CLICK HERE FOR BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND MYSPACE LAYOUTS »

Monday, December 29, 2014

KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE


By D.E.Levine

Can you visualize Colin Firth, Best Actor Oscar winner in The King's Speech as a James Bond type secret agent?

I couldn't imagine him in such a role, but there he is, sleek and debonair and one of the Kingsmen, an elite group of underground spies and secret agents who repeatedly risk their lives for Queen and country. And, he has all the right moves.  In carefully choreographed fight scenes, Firth proves himself a skilled fighter not a lover.  He's cool and laid back, the perfect British gentlemen with bowler and umbrella, and great fun to watch.

 Similar but smaller and more elite than MI5, each of the Kingsmen is known by the name of a knight from King Arthur's roundtable and their leader, Arthur, is played by Michael Caine.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is Galahad and he offers street tough Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), some sound advice when he tells him "if you're prepared to learn and advance, you can transform".

With Hart sincerely interested in him, Eggsy begins his transformation from street tough with a dead father and abusive stepfather, into a true British gentleman.  He is given a real chance to qualify for the Kingsmen organization when Lancelot is killed and the group is seeking a replacement.  Qualifying is tough.  Besides stiff competition, the tasks applicants are put through are difficult and actually life-threatening.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman, Kingsmen is lots of fun. While it spoofs the James Bond characters and films it is seriously an interesting and exciting action film in the secret agent genre.  It's based on a comic book written by Mark Millar and if it takes off, may well be the basis for a new franchise.

Samuel L. Jackson as the key villain, Richmond Valentine, is superb.  His plan to stop global warming and population problems is radical and scary.  His villain is rather silly however, since he has a noticeable lisp that weakens his bravado and although he advocates mass murder, he can't stand the sight of blood.  His "right hand man", a woman named Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) has no such weaknesses and happily kills everyone she can with an assist from her two artificial limbs.

This isn't a James Bond 007 film and in some ways it's more fun and more satisfying.  The audience has no expectations because it's the first time these characters are making their appearance.  Since viewers don't know what to expect there are fewer expectations and more surprises.

There's real excitement, lots of humor, and real entertainment.  Although there is some violence, youngsters will find this film appealing and adults will enjoy themselves immensely.






Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CALVARY


By D.E.Levine

In County Sligo, a rural parish in Ireland, Father James (Brendon Gleeson), tends to the souls of the inhabitants.

Before being ordained, Father James was married, widowed and fathered a daughter.  He was also a heavy drinker.  When his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly) comes to visit from London she has bandages on both wrists indicating a failed attempt at suicide.

In a pivotal scene we see Father James in a confessional, hearing confession from an unidentified man who states that because he was abused by Catholic clergy at a young age and has suffered irreparable damage, he intends to murder Father James in one week, on the following Sunday.  Although Father James was not the abuser and wasn't even a member of the clergy at the time, this confessor says he will murder Father James because he's done nothing wrong.

Father James is distressed by what the man has suffered, even more distressed than with the news of his impending murder.

Director John Michael McDonagh wrote the screenplay which is divided into seven days and introduces the viewer to locals who may or may not be involved in the impending murder.

While Father James seeks to minister to his "flock" the locals seem to have given up on the Catholic faith.  Father James believes and he is a solitary and lonely figure.  He can avoid his fate in several ways and even acquires a gun which viewers believe he will use to protect himself.

Cavalry leaves the viewer with a sadness and emptiness that perhaps mimics the feelings of Father James.

Monday, December 22, 2014

BELLE


By D.E.Levine

Belle is an interesting and historically true period piece about a young biracial woman who was instrumental in changing the slavery laws in the United Kingdom.

Taken by her white, British navel captain father, Sir John Lindsey (Matthew Goode) from an island home after her black mother, Maria Bell, dies when she is a child, Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is placed in the hands of her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson).

Transplanted as she was to a large country manor, Belle is raised along side her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  The cousins are extremely close growing up together, but Elizabeth is white and fits into the aristocratic society they live in, while Belle, biracial, is considered black and ostracized in a slave-trading society.

Belle does not eat with the family but joins the ladies after the all white dinners.  In the  film we see the painting of a now famous painting of the two girls, side, by side, both dressed in silk and pearls.  Painted at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England where Belle lived for about 30 years, the painting now hangs in Scone Palace, the famed crowning place in Scotland for numerous Kings of Scotland.

The painting is unusual because it portrays the two young women as equal, although in the eyes of society they were not equal.

As she grows, Belle becomes aware of her social, political and and legal position.  Ironically, as her awareness grows and she becomes an activist for equality of all colors, we learn that her great uncle is the Lord Chief Justice who must decide the real case of the Zong slave ship.

It is believed that Lord Mansfield's affection for Belle influenced his feelings toward slavery although he was careful to maintain exact interpretation of the law.  His historic decision is considered a landmark step toward the abolition of transatlantic slave trade.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

STILL ALICE


By D.E.Levine

In a brilliant performance, Julianne Moore explores the feelings and actions of a woman going through early onset Alzheimer disease.

Dr. Alice Howard (Julianne Moore) is a Columbia University professor who in 50+ years has achieved a distinguished career and successfully raised three grown children.

Initially, her small moments of forgetfulness don't raise any red flags.  Although forgetting a word during a linguistic lecture is disconcerting, Alice doesn't worry.  However, when she goes jogging and loses track of where she is, where she's going and how to get back home, she starts to become concerned.

While a consultation with her doctor informs Alice that intelligent people generally are harder to diagnose because they develop work-around techniques, when she's told that the condition is hereditary and that in addition to eventually losing her own identity and self she may also be responsible for passing it on to her children, Alice is concerned and plagued by guilt.

With increasing disorientation and a dulling of senses, Alice grieves while she attempts to come to terms with the fact that life as she knows it is ending.  Gradually descending into a "fuzzy" world where she can't grasp ideas and concepts, gets lost in her own home, doesn't remember things her family tell her and repeatedly asks the same questions, she is frightened but honest enough to confide in her department head at Columbia University.

Her immediate dismissal from her position is an all too try revelation of how employers treat employees who become ill and/or disabled.  Although it's supposed to be against the law, most employers dismiss employees as rapidly as they can.

Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) refuses her request to take a year off so they can be together before the disease progresses and she is completely lost and makes plans to keep his career on track even when it means leaving her behind.  She spends some of the valuable time that he denies her visiting retirement homes, making contingency plans, and recording video messages to herself that can direct her when she literally loses her self.

Still Alice isa tender look at a woman rapidly deteriorating and descending into a muddled mind.  Although Alice doesn't give up her rapid deterioration is horrifying to those in the audience who haven't seen the effects of degenrative diseases before.  To its credit the film is less about the impact of the disease on family members and caregivers than on the actural sufferer and we are given a unique insight into a woman going from a self-assured, assertive individual to a frightened woman who cannot remember things from one minute to the next.

Monday, December 8, 2014

INHERENT VICE


By D.E.Levine

Based on the Thomas Pynchon book Gravity's Rainbow, Inherent Vice is a masterful work but I had to see it three timees before I finally got the gist of what was going on.

This is a funny film.  Whether or not Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to incorporate Pynchon's gags and his social indignation, he has managed to direct a slick, 1970s era mystery/comedy.

Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator living in the Los Angeles area with an office in a medical clinic.  Sportello's ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) pays him a visit because her married boyfriend's wife is planning, with her lover, to murder  (Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a real estate mogul.  When Doc goes to investigate he's knocked out at the Chick Planet massage parlor and when he wakes up next to a corpse that turns out to be one of Mickey's bodyguards,  both Shasta and Mickey have both disappeared.

There's another seemingly unrelated case where Doc is hired by Hope Harligen (Jena Malone) to locate her missing husband and presumed dead husband Coy (Owen Wilson).  Of course, it turns out the two cases are related and Doc is successful in solving both.

Told to beware of the Golden Fang, which is either a boat previously charted by anti-Communists subversives, a drug cartel headquartered in a building that looks like a golden fang, or the murder weapon in a homicide.

There are several subplots and everything that happens and every person that we meet seem to be clues in solving Doc's cases.

Set in an era of easy to get weed where everyone, including Doc seems to be perpetually stoned, how anything gets solved is a stretch.  Detective Christian Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), also known as Bigfoot, is assigned to the Wolfmann case and is brilliantly funny.  His demeanor and appearance are exactly the opposite of Doc's laid back hippie looks and actions.

Since this is the first film based on Pynchon ever produced, we have nothing to compare it with but we do know that it is fairly faithful to the book.  The film is confusing but it's fun.  I expect a few more viewings may be necessary for further clarification and understanding.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

AMERICAN SNIPER


By D.E.Levine

Following on the heels of the musical Jersey Boys, director Clint Eastwood has tackled another war film.  The real life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, one of the most highly decorated snipers in U.S. military history, Chris Kyle documented his exploits in a best selling book prior to his death.  He was actually touring with the book and involved in planning the movie when he died unexpectedly.

Eastwood cast Bradley Cooper as Kyle, a seemingly improbable choice.  Cooper's physical transformation is amazing.  He resembles the real Chris Kyle so closely that even Kyle's children had trouble telling them apart.

Eastwood's method of directing is to be right there next to his actor, coaching him o to provide the most intensity.  And this film is certainly intense, never wavering or pausing in its story and message.

We ride along the war torn streets and poise alongside Kyle as he aims and takes his shots.  We see that there are two Chris Kyles.  Both Kyles are devout patriots and believe they are  doing a job necessary to protect both the United States  and fellow troops.  In the field in Iraq, with fellow SEALS he's social, profane and funny.  But the other Kyle, who returns home to his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his children, is withdrawn, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and haunted by the troops he couldn't save.

Returning once and for all stateside, Kyle found redemption in helping other PTSD suffers from the armed forces.  He began to regain his emotional connection to his wife and children.  That's why, with so prominent a figure, and knowing that he was actually being rehabilitated, the end is all the more shocking.

Eastwood's direction is masterful but Cooper's portrayal is better than anything he's done so far.  We are always involved and never bored.  The action never ceases.  Even knowing the heartbreaking end of the story it's still a shock.  It's especially vivid because the story is still headline news today and the legal system continues to try to do the right thing.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

BIG EYES


By D.E.Levine

A couple of years ago I was in San Francisco and I wandered into a gallery selling paintings and prints with "big eyes".  This wasn't a new concept, but it had been a famous case in the papers a long time ago when an artist named Margaret Keane proved that her husband, Walter Keane, had been taking credit for her paintings for years.  Along the way, he became quite famous but will probably best be remembered for the immense fraud he carried out.

The elderly woman I spoke with at the gallery was charming but never mentioned that she was Margaret Keane.  Only when I saw the movie Big Eyes, and there she was sitting on a park bench, did I realize the woman's identity.

When she took her daughter and left her husband for San Francisco in the 1950s, Margaret Keane was leaving an unhappy relationship where she felt unfulfilled.  Supporting herself by painting designs on furniture, she painted did charcoal portraits in the park on weekends and continued to paint waif like children with big eyes.

Meeting and marrying Walter Keane, she became an abused wife cut off from friends while he took credit for her paintings and the paintings gained popularity and became highly sought after.  She married him thinking that he was a struggling painter who moonlighted in real estate to pay the bills. It wasn't until years later that she learned he hadn't painted any of the pictures he claimed as his own.

Once again leaving a bad marriage and taking her daughter with her, she fled to Hawaii where she found strength in religion and courageously challenged Walter in court to get recognition and monies owed for her many years of paintings.  She won the case but never collected the money from him as he died penniless, never admitting that he perpetrated a fraud on the public.

Amy Adams is superb as Margaret Keane and Christophe Waltz is equally fine as Walter. Their performances are what we expect.  Perhaps the greatest surprise is that the film was directed by Tim Burton and it's nothing like his imaginative flights into fantasy that he's given us in other films.  Of course, this story is truly bizarre in it's own right, so much so that it's hard to believe, but historical reference proves it did occur.

Burton does a wonderful job of directing the actors and achieving intimate and believable performances.

Friday, December 5, 2014

UNBROKEN,


By D.E.Levine

There's been a lot of buzz about this film because it was directed by Angelina Jolie.  Taken from the true story of American Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who as as a World War II bombardier was shot down and survived 47 days adrift at sea followed by years in Japanese prisoner of war camps where he was severely brutalized, I wasn't sure what to expect.

The book that Laura Hillenbrand wrote  was a bestseller in 2010.  It told the story clearly and was inspirational in his survival as well as his ability to forgive his captors.

Jolie's film however, is too long and contains a lot of unnecessary brutality.  Louie (Jack O'Connell) is appealing as the adult Zamperini, who didn't medal at the Olympics but has great plans for his future.  Blown out of the sky he survives adrift at sea, but here is where Jolie loses her grip.  The amount of time that she spends on Zamperini's survival at sea needs to be edited and shortened.

Once picked up by the Japanese and imprisoned, Jolie spends an incredible amount of time on individual of time showing individual punishments inflicted on Zamperini, and in one scene, where individual prisoners strike him, it's simply unnecessary to show every blow.  We get the message clearly that he was physically abused, and once again the film drags and needs editing.

Overall, Jolie's attempt is admirable, but misses the mark and unfortunately is disappointing in the end.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR


By D.E.Levine

In 1981 New York City was having a rough time economically and with crime.  Abel Morales (Oscar Issac) has a heating oil business and he's having financial problems.  Having come from a racketeering background, married a gangster's daughter and done his best to go straight and run an honest business.

Donning a blond wig and smoking cigarettes, Anna (Jessica Chastain) whose father used to own the company, wonders whether her husband Abel is capable of growing the business, keeping them solvent, and protecting her and their three young daughters.  Anna arms herself and is willing to resort to violence.

Abel's trucks are hijacked, his salesmen are beaten up and one of his drivers is in danger.  As a tenacious assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo) prepares indictments, Abel's attorney (Albert Brooks) worries.  Despite everything, Abel believes that he can conduct business in an honest, reasonable way.

Set against the gray skys of a bleak city, with a rather anxious musical score that adds to the intense feelings provoked by the film, A Most Violent Year explores the relationship between Abel and Anna as well as the hubris and greed that tempt and threaten an honorable man who tries to stay true to his values.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

BOYHOOD


By D.E.Levine

A most unusual film is the only way to describe Boyhood.  Richard Linklater had an idea of filming a family relationship with the  focus on a little boy and his sister growing up over a period of 12 years.

Approaching Patricia Arquette to play Olivia, the mother and Ethan Hawke, to play Mason Sr., the father, Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei as the older sister Samantha and a newcomer, Ellar Coltrane, as the boy, Mason.

For 12 years this group got together and rehearsed and filmed scenes for the movie.  That's right, it was not only written into the script, but it was actually filmed two weeks a year for 12 consecutive years.  When Ellar was cast, he was 5 years old and the first time you see him in the film he's 6 years old.  At the end of the film he's really 18.

Who would be crazy enough to bankroll and independent production like this one?  Well, IFC, its distributor committed to the project and came through with a bankroll every year, enabling Linklater to keep shooting on film (which he chose because there is a non-wavering standard while non exists in the digital camera realm).

Beginning in 2002, Linklater gathered his four main actors for work on the script, some rehearsal and actual shooting..  As a result, there are realistic scenes skillfully woven together that show the growth of the characters and their changing relationships.  There are very smooth transitions, believable characters and scenes, and a film that works in part because it doesn't seem like a commercial film but rather like a home movie of real life.

During interviews Ms. Arquette, Mr. Hawke and Mr. Linklater said they could immerse themselves because in their real offscreen lives they were raising children and going through many of the same events -- i.e. divorce, marriage, geographical relocation, financial problems, sibling fights, etc.

There are lots of two shots, shots that Linklater is extremely fond of which show two characters walking, talking, interrelating and developing or exploring their relationship.

Each time I see Boyhood I notice different things that I haven't noticed before.  This is cinematic realism rather than simply film acting.  The story is so realistic and believable that the film never loses its grip on the audience.  As we watch the actors age naturally and their bodies change with growth we relate.  Linklater has filmed many films both for himself and for other writers, but Boyhood is truly a masterpiece not to be missed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

INTO THE WOODS


By D.E.Levine

Adapted from a Stephen Sondheim musical which Roundabout Theater currently has a production of on Broadway, although not the most famous or most memorable of Sondheim's musicals, this film aims to entertain.

With an all star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Biklly Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, David Huddlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman and others, the film brings several of Grimms Fairy Tales to life.

Under the skillful direction of Rob Marshall and using wonderful special visual effects, the film achieves more than the on-stage production.

This is definitely a family film that can be seen by children as well as adult, and both categories will enjoy it.  Be warned however, that very young children might be frightened by some of the characters and special effects.

Overall, this is a thoroughly delightful way to celebrate the holiday season and beyond.

Friday, November 21, 2014

LEVIATHAN


By D.E.Levine

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev gives us a satiric expose of the Russian system which shows the struggle of the current society with alcohol, guns, religion and politics.  It's amazing that the director wasn't imprisoned for giving us this view of Russia.

In a small village on the Kola Peninsula on the northwest coast of Russia, scattered with the remains of whales and ships, the population struggles against corrupt politicians and a state that has lost touch with its citizens.

Residing on a riverside homestead settled by his ancestors, Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) lives with his family, including son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova).  When a corrupt town mayor seizes the land for his personal purposes, Kolya calls upon his old friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitvhenkov), a lawyer, to come from Moscow and contest the mayor's claim of eminent domain.

After going to court and having their appeal denied, Kolya and Dmitri go up the bureaucratic chain of command and of course, since everyone is "in the mayor's pocket" continue to lose their appeals.  Dmitri has come prepared though and attempts to blackmail the mayor with a binder containing incriminating evidence.  In the interim, he has an affair with Lilya, despite the fact she's his friend's wife.  And Kolya never stops drinking throughout the film, obviously deeply depressed over everything in his life.

The movie is full of unexpected twists and turns.  It's a serious theme and a "heavy" film but it's also filled with comedy.  There are serious statements about the average working citizen suffering daily at the hands of the corrupt politicians, and the inevitability of all courses of action failing as they fight the "leviathan".  When we see the bleached bones of whales on the beach we also encounter the bleached lives and emotions of the residents of Russia.

This is not a light-hearted film.  It raises serious questions about the Russian system today and how long men and women can continue to support a system that fails them and offers nothing to hang onto.  It's a very depressing film for the viewer but it's also thought provoking, getting the audience to think about the political system in Russia and the plight of the citizens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL


By D.E.Levine

Director Wes Anderson has once again brought us a new film cast with a long list of well known actors and comedians that is resplendent with rich scenery, costumes, sets and humore.

Packed with the type of visual shots that he's noted for, Anderson draws upon a group of actors frequently appearing in his films, including Tida Swinton, Jason Schwartman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban.  The group is headed by the most unlikely actor, Ralph Fiennes,  who is generally known for his dramatic roles.  In this film however, playing the concierge M. Gustave, Fiennes is extremely funny and delivers a flawless performance.

Based on the writings of the noted Viennese writer Stefan Zweig, the film takes place in the imaginary Republic of Zubrowka.  Introduced by an aging writer played by Tom Wilkenson, the story takes us back to 1968 when a younger version of the writer (Jude Law) stayed at the aging and somewhat tacky Iron Curtain Grand Hotel Budapest.  Meeting the hotel's owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the writer learns the history of the hotel and how Mr. Moustafa beame the owner .

Over an elaborate dinner, reminiscing about happier and more lucrative times, when the hotel was the centerpiece of  a group of "grand hotels", Mr. Moustafa tells the tale of how he started as a lobby boy named Zero (played by Tony Revolori) and became Mr. Gustave's "right hand" watching him rule the staff and devote himself to the clients/customers.

Nostalgic and beautiful, the central plot revolves around the death of a noble matriarch (Tilda Swinton), the theft of a priceless painting (Boy With Apple) by M. Gujstave, and the antics of the noble's family headed by her son (Adrien Brody) using "hit man" (Willem DaFoe) to recover the painting.  Along the way Zero falls in love with a baker's assistant (Saorse Ronan) at Mendel's, who artfully conceals miniature tools in pastry to enable M.Gustave and other prisoners to painstakingly dig their way out of prison.

With Zero's assistance Gustave flees across the frozen wasteland of Zubrowka, chased by the hit man and intent on clearing his name and bringing the matriarch's murderer to justice.  The settings are breathtaking, the acting impeccable and the film is extremely funny.

With an original musical score by Alexandre Desplat that sounds almost like Klezmer band music and adds to the film's feeling and action, Anderson has, in his eighth feature, once again provided a unique and novel comedy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

MR. TURNER


By D.E.Levine

For years I've admired the oil paintings of William Turner (full name Joseph Mallord William Turner).  There are two in the Frick Musuem in New York City, a sunrise and a sunset, hanging opposite each other, each resplendent with rich colors.  I've seen Turner's paintings at museums throughout the world but never knew much about the man.

Director Mike Leigh has once again given us a unique and absorbing film about the painter, representing him as a cantankerous middle-aged man who lacks social graces but has the ability to create magnificent paintings.

Mr. Turner concentrates on the last 25 years of the painter's life as he created magnificent and majestic paintings that pushed landscape painting toward impressionism.

Played by Timothy Spall, who won the 2014 Best Actor Award in Cannes, France, for his portrayal, Mr. Turner grunts a lot and isn't very sociable,  He shares a studio with his elderly father (Paul Jesson) whom he very obviously adores, and has a housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) who is also his current lover.

Denying their very existence to the world and meeting with them half-heartedly we see that William Turner has a spurned, estranged and ignored a former mistress (Ruth Sheen), their two grown daughters and a grandchild, all of whom he ignores.

Mr. Turner is clearly not a family man.  He's not even a friendly and sociable man.  Spurred by inventiveness and artistic desires, he travels extensively, to other countries like Belgium and other towns, like Margate.  In Margate, using a pseudonym, he rents a small seaside apartment from a widow, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) and proceeds to produce some of his greatest.  Eventually, Turner, the giant of the art world, takes Booth, the big-hearted country woman, as his last mistress and the relationship proves instrumental in his transitioning from classical painter to more of an abstract, modern impressionist.

Leigh also gives us a look into the London art scene which was dominated by the Royal Academy of Arts.  An already famous Turner goes his own way, developing new techniques and masterpieces because he refuses to be restrained by the limitations of the art world and the Academy.

The famed art critic John Ruskin is Turner's advocate, but Turner doesn't appear to appreciate him.  Despite his various affairs, his participation in the Arts Academy and his commissions,   appears to be a loner.  He's neither affectionate nor considerate and, as portrayed by Spall, spends most of his time grunting rather than speaking.  As portrayed in this film, for Turner, art was his method of communicating and commenting on the world around him.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

THE JUDGE


By D.E.Levine

Oscar winner Robert Duvall takes a supporting role as the judge that the film is named for in this story of a dysfunctional family and the problems they face personally and professionally.

Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) is a moral pillar of the community who has sat on the bench for a very long time.  He heartily disapproves of his black sheep son Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), an unscrupulous Chicago defense attorney whose practice is based on getting white collar criminals off.

Preparing to divorce his wife and sue for custody of his seven-year old daughter Lauren (Emma Treblay), Hank reluctantly heads back to Carlinville, Indianna when his mother dies.

Tension is high from the time Hank arrives home and continues as we meet other members of his family like older brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong).

As Hank prepares to leave Carlinville for good, the Judge gets arrested and charged with a hit-and-run murder.  Hank stays to defend his father and he and the Judge clash over the proper way to handle the defense.

It turns out the Judge is seriously ill and with a limited life expectancy the outcome of the case can have a significant impact on his and other family members' lives.

The film is not only a study in "good versus evil" but in the relationship between father and son, with all its problems and the resolutions finally reached.

Downey, who has been an action hero in his last few films, give a realistic performance as the glib successful lawyer.  While Duvall, now 83 years old, gives a deeper and more convincing performance than he has in years.

Well worth seeing, but not a feel good movie, The Judge is well worth seeing.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

NATIONAL GALLERY


By D.E.Levine

Director Frederick Wiseman gives us a beautiful and fascinating documentary in National Gallery about the museum that is located at the northern end of Trafalgar Square in London.

Taking viewers on a tour of the paintings in the National Gallery, Wiseman stops to listen and record conversations about art, context and form.  Focusing on several docents and/or guides, one of whom discusses a Camille Pissarro to visually impaired audience who use embossed reproductions of the painting with which to see it.  Much of the documentary challenges viewers to discover for themselves what the artists meant or mean.

There are fascinating conversations on conservation efforts, speculation regarding what lies beneath the exterior varnish and layers of paint of some masters, and even descriptions of how painter George Stubbs hung skinned carcasses of horses via a pulley system in order to understand their anatomy. There's even a scene where activists climb to the roof of the National Gallery and unfurl a banner protesting Shell's plan to drill in the Arctic during a company art event, as a protest.

Throughout the film there is a constant refrain about the importance of money to art.  This is explored in conversations about whether the museum needs to do more to make itself attractive to the general public, and additional conversations about the National Gallery's budget.

While the film is a 3-hour cinematic journey, Wiseman never lets us forget that there is a relationship between commerce, labor, patronage and sometimes exploitation.  In one scene a guide explains to students that the institutions origins can be traced directly to the slave trade via John Julius Angerstein, an art patron who amassed his fortune through the slave trade in Grenada..

While he gives us a wonderful and enjoyable tour of the National Gallery, Wiseman also lets us gaze upon and into ourselves.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING


By D.E.Levine

Amazing performances make this film an interesting and amazing story instead of what could have been a dull movie about about a scientist challenged by a terrible disease.

Few people having heard of physicist Stephan Harking.  Stricken by ALS when he was only in 21 and given only two years to live, Hawking continued his education and research, married and fathered children and is the oldest living survivor of the disease.

We see Eddie Redmayne transform remarkably in front of our eyes from a healthy, athletic young man to a physically ill, disabled and continually deteriorating individual.  Emotionally supported and physically helped by his wife Jane (Felicity Jones), who chose to marry him despite the diagnosis, we see how he approached both his academic and home lives, achieving greatness in each.

This story comes to the public 50 years after Stephen Hawking was given his original diagnosis and he is still working, laughing, and recently paid to be a participant in the first Virgin Atlantic space flight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME


By D.E.Levine

When legendary and beloved recording artist Glen Campbell announced that he had Alzheimer 's disease, he decided to do one final farewell tour.

Enlisting the aid of director James Keach, we see Campbell's valiant struggle against a non-curable disease that encroaches further upon him daily.

Campbell has truly done a courageous thing by allowing the public to see the ravages of the disease as they attack his mind.  Opening with scenes of Campbell and wife Kim watching old home movies where he frequently cannot recognize himself or his children, the film takes us right into his doctor's offices at the Mayo Clinic where unable to respond to basic historical questions Campbell finally says, "I can play guitar".

His musical skills remain intact as we see his mental state deteriorate.  And, don't think that Campbell isn't aware of the disease.  Viewers see him preparing for an appearance on The Tonight Show, which goes perfectly, and is followed by his triumphant outburst that he "got through it".

It is heartbreaking to watch this gentle, talented man lose his mental abilities.  On tour to promote his 2011 album Ghost on the Canvas, he is carefully monitored by his wife and children, three of whom appear and perform with him on stage.

Although he never loses his skills at playing instrumentally, his memory deteriorates and he forgets the words to even old classics and depends increasingly on a Teleprompter.  The tender interaction of his spouse and children who watch over him and repeatedly explain that he's losing his memory is  touching and heartbreaking simultaneously.  Campbell, however, remains consistently upbeat.

Finally, at the end of the tour in Napa, California, Campbell can barely get through the performance and is completely unaware that he has played his last performance on stage.  Keach doesn't camouflage the effects of the disease as Campbell becomes frustrated in situations where his memory fails him and phases totally out of other situations.

The end of the film is a touching reunion of Campbell with The Wrecking Crew, one of the all time great session bands, when they record "I'm Not Gonna Miss You", which will be his last record.


Friday, October 10, 2014

BIRDMAN


By D.E.Levine

In a strange occurrence of art following life, Michael Keaton, long absent from the film scene, came down from his ranch in Montana to star in a new film about resurrecting the career of a former film action hero.  Absent from the cinema scene for some time, Keaton gives a marvelously creative, poignant and comical performance, proving he hasn't lost any of his talent and/or timing.

As you'll remember, Keaton was a successful portrayer of Batman in a box office money maker and he gave it up and left Hollywood to go take care of personal matters in his private life.

In this film, Riggain Thomsom (Michael Keaton) played Birdman and is now a washed up movie star hoping to resurrect his career and achieve new fame and notoriety by producing and starring in a play in the famous St. James Broadway theater.  This is his last chance and the consistent appearance of his alter ego, his winged action hero Birdman, who voices his fears and increasingly causes him to doubt himself.

Of course, there's a wonderful script with many twists and turns, a great supporting cast, and imaginative cinematography.  Working in close quarters in the St. James, some of the takes are 20 minutes long and filmed continuously while the cameraman follows the actors up and down the back staircases and around the narrow corridors.  The action seemingly never stops and for two hours the viewer feels he/she is watching one single take.

The visual effect is due to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and director Alejandro G. Innaritu, with an assist from the stunning original score by Antonio Sanchez.

There's also a great deal for the audience to think about.  What is real and what is imagined? Sometimes things blur and it's hard to keep track but the film moves swiftly along and is really a blast that shouldn't be missed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

DIPLOMACY


By D.E.Levine

Whether or not the events in this film are all true remain to be seen, however, they make for a wonderful intriguing and tense tale of two men and their respective backers fighting over the city of Paris, France.

In 1944, as the Allied forces gained ground and came closer to Paris, the Nazi command made the decision that if they couldn't hold on to the city they would destroy it so no one else would have it.  Hitler ordered all the bridges, monuments and historic buildings blown up in order to destroy centuries of art, architecture and civilization and kill thousands of people.

Charged with the actual task was the German military governor of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup).  It's historical knowledge that von Choltitz disobeyed the Fuhrer's orders but the reasons he did so are the basis of the story told in this film.

In a cat and mouse confrontation, the general and the Swedish ambassador to France, Raoul Nordling (Andre Dusollier), argue the point of obeying orders and destroying the city versus disobeying orders and saving the city they both love.

There is no evidence that the conversations in the film are accurate but Nordling uses all his diplomatic skills to make the case for sparing the city, and the confrontation and conversations are both morally and psychologically compelling.

We know that von Choltitz was physically ill with asthma, and exhausted and demoralized.  A veteran of both World Wars, he now has to face the fact that the cause and country he has faithfully served is about to be defeated.

The ambassador is smooth and tells marvelously compelling stories about bygone Parisian intrigues while insisting that he and his government are neutral and do not side with either the Nazis or the Allies.  We can tell, however, that the ambassador has been in touch with the Resistance and is helping them.

The viewer must draw his/her own conclusion about why Nordling was successful in dissuading von Chiltitz from destroying the city.  The important thing is that Nordling's efforts worked and unlike so many other cities that were destroyed during the war, Paris remained, for the most part, intact.  So many years later we can still visit and enjoy the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Garnier Opera.


Monday, October 6, 2014

WHIPLASH


By D.E.Levine

J.K.Simmons has been around for 40+ years.  He's a familiar face on the small and big screen. Generally, he's the good guy  -- the police captain, the genial dad, the comical insurance salesman or in his many voice over roles, even an M&M candy.  And, he generally is dressed in a suit or a uniform for his role.

Whiplash is a departure and for Simmons it is probably the best role of his life.  Dressed in a black tee shirt and exhibiting a muscular physique we never knew he had, Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, an intimidating and somewhat masochistic music instructor at a top music conservatory.

Intimidating when he faces students on a one-to-one basis, Fletcher is even more intimidating in front of a conservatory band. Simmons is the protagonist to a young music student, a drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller) who drums his heart out and is driven for success.  Even more amazing than the scenes where he's drumming was the disclosure that Teller never drummed before learning to do so for this movie.

When, as a new student, Andrew catches Fletcher's ear and gets an offer of a seat in the band, he jumps at it and intensifies his practice even more.

Fletcher believes that encouragement breeds complacency and that the two words "good job" are the most harmful.  His approach is to humiliate his students and band members publicly.  His constant verbal abuse does result in keeping band members on their toes but also creates in Andrew the painful decision to cut himself off from others including the girl he's started a relationship with, in order to concentrate on his music.

There is obvious adversity between teacher and student, but there is also contention and adversity between the student and his innermost self.

Fast paced and somewhat exhausting, Whiplash, for a small film, makes a big noise.

Friday, October 3, 2014

WILD


By D.E.Levine

Viewers are used to seeing Reese Witherspoon in cute and/or glamorous roles.   In Wild, the second film for her production company, Reese is anything but glamorous.

Based on the true story by Cheryl Strayad about her 2012 solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, the film's cinematography is beautiful as a naturally rugged backdrop for an equally rugged interior self-discovery journey.

Strayed is brutally honest as she tells her story of how her mother Bobbi's (played by Laura Dern) death from lung cancer at age 45 sent her 22-year old daughter on a self-destructive journey into drugs and sex that ended her marriage.

As a novice hiker, with no experience and a huge, heavy backpack with sometimes the wrong equipment, Strayed was ill-prepared, but very determined for the journey.  Some thought her reckless, others thought her stupid, however, her determination and ability to adapt, caused her to successfully complete what she started and ultimately changed her entire life.

Witherspoon's portrayal combines vulnerability, grittiness, determination, and physical bravery.  As Strayed, Witherspoon is totally believable and authentic.  We're rooting for Strayed, but we doubt, strongly, that she'll succeed.  Her accomplishment is a journey on so many levels, and Witherspoon does an amazing job of portraying the real Strayed.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

GONE GIRL


By D.E.Levine

Having loved the best-selling novel from which this screenplay was adapted, I didn't know what to expect in the film but Gone Girl is a tense and absorbing melodrama.

Gillian Flynn, the novelist, was actually hired to write the screenplay and she did a good job in boiling the large, twisty bestseller into a tight film.  It never lags and that's partially due to the excellent directing by David Fincher as well as the brilliant casting.

Told from the point of view of both Amy Elliott Dunne's (Rosamund Pike) the disappearing wife's diary and the husband's, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) commentary, the story is basically about two successful New York writers who,  because of financial setbacks and Nick father's illness, relocate to a small Missouri town.

Bored and irritated, living a life they don't want in a non-personality home, the two soon get on each other's nerves and the marriage becomes grating and loveless, according to Amy's diary.

Nick arrives home on their fifth anniversary to find signs of a struggle and his wife missing.  Initially a sympathetic figure, and supported by his in-laws, his sister and the police assigned to the case.

However, the public opinion of Nick changes, as does that of his in-laws and others, as Amy's diary reveals that she was increasingly frightened of Nick and fearful of what he might do to her.  With the public turning against him, egged on by a sensationalist TV host, Nick is soon under suspicion for murdering his wife.

Pike and Affleck both give solid and believable performances, supported by other characters played by Missy Pyle, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and others.

Time passes quickly the film progresses and even if you've read the novel, the film is so absorbing that it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Definitely worth seeing and probably an award contender, Gone Girl is a real entertainment.




Friday, September 19, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME


By D.E.Levine

When Alan Turing died in 1954 he was only 41.  Because he had been convicted of a crime in the United Kingdom and imprisoned, his story really wasn't told to many who would have been and currently are astonished by his thoughts and accomplishments.

Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) was very simply a genius in mathematics and other areas.  As far back as the 1930s he was developing ideas and writing about a "universal machine" capable of doing things faster and in larger quantity than man could accomplish them.  He played a pivotal role in cracking the encryption code of the Enigma machine that the Nazis used for their messages, and in doing so help the Allies win World War II.  Without his efforts and those of his co-workers, we might not be enjoying the democratic freedoms for which America and the United Kingdom are noted.

Although he kept his homosexuality a secret, he was arrested in 1952 on charges of indecency, imprisoned and, in order to gain release, chemically castrated.

Unable to discuss his wartime work because of the British Secrecy Act, Turing was investigated because the police thought he was a Soviet spy, and when they saw he was a gay man they were committed to arresting and imprisoning him under the antiquated and homophobic judicial system.

Ironically, today we give knighthoods to gay men of significant achievement.  Turing, who died in 1952, wasn't pardoned until 2009.  While his initial machines were large and cumbersome, every time we use a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, we are utilizing ideas that were originally put forth by Alan Turing.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

THE SALT OF THE EARTH


By D.E.Levine

Sebastiao Salgado has long been recognized as one of the great photographer/visual artists in the world.  A master with light and form using the camera for black and white photos, Salgado has for decades chosen empathetic themes that result in stirring images about the human condition.

This is a documentary that is co-directed by famed director Wim Wenders and the Salgrado's son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

As Sebastiao Salgado discusses his work, the directors project images of that work behind the photographer.

Born in a Brazilian mining area, with an education in economics, Salgado went into exile in France in 1969, after a coup in his own country, and worked for the World Bank.  He and his wife Lelia invested in camera equipment and he left her behind when he went to Niger in 1973 to start on his photographic career.

Over the years Salgado has produced a series of images, each dedicated to a particular theme, and they have been turned into books.  Embittered by what he's seen in the world, Salgado eventually returns to his family farm which is now dry land and unable to be farmed.  He and his wife embark
upon am ambitious project of replanting the land.  Their experimental technique proved successful and the farm is now the Instituto Terra, whose techniques have been used to replant other parts of Brazil.

During his years of travel, Lelia was his partner and a vital force in organizing his professional projects as well as his home life and that of his children.  She is portrayed as an equal partner and still remains so in the running of Instituto Terra.

Visually, this is a stunning documentary, both in black and white and color scenes.  The description of the motivation behind the photographic projects and the results is also fascinating and adds depth to the understanding of the artist and his work.




Monday, September 15, 2014

TWO NIGHT STAND


By D.E.Levine

A very cute movie that is also a commentary on modern society and dating. Megan (Analeigh Tipton), who has already been hurt in love, takes to the Web and soon is chatting with Alec (Miles Teller).  Neither of these young people wants commitment or strings so they agree  to meet.

Megan goes from the East Village to Alec's apartment in Brooklyn and they spend the night together. The next morning they find that they are snowed in after a massive snowstorm has hit the city and immobolized everybody and everything.

Unfortunately, even though they are snowed in together, they cannot stand each other.  While initially a light-hearted comedy, later in the day these two young people open up to one another, discussing their psychological bruises and leaving the door open for love.

Two Night Stand is a sweet movie which makes some interesting comments about our society.  One of the truest and most touching lines is when Alec says that Internet dating amounts to a "bunch of people sitting around texting in the dark.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD


By D.E.Levine

Martin (Vegar Hoel) is the only survivor of the original Dead Snow.  In an introductory recap of Dead Snow we're reminded that Hitler worshippers, led by Colonel Herzog, kill six of seven co-eds who visit a Norwegian cabin.  Actually, Martin accidentally killed his girlfriend with an axe and cut off his arm with a chainsaw.  He's not having the best day when he awakens in a hospital bed.

Under the impression that the undead want a horde of gold that the co-eds had kept for themselves, Martin returns it to the Colonel but finds that what the undead really want is to carry out Hitler's last order to reap vengeance on a nearby Norwegian village for their wartime efforts.

Tom thwart Colonel Herzog and his followers, Martin enlists the help of the Zombie Squad (Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer and Ingrid Haas), a trio of American survivalists  (who by premise know how to kill the undead, but no actual experience).

Using a supernatural severed arm that he cut off of Herzog, Martin sets out to raise his own army to defeat the Nazi zombies.

While the film is bloody, gory and masterful at horror, it's also incredibly funny and entertaining.  In the end, the Nazi zombies fight the Nazi Communists in a battle royale.

If you can buy into the absurdity of the entire concept, you'll find the film entertaining.  It's definitely a break from the deep thinking stories that seem to pervade the film industry at the moment.

Friday, July 25, 2014

MARVEL'S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY


By D.E.Levine

This may be the start of something big.  Marvel's less famous comic Guardians of the Galaxy has been turned into a slick, humorous, action-packed cinema event and audiences love it.  Although not as famous as some of the other Marvel comic franchises, this could very well develop into a new major hit.

The film is silly and because it's so silly, people watching it love it.  Chris Pratt, cast as Peter Quill refers to himself as Star Lord.  When he was nine his mother died and Peter became a cosmos bounty hunter for the corrupt Yondu (Michael Rooker).  Treasuring his late mother's cassette player which contains funky 1970s oldies, Star Lord frequently does funky dances but he's additionally funny, dramatic, an action hero and a sex hunk.  In this film, Pratt doesn't miss a beat and his acting covers all dimensions.

Tasked with the impossible, Star Lord sets out to steal a mysterious orb back from the evil Ronan (Lee Pace) who plans to do very bad things with it.

Since he needs help to accomplish his task Peter puts together a group of misfits like himself.  Included in the group are the seductive Gamora (Zoe Saldana) with green skin instead of Avatar blue.

Groot (Van Diesel), a walking tree (computer generated) has three words throughout the film and delivers them differently every time he says them.  Groot is funny and faithful and with three words he makes quite an impact and proves invaluable to the group.

Rocket, a gun slinging raccoon is voiced by Bradley Cooper, who isn't afraid to mouth off at the rest of the guardians.  Rocket is smart and he can give as good as he takes, getting back at anyone who doesn't show him some respect.

The special effects are fantastic as the guardians seek to fulfill their mission and the dialogue is sharp and witty.

There are grown-up jokes but enough entertainment to mesmerize kids, so viewing this film can be a family event.




Sunday, July 20, 2014

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT


By D.E.Levine

Woody Allen's latest comedy is a romance set in the 1920s.  Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) performs feats of prestidigetation as Wei Ling-Soo.  His hobby or sideline is debunking all types of sham mystics.

In 1928 Stanley is approached by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney).  A wealthy Pittsburgh industrial family has fallen under the spell of Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who claims to be a clairvoyant.  The family son and heir Brice (Hamish Linklater) is so smitten he's planning to marry her.  Stanley, presenting himself as Mr. Taplinger, a businessman, goes there at Howard's challenge to debunk Sophie.

Instead, Stanley falls in love with Sophie.  Emma Stone is extremely funny with marvelous comic timing.  We're never quite sure whether she's a con artist or a real clairvoyant.  Even Stanley, who is trying to prove her a sham isn't sure.

With a strong supporting cast consisting of Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins and Marsha Gay Harden,  and cinematography that concentrates on the beautiful French Riviera, the film is a delight.  Also to be expected are the wonderful costumes created by Sonia Grande.

As usual in any Woody Allen film, the soundtrack is filled with old standards and in this instance some beautiful classical music.  A brief appearance is also made by Ute Lemper, the German caberet singer.

Overall, for pure entertainment,  Magic in the Moonlight  is a sure bet.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON


By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

Clark Terry is a jazz great, a trumpeter extraordinaire.  There is no doubt about it and he's been around for a long time.

Along the way he's known fame, fortune and adversity.  In this heartwarming and affectionate look
at Terry's relationship with Justin Kauflin, a talented jazz pianist, we learn a great deal about the man which might otherwise not be known to the public.

During the making of the film, Clark Terry celebrated his 91st and 92nd birthdays, a somewhat amazing occurrence since he has been plagued by severe illness and had numerous hospitalizations, operations and other treatments.

Terry was born in St. Louis in  1920 and started playing with Count Basie's band.  He considered that his "prep school" and became a mainstay with the Duke Ellington orchestra during the 1950s.  He became the first African-American musician hired to play full time on NBC when he was hired for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Although Dizzy Gillespie considered him the best trumpeter around, Terry is shown as more than just a brilliant musician.  His generosity in sharing his knowledge and skills, started when he was a young man, extends to current day.  His very first student was a 12-year old horn player named Quincy Jones (yes the renowned musician, composer and producer) who is one of the producers of the film. Jones is one of the mainstays of Terry's career.

Another mainstay is Kauflin, a vision impaired jazz pianist (who became totally blind at 11), who becomes his student and despite his deteriorating health condition and the necessary amputation of both legs, continues to maintain a friendship with Terry and receive instruction from him even when the older man is too weak to rise from his bed.

The revelation, and that's exactly what watching the interaction of the older man with the young musician is, cannot be completely expressed in words.  It is a rare privilege that showcases both the talent of both and the exceptional optimism of spirit and generosity that is an innate part of Clark Terry.

Filled with wonderful archival film clips of Terry performing as well as scenes of his teaching Kauflin and the struggle the young musician goes through to achieve his desired status in the musical jazz world, this is a film of joy.  It certainly should not be missed.

THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL


by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Bing Russell established himself as an actor (and father of Kurt Russell) and became famous playing Deputy Clem on Bonanza.

His grandchildren have now made an absorbing documentary detailing how Russell was a baseball obsessed boy in St. Petersburg, Florida in the 1930s, who had the opportunity to meet and befriend the notable Bronx Bombers, (the New York Yankees) when they came to St. Petersburg for winter training.

Although he was successful as an actor, his fascination with baseball remained and he began to make instructional baseball films using pre-teen Kurt as the films' actor demonstrating pitching, batting and fielding.

In 1973 when the Portland Beavers, the resident AAA ball club left Portland, Russell decided to start his own club and started the Portland Mavericks.  With no experience recruiting or running a club, Russell held open tryouts that attracted every ba andseball wannabee, hired a bar owner as team manager, and appointed Kurt designated hitter and Vice President.

The team was considered a joke or a folly until the first game of the inaugural season when starting pitcher Gene Lanthron threw a no-hitter.  After that, Portland and everyone else took the team seriously.

The film uses archival footage, excerpts from Russell's training films and interviews with those previously associated with the team to tell the story of the Mavericks rise as they triumph over major league affiliated teams, one after the other.  This is the team that hired Jim Bouton after he wrote Ball Four and became a pariah in the MLB.

In fact, the team became so successful that the city of Portland attempted to take the franchise back, resulting in a court confrontation with a Hollywood ending.

This film was made with love by grandchildren about their grandfather and his irrepressible love of the game of baseball.

Monday, April 28, 2014

VENUS IN FUR


By D.E. Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

Adapted from the successful play, Roman Polanski, one of the writers, directs his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner in this two character story.

A writer and director named Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Almaric) auditions a latecomer, Vanda Jordan (Emmanuelle Seigner) for the lead in his latest drama.  During the audition he gets drawn into an elaborate role-playing game, during which fiction and reality blur.

Throughout the film the director and the actress flirt with each other, act and talk their way through bits of the director's play, and discuss the original of the source, Venus In Fur, an 1870s novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch where the term masochism originated. 

Initially, in the first few scenes, Novachek bosses Jordan around in a very condescending way, establishing himself as a smugly entitled star.  At points it's hard to tell whether Thomas and Vanda are playing themselves or the fictional protagonists of the novel.  Although Vanda denies knowledge of the novel, her ability to "nail" her lines, her leather costume, and her knowledge of both the historical sources and the playwright give the audience pause to believe otherwise.

Certainly, the film is interesting because it is directed by Polanski, and the performances by both actors are good, although Almaric appears to achieve his ends in a subtler manner.  Well worth seeing, and probably a big box office draw, it is somewhat limited in what it explores and why.


THE ONE I LOVE


By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

This is a very interesting puzzler with twists to the story and a suspenseful feeling that remains until the end of the film.

Elisabeth Moss, who we all know from Mad Men, stretches her acting talents in this tale of a marriage that has soured due to a cheating husband and an angry wife.  Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and her husband Ethan (Mark Duplass) seek help from a therapist (Ted Danson).  The film appears to be going in the general direction of discourse and disagreement until the therapist offers to send the couple on a weekend retreat that he claims has proven very successful with some of his other patients.  According to the therapist his patients all come back "renewed".

Setting off for the retreat, located in the Ojai Valley in Southern California, they find two luxurious homes and apparently total solitude.  They give it their best shot in attempting to find common ground and repair their relationship.

A couple of Intruders appear and ingratiate themselves into the couple's weekend, both physically and psychically.  Friendly and flattering, with a incomprehensible sense of familiarity, these intruders provide a sense of mystery since they remain unidentified until the end of the film.

The film is interesting to watch, has many twists and turns and a completely unexpected ending.  While it might have been just another film about marriage on the rocks, the story line and the actors raise the film to that of a genuine gem.




Sunday, April 27, 2014

LOVE IS STRANGE


By D.E.Levine

When George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) finally legalize their almost 40-year relationship with a marriage ceremony, the catholic Catholic church that has overlooked his non-marital relationship for decades, immediately fires the long-time music director.

Unable to find adequate employment, faced with increasing financial problems, the two aging men are forced to sell the co-op they've lived in for years and split up to live with others.  The same people who attended their wedding are now asked to offer them lodging.

Ben, a painter, moves in with his nephew's family and shares a room with their son.  The boy isn't thrilled to be sharing his room and extra bunk with a 75-year old man.  And his nephew's wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei) is pushed to the limit by trying to balance her role as wife, mother and novelist with the new role of caregiver.  Even though Ben is loved, his presence is a strain.

George moves in with friends in their building, young, gay police officers, and sleeps on the couch in their living room.  After continual rejections in his job and apartment hunts, George returns home nightly to find his young hosts partying and noisily entertaining and playing loud music.  It's impossible for him to turn in and/or to get any rest.  After spending almost 40 years living and sleeping together, George is extremely lonely and depressed.  And there doesn't seem to be a solution.

Now separated, every time George and Ben manage to meet, their meetings and partings become increasingly more painful.  Ira Sachs directs a tender film about marriage, aging in New York City and trying to survive financially.  In this instance, the marriage happens to be gay but the focus of the film is not about gay marriage but about relationships and the hypocrisy that exists under the surface of the seemingly accepting society.

Friday, April 25, 2014

CHEF

by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Eat before viewing is the best advice I can give to audience members.  The beautiful, scrumptious looking dishes that are displayed on screen are sure to make your mouth water as this film follow the exploits of frustrated chef Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau).  Successful but unhappy cooking "old dishes" by his restauranter boss (Dustin Hoffman), following an emotional blowup that goes viral on the web and results in his unemployment, the Chef decides to reinvent himself.

By means of a taco truck that takes the viewer through several interesting cities, and with the additional help of Twitter, accompanied by his habitually disappointed son (Emjay Anthony), Chef takes us on a road trip where Carl Caspar rediscovers his roots, his passion and repairs relationships.  Assisted by Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johannsson, John Leguizamo and Robert Downey Jr..the film is an unexpected delight.

This is a feel good film that can be seen by everyone in the family, regardless of age.  A small film with a big heart, Chef captures the audience with its story and interweaving of how modern technology can impact a person's life. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

BEYOND THE BRICK: A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY

By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Narated by Jason Bateman, this documentary introduces viewers to the $4 billion Lego brand.  Showcasing Lego users who are unquestionably talented at constructing various designs out of Legos (known as AFOL or Adult Fans Of Lego), we see some amazing constructions like the amazing Riverdell replica built by Alice Finch.

Almost bankrupt at one point, the company redeemed itself by querying users and listening to their ideas.  Thrugh this film we meet many of the AFOL and master builders who submitted ideas that the company adopted.  In some cases these fans developed and marketed their own theme kits thus proving the economic viability of such products.

There are also many in-house developers who actually get paid to play with Legos.  Their enthusiasm and creativity go unchallenged until we see them at onr of the many Lego conventions, where the in-house developers compete against ther AFOLS.

While popular themes and fracnchises are pushed in the film, there are many that are simply omitted, which is a failing of the film.  However, this isn't supposed to be a marketing tool (although parts play that way) and basically it's enjoyable throughout.

After seeing this film you may want to work for Lego and if that doesn't materialize, then you may become an avid AFOL.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LOVE & ENGINEERING

by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Tomslav Hristov's second documentary deals with a group of nerds who are unsophisticated about dealing with the opposite sex.  As a result, in this Finnish film, the men try to control the women like computers.  The film is both funny and poignant.

The film's protagonist or ringleader is Bulgarian Atanas Boev, who has already found a wife and fathered a child.  Feeling that he can offer valid advice Atanas proceeds to teach his friends the tried and true techniques he used to find his wife.  He's determined to find out whether an app exists that will simplify the process of finding women and meanwhile he is sharing his "secret weapons of the pickup masters."

Initially we discover that he and his friends have some outdated ideas about male-female relationships.  Earnestly steering his friends away from one night stands and toward permanent, marriage relationships, the nerds attempt to discover what women want and then give them that exactly until they achieve relationship success.  Some people might consider the techniques deceptive since the men are doing things they ordinarily wouldn't do and in most cases their efforts don't work.

While the film is interesting, especially when showing field efforts, there are expensive technological techniques involved and Hristov doesn't indicate where he got the money to fund the project.  Additionally, and one must assume not by accident, all the women shown are good looking and highly intelligent and well educated.  Obviously, a selected few were chosen to be filmed.

It's almost painful to see the attempts the men make in both conversation and attire, in order to impress their dates.  In the end, they are unsuccessful and their interpretation of what happened and why it happened differs from the filmmaker's.

LAND HO!


by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Martha Stevens and Aaron Katz have created a delightful film that covers the journey of two senior citizen across Iceland.

Earl Lynn Nelson is Mitch,an aging American surgeon who unexpectedly shows up at the Kentucky home of  his former brother-in-law Colin (Paul Eenhor) to cheer Colin up.  When outgoing Mitch tells a more subdued Colin that the two of them are going to Iceland, Colin at first protests.

When they land in Reykjavik Mitch's plan is fairly simple. He proposes they stay in nice hotels, eat at good restaurants and smoke some good pot.  After that, the plan is to travel through the beautiful countryside and visit some hot springs and hiking spots.

Mitch and Colin are soon joined by Mitch's distant female relation, Ellen,(Karrie Crouse) and her traveling companion Janet (Elizabeth McKee), who have been touring Greenland.  As they eventually bid good-bye to the ladies and travel the interior, we learn more about the mens' personal lives, disappointments, failed first marriages, relationships with their children and their professional set backs.

The story is interesting, the cinematography exquisite, and this modest budget film was shot in only 18 days and finished within a year.  The actors play perfectly against each other, developing characters that will remain with us for a long time..

THE BACHELOR WEEKEND


by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film is extremely funny so if you want to laugh then this is the film for you.

A pre-wedding bachelor weekend among friends turns to chaos.  At the behest of Ruth, the bride to be, Best Man Davin (Andrew Scott) organizes a "stag" or guys' weekend.  According to the plans, Davin,  Fionnan the groom (Hugh O'Connor), and an assortment of male friends will hike the great outdoors and get back to nature.

It all sounds perfectly reasonable until Ruth's completely obnoxious brother "The Machine" (Peter McDonald) forces his way on to the stag despite the fact that he has absolutely nothing in common with Fionnan and his friends.  His crazy behavior threatens to destroy the weekend but there proves to be more to Davin than originally meets the eye.

Not everyone will relate to the characters or sympathize with their plight, but in the end "The Machine" proves to be a life changer.

 t


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

VIRUNGA

by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

In a searing and startling documentary, director Orlando von Einsiedel gives us a narrative that exposes corruption, violence and a complicated web of intrigue and bribery.

Set in the lush and extremely beautiful protected Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we see the habitat for many of the world's the last mountain gorillas.  The country, perhaps the region's best hope for economic stability, has a long and bloody history which was weakened by the discovery of oil beneath Lake Edward and the arrival of the British petroleum company SOCO International.

The film was originally planned as a do cumentary on the dangers faced by the Park's 400 rangers.  However, when oil was discovered and a powerful rebel group sought a percentage of the oil profits, the film morphed into a film on the war between conservation and exploitation.

With a literal war raging, the director resorted to hidden cameras and assistance from French journalist Melanie Gouby to capture scenes of rebel tanks and secret bribery payoffs, which he then intersperses with views of the lush park and wildlife.  And, among the participants in the raging war are the heroes among the rangers who stand out for their dedication to the point of willingness to die to protect their charges, and the individuals seeking to uncover and expose illegal oil company activities..

Sunday, April 20, 2014

BRIGHT DAYS AHEAD

By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

Starring French film star Fanny Ardant and based on co-screenwriter Fanny Chesnel's novel Une jeune fille aux cheveux blancs (A Young Girl With Gray Hair), this film showcases a frank cross-genrational relationship with Mme. Ardant as Caroline, a retiree who becomes involved with a much younger pot-smoking Julien (Laurent Lasfitte) who becomes infatuated with her to the point where she's not just another affair.

After meeting at a retirement center aptly named Les Beaux Jours, where ceramic courses do not interest her, Mme. Ardant has to juggle the relationship with her much youger beau with that of her ongoing relationship with her mildly suspicious husband (Patrick Chenais).  Her much younger paramour teaches computer classes at the center when he's not romancing half of their seaside town.

Mme. Ardant shows the skills that made her a favorite in French film classics, while Lafitte, from the Comedie Francaise, is superbly cast in the role of her younger lover.  As Caroline neglects her dentist husband, Chenais gives a formidable performance as the cuckolded yet understanding spouse.

Overall, the film is an endearing character study and a blunt and truthful look at senior sex and love.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE


By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

This is a slick, clever film different from anything I've ever seen from Scandinavia.  It's almost like an American crime thriller but it also has some intense black comedy humor mixed in.  It's unusual and very entertaining.

Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgard) is a placid, even-keeled Swede living in the backwaters of Norway and holding down a job where he clears the roads using a huge yellow snowplow.  Everything is white and frozen and as he plows he lifts the snow and ice in great sheets of powdery white snow into the air where it then falls to the ground at the side of the road.  It's unbelievably white and pure and no matter how much he plows, Mother Nature always delivers more snow to keep him busy.

Directed by Hans Petter Moland, the film is intense but it's in Norwegian, which will no doubt be difficult for some viewers, although the English subtitles are excellent.

Voted "Citizen of the Year" and awarded a plaque for the same, Nils isn't someone you'd associate with a major narcotics ring.  However, when some hoods decide to kill his only son Ingvar and rig the murder scene to look like suicide,   Nils deliberates about killing himself since he's despondent over the death and doesn't believe the police report.

Once he receives proof of his son's murder, Nil decides to extract revenge on the perpetrators and their bosses and literally becomes a killing machine.  Already feeling despondent with nothing to lose, Nils become incredibly adept at taking his revenge, surmounting seemingly insurmountable obstacles just as he tackles the snow obstacles with his plow.  And, although he's not a trained killer like the hoodlums, Nils proves to be extremely successful.

As the bodies pile up, a black screen with the individual's name, is displayed, which makes the entire business humorous.

The man at the top is "the Count" (Pal Sverre Hagan an egotistical, pony-tailed mobster who inherited his crime business and his cover business from his father.  Whenever something goes wrong, the Count  reacts infantilely and bratishly.  Because he's so childish, the Count  pales against Nil's blue collar efficiency and a group of Serbian adversaries that he believes is responsible and threatens.  The Serbians have a "godfather" type leader who is referred to as "Papa" (Bruno Ganz).

The script, by Kim Fupz Aakeson is tight and hysterically funny.  As Nils takes his revenge on individuals and the body count mounts, the rival gangs have a major confrontation that finalizes the situation and magnifies the unusual  feel and content of the film.

In Order of Disappearance is a gem both in plot and performance, and the cinematography of the white landscape is breathtaking.


Friday, April 18, 2014

ART AND CRAFT

by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Mark Landis is an excellent forger.  He makes copies of famous paintings and then does the unthinkable.  Instead of selling the paintings for financial gain, Landis donates the copies to  cultural institutions that want to add to their collections.

It's not illegal to copy paintings.  Art students traditionally learn by making copies.  Landis turns out his copies by using materials from art stores.  his ability to make the forgeries seems to come easily.

Landis is not wealthy and lives and works in an overly crowded apartment.  He exhibits no interest in financial gain from these paintings.  Instead, Landis likes to be a philantropist and donate the paintings. Sometimes he makes multiple copies of a painting and donates the copies to different institutions.  Amazingly, since curators are supposed to keep current on art works, Landis managed to dupe many famed museums.

Over the three decades that he's been forging and donating paintings, Landis has only attracted the attention of one official.  The official, Matthew Leininger, takes a personal interest in ending Landis' "career".

Soft spoken and unassuming, Landis makes no effort to extort money and his ongoing activities continually anger Leninger.

In the end, instead of being punished for being a forger, Landis is, in a sense rewarded as a cultural institution builds a large art show around Landis' work.

Audience members will have mixed emotions about Landis who shows no remorse but basks in the attention that his "philanthropy has created.