Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

Tribeca Film Festival

We were able to get to see three movies this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Fortunately, we also got to meet some of the people involved in making the films, which is the best part of a film festival.

The first movie we saw was a semi-documentary called The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq. This is a French movie, with English subtitles. This film was categorized in the Festival’s “narrative feature” category. It is, however, based on the actual 2011 disappearance of the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, who stars as himself in the film. So clearly we know that the kidnapping, if there was one, ended well. Oddly  enough, this ominously titled film is a comedy. The kidnappers keep Houellebecq in a remote farmhouse. A number of fun characters come and go. It is as if Houellebecq is being held at a country house weekend (albeit not a very posh country house). They shares meals, smoke cigarettes, and have discussions on a wide range of topics. You are unlikely to catch this film at your local multi-plex but if you happen to see it somewhere, it’s worthwhile and, yes, funny.

Going in a completely different direction was Gabriel, starring Rory Culkin as a young man struggling with mental illness. As the movie opens, Gabriel’s brother is waiting for him to get off a bus and take him home. Gabriel is on a leave from the hospital where he has been institutionalized, and is supposed to be heading home to his family. Instead, he takes a detour to the college where Alice, a young woman he know, attends. The last address he has for her is out of date. When he finds her new address, her roommate tells Gabriel she is away on break. Gabriel is convinced that if he can reunite with Alice, he will be well and happy. Gabriel’s finally makes his way back to his family, but it only a temporary stop on his quest to find Alice. This is a sad story of a loving family and a sad young man.

The final movie we saw was the best of the three. Sister is funny, moving, and likely to be both a commercial and critical success.  The principal cast of Barbara Hershey, Reid Scott, and Grace Kaufman as 11 year old Niki (the “sister” of the title) is outstanding. Susan (Barbara Hershey)  is struggling with mental illness (a recurring theme at this year’s TFF?) and becomes suddenly widowed. Niki has been expelled from yet another boarding school, and Susan must enter a hospital for long term treatment, and is unable to care for her. Responsibility for Niki passes to her much older brother, BillyScott), who barely knows her. When Niki arrives in California, she upends Billy’s existence. He enrolls her in public school, and fights the school-and John Heard in particular as the school psychiatrist-to wean Niki off the massive doses of drugs she has been on for hers that control her behavior. It is heart-warming to see Billy and Niki’s attachment to each other grow. Grace Kaufman is an amazing actress. At the post-film talk she was sunny, bright and articulate-the opposite of Niki. Reid Scott is normally so funny, but he also delivered a serious and seriously good performance. This is a must-see movie!

Saving Mr. Banks

Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers with Walt Disney at the movie premiere

Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers with Walt Disney at the movie premiere

Two thumbs up! Two hankies! What a movie. This (fictionalized) account of the meetings between Mary Poppins author P.L.  Travers and Walt Disney and his minions at Disney Studios is among the best movies I’ve seen this past year.

It helps that I am a huge fan of the Disney movie Mary Poppins, Even if you’re not-and if you’re not why?-it’s still a profoundly affecting movie. Travers (a pen name) was raised in Australia, and this movie toggles back and forth between her childhood and the early 60’s in Los Angeles. Walt Disney had, apparently, been trying for 20 years to obtain the rights to the Mary Poppins books from Travers. When she arrived in L.A. she had still not signed away the rights. She was afraid that the “Disney treatment” would turn her beloved creation into a caricature. She spent weeks working with Disney’s team before signing over the rights to the books.

And the rest is history. 50 years after its release, Mary Poppins remains one of the most popular and best-loved movies of all time. It’s hard to know what is truth and what is fiction in this movie. I recommend enjoying it merely as a good story. And if you haven’t seen Mary Poppins, you should see it before seeing Saving Mr. Banks.

Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)

Catching Fire

Movie still publicity photo of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Movie still publicity photo of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Yes-we ran out on the movie’s opening day to see The Hunger Games:Catching Fire. I really enjoyed this second installment in The Hunger Games trilogy.  As with any movie adaptation of a fairly long book, this movie left out many details from the book, but it really captured the essence of the novel.

Catching Fire picks up nearly one year after the unprecedented dual victory of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the 74th Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is displeased with the results of the games. The populace of Panem is chafing under the harsh rule of the Capitol. Snow visits Katniss is District 12 and orders her to act as if she and Peeta are truly in love. Since the people are rallying around Katniss and the mockingjay as a symbol of their rebellion, Snow wants to use Katniss to halt the rebellion before it really starts. He imposes harsher rule on the districts, including frequent public floggings to demonstrate his power.

To celebrate the upcoming 75th Hunger Games, the tributes are drawn not from the usual pool of young people, but from previous winners. This insures that Katniss will return as a contestant. Snow hopes that one of the other contestants will kill Katniss and solve his problems. Hah!

As the Hunger Games begin, Katniss and Peeta are allied with tributes from other districts. The obstacles they face are more treacherous than in the past, and many are really scary.

The acting and action sequences are really well done in this film. The special effects are good, and not over the top unbelievable. President Snow seems more evil than before. Of course it is distressing that The Hunger Games is only one of the many novels and movies which depict such a dystopian future for us. But that’s another issue! Now we have to wait one year the release of part one of the movie adaptation of the third book of the trilogy, Mockingjay. And then another year after that for the concluding film.

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)

Gravity

Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone

Sandra Bullock as
Dr. Ryan Stone

First of all-this movie had received a tremendous amount of pre-opening publicity. And for me, the main effect was that I didn’t think I could deal with sitting through a feature length film with someone in a space suit the whole time. For all the other claustrophobia sufferers out there-don’t worry; I managed to deal with it, you probably can too!

George Clooney is Matt Kowalski, the Commander of the mission that includes Bullock’s Ryan Stone as a doctor on her first space mission. While on an extra-vehicular repair mission, their craft is bombarded by debris from a Russian satellite. Their spacecraft is destroyed, and Kowalski and Stone are the sole survivors. Due to the debris field, all communication with Houston is severed. Their only hope of returning to Earth is either a rescue mission (not likely considering the only oxygen they have is what is in their personal supply) or getting to the nearby Chinese space station.

This movie has great visuals. The views of Earth from 600 km are spectacular. The action sequences (mainly space disasters) are frightening.

It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that a movie would only have two characters, plus the disembodied voice of Ed Harris at Mission Control in Houston. But Gravity really does capture and keep your attention. Everything that I have read about Gravity indicates that it is scientifically accurate. I also read that the astronauts were filmed separately on a “green screen”, and did not actually interact. And yet the dialogue is quite real seeming.

Due to the above mentioned claustrophobia issues, as well as timing, I was happy not to see Gravity in 3-D.But I sure it would be really spectacular for those who can stand it.

I think Gravity is a really good movie, and probably important to see if you want to get in on those Monday morning water cooler conversations.

Movie Catch Up

I’ve spent the summer running from here to there and there to here. I’ve been a houseguest, I’ve had houseguests, and have not had much time to blog. So I’m having a quick catch-up session, and will shortly be up to date.

Three movies:

Fruitvale Station: Not for the faint of heart. This gripping docu-drama tells the sad story of Oscar Grant, the 22 year old man who was killed by a police officer on the  platform of the Fruitvale BART station. The movie recounts the final day of Oscar’s life, with flashbacks to his past. Quite graphic.

Blue Jasmine: The latest Woody Allen movie. Although there are amusing moments, this is definitely not a comedy. Alec Baldwin plays a Bernard Madoff like character, with Cate Blanchett as his wife.They are living the high life at the expense of everyone who’s ever invested with him. Cate’s character (Jasmine) moves to San Francisco to start her life over. There, she invents her own story in an attempt to have a fabulous new life.

Planes: Sort of like Cars, but with planes. The star is Dusty, a cropduster who enters an around the world race. Fine for the younger set, with a bit of potential scariness while Dusty flies through a severe storm. It is nowhere near as well done as Cars, and lacks the fine soundtrack.

42

Jackie Robinson in Dodgers Uniform

Jackie Robinson in Dodgers Uniform

I was at the Mets-Yankees game the other night at Citifield, the Mets home ballpark, where the only remaining active player to wear Number 42 on his uniform, New York Yankee relief great Mariano Rivera, was honored by his cross-town rival Mets.  Mariano is retiring after this current baseball season and when he does, all 30 Major Leagues baseball clubs will have retired the Number 42 in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson who was the first African-American to break the “color barrier” and play on a major league club.

The rough road to the major leagues and breaking baseball’s color barrier from his early playing days in the Negro League playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, are beautifully and artfully depicted in Brian Helgeland’s film 42.

Hard to believe that even when America was viewed around the world as “Protectors of Freedom and Democracy” during the Second World War, African- Americans back in the States were still absent from Major League rosters.  That situation all changed on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn as the starting first basemen for the hometown Dodgers against the Boston Braves.

Even a life-long baseball fan like myself who grew up after Jackie Robinson had long ago retired as a player, but who heard stories about how hard it was for him to face racism from his teammates, opponents and the fans, learned just how difficult it was for Jackie Robinson, and his wife Rachel in “42”. Baseball fans and fans of American history and the Civil Rights movement should see this film.

Released in theatres April 12, 2013 (to coincide closely with Robinson’s first Major League game 66 years earlier) it should be available soon on DVD and On Demand. 42 is a must for any film collection.

Chadwick Boseman gives a powerful performance as Jackie Robinson with Nichole Beharie portraying his strong and supportive wife, Rachel.  Harrison Ford might be a little guilty of overplaying the role of Branch Rickey, the Dodgers President and General Manager, who made the bold decision to challenge baseball’s color barrier and sign Robinson to a professional baseball contract.  The interplay between Boseman and Ford’s characters provide a stark and authentic historical portrait of  Branch Rickey’s choice of Jackie Robinson to be America’s first “African-American” major league ballplayer.

Robinson had to promise Rickey he would not lose his temper on and off the ball field, even as racism flared in his face.  Rickey’s motives for wanting to bring African-Americans into baseball were honestly addressed in 42.  Socially, he knew it was the right thing to do, but Rickey knew the move would help increase attendance at Dodgers ballgames among the growing African-American population in America’s late 1940s.

After viewing 42 you can understand why, since April 15, 1997, the number 42 has been retired throughout baseball. And on each April 15th since 1997, every baseball player wears number 42 for games played on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.

He was a remarkable man and the same can be said about the movie “42”.

42

Kiss the Water

Megan Boyd

Megan Boyd

In 2001, filmmaker Eric Steel read an obituary in the New York Times that intrigued and affected him deeply. Kiss the Water, a magical movie, is the result. It tells the tale of Megan Boyd, a legendary figure in the world of fly fishing. Yes-fly fishing, and specifically fishing for Atlantic salmon.

Ms. Boyd lived and worked for much of her life in the northern Scottish village of Kintradwell. She learned to tie flies, and supported herself selling flies. Her work was legendary for its precision, beauty, attention to details and effectiveness. Her customers included Prince Charles, who fished at his nearby lodge. Queen Elizabeth II awarded Boyd the British Empire Medal.

Those are the facts of Megan Boyd’s life. But Kiss the Water is more than a factual account of Boyd’s life. It is a beautiful rendering of a way of life. Combining dream-like animation, interviews with Boyd’s neighbors, and beautiful scenery and music, Kiss the Water is a fish tale of the best kind-perhaps not totally factual but a true picture of a unique individual.

I was fortunate enough to view this film at the Tribeca Film Festival. There is no information available about the movie’s general release. Hopefully many more people will get to view this treasure.

On a side note, until two weeks ago, I knew next to nothing about fly fishing. But I just returned from a vacation to Belize, where I spent a few days at Turneffe Flats Lodge. This lodge is located on an island in the Turneffe Atoll. Most of the guests at this small lodge come to Turneffe Flats to enjoy-you guessed it-world class salt water fly fishing, specifically coming to fish for bonefish, tarpon and permit. So I spent four days hearing about fly fishing (catch and release only!) in more detail than I ever thought possible.

I had purchased the tickets to Kiss the Water before leaving on vacation, having no idea what it was about. It was just a movie that fit into a time slot that I was able to attend, and there were tickets available. Clearly it was meant to be!

 

Quartet

Pauline Collins & Maggie Smith in a scene from Quartet

Pauline Collins & Maggie Smith in a scene from Quartet

With all the actors out there directing movies, it’s hard to believe that Quartet marks the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman has directed a stellar cast of mostly older actors in this moving and very real story.

Maggie Smith stars as Jean Horton, a retired opera singer. The rest of the cast is noteworthy and memorable, but this movie belongs to Smith.  Jean is forced by circumstances to leave her home and enter Beecham House, a retirement home for performers. She is not happy to be there, especially since one of the residents is her former husband.

Jean and Reggie were half of a famous operatic quartet that performed a noted version of  Giuseppe Verdi’s Bella figlia dell’amore from Rigoletto. Each year the residents of Beecham House produce a concert in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Now, with the arrival of Jean Horton, they wish to perform this beautiful piece. For many reasons, Jean is reluctant to do this, and that is the central plot of Quartet.

Many of the actors in the film are retired stage performers. The viewer has the privilege of watching and listening to them do what they do best. Time has taken its toll, but they all are talented and accomplished.

There is some original music in this film, but most of the music is familiar operatic pieces. I was especially happy to see the closing credits included photos of some of the actors in their prime. Kudos to Dustin Hoffman and the entire cast of Quartet!

Quartet

Two Movies

We saw two movies this week, and this is a quick post to try and catch up. I’m also reading two books right now, and I’m definitely falling behind everywhere!

The first movie we saw was Promised Land, starring Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and John Krasinski. Krasinski and Damon share the screen writing credit in this new movie directed by Gus Van Sant. This is the story of two consultants (Damon and McDormand) for a company which engages in hydrofracking for natural gas. They are deployed to a rural Pennsylvania town with the assignment to obtain leases from the residents extract gas from their lands. The company believes there is a large reserve of natural gas in the area, and wants to be the first to tap into it. John Krasinski shows up on the scene as an environmentalist determined to stop them.

Matt Damon and John Krasinski in Promised Land

Matt Damon and John Krasinski in Promised Land

This movie is fairly predictable. The performances are low-key, and most of the characters seem true to life. My only quibble is that is seemed preachy; it’s obvious where the filmmaker’s bias lies. We don’t need to be hit over the head more than once about the evils of fracking.

The second movie we saw was the stunner Zero Dark Thirty. This gritty film is about the post-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden.  The focus is on Jessica Chastain’s character Maya, a young CIA agent who becomes obsessed with following one particular lead in the search. Everyone knows the end of this story; a team of Navy SEALS is deployed to a small city in Pakistan one night in May 2011. They kill bin Laden, and take his body out with them, along with the contents of several computers and file cabinets. But the movie focuses on how they got to that point.

There are scenes of detainee torture, as well as of attacks on Americans. We see the bureaucrats at the CIA who seem unable to make a decision to recommend to the President that they proceed with the operation to kill bin Laden. They spend months trying to be certain that bin Laden is actually at the location that Maya has pinpointed.

In addition to Chastain, I thought that the performance of Jason Clarke as Dan, a veteran CIA agent, was fantastic.  The characters of Maya and Dan have depth and believability. Unlike James Gandolfini. As the Director of the CIA, he stretches credibility. I think he is too identified with characters like Tony Soprano to play that type of role. But that was the only weak point in this movie, and it’s a minor one. I’m surprised that Director Kathryn Bigelow was not nominated for an Oscar; there were a lot of very good movies this year, but she should have been singled out for at least the honor of the nomination.

Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain

Parental Guidance

A scene from Parental Guidance

A scene from Parental Guidance

I was delighted to see Parental Guidance, the movie starring two of my favorites, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler. They play Artie and Diane Decker, a middle-aged married couple living in Fresno, California. When Artie and Diane receive a phone call from their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei), they are surprised that she asks them to babysit her children for a week. Alice and her family live in Atlanta, and the Decker’s have not been close to their grandchildren. Diane jumps at the opportunity to be a part of the lives of her grandchildren, but Artie goes along reluctantly.

The grandparents, especially Artie, are classic “fish out of water” in the Simmons household. The house is totally high-tech; it is a prototype of a new smart house, developed by Alice’s husband Phil. Artie and Diane are totally overwhelmed by the technology. They are also confounded by the child-rearing principles espoused by Alice and Phil.

Artie and Diane are classic old-school parents-down to earth and not afraid to say what they think. Alice and Phil, on the other hand, are modern perfectionist helicopter parents, with unrealistic expectations for their childrens’ behavior. And this clash of styles is the basis for this very funny, if a bit predictable, movie.

A have a few minor issues with Parental Guidance. Artie and Diane, and particularly Artie,  are portrayed as a bit too clueless for modern grandparents.  I would also like to have seen more Bette Midler and less Billy Crystal. Although as one of the producers, I guess Crystal has the right to be in as many scenes as he’d like. And Marisa Tomei is too old to be playing the daughter of Midler and Crystal. She looks great but still…

Parental Guidance is funny and heart-warming, and there may even be a few teary moments. It is suitable for almost all ages-the children are cute and charming, the parents overwrought, and the grandparents inept but  willing to learn.