 8:24pm
It is always a challenge to tell an exciting story when everyone knows how it really ended. Certainly most people know the true tale of the “Miracle on the Hudson” which took place on January 15, 2009 when a U.S. Airlines pilot landed his plane on the Hudson River after a flock of birds damaged both engines of his airliner. That pilot was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and he is very well captured by one of the great American actors, Tom Hanks, in a film directed by another great actor/director, Clint Eastwood.
This screenplay by Todd Komarnicki is based on the book titled Highest Duty by the actual pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. It not only provides all the facts and details but it recreates the tension and anxiety that everyone on board including the pilots and crew felt when it was clear that things had gone wrong. The audience could not help but identify with the passengers as they thought this was going to be a routine flight going through the usual boarding procedure as we have done hundreds of times in our life times with barely a thought that this could end up being a catastrophe that might be our last flight. We squirmed in our seats as everyone settled into their airplane seats not knowing what we knew what was in store for them.
The film also raised questions about the value of human experience in making decisions as compared to what computer simulations might tell us. In the next few years, driverless cars may very well be a choice for everyone and will take the place of human judgment in piloting our automobiles. While this is not exactly the theme of this film, these ideas reverberated in our minds as we left the theater discussing it.
Kudos deserve to be given to Mr. Eastwood and his staff for an excellent job in capturing the story, doing realistic depictions with superb editing. We had an extra bonus by watching this movie in IMAX. The supporting cast which included Aaron Eckhart who played Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife were right on target. However, the standout as usual in the case when he stars in a movie, was Tom Hanks. Not only was he made up to have a very good resemblance to the real pilot and also appeared to have captured the mannerisms of his character as we saw in film clips of the real guy, but also his expressions and demeanor gave the wonderful pilot a persona that seemed to be true to life and made the story and movie quite memorable. (2016)
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
August 12th, 2016 — 7:12am
The People vs. Fritz Bauer-sp
The title of this movie is ironic since Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) was an Attorney General in the 1950s in postwar Germany whose job was to prosecute war criminals on behalf of the people of Germany. He gets wind of the fact that the most notorious war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This film is the story of Bauer’s determination to bring Eichmann to justice despite the resistance of many of his countrymen who were government officials and many may have been Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.
If you have traveled to Germany in modern times you know that so many of contemporary Germans have owned up to their country’s role in attempting to destroy the Jewish people in the 1940s. During our trip to Berlin, we saw many memorials including a very moving Holocaust museum. Director and screenwriter, Lars Kraume and producer, Thomas Kufus are among the many contemporary German filmmakers who are continuing to explore this subject with their work.
This film not only told an important historical story, but also provided an in-depth look at the character and personality of the two main subjects of this film. There is great drama, tension, suspense and human interest. The cast is made up of well-known German actors and the German film community has bestowed numerous nominations and several of its highest film awards to them. The movie is distributed in the United States by Cohen Media Group, who have a history of selecting many outstanding foreign films to be shown in the US. The release date in NY and LA is August 19th. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm
Embrace of the Serpent-sp
(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-sp
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