Tag: 2000-08

Center Stage

December 1st, 2016 — 8:04pm



Center Stage-nf

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

Terribly Happy

November 14th, 2011 — 7:38am


Terribly Happy- nf-  ( In Danish with English subtitles) It is not surprising that this film and cast has won numerous international awards. The direction, acting, photography, lighting is all on the mark and the story is suspenseful and gripping. This film project got started when two men who were friends in their youth growing up in rural Denmark and now were achieving success in their respective fields were able to reconnect. Dunja Greg Jensen a writer, shared a story he was writing, based on some true events in his family, with film director  Henrik Rubin Genz who then collaborated with him in the screenplay for this movie. It is the story of a Copenhagen policeman Robett (Jakob Cedergren) who  is reassigned to small isolated town. The people here are a tough somewhat odd group and John gets drawn into a situation with  a married couple, where the man, by the name of Jorgen (Kim Bodnia)  has been abusing his wife Ingerlise (Lena Maria Christensen). Ingerlise appears to have what we psychiatrists call a Borderline Personality and she succeeds in seducing our policeman Robert. Things then begin to have serious twists and turns which makes this movie a very exciting thriller. The movie succeeds in that the viewer is able to identify and feel empathy with Robert despite the fact that he works  his way into some “deep shit” and does some things that are not very nice. This is not so much of a “who dunnit movie” as it is a “what is he going to do now movie” which, will keep you on the edge of your seat and give you a good ride. (2008)  

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, History, Thriller

Super Size Me

October 4th, 2011 — 7:21am



Super Size Me- nf  We decided to see this documentary which we had missed when  it  came out 6 or 7 years ago. The topic of obesity in American and what we can do it about it seems to be as relevant today as when this film was made. It also pertains to the  current political dialog as one side of the debate appears to be saying that the government and it’s  regulatory bureaucracy should keep it’s hands off successful business enterprises especially ones that hires lots and lots of people. McDonalds fits that category and millions of people voluntarily eat there and clearly endanger their own and their children’s health. The film showed that McDonalds especially markets to children and cultivates many of them as lifetime customers. Incidentally that life expectancy will probably be lower than if they had chosen to eat healthier foods. At the rate that McDonalds and other fast food businesses are succeeding, one of three children will develop diabetes by the time they are adults. Whenever we drive by a local high school and a local Community College we have been dramatically impressed how many kids walking around are quite obese. Film maker and director Morgan Spurlock with a light touch uses humor, human interest, well documented facts, some credible interviews mixed with a realistic scare tactic to hold the interest of the audience. He also pulls in the viewers with his project to go on a full time 3 meals/day McDonalds diet for 30 days. He is closely monitored by a team of health experts while he diligently pursues this task and even has a rule where he will “supersize” his food item whenever he is asked by his order taker if he wants to do this. While very few people will go on such a radical diet, Spurlock makes his point as he gains 25 pounds in the 30 days and develops dangerously high blood  lipid levels and begins to show liver damage . This film  is really a model in what a documentary should be. It takes an important topic, addresses it with facts figures and  talking head experts but yet has a story line which holds the interest of the viewer with a time thread which moves the film along. Spurlock, the centerpiece is likeable, serious, dedicated but with a nice sense of humor. This film with a few small edits should be shown to kids from middle school through college age if they have not caught the message by then. The DVD includes an interview by Spurlock made after the film came out with Eric Schlosser author of the book  Fast Food Nation which doubles the value of this DVD experience. Scholosser has a whole new set of  facts, figures as well as some very revealing insights into McDonalds and the fast food industry. The tagline on the DVD is “a film of epic proportion”. We would add this is something you can really sink your teeth into. (2004

