Monthly Archives: July 2015

While We’re Young

while you youngDirector and writer Noah Baumbach is known for intriguing movies like Francis Ha and Greenberg. His movies take the bite out of seriousness by intoxicating them with a lace humor.

In While We’re Young, we meet Josh, played brilliantly by Ben Stiller, who is teaching a class on documentary filmmaking.  He is a successful documentary filmmaker, yet he has an unfinished documentary film that he has been working on for a decade. He is unwilling to accept help in completing his film from the most talented people in his life – wife and father-in-law – which is his downfall.

He is befriended by a 20-something couple after class and is swindled into having dinner with them and his wife Cornelia, played lovingly by Naomi Watts.  Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) become fast friends with Josh and Cornelia.

So, here we have a couple in their forties and a couple in their twenties becoming best friends. The older couple is set in their careers as filmmakers while the younger couple is not quite clear. We know Jamie wants to be a filmmaker but Darby’s role is unclear, which should be a hint to the older couple that all is not up and up with the younger couple.

Jamie begins to feed off of Josh in hopes of using him in order to rise to the status of celebrated documentary filmmaker. Josh slowly figures it out what Jamie is doing, but it is too late and all hell breaks loose when Josh and Cornelia come to terms with Jamie’s machination plan.

Charles Grodin plays Cornelia’s father as a celebrated filmmaker in his own right. I am impressed with Grodin’s underplaying the part and enjoyed his moments in the movie.

We are fortunate to have some name droppers for the secondary characters. Dree Hemingway, who is the great-grandaughter of Ernest, plays Jamie and Darby’s roommate and production assistant. Beasty Boy, Adam Horovitz plays Josh’s best friend Fletcher while Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary plays an interview subject for the documentaries.

The humor in Baumbach’s movie is funny in a problematical and gross way.  The most impressive part about his movie is the issues of ethics, morality, and friendship within the film industry.

Simon Wiesenthal Film Collection

simonwiesenthalSimon Wiesenthal passed away in 2005. He was a Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor and became well-known for his unrelenting work as a Nazi hunter.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films collection of documentaries, which features narrations by Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and others, is now available as a DVD set worth owning.

The collection includes two Academy Award winning documentaries: The Long Way Home, featuring Freeman’s narration; and Genocide, the 1982 best documentary Oscar winner narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles.

The Long Way Home takes an in-depth look at post-WWII and the survivors of the Holocaust. It also includes the voices of Edward Asner, Sean Astin, Martin Landau, Miriam Margolyes, David Paymer, Nina Siemaszko, Helen Slater, and Michael York. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1998.

The story focuses on the contemptible state of affairs for Jewish refugees in Europe after the war. Antisemitism was still predominant and destitution was common. The movie indicates how emigration to the British Mandate of Palestine developed into a goal for many. Yet, the British immigration rules often concluded with them being in custody in camps on the island of Cyprus. The eventual formation of the State of Israel results based on the debates at the White House between Palestinian Jews, President Harry S. Truman, and the United Nations.

Genocide follows the courage and torture of the Jewish people before and during World War II. Elizabeth Taylor’s simple voice reads letters from fatalities of the Nazis. The letters are heart wrenching hearing the farewells to friends and other loved ones.  First-hand accounts of horrifying images.  On one particular read is about someone who observed a massacre. I was shocked and disheartened, which is the aim of the movie.

Other narrators in the collection include Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas, Sir Ben Kingsley and Christoph Waltz.

The documentaries are available in DVD case with Simon Wiesenthal on the cover. Susan Margolin, president of Docurama, streaming service for documentary movies, called the collection “historically rich and profoundly important.”

 

Gomer Pyle Entertains Even Today

gomerpyleGomer Pyle is a classic television series that meets the needs of good programming on television today. As a kid growing up, I savored the show while watching it with my family. The earlier seasons of all the episodes are so entertaining.

The first episode to watch, if I were you, is the series pilot that was spun from The Andy Griffith Show. In this episode we watch as Gomer (Jim Nabors) enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps. Andy is worried about Gomer because he doesn’t think he will fit in with the troop. He even hangs around waiting to give him a ride back home, which never happens and a great show is hatched.

The DVD set is almost perfect in picture quality and sound that is worth the price I paid for it. If you like great, wholesome stories, then you will enjoy watching each episode with people of all ages. I found these shows had great laughs and tons of humor. The huge DVD case contains all five seasons with Gomer Pyle (Nabors), a naive country boy who leaves his hometown of Mayberry to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Gomer is a perpetual wide-eyed innocence young man, who gets on the nerves of his tough, loudmouthed sergeant, Vince Carter (Frank Sutton). The complete series also comes with special features including commentary from Nabors.

All I can say is these kinds of television shows are obsolete. For people like me, who know about these shows, and understand the value they hold, can’t express enough how much they can be enjoyed. Yet, they may be dated and silly or just plan corny. Still, you should take the time and watch them. You will have great clean laughs.

’71 Fast Pace, Intense

71I am impressed with 71 since it had me on the edge of my couch the whole time. It was also a lesson about what was going in Belfast during the uprising.

The movie doesn’t let up either because of the fine direction by Yann Demange, and the unbelievable acting by all the cast. I am so impressed with the children actors in this movie. Sure. Jack O’Connell is fantastic. He reminds me of Steve McQueen, silent but powerful. The children were so heart wrenching, strong and innocent.

Demange throws the viewer into the grit and emotional torture these people went through during the civil unrest. The lesson is more of a concept of what it was like to be in Belfast. There is no back-story, which isn’t needed since we are at war now with civilians. Diabolical situation with just enough dialogue to keep us connected to the story.

The story concerns the very beginning of “The Troubles.”  The violent thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland based on the constitutional status of the country. The movie doesn’t explain “Troubles.” 71 is an experience, a slice of life that will forever be embedded in the souls of those who fought in this bloody war.

The story follows one soldier (O’Connell). His first maneuver is a nerve racking riot on the streets of Belfast. He accidentally gets separated from his unit and abandoned without a weapon. He tries surviving the night alone in a maze-like landscape with people after him. He has no idea who he can trust, but is scared beyond imagination – it’s intense. The movie is so believable I thought it was based on a true story. But, I haven’t been able to determine if that is true or not.

Demange challenges the audience in the beginning of the story by introducing the soldier’s son. They spend quality time together, so I was emotionally attached from the beginning and continued to have my fingers crossed throughout his ordeal. O’Connell’s breathtaking performance kept me in awe. He drives the whole movie.  I encourage you to see this movie for the talented work of everyone involved.

Travolta in The Forger

forgeJohn Travolta is a fine actor. His repertoire includes musicals, drama, comedy, Broadway and even television.  He is a wonderful human being, who has help hundreds of people all over the world with successful and workable solutions.  His latest DVD/Blu-Ray release is The Forger. Travolta surrounds himself with a stellar cast, crew and storyline.

Directed modestly by Philip Martin and filmed in Boston, he sketches a heartfelt movie, unlike the usual tough-guy action smash hit.  Sure. The story has bad guys, who are gritty and creepy, but the three main characters face something even more vital. The real story is about relationships and family.  They come face to face with each other resolving issues that are hard to confront.  It is almost agonizing because they have their own grit and ugliness to conquer.

Travolta’s tour de force performance is like a rare painting that captures you like watching the layers of colors come to life. He plays a father named Raymond Cutter. His son, played honestly by Tye Sheridan, has an unsolvable situation, which carries the story to the end.  The ever so talented Christopher Plummer plays Will’s grandfather.

Like a tight spring, all three gradually come to terms as their relationships come undone and are redefined. They face the issues and decide the next best thing to do is a museum heist because it is an adventure where everybody wins. Sure. There are bad guys and cops, but if they pull it off – what a great prize. Not just because they might get caught. It’s because they want to be a team, a unit, a family.

Watching Plummer play the comic relief cannot go unwatched. His scenes alone are good reasons to see the movie.  Such talent as Plummer opens a bottle of beer, dupes a security guard, tricks a gangster and then dances on an exotic island.

Martin’s action scenes are so simple and unpretentious. What a joy to see a story unfold without a lot of violence and expletive words.  The most violent scene is when Travolta’s character uses a baseball bat and backlashes at three thugs. Martin filmed the entire scene as a master shot from start to finish without insert or harsh cutaways.  It is hilarious. Did I mention there is comedy in this drama?

I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline. The ending is a little empty, but it is truthful. I don’t think I could have thought of a better way to end a story about a family with a problem that is unsolvable.

Serena

serenaDirected by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who is known for taking on big and complicated stories, took a wrong turn with Serena.  The movie is beautifully shot by Morten Søborg, but that is about as far as it goes, which makes this blog a little tough for me to write since I like to keep them positive.

Serena is a well-known book by Ron Rash and was adapted for the screen by Christopher Kyle. The movie has a stellar cast, beautiful backdrop. Yet, the production company had the movie in the can and on the shelf for two years before it ever premiered in the movie theaters. A sure sign something is amiss. Yet, the book is very popular with rave reviews on Amazon.

I watched the movie, and it’s a hodgepodge scenes that ends terribly. I was left empty for spending nearly two hours watching a beautifully shot movie, not caring about the characters in a story not worth watching.

Skilled adaption of a popular book is hard to fine.

The story takes place around the time of the Great Depression where we see classic automobiles and new empires being built from the bottom up with dedicated hard working individuals.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Serena, a beautiful and poignant young woman, who has a suspicious past involving her family’s lumber company in Colorado. Bradley Cooper plays George Pemberton, a logging magnate in Northern Carolina’s Smokey Mountains.  The time is before the infamous stock market crash in 1929, which causes his ability to get a loan in peril. He also has to ward off a humane push to turn his land into a national park. That much is clear, but what is not clear is Serena’s role in his life. Sure. They love each other dearly, but what is the real story that caused Rash’s book to be so popular. What was left out of the movie or not explained in the movie that caused it to sit on the shelf for 2 years?

Serena becomes Bradley’s wife and partner of his lumber company. She does a dam good job.  They both share a goal of moving to Brazil after they cash in on the Smokey Mountain timbers.  One thing that I found ambiguous was Serena.  She is a remarkable woman, who can out shoot and out ride any man, but she is neurotic or borderline psychotic.  Her parents ran a logging company and were killed in a fire along with other members of the company. Serena was the sole survivor, and there is a hint she had something to do with the tragic fire.

Another unclear point is where Rachel, the mother of George’s illegitimate son, is put on the by George after her saves Rachel and his son from murder. She tells him she is going to meet up with Jacob, who will take care of her now.  Who is Jacob? How come we didn’t see her and Jacob together before this scene?

I wish Bier made these plot points clear-cut.  At the end of the movie the Serena’s suspicion becomes somewhat clearer. Yet, it means nothing because I am bored. The story is confusing and has a sad ending.