Category Archives: Drama

Aardvark

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

You gotta like a writer/director (Brian Shoaf in this case) who names his movie in part because it will be listed first alphabetically in Netflix.  (so no, “aardvark” has no relationship to the plot, although there are clips from the zoo of an aardvark at various points) This film transcends genres.

Is it a creepy horror? The lead character, Josh, (wonderfully played by Zachary Quinto) shows up for his first psychotherapy session with a weird haircut (think punk rock star wannabe), a blank stare, and an obsession with his “genius” TV star brother. Is he psychotic, schizo, a serial killer with a super depressing apartment to fit? He “sees” his brother everywhere, in the homeless lady in the alley (“he’s a master of disguise”), in the neighborhood cop who entices him to joy ride on some stolen bikes, in the local teenage bullies. Flashbacks reveal he may have been bullied by his brother as an 8 year old.

Is it a comedy? The young, fragile, therapist, Emily (another great portrayal, by Jenny Slate), might be seeing her first client, and she gives bad advice, becomes emotional (not because of excessive empathy but because of self pity), begins an unethical relationship with said TV star brother (Jon Hamm playing a version of himself), who at one point calls in her client, Josh, for an emergency session basically to find out more about the handsome stud brother.

Is it a love story? Josh meets a “normal” pretty girl on the street who for some reason seems attracted to him, even after being invited in to watch TV in the serial killer-like apartment. They go on walking dates, starting with meeting at the local gas station. Too bad Josh doesn’t ask for her cell number or address, meaning he needs to walk around town hoping to run into her for his next date, haha.

The movie has a cool ending, tying up loose emotional ends and (spoiler alert) no one has been tied up, slashed, raped, or married. Perfect film festival entry and I recommend it for those of you who don’t need to see the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

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Abundant Acreage Available

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

An independent movie with a budget of maybe $1-2 million, with literally only 5 actors and 2 sets (a farm house, and the tobacco farm itself), this very well acted, well written, artfully  filmed piece may earn close to what it cost but not much more because I can’t imagine who is its target audience other than art film aficionados with time on their hands. It’s not an upbeat 80 minutes, starting from the first scene of a brother and sister (terrific as always Amy Adams, who must be the first choice of every director who needs his leading lady to look like she either worked on a farm all her life or is a working class bartender type with a Boston accent, and Terry Kinney) burying their recently deceased dad’s ashes in the middle of the farm. The brother is a super Jesus lover who argues the ashes need to be placed in “consecrated grounds”, aka a cemetery, while Amy’s character is insistent that they belongs right where he plowed all his life. So their relationship looks rocky but they revert to typical brother sister routine, which apparently they have been doing for 50 years, no spouses in sight. Then all of a sudden 3 old dudes show up with their tent planted on the farm, and it is either a sinister or harmless situation, so Amy brings her rifle to the confrontation. They are 3 brothers who (I was going to say spoiler alert but I’m confident anyone reading this other than Bill C. will not be going to the theater to see the film) grew up on the farm till their parents sold it (actually the mom sold it while the dad was in jail for a short while) to Amy’s dad. What do the brothers want? They won’t say directly, we can only guess, but they are alternately goofy, foul mouthed (well, only the one who had a stroke, who used to be nice but the stroke destroyed only the nice part of his brain leaving the nasty untouched or even enhanced), naïve, deceptive, and directionless. I’d describe more but the plot is not that interesting. The focus of the film according to the writer/director, Angus MacLachlan, in his comments after the film, is the land, and the North Carolina place itself, where he is from. Martin Scorcese is executive producer, and it is definitely well done, but I am hoping to be more interested and excited about the next 7 Tribeca Film Fest selections I will see.

 

Paterson

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

As a public service right here I will provide a short quiz you can take in order to determine whether you should see this film, as follows:

  1. Are you curious what Adam Driver’s character from Girls would be like after a lobotomy?
  2. How about watching Adam Driver appear in almost every scene in a movie while not moving any facial muscles?
  3. Are you tired of movies that are driven by plots, and have dramatic and compelling scenes?
  4. Do you have heart problems and need a movie to not cause your heart to go above resting state?
  5. Would you like to see what it’s like for a bus driver to go on his route every day?
  6. Did you ever wonder what would happen if a city bus stopped working in the middle of the route?
  7. Do you like to see sets of twins make appearances at unexpected times throughout a movie?
  8. Do you like poetry, and would you like to see an ordinary person compose poetry on the fly, writing about ordinary objects such as matchsticks?
  9. Do you live in, or work in, or were you born in, Paterson New Jersey?
  10. Are you walking outside in the cold and need a warm, quiet place to sit for a couple of hours?