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

For My Father

March 8th, 2011 — 8:23pm


For My Father- nf– This Israeli-German co-produced movie in Hebrew with sub titles gives us a thought provoking storyline as we see early in the film, a young Arab (probably a Palestinian) by the name of Tarek (Shredi Dabarin) is smuggled into Tel Aviv wearing an explosive vest. on a suicide mission. He is angry at the Jews and is ready to die . There is a subplot how he can save his father’s honor by going through with this deed and his father might be killed if he doesn’t. He grits his teeth and pushes the button but there is “ wardrobe malfunction”. There is a faulty switch so he enters an electrical repair shop and orders a new part but it won’t be ready for two days (since the next day is Shabbat). He meets some nice Israelis who treat him well and have their own tales of pain and alienation  including a beautiful girl Karen (Hil Yalon). There are phone calls back and forth to his parents who don’t know what he is about to do as well as calls from his handlers, who once his switch is replaced, want him to find a crowded street and get on with it. They also have the option to remotely push the button but they would rather he find the right spot to do it. What will he do? Then there is the finale. On one hand this movie is simple straightforward and predictable but on the other hand, each character and situation reflects the human tragedy of the Middle East conflict on both sides. This is not a pro-Israel movie.  Rather you come away appreciating some of the motivations and angst of each of the characters whom me meet here. The film holds your attention and forces you to confront all the ambiguities. Hopefully there will be an Arab made movie that tries to do the same thing. (2008)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Burning Plain

December 11th, 2010 — 1:38am


The Burning Plain-nf When a screen writer and first time director (Guillermo Arriaga) puts together a complicated plot with four seemingly unrelated stories, taking place in different locations, using two great actresses (Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger) and an excellent supporting cast, you would hope that when they all come together at the end of the film, there would be an interesting, insightful ending that would make it all worthwhile. In our opinion, despite hitting his mark with a few good psychological themes, the movie fizzed out and in the end did not make the grade. Theron plays a depressed sex obsessed restaurant manager who while trying to forget her past is acting out the trauma of her teenage years (and no she wasn’t abused). Bassinger is an equally depressed mother of a bunch of kids who while trying to find sexual fulfillment after having some bad misfortune, ends up having even more tragedy. Feranda Romero and JD Pardo play teenagers each of whom is trying to deal with the affair and ultimately the horrible death of their mother and father. They themselves have created problems which go beyond the storyline of this movie. The movie is mostly set in the southwest U.S and Mexico as well as having a beautiful scene on a rocky ocean coastal cliff. In the end, the realistic depiction of the scenery and of human emotions, doesn’t make up for the shortcomings of the script.  (2008)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

The Visitor

September 9th, 2010 — 8:51am

The Visitor* * * *
The Visitor
– nf – When a movie is able to shine a fresh emotional and insightful light on some aspect of the immigrant issues in this country, it deserves our attention. Screenwriter and director Thomas McCarthy brings this film to us shortly after bringing out the acclaimed The Station Agent. In this current movie we have Walter Vale who is a depressed, isolated widowed economics professor at a Connecticut college. He comes to Manhattan to deliver a paper at NYU and finds a young couple from Syria and Senegal living in his rarely used flat. Tarek, the young man portrayed by a new comer Haaz Sleiman, plays the African drum and connects with Vale who has yearning to create music perhaps because his late wife was pianist. As the professor finds that he has a knack for playing these drum rhythms, the story also focuses on the evolution of this character who is played by veteran actor Richard Jenkins, well known especially for his work on the TV series Six Feet Under. In the commentary on the Netflix DVD, Jenkins said that he waited a lifetime for a role such as this one . The immigrant issue erupts when Tarek, on a fluke, is picked up by the police and placed in a detention center. This devastates his girl friend Zainab sensitively played by Danai Guriria in her first role since NYU acting school. Rounding out the mix is an experienced actress Hiam Abbasses as Tarek’s mother who comes from Michigan when her son stops his daily phone calls while locked up. We see how the mother and girl friend are even afraid to visit Tarek since they are all “illegal” The emotional interplay between these four actors is outstanding as their characters represent people from three different cultures. The disruption and destruction of hopes and aspiration of the three non-citizens is expressed in a memorable scene which Jenkins releases his pent-up emotions which is reminiscent of the well known frustrating outcry of Peter Finch in the 1971 movie Network . You come away from this film not with any answers but with a sense of the pain of the people who are living these scenarios every day. 2008

