Tag: 2015


People, Places, Things

June 11th, 2017 — 6:05am

***

People , Places, Things -nf

A man walks in on his wife’s infidelity. The marriage is over and we follow Will Henry (Jemaine Clement), a graphic artist as he tries to get on with his life at the same time that he stays involved with his grade school aged twin daughters (Audrea and Gia Gadsby). Yes, he meets another woman (Regina Hall) and also his wife (Stephanie Allynne) does have second thoughts.

The fact that the film makers could not come up with a more meaningful title may reflect the rather superficial nature of this story. We did feel the pain of the protagonist and we can’t helping thinking that the director/screenwriter Jim Strouse was telling a story of someone he knew quite well. It also was an interesting attempt to show how comics often can help tell a story in more depth. Unfortunately we did not feel that the film achieved this to any significant degree. ( 2015)

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Unexpected

June 3rd, 2017 — 9:30pm

***

Unexpected-nf

This movie zeroes in on one aspect of human life that most people will eventually confront. In this case, it is the wonderful life changing experience of realizing that you (or your partner) has become pregnant.

Samantha (Cobie Smulders) is a 31-year old inner city high school teacher who has a loving, caring boyfriend (Anders Holm) who realizes that she is pregnant. Jasmine (Gail Bean) is a Black teenage girl who is one of her students who lives with her grandmother and sister in a poor neighborhood having an unstable relationship with her boyfriend but hoping to go to college next year. She also has become pregnant.

These two people bond and become very close. As we watch each of them contemplate how this seminal life event will change their lives, we are reminded how pregnancy impacts women quite differently than men and also affects single, more often minorities, and those with less financial means quite differently. Perhaps these observations should be quite obvious facts of our society, but yet our very bright young school teacher needed the nine-month gestation period to fully understand that. Similarly, this film directed by Chris Swanberg who co-wrote the screenplay with Megan Mercier allowed the viewers to fully appreciate these facts of life in about ninety minutes. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Welcome To Me

April 10th, 2017 — 10:23pm

***

Welcome To Me -nf

This movie should be on target for one of us who is a movie critic and happens to be a psychiatrist. The “Me” in the title is presented to the audience as a woman with a bipolar condition and a borderline personality. She is Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig, who is an accomplished comedic actress and well known for her work on Saturday Night Live as well as many films. Although there were some laughable moments in this film, it certainly was not a comedy- quite the opposite.

We meet this very troubled young woman as she is watching TV as the winning ticket in the California lottery is being drawn. Lo and behold, she wins the $83 million jackpot. She decides that she will use her fortune to live in a luxurious Las Vegas hotel and have her own TV show, somewhat resembling Oprah’s Show, except every show will be all about herself. She will enter the set at the beginning of the program on a swan and will reenact important events in her life, such as how she was treated badly in junior high school. Her elderly parents attend each show, but we learn very little about them and their relationship with Alice. We see Alice having intense sexual encounters with various guys such as the show’s producers, a fan who visits the set, et cetera. We can clearly check off the criteria for borderline personality as we see a person with a perversive pattern of unstability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect, and marked impulsivity. We don’t quite see all the criteria for bipolar condition, but we would not be surprised if Alice has the turmoil of this condition. Her narcissistic needs usually make her oblivious to the feelings and concerns of others. She even thinks she is doing a good deed when she herself on TV performs graphically and sickening surgery of the neutering of dogs in close-up television views.

The film was directed by Shira Piven. The supporting cast was quite strong and included James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins (who played her shrink who couldn’t handle her) and others. The  screenwriter who dreamed up this tale was Elliot Laurence.

While this movie certainly presents a troubled woman who is in a great deal of psychological pain, we don’t think we will be using this film to demonstrate to students the specific problems she has purported to have. However, the movie we believe was successful in conveying the psychological pain that she was feeling . The $83 million couldn’t help her and so far therapy hadn’t made a big difference. But she was trying to overcome her bad feelings and we, watching her, did feel for her and were touched and moved by her suffering . We believe we will remember this movie and Alice Klieg. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

In Jackson Heights

March 28th, 2017 — 7:09pm

***

In Jackson Heights-nf

Frederick Wiseman is a well-known documentary filmmaker. Jackson Heights is a well-known community in Queens, New York, which as former New Yorkers we have driven through or have been on the elevated train in that area. It is known as a multiracial/national community where 167 languages are purported to be spoken. This would seem to add up to a potentially interesting “doc.” Before viewing it, we didn’t check the duration of the film which actually was three hours and nine minutes! Although we learned a great deal and were fascinated by some parts of the film, we can’t say the time flew by very fast.

There was no narration and seemingly no particular order of the various sequences. The focus of course was on the people. There were views of the streets, the rumbling elevated train and the numerous storefronts, but mostly it zoomed in on the people.

There wasn’t any introduction to any of the scenes. Usually, you would see people speaking at various meetings often in Spanish (with English subtitles). There were discussions about holding a meeting of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Association or planning an LGBT Pride Parade, or a meeting about how landlords were taking advantage of storeowners and how big businesses were going to drive everyone out of the area, or a meeting about how New York City ID cards would be issued to immigrants to protect them from police action, or a discussion in the Jewish Temple about the Holocaust.

Since the filmmaker was comfortable with a three-hour plus project, there didn’t seem to be any effort to do very much editing. In one situation however, we were glad that they held off on it as we heard a woman describing in great detail her daughter’s harrowing journey to cross the border from Mexico into the United States to join her small children and family. The devil here was in the details.

It is notable that the film seemed to emphasize senior citizens a great deal, and as noted while mostly Hispanic, there were sequences involving Muslims, Jews, Catholics and others. Perhaps the overall impression of the film was how Jackson Heights in many ways is the story of the journey that so many Americans have made to coalesce into this great country, which it is today. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Amy

December 22nd, 2016 — 5:35am

**screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-25-32-pm

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

Infinitely Polar Bear

November 6th, 2016 — 4:38am

***screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-6-30-16-pm

Infinitely Polar Bear-nf

The title of this film apparently is meant to capture the theme in which the main character has a “bipolar condition”. Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), despite at times being mentally out of control, is really a loving husband to his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saladana) and their two adorable girls.

While  we didn’t think that the clinical picture of bipolar was typical but of course bipolar or manic depression can be overlaid on many different types of personalities and can occur in various family configurations. We are also told that the movie is based on a true story. The setting was the mid 1970s. “Bipolar” wasn’t actually a term that was used until the 1980s as the condition was known as manic depression at that time. Lithium was the main medication used to treat it and we see in the film Cam taking this medication or not taking it and having an exacerbation of his symptoms. The new mood stabilizers that are used today were not yet developed during the time period of the film.

The story line of the film deals with other significant topics in addition to mental illness. Cam and Maggie are an interracial couple and we see that one of their children questions whether she is “black” because she resembles her white dad as compared to her sister who is more like her mother’s appearance. The simple but clear manner in which Maggie handles this child’s question was done very well. Maggie goes to New York to pursue graduate school with the plan to visit Cam and the kids in Massachusetts every weekend for a year and a half. When she completes her education and attempts to get a job with a prestigious Boston firm, it appears that they don’t offer her the job because she is a working mom who is leaving dad at home. There is also a story line which shows how unsophisticated so called established wealthy families can be, illustrated by Cam’s family not approving of the non-traditional roles that Cam and Maggie have taken on and also demonstrated how they show very little understanding of their son’s mental illness (at least in the setting in time period of this movie).

We are left with a touching movie which gives us a taste of the struggles of the family that we come to care about. Maya Forbes the writer director did a wonderful job in developing the setting and the personalities  of all the characters. We had feelings for them and we’re rooting for them. This is a sign of a good movie. It was sweet although not very complex but we suggest that you consider seeing it. (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Room

September 7th, 2016 — 6:44am

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 5.05.52 PM***

Room-nf

You probably have some idea of the plot of this movie as we did when we decided to view it one evening. A young woman is abducted and held hostage in an 11-foot by 11-foot room with only a skylight facing the real world. Her abductor has the code to the steel locked door. He visits her regularly in order to rape her. After about a year, she becomes pregnant and raises her son, Jack, in this confined space. We meet them when Jack is turning five years old. His television set is his only window on the outside but he doesn’t actually believe what he sees on it is “real”. This raises an interesting thought; do we all really know what is out there in the wide universe beyond our experience on our small planet Earth. For all we know, we have a very narrow perspective on “life”. We don’t think this was the overt theme of this film but it may have stimulated more than meets the eye.

More concretely, the movie takes us through the dramatic freeing of mother and child from their prison. We struggle with Jack and his mother as they attempt to reintegrate from this experience. In this regard, We found it incongruous that a mother who is so close to her child due to these circumstances could contemplate abandoning him. So, the story is one that tries to show the “power of guilt”.

The other power of this movie is the Academy Award-winning experience of Brie Larson as the mother and the amazing performance of the very young man, Jacob Tremblay who plays the child.

