Tag: 2017


Midnight Return

June 28th, 2017 — 3:44am

***

Midnight Return

Billy Hayes was a 23 year old student when he was caught trying smuggle four pounds of hashish , strapped to his body out of Turkey in 1970. He was originally sentenced to four years in a Turkish prison but then the sentence was change to a life sentence. During the course of his imprisonment he was transferred for a while to psychiatric hospital and then to another Turkish prison. In 1975 after 5 years in prison he miraculously escaped to freedom via a row boat to a nearby town and then found his way to the Greece border with money his father had clandestinely given him during a prison visit and he ultimately made it back home to the United States.

Once back in the U.S. he wrote a book on his experience, titled Midnight Express which in 1978 was made into a wildly successful movie starring Brad Davis, directed by Alan Parker, with an award winning screenplay by Oliver Stone which essentially launched the now famous movie director’s career. The unanticipated impact of this movie was to portray all Turks as bad and to basically to paint a world wide negative image of Turkey which impacted its reputation and hurt it economically especially in regards to tourism.

Sally Sussman, a successful writer who was Head Writer of the daytime television programs, Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, became interested in the story behind the movie and found a way to meet with the various moviemakers of this film and Billy Hayes himself. She put together the team that raised the capital to make this documentary film Midnight Return and interviewed Hayes, his family, Stone, Parker as well as others who were crucial in making the film. She examined the impact of the film, how certain issues were exaggerated, gives an insight into how Turkish Americans reacted to it and most interestingly through old footage and many interviews traces the life of Billy Hayes for about the 40 years since he escaped from Turkey.

We can imagine that those who have seen the original 1978 Midnight Express and were impacted by it when it came out, will find this follow up to be especially fascinating. We did feel that this 99 minute documentary felt somewhat drawn out. It did not give us the in depth look at Mr. Hayes that we would have liked. While he did develop somewhat of an acting career later in his life and actually recently visited Turkey, it does appear that he remained single and this early trauma of his youth still dominates his life. (2017)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Marie Curie:The Courage of Knowledge

June 20th, 2017 — 7:04pm

***

Marie Curie: The Courage Of Knowledge – sp

Wonder Woman may be the box-office bombshell that has women and young girls flocking to the movies (along with the guys) because she is an unequivocal super hero who happens to be a woman. Well, there is another woman on the block and in a few weeks Marie Curie is going to be released in Los Angeles and then in the rest of the country. While this film may not quite have the excitement and actions seen in WW, but certainly, she should be as big hero and role model.

Director and screenwriter of this film, Marie Noelle, shared her thoughts from Germany via a Skype hookup projected on the big screen after our preview viewing of this movie. Marie Curie had been her hero as a child because of her scientific accomplishments. However, it was what she learned about her personal life that fueled the filmmaker’s desire to work on this project.

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in Paris where she conducted the pioneer research in radioactivity. She discovered radium and how this could be used to treat cancer. She won two Nobel prizes and was the first woman accepted into the French Academy of Science despite great resistance because she was a woman.

A major focus of this film however was not only the resistance to her being recognized because she was a woman, but also because it became public knowledge that she was having an affair (after her husband died) with a married scientific collaborator and actually, had been threatened by the knife-wielding slighted spouse. This obviously would have been a non-issue had she been a man.

Karolina Gruszka was superb in her portrayal of Curie. Curie’s devotion to her work and her personal and professional passion to family and to equality were crystal clear. The film was in French with subtitles and at times we felt that something was missed in the translation as they flashed by. There were many bearded men in the movie and we weren’t sure at times who was who. Albert Einstein even made an appearance, but we didn’t exactly appreciate his role in the scheme of things. The photography, scenery and the characters sweeping across the screen sometimes made us lose track of the storyline. Both men and women will benefit by seeing this film and appreciate the trials and tribulations of this extraordinary scientist. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Beatriz at Dinner

June 20th, 2017 — 7:27am

***

Beatiz At Dinner-rm

A very plain but beautiful, young Mexican woman (Salma Hayek) who is a spiritual masseuse who believes in the holistic approach to healing, is finishing up with her last client who is a wealthy woman (Connie Britton) living on a fancy estate in Southern California, when she finds that her car would not start to go home. She is invited to join the woman and her husband (David Warshofsky), along with two couples (Chloe Sevigny, John Lithgow, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass) who have come to visit for an evening dinner party.