If you answered yes to any of those questions then by all means go see Paterson!

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Lion

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

The first half is somewhat reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire in that it focuses on the plight of a 5 year old boy from a poor rural family in India. He and his older brother, whom he adores, spend their days jumping freight trains to steal coal, then turn over their booty to their hard working mom. It’s not much of a spoiler to disclose that the boy gets lost, and without cell phones, or even phones, or even a correct town name or name of his mother other than mum, there’s no chance he will be found. Stuck in a child’s prison (aka an “orphanage”), he ends up being adopted by a family in Australia, and the rest I will not tell here. The actor playing the young boy is amazing, and the scenes of beauty (at first, by his home) and then chaos (in Calcutta) and danger at every turn are amazing. It got a little slow for me when 20 years go by and the boy is now living a normal life in Tasmania (more amazing scenery by the coast). It picks up at the end, and what an ending. Dev Patel as the grown up boy, and Rooney Mara as his love interest, are both very good. Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother I thought was a little overly dramatic. Very cool photos during the credits of the actual boy/man whose story the movie is based on. Highly recommended for ALL ages.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked this as well and for many of the reasons that Bill articulated.  While this shows great beauty in India it also shows tremendous poverty and the incredibly tough life the poor have.  As Bill states, both actors playing Saroo are excellent (Dev Patel starred in Slumdog Millionaire also).  A very moving ending and definitely stay during the closing credits.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. During WWII, serving in the Pacific, he became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as a medic.

I almost felt I was getting two movies for the price of one.  The first hour is Doss growing up, family turmoil, falling in love, enlisting and standing up for his desire to serve in a capacity that does not  require him to kill.  The second half is the story of his participation in the battle for Okinawa, his incredible bravery while sticking to his principles.  The war scenes are extremely well made but also incredibly violent (so if you don’t like disturbing war images skip this film).

This is Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years (time flies),  It’s a well made film and it does it good job in telling the story of Desmond Doss (stay for the closing credits to see pictures/interviews with Doss and others).  My biggest knock was there are parts (in both halfs) that felt formulaic and all the expected caricatures of characters in an army barracks were provided.

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Donald Cried

Bill I’s Rating: 3 out of 5

A low budget film at the Montclair Film Festival that has recently been picked up by a distributor, this is a great character study of two old high school friends who reconnect after many years in their hometown of Warwick Rhode Island. Peter is a Wall Street financier, successful and in no way ready to enjoy returning to Warwick to take care of his grandma’s estate and funeral. He loses his wallet on the way and ends up depending on Donald, an unforgettable character played by the director and writer, Kris Avedisian. Over the course of 24 hours the two go through a roller coaster of emotions and experiences, encountering old “friends”, crushes, and haunts along the way. I can’t do justice to the realness, (enhanced by the hand held camera) but I will say that my wife was really upset afterwards due to the Donald character, who is the super clingy friend who literally won’t leave you alone. I really liked it!

Kapoor & Sons, since 1921

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Portraying a couple of the most genuine family arguments scenes I can remember, with every character perfectly cast and believable. Summary: two 20-something brothers, Rahul (little older, successful novelist, entrepreneur, lady killer type looks) and Arjun (aspiring/unsuccessful novelist, restaurant worker, scruffy and lacking the self-assured confidence of his bro, but also super good looking), are called to their family home in India from their lives in London and New Jersey respectively to show respect to their ailing grandfather, Dadu. Dadu is the real star of this film, while in his sickbed due to an ailing heart he hasn’t lost any of his lust for life (emphasis on lust) and is the glue that tries (emphasis on tries) to hold his family together as husband and wife, brother and brother, son and father, son and mother, all have their conflicts over the course of this 2 and a half hour Bollywood film, all contained within mostly a few weeks. Rahul explains his secret to a good novel: give the people the happy ending they want. Does this movie do the same? Go see it to find out, I’m not telling. It’s a lot of fun amid the drama, and especially note the charismatic and beautiful but hyper charmer, Tia (played by Alia Bhat), who quickly captivates the interest of both of the young dudes.

