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"Fabulous" was the word I heard again and again as I left the theatre after a screening. The movie is terrific! A wonderfully made documentary of a brilliantly talented entertainer, it shows us the highs and lows of a singular life! There is plenty of Sammy Davis, Jr., in the film, starting from when he was a precocious performer at age 3. The breadth of his talents is well covered and simply dazzles. An interesting array of well known and not so well known people comment on the star's highs and lows, their words well chosen and never boring. His life was bound up with the politics and social mores of the time, an aspect that made the film important as well as a joy to see. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to eat the excellent chocolates I'd bought.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
A very Aryan-appearing male shows up at this B&B for visiting scholars with a Star of David around his neck. Virtually the first question the Jew asks his host is, Where is the bank? Banking has nothing to do with the central theme of this movie (an attraction between two males, one older, one quite young). Why are the characters Jewish? The only subsequent reference to Jewishness occurs many months later, when we see a menorah (incorrectly rendered) during Hanukkah and someone grabbing a gold-covered chocolate coin. End of Jewish references. None of the reviews I read comment on these occurrences in the movie that I found really quite peculiar, the banking question especially. That said, no one will agree with me, but the director/writer has no concept of "scene." Scenes should be mini-stories, mini-dramas, if you will, that cohere and have a punch, but the ones in the movie are mostly pastiches and rarely end in a satisfying manner. The film is pretty, I'll give it that, but I'm astounded that it's gotten overwhelmingly wonderful reviews.
Sage femme (2017)
Virtues of a Foreign Film
Unlike many Hollywood films, I find that foreign films render the complexity of characters and relationships more akin to real life, and so it is in "The Midwife." The film also excels in giving us a context for the fraught relationship of the two women leads, Claire and Beatrice, but not with easy flashbacks or an improbable verbal summary; instead, their history unfolds the way it would in real life--in bits of dialogue that not only bring up the past but show us how, although buried by Claire and superficially dismissed by Beatrice, it has lingered sufficiently to scar them and to force them to come to new terms in addressing their present situation. I love the dimensionality of Claire: she has a job she loves (midwife in a hospital) but it's threatened by the hospital's drive for technology that will bring greater profits; she has a son who is also complex; a hobby (gardening); a fraught relationship with her mother; memories of her father that are both painful and loving. In short, she is a full- fledged human being. This is a fine film that centers on people, not violent or titillating events.
Gripping and Persuasive
Although the movie hasn't been released for the general public, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening. I assume the others here who rated this movie have seen it. The climate-deniers would like to think otherwise; too bad. The devastating footage in the movie is real and speaks for itself. When icebergs melt at an accelerated pace and even moderate temperatures in a city like Seattle give way to temperatures hardly short of 100 degrees, climate deniers can pretend all is well. Al Gore knows otherwise and makes a very strong case in a gripping movie for people to save the planet for future generations.
Pornography and an Over-the-top Plot
It's pornography (including sadism) interwoven with an intricate, silly plot--if this intrigues you, fine! I had trouble with the absurd set-up to the film, which is (and feels) way too long because the graphic sex scenes are virtually endless. There are three points-of-view, and the film invariably slips out of POV from time to time. That said, the settings, costumes and cinematography. are absolutely gorgeous, as are the female actors. Except for a twist or two, the film goes nowhere and is about nothing. The Korean and Japanese dialogue (as translated) often sounds like a cross between what one would find in a romance novel and hard-core pornography--breathless, over-the-top, no pretense of being remotely realistic. Nevertheless, the reviews have been extremely positive and the people in the audience when I attended seemed really to like this film--I am hard-pressed to understand why. While the characters in the movie are lusting for each other, and making an all-out effort to titillate viewers, I hunger for a story that has character development and a journey worth traveling.
Les innocentes (2016)
A Riveting Experience
So gripping is this film that I didn't hear a sound from the audience--no talking, none of the usual rattle of bags of popcorn! While I would like to know now, now that I've seen the film, what parts of it are based on actual events, almost everything in the film seemed utterly true. This is not for film-goers who seek amusement, light entertainment, confirmation that the world is a just place. This could have been an unrelentingly grim film, because we see a great deal of the dark side of human nature. Instead, the characters have a wonderful complexity that allows us to empathize and hope. The themes are also rendered with complexity—we get to understand what initially seems incomprehensible. The acting is very fine, indeed. The landscapes are haunting. There is a lot of tension in the movie that provides forward momentum. We've seen many, many films set during World War II but rarely a film that deals with some of its consequences. This is one very worth seeing!
The Diplomat (2015)
Who knew diplomacy could be so fascinating?
I was expecting an ordinary biopic, in this case of a well-known figure getting praised by associates and others in his field, plus some interesting footage of this and that. An avid reader of the news, I thought I knew a lot (or enough) about Richard Holbrooke. Was I wrong! He was a larger-than-life figure with unbelievable accomplishments. His son David has made an amazingly thought-provoking film on how foreign policy is made (although this was not his intent; he set out to learn more about his father, who was, understandably, distant while travelling around the world in order to solve problems that meant life and death for many thousands of people as well as whole countries). While the film's beginning is a bit confusing, going back and forth in time, the film settles into giving us a clear perspective on selected foreign policies through the decades during which Holbrooke served this country at the highest levels. We get a strong idea of his strengths but also his all-too-human flaws. His relationships with General Petraeus, Secretary Hillary Clinton, journalist David Rohde, Presidents Clinton and Obama are illuminated and totally fascinating. David Holbrooke, the filmmaker and Richard's son, has made a powerful tribute to his dad, while giving us a mesmerizing lesson in foreign affairs.
A Walk in the Woods (2015)
A Thoroughly Enjoyable Trek
Okay, this movie isn't great art, but it's delightful, funny, filled with veteran actors (Nick Nolte, Robert Redford, Mary Steenburgen, and Emma Thompson who, as usual, is absolutely perfect for the part she plays. I loved it because I'm not a hiker, and I truly felt every bit of resistance that Nolte's character expresses to being out in nature while on foot. There are many, many lines that made me laugh out loud. I am not a laugh-out-loud person generally and I didn't read the book, so I don't know whether Bryson is responsible. I am also resistant to feel-good movies but this was definitely in that genre. I've always loved Nick Nolte and am sad that he has become so obese, but his innate attractiveness made me forget how misshapen he is. Definitely (contrary to at least one reviewer's claims) there was a lot about mortality. Definitely (contrary to a couple of reviewers' claims) there is a plot and there is a destination (I say this as a published novelist and short story writer, as well as a former teacher of creative writing). I suspect this movie appeals more to people of a certain age—it certainly appealed to me.
Go and Enjoy!
I thought this was a clever re-write/updating of the original, which I saw on Broadway. Jamie Foxx is his usual wonderful self and has a terrific voice (I would have liked to hear more of it). It helps if you like the music of the original, which I do very much. I also liked the additional music that Will Gluck added. Being a New Yorker at heart, I liked every glimpse of what might have been New York. There are a few things I didn't like, especially Cameron Diaz who was over- over-the-top as Miss Hannigan to the point where I found it painful to watch her. Wallis is an adorable little girl but her strong suit is neither lip syncing nor dancing; that she shines anyhow is a testament to her loveliness. Because I've been deeply involved in politics, I found the premise believable in its fantastic incarnation. ANNIE is what it is: a charming movie for the light-hearted, with tuneful songs and a lively pace. I am deeply puzzled as to what has made reviewers react so negatively--fortunately I did not read a single review before I went, and I had a very good time.
Kill the Messenger (2014)
Gripping and Important
"Kill the Messenger" is both a very gripping film and an important film. Even though I know what our government was up to in those days (as if things have changed), I could hardly breathe, anticipating what would come next in the movie. My only concern about the film is the speculation that those who are ignorant of what occurred in those days would grasp that the money from drug sales went to buy weapons (it was almost glossed over). The acting in this film is superb, with one exception (the person who played Coral Baca--way overdone and not convincing). Knowing that the film is based on true events gives it amazing heft. I think it's an unforgettable portrayal of how our government can go astray--it's history but also a warning for those of us who have been demoralized by the current state of politics and who tend to trust certain names in the media. The film should be required viewing by every member of Congress, by every high school student, by those who call themselves journalists.
The Last Season (2014)
Fascinating & Poignant!
A documentary about mushroom pickers? Who would expect this to be a poignant journey into the hearts of two men who come from different parts of the world to pick a highly valued (pricey) Matsutake mushroom outside a small town in Oregon? Dosa used her education in anthropology to steep this fascinating tale in a cultural setting, the province of Asian men from the war-torn years in Cambodia and Laos and American men who fought in Vietnam. Like any good story, it's about relationships that develop; in this case, as the men invest two autumn months each year to try to make their fortune. Dosa also uses her considerable film-making skills to keep the story on track, to make everything in it vital, and to entertain us as we learn about a world that has been invisible to most Americans, particularly because the mushroom's customers are primarily Japanese. How Dosa found the real-life characters that are the center of the documentary speaks to one of her considerable film-making gifts.
An Artist's Life: Inside and Out
There is a lot to like about this film, which to my mind is superior to most documentaries about famous people. Instead of a parade of plausible-looking people ID'd at the bottom of the screen, telling us how wonderful the celebrated figure is, we have an acted-out story about a creative individual who, like many artists, has a complicated inner life. For those who were around during the early YSL years, it's fun to see the Mondrian-inspired dresses we all wore and to get snippets of life in the 60s and 70s. As a fiction writer, my special joy in seeing "Yves Saint Laurent" is that it's a rare film showing a creative person actually CREATING. For example, films about writers are shown in movies working at their art for, at most, a couple of seconds; a couple more seconds may be devoted to the writer thinking at his or her typewriter or computer, and crumpling paper. This film shows a man who draws and draws and draws and fusses mightily about the execution of his visions. In an era where, say, detectives in crime shows on TV type a couple of keys into a computer and come up with amazing information about the perp, I am thrilled to see a very gripping film about a person who is shown making a substantial, extended effort to do his best under internal and external pressures. Psychological complexity is hardly ever part of films about artists (I think of the appealing documentary, "Cutie and the Boxer," as a prime example). "Yves Saint Laurent" is a well-acted, gripping bio-pic that lets us view the inner and outer life of a major creator in the world of fashion.
Cutie and the Boxer (2013)
A Poignant Knockout of a Film
This is a stunning film for several reasons: Foremost, it is a convincingly honest portrayal of the life of two artists. I cannot recall a film that got the life of an artist right—without an agenda, without false sentiment, without noticeable dishonesty. As a writer I felt I fully understood what Heinzerling managed to convey about the Shinoharas' personal visions without his having to resort to the conventional format of most documentaries. Second, the film is a totally engrossing portrait of a complicated relationship. Unlike most films about famous people, there is no narration here telling us what to think of Ushio and Noriko. They speak for themselves. They reveal themselves, for better and occasionally for worse. I usually resist films that are charming but this one has charm that is utterly irresistible. Third, the film casts light on the kind of work these artists do and have done. Fourth, we get to see the artists when they are not creating; that is, we get to know a little more about their inner lives and their external activities. Fifth, the artists themselves are utterly compelling personalities.
Lemale et ha'halal (2012)
Profound and Moving
This is a gorgeous film. The cinematography, largely revealing closeups of the characters, is stunning, bringing us close in to an unfamiliar world, an insular, deeply religious culture. The acting is flawless. But what brings me to give this film a top rating is the story, one of moral complexity--life, after all, is complicated, a truism that Hollywood films fail miserably in addressing, the rare times they attempt to do so (perhaps "The Master" and "Doubt" are exceptions). A young, innocent woman desires to make a marriage match that is in accordance with her Jewish Orthodox tradition and yet in some ineffable way is personally to her taste. At first this seems possible, but unforeseen circumstances make her choice of marriage partner difficult. She is not just choosing for herself and potential partner but her choice is central to the happiness or unhappiness of relatives and friends—a situation of which she is acutely aware. How can she make the right choice for everyone, herself included? In a culture seeped in moral values, the moral answer to her dilemma is not an easy one. It has been a long time since I've been so deeply moved by a film.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Excruciating to watch
Having seen the 1974 version a couple of times and having read the novel a few times, I was perhaps primed to dislike this new version. Definitely I dislike it. For one thing, it is very noisy, with totally inappropriate music throughout. The noise, I assume, is used to make the film seem exciting. Ditto the speed of the action and the use of cuts. There isn't a moment of subtlety here. There is a phony fight inserted into the plot. There is a phony framework (Nick Carraway is in an institution, possibly for a nervous breakdown--ugh!--and his doctor talks him into writing down the story). With the exception of Jason Clarke who plays George Wilson with passion and believability, the acting totally sucks. I cannot see why anyone would be in love with Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and certainly why anyone would be obsessed with her. Leonardo Di Caprio is a big nothing—there is no clue to his internal life; the performance is all gloss. As for Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), most of the time he looks like a pleasant nitwit in an outdated comedy. I apologize for the harshness of this review--generally I only write positive reviews of movies that deserve a wider audience (see my history). However, I found it such a struggle to remain for the entire movie because it was a big bore.
Simon och ekarna (2011)
Terrific Family Saga
One of the many virtues of this outstanding film is the complexity of its characters. No one is purely good or bad. Good people make horrendous mistakes. Nature versus nurture has a huge role to play in individual and family lives. Another major virtue is the acting: I did not experience a single false note in any of the performances. Kudos also to the writer and director for the way World War II and the Holocaust are embedded in the story: realistically but without clichés. I found extremely interesting Simon's relationship with the oak tree and would have liked just a bit more of it throughout the movie, rather than most of it at the beginning, where it is hugely intriguing but ineffable. My only (very minor) complaint is the music, which I found at some critical points to be overbearing; I prefer it when the acting carries the day without the audience having to be signaled as to the importance of a certain action or moment. I was totally riveted through the entire film—for me, it doesn't get much better than that.
Somewhere Between (2011)
I went to this film with very modest expectations. Having seen the trailer I suspected the film would be a bit sappy (i.e., saccharine) and therefore not my cup of tea. What a surprise! It was a penetrating, unsentimental look at the effect of adoptions across racial lines. The 4 adoptees, young women who are quite different from each other, were incredibly articulate- -I was quite stunned by their ability to express such adult thoughts with huge clarity. Unlike another reviewer here, I do not consider this a niche film in any way. I am not a mother, and while I do try to stay informed about our (shrinking) world, I have no personal involvement in issues of adoption, racial diversity, etc. To say that this film is moving is truly an understatement. I could hear the sniffles throughout the audience. It is a huge tribute to Linda Goldstein Knowlton that without any obvious efforts to tug on our heartstrings, she has put together a film that is searing, beautiful and I hope destined to become a must-see for anyone contemplating an inter-racial or inter-cultural adoption. I so look forward to her next venture and wish her the very best with her own, thus far successful, adoption.
Portrait of Wally (2012)
A Gripping Story of Justice-Seekers
This is an important documentary. One one level, it's about one Nazi's theft of "Portrait of Wally," a painting by Egon Schiele, from a Jewish household in Austria just before World War II, and a decades-long fight by the tenacious Lea Bonni, the painting's owner, and her family, for justice. But more important, perhaps, it's about how revered institutions, e.g., the Museum of Modern Art and NPR (yes, National Public Radio) fought against efforts to restore the painting to its rightful owner. Even in an age of skepticism, such as ours, this film is jaw-dropping when it comes to outing some of the "bad guys." The filmmakers did their homework—they have the documents, the interviews. The list of thank you's at the end reaffirms the width and breadth of their documentation. That said, the film is totally gripping, enlightening about history and the art world, and it flies by quickly. For fans of Schiele's work, it's an extra pleasure, but it's for everyone who cares about making the world a better place.
The Forgiveness of Blood (2011)
Crime and Albanian Punishment
This powerful film immerses us in an ancient culture that continues to exist in modern times. Even as the inhabitants of the Albanian village enjoy television and the young use their cell phones to communicate, freshly-baked loaves of bread are delivered by horse-drawn cart. Without the glimpses of modern technology, we would think we were watching a drama from the 19th Century because of the nature of the feuding (stones placed on a dirt road to block passage) and the very clear, iron-clad rules from the Kanun for resolving the fallout from the feud that escalates to violence The film illuminates the powerful strictures under which the two feuding families live. Honor and respect may seem to us strange concepts to employ, following what we would consider a felonious crime and a matter for the police and a governmental system of justice, but the Kanun lays out the terms under which those who are deemed to have harmed another must isolate themselves and their families. Tradition provides a pathway to settling the feud, but there is no timetable for ending the state of being a pariah. It is the entire family who is societally harmed when the father takes a feud to its ultimate level.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Reviewers Aren't Getting It
In review after review, people are criticizing THE IRON LADY because it isn't the picture they think ought to have been made. Excuse me? I think it's fascinating to entertain what remains of this powerful woman after her time in public life has concluded. This is not just a movie about Margaret Thatcher but about many of us as we age: what remains with us? what have we lost? Mere biopics are dull; I cannot recall ever having seen an interesting one. This movie is gripping for many reasons: Of course it is deeply rewarding to watch the metamorphosis of Meryl Streep into a famous political figure, one who ages the way ordinary people age. I enjoyed being reminded of events that occurred decades ago, by now lost in a deluge of information we receive 24/7. I especially appreciated how Thatcher's struggle as a conservative who cut spending ran up against those who believed she was killing Britain's economy and causing segments of the population to rise up against the disparities in society. Sound familiar? This is a movie about the past that could not be more timely.
Another Happy Day (2011)
A Singular But Universal Family
If yours is a normal, happy family, this film is probably not for you. I loved it. I loved the amazing cast of meshuggenah characters with real-life mishegoss (it's not a Jewish film but these Yiddish terms are apt). I loved how expectations of a wedding day are turned on their head. Ezra Miller, as the teen who is wedded to drugs, is hilarious and convincing, delivering his mordant humor with perfect pitch. Ellen Barkin is a wonder as Lynn—not a false note in her performance as a mother trying to do her best in circumstances that would drive anyone to murder or suicide. Producing it as well as acting in it, Barkin is undoubtedly deeply committed to this film! Ellen Burstyn is marvelous as Doris, Lynn's mother, who is, among other things, coping with an ill husband; often, she doesn't have to speak for us to know what she's feeling. To my mind, Hollywood is not very good at making domestic life plausible, but here's an outstanding exception. I believed every second of this movie. It's so funny that I wasn't at all depressed by the darkness. I didn't read the "external reviews" before I saw "Another Happy Day." Lucky me!
Daring and Brilliant
In the old silent movies, captions were needed even as the actors did their best to convey emotions, often (by today's standards) way overdoing it. The actors in "Breath" skillfully convey practically all we need to know about what is going on in their internal lives, without dialogue. There is, in fact dialogue--not a lot, just exactly enough. This is a daring and brilliant film, and, sorry to say, one that doesn't seem to appeal to many people. I find the film quite transparent, but reviewers seem stymied by the odd situation (a woman in a broken marriage goes to visit a stranger on death row to offer him comfort). What is so difficult about this? She feels as if she is dying so she reaches out to someone else who is dying, even before his sentence is carried out. DUH. How she reaches out is quirky; not for a moment did my attention flag. The relationship motif is enhanced by what transpires in the prison cell of the condemned man, which he shares with three other men, one of whom is in love with him. This is not a film for those who want everything laid out for them so that they don't have to participate in elucidating the meaning. However, for those who are willing to put together the few pieces of the puzzle in this spare and gorgeous film, the effort will be rewarding. I found the film deeply touching, painful, beautiful, and haunting.
Casino Jack (2010)
The movie made a great deal out of Casino Jack's Jewishness. The problem however, at least for me, is that every time I looked at Kevin Spacey, I saw an Irishman. Whatever Kevin Spacey is, ethically, doesn't matter, but he looks terrible for this part. I found it hugely distracting. This is not a plea for stereotypical casting but for intelligent consideration of how actors come across. There were many inadvertent laughable moments in the film and also a few, too few, deliberate LOL moments. There were excellent performances by Jon Lovitz and Maury Chaykin—they almost made the film worth watching. I think part of the problem with the construction of the film is that the target audience had not been fully decided: Was the intended audience viewers who didn't have a clue about Abramoff, viewers who knew a little bit, or who knew a great deal and wanted to see it played out on the screen? I suspect the film is mostly viewed by those who know the story, and therefore it was annoying to hear all the primers, the explanations by the characters of the players and their history. Not a successful film, but I liked being reminded of this sordid story, which, alas, is an on-going story in American government.
Terrific movie, though mistitled
This is not a movie about a client of prostitution, the title notwithstanding. Obviously the title was chosen to "sell" the documentary, and my guess is that it has failed in its purpose. This is a truly terrific film about power politics. If you don't know much about the inner workings of government at the highest levels, this movie will go a long way to educate you. If you do know, this will likely confirm your experience. It is also hugely instructive about the brilliant Eliot Spitzer who was and is clearly dedicated to furthering the public good. The loss of his public service is a huge loss for American consumers. His responses to questions about his foolish indiscretions are forthright; that doesn't mean he fully understands why he did what he did-- who can? People are imperfect. They goof up at the worst possible times. The important questions that the film raises and that go unanswered have to do with how, in a country that processes millions of checks and money orders each month, were his (for $10,000 or maybe less) "singled out" for investigation? =
Title Aside, a Fascinating Movie
This movie is a pleasure to watch and hear: grainy images from the 1950s, intelligent commentary from those who knew and loved Glenn Gould; clips from a number of interviews with Gould over the years, and best of all Gould's phenomenal music, clear and penetrating. From two women who loved him, we learn a little bit about him. My quarrel is with the title, with the words "within" and "inner life." The title raises expectations of our getting to know what makes Gould tick; I, for one, having seen and very much liked the movie, learned very little about his inner self. However, this is a very worthwhile movie for people who are generally interested in artists and/or those who love classical music (even when it contains a novel interpretation). I think the makers of this video did an excellent job—I'm assuming they didn't have a whole lot from the archives to work with. It's relentlessly interesting. Gould is not only an extreme pleasure to hear but also to watch.