In this movie, there is no mention of American politics whatsoever. However, this film becomes a clear metaphor for the current political scene in the United States. One of the men (Lithrow) is a very wealthy real estate mogul. The contrast between Beatriz and this guy is crystal clear. He feels that his destiny is to live his life to the fullest with no real regard if he tramples other people’s lives and for sport he chooses to hunt and kill a large powerful animal. She would protect people if their land was being taken away for business ventures and could even bring a goat into her house if doing this would save its life from the elements. There are clear allusions as to how some people question other people’s citizenship and would also put the outdoor environment in jeopardy just for their own pleasure. There are references to how some people collude for their own benefit and do not really care about the less affluent. In a metaphoric way, the question is raised as to how angry will the oppressed really get? So angry that they might fantasize killing the oppressor, but in the end might sadly drown into self-annihilation.

Director Miguel Arteta did a magnificent job with the story written by Mike White. You will not see this movie on the list of current thrillers, but it is a chilling contemporary satire of the modern political debate in America. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Hero

May 23rd, 2017 — 8:16pm

**

The Hero – sp

Sam Elliot is a captivating actor, tall, rugged with an unbelievable resonant voice. He plays such a character in this film which was specifically written for him by Brett Haley who is the director and screenwriter. Mr. Elliot even admits that the actor he plays in the film is somewhat like his real self, but the plot is fortunately not his story.

Lee Hayden (Elliot) is an over the hill actor in his early 70’s, long time divorced and estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He once starred in a very successful cowboy film but now does mostly voice-overs. He also has a newly discovered challenging health problem at the same time he has met Charlotte, a young woman (Laura Prepon), and they share a mutual attraction to each other. Did we say young woman? She is actually in her 30’s. almost a 40 year difference. Our hero has to try to figure out this relationship while facing his own mortality and trying to make peace with his daughter. At the same time, he may have the opportunity for a great part in a new movie.

The problem with this situation and the problem with this movie is as far as we’re concerned is that we really don’t understand these characters. We don’t know the real backstory on this young woman who is attracted to this older man nor do we understand why our hero got divorced from his wife (who by the way is played by Katherine Ross, Mr. Elliot’s real life wife).

In a post-film interview with Mr. Elliot, we learned a little bit about how he has approached his own career and didn’t try to play characters that he couldn’t relate to. However, this movie we believe didn’t offer much insight into the personality of the main character and his issues. We give kudos to Mr. Elliot as a compelling actor, but we can’t recommend this film (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Wedding Plan

May 16th, 2017 — 11:52pm

**

The Wedding Plan – sp

This is an Israeli film (a comedy of sorts) written and directed by Rama Burshtein who is an Orthodox Hasidic woman. This is her second feature film and both have dealt with the subject of marriage.

In this current movie, Michal (Noa Kooler) is a young Orthodox Hasidic woman who despite the attempts of matchmakers has not been able to achieve her goal of finding a husband. In fact, she thought she was getting close and was planning her wedding when her boyfriend Gidi (Erez Drigues) told her that he really didn’t love her. This didn’t make her call off her hope to get married, in fact she told Shimi, the guy who runs the wedding hall that he should reserve the eighth day of Hanukkah as the date that she would be getting married (this is the day the miracle of Hanukkah took place where the Maccabees had run out of oil for their lamp in the synagogue but the small amount left burned for eight days) even though she didn’t have anyone to marry yet. She was putting her faith in God that in the next couple of weeks, she would find her husband-to-be. That of course was putting a lot of pressure on the matchmaker, her family and herself. She even goes on to meet Yos, a rock star (Oz Zehavi) in a holy shrine but it didn’t look that she was going to take him or anyone else to the Chuppa on the day that is set for her wedding. Her strong faith and even the faith of her mother (Irit Shelleg) and her best friend Feggie (Ronny Merhavi) that things are going to work out was very touching but truthfully, that is where the theme of the movie becomes challenging to us to say the least. It becomes difficult to identify with this very appealing and likable protagonist as well as her entourage of family and devoted girlfriends.

