August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm
Straight Outta Compton
While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.
We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.
We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.
Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.
Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.
We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
July 2nd, 2015 — 2:35am
Love and Mercy – rm
This is a biopic about Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys. We did not know the story of how he went through a serious mental breakdown with psychotic symptoms for several years. During this period he apparently came under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landry, shown to be the evil doctor (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti). Dr. Landry was said to be a psychologist in the film but was shown to be “over medicating” Wilson. What is very clear is the brilliance of Wilson. It is interesting to speculate whether or not some of his amazing creativity was related to his genius brain, which also may have been the source of his tendency to lose touch with reality. This is also a great love story (apparently true to life) between Brian Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter ( Elizabeth Banks). While it was not shown in the body of the film, she ultimately became his second wife and the mother of five of his children.
Great credit for this movie has to be given to Director Bill Pohlad. We also thought that Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian Wilson (he bulked up to add many pounds to his preexisting physical resemblance to the younger Wilson). We also felt that John Cusack was outstanding as the older, very troubled Brian Wilson. We can only repeat our phrase for Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamiatti in their roles. But as expected the other star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack is constantly playing the old and the newer music created by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys which includes the title song and it adds to the authenticity of the film.
We hope you see this movie and if you’re any kind of a Beach Boys fan, we also suggest that after you view it you read about the trivia connected to the making of this film by going to the following link: CLICK HERE You will appreciate how the filmmakers worked so hard to present the story as true to life as possible
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized
December 9th, 2014 — 9:07pm
Private Parts- nf– Howard Stern who refers to himself as “ King of All Media,” in addition to this 1997 film and another one a few years later, has a best selling 1993 autobiography also called Private Parts, a ground breaking radio career which was topped off by a 2004 $500 million dollar contract with Sirius Radio on which he currently appears on several of their channels, has had various TV shows and is now a regular judge on the popular TV show America’s Got Talent. This movie is produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Mary Thomas. It features Stern playing himself (except some of the brief scenes of him as a child) and it follows his life and career through college and his early radio jobs in Westchester, Hartford, Detroit, Washington and then WNBC in New York. It shows how after a few false starts, he eventually found his voice and modus operandi which was talking about himself and his private parts, his sexual fantasies and just about anything else that entered his mind. This was cutting edge at the time to the consternation of radio executives and the FCC. One of those executives was a program director at NBC, who Stern nicknamed Pig Vomit and is magnificently depicted by Paul Giamatti in this film. Today the forbidden language and the various bits that were deemed outrageous at the time would be old hat on satellite radio. The freshness of his frank language in the film seems quite dated and at times quite juvenile (it probably always was the latter) but in the story that is being told which includes some actual video clips, it is quite clear how he captured the imagination and enthusiasm of a very large numbers of listeners who became his fans and have given him ratings off the charts. This movie is a also a tender love story about Stern and his first wife Allison, played by Mary McCormack to whom he was married for 23 years with 3 children. They were separated two years after this film was made and Stern married Beth Ostrosky in 2008. Also played by themselves in the movie are Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Jackie Martling who have been part of his radio team for many years. The now 60-year-old Stern has clearly not finished his run. This movie, which was made at a time that he was exploring how he could project his persona into still another media, now stands as a historical recounting of the beginning of a most remarkable career. It is well worth seeing as a poignant tale of a a “slightly misfit” creative and courageous man “ahead of his time.”(1997)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama
December 21st, 2013 — 8:46pm
Saving Mr. Banks -rm In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
October 17th, 2013 — 7:38pm
12 Years A Slave- sp This is one of the most painful and difficult movies to watch that we have seen in a very long time. The screenplay by John Ridley is based a little known book by Solomon Northrup, which was written in the mid 19th century. He is the main character of the film and is magnificently played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a very talented British actor who can express tormented feelings with his face and eyes. Northrup an upper class black gentlemen living a happy life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, New York happens to be a talented musician who agrees to go on a short tour and play in Washington DC. He was kidnapped and brought to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery. It is through his experience that we come to deeply appreciate in the inhumane, vicious treatment of slaves on the plantations of the south. The debasement of another human being by others because they felt they owned them and could do anything they wanted to them is shown in so many ways. You probably have studied the story of slavery in this country but any tendency to repress that knowledge is challenged as we experience the separation of mother and child, whippings, demanding forced labor, rape and hangings. All of this occurs as everyday events. If this were just a reenactment of the horrors of this sad piece of American history, the movie would have achieved a worthy accomplishment. However, since the character with whom we closely follow and identify was a free man living in the North who gets pulled into anyone’s worst nightmare, it brings an even greater sense of reality and immediacy to his plight which we believe is quite palpable. There are some very good actors who play some very bad people and those include Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. There was a heart wrenching performance by Luita Nyong’o born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and a recent Yale University School of Drama graduate who plays Patsy, one of the terribly treated young black women. Brad Pitt’s production company originally came up with the idea for this film and was one of the major producers of it. Pitt himself has a small but important role in this film. They brought in Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) as director who clearly connected with the concept and made an unforgettable film, which should not be missed. It is worth the pain that it will cause you. (2013)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History
October 30th, 2011 — 8:30pm
Ides of March– rm- It is not a coincidence that this movie opens in the US as there is a hotly contested primary race in one of the political parties prior to the 2012 Presidential Election.The stories that emerge from behind the scenes of these campaigns usually mesmerizes the public. The people running these campaigns have to be the brilliant tacticians who understand politics and the power of the press. They encounter nosey reporters exemplified in this story by NY Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei). They play a complicated chess game as they present their candidates. Everything and everybody is expendable including the campaign leaders themselves. Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling) is the idealistic very smart staffer working for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) under very wise campaign director Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The campaign manager for the oppositional candidate is a very crafty (Paul Giamatti). The Governor while politically very principled has some Clintonesque weaknesses and we should mention there is a pretty young intern (Evan Rachel Wood). Mix these ingredients together and you get a suspenseful fast moving screenplay by Grant Heslov with contribution from Clooney who also directed the film. It was based on a play, Farragut North, by Beau Willimon which having seen it in Los Angeles, we felt the suspense and surprises of the story were slightly muted. In real life, reading the newspapers and various biographies, we get snippets that makes us understand that in big time politics there can be deception, lying and compromising of principles. This movie gives us a depressing view how it might go down. This isn’t a pretty picture but it is a great story and an effective movie (2011)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
March 12th, 2011 — 8:00am
Win Win sp- The unglamorous struggles of people’s everyday lives can be the making of a good story and a good movie. Writer /Director Thomas McCarthy who seems to specialize in this approach (The Visitor and Station Agent) takes us to small community in New Jersey where Mike (Paul Giamatti )volunteers as the high school wrestling coach of the very anemic wrestling team, while he works as a lawyer who helps the elderly. Mike is feeling the stress of the economy and asks the court to appoint him as guardian of a client with some assets as well as early dementia (Burt Young) so he can get the financial commission. He puts him in an assisted living facility rather than arranging for him to be cared for at home as he promised the court.. The old man’s taciturn grandson Kyle(Alex Shaffer) appears from out of town and moves in with Mike , his wife (Amy Ryan) their two young daughters and attends the high school . Kyle happens to be a great wrestler and this is exciting for the high school team, the Coach and his two assistant coaches (Jeff Tambor and Bobby Cannavale). The conflict is complete when Kyle’s young mother(Melanie Lynskey) also blows into town. She has been an addict, not a very good mom or daughter but now wants to be involved with her father because she needs the money. There is poignant meaningful interaction between the main characters by which the audience gains insight into their struggles and growth. As might be expected Giamatti is the glue of the film as the audience feels his pain, understands his choices and wants to see him work through the jam that he has created for himself. Alex Shaffer apparently a true curly blond teenage boy was a Michigan state high school wrestling champ but had absolutely no acting experience when McCarthy cast him as Kyle and put him under his wing. He carried off his role quite well and needless to say the wrestling scenes were very realistic. Veteran producer of this film Michael London who produced Sideways, was guest speaker at our screening along with Melanie Lynskey. When a screening is accompanied by an army of security guards as this one was, who search you for cell phones and the like which had to be kept out of the theater, one tends to expect a blockbuster of a movie. That was not the case with this film, but it was a character driven movie that showed real people “wrestling” with the conflicts of their lives and trying to make the best of their situations.(2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Sport, Uncategorized
