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Sunday, December 19, 2010

CONVICTION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Writer: Pamela Gray
Cast: Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Thomas D. Mahard, Owen Campbell, Conor Donovan, Laurie Brown, John Pyper-Ferguson, Minnie Driver, Ele Bardha, Melisso Leo,
Producers: Tony Goldwyn, Andrew S. Karsch and Andrew Sugarman
Executive Producers: Markus Barmettler, Anthony Callie, Alwyn Kushner, Myles Nestel, Tim Smith and Hillary Swank
Co-producers: Ed Cathell III and Dama Claire
Original Music: Paul Cantelon
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Biography, Drama

It's obvious from the beginning that Kenny Waters wasn't a very nice man. However, taken from a true story, this film shows that while he might not have been nice he was innocent and yet he was convicted of murder and spent most of his life in jail.

Undeterred by the finding, his sister believed him innocent and reshaped her entire life to prove him innocent.

Railroaded by a vengeful cop, Kenny has numerous people "think" they saw him near or leaving the crime.

Working class people, Kenny and his sister, Betty Ann, had stuck together through a bad childhood and an absent father. Despite his faults, Betty Ann has unswerving faith in her brother.

In fact, Betty Ann, a married mother without a high school diploma, reinvents herself and earns a high school diploma, a college degree and then a law degree.

Along the way her marriage disintegrates and she forms a friendship with a law school classmate who also dedicates her life to proving Kenny innocent.

Based on DNA testing, which didn't exist during his original conviction, Kenny is exonerated and joyously reunited with his family.

In real life, only six months after being set free, Kenny died from a fractured skull he got in an accident.

The story is amazing and shows what perseverance, determination and hard work can do to a life. Betty Ann Warren reinvented herself and her life and although her brother is gone she continues to work to free prisoners who were wrongly convicted.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A FILM UNFINISHED

By D.E.Levine

Director: Yael Hersonski
Writer: Yael Hersonski (screenwriter)
Cast: Alexander Beyer, Rudiger Vogler
Producers: Itai Ken-Tor and Noemi Schory
Original Music: Yishai Adar
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany, Israel
Language: German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English
Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Yael Hersonski has produced a powerful and disturbing documentary. To achieve this he highlighted and re-examines the notorious 1942 unfinished Nazi film about the Warsaw Ghetto.

Only two months after the Nazis filmed the Ghetto they liquidated the entire Ghetto.

The Warsaw Ghetto film was discovered after the war in an underground vault, with no sound track.

Although it was obviously staged and produced for propaganda purposes, the Nazis never got a chance to finish or show it and the Ghetto film became a source of interest for historians.

When a long missing reel was discovered later it threw a "curve" into the film interpretations because it clearly showed the manipulations of the film crew to stage every day scenes.

Originally, the Ghetto film showed well-dressed Jewish diners and business people callously stepping over the bodies of indigent Jews on the street. When the new reel became available it showed that the scenes were staged and the well dressed diners were actually actors or others forced to act in the staged scenes.

As Hersonski says, it appears that the film participants were apparently taken to concentration camps immediately after they finished shooting the film. After that they simply disappeared.

Hersonski's documentary features interviews with Ghetto survivors and a re-enactment of testimony from Willy Wist, one of the cameramen involved in filming the Nazi propaganda movie.

Presented at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, the film won the World Cinematography Documentary editing award.

A Film Unfinished will premiere on television on PBS in May 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

HENRY OF NAVARRE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jo Baier
Writer: Jo Baier and Cooky Ziesche (screenplay); Heinrich Mann (novel)
Cast: Julien Boisselier, Joachim Krol, Andreas Schmidt, Roger Casamajor, Armelle Deutsch, Chloe Stefani, Sven Pippig, Sandra Huller, Hannelore Hoger, Ulrich Noethen, Devid Striesow, Adam Markiewicz, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Christine Urspruch, Marta Calvo, Karl Markovics, Andre Mennike, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Antoine Monot Jr et al.
Producer: Regina Ziegler
Executive Producer: Hartmut Kohler
Co-producer: Carl Bergengruen (SWR), Jean Bigot (France 2), Jana Brandt (MDR), Esther Cases et al.
Original Music: Henry Jackman and Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Country of Origin: Germany, France, Czech Republic, Spain
Language: German, French, Czech, Spanish, Italian, Latin with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, History

This is a magnificent period piece that traces the rise of Henri of Navarre from a battlefield soldier to the beloved King Henri IV of France.

It's amazing that an epic of this caliber could be made because of the inherent problems.

With an amazing cast of actors who are well known in their own respective countries, each actor spoke his own language without understanding what the other actors were saying to them.

The director had the unenviable job of directing actors who spoke different languages to each other without understanding, and with whom he sometimes had problems directing because he didn't speak their language.

Despite everything, the casting and acting is superb and the actors managed to convey their emotions credibly and believably.

This is a very bloody film, filled with amazing action filled and historically correct battles, and many bawdy sex scenes.

When Catherine de Medici, the French dowager queen summons Henri to court to marry her daughter in late 16Th century France, it's because the Catholics and Protestant Huguenots were at war and Catherine wanted to solidify a peace.

Unfortunately, the Catholics massacre the Protestant wedding guests in what became known as the St. Bartholomew's day massacre.

A now married Henri has to resort to a combination of guile to remain alive and gain the throne. It's quite a feat, especially for a man who started out as a soldier.

The film is absorbing and never falters during the entire 155 minutes which pass all too quickly since viewers are never bored despite having to read subtitles.

Friday, December 10, 2010

GREENBERG

By D.E.Levine

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach (screenplay); Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baubach (story)
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Chris Messina, Susan Traylor, Merritt Weaver, Ben Stiller, Zach Chassler, Mina Badie, Rhys Ifans, Blair Tefkin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jake Paltrow et al.
Producers: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Lila Yacoub
Original Music: James Murphy
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy

This film is a departure for Ben Stiller who normally plays straight comedy. Stiller plays a man who's exhausted by his own anger and the fact that he's directing it at himself which causes people to think he doesn't care about himself or others.

Years earlier, Greenberg was part of a rock band that was on the verge of a breakthrough in the music industry, and was offered a recording contract. Instead of accepting, Greenberg walked away and abandoned his band-mates. Instead of explaining anything to anyone, Greenberg fled Los Angeles, moved to New York and became a carpenter.

Struggling, he had a breakdown, was institutionalized and has now returned to Los Angeles to house sit for his wealthy brother and take care of the dog.

Keeping himself isolated indoors while glaring out the picture windows, he calls and comes to depend on Florence Marr, his brother's family assistant who's familiar with the house and the dog.

Florence is definitely not the conventional love interest. Recently broken up with her boyfriend, working incredible hours planning the Greenberg family life and schedule, she's not interested in finding a new man.

Despite everything she becomes involved with Greenberg and he treats her badly. Through all this we see that Greenberg is totally unaware of his effect on people. This may be because he's busy obsessing over the grievances against him.

Whether it's reuniting with a former band-mate or a former girl friend, Greenberg is totally self-absorbed and neglectful of others.

Greenberg is not a sympathetic character. In fact, the viewer can't stand him. Yet Stiller achieves a fascinating portrayal that's interesting to watch and bags the question "Can Greenberg change or will he always be stuck where he is right now?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

RABBIT HOLE

By D.E.Levine

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay); David Lindsay-Abaire
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney et al.
Producers: Nicole Kidman, Per Saari, Leslie Urdang and Dean Vanech
Executive Producers: Bill Lischak, Linda McDonough, Brian O'Shea and Daniel Revers
Co-producer: Geoff Linville
Original Music: Anton Sanko
Running Time: 91 Milutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy

Nicole Kidman is astounding in this role as Becca, a mother who can's seem to move on since her four year old son ran into the street and was killed six months ago.

Grief is prominent as she and her husband attempt to cope through grief counseling and a variety of other techniques.

There's the definite use of humor as Becca tries to cope, doing things that aren't "approved" by friends, family and society but finding her own way nevertheless.

While Becca and her husband try to handle their loss they're also faced with the possibility of a disintegrating marriage which they need to rescue.

The movie is devastating as it reaches into the viewer and takes a piece of them along with their tears.

In the end, the audience can see that the only way to handle grief is not the way other people tell you to, but by following your own path, which is different for each individual.

Friday, December 3, 2010

BURLESQUE

By D.E.Levine

By D.E.Levine

Director: Steve Antin
Writer: Steve Antin
Cast: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Alan Cumming, Eric Dane, Julianne Hough, Cam Gigandet, Peter Gallagher, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci, Dianna Agron, Glynn Turman,
David Walton, Terrence Jenkins, Chelsea Traille, Tanee McCall,
Producer: Donald De Line
Executive Producers: Dana Belcastro, Stacy Cramer, Glenn S. Gainor and Risa Shapiro
Associate Producer: Bojan Bezelli and Dave Goldberg
Original Music: Christophe Beck
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance

Can a large budget, musical extravaganza with a strong cast of performers be a bad film? The answer, in this case, is yes.

Although Cher looks amazing and performs in her usual fashion, and Christina Aguilera has numerous musical numbers, elaborate costumes and a different wig in every scene, the magic just isn't there.

This may be because the story of an unknown country orphan (from Iowa here) who comes to Hollywood looking for a break and finally gets it, has been told repeatedly.

But there are other reasons why the film falls flat. In this case, the orphan (Ali) finds a place with the dysfunctional "family" of a seedy Sunset Strip club, initially working as a waitress and then, miraculously stepping in to fill the spot of a non-performing "star."

The elaborate costumes and original songs don't undo the garish appearance that accompanies each scene. While the songs are tuneful and in many cases the lyrics were written by Aguilera, you don't walk out humming them the way you did with Cabaret. Diane Warren provides the one ballad "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me", but the scene where it's presented doesn't do the song justice.

While the film tries to be glamorous, there's very little character development. We're not even certain how old Ali is or what her back story and motivation are for her.

When the music plays and the production numbers are on, the film is bearable. However, once the music stops there's nothing to convince the viewer that the characters are real and they have real hopes, dreams and motivation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

THE COMPANY MEN

By D.E.Levine

By D.E.Levine

Director: John Wells
Writer: John Wells
Cast: Ben Afleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner, Dana Eskelson, Sasha Spielberg, Thomas Kee, Craig Mathers, Suzanne Rico, Gary Galone, Adrianne Krstansky, Lewis D. Wheeler, Celeste Oliva et al.
Producers: Claire Rudnick Polstein, Paula Weinstein and John Wells
Executive Producer: Barbara A. Hall
Co-producer: Jinny Joung
Original Music: Aaron Zigman
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama

Anyone who has ever been laid off or fired from a job, or has a friend or relative who has lost their job, can relate to this film.

Sitting in a darkened theater watching the story unfold, it is disheartening but totally realistic regarding how bottom line profits dictate careers and futures, regardless of loyalty, hard work and dedication.

Focusing on the downsizing done at a fictional Boston corporation, GTX, the film is sad but true about corporate executive 50 and over who have dedicated their lives (and in some instances their families) for the corporation. It's also a riveting and horrifying awakening to younger corporate climbers.

Perhaps because the world is currently suffering such a high rate of unemployment and uncertainty, as well as financial failures in business, Ponzi schemes and mortgage scandals resulting in home repossession, the audience is pulled into this story and suffers along with the predicaments its characters endure.

With a stellar cast and a strong story, this is an unhappy commentary about what happens to people who are defined by their jobs. Once those jobs are taken away from them, in addition to the financial deprivation and adjustment, their identities are also at risk.

As sad as this story is, the film is a gem. It shows what we've all learned over the past few years. Corporate beneficence and loyalty to longtime employees no longer exists.

It's also obvious that there was some heavy editing done as some subplots are all but abandonned. But even with some flaws this is definitely well worth seeing and perhaps, in part, an education to the current workforce.