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Friday, April 22, 2016

LIFE, ANIMATED

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine\

A feel-good film with a happy ending that everyone should see.

This is a true story about Owen Susskind, an autistic boy, whose fascination with Disney animated movies provided a source to learning, speech and progress that enables him to live a meaningful relatively normal life.

Originally documented by his father Ron Susskind in a 2014 book, Owen was "normal" until age 3 when he stopped speaking, had irrgular sleeping patterns and became stoic and cognitively impaired.

Devasted, his parents Ron and Corneilia received a diagnosis of pervaisive developmental disorder which would make Owen dependent on others for the remainder of his life.

In an ironic twist, during a family viewing of The Little Mermaid, Owen insisted onreplaying a particular scene and then began to mutter gibberish.  But, it wasn't gibberish.  His parents and   brother Walter realized that Owen had memoized the movie dialogue and was repeating it.  In
 fact, not only had Owen memorized the entire Disney film, he had memorized the complete dialogue from all the Disney animated films.

Owen's remarkable journey to speech, interrelationships with peers, working at a job, moving into his own apartment and even having a girlfriend are beautifully documented using home movies from his childhood and realtime film meeting his challenges.  In fact, Owen became a high-functioning adult in his 20>s who can spea, read and write, and a motivational speaker.

Even now, after having traveled abroad with his family. Owen maintains his library of VHS and DVD animated Disney films and frequently holds group viewings for his friends,

Owen is a celebrated case and it is still a mystery as to exactly why the cartoon claasics were able to reach Owen and create the effect they did within him.

 Regardless, of his journey and the results of his obsession with Disney cartoon classics, Owen's main strength comes from his family -- always supportive, financially capable of providing him specialized help. amd deeply commited to helping Owen grow and become a contributing member of society,


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Thursday, April 21, 2016

HIGH RISE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Based on the novel High Rise by J.G.Ballard, this is a dark comedy that is strangely depressing and also eye-opening because we are viewing it in the 21st century.

Set in the 1970s in a new and totally modern building on the outskirts of London, the tenants are wealthy, snobbisb and spoiled.

The 40-story tower is a picture of excess with mirrored elevators, lavish carpeting (shag of course), modern appliances and gymnastic equipmet, an in-building grocery stocked with food,  All the sinage is in Eurostile Bold Extended, a futuristic typeface that gained popularity in 2001:  A Space Odyssey.

Whem bachelor Dr. Laing (Tim Hiddleston) buys a small apartment with a balcony and moves into 2505. His concentration is on women, mainly single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and pregnant Helen (Elisabeth Moss).

 On the roof lives a wealthy Royal (Jeremy Irons). in complete luxury, who is a severe contrast to Wilder (Luke Evans) a TV producerwho travels into London every day to work.  Dwindling resources pit these two against each other.

As the building declines and results in class antagonisms, erotic drives and revealing allegories, Dr. Laing becomes a scavenger.  Violence and squalor reign supreme in the building while externally it looks presentable.

There is consistency in the worst insticts and urges, even as the various building surfaes decay and fluctuate.  Definitely, the building represents statification and alienation as the very wealthy live at the top and the poorer folks live further down on the lower floors.  Dr. Laing lives in the middle, definitely a commentary on his place in life.

Perhaps although classified as a dark comedy, viewers leave depressed because the building is such a dystopian microcosm.






14 MINUTES FROM EARTH

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Who among us hasn't had the dream of doing something extraordinary and perhaps a bit revolutionary?

Alan Eustace. a Google executive, had a dream of jumpingin a skydive higher than anyone else in history, and he set out to devote the time, energy and money to creating the best and most advanced spacesuit to allow him to make the jump.

A onetime Senior Vice President of Knowledge at Google, belongs to a corporate environment that flourishes with bizarre and uniques ideas and projects in the name of advancing humanity and technology.

The skydive from a height of over 25 miles, was designed to break Felix Baumgartner's jump.    To make such a jump it's necessary for Eustace to develop a special space suit, which has never been accomplished by an individual before.

It's an amazing story filled with a treasure trove of technological knowledge.  To find out whether Eustace is successful in achieving his dream it's necessaru to watch the movie.


