This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of October to December 2012


“Oslo, August 31”-Anders Danielsen Lie powerfully and sympathetically plays Anders, a recovering drug addict who is experiencing an existential crisis which begins with an attempt to drown himself. Having been given overnight leave from his drug rehab program, Anders returns to Oslo for a job interview. But it seems that at every point of his trip, things just don’t help. Danielsen Lie (who is a physician as well as an actor) does a brilliant job of portraying a man who sees little or no joy, whether visiting an old friend and his wife with their new baby (all he sees is the boredom of their humdrum lives), attending a party with old friends and acquaintances, or flirting with a beautiful young woman. His frustrations are made worse by his sister’s refusal to meet him at a restaurant (allegedly out of concern about his newborn freedom from drug rehab) and his inability to communicate with his old love Iselin (who lives in New York and never answers her phone or returns his messages). Directed by Joachim Trier, this is not a happy movie but it is a deep one on the serious issue of mental health, for those who are willing to be challenged. (In Norwegian with English subtitles.) B+ (12/30/12)


“Footnote”-I imagine that rivalry and jealousy can be a serious problem in the world of academia. This must be especially true among research scholars, some of whom are trying to beat their colleagues by publishing their findings first in order to achieve fame and recognition. In this wonderfully funny and yet painfully touching Israeli film, the rivalry is not only among unrelated professors of Talmudic studies but between a father and a son. When we see the almost constant scowl on the face of Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) while his son, Professor Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi), is being admitted to the “Academy,” an honor the father never received, it becomes painfully obvious that there is a serious problem between the two. Written and directed by Joseph Cedar, “Footnote” makes sure we understand the roots of the hostility as it is made clear that Eliezer did detailed research for 30 years only to be out-published by a fortuitous discovery of a colleague, Professor Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), and Eliezer has never recovered. What makes it worse is that the colleague is on the committee to decide the winner of the Israel Prize and has effectively stopped Eliezer from winning that prize for 20 years. As Uriel has succeeded as a research scholar, Eliezer has simply become more and more resentful of his own son. At least until one day when Eliezer receives a phone call telling him that he has won the Israel Prize. Eliezer’s scowl disappears and he lights up. However, there is one big problem: the prize committee intended the prize for Uriel and notified Eliezer in error. What follows is a breathtaking exposure of emotions of love, jealousy, and enmity. This is a stunning portrayal of human frailty in a place and situation one would usually not expect it. But there it is nevertheless. Lior Ashkenazi is outstanding as the son who knows of his father’s feelings and yet struggles to be fair. In one incredible scene, Uriel brilliantly and emotionally confronts the members of the prize committee after they tell him of the mistake that has been made. Shlomo Bar-Aba does a powerful job of portraying a bitter and sad man. Alma Zack is also notable as Uriel’s supportive (mostly) wife. This is a highly recommended and very human film. (In Hebrew with English subtitles). A (12/28/12)


“The Well Digger’s Daughter”- Based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol with a screenplay by actor/director Daniel Auteuil, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” takes us back to the period at the beginning of WW I. The location is the lovely French countryside where Pascal Amoretti (Auteuil), whose dirty occupation is digging and repairing deep wells, is a widower with five daughters. The eldest, Patricia (the lovely Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), was away at a convent in Paris for awhile but has returned to care for her younger sisters. Unfortunately, she is naïve in the ways of men and one day meets the handsome and wealthy Jacques Mazel (Nicholas Duvauchelle), an air force pilot who is the son of a wealthy local merchant. Although she has been wooed by her father’s pleasant and sincere, but not particularly handsome co-worker, Félipe Rambert (Kad Merad), Patricia falls very quickly for Jacques. But before any real relationship can develop, Jacques is off to the war and Patricia, who is now pregnant, has no idea that Jacques made an attempt to communicate with her before he left because his efforts at communication were sabotaged by his jealous mother (Sabine Azéma). After word reaches the Mazels that their son was shot down and likely killed in the war, attention switches to Pascal, a man of many moods, concerning his daughter who has “dishonored him” and his “bastard” grandson. In the end, Auteuil overdoes it somewhat as a man who vacillates between love and hate: hate for his daughter and her bastard child for undoing his honor, or great love for his lovely daughter because of the grandson she has brought him. Despite a fine cast and gorgeous scenery, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” borders a little too much on soap opera and has the kind of ending to go with it. (In French with English subtitles) B (12/27/12)


“Pina”-Wim Wenders is a tremendous documentarian and one of my favorites is his 1999 film, “Buena Vista Social Club,” a delightful exposure to a group of aging musicians in Havana. Wenders had been planning “Pina” with choreographer Pina Bausch, the subject. However, she died in 2009 just before the film could be made. So what did Wenders do? He employed the tremendous Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dance company to celebrate the life of their choreographer by performing her dances in a variety of settings, from the stage, the street, on trains, and out in nature. Intermingled with comments by the dancers (who are never actually seen moving their mouths), Wenders presents Bausch’s eccentric, whimsical, and in some cases downright thrilling creations, celebrating human movement, emotions, eccentricities, love, and joy. Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is performed on a stage covered with sand; “Café Müller” is performed in and among a large number of chairs as the participants walk, dance, trip and crash around the chairs; and one number occurs on and around a boulder on the stage as water pours down on the dancers who splash and otherwise play in the water and on the boulder in an astoundingly original and thrilling manner. In one of the most strangely powerful scenes, the dancers are seen in street clothing simply marching in unison, moving their arms in a synchronized manner to an ancient and haunting Louis Armstrong number. The performances are breathlessly beautiful and the mood and excitement of Pina Bausch's creativity is captured perfectly. If you love dance and particularly if you love truly original creativity, this movie is for you. Don’t miss it. “Pina” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. A (12/25/12)


“The Deep Blue Sea”-A remake of a 1955 film which starred Vivian Leigh and Kenneth More, “The Deep Blue Sea” is an intensely sad film. Taking place in London a few years after World War II, it stars Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer, a young woman who is making a complete hash of her life. When the film begins we are already seeing Hester preparing herself for suicide when, as it turns out, some of the worst events in her life are yet to come. Hester is in a loveless marriage to an older man, a lord, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). When the film begins, she is already living apart from her husband and with a boyfriend, Freddie Page, a WW II veteran played by Tom Hiddleston, and it’s soon obvious that this relationship isn’t working as well. If the purpose of this story (from a play by Terence Rattigan) is to show the depths of despair that a person can reach, it is successful. Rachel Weisz is brilliant in the part of a woman failing at life and love. But there are two glaring weaknesses. One is the casting of Tom Hiddleston as Freddie. I felt absolutely no chemistry between Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz and the idea of her being madly in love with this man seemed incredible. Also, the filmmakers use an old clichéd technique of a slightly blurred hazy image to give the feeling of a story taking place in the past. It doesn’t work, it isn’t necessary, and it detracts from whatever enjoyment one can get from this sorrowful tale. My rating of this film is based primarily on Rachel Weisz’s heartbreaking performance. B+ (12/24/12)


“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”-Despite an eccentric and almost off-putting title (which actually is a pretty accurate description of what the movie is about), this romantic comedy is a delight from the likes of Director Lasse Hallstrom. Emily Blunt is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the representative of the benign Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) who wants to bring salmon fishing to a river in Yemen as part of a general plan to enhance the environment for the Yemeni people. With the political encouragement of the British Prime Minister’s tough-talking press officer, Patricia Maxwell (played with tremendous pizzazz and humor by Kristin Scott Thomas), who is looking for some upbeat news from the Middle East, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), the completely cynical and somewhat socially stiff British salmon fishing expert, is pushed into joining Harriet and the Sheikh in carrying out a plan that he at first considers impossible. Combine this rather unique situation with the fact that Harriet’s boyfriend is missing in action in Afghanistan and Dr. Jones’ marriage is coming apart and you get a film that covers a variety of important political issues along with a perfect opportunity for romance, and is also touching and funny. The film has deservedly been nominated for three Golden Globe awards. The cast is a delight to watch. A- (12/23/12)


“Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff”-Just who are the mysterious people behind the scenes in the making of great movies? One look at the titles at the end of most films will demonstrate that there are literally thousands whose names are not known and who remain faceless despite tremendous contributions. When I started this documentary I couldn’t identify Jack Cardiff although his name sounded vaguely familiar. By the time the film had finished I’d discovered that he was one of the most important filmmakers in British cinema in the 20th Century. Through interviews with Cardiff himself, who died in 2009 at age 94, and friends and admirers, including Martin Scorsese, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Kim Hunter and Alan Parker, this film directed by Craig McCall reveals how Cardiff began as one of the finest and most creative cinematographers in the English cinema, shooting classics like “Black Narcissus,” “The African Queen,” “The Red Shoes,” and the controversial Olivier/Monroe epic, “The Prince and the Showgirl.” But Cardiff also transitioned to directing and hit the jackpot with one of his first efforts, the classic black and white “Sons and Lovers,” based on the novel by D. H. Lawrence. Cardiff won a well deserved honorary Oscar in 2001. His story is one every person who loves the cinema should know about. Recommended for film buffs. B+ (12/22/12)


“Lola Versus”-In a setting reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls,” Greta Gerwig plays Lola, a young woman in New York who seems to have it all as the film begins. She is engaged to marry her boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and is working on her Ph.D. She has friends of both gender and she’s happy. And then her life falls apart when Luke backs out of the engagement. Lola can’t handle it and her reaction is a genuine one. She starts eating too much, complaining to her best friend Alice (the very funny Zoe Lister Jones), and sleeping around without much thought. She leads her friend, Henry (Hamish Linklater), to think she’s switched from Luke to him, but then he discovers she has also been with a smooth but vapid local guy, Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). One of the problems with the film is that Greta Gerwig, who does a wonderful job of seeming natural, looks a little too good. In a sense, it’s probably hard for an audience to believe that someone that has all that she has could be so distraught in her circumstances. Especially since Luke keeps coming back because he’s not sure what he wants. The biggest problem with the movie is the ending, what one might call the sudden mental switcharoo. It just doesn’t usually work that way in life. B (12/21/12)


“Total Recall”- This film is an incoherent mess. When the story begins, it’s well into the future and the Earth has turned into the same dark dreary ultra-urban planet (no sunlight and no grass to be seen anywhere) we’ve seen in so many sci-fi films. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker (married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale)), who commutes by The Fall, an advanced high speed intraplanetary form of transportation, between the two remaining human territories (the United Federation of Britain and The Colony--formerly known as Australia). But Quaid, who has a recurring dream of battling government troops along with a female sidekick (Jessica Biel), decides to try out “Rekall,” a company that promises to implant exciting but fictional memories. Quaid decides on the “secret agent” option, but as we see it, before anything can actually be done to Quaid, Rekall discovers that he has real memories of being an agent and almost immediately government troops invade the Rekall facility. Everyone is killed except, of course, Quaid. Through a series of glamorous high tech procedures (a phone within Quaid’s hand, for example), Quaid discovers that he is actually Carl Hauser, an agent who worked for the evil Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and that Lori is actually an undercover agent monitoring Quaid and now prepared to kill him. From this point on, “Total Recall” turns into one gigantic high tech sci-fi chase/battle (Quaid/Hauser and his new girlfriend, Melina (Biel) fighting off the Chancellor’s troops and siding with Resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy)), with loads of high speed action, explosions, and bullets and other weapons fired in all directions. I found that it got so silly that I no longer cared who was who and what was “real” (if one could possibly use that word in a story of this sort). C (12/20/12)


“The Bourne Legacy”- If you have been following the previous Bourne films (starring Matt Damon as the famous or infamous Bourne), you would know that there is a project within the highest levels of the US intelligence community (CIA and Defense) known as Treadstone, one of several similar projects which have been leading to great embarrassment for the agency leaders. Of course, if you were able to track all the ins and outs of the double-crossing, murders/suicides, and intrigue involving Bourne and Treadstone you’d be something of a genius. But it doesn’t really matter since Matt Damon as Bourne does not appear in this film other than as a still photo, because this isn’t really about Bourne. No, this time, the story centers on Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a CIA agent who lives off a controlled chemical diet of prescribed pills and is undergoing rigorous training in the far north. But it doesn’t take long before we experience an opening highly reminiscent of the great 1975 thriller “Three Days of the Condor,” as Cross finds himself the target of a drone missile and, at virtually the same time, a CIA scientist guns down everyone in his lab with the exception of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who manages to escape. It doesn’t take long for Dr. Shearing, with the aid of Aaron Cross, to realize that they are targets for death. On the run, Dr. Shearing promises to help Cross with the chemical imbalance created by the agency, but they must travel to a lab in Manila, in the Philippines to do so. And so, like so many other modern day thrillers, the good guys stay just a step ahead of the bad guys in order to escape the high level government murderers in a very fast paced high tech chase across continents. The evil leaders are played by Scott Glenn as the CIA director, Edward Norton as a retired colonel put in charge of killing off the agents, and Stacy Keach as Retired Admiral Turso. If it is to be judged strictly on action, “The Bourne Legacy” would get a high rating as the action rarely stops, but to rise above the norm, a film of this nature requires something of an intelligent and cohesive script and, unfortunately, that was nowhere to be found. As “The Bourne Legacy” is little more than a virtually unceasing chase film, it deserves no more than a C (12/18/12)


“Moonrise Kingdom”-Writer/director Wes Anderson has a popular following and receives lots of praise for his eccentric films, including “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” but his approach to storytelling and filmmaking often just doesn’t work for me. In fact, it seems to me that Anderson must occupy something of an alternative universe, one in which quirky people in strange places are doing things unlike what one would expect of similar characters in the real world. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson takes us to a fictional New England island world populated by an eccentric scout troop (the Khaki Scouts, led by rigid characters such as Scout Master Ward, played by Edward Norton); Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a lonely but sympathetic police officer; and two funky married lawyers (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) with a large family. That family includes Suzy (Kara Heyward), a 12-year old who falls for Sam (Jared Gilman), a Khaki Scout outsider who has abandoned the Scouts and offered Suzy a chance to escape into their own little (romantic?) world. Although the premise sounds promising as some kind of commentary on modern society, the delivery isn’t because the characters are cartoonish and the setting far too unlikely. Even the character who does the narrating (played by Bob Balaban) looks like an émigré from Santa’s North Pole. I was left cold with a gigantic feeling of “so what?” at the end. C (12/16/12)


“Beasts of the Southern Wild”-I seem to have been immersed recently in tales about Louisiana, New Orleans, and the Bayou country. Tales such as HBO’s “Treme,” which covers the stories of the lives of a series of characters in post-Katrina New Orleans, ranging from a chef to a DJ to an investigating lawyer to musicians to real estate predators to cops; and James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels, including “Creole Belle,” about Parish cops and pseudo cops dealing with some pretty awful human beings who inhabit the Bayou country. But “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an entirely different animal. This highly original film is about survival and love in an unstructured world and centers around a six year old girl named Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry). Wink and Hushpuppy live in squalor in an area south of the levee in the Bayou country, an area they call “The Bathtub.” And when a gigantic storm hits (Katrina?), the bathtub becomes full. Not only that but when the glaciers are seen to be melting, The Bathtub is invaded by a group of ancient aurochs. Wink and Hushpuppy battle each other and the the forces of modernism, as they struggle along with their neighbors to survive. Dwight Henry, who is a really a baker, is outstanding as the obsessed and driven Wink, but young Quvenzhané Wallis provides a memorable performance, one that could well earn her an Oscar nomination. Also, rather unusual is the fact that the film is the product of director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin, a native of New York City. A- (12/8/12)


“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”-We are initially introduced to a group of aging Brits who are, for a variety of reasons, unhappy with their lot in life in England and have decided to move to a hotel in Jaipur, India that looked great in its brochure. When they arrive they find that the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is not quite as advertised, but most eventually settle in to life in the hotel. This film is about hopes and dreams, from those of the enthusiastic young hotel manager, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”), who wants to marry his girlfriend Sunaina (Tena Desae) and make his father’s hotel a success despite the opposition of his overbearing mother, and the negativity of Sunaina’s brother, to those of the guests, including Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), a widow trying to start over; Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), a retired judge with a secret seeking an important person from his past; Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), an elderly woman in a wheelchair seeking medical help in India despite her prejudices; Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton), a miserably unhappy woman who has accompanied her easygoing husband, Douglas (Bill Nighy); and finally Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), two lonely people seeking love and companionship despite their advanced years. This brilliant cast is a delight to watch, and the story, even when a little painful, is touching although it begins to feel a little bit like a fantasy at the end. But the film is also visually enchanting because of the vivid and lovely colors and scenery of Jaipur. Recommended. B+ (11/23/12)


“Hysteria”- This is an amusing film about a touchy subject: the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England. The director, Tanya Wexler, herself admitted that she wasn’t sure it could be done. But in a strange and charming way, it was done successfully although there are a few scenes that might turn some people off. Hugh Dancy is Mortimer Granville, a young physician who believes in modern medicine, contrary to the old-fashioned attitudes of the powers-that-be in the medical profession in the London of the late 1800s. Although he seems desirous of standard practice, Granville finds himself employed by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) a women’s “hysteria” specialist whose treatment is something that would send a doctor to prison today. Seems “hysteria” was the diagnosis of the day for virtually all female problems and the stimulating solution was aimed at the female nervous system. Although Dr. Dancy follows Dr. Dalrymple’s practices, and is initially attracted to and engaged to Dalrymple’s younger daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones), it is Dalrymple’s highly intelligent and feminist older daughter, Charlotte, played with great enthusiasm by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who winds up having the greatest impact on Dr. Granville’s attitudes, as well as the ultimate invention of the vibrator by Granville with the help of Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett). The cast does a fine job in an unusual dramatic situation for actors to find themselves. Of note among the patients is Kim Criswell as Mrs. Castellari who is shown to be definitely enjoying her treatment! B (10/24/12)


“The Avengers”-A bunch of sort-of super men (Robert Downey, Jr., as Iron Man; Chris Evans as Captain America; and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, the Hulk) and woman (Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow). Hostile alien creatures arriving through a tear in the space-time continuum. A couple of gods (Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as the evil Loki). And a gigantic (CGI) computer graphics battle all over the streets of New York. Wow, very stimulating moviemaking!! Unless you are an unremitting comic books fan, I’d miss this waste of time for anyone over the age of 12. C- (10/20/12)


“Prometheus”-A prequel of sorts to “Alien,” one of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time, also directed by Ridley Scott, a film that left me with numb hands from squeezing the handles of my theater seat, “Prometheus” failed to produce a similar result. There is little to say positive about this film. A couple of archaeologists (Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw and Logan Marshall-Green as Charlie Holloway) come across wall paintings in caves which they interpret as signs of ancient creators of mankind. It doesn’t take them long to convince Peter Weyland, the dying head of a major corporation (Guy Pearce in awful old-man makeup), to sponsor an intergalactic trip to a distant planet where they hope to find these creators, whom they call the “engineers.” After traveling for more than two years in space, under the direction of an android named David (Michael Fassbender), they awaken and we learn quickly that the entire crew consists of a bunch of dolts. It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that these people, who seem to be acting like five year olds (one actually says, after they land on this eerie planet and know that daylight is waning, that he wants to get out of the ship immediately because he wants to open his Christmas presents), as well as unprofessionally, considering the assignment they’ve been given, are making very stupid decisions guaranteed to result in disaster. The filmmakers must think that none of us have seen the “Alien” films or other sci-fi space films like them. The disasters that befall this rather dull group of characters seem taken right out of the script from “Alien.” There are also a couple of misleading and unexplained scenes, including the opening scene (through the titles) and an act of betrayal by David. Charlize Theron appears as Vickers, the leader of the excursion, and Idris Elba is the rough, tough captain of the ship. The performances of Elba and Fassbender are the best things in the film and that’s not saying a lot. The film’s ridiculous ending clearly leads to a sequel. Good luck. C- (10/13/12)

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