Movie Reviews by Albert Fried-Cassorla

 

Last updated: 5-10-16

***** = Loved it and recommend it **** = Enjoyed it *** = Decent ** = Dull * = Why did I bother?

 

2016

Everybody Wants Some! Nine out of 10 Albert stars.  

Simply put -- for a fun time, go see this flick. It's an effervescent and irreverent look at college life in the 1980s, as seen from the viewpoint of college baseball athletes in Texas.

Everything does happens that you can imagine happening in a campus comedy, but even so, it's always surprising. Richard Linklater is a wonderful filmmaker who has a relaxed and natural way of presenting characters and events. 

The escapades roll on and keep the audience entertained and often in stitches. The actors are comical in an unforced way, and every scene is cleverly constructed. The net result is that you feel you've enjoyed the company of some startling lunatics having a good time. I bet that even with the rigors of film production that this gang of actors really did enjoy themselves. Clever wit and innovative physical scenes keep your mind hopping.  See if you agree: crazed pitcher character reminds me of Weird Al Yankovic on steroids.

If I could add one thing, it would be more of a plot. But Linklater is not too fond of traditional notions of plot, I think, so that's OK. Zoey Deutch is so appealing that she could've played more of a role in the movie, perhaps in the same way that Katharine Ross's rol did decades ago in The Graduate. But that's a small complaint. As I said: go see it and have a fun time!

 

 

Star Wars seven. I give this an 8.5 out of 10 possible Albert stars. I know that all the world is watching, so I have to be very careful about my evaluations.

I saw this in the third row of a small movie theater with a really big screen in 3-D.

My friend and I enjoyed it tremendously. You just have to have the right expectations.
 

If you're looking for an indie movie, stay away! A few things that I really loved about it were the varied forms of humor that are laced throughout, the startling visuals, engrossing scenery, bizarre costumes and images, plus the fast pace. The sand dunes in the early scenes are great to look at, especially when one character rides down a giant doon on a shell or something.

The movie's plot is very reminiscent of the first Star Wars film, as many people pointed out. That's fine with me. I was not looking for originality, just entertainment.

The scene in the bar is very enjoyable, with all the strange creatures. I wish it were longer and that they had come up with more strange drinks, and more exotic aliens to gawk at. Also, the cast should be more integrated, especially with Asians. I kept thinking that millions of Chinese people are watching the same film, and that no one on-screen looks like them. Surely that can be fixed in the next version. I understand that Disney wants a new Star Wars film every year. So integrate! Since part of the film's message is fighting tyranny, having a more integrated cast could boost the resonance of themes of freedom and democracy worldwide.

The acting is generally good. I had not seen any of the Star Wars prequels, sequels etc., but this one was as good as the first. So if you want to have a good time at the movies, and what I've described above sounds interesting, then go. You'll see what half the planet is talking about!

2015

Carol.   8.5 out of 10 possible Albert stars.  This movie is sumptuously designed and beautifully acted.  They key fact is that it draws you into the story and keeps you interested.  Of course, so many other aspects of the film are wonderful: the period atmosphere, which Todd Haynes recreates so well; the great costumes and coiffures, the period automobiles; the Midwestern motel and more.

     Cate Blanchett is so intriguing to view, with her waves of blonde, perfect hair, pretty outfits and long red slash of a mouth.  So the physical helps maintain you interest in the character.  She is complex, and on this I must disagree with some user-critics in IMDB.com, who say she is shallowly drawn. Rooney Mara's character matures and changes in intriguing ways.  And the men do not come off badly in general.  I will not say more about that since it would give away some pilot points.

So, on balance it is an involving picture, if you think you care to watch a well-told tale about two women in love or lust in the 1950's. Now for a few criticisms:

There is too much emphasis on automobiles; pretty as those molded 50's car were, instead we could have had  brief snippets of revealing everyday conversations among pedestrians.

Also, the pace was a bit too slow for my taste. Still, a very enjoyable film, and one of the best I saw in 2015!

 

 

2014

Chef - with Jon Favreau. ****- Good stories, and fun.

Hyde Park on the Hudson (streamed) **** - with Bill Murray. Very enjoyable. 

 

2013

Way Way Back

Dinner for Schmucks (DVD)

Frances Ha

Love is all you need

After midnight

the 5-Year Engagement

Stories We Tell

Il Postino (1994) DVD

Argo (DVD)

The Sunshine Boys (on TV)

The Intouchables

Sleepwalk with Me

Celeste and Jesse Forever,

 

42,

 

No

 

 

2012

Howard's End

Moonrise Kingdom

To Rome with love

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Being Flynn

Friends with Kids

A Separation,

Pima,

Academy Award Winning Short Films: Live Action,

Euphoria 2008

 

 

2011

The Illusionist

Midnight in Paris

Tree of Life;

Secret of the Grain

Monkey Business

Prelude to a Kiss

My Life in Ruins

The Descendants

Hugo, The Artist,

Monkey Business (DVD)

My Life in Ruins

Pulp Fiction

Taxi Driver

How to Live Forever

Get Shorty

Pocket Change (Truffaut, streamed)

The Trip

Tree of Life

Midnight in Paris

Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work (video rental)

 

 

2010

Social Contract

Down Low,

Tamara Drewe,

Mid-Aug Lunch;

 

Eat, Pray, Love

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Down Low

Tamara Drewe

Elling - (Netflix) ***** - a wonderful comedy about two Norwegian men, mentally challenged, who manage to become independent and enjoy life. Very charming!

Cyrus ***** - Very engaging, serious comedy. 

The Kids Are All Right  **** - with Mark Ruffalo.

Winter's Bones *** - I know all reviewers loved this. The acting was fine and the plot tense and strong. But too depressing for my taste.

Next Stop Wonderland **** - Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Hope Davis - charming flick! On DVD.

Get Him to the Greek *** - Funny!

City Island *****

 

 

2009

Anvil

Up

Wall-Y

Open City

Breathless,

Slumdog Millionaire,

Milk,

Very Young Girls

 

2008

L' Atalante - Jean Vigo

2004

*****

Sideways. This movie is a road story, a serio-comedy about two single men who help each other, have hilarious adventures, come to understand wine and to a far less extent women. Paul Giamatti is sensational as a depressed single guy who can't grasp happiness, even when it's in his hands. The "getting the wallet" scene alone is maybe the funniest piece of filmmaking I have sene in years. Absolutely hilarious! And best of all, this film has resonance.

 

****

The Incredibles. A very entertaining animated film about a Super Hero family where the Dad is trying to hang up his uniform and retire from superpower-dom. It's funny and smart, and mainly good family fun. I would have preferred much more comedy and less "Dr. No" style shenanigans, which domninate the second half of the film.

 

****

Kinsey. With Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. A fascinating movie about the trsail-blaxing sex researcher. It's a character study of his obsessive nature, what it takes to achieve in a new, controversial field, and the sufferings imposed on him by society. Neeson is wonderful and belieavable, extreme and yet nuanced. Linney is wonderful. Makes you glad you did not live back in the dark old days.

 

 

****
We Don't Live Here Anymore. With Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts. Kind of as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" updated, but not only with heavy doses of couples arguing; also with sensitive scenes imaginatively portrayed, un-cliched couples dialog and more. The movie has been shot through a dark filter, as if to say, "You'd better believe that this film is dark and serious and unafraid to take on difficult situations." Brighter colors would have added more realism. But still, an excellent flick.

 

*****
Intimate Strangers. French with subtitles. A great little story about a woman who goes to see her new therapist, and who instead meets an accountant - who proceeds to listen very well! This movie is filled with little and major surprises, natural acting, interesting characters and true character and plot development. An entertaining film!

 

****
Garden State. Written and directed by Zach Braff. 2004. A very involving coming-of-age story that gives TV's Scrubs Star Zach Braff new depth, in a semi-serious role as an entertainer returning home for his mother's funeral. To say that he "meets Natalie Portman," is understating the wonderful and playful way their relationship develops.

 

***
The Manchurian Candidate. 2004. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep. This movie had lots of hype and does have its own inner momentum. But in the end, it fizzles because "Who cares if some politician in the future has a brain implant and is controlled by giant corporations?" Politicos can be controlled by special interests without implants. Just look at our political system today. Good acting, though, especially by Meryl Streep.

****
Local Hero (video). 1983. Written and directed by Bill Forsyth. With Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. Charming story of a Houston man, Riegert, who goes to Scotland to buy a village and put in a giant oil refinery. Surprising events happen, including a visit by the company's CEO, played by Lancaster. This film is an off-beat charmer that makes you want to slow down and savor life.

****
De-Lovely. Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd.. A delightful look at the life, music and loves of songwriter Cole Porter, this movie is beautifully filmed and treats Porter's gay loves with seriousness. His relationship with his tolerant and loving wife, Linda, is the heart of the film.
The musical numbers are beautifully and differently staged, including several beauties set in Venice.
In some ways, this is a sad movie, but perhaps only because we all must die, even the most talented and joy-inspiring among us.

***
Spiderman 2. Starring Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molia.
This movie is an entertaining romp that is satisfying on several levels. Dunst is emotionally believable as well a very pretty as the long-suffering girlfriend about to give up on the noncommittal Maguire. I missed the first Spiderman movie but many friends who have seen both say this is better.
I especially liked the special effects scenes featuring Molina carrying Dunst up the side of a skyscraper. Even better is the runway subway train scene, which I won't describe here (lots of fun!).

***
Before Sunset. With Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy. Very entertaining and romantic movie, IF you can stand a film that is 80 minutes of talking and walking. I could -- easily! The story line resumes a relationship tale of an earlier romantic episode featuring Ethan Hawke and Delp. That story began in a prior film called Before Sunrise. This movie gives you a bit of tour of Paris, which is fun. But the meat of it is the sturm and drang between the romantic leads, each of which has a spouse whom they find dissatisfying. How it all turns out. Well, you'll just have to see the picture!

**
Since Otar Left.
A cute movie about an old Russian lady trying to find her missing son. She goes to Paris with her daughter and granddaughter in an effort to find him.
Something happens in Paris. The old lady's tenacity and good humor furnish the emotional heart of the film.

However, I must admit I could not get absorbed in the characters. A haze of gray listlessness hangs over the movie, like four month of cloudy weather.
I found myself surprisingly bored too often, despite the old lady's charm. A friend of mine loved this movie and was totally charmed, so I guess opinions can vary drastically on this one.
In my opinion, a far better movie about charming old people was Autumn Spring. Now THAT was a film! (See write-up from 2002 below)

**
Murder at the Cafe Noire. This is a film in which the audience chooses possible plot directions at several points. The process is fun for the first 3 or 4 times, then it palls (at least it did for me).

The acting is energetic and some of the original songs are very comically written and lustily performed.

But all of the endless private eye detail about "who did what to whom" was annoying. I think this movie would have benefited by being more of a comedy, which it is good at, and less of a film noir plot exposition.

****
Spring Summer Winter Fall Spring. This movie is so engrossing, from the very beginning, when a mischievous boy straps stones to the back of a frog, until its ending.
The man story concerns a Zen Buddhist monk who lives on a floating island in the middle of a country lake. There, he solves dilemmas of visitors and others that range from sexual desire to murder and contrition and beyond. In its own unique way, this is a great film!

 

*****

Monsieur Ibrahim - Omar Sharif stars in this tale of an old Parisian shopkeeper who befriends a boy from a broken family. The boy is Jewish, and Sharif's character is a Sufi mystic. This movie is about finding joy in the world and the art of being happy and giving and taking what you can from life, including friendship and romance. The story is beautfully told. In fact, I loved it and its messages. It is like a less impish, less whimsical Amelie, one of my favorites of all time. The messages are similar, but this is no pastiche. It's happy and sad, and therefore like life itself!

