December 22nd, 2016 — 5:35am
Amy – nf
As you may know, Amy Winehouse came from a Jewish middle class family in England and became a world famous singer. She died of alcohol and drug use at the age of 27. This documentary film directed by Asif Kapala uses archival film and narrations by people who knew her. We see her as a four or five-year-old girl seemingly independent with a mind of her own which was characteristic of her as she got older. She was confident in her singing as well as in her writing lyrics and she brought to life the words that she wrote which described her life and world around her.
We really were not shown enough to understand her family dynamics. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old and her father was shown trying to control her career and her mother seemed to be a loving woman in the background. While her music was meaningful to a very large audience, her personal relationships seemed quite troubled. Blake, her boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband who also spent a few years in jail, brought her deeper into drugs as she got older. Amy was an interesting young woman who had a meteoric rise and then fall. However, we are not really provided with in-depth interviews of the significant players in her life. Perhaps some future biography will provide this. The film, of course, was mostly in a foreign language (British English). Subtitles were frequently provided especially when she sang but not all the time. So occasionally, we would not know what was being said on the screen.
The highlight of the movie was a video segment showing Amy and Tony Bennett working in the studio to produce a recording of their duet by them. Bennett said that he thought Amy Winehouse was one of the greatest jazz singers of all time alongside of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary, Musical
December 12th, 2016 — 6:41am
La La Land – rm
This movie makes the statement that Los Angeles is where dreams are made and are broken and yet it is the city where anything can happen. This is a movie in the tradition of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cyd Charisse and reflects so many great musicals of the past that have come across the silver screen.
Emma Stone is Mia, a young woman who works in a coffee shop on a big movie lot and aspires to be an actress. So many times she seems to be just one audition callback away from starting on the road to her dreams. Ryan Gosling is Sebastian, a musician who masterfully plays piano and keyboard and could be a great modern musician but he really favors old-fashioned jazz. He would prefer the music that was played in small clubs in days gone bye where each session was a creative story onto itself.
This movie is filled with great music. The characters break into dance and song quite spontaneously and, believe it or not, there is nothing that seems unnatural as they glide or tap across the screen singing and swaying with each other. Despite some stereotypical dialogue, you will get drawn into the storyline quite easily. We can just about guarantee that while at times you may not be sure if you are watching a dream unfold, the story will touch you and probably bring tears to your eyes.
Stone and Gosling have certainly mastered the song and dance. Great credit for this movie goes to director/writer Damien Chazelle (known for his direction of the movie “Whiplash”). The photography was magnificent and very skillfully directed by cinematographer, Linus Sandgren. Credit for the songs and original score goes to Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Don’t miss the opening sequence. It shows LA at its best and worst, and what seemed to be one of the longest, continuous, complicated takes in movie history (there probably was some editing here but it didn’t look like it to us). This movie deserves the Oscar hype that it is getting. Don’t miss it. (2016)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Musical
December 1st, 2016 — 8:04pm
In addition to now being a TV network, NetFlix still offers subscribers the ability to reach into the past and request a DVD of a movie or an online play which we may have missed when it came out, or is about a subject that has great appeal to us. SB has always been a lover of ballet and all dance, so she pulled the trigger on this one. We both were not disappointed with this 16-year old film about the audition process to be chosen as a dancer to a topnotch ballet company. The setting is New York City, and any New Yorker will immediately recognize the streets surrounding Lincoln Center, where the American Ballet Theatre has its home.
Ballet stars start at a young age and most of the young faces in this film may not be out of their late teens. The storyline shows each aspiring dancer, male and female, having their own personality and their individual story. Some of the conflicts may be predictable and familiar, but they held our interest and drew us closer to the characters. However, the star of this film was the great dancing of this ensemble and the outstanding choreography.
