Search results for ‘Stories We Tell’

The Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 16th, 2014 — 09:28 pm

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The Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) -sp

This movie has the ingredients to be a very well received production. Much of it is a powerful Broadway play within a movie . Specifically it is about an aging movie star Riggan who has made blockbuster movies titled The Birdman who doubts his acclaimed accomplishments and feels he has to prove himself by directing and acting in a serious dramatic play on the Broadway stage. Probably, it is not a coincidence that the star of the movie is 63 year old mega movie star Michael Keaton of Batman and Batman Returns fame among many other hits. His costar is Ed Norton who plays Mike a younger accomplished actor who is totally into the moment with his very dramatic acting in the play. There are excellent supporting roles by Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. The creation of the film comes from screenwriter and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who is best known for Babel and Biutiful. Thanks to a collaboration between Fox Searchlight Pictures and New Regency he had a 16 ½ million dollar budget. Most of the film takes place inside a Broadway theatre or within the surrounding two or three blocks in the theatre district in New York City. The scenes each last several minutes. These long takes characterize the film and the viewer is given the impression that one camera is following the actors as they move through the winding corridors, dressing rooms, balconies and the stage itself, which would appear to be the well known St James Theatre. Riggan’s inner voice is quite loud and appears external. To further keep things rolling along, the music background score is almost entirely drums. The audience at times is asked to suspend reality but the intense drama keeps us grounded. Despite the high flying antics of Mr. Keaton the most revealing moment in the film would appear to be when the NY Times theatre critic who can make or break any show seems determined to break this one because she doesn’t believe Superhero movies stars have a right to claim the Broadway stage as true actors. While the movie had a dramatic flair and an intensity, which held our attention, we felt we were watching characters tell about their stories and situations rather than identifying with them and fully experiencing their plight. We suspect this will be one of those movies that people will either love or walk away without being moved but it is worth being seen. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 07:00 pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp– Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

Oranges and Sunshine

July 7th, 2014 — 12:08 am

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Oranges and Sunshinenf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which  in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/  (2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

No Place on Earth

April 11th, 2013 — 06:30 pm

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No Place on Earth – sp Just as you think that you have seen every type of Holocaust film, a movie such as this one comes along. It not only tells the story of the survival of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid for 511 days in the world’s deepest caves in the Ukraine but it will push all your buttons when several of them, including a 91 year old energetic gentleman, return with their grandchildren 67 years later to visit the their old, darkened, dingy home which in some places was over 50 feet underground. Film maker Janet Tobias, who has been a producer for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, learned about this story when a colleague showed her a National Geographic article that Chris Nicola, a New York State Investigator who has a serious hobby of exploring caves all over the world, had written. Nicola, during one of his vacations, explored this unusual deep gypsum cave in the Ukraine and came across some human artifacts, which included a shoe, a cup, and some buttons. He returned to the area for the next couple of years asking the local people if they knew about where they had come from. Most did not, but one person said it might have something to do with the Jews. Nicola embedded key words in his web sites meant to attract people searching for their genealogy related to the Holocaust and these specific caves.. This ultimately led him to make connections with the actual survivors, most of who were living in Canada. This included Esther Stermer who wrote a book about her experience titled “We Fight to Survive” She said she wrote this book so her grandchildren would know about what they had been through during World war II. Little did she know, thanks to Ms. Tobias and this film, she would actually accompany her grandchildren back to this hidden cave and watch her granddaughter descend into the deepest depths to visit this special place in her family history. This film is actually a modified docu-drama. Part of the film includes getting know several of the survivors as they narrate the film in an articulate at times emotional manner giving us a feel for their fortitude, determination and even their sense of humor. We see how the decision is made by the family matriarch to pack up as much of their belongings as possible and flee to avoid deportation (which would have ultimately led to their extermination). We feel the experience through the eyes of a 70-year-old woman as a 4 and 5 year old. Interspersed with this narration, we witness a reenactment by Hungarian/Ukrainian actors, adults and children as they crawl through barely lit crevices and help us understand what it was like to live there, interacting with each other and risking their lives to bring food to their hiding places. There is one close call after another along with heroism, good luck but most of all the will to live. This combination of a documentary with actual actors was quite an accomplishment to effectively pull off. We knew the people narrating the story survived, but we were still on the edge of our seats. We didn’t quite anticipate the emotional reaction we would have when we saw this band of elderly people return to these caves with their families and could show their grandchildren a place that was truly like no place on earth and their most remarkable survival experience. (2013)

