Tag: 2015


The Martian

February 20th, 2016 — 11:52pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 8.48.35 AM****

The Martian-nf

We were late in catching up with this highly acclaimed film and decided to watch it on television at home “on demand?” As we were starting to view it, SB commented, “Isn’t it going to be boring watching an entire movie of a guy stranded alone on Mars.” It is a fair question but you obviously know the answer since as of this moment the film has won golden globe awards for best picture and best actor for Matt Damon and then seven Academy Award nominations.

Veteran director Ridley Scott worked with a very skillful production team that used special effects, green screen, and reproduced Mars in a studio in Budapest and in the desert in Jordan. The screenplay by Drew Goddard was based on a first novel by Andy Weir. Anyone with a knowledge of the outer space exploration would have heard of the Goddard Space Center named after Robert H. Goddard the father of rocketry. We haven’t been able to find out if Mr. Drew Goddard is connected in any way to the space pioneer although we see he grew up in Los Alamos which is known for nuclear research as well as space research. Maybe there is an unconscious connection.

Of course the star of the film is Matt Damon who plays the stranded astronaut Mark Watney who is left behind on Mars because his crew thought he was killed in a big Martian storm. He becomes our hero. We root for him. You will get caught in his plight and the 2-hour and 24-minute movie will fly by. You will see lots of familiar faces who do a great job in their respective supporting roles. These includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember him from 12 Years A Slave) and many other fine actors. It is of note that we hear barely one sentence about who the lost astronaut is connected to back on earth and who he yearns to see if he makes it back home.

The underlying attraction of this very well done film is that it captures the human spirit. It is summed up in the song played at the end of the film by Gloria Gaynor recorded in 1978. Listen to it , catch the line at the beginning about being back from outer space, buy the song on iTunes and go see the film. Click here to hear the song – and then click the first video screen(2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Lady In The Van

February 14th, 2016 — 4:57am

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 4.44.16 PM***

The Lady In The Van-rm

Dame Maggie Smith, who is one of the most distinguished and famous actresses in the United States and England, plays a woman close to her actual age but quite the opposite of how she would ever be seen in-person. In this film she is Ms. Shepherd, a homeless, raggedy old woman with a hidden past that is slowly revealed. We meet her as she lives in a van in a community which could be in a suburb of London. Although she is a blight to the neighborhood, she becomes well-known to the local people. She wrangles permission to keep her van in the driveway of a playwright, Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). The real Alan Bennett is an actual playwright and wrote the screenplay for this movie. This film directed by Nicholas Hytner uses an interesting mechanism to examine the character of Bennett. He is shown as two personas, the one who sits and writes at his typewriter gathering ideas from his life and the other, a person who actually lives the life to get the ideas for his writing self. Mr. Jennings plays both parts of him and they frequently are shown on the screen together talking, “to each other.” There is also a small role for James Corden, TV host of the Late Late show who blends in with local Brits.

Maggie Smith of course is outstanding as the cranky old woman with a past. Mr. Bennett’s deep-seeded motivation seems to be related to his own relationship with his mother (Deborah Findlay) who we get to meet in the movie and observe as they are interacting.

This is a somewhat touching story with great acting, especially by Ms. Smith who gained a Golden Globe nomination for it. We are told at the start of the movie that it is based on a “mostly true story.” We found it interesting that in the award category, this movie was considered to be a comedy. There were some funny lines but it was the poignancy that carried the film in our opinion. However, we didn’t feel it moved quite fast enough for our taste and left something to be desired for the viewer. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Embrace of the Serpent

February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 2.47.33 PM**

Embrace of the Serpent-sp

(In native language and in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles)

This movie was out of our comfort zone and for the most part out of our understanding zone. The purpose of this 2 hours and five minute film was to provide insight into the thinking of native people living in the Amazon region at the turn of the 20th Century, which probably reflected much of the way things have been for hundreds of years in the past. We also understand that there are still isolated groups of people living in this area today who think, speak, and believe in the metaphoric mysticism, which was conveyed in this film.

We did meet the filmmakers, director, and screenwriter, Ciro Guerra and his wife who was a producer of the film, Cristina Gallego. On the basis of seeing this film and hearing them speak, we appreciate that they are obviously very knowledgeable and thoughtful about film making and about the people and culture they are depicting in this movie. We should add that they shared with us that in order to protect the film crew and actors that they brought into the Amazon, they obtained standard film insurance but also hired a Shaman to provide protection for everyone.

The movie is based on the true story of two European explorers who travelled decades apart down the Amazon River, which is bordered by the territory the size of the United States, which includes parts of several South American countries. In this fictionalized account, each of them was shown to have the same native guide. The details of the story are not as important as it is to appreciate the way of thinking of the natives which are spiritual, mystical, close to nature, and rooted in the characteristics of the jungle. It was also a clear statement about the damage that the white man has done to their culture in the quest to exploit the trees that produce rubber, as well as in the attempt to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.

