My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), feeling proud of stealing coal.

 

As someone who is a dominate right-handed person, I can’t imagine doing anything with just one foot, but the left foot by itself is unthinkable. Yet that is what Christy Brown had to do for his life. He did not live to see My Left Foot (he died in 1981), his story is still one that resonates today, not just because he had cerebral palsy, but because (like everyone) he had more than his fair share of character flaws.

That is not to say he wasn’t extraordinary. Born into a traditional (and large) Irish family in 1930s Dublin, we see the story of Brown in flashbacks as the grown up Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at an event celebrating his memoir. He shares his book with a newly met Nurse, Mary (Ruth McCabe). At first, it is her eyes we see the life of Christy, but then we find ourselves seeing it thru his eyes.

It is beyond frustrating at first for the adolescent Christy (Hugh O’Conor). He has a caring family and siblings, though his father (Ray McAnally, who passed away after filming concluded) is not the best at showing his love. The one clear rock in Christy’s life is his mother (Brenda Fricker), as shown in the brilliant scene when he communicates with his first word, “Mother”.

As a young man, Christy learns the many things we all do: sports, first love, heart ache, and self discovery. A lot of this is also shown in Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who takes a huge interest in Christy and his art.

No review of this movie would be complete with out mention of the acting. Perhaps the only bad thing one could say about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is that it overshadows that of Hugh O’ Conor’s. Both are extraordinary, making it seem like one performance instead of two. Still, this is the film that brought people’s attention to Day-Lewis (it won him his first of a record three Best Actor Oscars).

The film won another Oscar for Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, who is stellar. It is clear that, without her, Brown would never have been able to be fueled to do all he accomplished. Still, as is the case in every movie he has been in, Daniel Day-Lewis showed us for the first time (and many times after) why he is one of the greatest film actors we have ever had (and if you don’t believe me, just look at the making of this movie and how in character he was. He was carried around the set when the cameras were off).

Parents, the movie is rated R. There is one bit of nudity (young boys see a nude photo in a book, and talk about sex). The main aspect though is swearing. I would say High School and above (though some mature middle schoolers may be okay at seeing it).

Had Christy not been flawed as a human, I doubt the movie would work as well as it did. To put it bluntly, he is no Helen Keller. I would say he is prickly, but that is understating it. Still, My Left Foot is a true inspiration of what the human spirit can accomplish, and a great study in how moving a performance can be.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in one of her few moments of true happiness…

There is one positive thing you can definitely say about Tonya Harding: She truly was a talented skater. She did things no woman had done before her, and was one who truly (at times) worked hard. It is too bad she made bad choices (one in particular) and had moment after moment of bad luck.

We have all heard of the story of how Harding asked her ex husband Jeff Gillooly to help do something with her rival (and roommate) Nancy Kerrigan. It resulted, of course, with a goon clubbing Kerrigan in the leg with a baton, taking her out of competition. What is unknown are the life events that led up to the incident, and that is what much of I, Tonya is about.

Director Craig Gillespie shoots the screenplay of Steven Rodgers in an almost “mockumentary” way. We get interviews on the side from Tonya (Margot Robbie) and her ex Jeff (Sebastian Stan), as well as Tonya’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney). We see how, as a child, the young Tonya (Mckenna Grace) is beyond tortured by her mother. All of the scenes with LaVona and her daughter (both as a child and adult) are played with more than just the icy venom we know a veteran thespian like Janney can deliver. Hers is one performance that will not be forgotten anytime soon (surely an Oscar nominated one). Her LaVona is the worst mom cinema has offered since 2009’s Precious. As she grows up, Tonya does seem to find a silver lining when she meets Jeff.  Sure, he is abusive, but they seem to make up shortly after (and then some).  While Sebastian Stan does hold his own, there is no doubt how spectacular Margot Robbie is. It will be very difficult for her to top this performance later on in her career.

One of the things that I admit surprised me the most was how smart the movie was. There is even some fourth wall breaking that occurs, and a certain character telling us they “know what we came for”. There is also some wonderful jabs at the early 90s as well, such as trying to have a phone call in private at your friend’s house.

Parents, the movie is rated R for good reason. There is a lot of swearing (the majority from Janney), one sex scene, and some nudity in a strip club. High School and above.

 

While some points do tend to drag on a bit, the film was still a refreshing piece of work, and one of the funniest I have seen all year. Whether it is factually correct or not, I am not sure, but it is to Robbie’s credit that you will be watching her, and not know if it is the real Harding or not.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Stronger (2017)

Stronger

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal, together, are Stronger.

Though I have not seen all of his films, I have been a fan of director David Gordon Green. Before he gave such comedies like Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (also 2011), he gave much more dramatic works such as George Washington (his debut in 2000), All the Real Girls (2003), and the highly underrated Snow Angels (2007).  Now he tackles the true story of Jeff Bauman in Stronger, proving again he is a director that is rather unsung.

The story is there in the previews. Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an everyday man of Boston. He works at Costco, lives with his mom Patty, and is a hardcore fan of the Bruins and Red Sox. He has been in and out of a relationship with Erin (Tatiana Maslany from the BBC show Orphan Black). He decides to cheer her on at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Of course, tragedy strikes and the two bombs go off. Jeff survives, but loses his legs.

Green is a director who knows the importance of supporting characters, and you get the clear sense of family in Jeff’s life (though I admit I am still confused how they are all related). We get some actors such as Nate Richman, Richard Lane Jr., and that great character actor Clancy Brown, to name a few. The stand out, however, is Miranda Richardson as his mom. She is given scenes that she plays with power and ease, and are likely to be remembered when the talks of Oscar begin in the next month or so.

The same can also be said of Maslany and Gyllenhaal. I doubt I can keep calling Jake Gyllenhaal an underrated actor, because he has given solid performance after solid performance in nearly all of his movies (even if it is a bit over the top, like in this year’s Okja). Maslany is also rather effective as his girlfriend (she herself is not injured, but notices Jeff in the picture of the aftermath). She is clearly what Jeff tries to lean on for support (for the most part), but also is not just playing a thankless woman role. The chemistry between the two is authentic and palpable.

Parents, the movie is R, and for good reason. David Gordon Green does not shy away from the violence and graphic details (though it is not as bad I guessed it would be). There is a lot of swearing, and one sex scene with partial female nudity that lasts about a minute. High School and above.

Though the movie does have some parts that drag, Stronger is still a movie with backbone and grit. I am not from Boston, but I can’t imagine any native of that great city not wanting to see this movie.

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Queen (2006)

The Queen

Helen Mirren is The Queen. Simple as that.

As we near the upcoming 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana (and having just viewed the very well made Netflix’s Original Series The Crown), I decided to revisit 2006’s The Queen. While viewing it, I tried to do something I had not done while viewing the movie before: trying to judge every part of the movie without focusing entirely on the performance by Helen Mirren.

It was no easy task. Helen Mirren gives a powerhouse performance as Queen Elizabeth II, so much so that in the few moments she is not on-screen, her presence is still felt. When I first saw the film, I knew virtually nothing about the history of the Queen herself, only the event that was Princess Diana’s death (I was 10 when it happened).

The movie starts of with her majesty meeting her new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, who is stellar). It is clear that Blair is bringing in a new, youthful era to the country. When told that he wishes to be called by his first name instead of his title, the Queen asks, “Has anyone given him a protocol sheet?”

Fast forward to the tragic day at the end of August of 1997, when the Princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, died in a car accident in a Paris tunnel. receiving the news, both the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip (an under appreciated James Cromwell) are stunned to find out that the Prime Minister is hoping for the royal family to make a statement. This is supported by Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), who in turn has to look out for his sons. It is a week that brings back many memories to people, as it is clear that the People’s Princess had touched all corners of the world.

The film has many scenes of quiet beauty: Simple walks in the palace, strolls with the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms), talks on the phone, and (most of all) a very brief encounter with a stag. All scenes are played out with exquisite taste and care by director Stephen Frears.

Parents, the movie is a moderately gentle PG-13. There is no sex/nudity, just some swearing (one brief F-Bomb). There is also a little bit of gore revolved around hunting, show with a decapitated head of an animal. I would say middle school and up.