Postscript:  If you are interested in some of the untold stories of survivors of the Holocaust I recommend that you consider reading a remarkable  book which I reviewed about a year ago in my Psychiatry Blog as well as in BookRap.net

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History, War

Still Bill

December 10th, 2011 — 11:10 pm

***

Still Bill- nf  It is very possible that you have never heard of  singer songwriter Bill Withers unless you are a big fan of rhythm and blues of the 1970s-1980s and thereabouts. But almost for sure  you have heard recordings of him singing his music , Lean on Me, Aint No Sunshine, Just the Two of Us and many other great hits of that time. Damani Baker and Alex Vlack as young filmmakers knew about his music and a little about the man and as is often the case with Independent films, it took them about 11 years to make this documentary. Needless to say , it has a great music track. It is a film not just about the man and his music but it is about the character of man who wasn’t out for the adulation and glory that easily descended upon him. He cared about expressing himself in the stories that he wanted to tell through his music. He led an unlikely career and then faded from the public music scene at the height of his fame. He was born the youngest of 6 children in the  coal mining town of Slab Folk  West Virgina . His grandfather was born a slave and he was greatly influenced by his grandmother whom he immortalized in one of his classic songs, Grandma’s Hand . He stuttered for the first 28 years of his life  He enlisted in the US Navy and worked as a mechanic and then took a job in an aircraft factory. Around this time he started playing the guitar and writing songs and decided to give it a try when he was given the opportunity to record an album. He had no idea if it would work out and was prepared to continue his work “ installing Johns on planes.” Almost overnight his album was a gigantic hit and he found himself on the Johnny Carson show. This documentary begins with a 70 year old seemingly very contented Bill Withers who hasn’t been on the music scene for probably at least 20 years. He is married and his daughter is  finding her way as a singer. He reflects on his career and how he has faded into the background because, as he says, he just doesn’t have much to say at present. He appears to be financially secure having had 3 gold albums with numerous successful songs and having toured and sang with many great musicians. The film makers show the essence of this man through informal conversations with several of his friends including Tavis Smiley, Jim Brown (the football player) , Bill Russell (the basketball player) , his son, wife, daughter and others.  At times he tears up as for example when he visits a school where young students with stuttering problems put on a small concert for him. In a heartwarming sequence although perhaps somewhat contrived, he decides to go back into the studio with a good friend who is a blind musician and his daughter. They begin to write and record. Wither’s delight in the process and in the music seems genuine and is wonderful to watch. The documentary ends on this note. You get the feeling that there is now more to come. (2009)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Don’t Change The Subject

September 9th, 2011 — 07:16 am

***

Don’t Change the Subject- sp

This is a documentary about suicide, by a film maker who lost his mother to suicide when he was a young teenager. It seems to be his attempt to understand that tragic event in his life at the same time he is making film that he hopes will save some lives. Usually we don’t review films before they are ready to be released. In fact, the final edit on this movie has just been tweaked. It hasn’t hit the film festivals yet and a distribution deal has yet to be made. We hope in a small way, the availability of this review will help the process along as well as encouraging folks in the mental health community to consider using this film as a discussion tool at professional meetings and most of all to be used for educating the public.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health suicide is 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause in the age group 15-24. There are 11.3 suicides deaths per 100,000 people in this country. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide.

While these and other statistics are important, this film is not about numbers and risk factors. It is about real people who tell little pieces of their stories. It is about people who came very close to killing themselves but for some circumstance or reason didn’t do so. It is about the film maker who comes across as a very likeable guy who is trying to figure out why is mother, who he believed loved him, would leave him by her own hand. He reads her letters, listens to tapes of her talking, looks at old film clips and ponders this issue with his older brother, aunt and step mother who married his father after his mom died. His brother never understood how she could have done this when she was in the music business and knew how important was his debut as an opera director that was happening the following week. His aunt, who was a psychiatrist, knew her sister had problems but didn’t see this coming. His stepmother only recently reveals her own special connection with suicide. While the film maker may not have ever completely understood why his mother ended her life, he did realize that more then how she ended her life, she should be remembered for how she lived her life which included much love and support to her children. This message alone gives the film great value.

The filmmaker, Michael Stutz is also the director, writer and producer. He does goes beyond just his own story and some close up vignettes of people who struggle with depression and have come close to doing this fatal deed. He follows a talented choreographer who is preparing a group of young dancers to perform a piece about autopsies. The result is as dramatic as is the meaning to young performers who had to come to grips with what their dance was about. We are introduced to a fairly successful comedian who has a team of writers help him prepare his material that daringly enough is going to be about suicide. It is always tricky business when humor is touching a potentially raw nerve. You have to understand, as a psychiatrist I usually don’t even like it when people use the word “crazy” in stories or in every day life but I appreciated the use of humor in this film. In fact the highlight was a piece by a comedian who did a monologue as a character who was leaving a video to his family prior to his suicide. He said just about everything a loved one would dread that their family member who was ending their life might say about them and how the suicidal person felt about them. It brought me to out loud laughter and will be for me one of the most unforgettable parts of this film about a very serious subject.

I said earlier that I hope professionals will view and use this film in their efforts to prevent suicide. It is not because this film will necessarily educate my profession about suicide. It didn’t really examine the difference between suicide attempts and suicide gestures nor did it attempt to show the different psychiatric diagnosis that people who attempt suicide might have. In fact there wasn’t much of a psychiatric presence in the film. However it has the potential to be very meaningful to anyone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, had fleeting suicidal thoughts or has been close to anyone who has had these issues. Unfortunately there are a great number of people in at least one of these categories. This film can save lives so it deserves to be seen and will be a worthwhile experience for many people. I don’t know yet when and how it will be distributed but more information about it can be obtained on the following website: http://www.dontchangethesubject.org/  (2011)

1 comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Thunder Soul

August 19th, 2011 — 01:00 am

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Thunder Soul – sp- This is a true story destined to be an American legend. An all black 1970’s Texas High School stage band with a music director, who could have been a professional musician but chose to teach and use music to change young people’s lives, becomes the “best band in the land.” They introduce the rhythms of funk music along with great body movements by the band as they present their powerful sound. They win all kinds of competitions and trophies including the coveted band competition in Alabama. They get invited to play in Europe and Japan where they received acclaim on a par with professional musicians. 30 plus years later filmmaker Mark Landsman is listening to NPR and hears the story of this band and decides he might want to make a documentary about them. He visits the now retired leader Conrad O. Johnson, known as Prof, in Houston and convinces him to tell his story as he constructs a documentary about that historical time in the history of of Kashmere High School and this band. Much to his surprise, he then learns that some of the old band members are planning a surprise reunion concert for old Prof who has had failing health. The film becomes about these now older band members who return to prepare for this get together all with heartfelt stories about how the Prof and the band had been so meaningful to them. There are film clips of the 1970s with many of the band members in full Afros and the band with its full rich sound. These mostly guys and some gals are older, wiser, larger but still remember how to play as they are whipped into musical shape by one of the members who has taken on the leadership role for the reunion concert. The views of the musicians now in their 50s along with the wonderful sound which they can still make is captured quite well. In fact the background soundtrack throughout, even when the band is not seen playing, sets the mood and the joy of the film. There are some wonderful clips of Prof as a younger man and now as his once young charges have returned to pay tribute to him. Jamie Foxx loved the film idea and took on the role of Executive Producer. We only wish that Landsman had chosen to tell us a little more about how the returnees had been impacted by their experience, which they all agreed, had changed their lives. Had any of them become professional musicians? Had they passed on this great musical experience to their children? While we suggested to Landsman that it would be great to see a little of this info in the credits, he felt that it was mainly about the music and the personal stories were secondary. He did drop the tidbit that he is working on a fictional version for a feature film, which I am sure, will be a great opportunity to fill in the blanks in this great story. (2011) 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Cracks