On one hand, we sensed that this is presented as a comedy with everything somewhat exaggerated. On the other hand, we understand that we are being given an insight into a culture and religious sect where love and marriage are very sacred, but the former probably is supposed to develop after the later. (First marriage, then love) We were not touched by the movie and in fact found the premise of the plot unbelievable. That would make the film somewhat unsuccessful in our eyes because after all, it wasn’t that funny to be a great comedy. However, if we view the story as not so much a comedy, but rather an exposition of the optimism and faith of this religious group that we occasionally encounter but don’t really understand, then perhaps the film is somewhat of a success on another level but not enough for us to recommend it.

The movie opens not only in Israel, New York and Los Angeles but all over the world and it will be interesting to see how it is received. (2017)

1 comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Foreign

Paris Can Wait

May 10th, 2017 — 5:20am

***

Paris Can Wait – sp

If you are a Francophile, a connoisseur of French wine, appreciate tasty French food, love the beautiful French country side with small historic towns and are touched by French romanticism then this may be the movie for you.

Eleanor Coppola, wife of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, a woman who recently turned 80 and is an accomplished documentary filmmaker herself, undertook her first feature film in the role of producer, writer and director. She based this story on a circuitous trip that she once took from Southern France to Paris with her husband’s male colleague when a combination business and vacation trip in Europe was interrupted by her husband’s business needs.

Mrs. Coppola morphs into Anne Lockwood who was intriguingly played by Diane Lane. Her character is the wife of Director Michael Lockwood who was played perfectly by Alec Baldwin who has to fly away on a business trip with plans to meet up with his wife in Paris. Coincidently, his colleague, a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Clement (played by a relatively unknown French actor, Arnaud Viard) offers to drive the director’s wife from Southern France to Paris since she has a minor ear infection and really should not fly.

What follows is a most subtle blend of scrumptious food, velvety deep red wine, magnificent scenery of lakes and mountains, attractive middle-aged people who the more you know about them, the more you are drawn to them as you see them drawn to each other. This is not a hot R-rated movie. Perhaps the sexuality, which is in the mind of the beholder, or in this case, in the viewer, is therefore all the more powerful.

Although only a little bit more than one and a half hours, some might find this film a little drawn out, probably depending on how much you appreciate the previously stated elements of the movie. The best part of this movie treat is that what you bring to the table will determine how well you will digest and remember this cinematic experience. (2017)

2 comments » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Circle

May 3rd, 2017 — 5:30am

**

The Circle – sp

We see on news programs accusations that politicians sometimes are not very honest. There are reports that there are deals being done behind everyone’s back which are not in the best interest of the constituents who elected them. So imagine if it were possible for a politician to decide to “go transparent” where he or she would wear a special camera 24 hours a day that would record just about everything that went on in his or her life (with some very personal exceptions) which would be accessible to everyone on the Internet who wanted to view it. In fact, imagine where other people could decide to “go transparent” and have every part of their life available to anyone who wanted to see it. Imagine also a corporation which cared so much for its employees that it would offer them world class medical care, not only to all of its employees but to their entire families including their parents. What if everyone was interconnected on the Internet so that a wanted criminal could be quickly tracked down once the details of this person with a picture were put out on the Internet. In fact, any persons’ whereabouts could be tracked down within ten minutes because everyone was so interconnected.

These possibilities and all the implications of them were part of the storyline of the novel The Circle  by Dave Eggers which was brought to the screen by James Ponsoldt who co-wrote the screen play with Mr. Eggers. Mr. Ponsoldt also directed the film and was one of the major producers. He enticed Tom Hanks, two-time Oscar winner to play Eamon Bailey who was one of the founders and leaders of this company. As usual, Mr. Hanks is very believable and somewhat reminiscent of Steve Jobs. Patton Oswalt plays another co-founder Tom Stenton who appeared a little bit more sinister.

The story revolves around Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young woman who was thrilled to get a job at the Circle (think Google and/or Apple squared in the mathematical sense). We see her evolve from being very excited about getting a great entry job (called a guppy, remember new born teeny tropical fish) to developing into a sophisticated perhaps brainwashed worker who herself wants to go transparent. There are also meaningful supportive roles by Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton who play her parents.

