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Musical Chairs (2011)
Thism movie has the potential to live on a provide inspiration for many people
This is a movie from which you will learn something about people and about the heart. It is about music and it is about dance . It is about what can happen when a person suddenly finds him or herself in a wheel chair for the rest of their life. Director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan ) takes a screenplay by Marty Madden and somehow does a perfect casting job starting off with E.J Bonilla, a young actor who plays Armando with a flair for music, dance and the ability to project his intensity and his sincerity when he encounters Mia (Leah Pipes) a beautiful young dancer before and after her tragic accident. The story flows as smoothly as the music and the dance of this film. Most of the rest of the engaging cast is this young man's New York Puerto Rican second generation family who owns a restaurant and especially his mother (Pricilla Lopez) who has to struggle with her aspirations for her son and her realization of his love for his new girlfriend. The other group of extraordinary colorful players in this film are the people in wheelchairs who find that they can express themselves in dance. In reality only one of the actors, Auti Angel, who plays Nicky is actually confined to a wheel chair. She was a promising professional dancer who has a true story that is not too far from the plot of this movie. Behind the scenes we understand that she assisted and inspired the actors in wheelchairs to take on their personas. We view this movie as fairy tales where things happen and people say and do things not quite the way they may happen in real life. It reminds us of a musical where it can be convenient to suddenly find a place to sing (or in this case a hospital gym at night to dance in a special way). The characters and some of the dialog are somewhat clichéd. This doesn't seem to really matter because the emotion and the message of the movie is very real. We think everyone should be able to relate to this film and learn something about the human spirit. We also think that it has the potential to live on by teaching young people in schools and be an inspiration for the thousands of people every year who find themselves in a place they never thought they would be. Part of the storyline of the movie is a dance contest being held in New York labeled "The First International Wheelchair Dance Competition" In reality, while wheelchair dancing is big in Europe it hasn't quite caught on in the USA. It would not surprise us if after this film is released and gets around we will see this event in some major city. That is part of the great potential of this movie. FilmRap.net
Darling Companion (2012)
It features Diane Keaton and a lovable dog-how can it go wrong?
This is a wonderful "feel good" movie that everyone can enjoy. It will be especially meaningful to anyone who has been part of a family when the last child is married off and the parents deal with their adult relationship with each other and other members of their families. It was directed and produced by Lawrence Kasden ( Big Chill, Grand Canyon and many more big time hits ) who also wrote the script along with his wife Meg Kasden . They put together an honest story that showed love, romance and every day comedy in way that most people should be able to relate to and immensely enjoy. They assembled a cast of actors who were able to embody the characters they created in a skillful and very authentic manner. Beth (Diane Keaton) and Joseph (Kevin Kline) are the newly "empty nested" parents as their daughter Grace (Elizabeth Moss of "Mad Men" fame) ,the youngest of their children, finally finds Mr. Right and gets married. Jospeh is a spine surgeon whom Beth acknowledges may have always been a little full of himself but is shown to ultimately be a good guy. Penny is Jospeh's divorced sister (Diane Wiest) who has found her new love Russell (Richard Jenkins) who is a bumbling guy who wants to marry Penny and open an English pub in Iowa. Bryan ( Mark Duplass) is Penny's son who is also a spine doctor and has a touching flirtation with gypsy like housekeeper (Ayelet Zurer) of the family's vacation house in the beautiful Colorado mountains ( which was filmed in the beautiful Utah mountains) . Sam Sheppard is Sheriff Morris who adds further warmth to the already tender story. What we haven't told you yet is that the story is tied together by a lovable dog that almost magically appears and then disappears ! The movie is the story about the search for the dog which occurs while the characters are finding themselves and their own bearings. The story is just right at 103 minutes . The acting is perfect-Diane Keaton is at her mature best, the country type music hits the spot and the film features a a dog! How can it go wrong?
The Island President (2011)
Can this man save the world and will he himself survive?
The producers gave this documentary film the tag line, "Can this Man Save the World ". In the Indian Ocean there are a series of small islands called the Maldives with a population of about 400,000. It is the lowest lying country in the world with literally no hills. There are some large building on at least one of the islands but the main industry is tourism with beautiful beaches and high-end hotels. Since 1978 the country had been under the iron rule of President Maaumoon Abdul Gayoom who was able to harshly suppress any opposition to his ruling party. One of the leaders of the opposition was Mohamed Nasheed who was thrown into jail and spent 18 months in solitary confinement. Eventually a new constitution was established in 2008 which allowed the country's first multi-party presidential election which elected Mohamed Nasheed as President. This documentary is about this man and how he became a world wide symbol for environmental reform. Nasheed made it his mission to make the world aware of how his country is seriously threatened with extinction if global warming continues and if the water line rises another three feet, which it is on track to do. He made the case that eventually much of the world, even New York City will be threatened by the rising water which comes with carbon emissions and global warming. Despite opposition by developing countries such as China which feels it needs to use fossil fuels to continue its growth, Nasheed carried on an amazing, almost one man, campaign at the all important 2010 Copenhagen World Wide Environmental Conference attended by important representatives from most of the world nations including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton . This film used a very creative and effective approach by following this passionate, very likable sincere man who pleaded individually and at the plenary sessions to save his country and save the world. In the end, while he couldn't get full agreement on the exact number to which carbon emissions should be reduced over a period of time, he got members of this conference for the first time sign a document agreeing to reductions . The emotion of this accomplishment was quite palpable as the viewers felt close to this remarkable man as we followed him throughout his non-stop activities with a musical backdrop effectively provided by 14 songs from Radiohead and some other music by Stars of the Lid. The film was directed and photographed by Jon Shenk and Samuel Goldwyn Films picked it up for distribution. You come away from this movie quite informed and feeling good. It is scheduled for release at the end of March and President Mohamed Nasheed was supposed to help promote this movie in the US and elsewhere which would allow him continue to crusade for the environment. Unfortunately, a month before the scheduled release there was a coup d'edat in the Maldives and Nasheed was forced to resign and was thrown in jail again. The situation there is evolving and the " end cards " for the film are constantly being revised as the political situation changes day by day. FilmRap.com
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Charming, touching, surprising and fun to watch as well as being easy to identify with
Dan Fogelman, who wrote Cars and other successful animated movies wrote this well thought out comedy about all too human relationships. He wrote it having Steve Carell in mind as Cal , the middle age guy around whom all the actions swirls as his marriage suddenly falls apart. Carell loves the project and decides to produce it with Warner Brothers coming on board to make it a big studio film. The team of Glen Ficarra and John Requa are brought in to direct it. They have been working together since their college days at Pratt in New York City. They have written Bad Santa and Bad News Bears as well as recently directing I Love You Phillip Morris with Jim Carrey. After meeting these three talented people at our screening we can see how their chemistry worked for this character driven comedy with a wonderful cast. Ryan Gosling played Jacob, the cool single but obviously complex guy who takes the recently jilted Cal under his wing. Julianne Moore is Emily, Cal's wife who is going through what she describes as a mid-life crisis. Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon round out this all star cast with each putting just the right touch on their characters. Special mention should be made about young Jonah Bobo who plays Robbie, the 13 year old son of Cal and Emily whose emotional experience helps all the characters and the audience understand the essence of the movie. The result is not only a funny comedy but a touching story which examines love that can start as teenagers and sometimes be destined to last a life time with trials and tribulations. It also looks at teenage "love" that may only just feel like love. The story line is close to being brilliant as the characters evolving relationships are charming, touching, surprising and fun to watch as well as being easy to identify with. FilmRap.net
Mao's Last Dancer (2009)
Before You Can Fly You Have to Be Free
You get a lot for the price of your ticket in this movie. First there is an insight into the recent history of China where even after the death of Mao, the Chinese government tried to control the minds their people as well as their freedom and spirit. You also get some wonderful pieces of classical ballet choreographed by Australians Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. But most of all you get the true, very touching story of Li Cunxin based on his autobiography and an excellent screenplay by Jan Sardi. At age 11 he was plucked from his rural cold, snowy school to leave his peasant parents and 5 siblings in order to live and study full time at a dance academy in Beijing. We follow him through three actors who play him at various stages in his youth and finally to his portrayal as a young man by Chi Cao who himself is an accomplished dancer. Interestingly, Cao's real life parents had been teachers of Li Cunxin. Director Bruce Beresford switching back in forth to various time periods shows the development of this talented evolving dancer. After leaving his family to train in Beijing, the next big event is as an 18 year old when he is invited on a cultural exchange to the Houston Ballet Academy by it's director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Geenwood). There is culture shock as he had been brainwashed to believe that the US was quite the opposite of what he saw and experienced in 1980's Houston Texas. There is romance, his recognition of his talent and his potential. Then there is a confrontation with the long arm of China that is pulling him back there. Much of the film is actually shot in China as well as in Houston Texas. The scenes and the people in the rural village appear quite authentic. The story easily evokes tears and yet reminds us of an important lesson that is the theme of the movie and a line in it., Before You Can Fly You Have To Be Free . (2010)
Salvation Boulevard (2011)
Good satire- may not be memorable
If you are not part of it – what could be a better subject for satire than a big Texas like Evangelical Church? Director and co-writer George Ratliff did just this thing and interestingly enough he told us that the previews are doing well in the midst of the bible belt. In addition to a well-written story with some good comedy and many surprise twists, this film project pulled together a great cast who created the zany characters who are up on the screen for 95 minutes. Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) the church leader who is on the verge of building his Christian City on the Hill with a medical school, a law school and everything else when something happens that make him respond in not the most holy manner. Carl Vandermeer (Greg Kinnear), a former Deadhead (follower of the Grateful Dead) has settled into a clean life as a family man and a regular church goer when he gets tested and then can't believe he had been a follower of the good Dan Day. His journey is the heart of the film and the center of most of the comedic moments. Then there is his wife Gwen (Jennifer Connelly) who is hilarious as the dyed in the wool follower of Dan Day and his movement as well as being a weird artist. Honey Foster (Marisa Tomei) is a security guard with a heart of gold and she herself is former Deadhead who still likes to smoke her pipe. Ed Harris gets into the character of Dr. Paul Blaylock who in many people's opinion ( but not the Evangelical crowd ) would be the voice of reason, but he gets a bullet in his head which does slow him down. Most people in the theatre seemed to have had a good time. There were a lot of laughs and the satire was as expected but the story was not predictable. So a good time was had, but it probably won't be very memorable. FilmRap.net
The Talk of the Town (1942)
This is how the country was diverting itself from the tension of World War II
How was the country diverting itself from heart wrenching reports from the battle front of early World War II ? Going to the movies was one way and in 1942 that might mean seeing this movie, which was nominated for 6 Academy awards including Best Picture. Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) is being accused of burning down the town factory when all he did was speak out against the bad conditions there. Professor Michael Lightcap (Ronald Coleman), a legal scholar who is destined for the Supreme Court, happens to be in town and is planning to rent Miss Nora Shelley's (Jean Arthur) house where Dilg is hiding out after he broke out of jail when he realized he wasn't going to get a fair trial since the owner of the factory (who it turns out arranged the fire) has turned the local town into a blood thirsty mob out for Dilg. At first it looks like it is going to be light comedy with hiding, close calls, police and blood hounds almost catching the fugitive and then it seems to be turning into a law and order theme. When Dilg pretends he is Joseph the gardener, he and Lightcap actually get to know each other and really like each other. In fact, these two men have a strong bonding as did Lightcap and his black man servant (Rex Ingram) who shed a few tears when his boss was going to shave his beard. As touching as this man to man stuff may have been, it is clear that the real romantic feelings are coming from Miss Shelley (attractive lovable wide-eyed Arthur). She is falling in love but it really isn't clear which of these leading men it might be with. The finale of the movie while somewhat overly dramatic has s a moving speech by Lightcap (as Coleman really gets into it) and he emotionally reminds everyone about the American form of justice (and without saying it is reminding everyone in the audience about one of the reason that we were fighting the war). There was the final touch where we almost don't know who Miss Shelley is going to end up with (could this be the first time Cary Grant doesn't win the girl?) and all ends well. FilmRap.net
Bride Flight (2008)
Rich character development, excellent plot and magnificent setting.
The white subtitles, translating Dutch to English, on mostly white background, especially at the beginning of the, film mixed with some rapid flashbacks to different time periods, also early in the film, were found to be quite bothersome by myself and the three others with whom I attended this movie . This was especially true as the characters and storyline was being established. Despite this distraction, as the movie progressed we all found it to be quite engrossing. There was some very rich character development, excellent plot lines and a magnificent beautiful setting in New Zealand. The story begins in post World War II Holland in the 1950s as three young women (Karina Smulders, Anna Drijver and Elise Schaap) are boarding an airplane for New Zealand to join their new husbands and start a new life. One of them is Jewish and the trauma of the holocaust will have a very subtle cast on the film. On board they also meet Frank (Wakdenar Torenstra ) a young man, somewhat of a free spirit, also seeking a new life as a farmer and ultimately a wine maker who will play prominently in their lives. The story captures the frontier life in New Zealand at this time, the conflicts of religion, passion, friendships and good old fashioned romance. There is also a theme of an important family secret that hovers in the story and should be one that you have seen and thought about in other settings. In alternating time sequences, we get to know these people as their lives progress to a point 40 or 50 years later. There is a coming together at the conclusion of the film, which is poignant and quite moving. This is the story about these people but the background atmosphere is the post war settlement of this small beautiful land. After seeing this film whenever you enjoy a glass of New Zealand wine you may reflect on this movie and the people whose lives you came to understand. FilmRap.net
Another Earth (2011)
Grabs you from the beginning and leads you into a unique premise
This film grabs you from the beginning and then leads you into a unique premise. Screenwriter and director Mike Cahill in his first feature film is clearly quite talented and achieved a very good-looking film on a shoestring budget. He and co writer Brit Marling, who also starred in the movie have a great imagination and a very subtle touch. They also pulled in excellent photography and great music background to sustain the mood of the film. Veteran actor William Mapother joins them and he and Marling appear to occupy the screen just about all the time. Flashes of television news reports, talking heads and other clips establish the appearance of " Another Earth" or "Earth Two " as it is called. We also see our twin planet in the sky throughout the film and are introduced to the idea that that such a situation would appear to have everything including people exactly the same as on our own Earth. The implication to Marling's character is quite profound as both characters are enduring unbearable suffering. In our post film discussion with Cahill and Marling it seems that they feel that the human condition leads people to have great desire to understand themselves and the possibility of meeting oneself, commiserating and perhaps even altering one's fate and suffering is a universal fantasy. Perhaps because we believe that self reflection and therapy is the way to go when there is such a need or perhaps we just couldn't give up our reality base, the movie didn't work as well with us as it did with the Sundance crowd who chose it as an award winner and with Fox Searchlight who picked it up for big time distribution. It will be making the rounds later this month, on this Earth.FilmRap.net
Little Birds (2011)
Wonderful insight and development of the two teenage characters of the movie
This movie is by first time filmmaker Elgin James who, developed it in a Sundance Workshop and it was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival which isn't a slam dunk for films that come up this way. James who wrote and directed movie comes from the streets of Boston and he chose to convey his gritty experiences through the characters of two teenage girls who come from the poverty stricken coastal town of Salton Sea in California and end up with some older boys on the streets of a grimy section of Los Angeles. The strength of the film is the insight and development of these two young girls Allison Huffman (Kay Panabaker) and Lily Hobart (Juno Temple) who are portrayed magnificently. Their attachment, dependency on each other and yet their differences unfold before us as they try to escape their environment. The storyline creates tension and anxiety. The three older boys with whom these girls connect David (Chris Coy), Louis (Carolos Pena) and John (Kyle Gallner) are as real as they can be and sadly operate just as you would expect them to. Compared to these five young people, the peripheral characters are somewhat an enigma to us as their back stories are thin and vague. They do seem authentic and there are excellent performances by Leslie Mann, Kate Bosworth, Neil McDonough and particularly by JR Bourne who does a captivating dramatic role at the conclusion of the movie. Although the little birds of this story had more reason to fly the coop than the daughters of many who are reading this now, we all know that when any teenager spreads her wings, anything can happen. This movie will be released in September and we will be rooting for it to fly. (2011)
Inside Job (2010)
If you care about the future of this country, you better understand what this film is saying.
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson takes a long, hard skillful look at the individuals and their actions which brought about the global economic meltdown of 2008. It is hard to come away from this Oscar nominated documentary without feeling some combination of anger and depression. Anger, because you see self-serving greed and even corruption among the financial leaders of this country. Depression, because you see that many of people in charge of our financial institutions today including many in the highest positions in government are still not inclined to make changes to prevent another financial crisis. If you can take a dispassionate view of this story, it feels as if you are watching a film showing you something about how the rise and fall of the Roman Empire came about in some distant time. In this case however we are dealing with contemporary times. We learn how an economic boom led to a desire among those in the financial and banking industries to make even more money as they transitioned from carefully investing their own money to going public and now risking other peoples' money for tremendous payouts for themselves. The complicated concepts of derivatives is actually made sickeningly clear as we see how investments were really bets with essentially no clear downside for the bankers but devastating results for the middle class. No place was this more relevant than in the home mortgage market where the financial guys would make their money on the volume of the mortgages sold and not on quality or the ability of people who bought them to pay them off. Matt Damon is the narrator of the film although Ferguson does much of interviews. The film is interspersed with film clips of the leading players of this giant debacle from the officers of the big financial institutions to the well known faces in government including Paulson, Greenspan, Geithner and others with major government responsibility for regulation and policy. We see the story of the march of deregulation from the Reagan, through the Bush years even including some during the Clinton White House. There is also the apparent failure of the Obama administration , despite their bailout successes , to have regulated and overseen what should be regulated and overseen. The lack of prosecution of some of the glaring criminal activities is highlighted and the obscene executive compensations ( sometimes more than a hundred million dollars ) for people who participated in very questionable actions is spelled out.It is also quite disturbing to see the failure of he academic community to acknowledge the payments they receive from interested parties for their speeches and writings which supported the unstable financial situations that occurred. (These days the medical community is usually obligated to make disclosures of potential conflicts of interest when speaking or writing ) Granted, the filmmaker is trying to make a point about the inside job, which was pulled off on the American people. There may be some other points of view, which he didn't show but interviews made with top people, and the facts presented make it pretty easy to vote for conviction if we were the jury (even without cross examination from another viewpoint). Ferguson did have a great deal of access to top people some of whom asked him to turn off the camera once they were shown their inconsistencies. The movie is well edited to one hour and 48 minutes. Most of the film is sharp and well framed. When archival footage is used and it makes a point, you don't mind if it isn't top-drawer quality. Although a year old, it is still right on the mark for today. If you have a stake in this economy and the future of our country, you better understand what this film is saying. (2011)
Benavides Born (2011)
This film will touch your emotions as well as educate you about some painful realities in this country
**** All She Can (previously named Benavides Born) When a movie can target a contemporary social issue in human terms with a fresh approach, it deserves attention. Young people growing up in South Texas, despite many of their families having lived there for several generations, have very few options for breaking out of poverty and achieving the American dream. Husband and wife filmmakers Amy Wendel and Daniel Meisel looking to write their screenplay and make their first feature film were drawn to this area and wanted to tell this story. They spent a great deal of time in and around Benavides Texas where they came to understand the plight of a number of young people in this community. The main character of their screenplay is Luz (Corina Calderon) a high school senior and a competitive weight lifter who sees the possibility of winning the state championship as the road to a college scholarship which will pay for her college education. In reality, other sports provide the more likely avenue for college scholarships although the introduction of this mostly unknown high school competition is part of the attraction and fascination of this movie. In Texas the top 8% of any high school class is accepted to the University of Texas but they have to come up with the money to pay for tuition. Perhaps this is why this film also showed the friendly military recruiters in the halls of the high school and also why a disproportionate number of our combat soldiers come from rural areas such as the one shown in this film. This also accounts for the desperation that we see in Luz and the extremes to which she is willing to go to win her weight lifting championship and achieve her goal of getting a college education. This is not your typical " Rockyesk " movie where the hero or heroine is shown delivering their triumph in the end. In fact, despite the difficulty and hardships of the struggling high school students, the film reminds us that this is nothing compared to the desperation of the people risking their lives and the lives of their children as they sneak across the border. This determination becomes the inspiration of the main character and of this movie. This film will touch your emotions as well as educate you about some painful realities in this country. It merited being selected for the Sundance Film Festival this year and we highly recommend it. FilmRap.net
A Better Life (2011)
Powerful and authentic glimpse into the human story of the intractable immigration issue
- Kirk Honeycutt, film critic for the Hollywood Reporter and host of the UCLA film course where we previewed this movie immediately compared it to Vittorio De Sicas's 1948 classic film The Bicycle Thief . In it a man and his son search for a stolen bicycle vital for his job. Fast forward to the present time as Carlos, an undocumented immigrant, (played by Mexican super star Demian Bichir) and his teenage son (played by Jose Lulian, an American making his acting debut ) are on a similar quest. They are searching for Carlos' stolen truck which he bought with borrowed funds to give him his one chance to make a decent living as a gardener and pay off his debts. Where the original Italian movie painted a picture of the poverty in post war Italy, this film provides an insight into life in East Los Angeles with its poverty, gangs, immigrants desperate for work and living with constant fear of being deported. It captures the poignancy and the dilemmas of hard working immigrant families in cities like Los Angeles who are trying to survive and provide a better life for their children while one step away from being arrested and sent home. The screenplay by Eric Eason is short on words but crystal clear in the emotional impact which it provides not only with the stark reality of the situation that the father and son are faced with but in the emotional struggle that each of them must feel. Bichir's performance could not be better as his face tells his story as does his words in both English and Spanish (with appropriate subtitles). Veteran director Chris Weitz teamed with award winning Spanish cinema photographer Javier Aguirresarobe to put together a realistic vision of the characters and environment which was filmed in 69 different locations in Los Angeles. Despite the effectiveness of the film, there are no clear villains and no new calls for action. While there may be a morsel of hope there is also the depressing possibility of a never ending line of people with crushed dreams. The film, itself, is an amazingly powerful and authentic glimpse into the human story that is part of the "intractable immigration issue." The emotional pull precludes over intellectualizing. (2011)
You may know most of this but you won't forget it.
The news media has been undergoing a radical change in the last few years. The new media and the blogosphere is rapidly competing as a source of breaking news. Advertising revenue has fallen as much as 30 % in the past year for many of the leading newspapers. Many newspapers throughout the country have closed. It is rare to have two major newspapers even in a large city, let alone three of them. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi persuaded the venerable New York Times to let him spend close to a year to be essentially embedded, mostly in their New York headquarters, in order to make a documentary showing how they are carrying on their proud tradition in the face of all these changes. While he worked closely with his wife filmmaker Kate Novack, and a team of editors, it was Rossi alone who roamed the multi-leveled headquarters with his trusty camera on his shoulder. He was there when the WikiLeaks story broke and he was able to capture how the New York Times writers and editorial staff struggled with the ethics and ultimate decision to print the leaks and how they became part of the story. He was filming at the staff meetings when the writers and editors were trying to figure out if the war in Iraq was coming to an end because NBC was breaking a story about departing troops but it wasn't part of the US government announcements. The central character in the much of this documentary is NY Times writer David Carr who himself has a very colorful history, once being addicted to cocaine and now being a senior well respected, witty, crusty, very capable reporter who mostly covers media issues. The film shows us how he approached the big time story of the collapse of the well known Tribune media giant, its subsequent buyout by some non newspaper people who bled the organization, dismantled their ethical base and were running a corrupt unethical management team themselves. They ultimately resigned demonstrating the power and value of the New York Times, functioning at its best as it used all its resources to report this story. In the end we are quite enlightened about the changes in how we get our news and the choices we have. We are also quite impressed as we see the coming together in a working alliance of young new media people within the powerful "legacy" news organizations symbolized by the New York Times. Working side by side or cubicle to cubicle this new generation of Times men and women seem to be able to provide the leadership and a viable co-existence with the huge blogosphere that continues to grow. It is clear that everything will be different with each year or two and the concluding lines of the story have not yet been written, This documentary does capture this fascinating piece of evolving journalism in a verite style. It is somewhat choppy without a clear plot, which reflects the nature of the content. You may walk away from this film and say , "I sort of knew all this" but for certain you will not take David Carr and his colleagues for granted any more. (2011)FilmRap.net
This is not just a chic flick
First of all, this is not just a "chic flick." Certainly, the out loud laughter in the movie theater seemed to more weighted from the young men in the audience. It is an hour and half of good comedy in the genre of Saturday Night Live. Not surprising since the screen writer and the star of the movie is Kristen Wiig. She is Annie, the bests friend of Lillian (Maya Rudolph),the bride to be. Annie's own life is not quite on track especially guy wise and job wise . She is asked to be the maid of honor but encounters Helen (Rose Bryne) who is a recent friend of the bride and seems to have things together including great ideas for the wedding party, wedding dress and just about everything else. There are some great physical comedy bits and lots of clever lines with some very fine comedic acting especially by Ms. Wiig and Melissa McCarthy who plays Megan, the bridesmaid who is as tough as nails but with a heart of gold. There is also an amusing sex scene and a wild escapade on an airplane. Perhaps some things are a little too far fetched as we are asked to believe that a state trooper albeit one from Wisconsin, (Chris O'Dowd)-the true love interest of Annie- would drive around in his patrol car with a girl in whom he was interested. Although you are seeing the movie for its comedy, you are also given a sharp satire that also raises questions about the extremes people go to in planning the wedding event (picking the dress, the batchelorette party and how the girls support or don't support each other.) Of course the ending is predictable and there are additional comedy pieces interspersed during the titles at the end. After all it is that kind of film. (2011)Filmrap.net
Horrifying at times but a gripping story
It would help if from the beginning, you were aware that this movie is mostly involved with the vicious Lebanon civil war between the Moslems and the Christians. It make take a bit to become completely oriented as the movie does consist of alternating stories in different time. It also doesn't help that it is mostly in French with English subtitles. But eventually we got the hang of it and the very unusual plot which we are introduced to at the beginning as twins Jeanne and Simon are being read their mother's will and realize she has asked them to carry out her final wishes and deliver two letters on her behalf. Their task seems almost as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. If you don't mind fiction being stranger than the really terrible things that happen to people in these type of wars, the movie provides a gripping story. It is horrifying at times with what should be an unexpected ending. It provides lessons of persistence, forgiveness, motherly love and an appreciation that any one of us if we were switched at birth, could be quite the opposite of the person we turned out to be. The movie, which was co-written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, received recognition with several film festival awards and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.(2011)FilmRap.net
The First Grader (2010)
Opportunity to learn about powerful piece of African History-don't miss it
We take for granted that everyone in this country is entitled to an education. We especially can appreciate it when we see it through the eyes of eager children trying to learn the their ABCs in a dusty one room class room in Kenya where the government has decreed, for the first time, the right of everyone to be educated. We are taken to a new level of appreciation when we see it from the point of view of an 85 year old man Kimani Ng'ang'a Maruge (Oliver Musila Litondo) who is determined to join this class and get the education he never had and learn to read. This is based a true story of a man who became a national hero in Kenya and a symbol of the universal desire for education as his quest ultimately brought the real Maruge from his country village to address the United Nations. However important this theme may be, there also was another story going on here. This proud man had been part of Kikuyu tribe, which produced the Mau-Mau rebellion, which ultimately led to the Kenyan independence from British colonial rule. He demands and gets the respect as others realize that he had been one of freedom fighters who took a sacred oath to return the land controlled by the British back to the native people. As a young man he endured torture and witnessed the death of his wife and children at the hands of the British who demanded that he give up his oath of resistance. The movie flashes back from the present day of this old man trying to learn to read to when he was resisting the powerful British. This is a poignant and dramatic story about a piece of history that most of us do not know much about. It is based on screenplay by Ann Peacock but carried forth and molded by director Justin Chadwick. It is all the more remarkable because it paints an extremely negative picture of colonial Britain by this British Director with the initial support of the BBC, which took the project into development. The school children and most of the characters were not professional actors but all real life Kenyan people. This included the children and their school, which was quite genuine. The exception was Naomie Harris an outstanding English screen actress who had a major role-playing Jane Obinchu the schoolteacher who believed Maruge deserved the opportunity to learn to read. The performance by Litondo as Maruge is totally believable, as he seems to embody this "Mandelaisk" persona. Litondo is a native Kenyan who used to be a news anchor with no previous acting experience. Harris, Chadwick and their entire crew spent several weeks in Kenya working with locals and preparing to shoot this movie there. The result is an extremely, sensitive effective and emotional film. A middle school teacher in our audience mentioned how she was inspired to go back into her classroom and we all could feel the awe and the thirst for learning that young people and a deprived older man might feel. We also have had our interest peaked to learn more about this very interesting and complicated piece of African history about which this story only scratched the surface. It is a movie that should not be missed. (2011)
How to Live Forever (2009)
Agree with Tagline of the Movie: Results Will Vary
If only this documentary could really tell you how to do it or even come close. Director, writer and producer Mark S. Wexler who has also been a successful photojournalist as well as a documentary maker is the son of an award winning cinema photographer. He has used his own funds to make this film, which basically looks at old people and tries to explain what is their secret to a long life. He doesn't really come up with an answer other than maybe they have a passion for living and don't worry very much about dying. Perhaps the film could have used a better focus and a stronger point of view. We also found it very interesting that in all the interviews, the role of family never came up in the questions or in the discussion, nor were any children or grandchildren ever shown. There were certainly some unforgettable characters such as the 114 year old women from Indiana who was the oldest person in the world at that moment, the Senior Beauty Pageant and the effervescent Ms. Arkansas who was competing for the national crown, the funeral directors conference in Las Vegas where the latest marketing ploys reflected the attitudes of the baby boomers about their mortality, the 93 year old guy in Oklahoma who would regularly eat a diet which is the antitheses of a healthy diet and a clip of Wexler with the unforgettable Jack LaLane who actually died this year at age of 96. The subtitle of this movie is "Results May Vary" and this probably sums up how we think most people will react to this film. (2011)
The Conspirator (2010)
You may think you know the story of Lincoln's assassination but you don't know Jack !
You may think you know the story about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln but you don't know Jack ! You probably most certainly don't know the story of one of the so called conspirators Mary Surratt who ran the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth met with his friends one of whom was her son. Producer Brian Falk who is part of a new production company called the American Film Company, which has a mission to make films about American history. When he came across this 18 year old screenplay by James D. Solomon about this story, the company decided it should be their debut movie. They took a chance and showed the script to producer Bill Holderman who is a partner in Robert Redford's company and the next thing they know they have Redford directing it and they were able to put together an all star cast. It then seems that they became obsessed about the authenticity and had a team of historians not only vet the script but were on speed dial for every detail of the film from the courtroom trial transcripts to the exact buttons on the soldier's uniforms. The story starts off focusing on Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) a young wounded Union officer on the battlefield. It turns out that he is a lawyer in civilian life and shortly after he leaves the military he is being pressured by his senior law associate (Tom Wilkerson) to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright). The trial is being conducted by a military court ( think Guantanamo) with judge and jury being Union soldiers and an ace prosecutor Joseph Holt (Danny Huston ) with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) trying to call the shots from behind the scenes. Besides being a fascinating piece of little known history, the film is beautifully photographed, with near perfect period costumes but yet it draws the viewer in and makes you feel that you are watching a very real life high stakes drama. Of course this is also a thinking person's movie and you have to come away appreciating how the strength of our constitution gets tested from time to time and you wonder if it passed the test after Lincoln got shot as we sometimes wonder how it is doing today. Speaking of Lincoln, this movie opens April 15th on the day of his death. We highly recommend it as one of the best films we have seen this year.
An important movie- parents should see it with their teenagers followed by discussion
This is an important movie. It addresses a serious problem that every family with budding teenagers will have to face. We want our children to master the Internet and the unlimited horizons which it offers them in their education and future ability to navigate in this global world. We also don't have any choice because this wonderful technology provides us instant communication with cell phones and the ability to stay in touch with family and friends. It also gives young people the ability and opportunity to meet and communicate with anyone and everyone. There are teen chats where teenagers can meet other teenagers anyplace in the world or in the next town. Of course teenagers, especially girls tend to develop crushes and infatuations and it is only natural that they might want to meet their computer/phone pal. What if it turns out that he isn't really a teenager but a little or a lot older but still seems like a nice guy? This is the situation that a 14 year old from a very solid home with successful loving parents, a brother going away to college and a younger kid sister, found herself in. Teenage life being what it is, includes up pressures in one's school and social life and a natural desire to be accepted, loved and to explore their new sexuality. This very relevant story written by Andy Billin and Robert Festing , produced and directed by David Schwimmer considers the devastating consequences which befall this girl and her parents. Liana Liberato captures the spirit of an enthusiastic teenager who just made the volleyball team but yet has the uncertainty and vulnerability of so many girls who are trying to get hang of the complexities of socializing in their new school environment. Catherine Keener plays her impacted mom and Clive Owen is her dad originally from Great Britain and a successful advertising executive which is helping to create the tween market which he at one point ironically and sickeningly realizes may be creating sexual interest in youngsters the age of his daughter. He struggles with his own feelings of inadequacies as a father and rage at anyone who might threaten or hurt his daughter. You might expect this subject to best dealt with by a documentary which could provide statistics, interviews with therapists, police and FBI agents as well as some parents or victims. This movie had all of the above in the form of a fast moving drama which conveyed the emotional pain of everyone involved. Schwimmer, who actually is on the board of directors of the Rape Foundation for the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica, with this film may have ended up protecting untold numbers of young girls from being hurt because of knowledge and awareness gained by viewing this film. In fact this is the ideal movie to be viewed by parents and teenagers together followed by a nice dinner or snack to provide the vehicle and a good discussion. (2011)
Exporting Raymond (2010)
Phil Rosenthal made an hilarious documentary.
If you know anything about the successful TV series Everybody Loves Raymond , you know that the co-creator writer/producer of this classic comedy show that ran 9 seasons was Phil Rosenthal. So much of the humor of it came from the observations, sensibilities, family experience and sense of humor of this young man. Therefore when SONY pictures and the Russian TV network decided they wanted to make a Russian version of this hit TV series, they decided to invite Phil Rosenthal to come to Russia and advise the writers, directors and producers how to pull it off. However, SONY also thought it would be a good idea if Rosenthal took a film crew with him to document the entire process. The result is a hilarious, insightful and very fascinating look at Russian television, Russian family life and the Russian sense of humor or lack thereof. It also shows how all of the above in many ways are quite different from it's American counterpart but yet beneath it all are quite similar. The success of this very funny documentary (how often do you see a funny doc?) is Phil Rosenthal. He is not only the writer/producer/director and star of this masterpiece but it is his sense of humor and timing, which carries this film. He was present at our screening and claimed he had a great deal of luck and just happened to be there filming at the right moment. There were a few spontaneous encounters caught on film with Rosenthal's parents and it was ELR all over again. The initial attempts to remake some of the original programs in Russian were wildly funny as the show was suffering in its cultural transplantation. The Russian writers, directors and involved in the making of the show were hard to believe but were quite real. There was the humorless Russian network Director of Comedy. There was a costume designer who believed it was the purpose of a TV comedy to show great trends in fashion even when depicting a typical housewife cleaning her home. In the end Everybody Loves Kostya is now the number one TV show in Russia. This documentary will be released in April and may fall between the cracks but it should definitely not be missed. You will laugh, come away with not only a lighter heart but also with a depth of insight and respect for an incredibly complex process (2011)
An enduring period piece for the 1980s
Anthony Burns along with Brandon and Heath Freeman wanted to write and make their first movie about East Texas in the early 1980s where they grew up. The tag line of the movie expresses what they were trying to capture, " It was a time when life was easy ...in a place they though would never change." Skateland was the town roller rink where the young people gathered and some hung around or returned there even after graduating High School. The film focuses on a crowd where everyone smoked, drank beer and jockeyed for their boy girl relationships. The two main characters are Brent Burkam (Health Freeman) slightly older than the rest who unsuccessfully raced motorcycles for a few years and comes back to town to hang around with buddies such as Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) who is about to graduate high school. He is the assistant manager of the roller rink and can't decide what to do with his life. There are shades of young Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfus, playing characters trying to figure out their lives in American Graffiti with the 1970s take on that decade. Jump forward ten years and we have the constant music beat of the 80s setting the background for the young peoples angst, mixed with drinking, parties, cars and some violence. While the story is about the guys, there is an interesting influence of the women. Ritchie's younger sister Mary(Haley Romm) and his girl friend Michelle(Ashley Greene) are the strong characters of the movie perhaps reflecting the women's movement as did the actions of Richies Mom (Melinda McGraw). While the setting and life style may not quite be the early 80s of the northeast where our kids grew up, this young movie team has created an enduring period piece. The photography, setting and the direction is definitely first rate . We may look back on this film and realize that it was a breakout for several of the actors who were excellent. The movie earned a slot at the Sundance Film Festival which is not an easy accomplishment for an Indie low budget film which was a first time effort for the Director and writers. It will have distribution and will open in late March- early April in NY and LA. (2011)
The King's Speech (2010)
Two great actors turn in a near perfect performance
Whenever a new insight into history is provided by a film, it has the potential to be of great interest. If it is done well such a movie is usually a winner. Such is the case with The King's Speech where two great actors do turn in a near perfect performances with director Tom Hooper and the production staff pulling together an authentic period piece which captures pre-World War II Great Britain and the royal family. Just about anyone in our generation or any student of this piece of history knows that when King George V of Great Britain died his oldest son became King Edward VIII but shortly thereafter abdicated the throne "to marry the woman I love" who was Wallis Simpson twice divorced American, making his younger brother next in line to become the new King George VI ( Colin Firth) just as the World War II was starting. What you probably did not know was that the new king had a terrible stammer, which presented him with an enormous problem since he was expected to address his people and spur them on in their upcoming battle with Germany led by Adolph Hitler. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) even before he ascended to the throne located a somewhat unconventional speech teacher, an Australian by the name of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue insists on a first name basis with his royal highness and includes some exploration of the king's childhood and his emotional conflicts as part of his speech therapy.. Needless to say after some twists and turns, dramatic moments, a great musical background, meeting the king's young children (now Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret), the new king does triumphs while Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), many others including the whole British Empire cheer him on. Knowing the ending (which you probably knew already ) will not spoil the enjoyment of this superb movie. It may have been a tad repetitious and I personally would have liked a little more of a psychological explanation or exposition of how the interaction between the speech therapist and the king led to his improvement ( perhaps there was a father transference) However, it doubtful that most viewers will find very much lacking from this movie. FilmRap.net
Fair Game (2010)
Captures this unfortunate part of US history but it is encouraging that this film and be made and talked about.
This movie retells the well known story of Valerie Plame and how she was exposed as a CIA agent by the Vice President's office because her husband Joe Wilson decided to write an op-ed piece in the N.Y. Times and tell the story how during his fact finding mission for the U.S. government he found absolutely no evidence of the sale of uranium to build nuclear weapons being sold by Niger to Iraq. The Bush administration was motivated to do this because they had decided to attack Iraq on the basis that they believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and this supposed sale was an important part of the case, which they built for the US entry into this war. They tried to discredit Wilson by claiming his wife really sent him there on a boondoggle mission, that he was unreliable and that she was just a middling CIA agent. The opposite was the truth and the criminal act of exposing her as a undercover CIA agent actually endangered many lives who were part of the overseas operations that she was conducting and ruined her career as well as nearly destroying her marriage. Naomi Watts plays Plame who on one hand lives the life of the housewife next door, taking care of young kids, having evening get-togethers with other couples and discussing current events. However, instead of going to work at her cover job with a financial management firm and taking occasional overnight trips, she is at a fairly high level in the CIA going on overnight dangerous missions. Her husband Joe Wilson, former ambassador to Niger as well as having had other State Department jobs now has his own struggling company and doubles as the house-dad when his wife is out of town. He is very well played by Sean Penn, who must have especially relished the role of the guy trying to expose government lies. Director Doug Liman achieved just the right balance in showing us the everyday life of this housewife spy, mixed with the dangerous missions which she undertook. Watts and Penn brought intensity to the outrage and the despair, which their characters experienced. The location shots were very realistic as were the all too familiar cast of characters including the politicians and the media. The film captured an important piece of history mixed with the drama and the human emotions, which were part of this story. It is not a part of history that we should be proud of but what is encouraging is that this film can be made in this country and this story can be told and talked about as much as we choose to do so. FilmRap.net
The Way Back (2010)
We cared about who these characters symbolized but not about them
This movie has all the ingredients for an epic movie. The story is that a handful of prisoners escape from a Russian gulag in 1940 and trek across Siberia to the Himalayas and ultimately into India more that 4000 miles. There are freezing cold temperatures, snow storms, sand storms, blistering hot desserts, gigantic mountains, starvation, lack of water. The actors include Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Colin Farell all who do a terrific job as does the the supporting cast, especially Saoirse Ronan a spirited 15 year old actress, under the direction of Peter Weir who had a 29 million dollar budget. The scenes are quite realistic as you can almost feel their numbness in the frigid temperatures, the pain from the blisters on their feet and their parched throats or deliciousness of an occasional oasis of water. The story is based on popular memoir written by Slavomit Racuwicz in the 1950s which sold 500,00 copies worldwide. It was ultimately determined that the author, while he was prisoner in the gulag for awhile, did not make this trek himself but based it on stories that he had heard about. Peter Weir and his team or writers and producers extensively researched the subject and ultimately this adventure is also based on the experiences that some real people actually went through. Certainly it is tribute to the human spirit, the will and ability of man to survive the horrors of mankind and the harshness of nature. The problem that we had with this two hour and 13 minute movie is that the individual stories of each of the characters were not developed in a manner, which engaged us. Yes, we ultimately learned about some of them, usually through a brief conversation. We did not find that their stories came together nor did it made us care about them as individuals as much as we may have cared for them for who they symbolized. As survivors who were seeking freedom through an almost impossible (and very long) path, we rooted for them. But in the end, we don't think we shall remember them. FilmRap.net