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Review: ‘The Ides of March’

October 10, 2011

By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Oscar bait  that brilliantly shows why Americans are so done with our D.C. lawmakers.

Skillfully directed  and co-written by George Clooney (who also stars as a Democratic Presidential candidate),  this film  could turn even the most idealistic into a cynic when it comes to politicians.   In fact, that’s the whole point of the film: the campaign system as we now know it, breeds  corruption.  Never mind the scandals- we’ve come to expect that.  It’s  the dirtiness that will get to you. It’s a prescient statement on modern politics.

With Marisa Tomei  (you can’t make her dowdy!!) as a top “New York Times” political correspondent And Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as warring heads of opposing  campaigns, plus    Evan Rachel Wood as an intern, this film takes more than a few sharp turns, keeping you riveted from start to finish.

Wow- is this  Ryan Gosling’s year or what???!!!

First he showed  his comedic chops in “Crazy Stupid Love”,  easily holding up against the master, Steve Carrell. Then he astounded  us  with  his  mesmerizing  enigmatic performance in “Drive” last month.  “The Ides Of March” is a definite Oscar role for him- he goes from naïve  and idealistic to a  hardened cutthroat, without losing a beat. He’s vulnerable one minute and then  cold and calculating the next . Gosling is truly one of the acting greats of his generation.  And to think it all started in “The Mickey Mouse Club” with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Keri Russell!!

4 stars

Review: ‘The Human Centipede’

October 10, 2011
Shelli Sonstein and the Human Centipedes

Shelli Sonstein and the Human Centipedes

By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

This even out-sicks the original but this time, it’s a social commentary.

“Human Centipede”  creator-writer-director Tom Six  got the original premise for the first movie from a joke he once heard.  He turned the joke into what’s become a cult classic, parodied on “South Park”.  The horror in the original was mostly psychological.

Rather than churn out a re-do for the sequel (a la “The Hangover”) , Six did a 180 degreer,  with an in-your-face-disgusting-provocative-goregy. Laurence Harvey just may be the skeeviest villain ever on film.   Your skin crawls just looking at him.  But this villain is also a victim: he was sexually and otherwise abused at home and bullied over his looks and mental issues.

This film also takes up the issue of whether life imitates art.  Does violence beget violence?  Can it inspire a real-life sick copycat?

This film is so graphic , some critics fled the theater.  Others got sick. The violence and torture is so over the top, it becomes a dark comedy because it’s absolutely unbelievable. There too, there is a method to Six’s “madness”. All but the last minute of the film was shot in black and white. This provides a major clue for the ending.

Repulsive?  Yes.  But one thing’s for certain. Tom Six makes unforgettable movies.

3 stars

Review: ‘Moneyball’

September 26, 2011
Moneyball

Moneyball

By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

This is Brad Pitt’s movie all the way. It’s great that  he’s ok with looking his age and like wine, he gets just better with age. This is his richest role yet. Thankfully, the movie avoids romance, with the only  love theme centering on  Beane and his young daughter. But even that’s underplayed, refusing to pander to the female audience . When you build a film with such real-life heart, they will come .

Finally, a non-formulaic sports movie. Yea!!!  This film reminds me of  “The Social Network”  , in part,  because both were written by the great Aaron Sorkin.  “The Social Network”  made  computers and depositions  compelling . In  this one, dry numbers become  a  thrilling  story.

This is the story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane’s efforts to put together a low-budget winning  team  by using a computer-numbers-based analysis to draft his players- a system dreamed up by now-Mets V.P. Paul DePodesta.  Ironically, both teams have losing records this season.

You don’t have to like baseball to get into this film.  It’s a real-life  satisfying underdog story.  Essentially, the theme is change . The 2-plus-hours  whizz by .  While  Robin Wright Penn was basically wasted  in a thankless tiny role , Jonah Hill and an underused Phillip Seymour Hoffman  are spot-on.

3-and-a-half stars

Review: ‘Dolphin Tale 3D’

September 26, 2011
Dolphin Tale 3D

Dolphin Tale 3D

By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY Radio

I dare you not to  well up .

