Joy - Review

PG-13  |  124 min  |  Biography, Comedy, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 25th 2015**

SynopsisJoy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

ReviewEveryone seems to be on the Biography Drama bandwagon. Adapting real life stories into Hollywood plot lines has pushed out any solidly crafted, inspirationally unique attempts at writing. Though the characters may be intriguing the movies do not always end up as such. Case in point, JOY. 

Joy Mangano's (Jennifer Lawrence) claim to fame and success was wrung out in a nifty household devise called the Miracle Mop. This struggling, single mother of two is drowning in a sea of family disfunction. Her father (Robert De Niro) and mother (Isabella Rossellini) are divorced and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) is living in her basement. Her mother never leaves the bedroom and her dad is always dropping by with needs of his own. The only constant in her life is her Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) who repeatedly reminds her she is destined for greatness. 

This film may have been sabotaged by expectations. It is written and directed by David O. Russell who along with three members of this esteemed cast brought us 2012's Silver Linings Playbook and 2013's American Hustle. Plus it is releasing on Christmas Day in the height of award season. So obviously hordes expected this to be memorable and powerful. But sadly it is forgettable and mediocre.

One main issue could be that even though Joy's journey is remarkable and we love to cheer an underdog success story there is simply not enough meat on the bone for a full length drama. And where there is some nice nuggets of intrigue they are lost in a myriad of family outbursts and repetitive dysfunction.  The viewer ends up seeing the devastating result of actions without every getting the benefit of seeing how it developed. 

The plot rides a roller coaster of ups and downs as we witness Joy make smart decisions followed up by bad advice taking. The two steps forward and one step back dance eventually trips and face plants in a "how did we end up here" finale. The antagonist is her family and how they manipulate and misguide her. But the dialogue between them all is choppy and lacks the flow of a well crafted drama. This takes away from many of the more impactful scenes. 

Bradley Cooper makes an appearance as Neil Walker the head of a new TV station that America soon knew of as The Home Shopping Network. Neil gives Joy the break she needs but sadly even this doesn't help her overcome her horrible business practices. It may have been a better movie if it dealt strictly with the mop side of the story and less with the family drama. Or make it about a young entrepreneur dealing with the ugly side of success. Regardless there is too much going on for nothing to really transpire. So we end up with a ho hum film that could easily show up on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. 

JOY is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. In a nutshell De Niro's character drops the F bomb once. Other than that this could easily run on prime-time family channels with little or no editing needed. In fact that is where I suggest watching it. And that is a sad statement considering who all is involved in this film. I admire them all and wanted so much more. I give it 2 out of 5 shards of broken glass. Best to throw out the script and mop up the rest as best you can. 


The Big Short - Review

R  |  130 min  |  Biography, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 23rd 2015**

SynopsisFour outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.

ReviewThe Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and many film groups have listed THE BIG SHORT as a movie to see. Whether it be for ensemble cast, individual performances, or the directing of Adam McKay there is much to applaud. Highlighting one of the most confusing and for many devastating events of the 2000's the story is fast paced and infuriating. 

Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) saw it coming first. How? Other than a brilliant mind and sixth sense for finance, he just looked. He looked where no one else did. And what he saw was the ginormous housing bubble with billions of dollars riding on it. And he bet against it. Once word of this trickled out it reached the ears of other insurance and financial brokers who decided that he was either right or insane. But the more they started digging the scarier everything looked. And, good or bad, they all wanted a piece. 

Plot lines are woven through separate groups of people all connected by their interest in the banks that are holding all these mortgages. No one is as angry at the system and out for blood more than Mark Baum (Steve Carell) who rose to fame betting against subprime mortgages. Then there is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) a mortgage trader for Deutsche Bank whose insight helped him to win big as well. And finally Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a reclusive and eccentric broker who along with Cornwall Capital walked away with close to eighty million in profit. Several of the names were changed. Some were not. But the facts remain as detailed in the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. 

The entire crisis of 2008 is almost impossible to understand. THE BIG SHORT does a decent job of making it clear and decipherable to the common man. McKay will take a break from the business jargon to have real celebrities define and interpret hard to grasp phrases using metaphors and smaller words. This is both clever and distracting. Though, yes, it does help, it also breaks the rhythm of the script. Having Selena Gomez talk to me about how the financial betting world works is a tad demoralizing. But I did learn something, so go figure. 

If you are looking for outstanding performances there are two in this one. Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Though they are never on screen together theirs are the characters to watch. Burry with his savant mind and Baum with his passionate zeal are fodder for explosive and high velocity characters. 

The bottom line and most thought provoking thing about the film is, who do you root for? You definitely can't root for the banks and the mortgage companies. These fat cats are making zillions off of hard working Americans. You can maybe look at those who took them on as heroes but in the end they made billions too. As always it is the middle and lower class that lost. And lost big. So there is no winner. No shining moment. No let's cheer for Captain Vengeance. If you are hoping for an "Erin Brockovich" this movie has none. But it is still incredibly insightful and at times mind-blowing. 

THE BIG SHORT is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. The sexuality/nudity is brief and most adults will be able to gloss over it with little objection. It is intended for thinking adults and those who, like me, love a chance to peak behind the scenes of some of our world's most prominent news headlines. The language is prominent but fits the frustration of the characters.  I give it 4 out of 5 dotted lines. It is a shocking story that will make you shake your head in bewilderment. It is also sobering to think that it could easily happen again. All of this topped off with fine dramatic performances.


The Danish Girl - Review

R  |  120 min  |  Biography, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In select theaters December 18th 2015**

SynopsisThe remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

Review1920's Denmark is the backdrop on which Director Tom Hopper paints a beautiful, dramatic portrait with THE DANISH GIRL. At first glance it would seem like this is just a bandwagon film latching on to some 2016 pop culture headlines. But do not let that distract you from, in my opinion, the more powerful story; that of Gerda Wegener. 

Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) is a female painter in a male dominated world. Her husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is the successful and well respected artist in the family. The two have a passionate, outgoing, and affectionate marriage. They are peers in the artistic world and admire each others talent. When Einar expresses to Gerda his desire to dress in women's clothing and openly admits that he feels more comfortable living as a woman their marriage takes a turn. But it is Gerda's compassion and patience that makes this movie powerful. Her acceptance and struggle is the story worth telling. 

Vikander is an amazing actress and in this role she truly gets to show what she is made of. We have seen her in the comedy action realm ( The Man from UNCLE) and the sci-fi world (Ex Machina) this year but this award worthy performance solidifies her place within the young Hollywood elite. Gerda is a struggling artist trying to get her work noticed. She has to deal literally with the other woman who is slowly stealing her husband away from her. You can see her toil against what her heart is saying, what society deems as acceptable, and what this means for her future as a wife. The more Lili Elbe emerges more pieces of Einar Wegener dies. And it is her pure love for Einar that allows her to embrace Lili. Vikander weaves all those emotions in a tapestry of dramatic brilliance. 

Eddie Redmayne caught the attention of everyone with his Academy Award winning performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. His slow transformation was riveting. The same thing happens here. We see him start out as an introvert artist who adores his wife and career. With each scene we see him morph and poke through the cocoon. There is no question that he has struggled with the inward pull of Lili for sometime. Once he feels the freedom to emerge as a woman outwardly it brings healing to the woman inside. Eddie has the soft features and timid smile that helps the outward appearance. It transcends just acting. Like Hawking, his physicality aides in the performance. 

The true story of Gerda and Einar is tragic and groundbreaking. There are nuances that could never be fully manifest on the big screen. This is not the modern world where transgender's are applauded as woman of the year. Instead they strapped you down and tried to drive out the perversion with radiation. Lili comes at a magnificent price. And Gerda spends all she has to aid in her birth. 

Hooper does an expert job of utilizing Lucinda Coxon's script with Danny Cohen's Cinematography to make a beautiful film. There are a lot of soft edges and filters to make a relaxing motif. This helps Redmayne and Vikander to pop off the screen. It is certainly one of the best looking films of the year. 

THE DANISH GIRL is rated R for some sexuality and full nudity. It is an adult drama visually and topically. The nudity and sexuality is handled with the same soft filter as the rest of the film so it is neither shocking nor salacious. Neither Redmayne nor Vikander flaunt their body or sexuality. The story is a journey for both characters and they each offer up powerful and stirring roles. It gets 4.5 out of 5 brush strokes regardless of who's story you think this is. 

Sisters - Review

R  |  118 min  |  Comedy
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 18th 2015**

SynopsisTwo sisters decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home.

ReviewThe premise for SISTERS has been done a hundred ways with a hundred different actors. But it is worth experiencing again simply because of the comic hilarity of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Love them or hate them there is no question that together they are an unstoppable funny force. This was no exception.

Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) and Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) are similar only in name and family. Though they are very close they have quite different personalities. Maura is the Poehler opposite of Kate. She is responsible, caring, and always looks for a way to help those less fortunate. Kate is none of that. When their parents announce they are selling the family home Kate and Maura decide to have the party to end all parties. Chaos ensues, 80's references abound, and Saturday Night Live alum take on character roles that are ridiculous but somehow fitting. Think Project X for old(er) people. 

What Fey and Poehler do so well is make light of themselves. They are quick to take stabs at other characters but equally turn the spotlight of their own flaws. In one scene they are trying on dresses for the big night and never try to hide their less than perfect bods. It is in embracing the humor in getting older that makes audiences feel comfortable enough to laugh out loud with them. Both deliver rapid fire commentary and jokes so effortlessly that to give them a script would be like putting a bit in a wild horse. Those moments are very entertaining and what make the movie succeed.

Normally we see them in an atmosphere where they are somewhat censored; whether on SNL or hosting a prime time award show. In the realm of an R rated comedy they have the opportunity to let it all hang out and fly. This may come across as off putting and inappropriate but honestly if there was anywhere it was appropriate it would be here. The sophomoric jokes and goofy delivery isn't everyones idea of box-office entertainment but for those who like to laugh at nonsense will overdose on sarcastic, crass one liners. 

SISTERS is also a high five for those older adults who miss the crazy parties of their younger years. It is a chance to vicariously live through some 40-somethings who take one night to forget kids, jobs, and responsibility to dive head first into youthful shenanigans. As Kate tells her guests at one point, "We didn't go to all this trouble so you could rush home to watch Flip or Flop!". And like most of these movie plots there are a lot of High School friendships that need rekindling and mending. Kate and Maura relive the wonder years in full force. 

The party itself becomes a monster all its own. Anything that could happen does. Kate and Maura threw great shindigs in their youth and want this last one to outshine them all. Many funny faces grace the guest list played by well known SNL peeps like Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolph. Several scenes play out like late night skits but that is ok. When put end to end they blend together enough to make for one laughable experience.  

The film is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use. It is undoubtedly an adult film and one for those who do not mind the off color joke or pun after pun of the human anatomy. Yet, Fey and Poehler make it endearing and not nearly as embarrassing as male driven comedies. They lend their tongue in cheek, non pretentious delivery to each line which sort of softens the blow. I give it 3 out of 5 pedicures. Certainly a must see for those, like me, who love watching these two together, uncensored, and off the leash.




The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association voted the newsroom drama SPOTLIGHT as the best film of 2015, according to the results of its 22nd annual critics’ poll released today. This year’s awards are presented in memory of Philip Wuntch, the longtime Dallas Morning News film critic who passed away in October.
                Rounding out the composite list of the top 10 films of the year were THE REVENANT (2), CAROL (3), SICARIO (4), MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (5), THE BIG SHORT (6), THE MARTIAN (7), ROOM (8), THE DANISH GIRL (9) and BROOKLYN (10).
                For Best Actor, the association named Leonardo DiCaprio for THE REVENANT. Runners-up included Michael Fassbender for STEVE JOBS (2), Eddie Redmayne for THE DANISH GIRL (3), Matt Damon for THE MARTIAN (4) and Johnny Depp for BLACK MASS (5).
                Brie Larson was voted Best Actress for ROOM. Next in the voting were Cate Blanchett for CAROL (2), Saoirse Ronan for BROOKLYN (3), Charlotte Rampling for 45 YEARS (4) and a tie between Charlize Theron for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and Carey Mulligan for SUFFRAGETTE (5).
                In the Best Supporting Actor category, the winner was Paul Dano for LOVE AND MERCY. He was followed by Mark Rylance for BRIDGE OF SPIES (2), Tom Hardy for THE REVENANT (3), Idris Elba for BEASTS OF NO NATION (4) and Benicio del Toro for SICARIO (5).
                For Best Supporting Actress, the association named Rooney Mara for CAROL. Runners-up were Alicia Vikander for EX MACHINA (2), Kate Winslet for STEVE JOBS (3), Alicia Vikander for THE DANISH GIRL (4) and Jennifer Jason Leigh for THE HATEFUL EIGHT (5).
                Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was voted Best Director for THE REVENANT. Next in the voting were Thomas McCarthy for SPOTLIGHT (2), George Miller for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (3), Todd Haynes for CAROL (4) and Denis Villeneuve for SICARIO (5).
                The association voted SON OF SAUL as the best foreign-language film of the year. Runners-up included THE ASSASSIN (2), THE SECOND MOTHER (3), MUSTANG (4) and GOODNIGHT MOMMY (5).
INSIDE OUT was named the best animated film of 2015, with ANOMALISA as runner-up. Thomas McCarthy and Josh Singer shared the Best Screenplay award for SPOTLIGHT over Emma Donoghue for ROOM.
The award for Best Cinematography went to Emmanuel Lubezki for THE REVENANT, followed by Edward Lachman for CAROL. The association gave its award for Best Musical Score to Bryce Dessner, Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto for THE REVENANT, beating out Ennio Morricone for THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
                The association voted TANGERINE as the winner of the Russell Smith Award, named for the late Dallas Morning News film critic. The honor is given annually to the best low-budget or cutting-edge independent film.
                The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association consists of 31 broadcast, print and online journalists from throughout North Texas. For more information, visit www.dfwcritics.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @dfwfilmcritics.


Krampus: The Reckoning and Deep Dark - Reviews


Review - Rusty Ryan

SynopsisZoe, a strange child has a not so imaginary friend the Krampus who is the dark companion of St. Nicholas.

ReviewThis upcoming holiday just might be the season of Krampus. You are familiar with Krampus, right?  If not, here goes: Krampus is the bad demonic version of Santa. Santa rewards the nice people with presents and gives the bad ones coal. Krampus pretty much ignores the good ones and goes straight to killing the bad ones.

There have actually been a few Krampus-themed features over the years including Krampus - The Christmas Devil, Night of the Krampus and Santa Krampus. Soon theaters will be showing a big budget Hollywood horror/comedy called Krampus. And finally, Krampus just might get his due. However, this is not that movie!

Released this year, Krampus: The Reckoning is a horror movie that seems to wear it’s low, low budget like a badge of honor. It is directed and co-written by Robert Conway. It revolves around a detached little girl named Zoe who can magically conjure up her friend the Krampus to torture and burn anyone that she doesn’t like. 

The rest of the story is told with unflinching miscues in lighting, continuity, dialogue, focus and acting. It does hold your attention in a “train-wreck” sort of way. The moments when Krampus extracts his revenge are very uneven. Krampus shows up, the next moment the victim is covered in blood, then goes up in flame. During this, the obviously computer animated monster that stares and growls. The editing will have you scratching your head. Think Sci-Fi Network, then turn it down a few notches.

The lead actress playing Zoe’s Doctor is Monica Engesser. She is easily the most accomplished performer in the film. Unfortunately she is surrounded by very uneven production values, boring dialogue, and a “surprise” ending that is just not fleshed out.

Krampus: The Reckoning contains some harsh language, two graphic sex scenes and some bloody murders that are more silly than scary. If you really want to get into the Krampus Holiday Season, I recommend holding out for the December 4th theatrical release of the big budget Krampus starring Toni Collette. 



Review - Rusty Ryan

SynopsisA failed sculptor discovers a strange, talking hole in the wall. It has the power to fulfill his wildest dreams...and become his worst nightmare.

Review“Deep Dark” is an initially interesting horror story about a failed sculptor that discovers a hole in his apartment wall. This is no ordinary hole. It talks, has feelings and has the power to fulfill his dreams of being a successful artist. But this is a horror film, so you already know this can never work out well for our hero.

The film is directed and co-written by Michael Madadlia. It is obviously shot on a limited budget but Madadlia does manage to squeeze out every dollar. Unfortunately it seems the dollars ran out before his movie did.

The story walks a fine line of being original but at he same time clearly brings up memories of 2013’s “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix. “Deep Dark” does have a very demented slant: Just like Phoenix’s character in “Her”, Hermann (Sean McGrath) develops an emotional relationship with the talking hole (voiced by Denise Poirier). Quickly into the “relationship” the hole becomes very jealous and wants more from the sculptor. The hole reacts to our hero’s touch and soon demands that their relationship be consummated. Use your imagination for that one! Their relationship quickly spirals into a violent and dangerous place.

As previously stated, “Deep Dark” starts as a great premise but just does not complete any plot strand. Major holes develop and other story lines are left hanging. One example: midway into the film, the nosey landlord enters the apartment, peeks into the hole and gets her eye bitten by the hole. She runs out screaming and wounded. We never see her again. Did she just go home, put on some Bactine and forget the fact that her tenant has something in his apartment that just took out her eye? Seriously, we never see her again.

The ending is the same way. It just seems unfinished and confusing. “Deep Dark” started with promise but quickly goes downhill. Expect some gore and the aforementioned “sex” scene. Some of the more interesting characters are left dangling. Definitely one for those who have “seen it all”, otherwise I would recommend renting another apartment.


An interview with Juliet Stevenson for THE LETTERS

Juliet Stevenson takes on the role of Mother Teresa in the new drama, THE LETTERS. I had a chance to speak with her over the phone from NY about the role.

**In theaters December 4th 2015**

My review of THE LETTERS 

SynopsisA drama that explores the life of Mother Teresa through letters she wrote to her longtime friend and spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem over a nearly 50-year period.


Matt Mungle:  Hi Juliet, how are you?

Juliet Stevenson: I'm well, how are you? 

MM: I'm doing great, thanks. I understand that you're in New York which is a great place to spend the Holidays. Is there a special place that's close to your heart to spend this time of year?

Juliet Stevenson: Back in England we have a little cottage on the east coast in East Anglia, which is surrounded by water, and I guess that's my special place. We go there with the kids at Christmas and whenever we can, and it's just like sky and water and light and birds; that's probably my special place. On the other end of the spectrum I do love New York. It's always a treat coming here.

MM: I can imagine that the times you do get away for a holiday is probably good, because it seems like you're really busy most of the time. Do you thrive on that busyness of a schedule, always having a project coming and looming? Is that what keeps you going? 

JS: That's a really good question, I think I do. We've got 4 kids at home between us, it's quite a busy house as well. I think I do like to be busy. When I'm not, there's plenty of other things I like getting involved with, although when it stops I always rather love it, yeah. 

MM: In the midst of this busyness, here we have this project, The Letters, which we're talking about now, how did that end up in front of you with everything else? What about this caught your eye? Did you seek it out, or did somebody seek you out? How did those paths cross?

JS: Somebody sought me out, the director, William Riead, obviously through my agents. I truly, truly thought he got the wrong person. They said, "There's a guy who has offered you Mother Teresa." I said, "Well, he's got to have made a mistake. It's obviously not me. He's looking for somebody else." He rang me at home and I said, "Listen, I'm 5'8", she's 5'1". I’m strongly built and she was tiny and I'm not a Catholic. Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?" He said, "Absolutely. Absolutely." I was thrilled in a way because she is so different from me. She's such a far reach for me to get to. It was the most wonderful challenge. I think that's what you want. What you want is stuff that really turns you inside out. That's what I'm always looking for is the next job, something that's unnerving or tricky or challenging or that you're a bit scared of. Because otherwise as an actor you get boring. There's a great danger you'll get boring. If you go on playing the same kind of role similar to you it's so dull. I loved having this transformation.

MM: Did he ever share with you, even in just passing, what it was about you that did catch his eye? Because you say you're so different and all these elements, was there something that came out later?

JS: You know, I never understood why he asked me. He said it was his wife's idea. I don't know what he'd seen or why but I'm glad he did because it was an amazing experience going to India, which I'd never been to and just exploring her really in all her complexity.

MM: Watching the film, it's almost like there was a transformation and I wanted to talk a little bit about how you fleshed her out because there were certain things about your posture and even your facial expressions as you're dealing with these other young women and the compassion that's there but is also an inner strength of faith even struggling through the doubts that we see come out in the movie. There're all these complexities about her that's played out even in a single facial expression. Kind of just talk a little bit about how you fleshed her out that way.

JS: Well I fleshed her out by watching absolutely mountains of documentary footage, interviews with her. I locked myself in a room at the British Film Institute where they have the records of everything. I just said, "Find me everything on Mother Teresa that you've got." Then you sit in the middle of the room in the dark and watch and watch. I had loads of taped interviews with her too on audio. All the time I was filming, in my lunch breaks and everything I would just listen to her on my little MP3 player, my ear plugs. I wanted to immerse myself in, first of all, the way she spoke the strange accent that was a mixture of Albanian, English, Hindi and then her body language as you said it was very ... It struck me watching her body moving, watching her walk and move that she had this strange body shape, this concave chest and lots of tension in the neck and shoulders. Her shoulders were high always and then these huge hands for somebody so little. They were always touching people, stroking them, patting them, patting their faces, very tactile. Which for a woman who is living a celibate life and giving her body to herself was interesting. 
When you're inside that body shape and that weird accent it starts to tell you things, but I also read a lot. I read stuff about her. I read interviews with her. I read stuff she'd written. I went to talk to nuns. I did work quite hard. There are still 1 or 2 branches of her order that are dotted around London doing work with the poor and destitute in different parts of London so I went and talked to a bunch of very elderly nuns who still work in her order and some of them had worked with her in Calcutta who could tell me personal stories about her.

MM: We all know so much about her, or think we do, and then watching this what struck me is the focus and agenda of compassion over conversion that she had, that kindness was to rule out over everything. Not saying that you're not a kind person in general but coming out of this on the other side do you look at compassion and kindness a little bit differently when you come across certain people? Did it change you in any way in that form?

JS: I think the one place I could connect with her, the one, perhaps, overlap we might have is that in the sense that I am a bit of a pushover for anybody who's in a bad way. I did quite a lot of charity stuff at home and especially with refugees and migrants and very unfashionable end of the charity radar, as it were. I think that was easy to connect with in her and unlike most of us she rolled up her sleeves and devoted her whole life to it. I mean listen, the times we're living in, especially coming from Europe you know where the borders of Europe are clogged with desperate people living outdoors with babies and infants and old people and living in the wet and the cold and desperately trying to find somewhere safe to live and who will have them. Never has there been more need for the sort of compassion that Mother Teresa ... It was the fuel of her life wasn't it? The gasoline of her life was this compassion and we could do with a bit more of that.

MM: I think so, and I think we just sort of answered one of the questions we had earlier. Maybe that was why you were perfect for this role. Maybe it was that connection of kindness and maybe there was something in that nature was just supposed to be because it was a fabulous role. You did a marvelous job, an award worthy role for sure. I really appreciate you spending some time with us to chat about that and best of luck with the film releasing this week.

JS: Oh, thanks, Matt. It was lovely to talk to you


Youth - Review

R  |  118 min  |  Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 4th 2015**

SynopsisA retired orchestra conductor is on holiday with his daughter and his film director best friend in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip's birthday.

ReviewThere is something immensely special about Paolo Sorrentino's script for YOUTH. It is touching, whimsical, and engages emotions on several layers. He then takes the written word and directs it to near perfection. This is a film that has to be embraced as a whole. To dissect it or try and explain every nuisance would take away the beauty. So just open your heart and mind and let the story sweep you away. 

The film centers around Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) a retired orchestra conductor vacationing at a fancy spa in the Alps. The rooms are full of famous movie makers, sports figures, and the upper crust of polite society. The people are quiet and respectful and each feels as if to make too much noise would be to spoil the serene surroundings. Fred's best friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is a filmmaker there polishing his latest script and musing over life's past with Fred. The two take long walks and talk about lost love's, regrets and accomplishments. The dialogues are not superficial or trite but rather they are rich in subtle wisdom and emotional anecdotes. 

Though these two are the central characters the movie is actually about us all. Whether you are young and diving full force into uncharted waters or nearing the end of your journey and looking at life in a reflective glass; there is something here to move you. Granted this film will be appreciated a tad more by older audiences due to the pacing and character arcs. Still it is not a stuffy walk down memory lane. The lacing of eccentric characters who move in and out of the story add a fanciful dance to the whimsy. It keeps you off balance just enough so that the powerful moments have a greater impact. 

The supporting cast of Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano fit wonderfully in the quiet atmosphere. Weisz plays Ballinger's daughter who is having some staggering moments of her own. They have never been very close and getting her dad to engage deeply with her has always been a struggle. Fred Ballinger gets a visit from the Queen's Emissary (Alex Macqueen) to try and talk him into making a special conducting appearance for Prince Phillip's Birthday bash. The Queen has asked that Ballinger lead an orchestra and renowned soprano in one of his most famous pieces. Fred denies the request and as the movie progresses his reasons become clearer. This decision is a critical arc in the story and one that is important to his and his daughters healing.

There are moments when Sorrentino will pull back the dialogue and allow the soundtrack to conduct the scene. Music is a powerful tool and the choices used here are as moving as any word. It makes the movie seem dreamlike. As if at any moment the characters would awaken from an invigorating sleep and audience would discover that they had been peaking in at the subconscious of those on screen.

YOUTH is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language. There is nothing gratuitous or salacious about the content. The nudity and sexuality are handled and offered in a mature fashion not unlike a fine painting. It is certainly an adult film and not for kids. Those who follow the Oscar race and love a good award season drama should certainly keep this on their radar. I give it 4 out of 5 bike rides. Paolo Sorrentino has given us a superb film. 

90 Minutes in Heaven now on DVD

Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Universal
DVD Release Date: December 1, 2015
Run Time: 122 minutes

SynopsisDuring the 90 minutes he is declared dead after a traffic accident, Don Piper experiences love, joy and life like he’s never known. But when he finally wakes in the hospital, Heaven’s bliss is replaced by excruciating pain and emotional turmoil. With the support of his family and community, Don clings to his faith and fights to recover the life he’s lost. Featuring Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth, 90 Minutes in Heaven is an emotional and inspiring story of perseverance that will bring hope and encouragement to all who see it.

Available in time for the holiday season, 90 Minutes in Heaven is a gift of comfort, hope and encouragement for when we don’t have the right words to say.

Interview: I had a chance to chat with Don Piper about the film and below are some audio clips from our conversation.

1. - Were you part of the casting decisions and what are your thoughts on having Hayden Christensen play you? Did you spend much time together? AUDIO

2 - Often many liberties are taken between a book and the screenplay adaptation. Will readers of the book find it similar and were you happy with the outcome? AUDIO

3 - Many people will be skeptical of this story and even more so now due to other similar books being discovered as fabrications. How do you speak to that? AUDIO

4 - Why do you think that you were chosen to not only experience this but then be sent to live out the rest of your life here in an imperfect and often painful body? AUDIO


The Letters - Review

PG  |  114 min  |  Drama 
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters December 4th 2015**

SynopsisA drama that explores the life of Mother Teresa through letters she wrote to her longtime friend and spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem over a nearly 50-year period. 

Review: There has been a lot written about Mother Teresa but THE LETTERS is the most intimate by far. Documentaries are able to lay out the facts and share actual footage but a drama allows the story to move and breath at a more gentle pace. 

The film starts with a committee discussing the canonization of Mother Teresa (Juliet Stevenson). There is concern about a group of letters written by her that tell of her struggles and moments of self doubt. Then begins the story of her journey from early teachings at a convent to her lifelong devotion to the poor of Calcutta. 

The intriguing part of The Letters is that it focuses a lot on the obstacles she overcame trying to follow her calling. Many may think it was a simple process. Here was this well respected teacher who decided to reach out and help the poor around her. Seems like the church and local governments would applaud her. But as with many worthwhile endeavors the path was not an easy one. Red tape and opposition from the Catholic Church was one of the biggest hurdles. It is encouraging to watch her face each one with the same outward unwavering faith and determination. All while inwardly questioning so much. 

Mother Teresa was not only an aide to the poor in India but an inspiration to all those around her. Many young women discovered a renewed passion and desire to serve under her wing. Her soft spoken demeanor and open heart was infectious. But what beats the loudest is her compassion for souls. Not to convert but to comfort. This is not a woman with an agenda or screaming a dogmatic rant. Her directive was love.

Stevenson is perfect in her portrayal of Mother Teresa. The way she carries herself both in body motions and soft facial expression encompasses the stature of this amazing woman. She delivers each line with the balance of conviction and determination. Even in her moments of doubt there is the underlying understanding that is not her will being carried out. 

The film is written and directed by William Riead who uses the streets of India as a canvas of despair. You can sense the isolation that Mother Teresa must have felt as she looked out of her convent windows to the people below. The set design and cinematography is a portal to a different time and place. This draws you into the story and solidifies the person of Mother Teresa. 

THE LETTERS is rated PG for thematic material including some images of human suffering. It is safe for the whole family but the story and dramatic material are intended for those older. Young viewers would certainly be encouraged and enlightened by the story but find the pacing and dialogue too slow. A must see for those who like to engage with non fictional characters. I give it 4 out of 5 pope mobiles. What I thought was going to be a regurgitation of everything I have seen and read in the past turned out to be a very thought proving and interesting story of a well known figure.