Sunday, January 15, 2017

20th Century Women

A single parent raising a family faces many challenges. After my grandfather died in a horrible industrial accident, my grandmother was left with two sons and two daughters to bring up on her own. I continue to admire how she managed to do this. And that probably has a lot to do with my strong feelings about 20th Century Women. This movie takes place in Southern California during the late 1970s. It focuses on a single mom who asks for help from two other women because she worries about her own communication with her teenage son. Besides dealing with the mother/son relationship, the film also shows these very different women exploring issues of love and freedom.   

The movie is a wonderful character-driven offering with first-rate acting by a very strong cast. Annette Bening brings her drama/comedy “A game” to the lead role, and she’s ably supported by Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.

Written and directed by Mike Mills, this motion picture demonstrates how skillful writing and outstanding performances can transform a simple bittersweet story into something very special indeed.           

A single mom and her young son
are very close. But he’s not done
with growing up, so here’s mom’s plan.
She will get some help, if she can.

A father figure might be great.
Still, that thought seems way, way too late.
Two younger gals try in their style –
spending time with the son a while.

But will this work and help the boy?
Could they share too much or be coy?
Annette Bening is at her best
as mother hen in this snug nest.

The younger women are portrayed
by actresses who don’t evade
reaching down deep to make us feel
their characters are really real.

Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig
earn kudos for doing this gig.
Lucas Jade Zumann as the son
gets a cheer for acting he’s done.

And Billy Crudup steals his scenes --
a handyman for stairs and things.
Helping out is an easy plot.
I like this movie quite a lot!

Men are what their mothers made them. --- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face the world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. --- K.R. Knost

Happy is the son whose faith in his mother remains unchallenged. --- Louisa May Alcott

(Released by A24 and rated “R” for sexual material, some nudity and brief drug use.)


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Donald J. Levit: In Memoriam

We received some sad news this week. Donald J. Levit, one of our longtime valued critics at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, passed away on January 8. We will miss his thorough, perceptive and well-written reviews. 

Donald’s impressive academic background helped make his reviews a learning experience for our readers. He earned a B. A. from Duke and a Ph.D. from Chicago. His varied residences also gave him knowledge of other cultures that enhanced his unique critiques. Although born in Nashville and raised there and in Brooklyn, he lived in many other places in the U.S. He also resided for a time in the Caribbean and, for twenty-two years, in Spain. During his later years, he called New York City his home.

Phil Hall, one of Donald’s friends, writes, “Don was a generous and insightful man, a charming raconteur and a lovely soul. I will miss him very much. I met Don in 1998 when he came to a weekly retro film series screening that I was programming in New York City. He enjoyed the show and came back the next week, and for the following weeks. We got to know each other better and I recommended that he write about films. I secured him a brief gig with Film Threat before connecting him with ReelTalk Reviews, where he offered erudite insight on current and contemporary cinema.”

Donald loved music, documentaries, independent films and movies from countries all over the world. His contributions to ReelTalk Movie Reviews increased the breadth and depth of our cinema coverage.

A member of the Online Film Critics Society, Donald listed his movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at this link.

Because The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble was Donald’s final review, it seems fitting to conclude with his profound last paragraph.
War, malnutrition, poverty, disease, hopelessness are rife in this present era of displacement such as Earth has never before witnessed. The instinctive joy of and in music is no miracle cure-all, but after the ninety-six minutes of MUSIC OF STRANGERS, one may recall Robert Kennedy: “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” We need be strangers no more.     

May you rest in peace, Donald J. Levit.

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Sunday, January 01, 2017

My Favorite Top Ten Films of 2016

How do I choose my favorite films? It’s quite simple. They are the ones I want to watch over and over again! And so, behold my top ten favorites of 2016 listed below.

LA LA LAND. “City of Stars, are you shining just for me?” Ryan Gosling sings in a scene from this glorious modern musical. And now I ask -- in my out-of-tune voice -- “La La Land, were you made just for me?” Maybe not, but you make me feel like the answer is “YES.”            

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS. Sally Field gives the best performance of her career in this wonderful film about a lonely woman who misinterprets a young colleague’s friendly behavior as something else indeed. “Doris” takes us on an emotional roller coaster – and I loved every minute of it.   

TROLLS. After seeing Trolls, I kept smiling for a very long time. Everything about this animated movie musical delighted me, but especially the song and dance numbers. The look of the film also charmed me completely. Plus, lots of color, cute characters, and zippy action helps move the simple plot along.

THE JUNGLE BOOK. Wow! The look of this creative film adaptation of Kipling’s classic simply bowled me over. And the human voices of the animals sounded perfect for each animal character.  

HIDDEN FIGURES. Why didn’t we already know about these fabulous African-American women who helped with the space race? To me, this is the most important film of 2016. It also boasts terrific acting by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Disturbing? Yes, very! But the cinematography and splendid acting by Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson overshadows this thriller’s upsetting and sometimes confusing plot.  

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. Awesome stop-motion animation and wonderful storytelling are keys to the success of this outstanding film. Words alone cannot express its profound beauty. You just have to see it!     

20TH CENTURY WOMEN. This wonderful character-driven offering about a single mother and her son boasts first-rate acting by a very strong cast. Annette Bening brings her drama/comedy “A game” to the lead role, and she’s ably supported by Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.  

FORSAKEN. This fabulous Western tells the tale of a depressed ex-gunslinger trying to make peace with his father, a minister disappointed with the violent path his son chose after the Civil War. These key roles are played to perfection by Kiefer Sutherland and his real-life father, Donald Sutherland. Because of its intriguing emphasis on this strained relationship, Forsaken ends up being a compelling drama as well as Western gold.     

DE PALMA. What a treat to hear Brian De Palma talk about his philosophy of filmmaking and to see clips from some of his memorable films like The Untouchables!   

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): A Monster Calls, Finding Altamira, Me Before You, One Last Tango, The Wave, Dancer, The Hunt for Wilderpeople, Captain Fantastic, The Salesman, The Handmaiden

Dishonorable Mention: Sausage Party – what were they thinking? 

Have a very Happy New Year, movie fans!