February 7th, 2011 — 11:30pm
Barney’s Version: rm The last time we saw a Paul Giamatti film, this talented actor was in Cold Souls, a 2009 release and he was present on screen for what seemed to be more than 95% of the movie. Such is the case with Barney’s Version as the film revolves around Barney Panofsky and his arrogant, self centered and yet needy persona over a forty year period. A man who meets his third wife (Rachell Lefevre) at his wedding to his second wife (Minnie Driver) and then leaves the reception to pursue her is certainly suspect of being not such a nice guy. Then there is the question why would #3 allow her self to be interested in him knowing his history? Despite her seeming to be a charming intelligent, lovely woman herself is she so flattered by his attention and persistence that she ultimately becomes his wife and mother of his two children? It is interesting to consider how this movie depicts women. While certainly a complicated issue considering the time setting of most the scenes (20-30 years ago), it did seem that for the most part they are shown in a stereotypical manner mainly as appendages to the men in their lives. Then there is the fact that Barney is clearly Jewish. The wedding is a stereotypical Jewish affair (except perhaps there is an over emphasis on alcohol). The movie is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler is well known for writing about the struggle of Jews such as his acclaimed book Apprentice of Dudley Kravitz set in Canada in a Jewish environment as was much of this story. In this regard Dustin Hoffman plays Izzy, Barney’s very Jewish father but he happens to be a cop! It also seemed to us that the storyline really had to go to an extreme at the conclusion to get us to really feel sympathetic towards Barney. However, in the end it is the acting of Giamatti which will stand the best chance of selling this movie. He apparently sold the Golden Globes as they gave him the award for the best actor in a musical or comedy and we don’t think this movie is a comedy at all and certainly isn’t a musical. In fact the movie was released in late January 2011 so we aren’t even sure how this qualified for the award. But on the other hand, this isn’t your ordinary story; it is Barney’s Version. (2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance
September 7th, 2010 — 1:36am
* * *
Cold Souls – sp – This is one of most unusual movies that we have seen in a long time. We are not sure if it is science fiction, new age, deeply metaphorical or just a ridiculous comedy.
A tortured actor by the name of Paul Giamatti (sic) played by Paul Giamatti can’t stand himself anymore so he goes to a place on Roosevelt Island in New York City that he read about in the New Yorker magazine in order to have his soul removed and put in cold storage. Will he like the one that he chooses to replace it with? How does this affect his acting or his relationship with his wife? What will happen when shady people from Russia are trafficking souls on the black market? Giamatti is on the screen at least 90% if the time and he almost makes everything in this fanciful movie quite believable. It was written and directed by Sophie Barthes in her first feature film produced by Liz Giamatti, Paul’s wife, along with a few other people. While the movie did not hold Susan’s attention and interest as well as it did Michael’s, we both agreed that it ultimately had some flaws in the script and fell short of a great movie. Paul Giamatti should get special recognition for his performance in this difficult role. To be released in August. (2009)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
January 16th, 2010 — 2:38am
* * * *
The Last Station – sp – Leo Tolstoy died in 1910. This is the story of his last year based on a novel by Jay Parini with a screenplay written and directed by Michael Hoffman. Helen Mirren is as good as she ever has been ( and that is saying a great deal ) in her role as Sofya Tolstoy . Leo Tolstoy himself is played magnificently by Christopher Plummer who looks amazingly like the real Tolstoy seen in the film clips shown with the credits at the end of the film. It is the story of this great revered writer who at this late stage of his life has many devoted followers and is leading a movement of peace, love and putting aside the material things in life. The relationship of Leo and Sofya after 47 years of marriage is being examined or perhaps tested as Tolstoy accepts the idea put forth by his devotee Vladimir Chertkov played by mustache twirling Paul Giamitti, that the rights to his work belong to the Russian people and not his family as Sofya vociferously contends. James McAvoy is Valentin Bulgakov, Tolstoy’s young sensitive and naive secretary who is closely observing the struggles of his employer/hero as he himself has just discovered a meaningful relationship with a young woman. Producer Bonnie Arnold related to our preview audience how the movie idea was originally that of Anthony Quinn who hoped to star in it but all the pieces did not come together for him. It was filmed mostly in the East German countryside where Russia in the early 1900s could be recreated including the Tolstoy estate and authentic railroad and station scenes. The Russian backers of the film, which were part of the international consortium, that raised 17 million dollars to make it, required that the music background be composed and recorded in Russia. Sergey Yevtushenko subsequently did just that and his beautiful piano music added greatly to the mood of the film. The relationship between Leo and Sofya as played by two great actors is nuanced in so many ways and is the highlight of the movie all be it perhaps a tad overly dramatic. This may have been why we were always aware we were watching a film and didn’t get completely drawn into it as we both felt should have been the case. Perhaps also if we had read the book or were better students of this part of Russian history we might have also better appreciated their conflict, which was the essence of the story. (2009)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Romance