While we didn’t recognize any of the cast, we suspect that many have gone on to great careers in professional dancing around the country. One outstanding male dancer, who is well-known at the time the movie was made, was Ethan Stiefel. Also, Zoe Saldana who played a rebellious young dancer, became a well-known actress who starred in two subsequent Star Wars movies as well as other big hits. Nicolas Hytner, the veteran British director, captured the great dancing throughout the film but also kept the pace of the storyline moving along quite well. There were no big surprises in the plot, but if you signed up for a dance movie, you will not be disappointed, especially with the finale. (2000
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical
May 8th, 2016 — 8:04pm
It Might Get Loud-nf
This 2009 documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, tells how three amazing guitarists, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, all from different backgrounds and times can really connect and tell their own story. Jimmy Page comes from London, England, The Edge comes from Dublin, Ireland, and Jack White is from Detroit, Michigan. I thought this was a interesting documentary because of the way you can see the history of guitar and rock-and-roll from these three different perspectives. It is very inspiring, showing how these unique guitarists got their start from playing in a small garage to performing in front of thousands of people. All three of these guitarists have strange and different styles of music and attitude that is so fascinating.
I highly recommend this documentary because whether you are a musician or not, this movie really tells you a story that you will never forget. You can also see in this movie what beautiful sounds can come out of some of the greatest musicians when they jam together. Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page talk about some of their favorite songs and musicians and how that inspired their music and their style. They talk about how blues, rock, and soul influences lead them to where they are now.
Overall, It Might Get Loud is a very fascinating documentary because it shows that wherever you are from, music can always bring you together, and you can bond over something that is so special to you. (2009)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical
March 31st, 2016 — 8:40pm
Miles Ahead- sp
To best appreciate this review click here and listen to Miles Davis as you read the review
This is not your typical biopic that simply traces the life story of an important person. It is rather a cinematic representation of the powerful, free flowing, unpredictable, abstract and arresting sound of the music of Miles Davis. It tumbles on to the screen as his music emerges from his trumpet. We absorb a sense of this man and his music rather than understand a chronological progression that has growth and coherency.
Don Cheadle, actor, director and screen writer of this movie has chosen to use as his point of departure the approximate five-year period in the mid 1970s where this productive jazz artist ceased to produce any music. We meet Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) when a reporter who says he is from Rolling Stone Magazine (Ewan McGregor) visits him with the hope of interviewing him and finding out why he is no longer on the music scene. This leads to flashbacks and flashforwards, cocaine binges, car chases, the search for a tape of a recent personal recorded session by Davis as well as a glimpse of the personality of Davis and his relationship with Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) a beautiful woman and dancer who was his wife for ten years. We see that Davis at least in his early life was a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who loved his woman and also abused her. Of course he was a musical genius who came of age in the mid-1950s and ‘60s and we also were shown examples of the impact of the ugly sector of racism as he was arrested for standing on the street in front of the night club where he was the headline performer and put in jail for the night.
We are introduced to a young musician called Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) who is intertwined in the plot as Davis tries to find himself during his five-year unproductive period. This young musician could be symbolic of the many young musicians that Davis has helped on the way up, including Wynston Marsalis. He also could represent the very young Davis himself who pushes the now middle aged Davis to pick up the mantle where he put it down half a decade ago.
As mentioned earlier you will not take away a coherent story from this one hour and forty-minute movie experience. You will hear much of Davis’ great music in the background frequently played quite softly. You will see Don Cheadle skillfully appear to inhabit Davis with convincing mannerisms as well as the way he handled his musical instrument. The photography is magnificent (director of photography was Roberto Schaefer). There are many evening scenes and snatches of semi-dark rooms with white smoke trailing upward surrounding the cast of characters. Miles Davis’ music is always there. This will probably not be a blockbuster movie but may very well get the attention of film critics and demonstrate the genius of Miles Davis who won nine Grammy awards and perhaps the potential Oscar worthiness for the second Oscar nomination for Don Cheadle. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
December 12th, 2015 — 7:29pm
Ricki and the Flash-nf
If you are a “streeper” (nickname Meryl Streep’s fans often called themselves) you are going to enjoy her in this performance. As usual Ms. Streep who is known as a perfectionist in preparing for her roles, appears to have mastered her character down to the last note.