The Big Short

Bill I’s Rating – 4.5 out of 5

Excellent, thriller believe it or not, even though the ending is not in doubt, i.e. the housing market collapses, some banks go under and others need to be bailed out, and many people lose huge percentages of their net worth. This is all based on real-life people and events (it’s based on Michael Lewis’ book), although officially a work of fiction. The director deploys cool techniques to educate the audience on what exactly are these “exotic” financial instruments that the banks created to profit on housing bonds, meanwhile exposing them to exponential risks, while some outsiders figure out how to profit on their prediction of a bursting bubble. Have fun when you watch how they explain this in simple terms. Realize after you see this movie that nothing essentially has changed that would prevent such a financial collapse from happening again, and these “too big to fail” mega firms from having to get bailed out by taxpayers once again.

Bill C’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

Not only is this a really entertaining movie, it’s an important movie that tells a story that we seem to have already forgotten and not learned from.

Director Adam McKay, mostly know as comedy director and his collaborations with Will Ferrell, surprises with his ability to clearly inform on a complex subject while throwing in non-traditional touches (I loved his photo montages) to draw us into the movie.  He gets great and quirky performances from Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell and others.

As Bill says, ultimately this movie tells a sad/scary story that unfortunately could happen again. It makes you mad.

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Spotlight

Bill I’s Review: 4.5 out of 5

What a powerful, engrossing, and fast paced movie. I loved it on two levels. First, it’s about investigative journalism; the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team in 2000 starts a deep and lengthy, and incredibly expansive and explosive investigation of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Boston. This small team of reporters is portrayed so well, as locals and by the way, all raised as Catholics, by Mark Ruffalo, Rachael McAdams, and Michael Keaton, with their boss (Ben Bradlee Jr!) played by John Slattery and the Jewish outsider, the new editor in chief, played as an understated super serious, even boring, person by Liev Schreiber. Second, it hit home for me by its investigative subject matter, where the few victims that are interviewed in the film get to tell their story, and the devastating impact on their lives. They track down one priest who freely admits to molesting children, but reminiscent of the clueless and disgraced Tek Young Lin, former Horace Mann teacher and abuser, he claims no harm done to the children. It was done in a loving manner, sure!

See this movie and gain a little understanding of what it means to be an innocent, powerless child and to be abused by an authority figure. And to realize later all the adults who knew what was going on, or if they didn’t know, they complied with the cover-up. The cover-up, including by bishops, the cardinal, the lawyers, the police, the reporters (yes, including the Globe) and the parents, enabled these sick men (all men here) to continue to prey for many years. Until the Globe’s publicly published proof got it out into the open, via their spotlight, and rallied public opinion.

Read a fascinating background on Cardinal Law here: http://sol-reform.com/2015/11/jason-berry-the-shadow-behind-spotlight-how-predator-priests-derailed-bostons-would-be-pope-cardinal-bernard-law-the-daily-beast/

Black Mass

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Black Mass is the story of crime boss Whitey Bulger and his relationship with the FBI prior to his 16 year life as a fugitive.

I liked this a lot.  It is reminiscent of Goodfellas (although not as good).  Johnny Depp gives a great performance as Bulger – nice as can be one minute and then a psychotic murderer the next.  Joel Egerton (who Bill and I both liked in The Gift) was also awesome as Bulger’s FBI handler.  He gives a really nuanced performance as someone heading into the abyss as he lets Bulger use him and forgets what his true role is.

This also has a great supporting cast.   Benedict  Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, a powerful Boston politician.  Peter Sarsgaard is terrific as a drug addict.    David Harbour is also a standout as an FBI agent.

If you like this type of movie  (and don’t mind violence) this is definitely worth seeing.

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked it a lot, same as Bill C, although my rating is closer to a 4- or even 3+, because it’s not close to Goodfellas or Departed (another film that is based on Whitey Bulger, although fictional). I think I liked Ben Affleck’s Town better. This film apparently sticks close to the book written by Boston Globe reporters. I lived in Boston during the heydey of Whitey, and all I knew was that the major crime figure in town was free to walk around while his brother Billy ran the state senate, as the most powerful politician around. This movie doesn’t show really the crimes other than whacking his enemies, or supposed friends, or his scheming, rather it’s a character study of a sociopath, played compellingly by Johnny Depp, and the incredible gullibility/blindness/one-mindedness of the FBI as they focus on the Italian mafia as they let Whitey do his thing, supposedly giving them valuable information, which of course is mostly bogus or invented by his Southie buddy on the FBI. I really liked when they cut to the Winter Hill Gang members who end up informing on Whitey, in order to shave years off their sentences. So, overall an enjoyable couple of hours, and standout performance by Depp and others, but a somewhat cliche story portrayed in a straightforward fashion.

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