Thanks to the direction of Lenny Abrahamson and the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, we are treated to a highly unusual story. Despite the great acting and the unusual plot, we felt that the film was lacking in drama and could have used more depth. We are only given a glimpse on the impact on the young woman’s parents played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy who lost their daughter for seven years ago when she was 17 years old. Overall, this movie could have been done better but it will be memorable to all who see it. (2015).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

April 7th, 2016 — 6:22pm

****Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.15.21 PM

The Diary of a Teenage Girl – nf

On one hand this very well done film gets into the head and feelings of this 15-year-old girl as she has her first sexual experience. We can imagine that so many teenagers will identify with the excitement, bewilderment and glorious feelings that she relates into her tape recorder as she tries to preserve the special moments. As well done as this depiction and as universal as these feelings may be, her particular situation was certainly nowhere typical. The setting was San Francisco in the 1970s and her first lover is her mother’s boyfriend. What follows is more and more sex, parties, drugs and some same-sex sex.

One would hope that all of this will not reflect the typical teenage experience. However, we would be naïve not to believe that the modern teenager may very well know some version of the scene. It is ironic that most teenagers could not be admitted to this R-rated movie. The star of this film is Bel Powley, an experienced actress who was in her early 20s when she portrays 15-year-old Minnie. Her immature party mom is played by Kristen Wiig and the boyfriend who was more of a period piece than an outright cad was played by Alexander Skaarsgard.

Credit for the success of this movie is first time director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. To give you an idea of her accomplishments, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, in addition to  nominating Ms. Heller for Best Woman Director and Best Woman Screenwriter, also nominated this film for Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction – a well-deserved award.

This movie goes beyond these accomplishments and captures the complicated universal joy and wonder of sexual awakening. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Tangerine

March 13th, 2016 — 3:33am

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 5.47.17 PM ***

Tangerine- nf

The force behind this micro financed independent film is the young accomplished director, Sean Baker who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch. They took on the task of providing a window on the difficult struggling lives of transgender prostitutes who live and work at night on the streets of Hollywood, centered on Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.

The transgender stars of this movie are two talented actresses who are working in their first big film. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez played Sin-Dee (Cinderella) a very fast talking hooker who has just been released from a 30-day stint in jail and Mya Taylor who is her friend Alexandra. In this lead role the later actress not only showed her acting talent but also performed quite well as a singer.

The story lines provides insight into the character’s lives, relationships and despair and also brings in the Armenian family of a taxi driver who is one of the customers. This sub plot introduces several talented actors and actresses, some of who are very well known in Armenian. (By coincidence there is another movie that came out early last year called Tangerines (with an s- click to see our review)completely unrelated to this story but is about nearby Estonia). Mr. Baker’s film is experienced as very authentic whether it is the two transgender friends, the other people of the street or the Armenian family that spoke their language with English subtitles on the screen.

A very interesting aspect of this movie is that it is filmed totally with iPhones, which had special adapters on them. This method was chosen because of the low budget available, but it also allowed the professional film crew led by cinematographer, Radium Cheung to work on the streets of Los Angeles without arousing too much commotion by bystanders. It also appears to give the film an appropriate realistic vibe. This movie adds up to be to be a well done engrossing story that we recommend that you see. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Wave

February 24th, 2016 — 6:34am

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.43.40 AM***

The Wave- sp

This film was the entry from Norway for the Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards. It shows a beautiful community with magnificent fjords, mountains surrounding a body of water. It looks like a lovely place to live or visit. But much like Southern California, they have had natural disasters in the past which eventually can happen again. In this case, instead of an eventual earthquake, it can be an avalanche of a crumbling mountain, which would fill the water and create the inevitable rising up of a tremendous mountain of water or a tsunami. The possibility of such a disaster is constantly monitored so people can be warned if it should be about to happen. This is the setting for this film and the dramatic build-up of tension as we meet some of the people who are monitoring the possibility of a tsunami and we will also meet the family of one of them. This part of the film could not have been done better.

The movie is directed by Roar Uthaug, who participated in writing the story and the screenplay with Martin Sundland, and John Kare Raake. The main character is Kristian who is played by Kristoffer Joner.

You are on the edge of your seat even though you are pretty sure what is going to happen. You just don’t know exactly how it’s going to go down and how it will impact the characters that you have met. When things eventually break loose, the special effects are outstanding. We have a combination of horrific things happening and in the midst of it, among the many frightened people, are the characters that we care about.

So far so good, but then we realized that the plot is becoming thin and unbelievable. No matter how good and realistic the special effects may be, when the story becomes a “fairy tale” the movie loses a great deal of its credibility and becomes almost laughable. In retrospect, the characters were stereotypical with very little complexity. Yes, it is scary and we live in earthquake country so it reminded us that you never know if the next disaster is around the corner. But that is really all the movie was able to do. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Thriller

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