Sunday, April 26, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

When the famed comedy troupe Monty Python decided to do its first live performance in 34 years, it seemed only right to document the process.

Chronicling the reunion of the surviving members of the troupe in their first live performance since 1980, we learn that the catalyst is a lawsuit (unexplained) that has had a severe effect on some member's finances.  The result is a 10-day run at London's O2 stadium where they'll have a nightly audience of 15,000.

The film, by Roger Graef and James Rogan, shows the troupe dealing with media, getting reacquainted, rehearsing and performing shows that are nostalgic and where the audiences frequently know the sketches, line by line.

Between stage sequences, the documentary flashes back to the old days when the troupe was performing together.  While some of the material may seem dated now, or even less humorous than originally, the bonafide delight in each other's company is very evident.  Even after a hiatus of so many years, these troupe members genuinely like being together and performing together.

Well worth seeing, overall the documentary is nostalgic and funny and will be most appealing to die hard Monty Python fans

Friday, April 24, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E Levine

Actor Kevin Pollak goes after some answers to in-depth questions about whether some well-known comedians see tragedy as the basis for their going into comedy but fails to get those answers.

Instead, this documentary contains interviews with Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Larry David and Steve Coogan and humorous anecdotes about their lives and careers.  It doesn't, however, actually answer the deeper questions.

There is also an inconsistency about the answers and the quality of the conversations since other interviews are with more serious, less comedic actors.    Additionally, some interviews are brief and fleeting, while other interviews are much longer and fairly dominant without adding much to the film.

While a worthy effort and very entertaining, the dominant interviewees are basically from the old boys club while well known comics of color are not interviewed at all and women are barely onscreen.  In the current environment, Pollak misses his mark by skipping so many important, gifted comic minds.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E Levine

Matthew Heineman wrote, photographed and edited this film which focuses on two separate groups of vigilantes policing different fronts of the drug war.  It's a riveting film and frankly I was surprised he made it back to New York alive, without being imprisoned by the Mexican government or killed by one of the vigilante groups.

One group is a citizen's anti-cartel paramilitary organization in Mexico known as the Autodefensas and led by Dr. Jose Manuelo Mireles..  The other group is a self-appointed border patrol in Arizona known as the Arizona Border Recon that focuses on stopping the importation of drugs and illegal aliens. The Arizona organization is led by veteran Tim "Nailer" Foley.  In both cases, Heineman ingratiated himself into the organizations and focuses on their leaders.

Filming with a small crew and accompanying both groups on patrols and actions, the viewer can justifiably fear for the filmmakers.  As the film progresses we see corruption infiltrate the Mexican group and indications of corruption on the part of the Autodefensas.  On the American side we see racist elements infiltrate the Arizona Border Recon, which adds a sense of danger and in some ways negates the groups actions.

Heineman is a self-trained filmmaker who claims to frame and shoot scenes through intuition.  The photography on this film is terrific, with subtitles for the Spanish portions.  But the filmmakers were frequently in the crossfire and the film is scary.  Even scarier is the ongoing corruption which lends credence to the fact that neither of these groups can hope to be successful if the ongoing corruption can't be eliminated.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

This is a really exciting documentary focusing on the world's oldest horse race, the Palio.  Held in Siena, the ancient city in Tuscany, this race is dramatic and exciting and certainly rivals any of the other well known horse races.

Director Cosima Spender has done an outstanding job of filming the biannual event and certainly the characters she focuses on are as rich as any created for scripted sports stories.  They are real people but almost too rich as characters to believe.  Add to that the traditional banners and ceremonial garb of the contrades and the film takes on deep emotional and visual color.

Born to British artists outside of Siena, Spender is knowledgeable about the storied race which is held every July 2nd and August 16th.  After giving a brief history of Siena, a city divided into close-knit independent contrade or districts, Spender then immerses the viewer in the specifics of the Palio competition, where the jockeys are essentially free agents, contracted to represent individual districts.

However, the Palio is not just a race.  The races last only 90 seconds in Siena's Piazza del Campo but it's doubtful a fiction writer could author something as intricate as the Palio.  It's outcome is openly dependent on all types of intrigues, bribery and betrayals and even threats of physical violence.

While some archival footage is used, cinematographer Stuart Bentley has captured some new and exciting footage.  Anything goes.  Jockeys lash their steeds, bump into competitors during turns and frequently slam competitors into walls, causing pileups and injuries.  And when the race is over, dissatisfied district loyalists are known to get into physical rumbles necessitating police interaction.

The Palio is known as "a game of legitimate corruption" with Palio Organizers practicing shenanigans that will throw the race.  Basically they do everything to minimize luck as a factor in the race.

The characters, real-life trainers and jockeys, are rich in history and passionate in their desire to win the race, although their methods are questionable.  They both admire and resent each other and it all makes for a captivating film.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Broad Green Pictures has offered an exceptional documentary directed by Shameen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken.

The city of Lahore, Pakistan has been famous for its music since the time of Pakistan independence.  When Pakistan became Ismalized in the 1970s most of the music was banned and it became increasingly difficult for musicians to continue to practice and play.

A group of very brave musicians has continued to play at Sachal Studios in Lahore and they have become world-reknown for their experimental music which fuses traditional music with contemporary Western innovation and flare.

When their rendition of Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' attracts the attention of Wynton Marsalis, they are invited to play at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Highlighting their difficulty in practice and playing at home, the film traces their uplifting endeavors to culturally preserve their music and their heritage and to inspire global listeners.

Further, it shows them risking their own safety to travel to the USA, to practice and then perform with Marsalis and his band, the Jazz.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Written by legendary brothers Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviai, this is a period piece set against  14th century black plague stricken Florence.

Based on Boccaccios' 'Decameron', the story revolves around ten young aristocratic women and men who escape to a country estate and spend their days telling stories about life, love, fate and resurrection, in the hopes of taking their minds off the very real sense of their own mortality..

Visually exquisite, the stories are the real ones that emerged from one of Italy's darkest periods in history.  In this film the Taviani focus on 5 of the 100 stories that are in the book which is considered an Italian masterpiece.

During an interview session the Taviani brothers said that since the modern world is currently facing many economic and spiritual plagues, their new Decameron is meant to demonstrate escaping the ailments of society through the power of story telling and love.

However, while the stories told are interesting, they don't really show a parallel between society today and that of the 14th century.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Comedienne Lily Tomlin brings anger and sorrow to her character Ellie Reid, a septugenerian poet/ author and grandmother.

When the film opens, the tart-tongued Ellie is breaking up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer).  She's never fully recovered from the death of her longtime partner Violet, hasn't written much since her death and has financial problems.