 

*****

My Architect - Nathaniel Kahn, the unacknowledged or illegitimate son of the famous architect Louis Kahn, has created this great tribute to his father. The elder Kahn did not treat him well, but the son is forgiving, emphasizing the positive aspects and in some ways the unnknowability of his dad. This film succeeds on many levels:

·  it is compassionate, because Nathaniel is very likeable, warm, and inquiring;

·  it gives an appreciation of an architect whose best work is extremely inspiring, complete with visual tours of his masterpieces;

·  it shows how hard the past is to recapture, especially when the focus is a person who led mysterious and duplicitous lives. Louis Kahn had a wife and two mistresses, totalling three families.

 

*****

In America - Jim Sheridan's wonderful story of coming to America as a poor Irish actor and dealing with strange characters and situations in Hell's Kitchen in NYC. Sara and Emma Bolger as his daughters are marvelous and touching. This is the best movie I have seen in some time.

****

Big Fish - An imaginative movie from Tim Burton that tells a loving story about a story-teller, played by Albert Finney. It's pleasant enough and a good tale, but not substantially moving.

 

2003 - 33 movies

****
Cold Mountain - A sweeping love story that tells a good story. But the passions stoked are not that strong. Kidman and Law generate no screen sparks.

******

The Cooler - William H. Macy stars as a "Cooler," or casino employee who brings bad luck to otherwise winning casino players. Maria Bello plays his love interest and Alec Baldwin his boss-tormentor. Ths fliuck has an excellent script, great humanity, exceptional acting and a structure that builds in interest and emotion. A real winner!

 

****

Station Agent - Peter Dinklage plays a dwarf who wants to escape to a rural abandoned railroad station, where he can be himself. He can hardly be his own, as neighbors are inelectably drawn to him, messing up his peace, but perhaps bringing him humanity.

 

****

Intolerable Cruelty - Bill Murray plays an actor visiting Japan, where he is alienated.... except his hotel neighbor. They connect in a Platonic affair. Warm, comical, and touching. However, Japoan unfairly comes across as a land of crazed automatons.

 

Love Actually - High Granyt plays Britain's Prime Minister, whose heart is slowly won by his assistant. Actually, this story includes many love stories, mostly deftly woven together, not all sweet. Entertaining!

 

****

Elf - Starring Will Farrell and Jack Newhart, among others. Comical and sweet tale of an overgrown elf, really a human. What makes this movie exceptional is that it is so ingenuous and sweet.

 

*****

Intolerable Cruelty - Directed by Joek and Ethan Coen, with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. A very funny, fast-paced romp about rapacous lawyers, Holywood golddiggers, the strange prospect of love amidst all of this, and more. Smartly done and great fun.

 

****

School of Rock - Fun romp from Jack Black, as a subversive music teacher who secretly helps his students become excellent rockers.

 

*****

Nowhere in Africa - A very well-told tale of holocaust fleers who fiund some sort of refuge in Africa. A very warm and touching tale, especially in the children's relationshp with Africans.

 

****

Mystic River - From the novel by Dennis Lehane, with screenplay by Brian Helgeland, directed by Clint Eastwood. With Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden. A searing drama, which unfolds a well-told tale about childhood friends, molestation, kidnapping, rape, murder and revenge -- you know, the usual light-hearted Eastwood topics. This works a a whodunit and as a character-driven drama. I think it aspires to be a moral tale as well, and that's where it fails to achieve greatness. Stop reading here if you don't want to know much more about the plot.

When Sean Penn decides to exact revenge and does so upon the wrong person, the Laura Linney character (his wife) convinces him that he is a :king among men," and such people don't look back or admit to errors. Sounds just like Bush and his Iraq quagmire, if you ask me. OK, so I can disapprove of the characters' morality but admit that people like this must exist. But writers and directors choose topics and tales, and we can believe that their selection is instructive and uplifting -- or not. This is a case of not.

The lesson that it seems Eastwood wants to convey is: Good men can kill the wrong people. But it's all right; its the way of the world, and the price of truing to protect your family. Also: crimes committed in childhood play out later in life and wreak havoc in peoples lives many years hence. I can believe that, but it's like knowing that rain must fall.

Despite these complaints, I was very involved in the film which had many fine dramatic moments, especially those involving Tim Robbins.

 

*****

Lost In Translation - A funny and poignant love story about Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson's characters, each lonely though married and feeling abandoned in Tokyo. Murray is excellent is a sort of beat-down, sophisticated and wry way. Johansson is fresh, beautiful and genuine. Japanese people come across poorly, and this story probably does a disservice to them. Still, it's entertaining and moving.

***

Russian Ark - An exploraiton of the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, Russia, done as a series of historic tableaux, representing different eras in Russian history. Entertaining in part and bewildering and slow-moving in others. This was shot in one long take. Ambuitious. The ballroom itself and dancing customed characters are especially magnificent visually.

 

*****

Finding Nemo- A beautifully made funny animated flick with lively, interesting characters. Did I say beautiful only once? Let me say it twice. The pastels, the gorgeous ocean and evanescent creatures and photographically real whales are extraordinary.

Yet the characters are the most important -- a cute story about a clownfish Dad, played by Albert Brook's voice, and his son Nemo, who gets taken away. The story cocncerns his efforts to find him. Sure, thaty's typical fare for a plot line, but how the story is told makes all the difference. Ellen Degeneres is great as Darla, a forgetful blue fish. Now I did see this with my nieces and nephews and that made it more special. But I think anyone can enjoy this fun flick.

 

Whale Rider - A beautiful film about an elder Maori tribesman who seeks a boy who will become the new leader and savior of his people. His granddaughter seeks this role, but he rejects her. What happens next is the essence of the story, told beautifully and even poetically. Starts slow and builds interest and power.

****

Pirates of the Caribbean - A playful film about pirates that actually takes a theme park ride and makes an amusing story of it. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush excel as pirates. The arch tone and comedy make it fun. All of the violence is highly stylized and strictly designed to be amusing and non-threatening.

 

****

Swimming Pool - A movie about a prim mystery writer who spends time at her publisher's villa in France. She meets the publisher's licentious daughter, and the fireworks begins. It has a surprise ending that I did not quite understand or care for. But I enjoyed the story nonetheless. Strong characterizations and good writing.

 

****

Nowhere in Africa - An emotionally very rich story about a Jewish family fleeing from Nazi Germany to Africa, leaving behind their man's father. The story shows how historical events stressed the couple's relationship. The actress playing their daughter does a wonderful job, especially in relating to her new African neighbors.

 

****

Russian Ark - A historical tour of The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, complete with acted vignettes showing scenes form the Czars's lives, elegant balls and more. Shot in real time. The interior architecture is splendid. Don't expect a normal film - this one wanders and makes you wonder.

 

*****

Capturing the Friedmans - At first, because of the subject matter, I did not want to see this documentary about a convicted pedophile and his trial. But glowing reviews convinced me otherwise, and I am glad I saw it. The movie is more about the Roshomon-effect of people's divergent views of an alleged crime. The filmmaker leaves you to figure it out. Very absorbing dialog and scenes from a family that talked about and recorded everything. Poses disturbing questions about the American judicial system.

 

*****

Bruce Almighty - Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman are wonderful in this comedy about a man who expects too much from life and from God, and who gets a lesson. The script is witty, and the treatment of religious themes is, in my opinion, respectful. Best of all, there are TONS of laughs and a good deal to ponder philosophically about what Life dishes out, and how we regard it. In one scene, where Jim Carrey manipulates an evil anchorman's on-air lines, I laughed so hard I had to look away from the screen for fear of choking!

 

****
A Mighty Wind - Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy have great fun re-creating and re-uniting folks groups that never existed -- but they seem so real!

  • The Folksmen are similar to the Kingston Trio,
  • The New Main Street Singers are like the New Christy Minstrels, and
  • Mitch and Mickey are like Richard and Mimi Farina or Ian and Sylvia. (autoharp's presence would indicate the former.)

Tons of laughs and very witty. Levy's character is the most interesting, and he makes the film work. Sap that I am, I actually liked the film's pretend music! As the Times critic said, it made me want to dust off my old Mitch and Mickey records -- until I realized there weren't any!

 

****
Assassination Tango Another tour de force by Robert Duvall, who wrote, directed and stared in his excellent film.

This is the story of a New York hit man who becomes enamored of the tango. Duvall was in real-life stung with tango fever after seeing the touring show, Tango Argentina. He then made 30 trips Buenos Aires, and this movie is in many ways the result of his passion.
I feel that Duval is America's greatest actor. I began too feel this way many years ago, after seeing The Great Santini and the view was strengthened after the Apostle. The latter movie was the total invention of a possessed, enigmatic and fascinating character, a performance which still amazes me.
This movie fuses very believable characters and dialog with the charm and lyricism of fine tango music and dance. The result is a heady mixture of romance and sexuality. The threat of violence gives the movies its edge and makes the John H. character unpredictable.
To hint now at the story line without giving it away… John H. (Duvall) has a hit to commit in Buenos Aires and must return in time for the party of his girlfriend's daughter. He is enraptured with the little girl and with is role as her surrogate father. But the charm is in the performances by Duvall, which can be witnessed but not adequately described.

****
The Magdalene Sisters. A true-life story about young women in Ireland who were caught expressing their sexuality. They were then enrolled in a convent by their parents, and imprisoned there, working as slaves in a laundry facility unless they would escape or be rescued. Apparently 30,000 women were caught up in this system. The story involves three principal characters and many others, their struggles, loves and fates. Its struggle and escape theme is somewhat reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I found it powerful, but others in my group found it hard to take and too black and white.

***
Hukkle - A tour de force of cinematography, with arresting images and a novel approach. There must be a million images in this loosely told tale of a town where men are dying. I won't day why.
The imagery is just about all in this film.
The unifying force is an old man who hiccups and smiles. He seems to have a wry take on life. Hukkle means hiccup. It's as if all human concerns are just a hiccup in history.
I fault it for not having more of a story. The same supremely imagistic talent could have been made to serve an interesting tale. My friends say I'm too linear about that, but such is my fate!

 

*****
Dial M for Murder (video) - The 1954 classic Hitchcock thriller and detective mystery. Ray Milland plays a malicious husband who wants to kill his svelte wife, played by Grace Kelly. Bob Cummings plays her lover.
This film is complex and fast-moving. I found it engrossing, especially Milland's acting, which is so intelligent, nuanced and filled with innumerable considered actions and expressions.
I did find the latchkey business incessant and overdone. Other than that, it crackled!


****

The Hours - With Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore. This is a good movie IF and only if you can tolerate a flick that is almost exclusively about suicidally depressed people. The three stories concern the author Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, who is desperate to prevent her suicide; a mother (Moore) who has enormous yearnings to kill herself despite the needs of her young son to see her survive; and Streep as a latter-day Mrs. Dalloway, a Woolf character, struggling to keep her AIDS-ridden brother alive.

Does this sound like a sad evening in the movie theater? Yes, it is. Then what is the reward? Well, if you care about good story-telling, you will find it here. The characters speak convincingly about their particular situations, especially about the right of each of us to end our own lives, if we so choose. The fallout and damage of this choice are inevitable, and are shown here unflinchingly. One consolation: many of these characters, historical and fictional, had their dilemmas before good treatments were available for clinical depression.

 

*****

Bringing Down the House - Starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. This is a hilarious movie! At least I and the audience I saw it with agreed that it is so. Steve Martin plays an uptight lawyer, and Queen Latifah a brassy wrongly-accused criminal. There's much racial stereotyping, so be forewarned.

I am a total Steve Martin fan, and so I am prejudiced in favor of this flick. He reprises some of his famous Wild and Crazy Guy routines from the Saturday night Live days.... and the younger generation has never seen it, so it is new for them -- which is great!. Wonderful to see him in such rare form, and doing new things, too, like the homey rapper routine. Latifah is a great foil. As critic Carrie Rickey pointed out, much like Mae West to his W.C, Fields. Although Fields never had Martin's body English.

*****

Talk to Her - Directed by Pedro Aldomovar. I loved this film! It's about two women who go into comas and the men who care about them. But of course, that oversimplifies. This fil is rich in emotion, color and inventiveness. It also possesses a very interesting and comical fantasy sequence! It's hard to say any more without giving it away. Made in Spain and in Spanish. If you don't mind sub-titles, see it!

 

****

Chicago - With Rene Zelweger, Katharine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. Imaginatively done dance musical exudes entertainment. The story may be slight, but so what? Don't expect Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers-quality dancing. But do expect maxmum imagination and staging.

 

****

Adaptation - directed by Spike Jonze, with Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep. This is a story about a neurotic screenwriter and his relaxed, easygoing twin brother, both played with style by Cage. This film is almost as imaginative as Jonze's earlier Being John Malkovich. Although it has several self-referential sections,and tautological imaginings of writers looking upon writing and the process. While that approach is usually deadly, here it works beautifully! Streep is involved in writing a story about an "orchid thief" who leads a weird but happy life. Enter Cage and his own story-hunting, and mayhem ensues. The interaction of the two brothers is the highlight of the film for me. Definitely interesting and different!

 

****

About Schmidt - With Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. Jack Nicoholson does not play his exact old self in this one, about a retiree trying to connect with his family and the world. I like the untraditional plot structure of this film, Nicholson's and Bates' performances, and the moving ending. Much of what I loved about this film is not easily isolated and identifiable - it's a good story, well-told.

 

****
The Nutty Professor
with Eddie Murphy - (video rental) - Wonderful comedy, with Murphy playing umpteen roles. Yes, it has bathroom humor. But it's a true tour-de-force of role-playing , in the Peter Sellers / Alec Guinness tradition. I especially enjoyed Murphy as a Godzilla-King Kong marauder of New York. Also his fat self was very loveable, which humanized the tale.

 

****
Election
(video rental) - Reese Witherspoon. This is a highly amusing story about a student who bedevils a teacher. Of course, that's a total simplification. Entertaining throughout.

2002

*****
Frida - The wonderfully told tale of the life of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and her lover / mentor / husband, muralist Diego Rivera. This film is told with high artistry, wit flying gold dust, amusing and entertaining animated sequences, realism, sex, love, power, battles of ideas and more. Absolutely rich and delightful!

****

Real Women Have Curves - Josefina Lopez delivers an excellent script and movie, based on her play about a family of hard-working Chicanas in the L.A. area. The youngest sister, played by America Ferrara, aspires to much more than the factory life of her mother and sister. Filled with buoyant humor. Sort of like a Mexican Big Fat Greek Wedding, but with more insight.

 

****

Far From Heaven - A great recreation of the 1950's, showing an upper middle class corporate family falling apart. Also, a poignant love story is told. Gorgeous scenes and lovely photography, plus excellent acting. Never reaches the high voltage that I think some scenes deserved, though. And I lived through the 1950's. It wasn't that slow!

 

*****

Autumn Spring - Directed by Vladimir Michaelek, 2001 - I absolutely adored this movie about a retirees in Czechoslovakia, two of whom are quixotic schemers and deceivers -- but i a good-hearted, innocent way. A man pretends to be a millionaire in order to tour a mansion and get a free lunch. He drives his wife crazy! She finally tames him... and then the unexpected happens. Absolutely filled with delight and love of life.

 

***

The Piano Teacher - Sado-masochistic tale of a piano teacher and her repressed personality, then strange erotic habits. It's a good story, but I found the ending unsatisfying. Others in my group who saw it thought it was fantastic.

 

****

Rodger Dodger - 2002. Campbell Scott plays a neurotic lover-type whose neurosis interferes with his success on all fronts. He shepherds a teenage relation in the ways of sex and women. A very well-told story.

 

****

Last Dance - a film by Mirra Bank - Jewish Film Festival at the Gershman Y, Philadelphia - This is a documentary abut the making of a dance-theater piece called "A Selection," by Pilobolus Dance Company. They dramatize a story by Maurice Sendak that concerns the performance of a musical by children of the Nazi "model Jewish camp." The interaction and conflicts between the dance company and author are remarkably candid and revealing. Their story told is a sad one - what could be sadder than children and Nazi death camps?

Amazingly, though, you come away from this evening seeing that something beautiful can be produced, without sugar-coating, and without leaving feeling depressed or deluded.

 

*****

Punch Drunk Love - Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This is a romantic thriller, whereas it's billed as a romantic comedy. No matter, this film has an excellent story, well-told and well-acted. Adam I wasn't a fan before, but I admit that Sandler is wonderful in this film.

 

****

Kissing Jessica Stein - Written, direct by and starring Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt - An entertaining story about a woman who -- as a result of a coircumstance and an opportunity -- funds herself exploring a lesbian relationship. She surprises herself, not to mention those around her. Of course, that's too neat a summary.

In between, there are lovers, tense experiences and a whole lot of humor. These creative women worked on this as a play in New York before it was filmed. I bet that helped its flow considerably.

 

****

Last Orders - Written and directed by Fred Schepisi. With Michael Caine, David Hemmings and others. A tale of life-long buddies now in their late middle age or early retirement phase, who must disperse the ashes of their now dead drinking buddy. Very little about the dispersing, it;s more about the dreams, loves, and aspirations of these men over the years. Very well done.

****

Y Tu Mama Tambien, directed by Alfonso Cuaron - Excellent, sexy, rough and vulgar, this movie talle sthe tale of two Mexian teens who go off on an adventure with a middle-aged woman. A great deal hapens among them, and it all makes sense and entertains us. In the end there is poignancy but enough said. The film will be too sexy or trashy for some people.