In this case, it is as an aging rock musician who has only made one album and now spends the daytime being a grocery checkout lady and the evenings being a grooving rock musician leading her band “The Flash” playing in a local club in Tarzana, California. Her fellow guitarist Greg is played by Rick Springfield, known to be quite a successful musician in real life. Ricki left her husband and children when her kids were quite small to follow her dream as a rock musician and had very limited contact with them over the years. One of them Julie (played by Mamie Gummer , a rising actress who in real life is Ms. Streep’s real daughter) has just had a traumatic marital breakup and Ricki returns to Indianapolis to support her. Her daughter and two grown sons one of whom is about to get married are not very thrilled to see her at first. Her former husband (Kevin Kline) has married a very lovely woman (Audra McDonald) who confronts the rock musician with her failure as a mother. There is a lot of sadness in this film and also a lot of rocking music led by Ricki (alias Ms. Streep) and Greg (alias Mr. Springfield) and some very fine backup musicians.
The story by Diablo Cody and the direction by Jonathan Demme lead us on a fanciful trip but in the end it is feel good stuff. We don’t think it will lead to Ms. Streep’s 20th Oscar nomination but you never know. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical
August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm
Straight Outta Compton
While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.
We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.
We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.
Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.
Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.
We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm
Zoot Suit – nf
This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical
July 2nd, 2015 — 2:35am
Love and Mercy – rm
This is a biopic about Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys. We did not know the story of how he went through a serious mental breakdown with psychotic symptoms for several years. During this period he apparently came under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landry, shown to be the evil doctor (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti). Dr. Landry was said to be a psychologist in the film but was shown to be “over medicating” Wilson. What is very clear is the brilliance of Wilson. It is interesting to speculate whether or not some of his amazing creativity was related to his genius brain, which also may have been the source of his tendency to lose touch with reality. This is also a great love story (apparently true to life) between Brian Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter ( Elizabeth Banks). While it was not shown in the body of the film, she ultimately became his second wife and the mother of five of his children.
Great credit for this movie has to be given to Director Bill Pohlad. We also thought that Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian Wilson (he bulked up to add many pounds to his preexisting physical resemblance to the younger Wilson). We also felt that John Cusack was outstanding as the older, very troubled Brian Wilson. We can only repeat our phrase for Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamiatti in their roles. But as expected the other star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack is constantly playing the old and the newer music created by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys which includes the title song and it adds to the authenticity of the film.
We hope you see this movie and if you’re any kind of a Beach Boys fan, we also suggest that after you view it you read about the trivia connected to the making of this film by going to the following link: CLICK HERE You will appreciate how the filmmakers worked so hard to present the story as true to life as possible
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized
July 2nd, 2015 — 2:21am
Jackie & Ryan -sp
There are apparently a number of American folk singers who travel throughout the United States especially in the West by train hopping. They meet up in various cities, frequently earning their living by street singing for donations. On occasion, they play at local festivals or in clubs and some may even get a recording contract, but they are in it for the love of the music. Ami Canaan Mann, the screenwriter-director and one of the producers met one such person, Nick Hans, who became the inspiration for this movie. He also became the consultant for the music on this film.
Ben Barnes, who is a British actor (with a perfect American accent), known for this portrayal of Caspian X in the Chronicles of Narnia personifies Ryan, a train hopping musician. It is mainly through the eyes of this very likable character, who we learn, has been traveling throughout the West and living through his love of music. He gives us insight into this way of life that is alien to so many of us.
Costarring with him is Katherine Heigl, an accomplished and experienced actress, best known recently for her starring roles in The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses and Knocked Up as well as her work in the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. Miss Heigl plays Jackie, a former country music recording star, who has now retired to a small town to raise her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Unfortunately, Miss Heigl’s character, Jackie, is not as well developed as that of Ryan and we don’t quite understand what makes her tick. There is obviously chemistry between Jackie and Ryan.
But the real emotion in this picture is the music. It is contagious and draws you to the singers and their love of it. The movie goer gets a wonderful musical experience through the three main characters (which include the daughter) as well as enjoying the other real train hopping musicians that are also in the film, especially a very talented violinist.
We always appreciate being exposed to part of American life that is rich, creative and enjoyable.
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical