The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it. -- George Bernard Shaw
Film Tips and Tweets from Rozanne Weissman
THE UPSIDE—See it!
I’m not a snob who would say don’t see ‘The Upside’ because it’s a remake of a FABULOUS 2011 French film, ‘The Intouchables.’ My tweet on the French film was my most retweeted/liked/commented on tweet to date.
‘The Upside’ is still terrific —poignant, funny Americanized version of the unexpected bonding of 2 opposites: a high-flying sky-diving millionaire turned quadriplegic & his black former convict caregiver who didn’t originally want the job. Stars Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman. In today’s world 🌎 we need LAUGHTER & ‘feel good’ films. Worth seeing!
- Screened and highly recommend THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE. The mix of animals 🐘 children 👶 women, Nazis, and World War II told from a When the Nazis invade Poland, the Zabinskis are forced to report to the Reich's newly appointed chief zoologist. The Zabinskis covertly work with the Resistance to save the lives of hundreds of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. They have been honored as part of the 'Righteous Among Nations,' non-Jews who aided Jews during the Holocaust. This story has special meaning for me. My father from Poland was the only one to to get to the US because of a fortune teller. ALL other members of his family were killed by the Nazis.
- woman's perspective captivated me. Critics aren't as kind. Ignore them.
- The scene: Poland
- 🇵🇱 1939 at the Warsaw Zoo run by Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. It's a true story.
Screened comedy 'Why Him?' Racy. Raunchy. R-rated. Mediocre script. Hilarious bathroom toilet scene! Stars James Franco as a Silicon Valley multi-billionaire techie covered in tattoos who scores low on social skills. Not a fan of Franco. 2-hr escape. MUCH needed. LAUGHTER! I'll go anywhere/see anything for a laugh after being 'electionally depressed' for 6 months!
Wide-ranging Themes in New Movies This Season
Film Reviews by Rozanne Weissman
THE END OF THE TOUR Terrific film. Jason Segel is compelling as the late author David Foster Wallace, being interviewed during a 1996 book tour by Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg. The film is based on Lipsky's bestseller Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Imagine a male-bonding 'road trip' film with chain smoking, junk food, and serious probing conversation. At a Q&A following a screening in Washington, DC, Segel said he found it “more terrifying playing a real person vs. fictional. You have to capture their essence. The role was a real departure for me.”
SAMBA Terrific, timely, French immigration film. Talented Omar Sy plays an illegal immigrant from Senegal, living in France for 10 years doing menial jobs. Sorrow, romance. By the same team that created “Intouchables,” which I loved in 2012. In French with English subtitles. (Scroll way down on this page for Intouchables review.)
RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep stars as an aging rock musician in wild black leather outfits, with braids on one side of her head, and eight rings on her guitar-strumming fingers. She learned to play the guitar realistically for the film – she really gets into every role – with help from famed '80s rocker Rick Springfield, who plays her band mate and bed mate. Streep's actual daughter Mamie Gummer – check out the amazing resemblance – plays her alienated daughter, a basket case who tried to commit suicide and is going through a bitter divorce. She remains in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers even when the dysfunctional family goes to a fine restaurant. Dysfunctional probably because mother Streep left her three young kids in Indiana while she pursued her rocker dreams in California. She winds up playing regularly with her band in a small joint and working as a supermarket cashier. I have mixed thoughts about this film, which is directed by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno). I never believed the story, and it's neatly wrapped up at the end. Other reviewers have been kinder.
BOULEVARD The late Robin Williams' last film is a sad little art house film that won't see the audiences of most of the talented actor's other films. Leaving the earth on that note is as sad as his suicide by hanging last August when he was dealing with the demons of depression, alcoholism, and Parkinson's disease. Williams plays Nolan Mack, a closeted homosexual married man tentatively beginning to explore his true sexuality at age 60 but never actually having sex. Our hearts go out to the tortured Nolan in this serious performance. Williams highly diverse body of work and box office hits continue to speak for him: "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Good Will Hunting," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "The Fisher King," "Hook," "Jumanji," "The Birdcage," "Night at the Museum" franchise, and of course his role as former President Dwight Eisenhower in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." We remember him for that and for his manic, rollicking TV interviews. May he finally rest in peace.
JACK STRONG Intriguing Polish political thriller tells the true story of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, who singlehandedly wages a battle against the Soviets from his position deep inside the system, passing secrets to NATO and the CIA. Music evokes the Cold War era.
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
Imagine all of your most hilarious sexual experiences and thoughts on the big screen. And reverse the stereotypical roles so that the woman is the sexually adventurous, commitment-phobic, one-time-only hookup type and you've got a TRAINWRECK. The equation for this hilarious film: Director Judd Apatow + screenwriter/star Amy Schumer = great team! Cleveland star basketball player LeBron James gains new career as good actor! It's got enough rom-com for women and enough sports figures & cheerleaders for men.
SYNOPSIS: Since she was a little girl, it's been drilled into Amy's head by her rascal of a dad that monogamy isn't realistic. Now a magazine writer, Amy lives by that credo-enjoying what she feels is an uninhibited life free from stifling, boring romantic commitment-but in actuality, she's kind of in a rut. When she finds herself starting to fall for the subject of the new article she's writing, a charming and successful sports doctor named Aaron Conners, Amy starts to wonder if other grown-ups, including this guy who really seems to like her, might be on to something.
Universal Pictures (2hrs). Opens July 17.
CAST: Amy Schumer (screenwriter), Bill Header, Colin Quinn
DIR: Judd Apatow
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
Screened jazz singer Amy Winehouse documentary directed by Asif Kapadia. Like many other well-known singers, she burned bright and died way too young in a downward and sad spiral.
Early clips show the Brit as a playful and somewhat mischievous Jewish girl.
Plagued by an addictive personality, bulimia, alcohol, and then a boyfriend-turned husband who introduced her to crack cocaine and heroin, Winehouse also attracted other leeches from her father to a later manager who value...d money more than her well being. She was also constantly plagued by paparazzi.
I LOVED the scenes with the legendary Tony Bennett treating her kindly and gently when the nervous singer asked for a "do over" when they sang together for his album and then eulogizing her at the end of the doc as among the jazz greats.
SYNOPSIS: From BAFTA Award-winning director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), AMY tells the incredible story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse - in her own words. Featuring extensive unseen archival footage and previously unheard tracks, this strikingly modern, moving and vital film shines a light on our culture and the world we live in today. A once-in-a-generation talent, Amy Winehouse was a musician that captured the world's attention with her unforgettable voice and charisma. A pure jazz artist in the most authentic sense, Amy poured her heart and soul into her music, expressing personal struggles and pain through her intimate lyrics. The combination of her raw honesty and virtuosity resulted in some of the most unique and adored songs of our time.
Amy became an international sensation, experiencing a meteoric rise to fame she had never sought nor expected. The relentless and invasive media attention, coupled with Amy's troubled relationships and addictions, led her into a tragic cycle of self-destruction, resulting in her untimely death at age 27. Four years later, Asif Kapadia's powerful documentary invites audiences to remember and celebrate Amy as a brilliant artist while asking ourselves how it was that we watched her disappear in front of our eyes.
A24 (2hrs). Opens July 10.
DIR: Asif Kapadia
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
Screened SCI-FI thriller 'Self/Less' tonight. Imagine Ben Kingsley's consciousness transferred into the younger body of Ryan Reynolds. Interesting concept. Mixed review. Kingsley plays a terminally ill billionaire who buys a chance for eternal life through an experimental medical procedure through a secret organization that transfers his consciousness into the cadaver of Ryan Reynolds. Ah, but that cadaver wasn't created in a lab as Kingsley's character thought. And saying more would be a spoiler alert. In a Q&A following the film, American University neuroscientist Dr. Mark Laubach observes: "It's amazing we still don't know where brain stores things."_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
Just screened "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" tonight. I LOVED the first film & enjoyed the sequel. There are too few films that have great ensemble casts who are all stars in their own right, humor, dancing, fun. It's #2 to the first film in every way & still better than much of what's out there.
Synopsis: THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is the expansionist dream of Sonny, and it's making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina. Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy - posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy and Lavinia. Evelyn and Douglas have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel, the keeper of everyone's secrets. As the demands of a traditional Indian wedding threaten to engulf them all, an unexpected way forward presents itself.
20th Century Fox (2hr 2min). Opens March 6.
CAST: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, David Strathairn, Richard Gere
DIR: John Madden
THE IMITATION GAME
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
Screened must-see biopic "The Imitation Game" nominated for 5 Golden Globes. Brit Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific as eccentric & brilliant mathematician & cryptographer Alan Turing whose cracking of the Nazi's Enigma
code was responsible for the ultimate Allies' win of World War II. His work on constructing "the machine," which helped break the code, was the precursor of the computer.
What's most intriguing: after breaking the unbreakable code, they kept it secret from the government, military, & people while the mathematicians & code breakers devised statistical probabilities of how many Nazi military maneuvers they could reveal without the Nazis knowing their code was broken. The code breakers basically held life & death decisions in their hands.
Despite what he had accomplished, Turing suffers a dire fate after being outed as a homosexual.
The film jolts viewers constantly into the past, present, & future – so much so that I'm thinking of seeing the film again in a month.
SYNOPSIS: During the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing to investigate a reported burglary. They instead ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of 'gross indecency', an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality - little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing. Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine. An intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, THE IMITATION GAME follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives.
Weinstein Company (1hr 53min). Opens in DC December 12.
CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech
DIR: Morten Tyldum
The Two Faces of January
Mini-Review by Rozanne Weissmann
Screened book adaptation thriller The Two Faces of January – Crime, betrayal, survival in Greece/Turkey in 60's. Gorgeous scenery & cast: Oscar Isaac plays American expat tour guide who connects with well-heeled tourists Kirsten Dunst & Viggo Mortensen.
SYNOPSIS: Screenwriter Hossein Amini makes a stylish directing debut with this sleek thriller set in Greece and Istanbul in 1962. Intrigue begins at the Parthenon when a glamorous, wealthy American couple-the charismatic Chester MacFarland and his alluring young wife Collete -meet Rydal, a Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide, scamming female tourists on the side. Instead of becoming his latest marks, the two befriend him, but a murder at the couple's hotel puts all three on the run together and creates a precarious bond between them as the trio's allegiance is put to the test. Their journey takes them from Greece to Turkey, and to a dramatic finale played out in the back alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train).
Magnolia Pictures (96min). Opens October 3.
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac
DIR: Hossein Amini (screenwrite of Drive, The Wings of the Dove)
And So It Goes
Movie Review by Donna Christenson
"And So It Goes" might be aptly applied not just as a title but as a description of how the film itself proceeds. After getting off to a very sluggish start, the predictable storyline picks up a little momentum and becomes a rather touching diversion.
And who knew Diane Keaton could sing? Her befuddled "Annie Hall" as a senior citizen plays well against Michael Douglas' curmudgeonly neighbor. Director Rob Reiner also acts the role of Keaton’s piano-playing would-be suitor. But the real scene-stealer is sweet little Sterling Jerins, whose acting skills and accomplishments by the age of ten would put older actresses to shame.
As in life, one thing leads to another ...and so it goes.
SYNOPSIS: And So It Goes is a romantic comedy drama film directed by Rob Reiner and written by Mark Andrus. The film stars Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton and Sterling Jerins. A self-centered realtor enlists the help of his neighbor when he's suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he didn't know existed until his estranged son dropped her off at his home.
The Hornet's Nest
Mini-review by Rozanne Weissman
Screened The Hornet's Nest documentary film. ABC-TV embedded wartime correspondent Mike Boettcher & his son Carlos provide frontline footage of nine-day battle in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. "There is a disconnect by 99% of public re our war," said Boettcher after the screening. The film shows the tremendous sacrifice & loss of young men, appropriately released around Memorial Day. It's a hard repetitive film to watch. The last 10 minutes are especially important to watch and offer a totally different tone. My heart goes out to vets & their families. I still have little idea what we accomplished there for 13 long years.
Finding Vivian Maier
Mini-review by Rozanne Weissman
Screened unique, fascinating documentary, "Finding Vivian Maier." Virtually unknown photographer had some 100,000 negatives which were rarely printed
until after her death. Extraordinary photographic eye captured others despite her own scrambled brain.
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
THE SQUARE, nominated for an Academy award for best documentary, immerses viewers in the Egyptian revolution over the past three years — from the 2011 Arab Spring economic and political mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which toppled the dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak, through military intimidation and rule, followed by the election of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim brotherhood and massive demonstrations a year later in 2013 against military and religious oppression and calling for his successful ouster. And now the military rules again.
Filmed on the streets, in hospitals and offices, and in Tahrir Square with the protesters, THE SQUARE won the audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Since the story was still ongoing at that time, American-born and Harvard-educated Egyptian American director Jehan Noujaim, who lived in Egypt as a youth and teenager, returned to Egypt to shoot new close-up footage of the bloody religious and secular June 30, 2013 demonstrations and re-edit the film.
Filming on the front lines of history, Noujaim captured shootings and beatings of civilians around the square as well as the chaos, idealism, perseverance, and highs and lows of political fights. Noujaim revealed in an early screening of THE SQUARE that she lost five cameras and hours of footage and was arrested in the process of making this film, which is still censored in Egypt.
“Editing is a messy process. We had 1600 hours of footage—edited down to 100 minutes—and followed a number of characters. I wanted to show human characters the audience can relate to and show their interconnectedness,” she added.
