Category: History


The Monuments Men

February 15th, 2014 — 10:05pm

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The Monuments Men -Guest Review

This is a guest review by Ron Turco, M.D.  Dr. Turco is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Portalnd, Oregon. He is Chair of the Committee on Art, Culture and Creativity of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatrythe-monuments-men-poster02

I read with substantial disappointment David Denby’s shallow and un-insightful review of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men.” (New Yorker – Feb. 17-24, 2014).He compares this film to the old Frankenheimer movie “The Train.”  There is no comparison, as the train was not historically accurate and barely mentioned in passing Rose Valland, Temporary Custodian at the Jeu de Paume whose influence was so important in the discovery of looted works in France, at the risk of her own life, that she received the French Legion of Honor and the Medal of Resistance becoming a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, making her one of the most decorated women in France. She also received a Medal of Freedom from the United States in 1948 and an Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. It was her book “Le Front deL’Art” that was the basis of the 1965 movie  “The Train”, a movie in which she was only briefly mentioned, although she had also received a commission in the French First Army.

 The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts and and Archives section (MFAA) of the military, attempting to save as much of the culture of Europe and Western Civilization as possible and were willing to fight and die for something greater than themselves. Some were killed in combat.

George Clooney has done an outstanding job with his film “The Monuments Men” and in reminding us that the story of The Holocaust must be told over and over again in different ways and at different times. He masterfully and in sometimes direct or subtle ways brings out the Nazi horror and disregard for human life. Mr Denby has missed the point entirely in his understanding of these heroes and heroines and mentions that most of the works were returned to private collectors. That is not completely true. The works were returned to the countries of origin or to the Jews from whom they were stolen. In the film George Clooney also does an excellent job in presenting the value and importance of the sacrifices of the MFAA people, a job that was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and strongly supported by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many of these people went on, after the war, to make substantial contributions to art and culture. Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein founded the legendary New York City Ballet as one of the most important cultural figures of his generation. Second Lieutenant James J. Rorimer, who worked closely with Rose Valland, was instrumental in founding the Met’s medieval collections branch, the Cloisters. “The Monuments Men” film is very close to the facts (a few minor changes, as with all films, including “Lincoln” and “The Navajo Code Talkers”). The acting is superb and I highly recommend this film, especially to young people who may not have an understanding of the broad ramifications of The Holocaust or the history of these brave people. John Edsel’s scholarly book “The Monuments Men” should be required reading in high schools throughout our country. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, War

Savings Mr. Banks

December 21st, 2013 — 8:46pm

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Saving Mr. Banks -rm  In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)

 

 

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Dallas Buyers Club

November 17th, 2013 — 3:00am

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 Dallas Buyers Club- rm- In order to join the Dallas Buyers Club, you had to pay $400 per month. In return you get all the medicines that can be obtained by the Club available from all over the world to treat your condition of HIV/AIDS.  Needless to say, most of these medications were not yet approved by the FDA. Also it should be recognized that the gathering process is mostly illegal but the medications seem to be working and prolonging the lives of the participants in the Club. The man who is the chief person in charge of obtaining the merchandise is Ronald Woodroff (Mathew McConaughey), an electrician and sometimes rodeo bull rider. We meet him as a tough guy, who snorts cocaine and has lots of causal sex. He certainly knows how to deal in drugs. McConaughey carries the film with his riveting performance of this character. It appears that he must have lost about 50 pounds to prepare for this role as he comes across as quite thin and emaciated (although in a shirtless scene he did seem to show a little too much muscles for a man dying of AIDS no matter how thin) There is also a great acting by Jared Leto who plays Rayon, a thin young man with AIDS who is trying to be an attractive woman . There is also a fine performance by beautiful Jenifer Garner who we see as a conflicted doctor torn between wanting to conduct AIDS research the FDA way but seeing that there might be a better approach to help people. . The film was set in the 1980s at the time that this deadly disease was killing so many people without an effective treatment in sight. It is based on a true story and captures the desperation of so many people and their families with AIDS at this time . It also highlights the dilemma of the FDA to fund pharmaceutical company  double blind careful research which takes time and mandates that some patients in studies must get placebo even though that means they will stand no chance of improvement. It reflected the reality that effective forms of treatment sometimes surfaced in Mexico and other countries throughout the world that were not approved for treatment in the US . This all added up to an absorbing enlightening film with a screen play by  Craig  Borten and Melissa Wallack  which was directed by Jean-Marc Valiee. Twenty years ago Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for Best actor for his role in the motion picture Philadelphia which was one of the first mainstream Hollywood pictures to deal with HIV/AIDS. McConaughey has a   chance to be similarly recognized for this role and this film certainly will live on as an important  piece of history of the AIDS epidemic.(2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Freedom Writers

