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Monday, November 4, 2013

HER


by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

In a dramatic change from the image of adversarial computers that we've become accustomed to in the movies, Her puts a totally different spin on things and gives the computer a romantic personna.

Spike Jonze directs a funny but profound look at society's relationship with technology and with each other.

A futuristic Los Angeles with stunning skyscrapers and good public transportation shows a "green" society with more of a Utopian existence where the major "illness" seems to be loneliness.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) writes other peoples' love letters through an online company called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com.  Depressed over a separation from his wife (Rooney Mara), Theodore simply cannot connect with people.  Even the actual writing of the letters is done by computer.

Then, rather accidentally, Theodore meets Samantha, the first A.1 operating system who has a voice (Scarlett Johanson), curiosity and attitude.  It doesn't even seem strange to the audience, because of our constant dependence on technology, when Theodore falls in love with Samantha.

However, as Theodore becomes more enthralled and dependent on Samantha, the operating system is developing its own feelings and desires --- especially the feeling that there's more out there for her and other operating systems than humanity.

Theodore's fascination with and "love" for Samantha stems from his loneliness and the ability to communicate at all times with Samantha.  But, like so many human relationships, Samantha doesn't return his feelings and wants something more.

This film is truly a fascinating and thought provoking commentary on society.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE IMMIGRANT


by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

In the first scene of The Immigrant we see the back of the Statue of Liberty.  This is an indication of what follows as the main character attempts to assimilate into society.

Ewa (Marion Cottilard),arrives in America in 1921 with her tubercular sister Magda, who is placed in quarantine on Ellis Island and denied entry into the United States.  Due to gossip about her behavior on the voyage over and the non-appearance of the aunt and uncle who were to sponsor the women, Ewa is also denied entry.

A mysterious, well dressed stranger, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), helps Ewa get off the island and takes her to the lower east side.  Bruno works as an emcee at a place called the Bandits' Roost, where he, the vaudevillians he works with, and the female entertainers he refers to as his "doves" welcome Ewa effusively.

The reality is that Bruno is a pimp who tries to convince Ewa that only through prostitution can she earn enough money to bribe the guards at Ellis Island to release Magda.  Bruno has mixed emotions about Ewa and becomes jealous and violent when his cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner) an illusionist, proceeds to court Ewa.

Unlike the city she imagined paved with gold, and the aunt and uncle who would provide a safe haven and a job, Ewa becomes hardened to her circumstances and what she must do to survive.

Just when you think you know the ending, everything changes in an unexpected series of events. This is indeed a view of the land of plenty that does not attempt to make everything like a fairytale.


Friday, October 18, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

Chiwetel Ejiofor didn't exactly burst on the acting scene.  He's been acting professionally since the age of 13 and attended the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.  Since Steven Spielberg cast him in Armistad he has had an increasing number of challenging roles in both film and television and in 2009 was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries.

This year, the 36 year old actor may well be nominated for and even win an Oscar and/or BAFTA for best actor in a drama.

Playing the lead role of Solomon Northup, a free black African-American man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South,  Ejiofor turns in a brilliant performance as Northup, who toiled for various plantation owners for 12 years before the law finally came to his aid.

Taken from a memoir written by Solomon Northup, .Director Steve McQueen has woven a story about  society that both shocks and fascinates the viewer as the societies of the North and South are contrasted and we become aware of how slavery degrades both the slaves and their owners.  What we realize now is how dehumanization and mistreatment of any one group of society creates an unhealthy society.  What we didn't realize back when it took place was just how unhealthy our society was at the time.

There are no bad performances in this film.  Large or small, all the performances are superb.  McQueen had an idea in his head to do a film about slavery in America.  When his wife handed him the volume by Solomon Northup he decided this was the story he wanted to tell,

It's hard to believe that a free man could be kidnapped, sold into slavery to suffer for a dozen years from brutality, physical abuse and mental anguish.

Claiming to practice Christianity at the same time that they treated their slaves no better than inanimate possessions or their cattle, the hypocrisy on the part of the white slavers and plantation owners is incredible. There are several remarkable scenes where the white Plantation owners are conducting prayer services with their black slaves seated in a segregated area.  They read from the Bible that an owner has the right to treat his possession in any way he likes and do not see their slaves as people rather than possessions.

There's no way to see this film without feeling shock.  The shock is made stronger because the excellent performances make the story believable and transport the viewer back into history with jolting realism.  The story is brutal and viewers should be prepared for the brutality and the reality of what was transpiring in the country at that time.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

In 123 minutes writer/director Jim Jarmusch creates a future world with two of the most extraordinary vampires you could ever hope to meet.  In this romance drama we catch a glimpse of what happens to society in the future, when vampirism is fairly normal.

Adapted from the 1964 Dave Wallis novel of the same name, we meet Adam and Eve, two beautiful people,  married and devoted to each other who have been around for centuries.  They are vampires living in a future world and they are unique and gifted.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a bonafide rock star.  He's not only a beautiful person but he's a really gifted musician with a collection of remarkable musical instruments and original musical compositions.  Adam has definite issues adjusting to the modern world and modern technology and suffers from depression which manifests itself by his being very reclusive.. The only person he sees regularly is Ian (Anton Yelchin), a fellow who supplies him with beautiful musical instruments.  Adam lives in Motor City Detroit with his vast collection of instruments, in a large crowded apartment filled with collections of records, instruments, sheet music, antique furniture and vintage clothing.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his beautiful and ethereal looking wife who resides in Tangier and unlike Adam, is flourishing in the modern world..  While in Tangiers she has sources, such as Marlowe (John Hurt),  also a vampire here, who supply her with excellent quality blood whenever she needs it.

This is an unusual film, as are most of Jarmusch's films.  The photography is dark and or muted because Adam and Eve live in a dark world, sleeping days and venturing out at night.  They avoid bright lights and crowds and despite having been together for centuries, they appear devoted to each other and are never bored or boring,  Swinton looks amazingly beautiful here, her pale skin and hair lending themselves to the appearance of a beautiful

The film has garnered a following and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.. It a remarkable story with stellar performances.

Why was it filmed in Detroit and Tangiers?  According to Jarmusch, those are his favorite cities and when he had to decide where to film he decided to film in his favorite places.  They also did some filming in Hamburg and Cologne, Germany.

Originally supposed to start filming in 2010 when Michael Fassbender was slated to play Adam,  Jarmusch had problems getting funding until he qualified for Michigan film incentives and funding from the German NRW Filmstitung.  Filming began in 2012, by which time Fassbender was unavailable and was replaced by Hiddleston.

In the end it all worked out for the best.  This is a film that can be viewed solely for enjoyment.  It does make some interesting statements about our society and the people who inhabit it, but entertainment is really what this film offers.




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ALL IS LOST

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

In all the years that the Sundance Foundation has supported filmmakers and seen projects through to fruition, it's leader Robert Redford has never been asked to be in any of the films.  He hasn't been asked to act or even do a cameo.  Is it possible that this rich acting resource has been completely overlooked?

Finally, director J.C.Chandor sent a 31 page script to Redford and asked him to star in the film. All Is Lost. Redford is not only the star of the film, he is the only actor.  In fact, except for a bit of narration at the very beginning of the film, the entire film contains about 10 spoken words by Redford.

At 77, Redford proves that he does indeed still have impeccable timing and delivery.  Since the dialogue is almost none existent, most of the acting depends on his body language, task accomplishment and facial expressions.  Physically fit, and an expert swimmer, Redford does most of his own stunts in and under the water, and never falters for an instant.

He is completely believable as a man  (Our Man) stranded at sea, battling the elements to survive and facing his own mortality.  Some will say that this is the best performance of his life, since he is on screen all the time and has nothing except nature to play against.  Others have commented that watching his struggle to survive is just boring to them.  The man sitting next to me had to get up and leave because he became seasick. True, this film is not for the faint of heart.

It's a very simple story.  An unnamed man (Redford) sailing on his 39-foot yacht, the Virginia Jean, in the South Pacific is left stranded when a Chinese shipping container of athletic shoes plows into his yacht which then begins rapidly taking on water.  For those sailors among us, the actions that Our Man takes to survive are fascinating and did I learn that the interior of the yacht was built by Mexican prop men out of foam rubber, to prevent the star from being permanently maimed when the yacht turns upside down or goes through other inclement weather conditions that necessitate it and him being tossed around violently.

It is amazing that this succinct script and 106 minute film came from the man whose last picture was Margin Call,  Even more amazing is the fact that Redford would take a chance on this project and that it could be accomplished so cleanly and quickly.

Certainly All Is Lost makes a statement that Independent films are alive and well and are a force to be reckoned with.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

I always wanted to believe that the prolific writer Charles Dickens was turning out his stories and books because of a vivid imagination, immense creativity and in order to support his wife and 10 children.

That hope was dashed several years ago when through an exhibit of his personal papers at the Morgan Library in New York City, I learned that Dickens was a cad and a womanizer.

In this spellbinding period piece, Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens and also directs a stellar cast in a film about Dickens and one of his paramours, perhaps the most important in his life.

Already famous as an actor, playwright and writer, married with children, Dickens falls for Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), who is performing with her mother Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas) and sister Maria (Perdita Weeks) in Dickens' adaption of his friends Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) play The Frozen Deep.

The beautiful Nelly (then known as Ellen) is only 18 when she meets Dickens.  Dickens is at the height of his career both in performing and publishing.  Nelly becomes the intense object of his desire and he pursues her relentlessly.  With her growing affection for Dickens, Nelly becomes more socially and emotionally vulnerable.

As they become closer and Victorian society whispers about their relationship, Catherine Dickens (Joanna Scanlan) becomes afraid of abandonment.  No longer the center of his affection, in fact on the periphery of his life, Catherine becomes more anxious and her children are equally distraught.

Although passionate with her, Dickens suggests she become his "hidden" mistress, realizing that he can never divorce and marry her, in fact never let his adoring public know that he has erred and deserted his wife and children.

While Nelly is angry, she cannot ignore his his passionate declarations and goes away with him to live under false identities and give birth to a stillborn child.  Injured in a railroad accident where Dickens doesn't even acknowledge he knows her, Nelly realizes that Dickens will never marry her and that she is the "invisible woman" who must share Dickens with the world.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks  1885 since Nelly eventually has married headmaster George Wharton Robinson (Tom Burke), borne him a son and settled at the boys school where he is headmaster.  Memories are evoked through rehearsals that the boys are having of a play by Dickens and Collins and by a visit to the graveyard where Dickens is buried.

Well cast, well acted and well directed, this is a film well worth the price of admission and a visit to the theater.

Friday, October 11, 2013

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

We've come to expect brilliant performances from Tom Hanks and in this film, portraying Richard Phillips, a ship's captain kidnapped by Somali pirates, Hanks does not disappoint.

Adapted from the original book by Captain Phillips, Billy Ray has written an exciting screenplay.  Although this is a long film, 134 minutes, there's never a moment when it lags or when the audience loses interest. That's fairly significant since the story is already well known, as is the outcome.

To increase the suspense and excitement, director Paul Greengrass used an unusual technique. Already known for his ability to produce thrillers by the second and third installments of the Bourne franchise, he took a different approach to casting and rehearsing the actors for this film.

While he hired Hanks and experienced actors to play the captain and crew of the freighter that was attacked, and rehearsed them extensively, for the pirate roles he advertised in a Minneapolis newspaper for actual Somali men who were non-actors.

During an open call he selected a group of friends who spoke the Somalian language, kept them and rehearsed them separately from the other actors, and basically trained them on how to attack a freighter and take hostages.

Undoubtedly it was this separation that accounts for the facial expressions and shock on the part of the "crew" when they are attacked and boarded.  While they knew they were going to be hijacked by pirates, no one in the cast had actually seen the Somalians playing the pirates and no one understood what they were saying to each other.  So the reaction to the attack is real and the subtitles explaining the dialogue were added later because the "pirates", having had the plot explained to them, did quite a bit of ad libbing.

Barkard Abdi, a non-actor who plays Muse, the leader of the pirates, gives a riveting and scary performance.  Actually soft-spoken and when hired, a non-swimmer, Abdi leads his pirate band is a terrorizing takeover of the freighter.  The chasm between theater and reality is closed since the audience is spellbound and totally absorbed in the action.

Later in the film there is a scene where Captain Phillips is taken to sickbay on a navy destroyer, an unplanned scene that was done at the last minute without a script.  By using the actual medical corpsmen from the ship, the scene achieves reality and believability.

Whether you are into pirate tales or not, this is a thriller on the high seas that should not be missed.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

NEBRASKA

by D.E.Levine

A NYFF51 Selection

Alexander Payne has once again taken a simple subject and made it into a superlative film.

This is a  115 minute road trip comedy about a father and son going through the Midwest, where the relationship between the actors is so good the audience actually believes they are family.

The story of the Grant family of Hawthorne Nebraska, the story focuses on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), now transplanted to Billings Montana.  Having received a letter saying he's a million dollar winner in a sweepstakes, Woody, stubborn and taciturn, repeatedly heads off to the sweepstakes headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska.

His efforts are thwarted by a caring son David (Will Forte from Saturday Night Live) who tries to explain that Woody hasn't actually won the million dollars but it's all a solicitation to order magazines.

Dern, who is now 77, won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival  He is superb as Woody, who can barely shuffle down the road and needs alcohol on a consistent basis to fuel his daily endeavors.

Unable to convince his father of the reality of the situation and it with his mother Kate Grant (June Squibb) threatening to institutionalize his father, it falls to David to agree to take his father on the 750 mile journey to Lincoln.

With humorous and poignant events happening along the way, there is of course the obligatory visit to the family in Hawthorne, and the stellar performances by Rance Howard (father of Ron Howard) who plays Woody's brother Ray, and Stacey Keach who plays Woody's former business partner, Ed Pegram.  We see the surfacing of envy and greed as family and friends, who believe that Woody is a millionaire, come looking for money.

Shot in black and white Cinemascope, Payne gives realistic and hauntingly beautiful shots of small town USA.  The scenes of the Midwest are real, not staged --- how else could you get the mountains and the prairies that appear?  Payne, who comes from Omaha, knows both the scenery and the temperament of the area.  When he needed a "dive bar" on a country road, he traveled the country roads until he found the bar and then convinced the regular patrons to be in the bar scene.

Throughout the humor and heartbreak is the theme of David, the son, continually striving to give his aging father some dignity.  Also important are the realistic and universal theme that Payne confronts about children watching their parents grow older in an aging society.

Perhaps the reason the film has attracted such attention is that the actors have a relationship that mimics the relationships in the film.  It's almost as if they really are a family, with all the dysfunction, the pathos and the humor that are portrayed in the film.  From interviews and press conferences it would appear that this was a very harmonious group and the relationships they built carried over into the film, or was it the other way around?

Monday, March 18, 2013

OUR NIXON

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2013 Selection

Even if you're too young to have experienced the dark era associated with the Nixon presidency and Watergate scandal, this fascinating documentary comprised of  8mm"home movies" by prominent White House staffers, predominantly H.R.Haldeman, Dwight Chapin and John Ehrlichman is mesmerizing to watch.

Initially we're told that the films sat in a government vault for 40 years and now paired with news footage from the same era we see deeply into the Nixon presidency of 1969-1974.
Everyone looks so young and they were young with young children.  We tend to forget that there were a lot of young people staffing the Nixon White House, even Henry Kissinger is mentioned as being a young, flirtatious bachelor.

Nixon comes across as having an actual sense of humor and being a rather charismatic speaker.  He appears to have been genuinely liked and admired by his staffers, who, when interviewed, still don't consider themselves to be criminals.

Director Penny Lane uses the films primarily to explore the audio recordings made secretively by Nixon rather than to explain the inner workings of the white house.  And there are skillful interweaving of news reports, especially after the Watergate admissions when Haldeman, Chapin and Ehrlichman shot less film.

Regardless of your feelings about Richard Nixon, the film is fascinating to watch,


Friday, March 15, 2013

STORIES WE TELL

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2013 Selection

A truly fascinating and personal documentary by Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley.  The story unfolds like a thriller as Polley searches to uncover her family's darkest secrets.

Having gotten her family members to portray themselves at their current ages, Polley uses actors and family home movies to portray them and her deceased mother at earlier stages.

Bravely using her film as an investigative tool, the Toronto-based director and actress uncovers a fact long rumored in the family and among family friends - the man who raised her and who she calls Dad is not her biological father.

The news has already been disclosed in newspapers and magazines, but this fascinating look at how Polley discovered she was the result of an extramarital affair her mother Diane had while performing a play in Montreal, is full of surprises at every level.

The happy baby joined four older siblings upon birth and although her mother died when she was eleven, except for rumors and teasing, and the fact that she didn't resemble other family members, there was never any real proof she wasn't the product of her parents Diane and Michael.

While it's unconventional that Polley was able to convince family members and friends to agree to interviews discussing the most sensitive of subjects, and even get them to appear in the film, it is n the extraordinary that she was able to track down her real biological father and get him to appear in the film as well.

There's no judging of anyone in the film.  It's a dispassionate look at facts that also points out we are each the result of our environment and upbringing rather than our DNA.


Friday, March 8, 2013

A HIJACKING

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2013 Selection

Based on a true event, Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm provides a fascinating and fast paced look at the takeover of the cargo ship Rozen in the Indian Ocean, by Somali pirates.

The boat owners company's CEO Peter (Soren Malling) negotiates directly by phone and fax with the pirates against the advice of a negotiation expert (Gary Skjoldmose Porter).  The pirates have a multilingual translator, Omar, (Abdihakin Asgar) negotiating from the ship.

The story is a fascinating look at leadership, teamwork and negotiation in an unusual and highly pressured situation. While the corporate offices are cool, pristine and comfortable, the scene  shifts back to the Rozen where the crew has to cope with increasing temperatures and lack of access to basic hygiene facilities.

Although the actual hijacking is not shown, the action on film is split between the Rozen and the Copenhagen-based ship owners who feel a deep responsibility for seeing to the safety of the Rozen's crew.

The viewer never loses interest and the pace never lessens in this tightly woven story.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

BLUE CAPRICE

By D.E.Levine

A New Directors/New Films 2013 Selection

A thriller based on the 2002 "Beltway Murders" or sniper attacks in and around Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, this film is extremely disturbing.

After introducing the subject through news and surveillance video and 911 recordings, the scene shifts to the island of Antigua where the relationship between the lead characters, a teenage boy named Lee (Tequan Richmond) and an older man named John (Isaiah Washington).

Lee's mother has left to take work elsewhere and has time stretches on and he becomes bored, Lee strikes up a friendship with John, an American who has removed his three young daughters from the United States in violation of a custody agreement.

Without a father figure, Lee is highly susceptible to John's "life is unfair" remarks and drilling.  Taking the boy back to Tacoma, Washington with him, John continues to vent against his ex-wife, who has taken his daughters and moved to somewhere unknown.

Taken along to the woods for a target shooting session, Lee turns out to be a natural marksman.  John intimidates Lee into killing people whom he has a grudge against and then strangers, by telling him thee act is a way to show his love and gratitude.  He also subjects the boy to some grueling physical and emotional tests to harden him and break his moral resistance.

Directed by Alexandre Moors, this taut film examines a dark place in the American psyche and is particularly forceful because the actual events of the Beltway murders are still current enough for people to remember them, and recent shootings by deranged individuals have had a powerful impact on society.


Monday, February 25, 2013

A LADY IN PARIS

By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2013 Selection

After the death of her bedridden mother, a mousy Estonian caretaker, Anne (Laine Magi), accepts an assignment from a nursing home to go to Paris and provide live in companionship and care for an elderly Estonian, Frida (Jeanne Moreau).

Picked up at the airport by cafe owner Stephane (Patrick Pineau) and dropped off at an elegant apartment with few instructions except to keep Frida away from the medical cabinet, Anne soon learns that not everything and everyone is as they appear.

Anne evolves in both her interaction with people and her style of dress the longer she stays and explores Paris.  Delving into both the reason that Frida has become a pariah to her Estonian compatriots and the true nature of her relationship with Stephane,

There are no surprises in this pleasant and interesting story directed and co-written by Ilmar Raag.  The real reason to sit through the 1 1/2 hour film is to see Moreau, who has impeccable timing and delivery and steals every scene in which she appears.





Saturday, February 23, 2013

JAPPELOUP

By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2013 Selection

It's human nature that people like to root for the underdog in which case this film is the perfect vehicle to fulfill that need.

This is the real life sports story of Jappeloup, a horse that not only was an underdog without proper blood lines, but was also smaller than other competition jumpers..

Written and starred in by Guillaume Canet, the film follows equestrian Pierre Durand and his favorite horse, Jappeloup from their start on a small family farm in Saint-Savin through lots of disappointments and obstacles to an Olympic gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

It's really a feel good film.  As he grows up Pierre decides to abandon equestrian competition to study and practice law.  After several years when he meets and marries an accomplished horsewoman, Nadia (Marina Hands), fathers a child and finds it impossible to stay away from his favorite sport, Pierre is faced with difficult decisions, lack of funds and the inability to get along with the French national team's coach.

Directed by Christian Duguay, the film has exciting training and tournament scenes done in wide-screen and accurately re-enacted from the real events (many of which can be seen on You Tube or archival news film).  This real story is filled with excitement as Pierre Durand goes through ups and downs, including an embarrassing fall at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and the difficult road to a comeback before he could earn his gold medal.

The film is definitely enhanced by Canet, who looks amazingly like the real Pierre Durand he portrays, and as an accomplished horseman does many of his own jumping stunts. This is a film about a story that has a happy ending for Durand, Jappeloup and the French people.


Friday, February 22, 2013

GRANNY'S FUNERAL

By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2013 Selection

Denis Podalydes stars in this comedy he co-wrote with his brother Bruno, who also directed the film.  Denis, as Armand, is a pharmacist in business with his wife,(Isabelle Candelier) of many years.  Together they run a pharmacy in a Parisian suburb.  He also has a mistress , Alix (Valerie Lemercier) and has to juggle the two women on a daily basis since he can't seem to give either one up..

While he wasn't very close to his paternal grandmother during her final years, Armand decides to make funeral arrangements and the first decision is whether to bury her or cremate her.  To help make the decision he consults two funeral homes. - one that is technically savvy and has ties to his mother-in-law, and the other that is very easy going and is actually a mortuary for pets (where director Podalydes plays Gronda the owner).  Promising his mistress a romantic day in the country, they head off to the nursing home where she died, arranging to meet the funeral director he selected there and see that the body is picked up.

The first half of the film goes smoothly and swiftly with lots of funny situations and good comedic acting.  Then the film slows as the two brothers-actors-writers try to make some deeper relevant statements.  In doing so they lose some of their humor but overall, the film is amusing, inventive and doesn't require deep thinking.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

RENOIR

By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2013 selection.  New York Premiere

Directed by Gilles Bourdos and set in the beautiful south of France in 1915, we see the lushness of the countryside, vital and alive, contrasted with the elderly and infirm French Impressionistic painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Now a widower and confined to a wheelchair, Renoir is lovingly looked after by an assortment of devoted women who bath him, cook for him and in general keep his life running smoothly despite the fact that his hands are so crippled it's difficult to detach his paint brushes from his hands each evening.  They even carry him in his wheel chair to different sites where he can paint outdoors.  And, relentlessly, he does get up and paint every day.

His youngest son, a boy of about 12 lives with him and develops an easel that's easier for his father to use..  We hear about his oldest son Pierre, who has a crippled arm and hand due to injuries sustained fighting in World War I..  We also hear about his middle son Jeannot (Jean) who's away at war, fighting on the front lines.,

The film initially centers around the painter Renoir and his latest model, Catherine Hessling, and daily life both inside and outside the painter's studio.  The youngest son has a crush on the beautiful model who confides that she wants to give up modeling and become an actress in America,

About half-way through the film, Jean, returns home.with a serious leg wound and falls in love with Catherine while his leg is mending.  He's a hard drinking, socializing fellow, but there's a serious side to him too and he seems very patriotic..  His father, who doesn't show much warmth to his sons, is genuinely glad to have Jean back alive and on the mend.  He's deeply shocked when Jean, having professed his love for Catherine, decides to join the French Air Force and return to active duty.  However, before he leaves Jean assures Catherine that he will return alive and make a star out of her in the movies.

While the film ends at this point, additional text on the screen tells us that Jean did indeed return and started making movies starring Catherine Hessling, after he married her.  They split in 1930 and she died in 1979, a forgotten individual and pretty much a pauper.  Jean Renoir, on the other hand, became one of cinema's most  prominent writes, actors, and directors whose work lives on well after his death.

He died in Hollywood in 1979 after having left France when the Nazis invaded, and become an American citizen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

By D.E.Levine

It's been rated as one of the great recent films and I'm not certain if I agree with that analysis.  Certainly, this film is unnerving because of it's attempt to deal with mental illness and in doing that  it's disturbing to viewers because the characters appear as somewhat unhinged.

Having made a bargain plea to escape jail, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a history teacher with a bipolar disorder, spends eight months in a state mental institution, Pat has lost his home, his job and his wife.  Forced to move back in with his parents, Pat is a handful.

Unable to sleep through the night he wakes his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) at all hours, looking for his wedding video, wanting to discuss book story lines, etc.  Despite everything, Pat hopes to reconcile with his wife.

His parents just want him to remain stable, get back on his feet and move out.  But, you have to look at where he's coming from.  Dad Pat Sr. is a gambler who is obsessive over football, believing that Pat must watch the games with him from the family couch or the "mojo" doesn't work and he'll lose his bets.  And Dad has already been banned, after a fight, for life from the football stadium.

Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with mental problems of her own following the death of her cop husband. He's introduced to Tiffany through friends who are also friends with his wife and she offers to help him get back in touch with his wife in exchange for his participation in an annual dance competition that's coming up.  He agrees only after he believes that his wife is going to attend and watch him.  Tiffany's motives are totally different.

Director David O. Russell also wrote the screenplay and he's made manic depression somewhat fashionable through this film.  A lot of the film is photographed darkly and perhaps Russell is trying to convey the dark spirit of the film, but overall the film is rather disjointed and difficult to follow.  On the other hand, perhaps that's exactly the way this discombobulated family lives their life,


Monday, January 7, 2013

ROBOT & FRANK

By D.E. Levine

Does Frank Langella ever give a bad performance?  The answer is evidently no.

In this charming and deceptively simple film, Langella plays Frank, an ex-con, a retired second, story man who moves to Cold Springs, New York and lives a quiet life at 70.  His only friend appears to be the town librarian (Susan Sarandon).
 
Frank's grown children Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Taylor) don't know exactly what to do with Frank.  He hasn't been the best parent, having served two lengthy stints in prison.

Hunter gives Frank a robot aide, (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), who Frank doesn't want and refuses to name anything but Robot.  After listening for several days to Robot's lectures on health, diet, exercise and various other topics, Frank decides to use the Robot's intelligence by enlisting him in a jewel robbery of a rather pompous, but very rich, neighbor.

What happens next both warms the heart and tugs at the heartstrings.  Regardless of his protestations, Frank has grown fond of his Robot and is strained to take action that will help him but harm Robot.

The story is endearing, with some humor and some pathos.  It blends the technology of the 21st century with the lifestyle we're used to and shows that family problems, obnoxious neighbors and unrealized prejudices are part of everyday life.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

BERNIE

By D.E.Levine

Taken from a true story, Bernie tells the story of a "nice guy" who's so nice that not even committing a murder changes public opinion about him.

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a devout mortician who befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), the crabbiest and most disliked old lady in Carthage, Texas.

Eventually moving in with Nugent and enjoying the good life that the multimillionairess could provide, in 1997, the then 40-year old Bernie was arrested for Nugent's murder

Shown through the eyes of the residents of Carthage, in interview type vignettes, no one can believe that mild-mannered, charming Bernie could have committed the murder.

Immaculately dressed and groomed at all times, with a mincing walk and an endlessly solicitous manner, Bernie travels the world with Marjorie and eventually she writes her grown children out of her will and makes Bernie the sole beneficiary.

Bernie, having murdered Majorie, conceals her remains and for nine months covers up her absence.  Always reclusive and difficult, people don't think it's strange to deal with Bernie instead of Marjorie.  However, when her remains are finally discovered, Bernie is prosecuted by D.A. Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew MacConaughey).

Directed by Richard Linklater, this semi comic portrayal of Bernie takes Jack Black away from his normally completely comic performances and gives significant depth and feeling to the character.