This film is the Colombian foreign film entry for the Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the five finalists. Despite this acknowledgment from the Academy, we found it overly long and not well constructed. We cannot recommend that you spend your time watching it (2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

In The Shadow of Women

January 26th, 2016 — 9:03pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.44.27 AM**

In the Shadow of Women-sp

(French with English subtitles)

You probably will not see this movie unless perhaps you are taking a course about French films. We also don’t think you are missing anything. It is directed by Philippe Garrel who we were told by two experts in this genre has a following among such afficiandos.

The movie is in black and white as is the story. The theme is infidelity. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are seemingly a happily married couple, although Pierre really doesn’t seem happy about anything. They are filmmakers and are making a documentary in which they are interviewing a supposed hero of the French resistance who is reviewing all his heroic acts during World War II. However, it turns out that he is lying and deceiving the filmmakers. He really turned in all his friends to the Nazis. Pierre is also doing a bit of deceiving as he is having an affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam). This would seem to be very unfair to his wife, Manon, as she seems to be very dedicated to the marriage. However, despite this initial impression Manon is having a secret liaison with her lover. When circumstances lead both Pierre and Manon to confess to each other, they both become furious and split up. They meet sometime later at the funeral of the subject of their documentary film and quickly end up passionately in each other’s arms.

We obviously have not avoided providing spoilers since we doubt most of our readers will see this movie. As we ponded the meaning or message of the film, we saw very few clues to the background of the characters. We appreciated the echo of deception in the subject of Pierre and Manon’s documentary film and the deception in their lives. Was this a morality story? We think not. One of the native French movie experts discussing this film at our screening stated that in France as compared to America “Infidelity is not a moral issue.” She agreed however that this doesn’t mean that the participants might not have personal emotional responses. We saw a very little of such responses and certainly, as we stated, there was no understanding of the meaning of the infidelity to each of the characters.

The title of the film suggests that there is something more meaningful in infidelity to women than to men. This is an interesting point but certainly was not developed in the movie. We understand that the screenwriters Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langmann have a very fine reputation in France as does the director. Mr. Garrel is a master of black and white and the filming of the streets and the alleys kept a consistent atmosphere and mood of the film. The third party voice-over helped to fill in some of the details of the story. However, one of us felt they should have edited in about a half hour more to the 73 minutes running time in order to develop some insight into the characters. But the other one of us felt the best part of the film was that it was short! (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Rams

January 21st, 2016 — 1:59am

 Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 5.57.46 PM**

RAMS (Icelandic with English subtitles)-sp

This was the Icelandic film entry for best picture in the Oscar foreign film category. It did not make the final cut for nomination. It is written and directed by Grimur Hakornason and stars two experienced Icelandic actors Sigurdur Sigurjonsson and Theodor Juliosson who play two brothers. The film is set in the mountains of rural Iceland in a small sheep farming community. This is definitely not a familiar setting for American film goers. What is familiar is that we are presented with a story of a sibling conflict. There are two brothers with adjacent sheep farms who have not spoken to each other in more than 40 years. An outbreak of sheep disease (scrapies) is dramatically discovered which requires the slaughtering of everyone’s sheep in this small community, which would take away their livelihood for at least the next two years. It would also mean the wiping out of the stock of animals that has been in these two brother’s family for many generations.

There are lots of moments of drama and tension in this movie. Certainly, the filmmaker, who we met at our screening, knew this setting quite well. He mastered the depiction of man and sheep in the beautiful countryside and the deadly snowstorms that can occur. He injected a subtle sense of humor into the various serious dilemmas, which the characters are facing.

Of course, the main theme of this story is the antagonism between these two brothers. As mental health professionals, we know that this universal theme can be one of the most painful conflicts of the human condition and often plays out with many heartbreaking, heartwarming and fascinating variations. By taking on this issue, the filmmaker had the opportunity to provide not only new insights into this universal story, but also to enrich it by highlighting the cultural layers from the Icelandic setting.

We are sorry to say, in our opinion this movie did not live up to the potential possibilities we envisioned for it. We know nothing about the brother’s family, childhood or any insight whatsoever into the nature of their conflicts that led to 40 years of not talking to each other despite living within sight of each other’s houses. There are no other family members in this story. The two older main characters are seemingly single with no spouses or children. In fact, there are no significant friends in the movie although we see the townspeople occasionally interacting with them. The film while trying to show us a poignant ending, still gave us no insight into the characters who are doing the emoting. The direction, acting, photography, editing were of high quality. We understand that this movie was well received in Iceland. We can only imagine how well it would have gone if there had been more of a story. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Foreign

The Brand New Testament

January 13th, 2016 — 6:01am

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 12.26.13 AM**

The Brand New Testament- sp

This is a French/Belgium foreign film directed and co-written by Jaco Van Dormael that was nominated for a Golden Globe Award this year. It is a full-blown irreverent satire on religion that borders on the ridiculous, but will extract some laughs from most people. It has distribution thus far in 50 countries but not yet in the United States, so you will probably have to go to Netflix, if you are inclined to see it.

In this story, God (Benoit Polevoorde) is a middle-aged guy running a computer in a special room in his middle class house where he lives with his wife who seems to be a mousy downtrodden woman. His teenage daughter (Pili Groyne), who is the sister of Jesus, at night sneaks into daddy’s office and sends an email to everyone on the planet, telling them exactly when they will die. This has lots of implications to people individually as well as for world peace. Then, for some reason, the daughter of God decides that she should have a new set of apostles perhaps because she is a little competitive with her brother. Each apostle has a different theme, the satirical implications of which we seem to have missed.

We only recognize one of the actresses in this film and that was Catherine Deneuve. Her character was having sex with a gorilla. There is not more to say about the film. Although we cannot recommend this movie, we realize your curiosity might get the best of you (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Foreign

Joy

January 11th, 2016 — 6:31pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 6.35.18 PM****

Joy-rm

This is movie is based on the real life of Joy Mangano who went from “rags to riches” as an inventor and entrepreneur who sells her products on the television shopping networks. Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie with an outstanding performance, as she shows a wide range of emotion and understanding of her character.

We meet Joy, a young struggling mother with a dysfunctional family who invents a mop with great features. She cobbles together the resources to make a model of it and convinces shopping network executive, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) to consider this product to be pitched on live TV. She has to borrow money and mortgage her home to have the funds to make the inventory needed to be available. There are exciting moments about impending success but some behind-the-scenes patent and manufacturing shenanigans make it seem like bankruptcy is looming and Joy has to decide whether to give up her dream.

We have not really spoiled the film for you because it is much more than this brief outline of the plot. The essence of this story is not about the outcome because this is known since it is touted as a true story. The reason that this movie will resonate with many viewers is because it shows how important childhood relationships can make a big difference in a person’s life. We see early on in the film the dysfunctional family environment, in which Joy is living. She struggles to make ends meet working during the day as an airline reservations clerk, and then moonlights helping out with the business books for her father’s (Robert Di Niro) auto parts business. She lives with her divorced mother (Virginia Madsen) who sits around all day watching soap operas. Her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) is a second rate singer who lives in the basement of her small house practicing his music most of the time. Along comes her father who just broke up with a girlfriend and needs a place to live, so he moves into the basement with her ex-husband. The father has a new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) who has her own place but mainly hangs around in Joy’s house also. There is her young daughter, Christie (played by Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) who seems to idolize Joy. One more person lives in the house and that is the grandmother (Diane Ladd) who is actually the narrator for a good part of the film.

Director/writer, David O. Russell (known for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) along with screenwriter, Annie Mumolo (who wrote Bridesmaids and contributed to the TV series, Modern Family and Transparent) have chosen to tell the story of this determined self-made woman. But in our opinion the real story which is shown here is how Joy was molded by her grandmother who encouraged her to believe in her own creativity as a small girl. The voice of the grandmother as the narrator is the voice in Joy’s head, which allowed her to have the confidence to persist in her goals. There is also a similar identification being acted out by the next generation in the person of her daughter, Christie. We frequently see Christie’s eyes glued to her mother’s face as her mother struggles with her challenges. In one scene when Joy is desperately trying to interest people in her mop by doing a demonstration in the supermarket parking lot, we see the daughter doing the same thing in the background with a toy mop. It is the transmission of confidence to young children from a loved cherished figure that can make all the difference in the world. This can supersede poverty and hardships and lead to success in so many aspects of life. We believe that this is the underlying emotional message of this very fine movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Meet The Patels

January 7th, 2016 — 5:09am

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.30.35 PM****

Meet the Patels-nf

If ever a movie looked like a well done reality TV program, this is the one. It’s clearly  not a classical documentary film (although it won some awards for best doc) and certainly you don’t get the feeling that it is a scripted movie. This appears to be real people who are almost certainly living their real contemporary lives (at least so it seems). Ravi Patel is an actor and a film maker by profession, but this movie comes across as the story of his life. It is filmed mostly by his sister, Geeta Patel with whom he is living and is also a filmmaker. We would not be surprised if there were some redone lines or retakes and maybe even some suggested dialogue but it sure looks like captured real life.