 

*****

Monsoon Wedding - directed by Mira Nair. A funny, warm, colorful and moving tale of an Indian wedding. It has 5 sub-plots, all interesting. This is a delightful movie worth recommending to just about anyone!

2001

Harry Potter - Amusing journey.

****

The Fellowship of the Ring - Maybe the story;line is cliched, but this production is still very powerful stuff. Lots f strong emotions and matchingly great effects to keep me attuned.

 

*****
Amelie -
a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This is a thoroughly delightful, comedic movie about a young woman who has a desire to improve the lives of others. She develops stratagems to help people fall in love, to make malicious buffoons mend their ways, to help her father expand his horizons and more.

Her guiles continually surprise us, and the movie plays with great style upon our minds. Amelie is played by Audrey Tatou, who is xtraordinary and captivating. The film teems with inventiveness. and with the spirit and wisdom of European civilization.

Although Jeunet uses rapid montage and other modern techniques, these effects never submerge the story, which is mainly abut romance, life, and the need to take risks in both.

It was shot in 80 different Parisian locations and is visually beautiful. Plus, the film has a great soul. It's one of the best movies I have seen in a long time!

****

Under the Sun - 2001, produced and directed by Colin Nutley, based on a story by H.E. Bates called "The Little Farm." This is a Swedish film made by an English director. He casts his real-life wife as the character Ellen, played by Helena Bergstrom. She is a beautiful woman who signs up as a housekeeper to a lonely farmer, Olof (Rolf Lassgard). The love and passion that grows between them is so strong, you feel as though you have stepped into a real 3-dimensional sensual relationship. Olof's snake-in-the-grass friend, Erik (Johan Widenberg), proviodes the necessary spice to make this a real story. I loved this film forn its beauty and passion, though I suppose not everyone will feel that way.

 

****
Together.
2000. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson. Called Tillsammans in Swedish. This is a funny and involving movie about members of a Swedish commune called Together.
The leader, a red-headed bearded man seems to be at the moral and philosophical center of the tale. His lover is having an affair with a leftist member of the group. Yet the bearded fellow can feel no anger or jealousy -- that he will admit to, anyway. What ultimately happens on that score, I'll leave you to see.
Another couple is falling apart because the woman is discovering her lesbian inclinations and putting the make on every female in sight. Her previous male lover, meanwhile, is being courted by the commune's sole transvestite. These scenes, which could be sad, are played well as comedy and offer many surprises. More characters and situations add pathos to the story, but I won't go into them here.

Perhaps the heart of the movie belongs to the kids in it. They protest against their elders for the right to eat meat and watch TV, among other things.A girl from the commune and a chubby, cute boy next door find they have an interest in each other. Their scenes are touching and often funny.

This movie is about love, aspirations, being open to new situations and learning from what the present delivers.
A thoroughly refreshing movie experience!

****

Bread and Tulips - 2001 - A fine romantic comedy, set primarily in the visual splendor of Venice. This movie was directed by Silvio Sildini, and written by him and Doriana Leondeff. It stars Licia Magietta as Rosalba. It is the story of a bored Italian houiseife, married to a loutish industrialist husband. (He has no redeeming virtues, so don't looks for nuances.) Her teenage sons are also rude. On a trip to Greece, the family leaves Rosalba behind. Rather than stay and be retrieved, she hitchhikes to Venice, which she has never seen before. There, she meets interesting, eccentric people. Rather than say what happens, let's just hint that interesting, romantic and other events transpire. Rosalba's husband hires a detective to track her down. He is played by Giuseppe Massironi, who is squarely in the tradition of talented, corpulent comedic actors. An entertaining film worth seeing!

 

****

Ghost World - 2001 - An entertaining tale about two young women who decide to toy with a lonely man. The results are ssurprising. Stars Thora Burch, Steve Buscemi, and Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Terry Zwigoff.

 

*****

Divided We Fall - 2000 - A Czech film directed by Jan Hrebejk - A wonderful movie about love, betrayal, finding friends in unexpected places, role reversals among hunters and the hunted, and more. A Czech family shelters a Jewish refugee while under Nazi occupation. Among the dilemmas is the nature of an apparent friend of the family, a man named Holst, who is also a Czech collaborator and now an SS officer. The husband and wife are called Joseph and Marie (and I realize only in retrospect that these names have some significance.) They are trying to get Marie pregnant. This fact has an important role in the movie, and it is better not to say more about it here.

Powerful and emotional, this film has an important message about humanity surving by sticking together. And yet there's no preaching here, just terrific story-telling. Despite some slow spots, I give it my highest rating. It takes you places where a great films should go.

The director has some eloquent words to say about his own film. They might sound inauthentic had he not produced a work as fine as he has. Here is what Jan Hrebejk said: "For me, the film's story is my personal reflection on the strength of human dignity. It demonstrates that even a small show of decency can manifest great heroism and, conversely, that sometimes a small indecency can be tragic."

 

***

Made - 2001 - Written and directed by Jon Favreau, and starring him and movie team-mate Vince Vaughn. A story about two would-be thugs who are also pals, one stupider than the other. Favreau's character has scruples, thgough. He wants to help his wife escape prostitution and drug addiction. Doing "a job" for Mafioso Peter Falk looks like a way out. This takes them into the world of big-time drug dealing. Vince Vaughn's character makes every social mistake possible. Watching him makes you cringe, because you see him as a prisoner of his own character defects. And at times, this personality flaw results in hilarious scenes, as in an argument about whether to pack a gun. They have this furious argument in the Penguin House of the Bronzx Zoo, and somehow even the penguins seem to feed off the tension with their screeches. The movie has a warm human heart, as you will also see.

 

****

This Boy's Life - (rental) - Leonardo DeCaprio, Ellen Barkin and Robert Deniro. Based on the real life story of writer Tobias Wolff, this movie begins with young Toby and his Mom cruising the southwest, lloking for furture or just place to live. Their downflaa is the town of Concrete, in the state of washguington, where his Mom takes up with a loutish, hard-drinking man (played by DeNiro), who torments Toby's every hour. Toby develops an escape plan. The poewre of the movie lies not in this simple plot, but in the believable way in which the story is told, and the genuine anguish of the young man lliving out his existence under a pseudo-father's thgumb. DeNiro is brilliantly hateful.

****

Shrek - I very much enjoyed wonderful animated flick about an ogre, Shrek, who finds himself in the position of rescuing a damsel in distress. Eddie Murphy's voice does wonders as the ogre's companion, a talkative donkey. John Lithgow's voice does a good job as a King who has asked for the damsel to be delivered to him. In return, he will liberate a legion of storybook characters who have take over the ogre's swamp. There's more, including a fabulous female dragon, a lunatic Robin Hood, and many comical, humorously rendered characters.

What I have not yet conveyed in writing about this movie is the warmth and humor of the script. It's very funny and written for adult minds, having a very wry sense of tiself. Among the targets: Disney, mother goose rhymes and more. The computer animation works because gestures are apprpriate to the script and sensitively rendered. A fun film with many laughs!

 

****

The Widow of St. Pierre - Based on a real incident that took place in french Quebec in 1849, this remarkable film takes the viewer on an emotional, historical journey. In the film, a killer is arrested by the local militia. A captain is in charge of the garrison guarding the prisoner. His wife, played by Juliette Binoche, takes a mainly humanitarian interest in rehablitating him. Her husband, played by Daniel Auteuil, defends his wife's right to rehab the prisoner. He sson becomes too popular. The captian comes into conflict with his superiors. Meanwhile, a guillotine is on its way from Martinique. What happens from here on forms the basic outcome of the story, which is powerful and rich.Worth seeing!

**

Memento - I found Memento confusing, depressing, and ultimately unrewarding. Others may well enjoy its fst paced and intellectual teasing game about: What is going on? and What did he really do? Now it's true that I don't enjoy most detective movies -- but did enjoy for exmaple LA Confidential and Chinatown. This one seemed to have little soul, no characters I cared about, and more than its share of unnecessary confuision. That's perfect for people who like to solve puzzles in movies. Not one of my delights! I do give the picture some credit for stylishness and a bit more for provoking curiosity.

2000

****

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - A visual feast of a movie, complete with a solid story line and incredible martial arts scenes. The swordplay is especially well-done. Now, understand that I am not fan of the martial arts genre. In fact, had this film not received all of the critical hoopla that s has, I probably would have run in the opposite direction. But I think it deserves much of the praise it has gotten. Be prepared for sense where people "fly." It happens in a way that is both poetic and exciting. This is a love story, and a tale of revenge and multiple betrayals.

 

*****

You Can Count On Me - Now I happen to have loved this film. I feel it tells a rich, moving story, deals with relatively real and believable characters, and has character, wit and warmth. This is the story of a single mom and bank employee who is trying to raise her son. She has trouble finding care for him, so she invites her ne'er-do-well brother, played by Mark Ruffalo, to come help her out. This causes interesting developments.

What more can I ask for in a basically serious film? Laura Linney is the only actress you might have heard of in this one, so don’t go expecting marquee names. The script is by Kenneth Loneran, and I would love to see more from him, since he is an excellent talent.

 

****

Chocolat - Juliette Binoche stars as a the owner of a new exotic chocolate shop in a provincial town. Her enemy is the mayor, who regards her as nearly an incarnation of the devil. This sets the stage for conflict, and chocolate sensuality. Johnny Depp provides a romantic interest. All in all, a charming flick. Yes, a bit on the syrupy side, but the perfect antidote to chilly winter nights.

 

****

What Women Want - A light, enjoyable comedy starring Mel Gibson as a male chauvinist, idea-stealing advertising executive. Helen Hunt plays his new, talented and threatening boss. Mel develops an unusual talent part-way through the movie -- he can read women's minds. This dynamic sets up some frothy comedy, with very amusing scenes. This movie gives you a fun time at the movies; just don’t go with super-high expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.

***

Billy Eliot - This is a mildly charming story about a British boy who wants to become a dancer. His coal-miner father and brother do not understand and resent it. A kindly but crusty female ballet teacher takes young Billy Eliot under her wing. Predictable, a bit thin on story line. But several of my friends found this movie fabulous.

 

****

Best of Show - This is a campy, invigorating comedy about eccentric dog owners preparing for a big dog show. Very comical portraits! Actors improvised some of the scenes, and they did excellent jobs. Actor/director/co-writer Christopher Guest gets most of the credit and turns in the funniest character.

****

Life is to Whistle - A brilliant, surrealistic Cuban film. Concerns, love,
sex, abandoned orphans, a dancer playing Giselle who rejects her lover,
being married to God and her profession; a hysterical middle aged woman
who faints at the word sex, and more.


****
Aimee and Jaguar - Lesbians in love under Nazi repression, family devotion vs. passion and more. Excellent. Serious, but hot horrifying, as it well could have been given Nazi depradations.

****

Michael Jordan to the Max - If you enjoy great basketball, this one is for you. Michael is 5 stories high (seen at our IMAX in King of Prussia, PA). Best are the up-close action shots, where you see what goes on in such much better detail than you do even at a game or on TV. It is a piece of idolatry, but if you have to idolize an athlete, he's not a bad one. 60 minutes long. Did not see the second feature, In the Deep, which costs $10 additional.

 

****

Chicken Run - A comical "Stalag 17" on imprisoned chickens, in pixelated animation with Mel Gibson as the lead rooster. Very entertaining! This is like claymation but with a more malleable plasticene as the main medium. What makes this work are the excellent writing and amusingly voiced characters. It has a good villainess, too.

 

*****

East is East - A tale of a Pakistani family in London. The dad wants to marry off his sons to traditional Pakistani émigré women, but the sons are unwilling. This is a great oversimplification of a dynamic, touching, sometimes frightening movie. It also has one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in a flick! Very enjoyable. Be ready for some family violence. The best movie I've seen this year.

 

****

Frequency - Very deftly told story about a father in 1969 communicating with his son in 1999. This is a crime drama, a sci-fi flick, a sensitively portrayed family story, and much more. Beautifully interwoven, and suspenseful. You must pay close attention to follow the denouement.

 

****

Small Time Crooks - Cute and comical from Woody Allen. Crooks and high society, schlubs and aspiring nouveau riche. Worth going out to see for a few light laughs.

 

****

Bossa Nova - Romantic and often funny tale of Amy Irving and her beaus in Rio de Janeiro. Diverting, and as one critic said, makes you feel like you just had a good, inexpensive foreign vacation.

 

 

****

Yana's Friends. Directed by Arik Kaplun. I saw this film as part of the Israeli Film Festival here in Philadelphia. An enjoyable comedy-romance about a Russian immigrant woman who comes to Israel with her husband. He soon abandons her, pregnant and in debt. She take sup with a videographer who lives next door and treats her well. However, he is a voyeur. Set during the Persian Gulf war, there's sex with gas masks on and other such goings on. A wonderful sub-plot involves an elderly Israeli war veteran in a wheelchair who is used by as a beggar by a younger couple, who profit by donations given him. Sounds grim, but it's basically played as a campy thing, which many wheelchair out of control scenes. The director and female lead were in the audience that night.

****

Erin Bronkovich with Julia Roberts and Albert Finney. An entertaining story about a down-on-her luck Mom who gets a job in a law office. One thing leads to another, and soon she is taking on a major utility in a class action suit.

**

Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas. Scattered tale of a pot-smoking novelist professor, and a weird young man he takes an interest in. Douglas, the novelist, also has an affair with a colleague's wife. Why he finds her attractive is hard to figure -- she's humorless. A shaggy dog tale packaged as a movie.

 

****

The End of the Affair, with Raiphe Fiennes and Julianne Moore. A tale of tormented passion, Fiennes' specialty. But he is so good at it. Moore is convincing, too. Rainy and perhaps dreary to some, to my mind it was sharply passionate except for some dull moments. A good passion story.

1999

*****

Man on the Moon. By Milos Forman. With Jim Carrey, Courtney Love. A fabulous rendering of the Andy Kaufman story. I love the imagination of the man, as a performance artist, limits-pusher and comedian.

****

The Talented Mr. Ripley. With Matt Damon. A gorgeous movie, well-acted with surprises. Be ready to meet a real sicko.

 

****

Liberty Heights. By Barry Levinson. 1999. Engaging story of a Jewish mobster in Baltimore in the 1950's, and his son's romantic trials. Themes of racism and anti-semitism play against a mostly warm and comedic landscape.

****

Being John Malkovich. 1999. directed by Slike Jonez. John Cusack. Off-beat totally unique premise -- that people can enter the head of John Malkovich through a portal on a floor of an office building. But the premise is not the only good thing about this flick -- the follow-through is also lively and inventive. One slightly violent mid-section mars the piece, but not overly.

****

American Beauty. 1999. With Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening. A sad story about two adolescents who find each other (one is the voyeuristic next-door-neighbor), a bored middle-aged man who lusts after his daughter's girlfriend, a homophobic neighbor, a real-estate-crazed wife, and more. Well, told and highly visual, this story is witty and sad. I found it mainly enjoyable and interesting, but often too cynical and sad for my taste. But most of my friends liked it more than I did.

****

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. Delightful story about a husband who has something to hide. Has farcical aspects, such as conversations heard through shadowed doorways, mistaking one person for another, etc. Wilde's wit comes shining through, though not on a par with The Importance of Being Earnest.

 

**

Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. An overrated snooze. Has an excellent story and great visual scenes. But the pace is soooooo sloooooow. I found myself looking at my watch often.

 

****

Autumn Tale by Eric Rohmer. Excellent story of middle-aged love found, lost, maybe found again. Includes a somewhat unbelievanle premise, but more than compensated for by the realistic dialogue, sensititve portrayals both in writing, directing and acting, and the wholeness of the characters. Would that Americans could make this kind of movie! (Did Cassavetes do as well? Someone get back to me on that. )

****

Notting Hill, with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. A charming comedy about a big-time movie actress who descends into the life of a struggling bookstore owner in a lazy neighborhood in England. The script works well, and Hugh Grant emanates charm and amiable diffidence.

*****

The Spy Who Shagged Me by Mike Myers, with Heather Graham - Suffice it to say that I laughed so hard, that Martha practically had to kick me to keep me from gagging. Yes, it had bad jokes that fell flat or worse, but any movie that sends me sprawling with hysterical laughter gets my 100% vote of appreciation.

 

****

Limbo directed by John Sayles - with Mary Elizabeth Mastranonio, David Strathairn, and Vanessa Martizez. Absorbing tale of Alaskans who meet and become involved in something unexpected. The central relationships are powerful and credible, which are the great strengths of this movie. Keeping it from being great are a scrip that you can hear being read by the actors during the first half of the movie, and an ending that I found unsatisfying. Withal, an enjoyable flick.

 

*****

Analyze This - Bill Crystal and Robert Deniro. A hilarious comedy about a mob boss who needs therapy, with Crystal as the unwilling therapist. The 2nd in command capo, "Jelly," steals the show in my opinion. Lots of belly laughs, even if you're not a therapist.

1998

*****

Life Is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni. This film is by Italy's "clown prince." As you must have heard, it mixes the pathos and beyond-words brutality of the holocaust with a whimsical romance, and family tale. Some people were bothered by this odd admixture. Not me. I loved the story, enjoyed the buffoonery, and did not fault its unbelievable aspects.

Some people are very sensitive to this kind of film. If films dealing with any aspect of the Holocaust bother you, skip this movie. Otherwise, rest assured that it is nowhere near as gut-wrenching as, for example Sophie's Choice. Nor is it trying to be that kind of film. Rather, it's a simple, romantic, uplifting, and wonderful picture.