March 17th, 2011 — 07:43 pm

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Cracks sp- The title of this movie according Juno Temple, one of the stars of it who was at our screening, comes from South African slang meaning “crushes” such as being enamored with someone. The movie is set in the 1930s on a small island, which is part of Great Britain where there is a girl’s boarding school. The girls who seem to be of high school age are formed in teams and one of the teacher leaders is beautiful Miss G ( Eva Green who was a James Bond girl in previous movie ). The girls seem to idolize Miss G who tells them stories of her travels and encourages them they can do anything they set their mind to do. Di ( Juno Temple) is one of the more accomplished young girls and is a leader of the group, is a great swimmer and diver  and prime follower of Miss G. Along comes a new girl sent to the island by her Spanish aristocrat family  to join the school and their group. Fiamma (Maria Valverde) is beautiful, intelligent and an  even better diver (symbolic of her great skills). She is worldly and has traveled in ways that Miss G has only imagined. The dynamics of the relationship between teacher and the girls is dramatically changed and the meaning of “cracks” comes to a boiling point. On this magnificent island that gives you the feeling of everything being the same for so many years, we have a contrast of confusion and turmoil in these young women. The question that we have is will this interesting and powerful story grab and hold the audience. We found ourselves pondering that question, rather than empathizing and being taken up by the movie. Juno Temple who spoke with our audience after the film, related how first time Director Jordon Scott (daughter of Ridley Scott) had the actresses playing the students write an essay of what they imagined was their own back story which they read to each other so they would understand their characters. Perhaps one of the problems was that we as the audience were not in on this background. This may be why we found the  characters to be  somewhat “cardboard like”  and stereotypical. While they were quite different, we didn’t know them as individuals. In the end, nothing will ever be the same but we are not really sure why. (2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Fighter

January 30th, 2011 — 07:37 am

*****

The Fighter rm–  Why is it that a good fight movie in the end will push your emotional buttons and bring a tear to your eye when it comes to the conclusion? Think Rocky. However, this movie isn’t really about boxing although there is lots of boxing in it. It is about family, loyalty. dreams and aspirations, self determination but not forgetting where you came from. It is based on a real people and a true story. It is the story of the boxer Mickey Ward(Mark Wahlberg)  and his relationship with his older ½ brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer who once fought Sugar Ray Robinson  but became involved with drugs and spent time in prison. Dicky comes back after much family interaction and soul searching and he trains his brother for the ultimate championship fight . Writers Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy along with Director David Russell provide a story with great character development where you understand them as well as seeing  them grow and change. The acting is fantastic. Mark Wahlberg does a very good job getting into shape and carrying off the role of boxer and the sensitive brother here. But the major acting kudos have to go to Christian Bale who brought the older brother and his fantasies for himself and his kid brother to life. No matter how he came to this portrayal it would be a worthy tour de force but at the very end of the film there is a brief film clip of the real brothers interacting and you can see that Bale nailed all mannerisms of his character. If this film should get two acting awards, the second one would be for Melissa Leo who plays the brother’s Mom as an insensitive, selfish mother who had been managing her son’s boxing career as it was going downhill. Maybe deep down she loves her kids perhaps the older one more but you won’t feel neutral about her.  We have seen Leo in other great performances in Frozen River and Conviction. The latter film along with Kings Speech, 127 Hours , The Social Network, including this one are in our opinion among the best of the films of 2010 and are all based on true stories. Truth may be better than fiction but you have to be able to tell a good story and this one certainly did.(2010)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Sport

The Company Men

January 30th, 2011 — 07:21 am

***

The Company Men   rm –  This movie puts a face on the wide spread and often tragic unemployment that has been occurring in the US during the past few years. It mainly follows three men who unexpectedly lose their jobs because of the economy downturn and because their shipbuilding company is no longer producing many ships. However, these guys are not your assembly line grunts. Writer/Director John Wells who is known for his involvement in the politically oriented West Wing TV series has chosen to show us how the upper middle class and above are impacted by unemployment. Bobby Walker ( Ben Affleck) drives a sporty convertible and lives in a lovely house in the suburbs before he loses his job. He is the lowest end of  the food chain of the three newly unemployed guys  which includes characters played by Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones . The latter plays a man with millions of dollars in stock options who was long time buddy of the owner and founder (Craig Nelson) of the entire company. The owner fired him while he himself receives a gigantic salary, options and even sells the company. Those formerly under him are scraping to make ends meet while they hang around for months and months in an office of an outplacement company. This situation alone, might stir you up as it did us since we have been railing for awhile why there isn’t a law preventing CEOs from getting outrageous salaries and payoffs without stockholders approval while their company goes down the tubes (see my article in the Huffington Post). This film captures the personal travail that in this case a few men go through as well as how it affects their wives and children. It can even drive a person to suicide. Kevin Costner has a relatively small role in the movie as the one person who works with his hands as a carpenter, home- fixer up guy who is able to barely keep working in contrast to brother in law realistically played by Affleck. The movie doesn’t have any real big surprises. Everyone knows the stories and even the poignant moments are more or less expected and maybe even a little stereotyped. Everyone is glum and down in the dumps and it is contagious watching it for 104 minutes but the movie did tell it like it is and will stand as a fictional documentary of the hard times for many people.(2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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