Rob the Mob- sp- Are you ready for another good movie about “The Mafia”? But this time it is the “wise guys” meet Bonnie and Clyde. On top of this it is vintage New York 1990s and it is all based on a true story. Tommy is a young hoodlum who with his girl friend Rosie get caught robbing a flower shop. After he gets out of prison Tommy gets the bright idea that he should get an Uzi machine gun to hold up a bunch of small clubs where the gangsters hang out, since he heard they aren’t allowed to have their guns there. She will drive the getaway car. He even makes these mob guys strip down to their underwear. If you think this duo isn’t too bright, you aren’t far from the truth. But they are in love and are both funny and charming. Michael Pitt a 32 year old actor with some good movie and TV experience who comes across as a tough but naïve Clyde, alias Tommy. His Bonnie, or should we say Rosie, is inhabited by someone who reminds us of Barbara Streisand without the voice and is perfectly played by Nina Arianda who has already established herself on Broadway as well as in film. There are a bunch of very familiar looking gangsters including one played by Burt Young, who you remember as Paulie in Stallone’s Rocky and actually was in all six of those films. Ray Ramono continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor playing the sympathetic NY Post reporter Jerry Cardoza. If there is poignancy in this film it is in the character of Big Al, the honcho of the mob, who is on the verge of being brought down by these two bumbling bandits. He is played very well with dignity by Andy Garcia, who actually makes us feel sad that the FBI is about to bag him due to unbelievable but true circumstances, which are part of this story. Credit for the success of this film in great part goes to director Raymond De Felitta who ran with the screenplay by Jonathan Fernandez and worked very closely during the editing phase with Stephen Endelman who did the music which always sets the tone in this kind of a film. Unless there is word of mouth, this independent film might not take off on the first trip around but it is worth seeing. (2014)
The Invisible War- sp Usually by the time we see a documentary film on a particular subject , we already have a pretty good idea of the nature of the issue being covered and the film provides some interesting documentation. In the case of this film, most of the audience had no idea of the great travesty of justice that has been taking place where there are violent sexual assaults against women serving in our military services by fellow soldiers, the vast majority of whom are not punished. Female soldiers in combat zones are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by the enemy. In 2010 there were 19,000 sex crimes committed in the military. Because of the much larger number of men in the military many of these were directed towards men but percentage wise the women have suffered the brunt of this terrible injustice In fact, 20 % of women serving in the military will experience some kind of a sexual assault .
This movie is not just about statistics. Rather it is a very painful series of personal stories told mostly by dedicated women who entered various services, intent on being the best they could be in the service of their country. Not only were they assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers, even more outrageous, if that is possible, when they complained to their superiors in the overwhelming number of cases they were brushed off and not taken seriously. Heading up the team that put this film together are Kirby Dick ( nominated for an Oscar for Twist of Faith ) who directed it and Amy Ziering who was one of the producers and sensitively did most of the interviews with the several women and two men who were featured in this movie. Each personal story almost seems worse than the one before it. The traumatic impact of these assaults and in some cases the violence of them crushes these victims physically and emotionally. They go through stages where it seems there is no way out for them and therefore it is not surprising that some of them contemplate suicide. The attempts by the military to raise consciousness of the troops to this problem are almost laughable as well as deeply insulting to women. For example one such campaign exhorts soldiers to “ wait until she is sober before you ask her”
A well thought out coalition of victims attempted to sue the government but their suit failed to gain traction as the first response of a federal court in West Virginia is to turn it down and state that this is an ”occupational hazard.”
The movie offers a glimmer of hope as one week prior to the opening of this movie, it was seen by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who takes the gigantic step forward by ruling that these assault complaints will no longer handled by the unit commander but rather will go up the ladder to higher ranking officer, presumably with less prejudice. Most probably there will not be justice until these complaints can be fairly dealt with by civilian police and courts. The film does something that many investigative documentaries don’t do well, in that it clearly provides a website (http://invisiblewarmovie.com/) and an opportunity to get involved in this cause by signing petitions and doing other things. This is the power of a documentary film and there is no better cause than the one put up the screen by this movie.(2012)
Footnote – sp Imagine a father and son both working in the same scholarly professional field. The son receives wide recognition that has always eluded the father. One day the father receives a phone call telling him that he has finally been awarded the countries top award for work. in his field. The son receives a frantic phone call to come to a special meeting where he was told that his father was mistakenly notified by the person who made the call who thought she was calling the son. This is part of the original premise of this screenplay by Joesph Cedar who also directed the movie and earned for this Israeli entry one of the five nominations for best foreign films in this year’s Oscar race. This film examines the father (Sholomo Bar Aha) son (Lior Ashkenazi ) relationship in the context where the father does not respect the academic work of the son . The movie is set in the esoteric world of Talmudic scholars specializing in philology (which is the study of language in written historical documents), which in this case takes place at an academic department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Bar Aha who is a well known television and stage actor in Israel, has very few lines in the film which he dominates with his presence and his ultimate dilemma . The unique plot is riveting at times and while there are universal conflicts embedded in the story, some of the lack of empathy that father has for son and son has for his own son will be difficult to identify with by most of the audience. You will leave the film, stimulated and provoked, but not likely very satisfied.(2011),
Win Win sp- The unglamorous struggles of people’s everyday lives can be the making of a good story and a good movie. Writer /Director Thomas McCarthy who seems to specialize in this approach (The Visitor and Station Agent) takes us to small community in New Jersey where Mike (Paul Giamatti )volunteers as the high school wrestling coach of the very anemic wrestling team, while he works as a lawyer who helps the elderly. Mike is feeling the stress of the economy and asks the court to appoint him as guardian of a client with some assets as well as early dementia (Burt Young) so he can get the financial commission. He puts him in an assisted living facility rather than arranging for him to be cared for at home as he promised the court.. The old man’s taciturn grandson Kyle(Alex Shaffer) appears from out of town and moves in with Mike , his wife (Amy Ryan) their two young daughters and attends the high school . Kyle happens to be a great wrestler and this is exciting for the high school team, the Coach and his two assistant coaches (Jeff Tambor and Bobby Cannavale). The conflict is complete when Kyle’s young mother(Melanie Lynskey) also blows into town. She has been an addict, not a very good mom or daughter but now wants to be involved with her father because she needs the money. There is poignant meaningful interaction between the main characters by which the audience gains insight into their struggles and growth. As might be expected Giamatti is the glue of the film as the audience feels his pain, understands his choices and wants to see him work through the jam that he has created for himself. Alex Shaffer apparently a true curly blond teenage boy was a Michigan state high school wrestling champ but had absolutely no acting experience when McCarthy cast him as Kyle and put him under his wing. He carried off his role quite well and needless to say the wrestling scenes were very realistic. Veteran producer of this film Michael London who produced Sideways, was guest speaker at our screening along with Melanie Lynskey. When a screening is accompanied by an army of security guards as this one was, who search you for cell phones and the like which had to be kept out of the theater, one tends to expect a blockbuster of a movie. That was not the case with this film, but it was a character driven movie that showed real people “wrestling” with the conflicts of their lives and trying to make the best of their situations.(2011)
Like everyone else we have our favorite for the Oscar choices .We did not yet see three of the 10 nominees True Grit , Inception or Winters Bone but we still would like to weigh in on our choices. We also have some differences of opinion as to the best of the best. Here are our picks for the major categories
Best Picture & Director of 2010 (we both feel these should be lumped together and they usually go together)
MB: It is interesting that the two favorites The Kings Speech and Social Network as well as The Fighter and 127 Hours are based on true stories. At least part of their appeal is that the movie recreates and provides insight into actual events. It turns out that Kings Speech while correct in the overall theme did take a fair amount of poetic license in laying out the time sequences and the actual timing of his dramatic speech. (He apparently had been seeing the speech therapist for many years at the time of the famous speech and it was not a dramatic moment as depicted.) For me, no matter how well done the movie may be, that does take away from the value of the film. I also find myself asking the question about Social Network – if it were not a valid depiction would I think the movie was that good and would I care about the characters? As far as I know, it was close to the truth but I find that the main value of the film is that it satisfies my curiosity about how this world changing phenomena came about. That by itself for me is not enough for the first place award and aside from that, I believe we are left with a very good movie but not the best. 127 Hours was gripping but it didn’t have enough depth to win the prize. Similarly The Fighter was done well but it is not another Rocky even though based on a true story. Incidentally, as far as true stories that were made into great films this year, I am sorry that Conviction was not nominated, but as good as I think it was, it wouldn’t win my first prize. The Kids Are All Right was top notch and a game changer in many ways. It may even deserve to win as the best screen play but as much as I liked it and also enjoyed Toy Story 3 – they weren’t in the league of my first choice as best film . This leaves Black Swan as my choice for the best picture of the year. This film combines a fascinating story, a horror film, beautiful dancing, fantasy, psychological intrigue and great acting. In my opinion Director Darren Aronofsky combined them all with wonderful effects and camera work to come out on top for this year’s best picture and director
SB: I thought Social Network takes the prize this year. It had the combination of a fascinating subject, great writing and acting which made it a mesmerizing movie. I really cared about the characters and could understand their point of view . The movie made me feel that I was actually present at the birth of a very important event in our lifetime.
We both were in agreement on the following four categories
Natalie Portman captured the mystery, agony, fear, horror with the love and beauty of ballet all in this stunning performance of Black Swan. The other nominees whom we saw were excellent especially Nicole Kidman as the grieving mother in Rabbit Hole but Portman excelled in each of the genres which her film touched.
While Colin Furth with his poignant portrayal of the stammering King is probably the one to beat, we think Javier Bardem in Biutiful turned in just about a perfect performance of a man living on the edge, strong, sensitive, facing death with a tender caring for others. Bardem deserves his second Oscar
Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale earned the Oscar here. Not only did his portrayal of the character of the older self centered brother who was almost was the champion grab the attention of The Fighter but in a clip at the end of the film of the real brother showed how Bale also nailed his speech and mannerisms . Veteran actor Geoffrey Rush who has been nominated for an Oscar four times and won in 1997 for Shine was wonderful as the eccentric speech therapist but we don’t think he will knock out Bale.
Best Supporting Actress:
Melissa Leo as the mother of the two brothers in The Fighter in our opinion was a run away for this category. She exuded the persona of this character and her misguided view of her two sons and her own entitlement.
The results of the Academy of Motion Pictures will be known in a few days but we will always welcome your comments below.
The Social Network-rm – Every aspect of this story and film is handled just about as well as it could be done. The subject matter has to be of interest to the 500 million people who are on Facebook or the millions who are not and are wondering how did all of this ever get started. The captivating story comes from a book titled Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich but the brilliant dialogue comes from the screenplay of Aaron Sorkin who also wrote the great TV series West Wing. We get a very realistic trip back a few years to the Harvard campus where the very contemporary version of the great American dream is being hatched in a college dormitory. Mark Zuckerberg somewhat of a social misfit himself, is developing this idea for what will ironically become the greatest social networking concept of all time. He is played extremely well by Jesse Eisenberg whom we remember as the older son in The Squid and The Whale, plays Zuckerberg. The fascinating part of the story is that a bunch of other guys at Harvard also had some roles in stimulating and developing what was to become a world wide phenomena. While Zuckerberg clearly is the genius here, the Winklevoss brothers and Divya Naregra provided some of the nuclei of the ideas and Eduardo Saverin one of Zuckerberg’s friends actually started off as the business manager and then CFO of the fledgling enterprise. Saverin initially invested the $1000 to start it and then another $18,000 before several the big venture capitalists found it. In contrast, this movie, about their story cost $50 million. But we digress here because the essence of the story, which will suck you in, is how all these Harvard students plus Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake), a Stanford dropout who himself invented Napster, became entangled ultimately in a multimillion lawsuit at the time that Facebook was worth billions of dollars. The film is directed by David Fincher, who knows how to transition episodes of time, having directed The Strange Case of Benjamin Button. He cleverly moves back in forth from the high stakes deposition of a law suit being waged about who owns Facebook and how much do they own, back to the events of their college days a few years previously. Zuckerberg is the center of attention here. This film is successful in giving us a good glimpse under the hood of this determined person who is one of those 21st century people who is changing the world as we know it. (2010)
Although we have not seen all the possible contenders we decided to draw up our abbreviated list for Academy Nominations with our projected winners. We have combined best picture and best director awards since we are not quite sure how to make that distinction. Our choices are listed in order of our preferences with 1st choice in bold.
(Published day before Golden Globe Awards)
Best Movie and Director
The Hurt Locker- Katherine Bigeloe
Precious –Lee Daniels
Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarentino
Julie and Julia – Nora Ephrom
Invictus – Clint Eastwood
We found this was an easy winner although all great films
Merly Streep ( Julie and Julia)
Gaborney Sidibe (Precious)
Carey Mulligan (An Education )
Helen Miren ( Last Station )
The Pro takes it from newcomer but it is close call
Morgan Freeman ( Invictus )
George Clooney ( Up In the Air )
Ben Foster ( The Messenger)
Jeremy Remney ( Hurt Locker)
Almost too close to choose winner
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) – Michael’s choice
Woody Harrelson ( The Messenger ) Susan’s choice
Best Foreign Film
Red Cliff- John Wo
We haven’t seen that many but this was good