Ravi has recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years and he has agreed to let his parents try to find him a girlfriend whom they hope he would marry. In other words, they are going to do the traditional Indian parental matchmaking approach. However, in order to do this they are going to have to work it out in the modern world. His parents who were born in India and came together with the traditional arranged marriage, now live in the United States. They speak English very well and seemed to be quite well-off. Their quest to make this match for their son begins with a trip to India. It seems that Patel is a common Indian name and there are thousands of Indian families who are somehow related at least with various similar cultural beliefs especially in regard to matchmaking. Friends and relatives (no doubt cousins, many times removed) attempt to find a suitable match of the right woman for Ravi. When things don’t work out in finding a girl for him, he then embarks on a tour of the United States to meet many of the young Indian women that have been searched out by his parents using various methods of communication including the Internet.

The cinematography appears to be cinema verite with many conversations in moving cars and during family get-togethers some of them out of focus or jerky. As this story plays out, we see the struggle of the parents and son who both love each other but yet are of two different generations. They have the same cultural values but each generation is coming from a different place.

Everybody seems quite genuine and there are times when Ravi is reflecting on his personal thoughts. These moments are important to the continuity of the film. He does this through a conversation with his sister, the cinematographer. Rather than just show a headshot of Ravi talking, they have created a simple cartoon caricature of Ravi who is shown talking while his voice is projected as coming from this figure. This technique is quite effective. In fact the entire movie is very effective. We developed great empathy for his parents and for him, as well as for the older sister who is still single herself. In the end we have the feeling that we have just binged on a full season of a great TV series. If anything, the movie seemed to end abruptly and we were ready for season two. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

The Big Short

January 4th, 2016 — 4:03am

***

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.26.28 PMThe Big Short-rm

You probably know that this movie is not about pants or the measurement of peoples’ height. It is about one of the largest financial meltdowns in this country’s history and how much of it was because of some behind-the-scenes financial trickery carried on by Wall Street insiders. It is based on a book by Michael Lewis which we have not read, although M.B. did read and recommend another book by him, Flash Boys which is about a different type of financial manipulation carried by some Wall Street people

In The Big Short, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a real person who is a brilliant, somewhat peculiar guy, maybe Asperger type. He actually was a physician who ended up as a chief of a large financial fund. He studies numbers very carefully and concludes that the mortgage market which has always been thought to be reliable and dependable, is on the verge of collapse. The reason for this (now this is the tricky part) is because hundreds or maybe thousands of mortgages have been lumped together in mortgage bond funds that people buy and trade for the high interest rates that they generate. These funds include AAA mortgages, BB and C mortgages, the latter groups being known as subprime mortgages.

Nobody seemed to have noticed how fragile and vulnerable these mortgage funds are and that this house of cards was on the verge of collapse. That is except this one strange guy and a few other financial wheeler dealers who get wind of what’s going down. Once such team is led by a character played by Steve Carell, who continues to demonstrate his acting chops in serious roles. There are the usual excellent depictions of various key players by Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling.

There are some riveting dramatic moments as the movie goer can get caught up in the impending crash. You may not fully understand exactly what is happening but don’t feel badly since most people didn’t either as it was really happening. When the dust cleared, this cost our economy over a billion dollars (this movie only cost $28 million). We hope that people who run and regulate our economy learned some lessons from this story, but that probably is not the case. Many people, though, will find this movie quite enjoyable although it may make you uncomfortable about the future. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Two Days, One Night ( Deux Jours, Une Nuit)

January 4th, 2016 — 2:10am

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 11.29.56 AM**

Two Days, One Night- nf

This French film with subtitles in English has a simple premise. It is done very well and the lead actress, Marion Cotillard who plays Sandra is magnificent. The film held our interest and our emotions for 1 hour and 36 minutes.

Sandra is a Belgian housewife who works in a factory that makes solar panels. There is a divisive labor issue in her workplace.. Apparently, after Sandra was out of work for a brief time (suggestion is that it was for depression), her boss decided that the workgroup could vote whether to have her come back, but if she does come back, they could not afford to give everyone the thousand euro bonus. Due to a question raised about the voting procedure, there will be a redo vote on Monday but everyone knows that if they vote for Sandra to come back to work, they all will lose the projected thousand euro bonus.

With the urging of her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) who works as a waiter in a fast-food restaurant, Sandra tries to visit the 15 or 16 co-workers at their homes over the weekend to ask them to vote to keep her on and forego the bonus. The interchange that she has with her co-workers as she visits most of them gives us an insight into the struggles of these working people, as well as their moral character. They all desperately need the bonus but just about half of them seemed to be willing to vote for Sandra to return to work.

Then at one point when Sandra feels she has lost a key vote and will lose the election, she does something quite drastic. Then when she learns that the key vote is actually going to support her, she confesses to what she has done but now is in good spirits win or lose and is ready to take on the world. Here is where the film and the director/writers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who are brothers, leaves us or part ways with us. We can’t accept this simplistic view of human nature and the psychological make-up that someone can turn around as quickly as this and be prepared to live happily ever after no matter what happens. As engaging as the buildup may have been, we don’t think the movie delivers. We vote for pass on it . (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

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