While the documentary interviews many, it follows three primary people and their experiences in the square—youthful and passionately committed activist and narrator Ahmed Hassan, a middle-aged father and conflicted member of the Muslim Brotherhood Magdy Ashour, and articulate activist British/Egyptian actor and star of THE KITE RUNNER Khalid Abdalla. I first encountered Abdalla at a 2007 screening of The Kite Runner—a film that has stayed with me while so many others are long forgotten.
“This is the most personal and life-changing film for me,” related Noujaim. “The 2011 demonstrations were a magical time when people of different religions came together and felt that they were stakeholders in the process. In a documentary, the filmmaker has no idea what happens next. THE SQUARE was not just documenting the record of what was going on, we were part of what’s happening. Every inch we gained is a mile in the future. We know there is no white knight or knight in shining armor—it’s us.”
When Ahmed Hassan was on camera and when Noujaim was talking, I was reminded of my own youthful participation in massive US protests for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, which seemed never ending and never changing. In retrospect, these actions influenced Presidents, ended a war, and led to desegregation of schools, facilities, and organizations, and significantly greater opportunities for minorities. Everything isn’t perfect but it’s so much better. And I was also reminded of my early days at NEA and successful fights for integration of black and white Southern teacher organizations and for teacher bargaining rights. Hopefully Egyptian protestors in this film can also ultimately see a more democratic Egypt that’s representative and respectful of all of its citizens of every religion and viewpoint.
I encourage you to see the documentary because Egypt is at the epicenter of many Middle East and world issues. This is a time when social media not only affected what happened on the ground but will also continue to affect change. If the film isn’t playing in your city, it’s available through Netflix.
Multiple Film Reviews
By Rozanne Weissman
The last quarter of the year generally includes the best films leading into the big movie-going holidays and Oscar nominations. I’ve screened a number of good films prior to their opening, and there are still more that have already opened in theaters which are on my must-see list. My first two films reviewed are adapted from books.
PHILOMENA tells the heartfelt story of a retired Irish nurse, played masterfully by Judi Dench, whose child was taken from her by nuns in Ireland and sold by them for adoption in the US when she was just a young unwed teenager. The film is an adaptation of a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, a true story by BBC foreign correspondent “turned spin doctor” Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan who also co-wrote the screenplay). Sixsmith, a lapsed Catholic, helped Philomena track down her son who had been sold 50 years earlier. The nuns and the Catholic Church don’t fare well in the book or film. Scenes showing the way they treated Philomena are heartbreaking to watch—such as when they denied Philomena pain relief during her breech birth as penance for her "indecency." They also destroyed adoption records.Coogan, known for comedy, turns the screenplay into an “odd couple road trip” through Ireland and the US with Philomena (Dench) and Sixsmith (Coogan) playing effectively off each other, whether on comedic bantering or discussing weighty issues of faith and forgiveness where their perspectives differ. PHILOMENA won best screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival. Dame Judi Dench as usual is phenomenal. She plays the role with spunk, compassion, and forgiveness. Renowned and prolific English director Stephen Frears—known for directing The Queen, High Fidelity, My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, and Dirty Pretty Things—masterly directs this film. He’s currently making a film about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Following the film screening, actor-screenwriter Steve Coogan participated in a Q&A (shown at left with DC Film Society President Michael Kyrioglou). “I optioned the book after reading a newspaper article and spent time with both Martin and Philomena,” said Coogan. “The film is about the journey, not the destination. The hardest thing was constructing the film so that it lifted us up versus dwelling on anger and tragedy. I used comedy to support the drama.”
Saying more would necessitate a “spoiler alert.” This is a film well worth seeing.
THE BOOK THIEF took me back to my youth when I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and marveled at how a girl my age went through the Holocaust and still believed that people were really still good at heart. Based on an internationally best-selling young adult Holocaust novel of the same name by Markus Zusak’s, THE BOOK THIEF is the only film I’ve ever seen narrated by Death (Roger Allam). It’s the story of initially scared and illiterate Liesel Meminger, whose brother dies enroute to their new foster home in Nazi Germany. Sophie Nélisse, who plays Liesel, brings Liesel to life and carries the film with future star assurance. Another outstanding and endearing performance: Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), compassionate foster father who teaches Liesel to read and write after she is bullied at school. He is an absolute delight as we watch his unrestrained affection for his foster daughter in contrast to his seemingly gruff wife Rosa (Emily Watson). A house painter, he gets joy from Liesel and playing the accordion – even to change the atmosphere in an air raid shelter.
Regarding the title of the book and film: Liesel, who has grown to love books, is goaded by the school bully to toss a book into a flaming bonfire – a Nazi book burning ceremony. After everyone leaves, she reaches into the coals, steals the smoldering book, and hides it under her coat. She is observed by the wife of the burgermeister (mayor) who finds her brave and secretly provides Liesel regular access to their home library each time she delivers laundry. Later she steals a book from there.
While we see war in the film tangentially through air raids, Nazi attire, a house-by-house search by Nazi officers for hidden Jews, a book burning, and the march of prisoners wearing Jewish stars, this is a film that focuses more on storytelling – on reading, writing, human growth, and tender relationships. The relationships of Liesel and her parents, Liesel and her blonde-haired neighbor and best friend Rudy, and Liesel and Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is hidden in their basement because his father saved Hans during World War I. Director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”) garners good performances from all. This is a film that spans ages—adults and teens can see it together.
While some reviews criticize the film for glossing over the realities of war, that may not be fair. This is a film seen through the eyes of the young. Youth in war-torn lands don’t get into the weeds – they create their own worlds to survive.
THE DELIVERY MAN. Hollywood “pulled out all the stops” promoting screenings of this film in 100 cities simultaneously, with a taped opening by actor Vince Vaughn. I wish they would show such muscle supporting better films. Prejudices upfront: I’m not a fan of films starring Vaughn. As an actor, Vaughn strikes me as “Johnny one note.” I don’t see him as a leading man with the acting range of so many other film stars that are able to move from comedy to drama--like Mathew Conaughey expanding his range in Mud or his latest film Dallas Buyers Club. Nothing about this film rings true. Of course, it is a pretty wild story.
David Wosniak (Vaughn), an immature, under achieving but kindhearted meat delivery man for his family's butcher shop, discovers that his stint in the 80's as a sperm donor for money somehow resulted in a whopping 533 successful pregnancies. The “frequent donor” is code-named Starbuck. Now in their 20's, more than 100 adoptees learned that they share the same biological father and are suing the errant fertility clinic to obtain the real identity of Starbuck.
THE DELIVERY MAN is a remake of a significantly better and more delightful French Canadian runaway hit film STARBUCK. That film – also directed by Ken Scott – was endearing. My best advice: Do not waste your money seeing this American version. Contact Netflix to get a DVD of STARBUCK, make your own popcorn, and enjoy a cheaper, better experience. My more detailed review of STARBUCK is on my new “leopard-themed” marketing communications website: http://rozanneweissman.com/film-food-reviews/
GRAVITY is a 3-D visual WOW. We’re in outer space in zero gravity with the crew and sitting on the edge of our seats for much of the 90-minute thriller. Outstanding Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and his long-time cinematographer create breathtaking visuals through long camera movements, live-action, computer-generated imagery, and newer technologies which weren’t available until recently. Writing in The Washington Post, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona Representative and shooting survivor Gabby Giffords, said Cuaron captured what it looks like inside and outside of the space craft. He added that “as astronauts, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney captured the intensity and horror of their situation – essentially a fight for survival in space.”
Their spacecraft is obliterated. And the two are stranded in space with massive debris flying towards them. GRAVITY is Sandra Bullock’s film. She carries the entire film playing medical engineer Ryan Stone – and a lonely job it was according to reports since she was filmed alone for most of the film, having to display terror and all other emotions with nothing and no one to act against. That’s a difficult acting challenge. She’s dealing with motion sickness on her first space flight as she’s tumbling around and then fighting for survival with oxygen deprivation. And we on the edge of our seats rally for her.
My only criticism: the film didn’t have enough of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (the charming George Clooney). And, spoiler alert, I can’t tell you why.
This is a film meant for the really big screen – 3-D IMAX if possible, not streaming on your computer or Netflix DVD. Think big screen, big popcorn, big sound – or even scarier the eerie silence of outer space.
MUSCLE SHOALS. The tiny Alabama town of Muscle Shoals on the banks of the Tennessee River saw all the greats in the musical world as they came there to discover, hone, and record their sound – Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Paul Simon, Jimmy Cliff, Alicia Keys, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and the list goes on. First-time filmmaker Greg "Freddy" Camalier explores in this documentary how this segregated Alabama town bridges races and was the source of some of the greatest American music of the 1960s and '70s. Music producer Rick Hall established FAME Studios with a house band called “the Swampers” and drew in the talent. Camalier did his research and gets too much into the weeds for my taste of what ultimately became two competing recording studios – FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound, established by the Swampers. However, if you love the music of this era – soul, blues, rock, hillbilly, spirituals – and the people who made this music, the film is worth seeing.
THE FIFTH ESTATE. What could be timelier in the world we live in than secrecy, privacy, and the trafficking of classified information? Every day there are more leaks. As a former journalist and investigative reporter for Jack Anderson for a stint while on sabbatical from NEA, I’m interested and intrigued about the story behind such stories. While the reviews haven’t been great for THE FIFTH ESTATE, I wanted to know more about WikiLeaks egotistical Australian founder Julian Assange, his charisma and paranoia, what drove him, and the stories he uncovered. If you have the same interest, see it. Otherwise, it may not be your cup of tea.
I also recommend CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (although Tom Hanks’ attempted New England accent didn’t work for me) and ENOUGH SAID. I haven’t yet personally seen but have heard good things about WADJDA, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, ALL IS LOST, ABOUT TIME.
Film review by Donna Christenson & Rozanne Weissman
What do you get when four "best friends" from childhood break out of their retirement ruts to reunite for a last hurrah in Las Vegas? When the best friends are Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) and they later meet Mary Steenburgen, what you get is great fun. These well-seasoned actors can carry a sometimes predictable script to levels it would otherwise not achieve, both in humor and with insights into how old patterns of behavior (and old wounds) influence how we go forward in life. It's charming, and there are enough witty, playful barbs to keep you entertained.
You might say it's like HANGOVER for the AARP demographic! Oops, that’s us. Sometimes, after lots of heavy, meaningful films, the ups and downs of daily life, and the constant barrage of bad news in the media, we all need a few good laughs, and LAST VEGAS provides just that.
Sporting a perpetual tan of the same strange, orange-toned color of Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Billy (Michael Douglas) proposes to a much-younger woman while delivering a eulogy at a funeral ...perhaps feeling his own mortality ...and that prompts the trip to Las Vegas as the oldsters gather together to throw Billy a bachelor party. Though they kid that he’s getting married to an “infant” less than half his age, these are the same men who manage to become judges for a bikini contest of women one quarter their age! That’s LAST VEGAS.
Playing long-term childhood friends from Brooklyn with various idiosyncrasies, history, and baggage accumulated over six or seven decades since childhood, the acting pros display the chemistry, bantering, name calling, and grudges of old friends. Mary Steenburgen, as lounge singer Diana, adds to the mix of talented acting pros that make the film worthwhile.
SYNOPSIS: Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been best friends since childhood. So when Billy, the group's sworn bachelor, finally proposes to his thirty-something (of course) girlfriend, the four head to Las Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days. However, upon arriving, the four quickly realize that the decades have transformed Sin City and tested their friendship in ways they never imagined. The Rat Pack may have once played the Sands and Cirque du Soleil may now rule the Strip, but it's these four who are taking over Vegas.
Multiple Film Reviews
By Rozanne Weissman
I’ve seen some 30 film screenings since my last www.DCdigest.com reviews. These are the films I recommend seeing:
Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The film arose from a Washington Post story about a black butler who served eight Presidents of the United States – from Eisenhower through Reagan administrations. Forest Whitaker stars as Cecil Gaines (the real butler was named Eugene Allen) who rose from a Georgia sharecropper to a White House butler. Oprah Winfrey plays his alcoholic wife. Both performances are excellent.
Gaines’ apolitical, hard-working, keep-your-head-down tenure is interspersed and contrasted with his oldest son Louis’ (David Oyelowo) civil rights activism. At college he joined the Freedom Riders and then Black Panthers. The film spans some of the most important, turbulent, historical civil rights actions of our lives, including the aftermath of Emmett Till’s murder, the Woolworth’s sit in, and enactment of Voting Rights legislation. It brought back so many memories of this nation’s prejudice and inhumanity and what it took to start turning it around – also depicted in the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize.” The Vietnam War is also part of the backdrop – Gaines’ youngest son goes there to fight.
There are some powerful early scenes of the young Gaines watching the boss shoot his father and taking his mother to be raped. She never recovered mentally from these experiences. And the ending was touching – I cried.
Some casting missteps created unfortunate distractions for me. Since filmmakers already had big draws of Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey and others, heaven knows why they resorted to recruiting and miscasting well-known stars in cameo roles as US Presidents – can you imagine Robin Williams as President Dwight Eisenhower? John Cusack as Richard Nixon? The much younger Liev Schreiber playing the much older Lyndon Baines Johnson infamously ordering folks around while he was on the toilet? Neither could I. However, Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan was quite good. Word is that well-known white stars were cast because Hollywood doesn’t believe that black travels well in the lucrative foreign market. It’s about time that more films like this demonstrate that it can.
Jobs. Prejudices upfront: I’m a big fan of Apple and Steve Jobs (my first computer was a Mac, and my iPhone5 and I are joined at the hand) and was looking forward to learning more about Jobs’ earlier years from dropping out of college through his return to Apple years after being unceremoniously dumped as CEO by Apple’s board– the timeframe covered by Jobs. It shows Jobs warts and all – driven, dismissive, transformative, combative, and an utter cad when it came to a pregnant girlfriend. The film takes us back to a world without computers at every desktop – those long-ago days when I started working on typewriters and even teletypes.
Biggest drawback: I always felt like I was watching Ashton Kutcher PLAY Steve Jobs. When I watch a really good actor/actress in the role of someone well known, they seem to "channel" the person – get inside of them and BECOME THEM for a while. Think Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Recently attending Broadway-bound “One Night with Janis Joplin” with NEARO member Ann Kurzius, I found it uncanny how Mary Bridget Davies brought Joplin back to life down to her unique singing and speaking voice. Ashton Kutcher may have tried to adopt Jobs’ mannerisms and even became a fruitarian, but he just doesn’t have the acting chops to play this role.
Fruitvale Station. The timing could not have been better to draw attention to this true film. In a criminal trial that captivated nationwide attention, the Florida jury had just found white, self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman not guilty in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old black youth Trayvon Martin. Similarly, the subject of Fruitvale Station, Oscar Grant, an unarmed young black man of 22, was shot and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a white transit policeman in Oakland, California. In this case, however, the murder was captured by horrified passengers on their smart phones so there is little question of what really happened.
Fruitvale Station has deservedly walked off with awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals for first-time film director Ryan Coogler, just 27, who doesn’t sugarcoat Oscar’s story. He lets the day before the shooting unfold as we bear witness to Oscar’s troubled life, turnaround, and needless death.
In a finely nuanced performance, Michael B Jordan (HBO’s “The Wire”) plays Oscar in all his contradictory human complexities – impulsive, angry, flawed yet helpful, caring, and loving. Struggling with his past as a drug dealer that landed him in prison, Oscar attempts to break old habits and turn his life around leading into his short-lived new year. We see him as adoring father to his daughter Tatiana (Arianna Neil) and loving son to his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) – both extremely well acted. Sadly and tragically, his mother blames herself for encouraging him to take the BART train on New Year’s Eve because it’s “safer” than being on the roads.
The Hunt is a gripping Danish drama about a kindergarten teacher accused of pedophilia. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) lost his job as a teacher as he was also dealing with a difficult divorce. Forced to start over and be separated from his beloved son, he becomes a kindergarten teacher who has a wonderful relationship with his students and with residents of his new small Danish hunting town. His life is shattered by a child’s lie which spreads and turns a community against him in a virtual mob mentality. The child is the daughter of his best friend. Mikkelsen’s deft portrayal of Lucas is outstanding. It’s no wonder he won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This is a terrific film.
The Attack. In Hebrew and Arabic and moving between Tel Aviv, Nazareth, and Nablus, the film seems to start as a marital love story between a prominent Palestinian assimilated surgeon who lives in Tel Aviv, Amin (Ali Sulimon), and his stunning wife, Silham (Reymond Amsalem), originally from Nazareth. They make a dashing couple. The film moves swiftly from lovemaking and establishing scenes to a 3 AM call to the surgeon to identify his wife’s body – or what’s left of it, only the upper part. Silham is accused of being a Palestinian terrorist, of strapping explosives to herself and blowing up 11 children celebrating a birthday in a restaurant along with other patrons and herself.
Despite the evidence, Amin believes there must be some mistake and goes to Nazareth and Nablus on a search for answers. There, Silham’s image is everywhere; she is revered as a terrorist martyr. The Attack raises a profound question: Do we really know another person, no matter how close we think we are? The film is compelling, well acted, and worth seeing.
Twenty Feet from Stardom. The music and soundtrack are great. The story is fascinating. Award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the diverse backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. The backup singers cover a range of styles, genres, and eras of popular music. Each backup singer has an interesting personal story to share – the conflicts, heartbreaks, sacrifices, and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others in the shadows of superstardom. In this film, aided by rare archival footage, the gifted backup singers take center stage to intimate interviews with superstars – Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Mick Jagger.
Still Mine. As we NEARO members have watched our parents’ age and are aging ourselves, Still Mine is an especially endearing film. It’s a Canadian love story about a couple in their 80s who still enjoy a lovely bond and making love. In a true story about building a new home and an old relationship, Craig (James Cromwell) tries to build a more manageable home for his most likely early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia-plagued wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold). Both actors are outstanding. Craig, a farmer, runs into continuous bureaucratic hurdles on code violations. They get pushback from their grown children and support from an engineer grandson and lawyer. It’s a touching and wonderful film.
Also worth seeing: The Way Way Back, Before Midnight, and Blue Jasmine.
No-holds-Bard: Shakespeare As We Like It in Much Ado About Nothing
Film review by Donna Christenson
Joss Whedon’s modern update of “Much Ado About Nothing” is a delightful romp, a film to make even avowed haters of Shakespeare change their minds. I wish it had been available years ago when I was teaching Shakespeare to young students who, like many people today, probably thought stilted, stuffy Elizabethans had little appeal or relevance to their lives.
What often is overlooked is the fact that four hundred years ago Shakespeare was writing for the often bawdy entertainment of his contemporary audience, engaging them with humor, sexuality and wit, as well as deeper “serious” drama and emotions. That may be a revelation to many as they watch the very gifted but largely-unknown actors in this film speak his words and convey his jokes as casually and fluently as characters on your favorite sit-com might for today’s writers.
For those not familiar with the storyline, it follows the parallel romances between the young star-struck Claudio (Fran Kranz) with Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), contrasted with that of the more worldly Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and his verbal sparring partner Beatrice (Amy Acker). The witty exchanges between the latter pair might remind you of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, or perhaps Bogey and Bacall.
Filmed in director Joss Whedon’s own posh poolside home in the California hills in only twelve days, this trendy, no-holds-Bard take is as modern as the iPhones and limos and spiked hairstyles you see rendered in this classic black-and-white film. One can only hope Whedon will do more of this delight-filled genre in place of a steady diet of blockbusters.
SYNOPSIS : Much Ado About Nothing is a 2012 American independent romantic comedy film adapted for the screen, produced, and directed by Joss Whedon, from William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The film stars Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher and Jillian Morgese.
The first feature film by Bellwether Pictures, Much Ado About Nothing premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and is set to have its North American theatrical release on June 21, 2013. (Synopsis from Wikipedia)
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
I thoroughly enjoyed STARBUCK, a French Canadian comedy that’s a runaway hit in Québec. A crowd pleaser written and directed by Ken Scott, it also won the audience award at the Palm Springs international film Festival. Please, please, please see this French Canadian film set in Montréal and not the (most likely) dumbed down Americanized version of Starbuck without French subtitles being made by DreamWorks starring Vince Vaughn. There’s no way it will be as good; chances are great that it will be sappier.
David Wosniak (Patrick Huard), 42, an immature, under-achieving but kindhearted meat delivery man for his family's butcher shop, discovers that his stint in the 80s as a sperm donor for money somehow resulted in a whopping 533 successful pregnancies. The “frequent donor” (I wonder if there were an “awards” program) is code-named Starbuck. Now in their 20s, more than 100 adoptees learned that they share the same biological father and are suing the errant fertility clinic to obtain the real identity of Starbuck.
The story headlines in all media and is the subject of both laughter and derision. In an effort to keep David’s anonymity, his friend Paul (Antoine Bertrand), an actual dad who lives with his kids, becomes his attorney.
The film gets more amusing as David, curious about his progeny, spies on the youths and surreptitiously not only enters but also changes some of their lives for the better. And, then, he even joins the group of his offspring, pretending with a prefabricated story to be one of them.
And, did I mention there’s also a girlfriend (Julie le Breton) with a little surprise? Must end here to avoid the need for spoiler alerts.
SYNOPSIS: Patrick Huard stars as David Wozniak, a 42-year old lovable but perpetual screw up who finally decides to take control of his life. A habitual sperm donor in his youth, he discovers that he's the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are trying to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of the prolific donor code-name Starbuck.
A runaway box office success in Quebec, STARBUCK premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as a Gala Presentation. (English language remake rights for this all too human comedy were sold to Dreamworks. Starring Vince Vaughn, the American remake is currently set to be released under the title THE DELIVERY MAN on October 4.
BY ROZANNE WEISSMAN
THE GREAT GATSBY. Captures the excesses of the '20s with its own over-the-top excesses in 3D. Fabulous costumes and cinematography. Needs cutting. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, whose personal friendship is apparent in the film. I'm not a great fan of Leo and often wonder: Why does he get every juicy role when he doesn't always seem to fit the part? But this film is also not his best work. See it because it's Gatsby, but frankly it's no Titanic.
QUARTET. Remember Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate? Well now he's all grown up and at age 75 is a first-time director of this lovely film that is worth seeing. The film's setting: Beecham House, a retirement home for opera singers and classical musicians in the English countryside. The superb cast, including Maggie Smith who plays a celebrated British soprano, works together on a fund-raising gala to celebrate Verdi’s birthday.
“Quartet” deals with what happens when a performing artist’s physical gifts fail with the years. I loved the classical music and the relationship of the characters to each other as the aging process changes them. See this little jewel.
MUD. Demonstrating that even hunk Mathew McConaughey can look totally unappealing covered in mud and tattoos with a snaggletooth smile, the film reeks of the heat and humidity of a Delta summer. McConaughey is quite good as Mud, the mysterious, temporary, lone inhabitant in hiding on a tiny island on the Mississippi River. His young co-stars, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, who have interesting back stories, discover Mud and also walk off with the film. See it.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Highly recommend this excellent film directed and acted by Robert Redford. Perhaps it's just that I well remember the intense times and bitter battles of the '60s and 70s. Redford plays a wanted but actually innocent Weatherman/Weather Underground fugitive living under an assumed identity, a lawyer with a daughter. Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie play other fugitives in this thriller. Shia LeBeouf plays an enterprising reporter.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER. This coming-of-age comedy premiered to rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Three teenage friends--Joe, Patrick and the eccentric and unpredictable Biaggio--disappear from their homes to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. Free from their parents' rules, their idyllic summer quickly becomes a test of friendship as two like the same girl who is brought into and disturbs their male paradise.
PEEPLES. Can you imagine the gorgeous Kerry Washington (ABC-TV's hit show Scandal and gripping slave role in Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained) in love with Craig Robinson? Neither could I. Enough said about this executive produced Tyler Perry poorly written unbelievable film.
Also highly recommend: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST and DISCONNECT.
Multiple Film Reviews
By Rozanne Weissman
So many good movies. So little time for a part-time film critic to write detailed reviews of each. Consequently, many mini-reviews follow a few longer reviews.
ARGO. A must-see, substantive political thriller directed by and starring Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, a CIA expert in disguises and extricating captives from tough situations. It’s based on a little-known true story in 1979 during the Carter administration at the height of the Iran hostage situation — a main factor in Carter’s downfall. Mendez comes up with a harebrained scheme to get six American diplomats—who had escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s residence—out of Tehran. The scheme: Mendez impersonates a film producer who arrives in Iran with his crew to scout locations for his alleged upcoming, off-the-wall science-fiction film. Amusing scenes when he deals with the revolutionary government’s cultural ministers and “rehearses” the Americans to play members of the film crew as a strategy to get them safely out of the country. Well-written script by Chris Terrio. Superb cast.
It was fascinating to learn this story through the film. Politically, the Carter administration could not take credit for this rescue of six of the Americans—although it was a highly successful American mission. President Carter’s albatross was the relentless Iranian hostage crisis which spawned the ABC-TV “Nightline” program with Ted Koppel counting off the days that American hostages were held captive. Daily, it reminded Americans that the administration was ineffective in getting hostages released. As Iran thumbed its nose at poor Jimmy Carter who couldn’t catch a break, I stood in front of the White House as released hostages were received by the new President Ronald Reagan.
ZERO DARK THIRTY. Another must-see docudrama about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden who was responsible for the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, since termed 9/11. “Zero Dark Thirty” refers to the darkness and secrecy of the lengthy hunt for bin Laden and the half past midnight raid.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a directing Oscar for her masterful film The Hurt Locker, weaves together an emotional tale from a unique opening sequence with 911 calls of trapped people in the World Trade Center—audio only against a blank screen. Cut to a riveting and troubling scene in a putrid prison two years later where a CIA official interrogates and tortures—including water boarding—a detainee. Politicos and others are up in arms over the graphic torture scene—excuse me, ahem, “enhanced interrogation”—claiming it distorts the role torture played in ultimately capturing bin Laden. Bigelow and script writer Mark Boal are in the crosshairs. But, frankly, the scenes are no more graphic than water boarding of an innocent man in the film Rendition—but not as many people saw that film.
Ten years of bureaucracy, wading through documents, following leads, and listening to and analyzing voices and “chatter” to detect patterns could make for a tedious film. So the film centers around a main character named Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young single-minded CIA operative who spent all her time tracking bin Laden. And, the “boys” over at Langley aren’t happy over a woman getting the credit in the film. The pace steps up in latter scenes leading to the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 striking bin Laden’s Pakistan compound and killing him. No spoiler alert here: we all know how it ended. I found it hard to relate the SEALS depicted in the Navy-sanctioned film Act of Valor to the SEALS depicted in this film.
LINCOLN. Another must see film. Former NEA staffers will particularly find of interest the political machinations behind enactment of the 13th amendment to the Constitution against slavery—not so different from today’s lobbying and political fights minus digital and social media. Lincoln was much more involved than I was aware. Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the spirit of Lincoln. His performance is superb.
QUARTET. I loved this film! It’s a delight directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith. In a home for retired British musicians, the geriatric set is getting ready for the annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday. The acting, opera, and classical music are wonderful. It’s almost as much fun as The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. Ronald Harwood adapted his play to the big screen. And, it’s Hoffman’s directorial debut at age 75. Hard to forget the young Hoffman in The Graduate.
LES MISERABLES. Not as good as the stage musical, which I saw a number of times, but still worth seeing. Anne Hathaway as Fantine is terrific singing the iconic song "I Dreamed a Dream" while having to cry and sing simultaneously. Other stars didn’t have the “singing chops” for a musical.
Personal note: The film brought to mind my first time seeing Les Mis. As a birthday present, I gave my then 10-year-old niece from Cleveland a trip to Washington DC to visit auntie Rozanne and see Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center. Afterwards, she turned to me and said, “This is the best play I have EVER seen in my WHOLE life!” This year, I gave her a Regal gift card to see the film; she revealed the DC trip was one of her best memories of childhood.
ANNA KARENINA. The cinematography is fabulous. Keira Knightley is gorgeous and sensual in this tale of love, adultery, manners, and aristocracy. Most of the critics loved it and found the staging highly creative. I disliked the theater/stage and light opera concept for the film. Leo Tolstoy would turn over in his grave.
DJANGO UNCHAINED. As a black free slave turned bounty hunter, Jamie Foxx is terrific in director Quentin Tarantino's southern revenge spaghetti Western. Of course, with Quentin Tarantino, there will be blood—and lots of it. And, in this film, also guts, gore, and whips. If you can’t stand violent films, don’t go.
SAFE HAVEN. Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, it stars Dancing with the Stars Champion ballroom dancer and choreographer Julianne Hough (brother and fellow dancer Derek Hough) who flees from an abusive marriage to a policeman and encounters widower Josh Duhamel, with two winsome kids, who plays the male lead and her romance interest. I took lots of Kleenex expecting a tear jerker. Actually, less Kleenex, more tense thriller which moves it out of “chick flick” realm and makes it more acceptable for men.
SIDE EFFECTS. It’s a psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderberg and starring Rooney Mara as a young depressed New Yorker, Jude Law as her psychiatrist, and Channing Tatum – with his clothes on – as her husband who was released from prison for insider trading. And then there’s the beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones as her former psychiatrist. Sex, drugs, greed, murder, pharmacological sales pitches for psychiatric drugs including antidepressants such as the fictitious Rx Ablixa—all wrapped up into one film. And it contains more unexpected twists and turns than a cocktail of those drugs. Interesting but implausible; perhaps it needs a quick fix Rx.
GANGSTER SQUAD. Off-the-book cops fight dirty to keep mob outa old LA. Video game shoot-'em-up feel. Great cinematography and luscious wardrobe of that timeframe. Mob: 0, cops 2, film 2 1/2.
ON THE ROAD. Based on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 beatnik novel. Pot, sex, experimentation. Strong cinematography, music. Miscast. Brought back memories of writing on my old manual typewriter!
THE GUILT TRIP. Barbra Streisand plays Seth Rogen’s overbearing Jewish mom. She 'kvetches' about her son on cross-country road trip. Oy vey!
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Car chases. Car crashes. Repeat. Excessive shooting. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat Constant survival of Bruce Willis and “son” tests credibility. Lame story. Forget character development or caring about any of these people. Don’t waste your money!
I have heard very good things about both Rust and Bone and Amour which I haven’t seen as of this writing. Film colleagues have complained enough about the inaccuracy of Hyde Park on Hudson that I never bothered to see it.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Film Review by Barbara Twigg
I loved “Silver Linings Playbook.” Early on before seeing it, the apparent football sub-theme was a little off-putting, but in the hands of uber-fan Robert DeNiro it provides a great Philadelphia context (Eagles, that is). Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both over-the-top characters, in a serious/humorous vein. Cooper’s obsession with reconciling with his ex-wife is painful—you want to hit him over the head with a frying pan. Lawrence is a fast-talking force of nature, however bent. How they find their way through the morass of their many issues makes for a very entertaining, funny, and moving film. There’s even some great dancing in it as Cooper so tentatively struggles to please.
SYNOPSIS: Life doesn't always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything -- his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Rated R; 2 hours.
Film Review by Barbara Twigg
Based on the true story of a Spanish family that survived the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, “The Impossible” is a well-made rendering of the epic disaster and its aftermath of lost and stranded people, overwhelmed hospitals, and frantic searches. That said, the movie is pretty much exactly what you would expect. Naomi Watts does a good job of suffering, the three sons are very cute, and Ewan McGregor is a noble father who won’t give up. It’s a good effort, and a respectful tribute to the unspeakable tragedy of the event, but as a movie, I could probably have skipped it.
SYNOPSIS: Maria, Henry and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand, looking forward to a few days in tropical paradise. But on the morning of December 26th, as the family relaxes around the pool after their Christmas festivities the night before, a terrifying roar rises up from the center of the earth. As Maria freezes in fear, a huge wall of black water races across the hotel grounds toward her. PG-13, 1 hour 47 minutes
Film Tweet by Rozanne Weissman
Film Review by Barbara Twigg
After the scary ads and previews of plane trauma, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see “Flight”, but I’m very glad I did. Yes, the opening bad weather and scenes of airplane turbulence are nail-biting, but the bulk of the movie follows the harder battle of Captain Whip Whitaker against his own personal demons as the airline investigation proceeds. This is a serious movie; substance abuse is not pretty. But Denzel Washington’s performance is so fine and compelling that the film becomes a first class adult drama. Yet Flight is not a complete downer of a movie either. Instead, it offers a complex story of a flawed hero who flies his own route to self-discovery and redemption.
SYNOPSIS: In this action-packed mystery thriller, Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane. Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman. Directed by Robert Zemeckis Rated: R, 2 hrs 18 min.
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
THE SESSIONS is that rare, must-see adult film about a difficult subject — a 38-year-old paralyzed man confined much of the time to an iron lung who decides he wants to lose his virginity. When is the last time a film dealt maturely and humanely with the sexual life of a disabled character?
With the help of sex therapist/surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) and his Catholic priest (William H. Macy), California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), who had polio since age 6, turns his sexual desires into reality.
THE SESSIONS is touching without being maudlin, empathetic without being pitying, and humorous without being slapstick — all so rare in today's film offerings. The indie drama based on a true story owes that to a top-notch screenplay and directing — both by Ben Lewin, a polio survivor himself -- and a talented ensemble cast. It's no wonder the film was one of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival breakout hits with two awards.
Lewin got the idea for the film on reading O'Brien's article "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” and then watched Breathing Lessons, a 1996 Oscar-winning short about O'Brien.
We see O'Brien living on his own, with nearby Berkeley students acting as caregivers for such needs as bathing or wheeling him to church on a gurney with a portable respirator. A crush on an attractive caregiver sparks O'Brien's romantic and sexual thoughts.
Among the more humorous scenes: O'Brien confessing his sexual longings in detail to his priest in church within hearing distance of parishioners. I wondered about Macy in the priest role, but he did quite well, especially as he appeared somewhat embarrassed by the dilemma and then determined God would probably offer dispensation for out-of-wedlock sex.
Hawks did a noteworthy job playing O'Brien. Prone for the entire movie, Hawks still dominates the screen and his role. He is powerful and poignant, vulnerable and courageous. And funny, which lends lightness to the situation and is a departure from his heavier roles. It's a physically demanding role because O'Brien's spine was locked in a tortured curve. His head was barely able to move -- he had to use a mouth stick to dial the phone. His breathing and voice were labored. Hawks used a large piece of foam to curve the left side of his back and reportedly practiced using the mouth stick and read every bit of O'Brien's poetry and writings to get inside the man.
Hunt, in full frontal nudity, is fabulous from the time she explains the role of a sex surrogate and the reason for limited sessions with the surrogate to reduce chances for emotional involvement to the various sex scenes that are fraught with peril. We go with the film's flow because of Hunt's commanding and sensitive performance. As the story plays out, we see that feelings on both sides emerge nonetheless. And that makes the film even more real.
SYNOPSIS: Based on the poignantly optimistic autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, THE SESSIONS (originally titled The Surrogate) tells the triumphant story of a man confined to an iron lung (John Hawkes, Academy Award nominee for Winter's Bone) who is determined—at age 38—to lose his virginity. With the help of a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) and the guidance of his therapists and priest (William H. Macy), he sets out to make his dream a reality. Told with sensitivity and humor, this crowd-pleaser is winner of two awards at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival: the Audience Award for drama and the Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting in a drama.
Film Review by Barbara Twigg
(with Donna Christenson)
Richard Gere is at his silver-haired best in “Arbitrage,” a yummy peek inside the life of Manhattan’s uber-riche, as the screws tighten, both personally and professionally. Can money fix all problems of overreaching? Will the audience root for his downfall, or his survival? There’s plenty of suspense and tension as this well-made, contemporary melodrama unfolds. Susan Sarandon looks great, too, as Gere’s society wife, and Nate Parker has a terrific role as the Harlem late night, last resort, who is being pressured to “snitch.”
A second opinion: I would have recommended this movie if for nothing else than just to watch the very appealing Richard Gere, and I'm sure most women in the audience would agree! However, the intriguing plot in the fascinating world of high finance and luxury, combined with excellent acting from Gere in what turns out to be one of his best efforts yet (as well as solid performances from the rest of the cast), all make this film well worth seeing for both sexes. --Donna Christenson
SYNOPSIS: When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed. Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller's also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta). Just as he's about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller's past. -- R, 1 hr. 40 min.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Film Review by Barbara Twigg
(with Rozanne Weissman)
Too bad this pleasant little baseball movie follows Brad Pitt’s compelling “Moneyball” on the topic of baseball scouting. Makes it seem a little less fresh, although the focus on Clint Eastwood’s cranky, whispery scout persona and his lawyer daughter, Amy Adams, takes a much different path through the rural high school ball fields of the south. It’s a fairly predictable, but watchable nine innings of film, with a nice, romantic role for Justin Timberlake who burned out his young arm and now aspires, with some resignation, to being an announcer for the Boston Red Sox. If you take a break from watching the Nats and buy a ticket for this movie, you won’t strike out.
A second opinion: Grizzly Clint Eastwood didn't talk to a chair--he kicked it & called it Feng Shui! Amy Adams is terrific as Eastwood's daughter. Justin Timberlake (surprise surprise) plays romance interest in this baseball/relationship film. --Rozanne Weissman
SYNOPSIS: An aging baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) with failing sight hits the road with his estranged daughter (Amy Adams) to pursue a promising young ballplayer, and they learn just how much they have in common as they make their way from Georgia to North Carolina in this sports drama produced and directed by frequent Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz. Also featuring Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. PG-13
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman
It's the prohibition-and-depression-era 1930s that gave rise to money-making moonshine production which turned hills an orange hue from illegal fire-burning stills. The film LAWLESS opens during that time in the hills of Franklin County, Virginia, termed "The Wettest County in the World," as is the novel by the same name on which the film is based.
LAWLESS is a gangster-type film which rivals the notorious gangster Al Capone era in Chicago for explicit violence, blood, and gore. The film follows the rebellious, bootlegging Bondurant brothers who run a small family roadhouse/gas station as well as a thriving bootleg business which has gained a local monopoly in Franklin County.
The three famous brothers have very distinct personalities and are excellently cast and played. Howard (Jason Clarke), the oldest and drunkest, is a shell-shocked war veteran who provides the backup muscle. No one wants to mess with fast-charging, defiant Forrest (Tom Hardy), the middle brother and brains of the operation, who uses few words and has the reputation of being invulnerable to death. And, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest and gentlest — also the narrator/protagonist — just tries to keep up, gain his brothers' respect, and especially make Forrest proud so that he'll be promoted from the wimpy role of driver or lookout.
Despite their vicious acts, we wind up caring about the brothers—they’re the "good guys" against the law and other "bad guys" who all want a share of the brothers' profits.
The local competition is horning in on the action. Then comes from Chicago crooked government Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce), a flamboyant looking dandy on the outside who is pure evil to the core. His performance is top-notch. Forrest and the other Bondurants refuse to pay a monthly toll on their illegal activities which initiates escalating graphic vicious violence. Characters and relationships develop and evolve, adding depth and poignancy.
A little spice is added for a bit of romance and balance to the more brutal sequences. Maggie (Jessica Chastain) is fabulous as a fan dancer from Chicago who gets a job in the roadhouse and has her eye on gruff Forrest who barely notices initially. And Jack woos Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), a Mennonite preacher's daughter. Talk about an odd romantic choice for a swaggering wannabe gangster.
The fabulous ensemble cast also includes Gary Oldman, who plays gangster Floyd Banner, and Dane DeHaan who plays the disabled Cricket, Jack's best friend and the secret to their moonshine production success.
Among my favorite things: the superlative score — a mix of hillbilly, bluegrass, and punk — by screenwriter Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the film's cool website: http://lawless-film.com/. (Wait until the home screen distillation process is complete, then click on the word "menu" on the left side, and then "about". Spend some time roaming around the rest of the site.)
Cave produced an intriguing screenplay adaptation of the book, "The Wettest County in the World," authored by Matt Bondurant, which chronicles a mix of fiction and truth about the legendary exploits of his grandfather Jack and two great-uncles, Forrest and Howard.
In a Washington DC screening of the film, Matt Bondurant, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, describes his family in the 1930s as "regular people in extraordinary circumstances" who then became "model citizens." We see that in a montage at the end of the film.
Expertly directed by John Hillcoat, the film competed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for the coveted Palme d’Or.
SYNOPSIS: LAWLESS is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic outlaw tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant’s family in his novel “The Wettest County in the World,” the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation’s most notorious crime wave.