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Musical, Romance

The Jane Austen Book Club

September 9th, 2010 — 5:10am

The Jane Austen Book Club* * *
The Jane Austen Book Club
– nf – The filmmakers obviously did not feel that you had to be Jane Austen fans or at least familiar with her books to appreciate this movie. However one of us who did not read her books, felt that a great deal was missed in understanding the discussion about her various novels and how they were woven into the story. The other one of us while not recalling the stories didn’t feel left out at all. The plot revolves around five women at different places in their lives who decide to form a book club devoted entirely to Jane Austen novels. A chance meeting by one of the characters ends up including one male in the club. Each of the women is having relationship problems. Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) has just been told by her husband (Jimmy Smitts) that he is leaving her for another women. Prudie (Emily Blunt), a French high school teacher, is disappointed in her husband and finds herself attracted to a student. Sylvia’s daughter (Maggie Grace) who is a lesbian is having trouble with relationships. Jocelyn (Maria Bello) is a single dog breeder who hopes that the lone man in the group Grigg (Hugh Dancy) will be good for her friend Sylvia who is down in the dumps about being abandoned by her husband leaving but finds herself attracted to Grigg who is somewhat younger than she. Then there was Bernadette (Kathy Baker) who is the slightly older woman who has been through five marriages and is still thinking about someday making it six. The warmth and caring among the members of the club is very appealing. As they discuss the various Austen novels and their characters, it appears that their own lives are going through parallel struggles. The cast is a well chosen ensemble. The story is based on a book by Karen Joy Fowler. The screenwriter and director is Robin Swicord who has also written, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Memoirs of a Geisha. The setting is Los Angeles and includes a scene in the Marmalade Café that is one of our favorite restaurants, which added to our enjoyment of the film. 2007

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

Real Women Have Curves

September 9th, 2010 — 4:19am

Real Women Have Curves

* * *
Real Women Have Curves
– nf – This movie was made eight years ago but some of the themes should resonate with many people today. The movie was received very well at the Sundance Film Festival in the year in which it came out. It is set in East Los Angeles in a Mexican-American community and focuses on Ana, an attractive very bright but definitely not thin teenager who is about to graduate from High School. One of her teachers, played in a warm sensitive manner, by comedian George Lopez, can help her get a scholarship to Columbia University but her mother expects her to work in the dress factory run by her sister which makes dresses sold for $18 apiece to a distributor which eventually are sold Bloomingdales for $600 each. The film shows a caring and understanding father and grandfather in contrast to the mother who was completely mired in her old country values and her own needs. There also is a coming of age and a sexual awakening, which is nicely depicted. Perhaps the most effective theme of the movie is suggested by its title. We see Ana maintaining a positive image of herself despite an appearance that others might consider overweight. (We aren’t talking about a “Precious” body but the curves are larger than usually seen in Vogue). America Ferrera ( star of Ugly Betty on TV), making her screen debut, playing Ana does a great job showing her confidence, inner and outer beauty as well as her determination which is demonstrated as she confidently walks through many streets of Los Angeles and eventually in New York. Most of the other characters were played by experienced Mexican actors who were excellent, as was the direction by Patricia Cardosa. The movie was mostly in English but there were substantial dialog in Spanish. I would advise that you choose the option on the DVD to show subtitles whenever Spanish was spoken although that is not essential to appreciate the movie. While everyone can enjoy and understand the main character and her family, this movie should have special appeal to teenagers and those who have gone through these trials and tribulations. 2002

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

A Very Long Engagement

September 9th, 2010 — 3:25am

A Very Long Engagement* * * *
A Very Long Engagement
– nf – One of the advantages and pleasures of Netflix is that we have the opportunity to see very good movies that we probably otherwise would never have seen. In this case, this French 2004 film was nominated for Oscars for Art Direction and Cinematography and won several Cesars ( the French Oscar awards ) and was nominated for best picture , director and several acting awards in France. The setting for the film is France during World War I and shortly thereafter. There are many realistic brutal scenes in the trenches and on the battlefield . I was reminded of the classic film All is Quiet on the Western Front as the story begins with a court-martial of five soldiers but in this movie they are sentenced to being sent out to no man’s land and an almost certain death. The film focuses on Mathilde a young partially disabled Frenchwoman, played by Amelie Tautou, who is determined to find all the details about what happened to these men with the hope that maybe her fiancé has survived. Flashback techniques are used so we are able to have an insight into the development of their relationship since childhood as well as an understanding of many of the other characters. The movie is in French with subtitles. At times it appears that something is lost in the translation as we lose track of a small part of some of the storylines but that really doesn’t detract from the overall impact of this moving film. While we did not know most of the actors, the performances were all of a very high quality as emotions and nuances came across very clearly. Although not in the starring role, American actress Jodie Foster who speaks fluent French has a substantial part with a range of feelings from an empathic wife to being in a passionate bedroom scene. The cinematography is absolutely magnificent as it captured the grit of the battlefield, the beauty of the French countryside, the bustle of Paris in 1920s and the facial expressions of the superb actors and actresses in this film. There is an option on the DVD to hear the comments of Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet as he explains his thinking about the movie and many of the behind the scenes explanations of various details of the film. The cast was carefully chosen by him and includes very experienced actors and actresses even for some very small parts. Although the movie is an adaptation of Sebastiaen Japrisot’s novel, there are added scenes or images based on actual photographs or historical vignettes about World War I. He explains decisions that he made and a homage to some classic movies, such as Saving Private Ryan or his own earlier films which he has weaved into this movie. He discusses the effective use of digitalization to achieve certain effects such as writing on a wall of a cafe, the addition of buildings and vehicles, or the appearance of a busy 1920s Paris scene. He has also changed the coloring at times to bring about a certain hue or to emphasize various objects. The net result is a beautiful, haunting movie, which is gripping and quite memorable for the images and the characters. 2004

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Mystery, Romance, War

Bottle Shock

September 8th, 2010 — 1:30am

Bottle Shock* * *
Bottle Shock
– nf – We finally caught up with this movie that we had been wanting to see since we missed it at the local movie theatres. As new Californians the pride we have in California wines is nothing compared to the passion that Napa valley vinters had in their local wines which 35 years ago were hardly recognized world wide as compared to French wines. This movie, which is based a true story, centers on Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) a Brit living in Paris who had a wine store there and his pal and confidant (Dennis Farina). Spurrier decided that he would stimulate interest in buying wine by showing that in the 1976 bicentennial anniversary year, the upstart Americans still could not make wine, which could hold a candle to the established French products. He travels to America and meets Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) owner, but deeply in debt, of the Montelena Chateau and his son Bo (Chris Pine) as well as a group of other California vintners. He convinces 12 of them to give him two bottles each to enter into a French wine tasting event in which the wine would be blindly judged. The California group knew that “if one wins, they all would win.” As they say, the rest is history. There are a few subplots which include Sam (Rachel Taylor) the beautiful graduate student wine intern, Bo, Barrett’s son who gets boxed around by his father and Gustavo (Freddy Rodriquez), the Mexican-American farm hand who is owner of a small wine maker operation with his father (Miquel Sandoval). The movie also stars the beautiful green California grape yards, the spirited Napa Valley Wine growers and the very French wine guys in Paris. There is the expectable dramatic blind wine tasting contest in Paris which has subsequently come to be known as Judgment in Paris. There were no big surprises although you do come away from the movie feeling good and also having learned an important history lesson about a product many people love and revere. (2008)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

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