We previously had read the book and liked it very much. As is often the case in such a situation, it is difficult for the movie to live up to an outstanding bpok. We tended to feel that the film was quite disjointed and superficial. The characters were not very well-developed as compared to in the book. Subplots, probably by necessity, were left out. The film served the purpose of providing a cautionary tale as did acclaimed film and book “1984” and telling us what may be in store for us in the future.

If you read the book, the film probably is not worth seeing. If you haven’t read the book, we highly recommend that it be your first choice instead of the movie. (2017)

1 comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Dean

April 26th, 2017 — 1:21am

****
Dean -sp

We learn at the beginning of the story that a father and his grown son have just lost a wife and mother and are about to begin the grieving process. The father is played by two time Oscar winner Kevin Kline who turns in an outstanding performance. Likewise Dean, the son, is played by Demetri Martin in a excellent break through performance. So is the director, screenwriter and producer also in the person of Demetri Martin. An important part of the story are single panel cartoons which are interspersed throughout the film and focuses the mood and irony of various situations in the movie. These drawings are also by Demetri Martin. So who is Demetri Martin? He has been a stand up comic for many years, has worked with Conan O’Brien on TV and has published a book of his own cartoons. He is obviously very talented and was able to draw upon his own experience of having lost a parent at a young age and his understanding of the universal search for love combined with a finely honed sense of humor.

Despite the initial premise of the story, this is really not a sad or tearjerker of a story, except the few times that Dean listens to a saved message on his iPhone of his late mom giving him words of encouragement. This is more a story of exploring different ways of grieving, as well as budding love of both a young and older man. It also uses two great exciting American cities that traditionally have been a backdrop for cinematic romance, New York (Brooklyn) and Los Angeles. The two respective women who have stirred the potential of deep romantic feelings in father and son at a time that they were on opposite coasts were Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen). Many of Dean’s buddies in the movie, are played by actors and comics who have captured the beat of his generation.

The net result of this 87 minute film is a feel good experience which reminds us that the connection between loss and new love is natural and inevitable. We highly recommend this movie. It is funny and poignant with surprising depth. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Wakefield

April 22nd, 2017 — 1:09am

**

Wakefield-sp

Picture a successful suburban lawyer, married with two budding teenage daughters who one day decides not to come home as usual. Instead, he secretly hides in a storage loft of the garage of his house and observes his family as they frantically worry about him, mourn his loss, and then get on with their lives. Days and weeks pass as he secretly lives in the garage foraging in the late night for food in neighborhood garbage cans while keenly observing his family from his perch with a pair of binoculars. Is this an insecure or jealous man, or a man who is living out a not uncommon fantasy to take a break from life, or a mentally disturbed soul? Apparently, all of the above as interpreted by writer/director Robin Swicord who adapted a short story by American author E. L. Doctorow. According to her, she even had the blessing of this now deceased author with whom she consulted about this project before his death in 2015.

The centerpiece of this film is Bryan Cranston, as he inhabits Howard Wakefield and seems to be on screen 99% of the time. We observe him evolving from a sharp well-dressed family man and accomplished lawyer to a full bearded scavenger and voyeur. We also hear his voice in a continued monologue in the background, in addition to flashback scenes and dialogue between the various characters. Cranston is a tour de force with an outstanding very nuanced performance, which deserves to be recognized for award considerations. Diana, the wife and mother, is played by Jennifer Garner, although with minimal dialogue she conveys and radiates her charm and attractiveness which makes her husband’s abandonment all the more difficult to understand. There is also an interesting and touching interplay with two developmentally disabled teenagers being cared for by a psychologist neighbor. They are very well played by Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva.

It seemed to us that the storyline was somewhat repetitious, especially in regard to garbage being treasured as food to be eaten. The question that emerges from the plot is why did Howard Wakefield really do this? And what will his wife say if he emerges from the garage and declares, “I’m home.” Despite Cranston’s great acting with some clever writing and directing by Ms. Swicord, we are still not sure that this movie is worth the full exploration of this question. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Tanna

February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm

****

Tanna

This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.

Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.

The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.

The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.

The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign

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