Based on and starring a dolphin named Winter,  this is the survival story of a dolphin who becomes the poster child-mammal for humans with disabilities.   Winter survives a near deadly entrapment in a crab net only to have  her tail amputated.  While she learns to swim without a tail, the motion she uses as an adaptation will ultimately kill her  because it will damage her spinal cord.  Thanks to a brilliant doctor,  a special prosthetic tail is  created for her,  making her  an iconic hero to amputees and others with disabilities.

While there’s an element of cheese, especially early on, it’s more like a tasty gruyere , definitely not velveta. There’s no emo-manipulation.  None is needed.   This story  becomes more and more touching as it unfolds.

Harry Connick Jr. stars as the Marine biologist and Morgan Freeman (the prosthetics doctor) reunites with Ashley Judd (as the single mom of our child hero) along with Kris Kristofferson as  Connick’s dad.  The cast is solid  but  Winter is the  real star. You can’t help but be inspired and touched. Def stay for the credits  to  meet the real-life heroes.

Drag the kids away from their video games , computers and smartphones  to see this movie.  This one is a true gem for the whole family.

3 stars

Review: ‘Killer Elite’

September 26, 2011
Killer Elite

Killer Elite

By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

Please Jason Statham,  show us what else you can do!!!!

How is this Jason Statham shoot ‘em up different from the other Jason Statham’s shoot ‘em ups?   He’s joined by A-listers Robert De Niro and Clive Owen in a story of dueling killing elites. It’s based on a real-life story  but  what should be extraordinary  becomes very ordinary  in this feature film directorial debut of Gary McKendry, who also wrote the script.

It’s a very been-there-done-that-  both story-wise and shot-wise.  Just another noisy mediocre action film .

1-and-a-half stars

Review: ‘Machine Gun Preacher’

September 26, 2011
Machine Gun Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher

 By Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

Another based on  real-lifer..in this case a drug dealer-turned preacher turned violent savior.

In yet another faith-based film (we’ve had quite a few of them this year!!)  Gerard Butler stars as Sam Childers, a biker-drug dealer who is born again  (thanks to wife Michelle Monaghan) and then inspired to save children in war-torn East Africa.  He becomes so obsessed, he risks losing everything back home in Pennsylvania , including his  wife , daughter and best friend (played  more subtly by Michael Shannon) .  They don’t call Childers Machine Gun Preacher for nothing.  He actually takes on arms to protect these kids.  Childers is a violent saint  who sometimes seems like  he’s a borderline psychopath.  A “normal” man would not go this route.  Childers is simply a fascinating figure.

Gerard Butler finally  breaks out of his lady killer/ warrior mold  to show us underneath he’s a solid actor who can sometimes say more with his  eyes than  his mouth.  Butler is the right man to play a bad-boy-turned crazy-good-guy. Childers is a man of passion and it boils over thanks to Butler.

The film  glosses over just why Childers is suddenly so open to religion That’s a big hole in a 2-plus- hour film .  While the violent  scenes  are hard to take  (especially the opening sequence) more heart-wrenching is the ongoing tragedy of the children  in  East Africa.  This is not your father’s  humanitarian tale.

2-and-a-half stars

HerPicks: Top Ten Father-Daughter Movies for Father’s Day

June 16, 2011

By Farihah Zaman

There are scads of films that explore that special relationship between a woman and her mother, but in honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, herFlix counts down ten movies to watch with your father to show that dad can be a girl’s best friend too.

Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride

1.    Father of the Bride  (Vincent Minnelli, 1950; OR  Charles Shyer, 1991)
The original film launched the career of Elizabeth Taylor as the daughter of Spencer Tracy, while the 1991 remake showed the softer side of comedian Steve Martin, married to a luminous Diane Keaton. Both films depict the anxiety of a sweet, funny, slightly overprotective father giving away his beloved only daughter in marriage.

2.   The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
A dysfunctional family story hidden within a surprisingly cerebral monster movie, Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho’s smart, strange film follows lovable slacker Park Gang-Du as he rallies his courage and bands together with his siblings in order to save his daughter from a mutated beast that has carried her off from the Seoul river.

3.   Pride & Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005)
People tend to focus on the romantic aspect of this witty Jane Austen classic, overlooking the warm, complex dynamic between Elizabeth Bennett and her father, captured best in the 2005 adaptation starring Keira Knightley. While her mother (Brenda Blethyn) dreams only of an advantageous marriage, Elizabeth’s father (Donald Sutherland) truly appreciates her intelligence and independence.

4.    Late Spring / An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949 and 1962)
Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu has explored father-daughter relationships in many of his films, but these two strike a particularly emotional chord as both follow a widowed single father trying to arrange marriage for his only daughter in a rapidly changing Japanese society. Understated, visually stunning, and bittersweet films for a dad who is a true cinephile

5.    Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008)
Maybe your dad is a badass who doesn’t want to watch some soft romantic comedy on his day – if that’s the case, consider Taken the father-daughter movie for you! Liam Neeson is a butt-kicking former spy who must recall all of his old tricks to find his kidnapped daughter.

6.    Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973)
Starring real-life father and daughter Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, this classic is about an infamous Great Depression-era con-man who finds himself responsible for a young girl who may or may not be his daughter. As he shows her the ways of his trade, the two forge an unexpected bond.

7.    The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Not every father-daughter relationship is a good one, unfortunately, and Darren Aronofsky’s multiple Academy Award nominated film shows Mickey Rourke’s professional wrestler struggling to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), after neglecting her for years. Beautiful but emotionally harrowing, only watch with dad if trying to send a message or your relationship is already air-tight.

8.    What a Girl Wants (Dennie Gordon, 2003)
One of the lighter entries on the list, this comedy stars the goofily charming Amanda Bynes as a recent high school graduate who discovers her father (an equally charming Colin Firth) is a high-profile British politician running for office. Beneath the slapstick and fish-out-of-water hijinks is a sweet look at a father and daughter making up for lost time.

9.    The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2009)
From exciting young filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve comes this poignant French film about a teenage girl, Clémence, who must deal with the aftermath of her producer father’s suicide;  he continues to be the most important person in her life even in death. A gently cathartic, ultimately uplifting film about closure in the face of tragedy.

10.    The Ballad of Jack and Rose (Rebecca Miller, 2006)
A film about a father and daughter who are just a tiny bit too close. Widower Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) live in co-dependent bliss on an isolated East Coast island, but their relationship is threatened when Jack begins seeing a woman from the mainland (herFlix favorite Catherine Keener).

HerPicks: Top Ten Women-Centric Films from the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

May 2, 2011

By Farihah Zaman

Tribeca Film Festival | 2011 Award Winners

Tribeca Film Festival | 2011 Award Winners

Here’s the list for the Top Ten women-centric feature films from the Tribeca Film Festival.. Tribeca must be doing something right – it wasn’t easy whittling it down to just these thought-provoking, international, and thematically diverse flicks.

Black Butterflies (Paula van der Oest)
Ingrid Jonker, a seminal poet during the oppressive apartheid of 1960s Cape Town, was exuberant, brilliant, and emotionally unstable. Carice van Houten delivers a truly moving performance as Jonker, often described as the Sylvia Plath of South Africa, in this unusually raw and understated biopic.

Cairo Exit (Hesham Issawi)
18 and pregnant, Amal must decide between running away with her Muslim boyfriend or facing the prospect of being a poor, unwed mother among her Christian family. The film is a classic tale of star-crossed romance unexpectedly set against working class neighborhoods of a Cairo on the brink of revolution.

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (Dori Berinstein)
The life of iconic performer Carol Channing is as charming and fabulous as any role she has ever played; the title of this documentary is more than fitting.  Berinstein’s experience and festival pedigree show in the way she skillfully weaves together archival television and stage performances with images of the 90-year-old legend today.

The Carrier (Maggie Betts)
This beautifully shot documentary follows Mutinta, the wife of a Zambian farmer who has just discovered she is HIV positive and pregnant. Betts allows her subjects to speak for themselves without the intrusion of heavy-handed filmmaking, and while Mutinta’s life is tough, her exploration of identity, motherhood, and self-respect is inspiring.

Last Night (Massy Tadjedin)
Plenty of films tell the story of people falling in love, or a long-term marriage on the rocks, but Last Night looks into the under-explored territory of temptation and doubt in a young, happily married couple. Keira Knightly and Sam Worthington do justice to the complexity of the tense and believable script.

The Good Life (Eva Mulvad)
Anne Beckman and her mother Mette used to live an affluent life traveling around Europe, but after suffering financial ruin they are forced to settle for a frugal life in Portugal. This documentary portrait of two flawed women and their complex love-hate relationship is already garnering comparisons to the classic Grey Gardens.

Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga)
Lauded actress Vera Farmiga stars and makes her directorial debut in this adaptation of Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir. A hit out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Higher Ground follows several years in the life of Caroline, a woman struggling with life and relationships as her strong religious faith begins to shift.

Turn Me On, Godammit (Jannicke Systad Jacobsen)
Alma is a small town teen who longs to experience love and sex, even at the risk of the judgment of her peers. Ramström and Korkeasalo handle the often taboo subject of burgeoning female sexuality with aplomb, combining the film’s frank tone with sweetness and humor, but never veering into sensationalism.

Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier)
Experimental documentarian Marie Losier’s first feature, about groundbreaking industrial musician Genesis P-Orridge, is a truly unconventional romance. The film focuses on Gen’s all-consuming relationship with Lady Jaye, and the couple’s decision to undergo several surgeries in order to physically resemble one another, blending the line of their individual identities to form a new person.

NYWIFT Program – New York Women in Film and Television, our co-presenters of the annual SWAN Day showcase of shorts by female filmmakers, has been supporting women artists for decades. The shorts program they have curated for the Tribeca Film Festival is special selection of rare work from groundbreaking experimental female filmmakers like Marie Menken, Lian Brandon, Barbara Hammer, and many more.

Check back with us for interviews and additions.

Review: ‘Exporting Raymond’

May 2, 2011
Exporting Raymond

Exporting Raymond

Review by Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

A hilarious look at attempts to make “Everybody Loves Raymond” in Russia.

“Everybody Loves Raymond’ lived  up to its name from 1996 through 2005 and still now, in re-runs.  It was loved around the world and exported  ‘round the world  , using the original episodes,  with native actors voicing.  But the Russians had something  different in mind.  They wanted creator Phil Rosenthal to come over to help them create an all new  all-Russian version of the same show.

So off Phil went on his journey to Russia with a camera crew following his every hilarious move. It’s hilarious because  of the culture clash and how  the Russians wants to change almost everything that made  the show the classic that it is. Rosenthal has the opposite of a poker-face. His reactions are priceless and as funny as the show he created.

Along the way, we discover  “Everybody Loves Raymond” is really the story of Phil Rosenthal’s family.  We even get to meet his parents.  The film inadvertently becomes a backstory to “Everybody Loves Raymond”…right down to Ray Romano channeling Rosenthal’s mannerisms.

Review: ‘That’s What I Am’

May 2, 2011
That's What I Am

That's What I Am

Review by Shelli Sonstein
q104.3 NY radio

An all-about-tolerance coming of ager for Baby Boomers, starring Peter Frampton’s daughter.

This could have been the movie version of “The Wonder Years”. Set in the mid-60’s starring a kid (the unknown Chase Ellison) who’s amazingly reminiscent of  Fred Savage, there are  loving parents and moral lessons to be learned in a sweetly comedic way.

While tolerance is the main theme of this film, with a beloved teacher (played by the magnificent Ed Harris)   run out of town because of gay rumor-mongering, it also heartily takes on an issue that seems to get worse through the years: bullying. Mostly, it’s the kids who get bullied and relegated to a sub-class .

Our young hero falls in love with the prettiest and most experienced kisser in the school, played by  the charming Mia Rose Frampton, the 15 year old daughter of rock great Peter Frampton.

What makes this movie even better: it’s based on the real life of director/writer Michael Pavone.  As good as it is,  and trust me- it’s a gem- this movie is better suited to tv, mainly because it would have a much bigger viewing.

3 Stars

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