November 3rd, 2013 — 6:16pm

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Freedom Writers- nf  We watched this film with our 12 year old granddaughter and 10 year old grandson. We all liked it and got caught up in the inspirational theme of the movie as we saw young people asserting themselves and making a difference. The screenplay is written by Richard LaGravenese who also directed the film. It is based on a true story about a newly graduated schoolteacher who is taking her first job at Wilson High School in Long Beach California in 1993 shortly after the riots in Los Angeles the previous year. The teacher is played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank who is surrounded by a few veteran actors but mainly a cast of unknown young people who play high school freshmen (although they look a little older than that age) who are the first teaching assignment of the novice teacher. The students are from various factions in the community, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian with some, of course from various gangs. The high school had formerly been a high achieving school but since it was integrated with students from the various groups, it has mostly lost its academic standing. The school administration had little expectation for the students but the new teacher Ms. Gruell didn’t seem to get that message. However, she does have to struggle to figure out how to reach these students. She realizes that while many of them have had similar experiences they don’t have empathy or understanding for each other.  She also helps them learn about other people who have been terribly oppressed by introducing them to the facts of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few undercurrents and subplots that may not be entirely clear as well the story of the teacher’s personal life which includes a marriage falling apart as her husband (Patrick Dempsey) feels he is being neglected by his hard working wife who has to take on 3 jobs to get all the books and things for her students. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the film is the reenactment of the event where the students wrote letters to Miep Giess (Pat Carrol), the woman who hid Ann Frank and they actually raised money to bring her to the USA to meet and address them. (That scene will bring a few tears to your cheek) The teacher then had the students write about their feelings and experiences in a journal.  A compilation of these writing was then put into a book, which was published as The Freedom Writers Diary. The entire story reached national prominence when it was featured on the ABC TV shows Prime Time. Now it lives on to inspire new generations of teachers and students as well as others like us as we catch up with it on NetFlix. (2007)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

The Book Thief

October 31st, 2013 — 7:37pm

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The Book Thief- sp- This is an extremely moving film which captures still another aspect of the inhumane, cruel and evil impact of Hitler and his Nazi followers on the German people. It does this through the eyes of a young girl Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is 12 years old when we meet her as she is separated from her family and comes to live with a German couple in a small town just before the start of World War II. Her new mother Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is tough and strict on the outside but we come to see her tenderness and love as the story develops. Her new father Hans (Geoffrey Rush in what could be an Oscar nomination performance) shows his tenderness, love, pain and identification with his new daughter in many complex ways. It is their love of words and books, which they share, which  brings them together and helps to convey the story that is being told. Whenever you have a child actress who is carrying the story and the emotion of a film, mainly with few words, the credit for this accomplishment has to be shared with the director, which in this case was Brian Percival.  Kudos also for the birth of this film deserves to be given to Fox 2000 a major studio led by Elizabeth Gabler which also brought Life of Pi to the screen. This movie, which is narrated by the voice of death, is a fast moving two hours and five minutes and there is nothing that we would suggest should be cut from it. Although we both very much enjoyed the world wide best selling book upon which it based, one of us (MB) had some reservations about the book and the motivations of the author (see http://www.bookrap.net/?s=Book+thief) We both agreed the screen play by Michael Petroni was true to the book by Markus Zusak and the few changes were inconsequential. The music score, which captures the mood, and emotion, which exists throughout the film, was done by veteran award winning composer John Williams. When you think about it, our understanding of important historical events such as the rise of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust often comes from the great films on these subjects, which become imprinted in our minds. The Book Thief will be one of the films, which will play this role with the moviegoers of today. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, War

12 Years A Slave

October 17th, 2013 — 7:38pm

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12 Years A Slave- sp  This is one of the most painful and difficult movies to watch that we have seen in a very long time.  The screenplay by John Ridley is based a little known book by Solomon Northrup, which was written in the mid 19th century. He is the main character of the film and is magnificently played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a very talented British actor who can express tormented feelings with his face and eyes. Northrup an upper class black gentlemen living a happy life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, New York happens to be a talented musician who agrees to go on a short tour and play in Washington DC. He was kidnapped and brought to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery. It is through his experience that we come to deeply appreciate in the inhumane, vicious treatment of slaves on the plantations of the south. The debasement of another human being by others because they felt they owned them and could do anything they wanted to them is shown in so many ways. You probably have studied the story of slavery in this country but any tendency to repress that knowledge is challenged as we experience the separation of mother and child, whippings, demanding forced labor, rape and hangings. All of this occurs as everyday events. If this were just a reenactment of the horrors of this sad piece of American history, the movie would have achieved a worthy accomplishment. However, since the character with whom we closely follow and identify was a free man living in the North who gets pulled into anyone’s worst nightmare, it brings an even greater sense of reality and immediacy to his plight which we believe is quite palpable. There are some very good actors who play some very bad people and those include Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. There was a heart wrenching performance by Luita Nyong’o born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and a recent Yale University School of Drama graduate who plays Patsy, one of the terribly treated young black women. Brad Pitt’s production company originally came up with the idea for this film and was one of the major producers of it. Pitt himself has a small but important role in this film. They brought in Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) as director who clearly connected with the concept and made an unforgettable film, which should not be missed. It is worth the pain that it will cause you. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

The Fifth Estate

October 11th, 2013 — 8:10am

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The Fifth Estate- sp. If the “4th Estate” is a term that refers to people who organize and report the news what is the “5th Estate” ? It is basically the subject of this movie which is the story of Julian Assange (Benedtict Cumberbatch) and his assistant Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who ran WikiLeaks, the controversial website which is know for reporting secret  private government documents. On the day we previewed this movie the real Julian Assange who is living in the Ecuador  Embassy in London because of legal charges against him for being with underage girls, released a letter that he had written to the actor who plays him in this movie. In it he denounced the film and said it is based on “the two most discredited books on the market.” He also stated that he felt the  film intended to depict him and his work in a negative light. At our screening we met screenwriter Josh Singer, who has a law degree from Harvard and a MBA  as well has having been a writer for the TV show West Wing for three years. He contended that he researched the topic very thoroughly and spent time with many of the subjects in the movie although he never met Assange. WikiLeaks was originated by Assange as a website in which anyone could report evidence of wrong doing and be assured anonymity as well as having their report published on the website without editing. The small team of Assange, Berg and a few others would check out the sources before they would put it up for the world to see. They attracted whistleblowers from around the world and broke some major scandals. Everything came to head when US Army Private Manning leaked thousands of top secret documents about the US war in Afganistan which were to be jointly published by WikiLeaks, The NY Times, The London Guardian and Das Spiegel (a leading German newspaper). These documents were to include information about informants who were  living in war zones whose lives could therefore be in great danger. The question with which the film struggles is whether Assange is a very creative idealist devoted to uncensored free speech who has developed a new form of journalistic expression or if he is a personally flawed individual who is insensitive to the implications of the tool which he has developed and the manner in which he tries to use it. Or perhaps he is a combination of these two characterizations. The direction by Bill Condon is fast moving and quite creative as exemplified by showing the online chat room where the main characters communicate while they are traveling all over the world as an actual large interesting physical space. We must admit that we both found several of the scenes confusing as we were not exactly sure where they were taking place and why the characters were there. However, the story line did carry us along and the conflicts which unfolded did challenge and inform us. This adds up to a very worthwhile movie. (2013)  

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

The Butler

August 19th, 2013 — 6:33am

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The Butler – rm This is much more than the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who served as a butler in the White House for United States Presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan. It is a moving depiction of the civil rights movement in the United States from the maltreatment of blacks in the south in the 1930s through the dramatic integration of schools in Little Rock, to Sit-Ins to integrate diners in the south , to the brave Freedom Bus Riders, the civil rights legislation, the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King and the continued demonstrations which followed in the years to come. The viewers are taken on a very personal journey to experience these events and others, as the Butler’s grown son Louis (David Oyelowo) participates in them while his father views the role of the United States President in shaping and responding to them. The movie is based on a newspaper article by Wil Haygood about a real person who served United States presidents as a White House butler for this large span of years and lived long enough to vote for Barack Obama. Even if screenwriter Danny Strong and Director Lee Daniels may have taken poetic license by having the older son Louis being present at all of the major events in the Civil Rights Movement shown in the film, it allows us to emotionally go through these milestones in a first hand manner. They are brought to life as if they were ripped from the pages of history. The friction between father and son emphasizes the differences in generational thinking not only of this one black family but would also reflect some of the changes in thinking which many of us have seen in this country during our life time. Forest Whitaker is magnificent as the Butler as he captures the soul and dignity of his character. Oprah Winfrey is outstanding as the sensitive wife who struggles with the frequent absence of her husband due to his long hours at the White House and the pain which the lives of her sons brings her. We don’t know if the words attributed to each U.S. President are known quotes but the character of them and the significant events that were shown during their presidencies all ring true. The mannerisms of each them were handled quite well by Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as LBJ and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan along with Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. There were many other very fine supporting roles. In addition, the movie is bookended quite well by a most dramatic and traumatic turn of events from the young Cecil Gaines as a youth working in the cotton fields in the south to him being an aged man walking in to meet the first black President of the United States. The sense of the historic chain of events which this encompassed will send chills up your spine and probably bring tears to your eyes. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Fruitvale Station

July 2nd, 2013 — 6:59pm

Fruitvale Station*****

Fruitvale Station-sp  This is one of the most realistic, gripping and yet personal  depictions of a tragic event that we have seen in a long time. It is well known to residents of the Bay Area and many other people that a few years ago there was a shooting of a 22 year old black man by the name of Oscar Grant by the BART (transit) police. This event was vividly captured by numerous cell phone videos on that day and was shown in the opening of this movie. Ryan Coogler, a black film student of the same age, was very much impacted by this event, as he felt it could have been him. Nina Yang Bongiovi, movie producing partner of the well known actor/director Forest Whitaker, in their quest to support young filmmakers, connected with Coogler and were impressed by his student work  and his motivation to make this film. Bongiovi in our post screening discussion related how once Coogler was chosen to direct this film, he wrote the screenplay in 4 weeks and along with the producers convinced Michael B. Jordan to play the role of Oscar Grant. Melanie Diaz then signed on to play the girlfriend and veteran actress Octavia Spencer took on the all-important role of the mother. Both were magnificent in their sensitive emotional roles of these devastated women. Jordan who has acknowledged that he also felt quite related to his character handled the multifaceted parts of him quite well. It is the presentation of the persona of Grant that raises this movie to the five star level we believe it deserves. He is shown to be a caring young man who loves his daughter, girl friend and mother and is quite capable of extending his sensitivity to others in many ways. At the same time he is not totally honest with himself or others.  He is troubled, and angry. He has a temper which can lead him to  provoke as well as respond to temptations to fight and lash out. It may be argued that he may have become a symbol of the persistent racial tensions in the Bay Area and now to a worldwide movie audience. However the insight shown into him may also be able to allow both sides of the divide to identify with him and his aspirations which raises the possibility that this understanding will help to defuse these racial tensions which are still with us.  Once the story begins to develop, it  is very fast moving aided by the hand held camera work by Rachel Morrison who brought her reality TV experience to this movie. In the end, the great effort from both sides of the camera gave us a first rate movie that has the potential to make a big difference in how we understand ourselves and others. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

42

April 28th, 2013 — 7:32am

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42 rm- When a  movie can tell the story of an important 20th century historical event, gets it right with the subject being our national pastime, baseball, and racial prejudice, it has achieved an extra base hit. If that movie can appeal to youngsters from pre-teens upwards and can push all the buttons of baseball fans who lived (one of us in Brooklyn) through the time frame of this story, it has hit a homerun. After experiencing this film with our two grandchildren we certainly felt that way. Jackie Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947 to become the first black baseball player in the major leagues. This film traces Rickey’s decision and Robinson’s journey out of the all black baseball league, first to the Montreal Royals, the Dodger’s premier farm club, then to the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Major Leagues. The film portrays racial slurs, threats, bean balls to the head, being refused check-in at hotels, mixed reaction from the Dodger teammates who included Dixie Walker, Pee Wee Reese, Ralph Branca, Gene Hermansky and  Eddie Stankey. It showed tough manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) who got thrown off the team for an extramarital affair with actress Lorraine Day and kindly manager Burt Shotten (Max Gail) who wore street clothes whila managing because he promised his wife he would never put on another baseball uniform after he retired. Director and screenplay writer Brian Heigeland (who previously wrote Mystic River and won an Academy Award for his adaptation of LA Confidential) apparently got his love of Brooklyn and the history of the Dodgers from his dad. Once he got interested in this story he won the rights and the blessing of Robinson’s widow Rachel. He went out of his way to bring authenticity to the story and chose his baseball scenes from the actual box scores. Adding Brooklyn sportscaster Red Barber’s (John McGinley) play by play was a good touch. Relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman did an excellent job as Robinson, as did Nicole Beharie as Rachel. Their chemistry was wonderful and apparently was very moving to the real Rachel. However, if anybody other than Jackie Robinson was stealing anything other than  second base it may have been Harrison Ford as Dodger GM Branch Rickey stealing the movie. His cigar chewing inflections, his determination and the glint in his eye must have channeled the real Rickey and certainly brought his spirit to the film. It may even bring an Oscar statue to Mr Ford. Of course the star is Jackie Robinson and this film will certainly allow him and his legacy to live on  for future generations- a most worthwhile outcome.(2013)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

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