Tag Archive: movie reviews


Two very satisfying baseball movies are currently making the rounds.  Both give valuable lessons in the triumph of personal courage.

 JackieRobinsonIt’s really hard to imagine in 2013 how blatant and ugly was the shameful, wide-spread and accepted practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws in post-WWII America.  42 is the moving and intimate story of Brooklyn Dodgers Number 42 – black baseball player Jackie Robinson – and the Dodgers’ decision to hire Robinson and take on the struggle to break the color barrier in 1947-48.  42 gives us but a tiny, unvarnished taste of what it must have been like to be the recipient of such vicious, withering, personal attacks from every quarter, and what courage Robinson showed not knowing the eventual outcome.  The despicable behavior of my fellow Americans brought tears of shame streaming down my face, only to be replaced by tears of pride for the humanity that Robinson showed us all in the face of one of the ugliest chapters in our history.

Chadwick Bozeman gives us a towering yet deeply human portrayal of Robinson, playing opposite a crusty Harrison Ford as Dodger owner Branch Rickey who pragmatically sees the future for what it is.  What a team Robinson & Rickey made.  What a story we get from Bozeman and Harrison.  Do not miss it.

yanklesIn The Big Inning….” is the clever tag line of an adorable little independent film called the Yankles, written, directed and produced by two nice Jewish boys from Orange county, David & Zev Brooks. 

The Yeshiva Torah V’Limud rabbinical students have a fledgling baseball team. They have a chance to compete in the intercollegiate athletic system. Now all they need is a coach. Enter three-time DUY loser Charlie Jones (played by Brian Wimmer) who’s just been paroled after an 18-month jail sentence and who must satisfy his community service parole requirement. He just happens to be the X-wife of the sister of Yankles shortstop and team captain, Elliot Eliahu Dubinsky, (played by Michael Buster) who just happens to be an X-AA ball player who is now a huge disappointment to Dad, X-major league ball player Frankie Dubinsky, (played by Don Most of Happy Days fame)  because after a trip to Israel he’s abandoned his baseball career to become a Rabbi.  Did you get all that?  No matter.   For everyone who simply likes a good story, this maisse mit a deitch is a leben ahf dein kip.  You’ll be k’velening all over yourself.  If you like baseball, you’ll like it even better. 

Interesting that the film was shot entirely in Utah and the cast were mostly locals who happened to be of the Mormon faith.  They did an outstanding job in their portrayal of Orthodox Yeshiva students, who must learn from their Rebbe that “some things are more important than winning.  We are Jewish Yeshiva students first and ball Yankles3players second.”  That belief is sorely tested when the Yankles make it into the finals and the smarmy Inter-collegiate sports commissioner (with a  double play of antisemitism and a past score to settle with Coach Charlie) schedules the final game on the Jewish Sabbath so the team won’t be unable to play. 

Although the film hasn’t yet found a home through wide distribution, look for it On Demand, through Netflix or at YouTube.  We were fortunate enough to see it at Temple Sinai in Palm Desert where we were treated to an after film discussion with the writing, directing and producing brothers David & Zev Brooks.

Acrobats in Love

Adaptations from one medium to another seldom work.  Think back over the past fifty years of books to Broadway to the cinema and most of us can rattle off the ones that did work:  The Sound of Music, South Pacific, West Side Story, Grease, Dreamgirls, Mama Mia.  This week we experienced two that are worth noting. 

The Beatles Love is a Cirque du Soleil offering, permanently housed at The Mirage in Las Vegas.  Having seen seven of the Cirque shows, we are Cirque aficionados; completely in awe of their consistent high standards of incredible athleticism, their musical originality, and their otherworldly costuming.   I couldn’t imagine how a catalogue of totally unrelated songs could be successfully incorporated into a workable story line, but Mama Mia was so clever and joyful, I was at least hopeful.   Sadly, the totality of this show did not measure up, although the costuming was imaginative and the theater itself is a marvel of technology – talk about surround sound – the speakers are in the seats!   