In the end, the movie belongs to Helen Mirren. When I first saw the movie, I knew little about the source material, yet I was still able to realize how dominate she was in the title role. It is one of the best performances an actor has given. You don’t see her acting at all during the movie. All you see is a woman who, despite her power, is still human. She still feels, still reacts, still makes hard decisions, and still manages to accept them.

Like the real life Queen Elizabeth II, this film is a surplus of dignity, power, and grace.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Jackie (2016)

jackie

Natalie Portman is “Jackie”. 

My dad was always a huge admirer of John F. Kennedy, and that was a major part of my fascination with his death (and the film masterpiece that is JFK). One thing I always wondered was what about his wife? I mean, she was there, so how come no one actually talked to her? That answer is clear in Jackie.

I will make it bluntly clear: Natalie Portman is phenomenal in the title role. She will clearly be nominated for Best Actress, and it would not surprise me if she wins. She brings depth, humanity, pathos, and grit to the former first lady.

We meet her being interviewed with a journalist (Billy Crudup), one week after the events of which no one of that time would forget. My main issue with the movie is the way it does tend to jump around between different times in the story, making the movie a little bit inconsistent. There are scenes with her and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), her helper and friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), and a priest (the always valuable John Hurt). All actors do good work when with Portman (who is in virtually every scene), but the order of them made me scratch my head a bit.

Parents, the R rating is mainly for swearing and violence (Director Pablo Larrain does not let the gruesome details go unseen of the assassination), and there are a few swears including some uses of the F word. Still, I would think High Schoolers and up would be ok with the film (even a mature middle schooler, perhaps).

If anything, this movie is worth seeing mainly for Natalie Portman’s performance, clearly one of the years best. As stated in the picture above, she is Jackie Kennedy, a woman who managed to keep a wonderful smile going in the harshest of moments our country ever faced.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Into the Wild (2007)

Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch goes “Into the Wild”

It takes me a while to finally get in the mood to see a movie sometimes, mainly when someone ruins it for me. Such is the case with Into the Wild.

Spoilers, as I will not be able to review the film without mentioning really what happens. The movie (based off of the book of the same name) tells the story of a real life student and athlete named Chris McCandless (played wonderfully by Emile Hirsch). After graduating from Emory University and endless doors opened for his future, he decides to leave it all behind and venture towards Alaska into the wild. The more the film talks about him, the more we realize that he is not likely to survive (he does not).

We hear the story mainly narrated by his sister Carine (Jena Malone), who was the only real person he could connect to growing up. We learn of the past his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) have tried to hide from them, and how they made much of his life growing up miserable.

The movie has many characters to introduce us to (as well as Chris). There are two hippies, Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (the irreplaceable Catherine Keener), Wayne (a rare dramatic role for Vince Vaughn, and done rather well), Kristen Stewart as Tracy, a young singer who catches Chris’s eye, and, most heartbreaking of all, Hal Holbrook as Ron (which gained Holbrook an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor). Their last scene is as moving as any well acted scene I can remember. The movie also stars Zach Galifianakis, but I admit I was so involved I did not even notice him (this was before The Hangover made him a star).

The characters that did not add to the film, I feel, were Mads (Thure Lindhardt) and Sonja (Signe Egholm Olsen). We meet them while Chris is traveling the Colorado River. He is there for a bit, but has to leave because the authorities are after him (he is traveling the river without a license).

The movie is directed by acting icon Sean Penn (who also did the screenplay), who adds more than just his acting advice (all the actors had to have been influenced by him because all are on their A game here). He seems to remind us of the beauty of nature without having to add to it (no camera trickery is used).

Parents, the movie is not for kids, as there is a good amount of swearing and some nudity (which I don’t think was really needed at all). I would say the most mature of High Schoolers and above are ok with it).

Looking up some information online, I realized a lot of people have become fans of Chris McCandless (some, sadly, have even died trying to find the place where he lost his life). I am not an outdoors person myself that much, but I would be interested to go. I, too, would not only want to see what Chris did, but feel I need to see it as well.

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”.

 

The Danish Girl is a well intentioned bio pic that delivers two great performances but does not seem to be anything beyond what we expected. Perhaps it is ironic that a movie about someone trying to do something new does not do something very new in itself.

That does not mean I did not like the movie. I just expected more of the tale of married couple Einar and Gerda Wegener, married artists in the 1920s. One day, Gerda’s (Alicia Vikander) friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is unable to pose for one of her paintings, so she recruits her husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne). Ulla surprises them, and names Einar “Lilly”. This eventually leads to Einar wanting to become one of the first known in the transgender community.

As shown in The Theory of Everything (which he recently won the Oscar for), Eddie Redmayne is proving he is one of the best actors of his generation. He delivers another fine performance here as Einar/Lilly. However, it was Alicia Viander I was most impressed with. Her Gerda is one of the most devoted wives in recent movie memory. The key is that she is not one to just sit back and let it all happen. She has a fire in her that says don’t mess with me, but also an inner gentleness that is evident if she wants to show it. It is clearly an Oscar nomination for both actors.

Parents, the R rating is justified. There is not much swearing and little violence (just in one scene) but there is a lot of nudity (not just in the art pieces).

In the end, I wish the film was not just another straight bio pic, and tried to be a little more (though I did enjoy the score by Desplat). Still, it is worth seeing for Redmayne and Vikander , both giving award worthy performances.

Overall: Three Stars ***

 

Trumbo (2015)

Trumbo

 

I guess it is kind of ironic that the thing Trumbo suffers from the most is an uneasy screenplay.

That is not to say the film is bad. Bryan Cranston does a very nice job as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the most popular of the ten Hollywood workers who were arrested and unable to find work during the red scare. I did feel Helen Mirren may have over done it a little as Hedda Hopper, the writer who helped make sure anyone in the communist party would never find work again. Others in the cast are ok as well, including Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, Louis C.K. (yes, that is right) as his friend Arlen Hird, and Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter.

My issue was the script. Movies based on real events are hard to get right if they do not have a fine balance between informative and entertaining. Trumbo does seem to be very informative, but there are a lot of scenes that were not very entertaining.

Parents, the film deserves a PG-13 rating, not an R one. There is swearing (none that a teenager or even a pre teen would not know), and brief nudity (a character in jail shows his rear end during an inspection. Nothing sexual). Middle school and above would be ok seeing this.

In the end, the film is worth going to for the performances. Mainly, of course, for Bryan Cranston. He is truly one of the most talented actors working today.

Overall: Three Stars ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Jobs (2015)

Michael Fassbender reveals the iMac in "Steve Jobs"

Michael Fassbender reveals the iMac in “Steve Jobs”

Steve Jobs shows the complexity of a man who was responsible for much of the background of my childhood and high school days and I did not even know it. I still had a Macintosh when I was about 5 or 6 (Playing Wheel of Fortune or Oregon Trail), and then, in High School, with my Ipod made from the man who made my dad’s iMac. Now I have my Iphone 5s and Ipad by my side. (There are only hints of the Ipod towards the end of the film).

The film is very well made by its director Danny Boyle (most known as the Oscar winning director of Slumdog Millionaire) and well written by the always amazing Aaron Sorkin (writer of The Social Network, Moneyball, The West Wing, and more). It shows Jobs (Michael Fassbender, who is spellbinding) in three stages of his creative life: The Launch of the Macintosh in 1984 (after the popular Super Bowl Ad), the launch of Next in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. In this time we see Steve’s relationship with his daughter Lisa (each played well by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine, respectivly).

There is also a surprising Seth Rogen as Jobs’ long time friend Steve Wozniak. Kate Winslet is his polish (though the accent fades at times), but the best scenes are when Jobs is with his buisness partner/friend John Sculley (an oscar worthy performance by Jeff Daniels). The scene with these two arguing is one of the best examples of film acting I have seen in some time.

The movie is not perfect: It seems to not know where it is going at first, but finds its legs as it goes along. Parents, this is another R rated movie that would be ok for any teenager, because the film is full of swearing and nothing else. High Schoolers and above would be ok. It would be encouraged, in fact, for teenagers to see a film about the man who is responsible for the phone they likely have in their hand.

Overall: 3 1/2 Stars ***1/2