When her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives with the news that she's pregnant and needs Ellie's help to get an abortion.

Sage is broke and her mother, Ellie's daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) has confiscated her credit card.  Ellie just finished paying off all her credit card debt and cut up the credit cards to make a wind chime and keep from racking up more debt.

The only solution is for Ellie and Sage to "hit the road" in LA in Ellie's vintage Dodge Royal and go out seeking the necessary $600.

With an interesting family background (Ellie came out as a lesbian long before it became fashionable and Judy had Sage through an anonymous sperm donor), the third generation, Sage, now has to make her own decision about her body and her pregnancy.

As they make their rounds trying to raise the $600, Ellie wreaks havoc wherever they go. Finally visiting Karl (Sam Elliott) a man from Ellie's past with deep pockets who may provide a solution but who, after taking Ellie on a journey down memory lane, proves himself as vulnerable and as much in pain as Ellie, due to decisions they made years ago which are still impacting their life.

Not wanting to give spoilers regarding the end of the film, we suggest viewing the 78 minute film for the outstanding performances by its cast and the intriguing story and characters.

Monday, April 20, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

Are the sins of the fathers visited on their children?  Director David Evans and writer Philippe Sands have created a documentary that show how children perceive the sins of their fathers is a purely personal matter.

In this case, the writer and director chose two sons of once high-ranking Nazi Party officials.  Although the fathers are long dead, and both left a horrific legacy, the two sons have chosen to respond in totally different ways.

Both Niklas Frank and Horst von Wachter were born in 1939.  Niklas' father, Hans Frank, was a prominent German attorney who served as Hitler's personal attorney and during World War II became governor-general of Nazi-occupied Polish territories.  He was convicted of war crimes at Nurenberg and executed after expressing remorse for his actions.  Otto von Wachter was an Austrian lawyer who held the positions of governor of Krakow, Poland and Galicia, Ukraine and was never brought to justice before his death in 1949.

During the documentary we see how each man's family history has shaped his opinions and memories of his father.  Niklas had no relationship with his cold, unaffectionate father and has spent most of his life denouncing the actions of his father.  Otto remembers his father as a warm, loving individual who contributed to a loving upbringing and has never reconciled himself to his father's part in the Final Solution.

Philippe Sands, an international lawyer specializing in cases of genocide and other human rights abuses, wrote the original article about Niklas Frank and Horst von Wachter upon which the film is based.  His own family included many Ukranian Jews who were rounded up and executed directly as a result of Frank's and von Wachter's actions.  He visits both men's childhood homes and studies personal family photographs with them.

There are chilling moments in the film when Horst refuses to acknowledge Otto's wrongdoing at a public appearance in London, the visit of the three men to a burnt out synagogue in the Ukraine and the site where 3,500 Jews were murdered.  Throughout it all, Horst refuses to acknowledge his father's wrongdoing and the enormity of his actions.

It is intriguing to watch these three men, bound by their family histories, converse in a dialogue which shows us how their family history influenced and continues to influence them and their beliefs.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

A most unusual and beautiful film about mid-century cars that are owned and maintained by Cuban residents..  The stars, of course, are the cars.  They really are beautiful but since they pre-date the embargo getting parts and doing repairs requires owners to be inventive.

The Cubans are competitive auto racers.  In fact, the Cuban Grand Prix was a  mainstay of the 1950s until Fidel Castro declared auto racing to be elitist and outlawed racing indefinitely -- a law that is still in effect.

However, there is an underground movement that still races.  And, in order to get parts and in many instances fabricate them from scrap.  All the while, enthusiasts are looking for ways to legitimize the sport and make it legal in Cuba once again.

This film highlights the first sanctioned drag race since 1960 and how car owners are getting their cars ready.  As I watched I wondered why Americans are not as successful in making parts for older vehicles, because the Cuban owners, who dearly love their cars and are quite passionate about them, use very ingenious methods to make parts and the parts work well.

Written and directed by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Zelmira Gainza does an admirable job as cinematographer and the lively Cuban soundtrack adds to the intensity and pleasure of the story.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

A light-hearted romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, this film deals with the female perspective of a klutzy 34-year-old London single who just can't seem to meet the right man.

When Jack, a 40ish divorced man, accidentally mistakes Nancy for his blind date Jessica because she's carrying a dating-oriented best-seller (in reality trying to return it to Jessica who forgot it on a train), Nancy is instantly attracted and doesn't correct him.

Mutually attracted and fueled by alcoholic beverages, Jack and Nancy are heading out on the town together when they meet Sean, a former  high-school classmate of Nancy's who blows her cover.  Made aware of her deception, Jack has to re-evaluate their relationship.
There are some extremely humorous scenes, much of which audience viewers will relate to immediately.  This is basically a fun film with a happy and mature ending.  The photography of London is stimulating and the musical selections effective.

You go to a film like this to enjoy yourself, not to think about anything deep or serious.  And it would be difficult not to enjoy yourself because the script is fun and the performances delightful.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Since 2007 there has been an epidemic of teenage suicides in the Welsh town of Bridgend.  Since February 1, 2007 there were 79 teenage suicides, with most victims between the ages of 13 and 17.

Most of the deaths involved death by hanging with no suicide note left behind.  This film steers clear of attributing a conspiracy or in fact indicating any proof of why the suicides occurred.

Danish Director Jeppe Ronde  co-wrote a screenplay with Torben Bech and Peter Amussen that is based on interviews and local research conducted over a six-year period.  The teenage community and the suicide problem is viewed through the eyes of a newcomer to town Sara (Hannah Murray) and never conclusively determines whether the adolescent group actively instructs or fosters drastic behavior such as suicide.

Although based on fact, the script is a drama centering around Sara who arrives in town with her policeman father David (Steve Waddington).  David is assigned to look into the plague of suicides.

While the adolescent community might not be forthcoming with the adults, Sara joins a group of the victims' friends who gather regularly in the woods for memorial rituals and maintain a message board to honor the dead.  Although initially distancing herself from the morbid rituals, Sara becomes involved with the vicar's son and feels drawn toward the eerie rituals.

The finale is both disturbing and somewhat confusing but makes for an interesting study of infectious hysteria.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

A very strange group of siblings is displayed in this film.  The seven siblings, all part of the Angulo family, live in a New York City apartment, where their parents  have kept them locked away and sheltered them from the outside world.  However, there has been no effort to shield them from the Hollywood movies.

The patriarch, Oscar Angulo, keeps his six sons and one daughter in a public housing apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  An unsuccessful musician who drinks heavily, this Peruvian Hare Krishna follower, Oscar and his American wife Suzanne have home-schooled the children (ages 16-24), and forbidden them to leave the apartment except on very rare, carefully supervised excursions.

When they set no limits on the types of movies the children could watch, the boys began transcribing and memorizing scripts of the movies they saw and re-enacting them in their living room.  They were creative in producing costumes, props and poster art.  Many of their re-enactments are in this film and very entertaining.

Crystal Moselle has not found a clear theme in this film.  It does not develop the boys as individuals and there are several stories to be told and the director is unclear as to which she is concentrating on.

Abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the parents is passed over with no examination.  Also unexplained is how the Angulos have managed to avoid the influences of the outside world and the regulations and restrictions society mandates, for so long.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Icelandic director Dagur Kari has given us a brilliant film with an amazing performance by  Gunnar Jonsson.

No one could see this film and not be moved by Jonsson's exceptional performance as Fusi, a 43 year old, fat man who still lives with his mother.

By creating a limited and unchanging world, Fusi is playing it safe.  Fusi works as a baggage handler at the airport and comes home to recreate the battle of El Alamein on his work table.  His only friend, Rolf (Arnan Jonsson) helps him with the battle.

A creature of habit, not to be disturbed, he eats at the same Thai restaurant every Friday and eats the same pad thai.  Fusi never disturbs his routine and his mother (Margret Helga Johannsdottir) is somewhat domineering and wants to keep Fusi at home for company and household repairs.

Gentle and unassuming, whenever he ventures outside of his comfort zone his forays end in disaster.   Even his kindness and friendship with a neighbor's little girl who is starved for attention, raises unfounded gossip and rumors about perversion.

Throughout everything, Fusi accepts rejection, humiliation, and ridicule as a norm  When his mother's live-in lover gives Fusi a birthday gift of line-dancing lessons and a cowboy hat, although he tries to avoid the lessons, Fusi meets a vivacious blonde and begins to help her.

While one would think that Fusi would not be a strong romantic candidate, the blonde, Sjofn (llmur Kristjansdottir) is needed and deeply damaged and truly appreciates Fusi's gentleness and goodness. Their friendship provides a healing power that opens doors for them both.

One has to see this film to fully understand the depth of the performance provided by Gunnar Jonsson.  His Fusi is truly a gentle giant and the virgin mountain, whose life is forever changed by his life experiences and humble acceptance of them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

This is an amazing and true tale of an Elvis Presley lookalike and soundalike named Jimmy Ellis, who struggled to distinguish himself as a singer and then found he was so close to looking and sounding like Elvis that no one wanted to promote his career as a singular performer.  Finally, he found some success as a doppelganger for Elvis, but never achieved the fame he sought.

Noticed while he was still in high school, Jimmy Ellis was good looking and sounded like Elvis.  Unable to sign a record contract to him before he was of age, he went to work training horses in the family's successful business.

And, he was a very successful horse trainer.  He was noted for his abilities, loved by his animals and clients but very unhappy since he really wanted to be a singer.

Unable to get a start with his singing career, when Elvis died in 1977, Shelby Singleton, who took over the Sun Records catalog, offered him a new opportunity.

Ellis became Orion, a masked entertainer who wore a mask like the Lone Ranger, and a glitzy costume like Elvis, and sang with a voice amazingly similar to Presley.  Because he was contractually obligated to wear wear his mask in public, Ellis grew to resent it but in film clips sounds eerily like Elvis.

It's obvious that Jimmy Ellis was a talented singer and performer.  Ironically, this 90 minute film makes clear that what prevented his success both on radio and on stage, was his sounding like Elvis.  The soundtrack of Ellis, in another time, without the constant comparison to Elvis, might have propelled him to fame.


A Tribeca Film Festiva 2015 Selection

By D.E,Levine

With transgender issues becoming more openly discussed and written about, this low key film offers an interesting view into the subject.

Only 87 minutes in length it's set in Albania, where transitioning from one gender to another is an accepted thing.  Alba Rohrwacher plays Hane, a rural woman who lives 14 years as Mark, a man in the hills of Albania.  After these 14 years she embarks on a tentative and uncertain path to reclaim her original identity as a woman

Albania has a tradition of burrnesha (sworn virgin), a Kanun code of social behavior, , a woman may forswear her female identity, live and pose as a man, and take a vow of lifelong chastity.  By doing this, the woman becomes exempt from the strictly servile role that the Kanun prescribes for all women.

After 30 years of living in a remote Northern Albanian village located in the Mountains of the Damned, Hane/Mark is haunted by the memory of her estranged sister Lila (Fionja Kodheli) who "escaped" to urban Italy for a 14 year traditional conventional heterosexual marriage.

Tentatively welcomed by Lila, her husband, and Jonida (Emily Ferratello), her teenage daughter, Hane, in a society with a relaxed gender protocol, pursues a reversal of her roles.  With flashbacks to their early oppressive years in their remote village, the audience gains an understanding of what drove each sister to her present "alternate" identity

The film is thought provoking and original in it's subject matter, definitely a thinking film for audience members.

Friday, April 17, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

This brief 45-minute film was a bit disappointing due to it's obvious promotional purpose in regard to Blige's 13th studio album.

We glimpse Blige in the studio recording and interfacing with London recording artists as she attempts to "shake up" her sound and give it an extra something.

The recording sessions are interesting but the film is too short and leaves the audience wanting to see more of Blige and what makes her a great soul singer.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

How many of us who enjoy sake actually think about what goes into making it.

This 94 minute documentary shows a slowly vanishing way of life in Japan as director Erik Shirai takes us on an in-depth look at the men who work at the 144 year old Tedorigawa Brewery in northern Japan.

Every October a group of men bid farewell to their families and travel north to spend six cold and lonely months making sake at the Tedorigawa Brewery.  The process is complex and time consuming.

The onscreen footage of rice being polished, rinsed, dried and steamed in heated rooms where they're treated with special koji-kin mold.  After starch is converted to sugar fermentation begins producing a starter yeast called shubo, a final mixture of moromi which is churned for 25-30 days and from which eventually sake is pressed.

Like raising a "finicky child" according to Shirai, making perfect sake requires 24 hour night and day attention by workers, to prevent even the slightest variance which would negatively impact the very delicate balance of alcohol, fragrance and flavor.

All the workers are men and some have been doing sake brewing for over 50 years.  Making sake is an art, according to Shirai and the workers he interviewed.

Only 1,000 sake breweries now exist, as compared to 4,600 in the early 20th century.  Sake consumption has declined and the sixth generation heir to the Tedorigawa, Yasuyuki Yoshida, spends the six months when the the brewery is not in productions, traveling the world and promoting the brand.

Yoshida discusses the economic imperatives as well as the fact that most breweries are now 100% automated and frequently sacrifice bolder, richer flavors appreciated by established sake drinkers to lure younger drinkers in with the smoother more mellow flavors.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

Antonio Barrera is a matador who has been stabbed or gored 23 times by the bull in the bullring.  He holds the title of "Most Gored Bullfighter in History."

Given the repeated gorings and the life threatening in injuries, one has to wonder why Antonio Barrera keeps coming back for more.

In 2011 producer Geoffrey Gray wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated in which he described Barrera as "the Rocky Balboa" of bullfighting.  Although his repeated injuries show that Barrera is certainly not the best matador, he shows tenacity, spirit and heart, and by doing so makes a fascinating subject.

This 76 minute documentary directed by Ida Mizrahy is a study in personal sacrifice, "true grit" and obsession, as the aging bullfighter who is married with a family and began to realize that his own death could be imminent.

In interviews, Barrera admits that he has doubts and fears about hanging up his matador cape and giving up the career that he has trained for since childhood.

However, in addition to the portrait of Barrera, we see that southern Spain, where bullfighting is still extremely popular, is also having second thoughts, as protesters against bullfighting and animal abuse demonstrate.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

This is a fascinating first person chronicle of serious illness.  The central character, Patrick Sean O'Brien was making a name for himself as a New York DJ, filmmaker and Internet personality.

Only 30 in 2005 when neuromuscular motor skills began to rapidly decline affecting his speech and motor skills he decides to "stay positive" after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Confined to a wheelchair and forced to move out of NYC to be closer to his family in Maryland he , approaches his illness with humor and positivity, making an type of art project out of his battle with the disease.

However, despite his emotionally upbeat attitude, we are witness to his declining health, his inability to swallow (necessitating a feeding tube) and his inability to breath (necessitating a ventilator).

Despite all of this, he meets a girl, has a relationship and gets her pregnant, which gives him a reason to stay alive.

The film does not go deep enough and while showing a true picture of some things, fails to follow through on the relationship after the mother and baby move to Florida and the impact his disease has on his immediate family.

O'Brien has outlived his prognosis with humor and wit despite the fact that he can no longer type manually and has to use eye pupil movements to convey instructions.  Despite his infirmity, TransFatty's mind and sense of humor remain intact.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


By D.E.Levine

The cinematography by Raphael O'Byrne is fabulous and the score which incorporates Claudio Monteverdi, an early baroque master soars, but La Sapienza may not be to every viewer's taste.

The basic story revolves around a successful architect, Alexandre Schmidt (Fabrizio Rongione) and his wife Alienor (Cristelle Prot Landmann), a social psychologist, who fed up with city commissioners reneging on contractural  promises, decide to take a break and finish an earlier literary project of a study of seventeenth century architect Francesco Borromini, a celebrated baroque master of church and palaces that emphasized upwards movement within geometric enclosure.

Alexandre and Alienor drive to Borromini's birthplace in Tocino and then on to Stressa.  Once in Stressa they notice Lavinia (Arianna Nostro) and Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) in the park and when Lavinia has a fainting spell they offer to take the two home.  Lavinia has been ill since her father's death years before and now studies at home and worries about her older brother's impending departure to study architecture in Venice.

Alexandre and Goffredo go off to Rome to study the architecture and do research while Alienor decides to remain behind with Lavinia.  Once in Rome, the camera lovingly studies the various architectual delights while the older architect gives somewhat of a series of lectures in answer to the young student's questions.

From the beginning, Green's method of directing his actors is to have them look at and talk to the camera rather than looking at each other during conversations.  This gives them the appearance of being stilted and alienated in their relationship.  And, that is exactly the case.  Green lets us see the suffering relationship through the acting techniques he uses.

In the end, the rather strange relationship that develops between the older couple and the younger siblings breathes new life into the long-suffering marriage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

This film proved to be fascinating because it has no spoken dialogue.  The writing and directing debut of Ukranian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshptyskly, the entire film is performed believably by a deaf and mute cast of non-professional actors who communicate completely in sign language.

Action centers around a government run school for the deaf and mute where the youthful attendees have dealt with their disabilities and challenges by turning to prostitution and crime.

Initial opening scenes show Sergey (Grigony Fesenko), a newly enrolled student at the school, who makes his way there and arrives during a celebration.  While welcomed by the staff, he encounters hazing by fellow students who quickly initiate him into less educational pursuits.

Having passed the hazing rituals and been accepted into The Tribe, Sergey starts at the bottom of the thug/criminal hierarchy.  Starting off as a thief, he rises to the role of pimp, scheduling two female classmates who service truck drivers at a local truck stop.

The school's wood shop teacher is not only the van driver for pimping the girls out, but also plans to send the girls to Italy.  Sergey has fallen in love with Anna (Yana Novikova) one of the student prostitutes.  This liaison constitutes a break in the rigid laws of The Tribe which leads to a brutal finale.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that each character retains his individuality despite being part of a regimented and exploitative society.  Despite not being professional actors, the young men and women in the film are totally believable as their sign language, body language and facial expressions clearly convey the emotions of individuals struggling to retain that individuality.

Friday, March 6, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

Americans have been through their mortgage crisis and here we see what capitalism has done to the Republic of Georgia's society and mortgage system.

Nino (Nino Kasrdze) has a small restaurant in Tbilisi that was, we learn, solvent under the old Soviet regime.  She has family responsibilities for her aged mother, her son, her husband and a variety of friends and relatives.  With the rise of capitalism, Nino encounters severe economic problems.

Not only can't she make a living from the shop, but she has to keep spending money for expenses in the family and in her home.

She's no Wharton graduate, so she borrows money from a variety of sources, pawns her jewelry and enters into agreements where she's unable to pay the interest on the loans and doesn't have a chance at paying the principal.  She has a multitude of schemes to get money for her immediate needs but no plans for how to get money for repayment of the loans.

Coming from an aristocratic family and living in an old (an decrepit) mansion, Nino gives the impression to the neighbors of still having money.  However, to pay for her mother's birthday party she has to pawn the older woman's wedding band and we sense quickly that Nino and her family's former expensive lifestyle ended in 2008 when Russia and its economy changed.

This is an interesting but depressing film about people forced into poverty by political changes beyond their control.  A disclaimer at the end says the film is based on historically true fact, but doesn't offer any solutions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

With only minimal experience in film, 27-year-old writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane has proven to be one of the "shining stars" among filmmakers under 30.

Set in India, this legal drama points out the realities of caste prejudice, social and legal injustice and venal politics when an elderly folksinger/activist is arrested on trumped up charges of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide.

As the trial drags on endlessly and the prisoner, dubbed the "people's poet" remains in jail, we witness the endless procedural delays, the incompetence of various key players, the coaching of prosecution witnesses and the constant privileging of outdated colonial law over reason, mercy and justice.  If this is how the Indian legal system works, then very simply, it doesn't work.

India is a complex nation with a society that is stuck partially in colonial 19th century India and partially in 21st century modern India.  We see that that the old outdated laws have not been modified to reflect the modern society and that the system is rife with corruption.

There is no mercy towards the elderly prisoner, who in reality has done nothing to justify the charges.  His attorney is empathetic and prepared for each court session but the injustice of the law itself and the rulings of the judge make the quest for justice seemingly in vain.

Watching this 2-hour film the viewer squirms in his seat in frustration over what he sees on screen.  We can only imagine how much worse it would be to be living through this accurate portrayal of the Indian legal system.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


By D.E.Levine

When a film costs $95 million, the has a right to expect the film to be something special.  And Disney certainly delivers.

A 2015 remake of it's internationally acclaimed animated classic, the new version of Cinderella has live actors and is blended seamlessly with sophisticated CGI techniques so that the animals and special effects look real.

Two hours of pure fantasy with beautiful actors, stunning production design, and gorgeous costumes, this rendition will create an entire new set of Cinderella lovers.  So beautiful are the costumes that some were recently displayed in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, as art as well as clothing.

Directed by famed British actor/director Kenneth Branagh, the cast is mainly British, starring Lily James of Downton Abbey fame, Cate Blanchett, recipient of numerous British, Australian and American awards (including an Oscar),  Richard Madden of Game of Thrones notoriety, the revered Derek Jacobi, this Cinderella is for all age groups.

You don't have to be a little child to totally enjoy the lavish sets by Dante Feretti and the elegant, colorful costumes of Sandy Powell.  And, the story line remains true to the original tale of Ella (James), a child beloved by both parents whose Mother falls ill and dies, leaving her father to remarry to the evil Lady Tremaine (Blanchett), who comes with two insufferable daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera).  Instead of embracing Ella as their half-sister, the evil stepsisters immediately demote her to scullery maid and servant and rechristen her "Cinderella".  Of course, Cinderella's fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) is looking out for her best interests and happiness.

Having met the Prince, who identifies himself as an apprentice named "Kit" in the forest, Cinderella, through the magic of her fairy godmother, attends a ball at the palace, where she captures the prince's heart but at the stroke of twelve with the magic ending, dashes off leaving one glass slipper behind.

The new script remains basically true to the old script and the original fairy tale, so Disney isn't attempting to recreate Cinderella, simply to enhance the tale through modern technology.

Sadly, although we have the ballroom scene filled with music, the rest of the score, basically the well-known songs from the original, aren't heard until the very end of the film when the credits are rolling.

This version of Cinderella is fun and fantasy, it requires no deep thinking although in typical Disney fashion there are lessons of self-esteem and kindness towards others taught.

Naturally, the film opened abroad before coming to the US and in it's first week in China it cleared $62 million.  American audiences are bound to be just as enthusiastic.  This is definitely a film not to be missed.


Friday, February 27, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

French national treasure Catherine Deneuve stars as Mathilde, a retired woman who lives at the top of a rundown Parisian building.  Against all odds she interviews, likes and hires a solitary and rather isolated drunkard, Antoine (Gustave Kervern), as concierge of the building.  Antoine needs the job to survive, but he's not especially interested in it or even a good concierge.

Mathilde's husband Serge (Feodor Atkine) thinks she may be slightly crazy and Kervern's character is definitely antisocial.  Antoine has been sent on the interview by a job center and Serge he's hopeless, very strange and a bad liar but Mathilde thinks he's perfect for the job.  Mathilde feels if Antoine is a bad liar it's because he doesn't lie very often.

Given the job, Antoine moves into a tiny studio at the entrance of the building.  As he meets the eclectic group of tenants he changes, becoming more social, more accommodating and even a decent janitor.  Of course, Antoine has his own way of doing things.  Deciding to plant trees and flowers in the courtyard, he steals them from a public park.But, it seems that every day he is placed in situations that are rather absurd and comical.

The most unlikely occurrence is the bonding between Mathilde and Antoine, who become friends and conspirators in building improvements.  It's an unlikely friendship and yet totally believable due to the actors.

When Mathilde discovers a large crack in the wall of her apartment, she becomes convinced that the entire building is going to collapse.  Becoming an activist to save the building and the neighborhood actually increases her eccentricities and "craziness".

Actually, all the characters are eccentric and humorous but they're definitely not cookie cutter roles. Although in many cases the story is similar to other French indie films the story twists and acting by established stars carry this film to a level above most.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

Definitely one of the most interesting films at this year's festival, Ariane Labed is also one of the most engaging actors.

Alice (Labed), a sailor in the merchant marine, joins a ship as a mechanic.  She is happily engaged to Felix (Anders Danielsen), a non-nautical Norweigian, and although her profession takes her away for weeks or months at a time, they communicate via Skye.  It seems like a calm, happy relationship.

Alice gets the job as a replacement for Patrick, a crew member who died at sea.  She's genuinely surprised to find that the Captain is her old flame Gael (Melvil Poupaud).  With torn emotions but adopting the attitude that no one need ever know what goes on at sea, Alice becomes involved with Gael again.

In the cabin she's given, one that belonged to Patrick, Alice finds Patrick's diary which she proceeds to retain, read and contemplate.

Accepted by the male crew and comfortable in the restricted environment of the ship, Alice does her job and carries on discreetly with the Captain.  Needless to say, there are romantic and professional complications with which Alice must deal, not the least of which is the possible damage to her relationship with Felix..

The backdrop for the film is basically the ship, with some bedroom scenes and some vistas of the open sea as seen from the ship.  Although she's then only female, the emphasis is not on surviving in a man's world but rather on the complexity of the  relationships between Alice and Felix, and Alice and Gael, and how those relationships are handled.

The Greek-born Labed shines in the role of Alice and seems born to play the part.  Much of the success of this film is due to her performance., which should not be missed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

A middle-aged chain store sales manager, Jerome Sauvage (Olivier Gourmet) loses his job and refuses to accept defeat.  Totally ego-centric, Sauvage throws himself into researching the products and locations necessary for opening his own shoe store.  He's intent and not above bending the laws a bit to get the information he needs.

Perhaps it's true that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, because we see the relentless way that Sauvage's 11-year old son Ugo (Charles Merienne) approaches his goal to earn a place at the prestigious Roland Garros tennis center.  Viewers see that Ugo's goals frequently interfere with those of his father, who sometimes misses or is late for Ugo's appointments and matches because he's pursuing his own goals.  In short, Jerome is a pretty selfish guy.