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx

Overall, the incredible imaginings of Cirque founder Guy Laiberte and his legions of technical and artistic geniuses are lost or wasted in this attempt to string together the Beatles catalogue in some magical way.  It just doesn’t work, Magical Mystery Tour be damned.  My only curiosity at the end was…1) who gets the royalties and 2) have Ringo and Paul seen the show?

Our second experience this week was a rip-roaring smash-up of electric eighties hits wound tightly together in Rock of Ages, The Movie.   OMG, this show takes toe-tapping rock and roll to the pinnacle of perfection.  It’s filled with amazing musical talent from every single cast member.  They deliver tight harmonies that invite you to explore your own inner backup singer;  accompanied by The Best R&R band you’ve heard in ages.  As we used to say: “they were all cook’in with gas!”   

Delicious duo, Brand & Baldwin

Typical story line:  small-town stary-eyed kids; jaded rocker with hangers-on; silly city officials suppressing their envy; and a happy ending. 

Tom Cruise, at forty-nine,  shows us he really really really does have acting chops (it’s hard to be sleazy and adorable at the same time) and – surprise – The Boy Can Sing!  He delivers exactly the right twinge of over-the-top debauchery in his sly portrayal of booze-addled rock star, Stacee Jaxx.   I’d give him the Oscar now.

Russell Brand is actually a likeable version of himself, sans the indigestion and Alex Baldwin is typical Alex Baldwin, deliciously smarmy as the club owner.  They deliver a cute plot twist that I won’t spoil for you.  Paul Giamatti is spot on as the dastardly agent.  I had to look twice to recognize Catherine Zeta Jones in Channel and pearls, playing the overzealous mayor’s wife, but of course, she’s always worth the second glance.  Bryan Cranston is pitch perfect as the clueless mayor.  Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, the talented innocents, deliver the best laugh lines:  She, confessing with remorse:  “I’m working in a strip club.”  He, with wincing embarrassment:  “I’m in a boy band.”  She with relief:   “You win.”

Everything about Rock of Ages is just over the top enough to dull the sharp edges that would otherwise make the seedy reality of  eighties excesses way too gross.  Can we  say that there were many tongues in use?  The film tales the typically saccharin and harmless plot of a  high school play and lovingly smothers it in magenta glitter and gold sequins which we willinglyallow to camouflage the more uncomfortable aspects of that time period.   It’s not meant to be a teachable moment.  It’s a feel good escape from today’s weary troubles – the 2012 answer to Busby Berkeley, albeit on steroids. 

We all left the theater  smiling, laughing, humming all the tunes (which were more our kids era than ours) and vowing to download the sound track for our i-pods and  planning a return to the big screen to see it all again.  I”m voting for Imax next time.  Do yourself a favor:  Go See It!  Then let us know what you think.

Review of NCM Fathom’s The Tempest.

Plummer as Prospero

This week at The River, nine of us were mesmerized by the US premier of  The Tempest , starring Christopher Plummer, who, at 82 shows us a thing or two about aging gracefully.  

Don’t stick your nose in the air and say “I don’t like Shakespeare.”  Most of us have not had the pleasure of seeing his magical words presented by actors who know how to deliver the lines as they were intended…as the every-day language of Elizabethan England.  This cast did right by the play.  The meaning of each line is understood – every lovely nuance, is as he intended – in what was Shakespeare’s last, and now considered one of his greatest, works. 

The film brings together a perfect marriage of theater and cinema, filmed before live audiences over two days at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  It strikes the perfect chord of electrifying clarity in glorious surround sound.  The surprising addition of delicate etherial music in the appropriate scenes was exactly the right enhancement. 

Dion Johnstone as Caliban

Having just seen the Metropolitan Opera’s delightful mishmash of The Tempest, entitled The Enchanted Island, I was up on Prospero’s story, which Plummer executes like a calm and skillful surgeon.  I was also just fresh from wading through two novels (Interred With Their  Bones and Haunt Me Still) by author Jenniffer Lee Carrell, PhD.,  who is a Shakespearian authority.  Because of Dr. Carrell’s scholarly approach, she cleverly engages us in her incorporation of The Bard’s work, so I was already in Shakespearian mode.   

Sprite with Prospero

Shakespeare left few if any directions for anyone,  director or actor, brave enough to tackle the text, so we are most often left to our own devices (or not).  Tony award-winning director Des McAnuff is that brave man.  He would be the first of ten reasons on ten levels to convince you to see this production, which is nothing short of brilliant, brilliant brilliant. 

McAnuff dares to enriches the play without sending us into sugar overload.  Take for instance the traditional masks of most Shakespearian productions, which here are kicked up more than a notch by costume designer Paul Tazewell, who may lean a bit on Cirque du Soleil, but it feels right and works beautifully.  Dion Johnstone’s Caliban channeled a Star Wars’ Syth, creepy with the right sympathetic touch.  Kudos to the costuming of Caliban, Ariel and all the otherworldly creatures.   But the standout role for me is Ariel, the Sprite  played with impish charm by Julyana Soelistyo.   She is simply luminous. 

Now that I’m old enough to pay attention to Shakespeare’s subtleties, I can tell you with certainty, this vision of  The Tempest  is not to be missed.  Des McAnuff  and company have raised the bar on how technology will bring classical theater to us in the future.  Lucky us and lucky you – it can be seen throughout July in various theaters. 

Click the link to find where it’s showing near you.

Poster from the film
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

When a group of unrelated Brits face the rising costs of retirement in the UK, they collectively find themselves on a bus heading towards Jaipur, India, and their future home, billed as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.   They each begin their journey with anticipation, trepidation, longing,  and a sprinkle of fear and quiet resignation.   We expect the usual “seniors experiencing inevitable adjustments” but what we don’t expect but readily embrace is the refreshing humanity each character exemplifies as they make the best of their situation and for the most part, embrace with cheer and optimism, how they view their last chapters. 

It’s a refreshing look at common misconception that there is nothing going forward. 

The young hotel manager is brilliantly delivered to us by Academy Award Winner Dev Patel.  A glimmering vintage cast – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith,  Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, all breathe unpredictable life into this well worn plot and reveal promises we seniors might otherwise overlook.  It’s a lovely turn of events that will have you smiling all the way through the 120 minute film.  Well crafted, beautifully executed.  Don’t miss it. 

As  the young manager reminds us throughout the film, “You’ll see, in the end everything will be all right.  And if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”  It’s just what we need these days…a happy ending.  Enjoy!

Chimpanzee

Every once in a while, we all need a feel good movie that is suitable for EVERYONE!  Chimpanzee is that movie.   

Narrated by Tim Allen at his most charming, this is the story of baby Oscar, who is just getting the hang of smashing nuts with rocks when Mom meets an untimely demise (tastefully handled for the little ones) due either to a night stalking leopard who is lurking just as a rival band of Chimpanzees aggressively attack the group in hopes of moving in on their territory and primary food source.  For orphaned Oscar, things are touch and go as his plight is ignored by other members of the group until the Alpha Male, Fred, becomes Oscar’s very unlikely protector. 

Chimpanzee is a Disney Documentary,  breathtakingly filmed in Gombe, East Africa, by chief cinematographer Bill Wallauer, who has worked with Jane Goodall for over twenty years.  His up close work with these curious primates is nothing short of amazing.  He has captured the emotional lives of these majestic creatures in stunning intimacy.  The expressions in their eyes, will melt your heart.  I guarantee it.  

The film is directed by Alistair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the folks who brought you African Cats, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet. 

Take the grandkids, take your sweetie, take your mother; this one makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

%d bloggers like this: