April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm
The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf
The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.
The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am
The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf
This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.
Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.
Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.
This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
November 20th, 2015 — 7:29pm
Skeleton Twins – nf
It is rare that the two authors of this blog can’t come to an agreement or a good compromise on the value of the film, which we are reviewing. This was a movie, which one of us couldn’t recommend and the other thought some people would really enjoy it.
We do agree that Kristen Wiig, who played Maggie, and Bill Hader, who played Milo, are great actors with a wonderful comedic touch. They play two grownup twins now living in different parts of the country who haven’t seen each other in 10 years and are about to kill themselves at the same moment in time (opening Scene). We see that they had pretty bad parenting. Their mother didn’t seem to be able to express any love to them and their father committed suicide when they were young kids.
They obviously don’t succeed in their attempt to kill themselves and they are now spending some time together. He is gay and was molested by Rich(Ty Burrell), his high school teacher/mentor when he was 15 years old. Now that he is back in town, he visits his old hero teacher who has his own 16-year-old son. Milo and the teacher have a sexual encounter and we are somehow led to believe that the teacher/child molester isn’t really that bad? Meanwhile, Maggie has the nicest husband that you can imagine, Lance (Luke Wilson) and they are trying to have a baby, at least that’s what he thinks. Maggie is hiding the birth control pills while she is having an affair with her scuba-diving instructor, which follows two other affairs with other instructors that she has had. As you can imagine, the only authentic relationship is that between Maggie and Milo who have shared their horrible childhood. They have at least learned to lip-sync to some songs together, which they can now do since they have reunited.
Certainly, everybody will agree that this brother and sister need therapy, although there are no signs of that in the story. We do agree there is something poignant about seeing them reunite. At least they have each other and maybe they will get help someday. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized
November 16th, 2015 — 7:44am
Laggies – nf
The term Laggies, according to Director Lynn Shelton comes from an informal term used by Orange County teenagers when referring to themselves as a group such as “Come on Laggies, let’s all go to the mall.” The screenplay by Andrea Seigel was originally written to take place in Orange County, California, but the setting was moved to Seattle, Washington. However, Shelton liked the way the term Laggies sounded and kept it as the title.
The meaning of the film to us is similarly vague and hard to figure out. Granted it is about a generation far from our own, but we thought that we usually get teens and 20’s even if we are quite removed from their time to bloom.
Megan (Keira Knightley) is a 28-year-old college graduate who has a Masters in Family Counseling but hasn’t really found herself. Her best friend, Allison (Elle Kemper) is getting married and all her good friends are attending the event. Megan’s long-term boyfriend (Mark Webber) is ready to propose to her and they plan to go for a quick small wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. However, Megan meets Annika, a 15-year-old teenager (Chloe Moretz), who she encounters when she’s asked by her to buy beer and alcohol for her and her teenage buddies. Megan can relate to Annika and is comfortable hanging around with her and her friends. She tells her boyfriend that she’s going to go to a conference for a week and then they will get married. In the meantime, Megan stays in Annika’s house where she meets Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) who is an attorney. Anika and Sam seem to really like each other and have a one-night sexual encounter. Incidentally, we also have learned a little earlier that Megan’s father (Jeff Garlin) was discovered by Megan to be fooling around with the mother of the bride at the wedding of Megan’s best friend, which bummed out Megan. Megan is about to fly to Las Vegas to marry her long-term boyfriend or will she?
So we conclude that the movie is about growing up and deciding which relationships are really important. However, there is no real depth to the storyline. We don’t really understand why the characters do what they do, although they do seem to be the wiser for going through these experiences. The director, Ms. Shelton knows her way around Seattle having directed her previous movies in the city. The acting was very good. Ms. Knightly was very appealing as Megan, the young woman who has to find herself. In the DVD features accompanying the film, we see her talking in her native language (British English) and we appreciate how well she has mastered the American dialect in the film. This movie was a little fun to watch but we didn’t get much out of it. We conclude that we can’t recommend it, even to the teens and 20’s looking for a good movie to kick back on. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama
July 16th, 2015 — 12:13am
Cake – nf
For many years MB was a psychiatric consult to a Burn Center and worked with many patients who had to deal with severe pain. Most of the time, we found a way of controlling the pain through medication, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, guided imagery, and various forms of psychotherapy. However, it was after the patient left the hospital that they had their biggest trial. They were faced with disfiguring injuries, chronic pain, and most of all PTSD with continued grieving around the circumstances of their tragic injury.
We live and breathe this journey through the persona of Claire who is masterfully played by Jennifer Aniston. We initially meet her in a support group for people with chronic pain. We soon learned that her pain is much more than physical hurting. It goes also beyond the physical dependency that her body has for pain killers.
The screenplay by Patrick Tobin slowly unfolds as we gradually learn about a member of Claire’s support group who committed suicide (Anna Kendrick) but lives on in Claire’s mind. We see Claire slowly and painfully expand her limited circle of relationships. The one constant person in her life is Silvana, her loya; housekeeper (Adriana Barraza).
This is not the kind of role you can just step into. It required much more than this actress allowing her face to be made up as being scarred. Jenifer Aniston had to come to inhabit the heart and soul of her character. She did just that through her own efforts and with the help of the film director Daniel Barnz. She also had an excellent supporting cast which included Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William Macy, Chris Messina, and several others.
We suspect this movie will live on, not only as an excellent piece of cinema but it will be used for discussion in support groups as real people will relate to the character that Ms. Aniston and the film makers have created. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
June 20th, 2015 — 10:46pm
Black or White – nf
Kevin Costner has his pick of many interesting roles roles. In this case, he chose to play Elliot Anderson, a successful lawyer, affectionately known as papa by his eight-year-old black granddaughter (Jillian Estell). This movie was directed by Mike Binder, who also wrote the screenplay. We learn that the young girl is the child of Anderson’s deceased daughter who was made pregnant when she was 17 years old by the father, Reggie Jeffers (Anthony Mackie) a 23-year-old crack addict. The mother, died in childbirth due to a congenital heart condition, a death which we are led to believe could have been avoided if Anderson and his wife had known that she was in labor but they had not been told. The white grandparents took on the responsibility of raising their granddaughter with occasional unwelcome visits by the father’s family led by the grandmother on that side, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer). The movie opens as Anderson has just learned that now his wife has died in an auto accident. He realizes he must inform his granddaughter of the tragedy and he will take on the responsibility of raising his granddaughter by himself, brushing her hair and driving her to school, etc. This drives him to drink. He also finds himself in a legal battle with the black side of the family that has other ideas about custody. This at times becomes a black versus white, alcoholism versus crack addict, grandfather versus father, white grandfather versus black grandmother. There are some great courtroom scenes and there is a wonderful performance by Jillian Estell who plays the eight-year-old child. She is an actress that we are going to hear from in the future. There are no big surprises in this film. There is drama to hold your attention, emotion to pull your chain, and a great performance by Costner (we said no big surprises). Many people are going to enjoy this movie. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
May 24th, 2015 — 4:36am
The Master – nf
Despite having two great stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last films before his untimely death, we could find very little to recommend this movie.
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a World War II veteran and an alcoholic. He wanders on to a boat going on a cruise where Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is leading his cult, which believes in past lives and a programming-kind of hypnosis with various nonsensical interactions. Freddie gets drawn into this group perhaps because of his need for family and a father figure. We get the impression that Dodd, the leader, is making up on the spot all his ministrations. He is, with some fanfare, coming out with his second book of his ideas, which do not make any discernable sense. This is satire here of cults, perhaps of Ron Hubbard and Scientology and maybe Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and screenwriter is also making fun of psychotherapy which to the uninformed may look like the “gobbledygook” being depicted in this movie. Yes, we see the poor mixed up soldier yearning for his young girlfriend who he knew before the war. We even see at the end the father figure cult leader expressing a yearning for his young follower. But nothing ties together which probably is the point they are making.
Even though there is great acting, beautiful scenery and very good cinematography, we advise a pass on this movie. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama
May 3rd, 2015 — 6:56pm
Jake Gyllenhaal in this film is the weird character, Lou Bloom who becomes a freelance news cameraman who roams the streets at night with a video camera and a police scanner in search of bloody accidents or horrible crimes to lead the TV news. He hires Rick, a young man (Riz Ahmed) desperate for work and meets Nina (Rene Russo), a TV news editor who is desperate for good ratings. The result is a creepy type of film noir with this version, showing a part of our society that has lost its moral compass.
Lou Bloom is presented as a mentally unbalanced person who sees things in a very concrete manner. He is without a conscience. But the story is more than one man who resembles a person with Asperger Syndrome but without the typical endearing qualities. The movie seems to be making a statement about television news, at least the local news. Not only is it “if it bleeds, it leads”, but we get the impression that local TV news has little or no integrity. This is not a rerun of the famous classical film Network. To the contrary, there was no one to stand up and say that “we are not going to take it anymore.” Instead, we are left with a view that the status quo is really quite disheartening. This sad message is personal to us because the setting is Los Angeles, our town. While we do not usually travel the streets shown in the dead of night, they are all so familiar.
Director and screen writer, Dan Gilroy, has reminded us that accidents, crime, and tragedy can impact anyone at anytime and we all have a morbid curiosity about these details which are exploited everyday by local TV news. This dark well done movie leaves us with a touch of sadness.(2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama
April 4th, 2015 — 2:55am
Gone Girl – rm
I (MB) read this novel by Gillian Flynn upon which this movie was based (see review) which I enjoyed and held my interest. I knew someone would make a movie about it and I followed the hype about the plans to do so but it wasn’t high on my list to see with so many outstanding seemingly great films out during this season. However, on an international air flight, I finally caught up with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and the mystery of the disappearing wife. Once you have read a book, the film really has to be outstanding to win you over. Even though the storyline is not exactly as the book, I got caught up with the details. There are some graphic scenes, including crime and lust. Neil Patrick Harris was okay as a lover/victim. Things are not always what they seemed to be, which is a prerequisite of a good mystery. But in the end I think the 1 hour and 49-minute film could have been boiled down to a 52-minute 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. TV crime show. I would suggest that you pass on this film unless you don’t have a better prospect on your next air flight. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Mystery
March 15th, 2015 — 11:47pm
St. Vincent nf
You might not picture Bill Murray who is St. Vincent in this film as a Saint. In fact he is depicted as a hard drinking, reckless gambler, tough old guy who lives in a small house in Brooklyn and hangs around with a pole dancer (Naomi Watts). Along comes a new neighbor, recently divorced (Melissa McCarthy) with her 10 or 11-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and the magic begins. We see the chemistry between this grizzled older guy and the polite sweet kid who has to learn to get by in his new Brooklyn neighborhood. The screenplay and the direction by Theodore Melfi is just the right touch to seal the deal. Not surprising, there is much more that meets the eye. The sainthood issue will push your buttons and drain your tear ducts. (No, he doesn’t pass away). This movie and the actors in it have been recognized by various critics, receiving nominations for awards around the country. We were fortunate that we caught it with our grandson on Netflix.(2014)
1 comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama