CLICK HERE FOR BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND MYSPACE LAYOUTS »

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.