However, when Jerome takes Ugo in for a physical and the doctors diagnose him with a rare condition, we see a father forced to re-evaluate and adjust his priorities.  In short, although parenthood, up until this time, has not forced Jerome to sacrifice and he has remained selfish, the turn of events due to Ugo's health problems, forces Jerome to place Ugo ahead of himself.

There are many twists and turns in this story and while the focus appears to be on the Sauvage family, the story actually revolves around all the various pressures that Western society places on all families and how they relate to those pressures.

Monday, February 23, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

This tale of the European side of the French Connection saga that William Friedkin fictionalized and turned into a classic in 1976 is fascinating but not as exciting.

Headed by Jean Dujardin who plays magistrate Pierre Michel, a dedicated police officer reassigned from Metz to Marseilles where a mafia type gangster Gaetan Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), has the police and the court officials cowering in terror.

Michel cracked the case and to this day not all the details regarding how he did it are known.  Directed by Cedric Jimenez, who grew up in Marseilles when all of this was taking place, the film is interesting and entertaining but misses the excitement that was found in the American film The French Connection.

Dujardin is convincing as the dedicated police officer with a dark history of gambling addiction who switches his obsession to capturing the bad guys.  Michel (Dujardin) and Zampa (Lellouche) look amazingly alike, which is not by accident.  Whether Jimenez wanted to convey a similarity or inability to distinguish between how the good and the bad guy looks, he's accomplished this feat.

Unfortunately, while showing that the French were actively involved in fighting the international heroin problem, the film doesn't have a happy ending.  The melancholy turn the story takes is at once unexpected and unrepairable.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

Based on the true story of Alain Lamare, "the Oise killer" who terrorized a region north of Paris during the winter of 1978-1979 when he gunned down several young women while working as a gendarme responsible for tracking and catching the serial killer.

This film is a slick, taut thriller shown from the perspective of the police officer from the time he guns down his first victim, a young girl riding her motor scooter home late at night, through several other assaults and on through his downfall as his co-worker lawmen realize that then perpetrator may be someone within their ranks.

Played by Guillaume Canet, Officer Franck is a maniac.  Good at killing without getting caught, Franck practices self-flagellation and other torturous behaviors that indicate there's something terribly creepy about this individual.  Basically, throughout the film the viewer has trouble emotionally connecting with Franck. He seems to be very good at getting away with murder.

Written by Cedric Auger, a former Cahiers du cinema critic, the film is stylish and suspenseful.  Filmed in fog-shrouded environments and barren sunless countrysides by Thoma Hardmeter, with a strong musical score by Gregoire Hetzel, the film conveys a feeling of darkness and misery.

Canet is especially effective at conveying an insane madman killer who successfully covers up his madness and goes into work every day to investigate the very crimes he committed.  It's even humorous at one point when he goes door to door with a drawing of the protagonist done by a police sketch artist, which looks exactly like him, and yet no one recognizes the resemblance when he holds the drawing up next to his face.

With  love interest played by Ana Girardot, who leaves her invalid husband for her new lover without realizing just how crazy and malevolent he is, this film certainly proves that life is stranger than fiction.  If not ripped from the headlines would it have been possible to make this story up?

Friday, February 20, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

In the beginning of this film a high school teach tells her class that "Passion is harmful when it becomes obsessive, which is most of the time".  In class is Charlene "Charlie" (Josephine Japy) who goes to school to escape the tension and fighting between her parents, who are headed for divorce.

A new student arrives in the form of Sarah (Lou De Laage), who brings some mystery and excitement as she tells how the climate in Nigeria has become politically difficult and her mother has dispatched her to live with an aunt.  Her mother meanwhile, remains in Nigeria, working for an NGO.

Quickly forming an inseparable friendship, the two go everywhere together and tell each other their most intimate secrets to which the audience is privy.  However, when Sarah is invited to join Charlie and her family at a seaside resort for a holiday, her behavior and overt man-chasing creates fissures in the relationship.

It isn't possible to simply dismiss Sarah, who has a mixture of sadness, cruelty and hardness about her and when her real background and breeding are revealed the disclosure is shocking and brilliant simultaneously.

Perhaps because of their youth, Japy and De Laage capture the personalities and co-dependencies of Charlie and Sarah so that they are totally believable.  Directed by Melanie Laurent and photographed by Arnaud Potier, the film is a gem looking into the intimate and complex relationship of teenage girls.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection.

Winner of three awards at Cannes 2014, this first time directing effort of Thomas Cailley is a romantic comedy that pairs Arnaud, a young man just starting in his father's woodcutting business (Kevin Asais) with Madeleine (Adele Haenel).

They meet for the first time when they wrestle each other and meet for a second time when Arnaud is building a wooden hut in Madeleine's backyard.  Madeleine is tough on herself and everyone else.  Her aspirations include joining the army and she trains hard and relentlessly to achieve her goal.

Her impact on the mild-mannered Arnaud is so intense that this mild mannered non-combatant actually joins her on a two-week training session.

Both young people are rebelling against the stereotypes that society deems appropriate for them.  And,because of their verbal sparring with each other and the unit leader of the paratroop unit they join as temporary enlistees, there a great deal of humor.  The unit leader, Lieutenant  Schliefer (Nicholas Wanczychi) is funny, sometimes without saying anything.

Before sending the two trainees into the woods for mock war games. the lieutenant tells Arnaud to "get the upper hand",  True, as Arnaud becomes stronger and more in control, Madeleine loses some of her strength.

This is definitely a different type of film and perhaps that's why it attracted so much notoriety when it premiered at Cannes.  Co-written by Thomas Cailley and Claude Le Pape, the script not only places these two teenagers in a verbal war against each other but also pits them in a fight for survival against nature.

Not the usual fare from French cinema, this film is definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 selection

Two sisters Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) and Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) both fall in love with Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde), a Paris-based tax collector.

Sylvie meets Marc first when he misses the last train home to his home in the town of Valence and goes to a bar where she comes in to buy cigarettes.  Immediately attracted to each other they spend the entire night walking Paris.

Arranging to meet on  Friday to see where their attraction takes them, Marc suffers a heart attack and arrives late, missing Sylvie.

One day in his Paris office Marc meets Sophie, an antiques dealer whose sister has left their joint business and needs help with a tax audit.  Marc offers his help and returns to Valence where he and Sophie fall in love.  With that Sophie breaks up with her boy friend and moves out, introducing Marc to her mother (Catherine Deneuve).

Sylvie is absent from the picture since she moved with her husband to the United States when he was moved there for work.  During Skype calls Marc is always just out of the line of sight so Sylvie never sees him.

The plot has many twists and the drama heightens until Marc finally realizes that Sylvie and Sophie are sisters,  By now engaged and ready to marry Sophie, Marc's feelings are never the same passion that he felt for Sylvie.

The sisters, always devoted to each other, face some interesting scenes with delays that prevent Sylvie from meeting Marc formally and attending the wedding ceremony.  Marc, committed to and married to Sophie, is obsessed with Sylvie after the marriage.

The story is interesting, the acting of the highest caliber, making for an interesting time at the cinema.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Kumiko (Rinco Kikuchi) has a dead-end job working for a terrible boss in Tokyo,  A young woman in her 20s she feels isolated and despondent about her life and her job.  Her mother nags her and there are few bright spots in her life except for an old VHS tape of the Coen Brother's film Fargo, which she watches repeatedly.

The more she watches the tape, the more Kumicho becomes convinced that the story on the tape is real and that there is a vast fortune buried in a suitcase in the snow in North Dakota.  Creating a hand sewn map, tearing a page from the library atlas, and pocketing her boss's credit card, Kumiko travels to America in search of the treasure.

Kumiko gets as far as Minneapolis by plane and then continues her journey on the ground.  Along the way she meets a variety of Midwesterners who befriend her and offer help in one form or another, although they are frequently way off base.

David and Nathan Zellner have made a unique fantasy film with stunning cinematograpy in Tokyo and the midwest.  These veteran indie filmmakers also appear in the film which mixes humor with melancholy and comes across as a story that might have happened (it didn't).

Definitely not among the norm, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is pure entertainment and should not be missed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Writer/director Powel Pawlikowski has given us a very disturbing film.  Instead of concentrating on surviving the Holocaust like so many other films, Pawlikowski has returned to his native Poland and looked at the void left behind after the annihilation of Poland's Jews during the war.

The film is set in 1962 and photographed in black and white which enhances the starkness of the countryside, the cities and the people.

Anna is a young Catholic novitiate about to take her vows at a rural monastery,  When the Mother Superior informs her that she must visit her ever absent aunt before being allowed to take her vows, Ida, very much against her will, travels to Warsaw to meet with her aunt.

Wanda Gruz, the aunt, is a judge in the court system and a disillusioned Stalinist who leads a life of liquor, cigarettes, music and a parade of anonymous men.  Her life is filled with unremitting pain. Wanda admits to Anna that she is Jewish by birth and that Ida, born Ida Lebenstein, is also Jewish.

Although Wanda mocks Ida innocence and piety, the two women find that they are mutually affectionate and Wanda agrees to take Ida to search for the remains of their family.
They prove to be a strange traveling duo but both are responsible for forcing the other to confront things they've been avoiding ---- for Ida, a world that offers more than what she has been exposed to, and for Wanda, the memories and anguish of the past that she has buried in the recesses of her mind.

Wherever they go they find animosity at the very mention of the family name,  The current resident of the old homestead is openly hostile while the townspeople deny any knowledge of the Lebenstein family.

What is apparent is that neither woman wants to reconnect to the Jewish faith, a faith that appears to be completely missing as they travel through Poland.  Ida has been raised a devout Catholic and doesn't desire to know anything about Judaism.  Wanda is a modern communist who doesn't believe in any religion or have faith in any system.

Somewhat autobiographical since the director didn't learn of his own Jewish roots and the murder of his fraternal grandmother in Auschwitz, the director has developed and shown a story devoid of Judaism and a Jewish community.  Ida and Wanda are the entire Jewish population in the film and neither one acknowledges their religion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


By D.E.Levine

An indie film funded partially by Kickstarter, this film has drawn raves in various competitions.

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is an aspiring stand up comic who antagonizes evening audiences with her views on sex and religion, but spends her days working at the Oppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books.

Donna, being extremely blunt and forthcoming, discusses everything, no matter how private or sacred.  One of her topics is her unplanned pregnancy with a nice boy named Max (Jake Lacy).

Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre adapted the screenplay from her own 2009 short.  The film makes the case for women to have the choice to choose what to do with their own bodies and raise angry voices in the Catholic Church by the characters' frank discussion of sex, pregnancy and abortion.

This is an impressive debut film for Robespierre.  It also provides the characters with substance.  Donna is certain about her decision to have an abortion and Max never argues with her or doubts her right to make that decision regarding her body and her future.

Monday, February 2, 2015


By D.E.Levine

It's very common to fear the unknown.  In David Robert Mitchell's It Follows we see what it's like to know what you're afraid of and still be terrified.

The premise is simple.  A young girl, Jay (Maika Monroe) has a sexual experience and then feels that a presence is lurking about her and following her.  This is a real horror film that utilizes a common youthful activity as the catalyst. Quite literally, if you have sex in It Follow, you must die.

This is Mitchell's second full length feature and he manages to create terror just about everywhere, regardless of whether it's night or day, sunlit or overcast, areas populated with people or empty houses, streets and playgrounds.

What's even more terrifying is the presence can change forms and adopt those of people who are known and trusted.  The dilemma is how to tell the "real" person from the murdering "presence".

The original score by Disasterpiece adds to the tension and terror.  There are scenes and images that evoke early John Carpenter from 30-40 years ago.

It would be simple to give a spoiler alert in this review but that would ruin the effect of the film.  It's better to watch It Follows with little or no prior knowledge so that you can reap the full effect of the film.

Monday, January 12, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Two lesbian entomologists live in a beautiful villa surrounded by gorgeous gardens.  The viewer is never told exactly where the villa is located but it seems to be some.  They like to play mistress and servant.

The two women enact submission and domination on a daily basis.   Evidently, the thrill has gone out of the relationship and they are searching for some new and interesting sadomasochistic

The younger and apparently shyer of the two, Evelyn, (Chiara D'Anna), plays the part of a beautiful maid.  Although she appears to be the submissive one she actually plans elaborate scenarios and leaves precise directions on handwritten.  The tasks, the dialogues and the punishments are all part of an elaborate sex game dictated by Evelyn.

The mistress of the house, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) inflicts kinky humiliating punishments for any and all transgressions and apparently the younger woman can do nothing right.  Although punishments are meted out commensurate with the transgression, Evelyn always winds up locked away in an old wooden trunk.  With explicit directions about when to "surprise" her, and a safe word to stop the proceedings, if necessary the two women attempt to put a spark back into their relationship.

The women attend each other's scientific lectures at the local entomological institute to which they are both in some way connected.  When Cynthis throws Evelyn out and starts dressing in comfortable pajamas instead of laced corsets and wigs, Evelyn starts looking for a new playmate for her game.

Shot in Hungary, the cinematography is wonderful and the scenery is incredibly beautiful, but the world seems unreal and perhaps even from a different historical era.  The characters reveal an emotional dependence but it is, as well as the film as a whole, is laced with humor.

Even the closing credits list all the common and Latin names for all the featured insects.  There are many cases and displays of these insects featured in the film.  In addition to visual effects, sound is very important and contains a mixture of music by Cat's Eye, the sound of insects and source noise.

Director Peter Strickland provides a film rich in feeling and texture, although intense physical scenes do not appear onscreen.

Friday, January 9, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Kevin Costner believed in this story so much that he financed the film himself and his portrayal is outstanding.

Elliot (Costner) is a successful, hard-drinking Los Angeles attorney.  He and his wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) are raising their biracial granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell) the product of a union between their daughter, who died at 17 in childbirth, and a black boyfriend who has since disappeared.

When Carol is killed in a car crash, Elliot sinks into a deep, drinking depression but devotes himself to his granddaughter.

At this point Eloise's paternal grandmother , Rowena (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody of the child and bring the girl to live in Compton with her extended family.  Rowena's brother Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie) takes her case and there ensues an ugly court battle.

When Eloise's absentee father returns to Los Angeles and tries to start a relationship with her, Elliot, feeling that the drug-addicted man is a bad influence, gets into a contentious battle with him and the rest of his family.

This is a thinking film.  It tackles racial issues, family disfunctionality, personal biases and legal parameters.

Well cast and acted, the film was more than I hoped for and intricately weaves both humor and pathos into the story and performances.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


By D.E.Levine

This is a wonderful film for children and adults alike.  Although adapted from a comic book, Disney has improved the story and combined a tale of morality with entertainment.  Naturally, the animation is fantastic because it's done by Pixar, a Disney subsidiary.

The main characters are 14-year old Hiro (Ryan Potter), his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) their Aunt Casa (Maya Rudolph) and Tadashi's invention Baymax (Scott Adsit).  Living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo (based on San Francisco and Tokyo), an Asian infused Golden Gate Bridge co-exists with trolley cars, dumpling shops and a Tokyo-like skyscraper skyline.

Hiro is a genius who doesn't see the point in attending university, although he already has his high-school diploma.  Instead, he designs electronic robots and enters back-alley robot fights.

After a brush with the law, Tadashi takes Hiro to his college robotics lab where Hiro becomes intrigued with the people he meets (the "A" Team) and the projects they're working on.  Now obsessed with enrolling in the school, Hiro enters a science competition to prove he's a desirable candidate.  Winning acceptance because of his microbot project from Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), Hiro is elated.  But a devastating fire kills both Tadashi and Professor Callaghan and causes Hiro to retreat to his bedroom and grieve.

When he discovers Baymax in a suitcase in the bedroom, Hiro activates him and allows Baymax, who is programmed to ease all types of pain, to ease his pain.    Along with Baymax and the A Team, Hiro becomes an avenger dedicated to find and apprehend the villain responsible for setting the fire and stealing Hiro's invention.

This is an animated feature that imparts an anti-violence message, emphasises education and using the brain and celebrates friendship and family.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


By D.E.Levine

I had the good fortune to speak to writer/director/actor Desiree Akhavan at length and it's interesting that everything she previously worked on and submitted to film festivals was rejected.  However, with Appropriate Behavior, a low budget film where she utilized friends and film schoolmates, Sundance accepted it and it made quite a hit when it was shown at the festival.

Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) storms out of her girlfriend's apartment after an explosive argument.  This was her first girlfriend and she fills in the background of the relationship through a series of vignettes..

Seeking to find a place to live and rebound from the relationship Shirin is hampered by hurt, cycnicism, lack of a job and money, and the fact that her traditional Iranian family has no idea about her sexual orientation (she's bisexual).

With her girlfriend she lived in Park Slope, a pretty nice area.  Now, with limited funds and options, Shirin moves to Bushwick and the viewer watches as she attempts to navigate her new environment. Shirin just isn't motivated by anything.  She's on the fence about most things and doesn't appear to have any real passion for what she wants to do with herself.

Akhavan shows great promise in both her writing and directing.  She's also generous in sharing her success, insisting that her collaborators are in large part responsible for the accomplishments she's achieved.

Appropriate Behavior is largely biographical and an interesting start for a new talent from whom we can expect more to come.

Friday, January 2, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Fifty years after Martin Luther King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Selma opens with a scene between Dr. King (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) in a hotel room in Oslo, Norway, just prior to being awarded the prize.

Oyelowo looks and speaks amazingly like the Martin Luther King we see in newsreels.  It's almost as if his portrayal is channeling the civil rights leader.

King returns to America just as President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) has pushed the Civil Rights Act , ending legalized segregation, through Congress.  He now intends to concentrate on the War on Poverty.  But, King insists that the next step should be a voting rights act that will abolish the literacy and civics tests that are used in the South to legally prevent African-Americans from voting in elections.  These tests are preventing millions of citizens from participating in electing officials.

The film portrays King fighting Johnson over the matter in the Oval Office.  King knows that a protest march is planned for the 50 miles between Selma, Alabama and the state capitol in Montgomery.  King is also aware that when the marchers demand their right to vote, white racists who are backed by Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) will provoke violence in public where it will be seen by TV and newspaper reporters.  Johnson understands how damaging such an explosive confrontation can be and wants to avoid it.

Originally scripted in 2007, the project went through numerous "name" directors such as Spike Lee,  Lee Daniels. Stephen Frears and others.  Oyelowo advicated for a little known black female director named Ava DuVernay.  Finally, with producing and financial support from Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, Pathe U.K. agreed to finance the project and Paramount agreed to distribution.

Getting it done on only 20 million dollars, DuVernay has produced a very good film that recounts the events leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery and the march itself.  Avoiding the normal biopic concentration, DuVernay instead concentrates on the political machinations and King's ability to dominate logistical strategy session.

Many of the scenes portrayed, such as the attack on marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with tear gas, whips and clubs, were staged from actual TV archival footage.  On that day, March 7, 1965, there were many injuries.  But out of that attack came action by the government to protect the marchers during a future demonstration.

There has been some controversy over whether the scenes between King and Johnson in the White House are accurate.  We'll probably never know for sure since no recordings have surfaced.  We do know that Johnson was motivated to push the Voting Rights Act through Congress and open the doors for millions of African-Americans to register and vote.

Many of the organizers and marchers are still alive today and are prominent in this country's political system.  Some are noted at the end of the film.  What is taken for granted today, was won through tenacity and the spilling of blood only 50 years ago.