RESET

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

A beautifully photographed documentary about Benjamin Millepied's attempt to stage his first show as the newly hired  dance director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Millepied was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and a major contributor to Darren Aronofsky's film "Black Swan,"  Recognized for his abilities he was hired to take over the nerve-wracking dance director job at the Paris Opera Ballet.

From the beginning, Millepied seems wonderfully suited to the task.  He is energized to reimagine the famed institution for the modern era.  Millepied sees modernization as the way to keep the institution relevant both for the dancers and the audiences.

The first to ever cast a mixed-race lead in a classical ballet at the Paris Opera Ballet, a leader who encourages his dancers to let their unique personalities shine through, Millepied seems intent on major changes.  However, the film doesn't show much opposition to Millepied's attempts to bring the reknown institution into the 21st century.

There isn't much tension in this film.  It's simply beautiful and inspiring.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

This is a buddy movie, but the buddies are a mismatched boy and his foster uncle who go on the run in the New Zealand wilderness.

This comedy drama has an emotional thrust to which  none of the disgruntled characters would be likely to admit.

One of the central characters, Ricky (Julian Dennison), is a troubled orphan who fancies himself a gangster in the city.  Now, placed in with a foster "aunt" and "uncle" on a farm far away from the city, he is hard to convince but is eventually won over by the warm and loving "aunt" Bella (Tima Te Wiata).

When tragedy strikes and threatens to take the life Ricky has come to love, he goes on the run with his grizzled fostor uncle Hec (Sam Neill) and a dog named Tupac.

Starting with nothing but Bella in common, the two loners eventually come to form a kinship that unites them against the authorities who hunt for them,

The audience finds itself rooting for the lonely characters who find themselves and each other amid the magnificence of the New Zealand countryside.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DON'T THINK TWICE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selectiion

By D.E.Levine

This is a smart, bittersweet comedy about a six-member comedy troupe, the Commune, toiling for 11 years in relative obscurity in New York City.

Dreaming of breaking into television, the members of the Commune eke out very meager livings and live like starving students in small, dingy apartments.

At the beginning of the film members of the Commune learn that the small theater in midtown Manhattan has been sold and the troupe must find a new performance space.

Suddenly, one member of the Commune is hired for Weekend Live (a Saturday Night Live type program) and when this confers almost instant celebrity status, other members of the troupe show their anxiety about the future, envy of each other and raw competitiveness.

Mike Birbiglia plays Miles, who fancies himself the originator and "father" of the Commune.  An accomplished Improv artist himself, as we; as an actor and writer, Birbiglia has given us a realistic picture of show business hopefuls who live in fear of their expiration date.


EQUALS

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

In a world depopulated by war, where public displays of emotion are forbidden and romantic love is a crime, what is left?

Kristen Stewart plays the writer Nia, who falls in love with Silas (Nicholas Hoult), an illustrator.  Afraid of being diagnosed with Switched On Syndrome and heavily medicated until the feelings leave, or being shipped to a facility where people are encouraged to kill themselves, Nia fights the feelings.

It's a sterile world.  Sparsely decorated with large windws and open spaces, a society where everyone dresses in stark white, the film evokes memories of earlier science fiction films and television programs.

Monday, April 18, 2016

TEAM FOXCATCHER

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

This Netflix original documentary examines the 1996 murder of  reknowned wrestling champion Dave Schultz, at the hands of  his benefactor John Du Pont.

While living and training on the Foxcatcher Farm, a  2000-acre farm in Newton Square, Pennsylvania, Dave's wife and other wrestlers shot extensive home movies.,

The focus of the film is on Dave, a warm, outgoing wrestling superstar who attracted other wrestlers and trainers with his outgoing personality and outstanding work ethic and performance.

Notably absent from the film and its commentary is Davve's brother Mark who also lived and trained on the farm.  No explanation for his absence is given.

Du Pont, an heir to the Du Pont fortune, was a lonely, socially inept man who longed to be accepted and embraced by the world class atheletes that he supported.  He spent a fortune supporting their training and lifestyle, turning the Foxcathcer Farm into a world class training facility,

The atheletes and their families lived in houses on the farm, in close proximity to the main house where Du Pont resided.  From all reports, Schultz was a faovrite of Du Pont's and good naturedly coached him for wrestling events that he was physically ill-prepared in which to participate.

However, as the atheletes formed a tight-knit community, Du Pont's jealousy over Schultz's friendship with other atheletes who fell out of favor with Du Pont,  grew and eventually led to Schultz's murder.

Du Pont had a sense of self-entitlement and believed that his wealth gave him the right to break the law and do whatever he wanted, especially since he had a close relationship with the police force.

As he became more and more paranoid committed murder and was convicted and imprisoned, many wrestlers chose to remain on the farm and pursue their goals of winning tournaments and achieving greatness in the sport, burying their conscience and better judgment.



Sunday, April 17, 2016

COMMAND AND CONTROL

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Absolutely terrifying is the phrase that comes to mind in regard to the events chronicled in this Robert Kenner documentary.

Recounted in harrowing detail, an accident occurred at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was the governor in September 1980.

A mistake was made, something that seemed innocuous.  An airman doing routine maintenance dropped a piece of equipment.  The dropped metal socket fell 70 feet and punctured the Titan's fuel tank.

The film recreates the confusion that took place as unprepared officials tried to determine how to patch the fuel tank.  The Titan carried the most destructive nuclear warhead and could have wiped out a large portion of Arkansas had an explosion occurred.

Using archival footage that the military kept locked away until the Freedon of Information Act required it be released, we see a very young Governor Clinton broadcasting that there was nothing to be alarmed about and there were no evacuation plans put into effect.  Meanwhile, men who went back into the silo to perform containment were badly injured or killed and the entire incident was kept under military wraps.

Of particular interest is that the film brings to light how common such incidents were at the time, and what great risks were involved.

We live in a more sophisticated society now, and we have greater and deadlier nuclear weapons.  The question remaining is whether our officials are better equipped to handle the weapons and safeguard the nation.

MIDSUMMER IN NEWTOWN

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Lloyd Kramer's documentary about a group of Newtown Connecticut residents and NYC theater professionals comes in the wake of the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

When 20 first graders and 6 educators are slain, theater director Michael Unger and other theater professionals decide to create a distraction for the survivors by producing a pop musical take on a Midsummer's Nights Dream.

The film follows the production from auditions to opening night and focuses on three participants, two children who are living and one who was killed and is represented by her parents.

An interesting study on the mechanism of using immersion in an artistic production to cope with the hurt, fear and loss of the elementary school killings, the film is unique not in the production, but in the efforts to promote a healing process.



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MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Louis Theroux shows up in Los Angeles announcing his intention to make a movie about the Church of Scientology.  His approach is to film a series of scripted and unscripted scenes from the life of Church leader David Miscavige.

He will audition actors, film the audition process and use as his adviser former Scientologist Marty Rathbun, a man now thoroughly despised within the Church.

When the Church becomes aware of Theroux and his actions they send people to harass him in a variety of ways, including armed with movie cameras to do a counter documentary of Theroux.

It's a rather intriguing approach and we have only the film and comments by Rathbun about the actors playing Miscavige being very realistic, to go on.  Theroux seems intent on cross examining Rathbun about his actions while he was in the Church.  At this point in his life, Rathbun has admitted his actions and is dedicated to working against the Church, so the viewer has to wonder why Theroux is so intent on his cross examination.  Rathbun is furious at Theroux's lack of faith in him.

For his part, Theroux does shed light on how important Los Angeles and the movie industry is to the Church.  The Scientologists prey on the desperation of the dream seekers who come to town seeking fame and fortune and siphon off much of their energy and money with promises.

Tom Cruise is a featured player, being one of the most famous Scientologists, close to Miscavige and an outspoken advocate for the Church.

CALIFORNIA

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

In Brazil in the 1980s, Estela (Clara Gallo) dreams of escaping her life and taking a trip to California with her uncle.

Living in Sao Paulo with her stifling father and mother, and hangs out with her conventional friends.  Dissatisfied, Estela has two forms of escape.  One is music, with a particular fondness for David Bowie, and the other is escapism into the journey she'll make to California with her mother's brother Carlos.

When Carlos returns to Sao Paulo sick with AIDS to be looked after by his family, it becomes clear that Estela's trip won't take place and she must make decisions about who she wants to be and who she wants to be with.

Will she choose Xande (the dream catch according to everyone) or JM, who arrives mid-semester with an air of mystery and great records?

THE FAMILY FANG

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

Evidently faltering actress Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) and stalled author Baxter (Jason Bateman) had an unusual upbringing.

The children of performance artists, they routinely participated in their parents performance art pieces such as a stage bank robbery with guns, fake blood and bystanders who think it's real.

Daddy Caleb Fang (Christopher Walken) is a charmer who uses his children to prop up his shaky identity as an artist.  With his wife Camille (MaryAnn Plunkett), the Fangs consistently place art ahead of their children.

Annie and Baxter come together as adults when their parents go missing.  Annie thinks it's a publicity act because their parent's careers have faltered since the children left the act.  Baxter wants to believe that even their unorthodox parents wouldn't be cruel enough to try to convince their children and the world that they are dead.

While this is a comedy, there are disturbing undercurrents that surface as Annie and Baxter play detective in a case involving their own lives.

Friday, April 15, 2016

UNTOUCHABLE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

The film is about how Ron Book, a powerful Florida lobbyist, discovers that his daughter was sexuaally abused by the nanny entrusted with her care.  Speaking at the beginning of the film, even 10 years later, Book is moved to tears.

With money and considerable political power, Book and his daughter Lauren (the victim of the abuse), take on the threat of sexual predators.

As a lobbyist, Book is not accustomed to the word "no".  Ron Book is a man on a mission, pursuing the passage of ever increasingly restrictive laws and amendments pertaining to people on the sex offenders register.

However, director David Feige, a lawyer turned author, makes a case that sex offenders (the term covers a very broad category of individuals) are being denied due process and their basic human rights as a result of the increasingly stricter laws that are meant to protect the larger population.  Indeed, he conends that by forcing convicted sex offenders out of their homes, it becomes increasingly difficult for law enforcment agencies to keep track of them.

While Ron Book contends that he is out to do good and protect the population from sex offenders, Feige's more measured and less sensational approach shows the ramifications that some of of the laws have on innocents (such as the children of the offenders).


THE CHARRO OF TOLUQUILLA

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

In the 1940s and 1950s "Charro" cinema became to Mexican cinema what the western is to American cinema.

Charro refers to a icon of popular folklore , a horseman with colorful clothing and a big sombrero.  In this film, Jaime Garcia, a mariachi singer, has assumed the cocky and seductive attidue of the typical Charro.

Despite his womanizing and drinking, there is a weariness that creeps into Jaime's life as he struggles to survive as an HIV-positive man and keep his image alive while struggling to maintain a relationship with his estranged daughter (born without the HIV virus) and her stingent, religious mother.

The film, over a period of five years, chronicles the life and emotions of a man divided.

MAGNUS

A Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Selection

By D.E.Levine

This is a documentary about a 25-year old chess champion who holds rock star status and manages to play 10 games at once in his head.

While initially one remembers Bobby Fischer and his antics, Magnus Carlsen is surprisingly "normal" with warm engaging relationships with others, especially family members.

Hailed as "the Mozart of chess" because his abilities became apparent at an early age.  Born in 1990, the age of video, all of his feats have been recorded and documented, so nothing of his reputation is left to conjecture.  As a teenager Magnus attended a goup tournement in Iceland and lost to Gary Kasparov, but the ranking champion recognized his ability.

By 13 Magnus became the youngest Grandmaster and admits in interviews chess is an obsession and a part of his mind is always thinking about the game.  However, instead of being a moody recluse, Magnus is a warm, engaging personality that interfaces well with others and participates in family activities.

This is a film filled with excitement and tension as various games and tournaments play out. It's fascinating and easily watchable because of the easy going personality of Magnus.   As of the time when this film was made Magnus Carlsen is the highest ranked player in the history of the game.