Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Woman in Gold, While We're Young, and Furious 7

   Too Fast (although aging) To Live, Too Young (or ornery) To Die
    (adapted from The Eagles’ "James Dean" [from their 1974 On the Border album]; this 
    highlighted link is the first in a cluster of many more Eagles videos if that suits your tastes)
                                     Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                               Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis)

Another “based on true events” story, this one about Maria Altmann, an Austrian refugee from the Nazis who much later works with a lawyer through various courts to recover paintings stolen from her family home during WW II, especially the portrait of her aunt Adele which Austria claimed was left to the country in Adele’s will despite evidence to the contrary.

What Happens: I’ll give you the plot summary in chronological order because the film’s structure constantly moves from the present of roughly 2000-2006 back to Vienna of the early 20th century, then during Nazi occupation in the WW II era.  So, we begin with the prosperous Vienna Bloch-Bauer family where little Maria (played by Tatiana Maslany)—born in 1916—lives a very comfortable life with her sister, her parents, Gustav (Allan Corduner) and Therese (Nina Kunzendorf), and her mother’s sister, Adele (Antje Traue), married to Gustav’s brother Ferdinand (Henry Goodman); great names from all of Viennese society and the arts frequented their luxurious home, including the painter Gustav Klimt who made a striking portrait of Adele in 1907, ornamented with his characteristic lavish use of gold leaf (he’s probably best known for The Kiss, painted 1908-09)Adele died young in 1925, asking her husband in her will to donate their 5 Klimt paintings to Austria’s Österreichische Galare Belvedere (the National Gallery, located at the Belvedere palaces in Vienna; The Kiss is there).  As a young woman, Maria married Fredrick “Fritz” Altmann in 1937, but with German annexation of Austria in 1938 and immediate repression of Jews, including Maria’s family, she and Fritz escaped to the U.S. while the family’s Klimt paintings (and other valuables) were first seized by the invaders, then retrieved by the Austrian government taking possession of them as indicated by Adele’s will.  However, by the end of the 20th century Austria and other European countries were establishing Restoration Committees to explore returning stolen property to its rightful owners so Maria (now played by Helen Mirren), at her sister’s funeral in Los Angeles, approaches a family friend about her lawyer son, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds)—grandson of the famous Expressionist/proto-Modernist composer, Arnold Schoenberg—helping Maria recover the beloved portrait of her aunt.  He reluctantly agrees, but they get no cooperation from the Austrians, who regarding the work as a national treasure (with clear implications that there’s still plenty of hidden anti-Semitism at play, just as there had been back in the 1930s when scores of the Block-Bauer’s neighbors welcomed Hitler’s murderous hoards into their country).
 Through some clandestine help, though, they find evidence that the will is invalid because the paintings actually belonged to Ferdinand, who died in 1945 leaving the Klimts to Maria and her sister; however, challenging the government means going to court, where the filing fee is extraordinary because of the estimated value of the artworks.  Randol then finds a loophole that allows Maria to sue Austria in U.S. courts, verified in 2001 by an L.A. federal court, upheld in 2004 by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Still, Schoenberg knew that court expenses, legal delays, and Maria’s age would work against a lawsuit (plus, he’d also quit his job at a prestigious firm to follow this quest, so his funds were short as well); instead he got the Austrians (and a reluctant Maria) to agree to a decision by a 3-abritor-panel, which surprisingly found in her favor in January 2006.  As we learn from graphics just before the closing credits, later that year she sold the so-called Woman in Gold to Ronald Lauder for $135 million (the highest price ever for a painting by that time, now at #6 with Paul Gauguin’s 1892 When Will You Marry? going for about $300 million to an unknown buyer in February 2015) who’s kept it on pubic display in NYC’s Neue Galarie; Maria died in 2011.

So What? You have to admit, it’s been awhile since you’ve seen a new narrative about a young Austrian woman named Maria escaping with her husband from Nazi occupation (although the point of departure here is Vienna rather than Mozart's Salzburg), but this story is very different from the movie version of the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) as there’s no singing, little humor (except with the older Maria’s crusty attitudes, especially toward Randol in their early going), and a clear sense of post-war-continuation of resentment toward the Austrian elite, both for their war crimes and their continued resistance to the legitimate claims of an elderly Jewish victim of such atrocities more than half a century later.  (Although I must say I’ve visited Austria 3 times and always been impressed with the warmth and generosity of its inhabitants; my only “insult” there came in 2007 when an older woman somehow recognized me as an American and said bluntly “[G.W.] Bush bad!,” but I agreed on the spot.)  While there’s some understandable sympathy toward the nationalistic pride that Maria’s official opponents feel toward their determined desire to retain Adele Bloch-Bauer’s stunning portrait (they refer to it as the “Austrian Mona Lisa”), that quickly fades by comparison to Altmann’s mix of melancholy, anger, and despair when she’s forced to return to Vienna to confront her opponents.  It’s a depressing reality indeed to be reminded once again of the many levels of horror brought about by the Nazi occupation of much of Europe (including Germany) in the late 1930s to mid-1940s; however, this much more personalized story than what was presented in The Monuments Men (George Clooney, 2014; review in our February 14, 2014 posting)—about actual wartime efforts to recover stolen treasures—is given great gravitas by Mirren’s excellent performance, with Reynolds effective as well portraying a determined young man somewhat out of his depth but energized by his own embrace of the better aspects of his heritage once he initially visits Vienna.  Even though you can easily find out all you need to know about the narrative events of this film without even watching it, the legal maneuverings don’t get dense and complicated, allowing the emotional power of how the horrors of the past still haunt a woman innocently robbed of her home and most of her family by the fanatical crimes of madmen.

Bottom Line Final Comments: According to the documentary, The Art of the Heist: The Lady in Gold (3rd link in the recommendations far below for this film), what we see in Woman in Gold is generally accurate in its structure, motivations, and character presentations, although certain elements have been fictionalized for dramatic effect (most notably, Altmann and Schoenberg didn’t go back to Vienna for the arbitration hearing and decision; he simply received the news late one night via a phone call); however, the augmentations don’t intrude upon the essential story, nor does the narrative as presented weigh you down with complex legal information nor an abundance of historical detail (there are only occasional references to specific years within this vast timeline, but the actions occurring are sufficient to clue you in on needed temporal orientations).  The real focus here is on Maria’s struggle for personal justice and keeping her memories alive, which resonated with me much better than it seems to have done with the critical community at large (see those links below to find that the Rotten Tomatoers gave this only 51% positive reviews while the Metacritics were equally harsh with 52%, with the complaints focused on claims of dull exposition even though there was lots of praise for Mirren’s performance).  I admit that there are multiple other sources to learn what happened with Maria Altmann and the famous portrait of her aunt, but by watching this film you’ll still benefit greatly from understanding the ongoing impact that the loss of home, family, and culture can have on a person even so many years later, even with a generally happy (although economically restrained) life after the time of the atrocities had passed.  For my Musical Metaphor to conclude these remarks on Woman in Gold I’ll offer the “Bookends Theme” at (with some added imagery that has nothing to do with the film, just photos intended to evoke memories, but the last shot—of a train—definitely has its own metaphorical connections to this story, both in the trains that various escapees from Germany, Austria, and other European countries used to flee the oncoming marches of the Nazis and the very different trains that took those not so fortunate to the horrendous death camps) from the 1968 Bookends album by Simon and Garfunkel; it’s very short but poignant, evoking the power of both recalling and reclaiming the past, the ongoing thrust of Maria Altmann and Randol Schoenberg‘s quest in Woman in Gold.  (I’ve used this one somewhere before, but for me appropriateness trumps constant alternatives used just for the sake of variety.)
                           While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach)

A mid-40s childless NYC couple befriend another couple about half their ages in an attempt to stay relevant, especially as their lives as documentary filmmakers aren’t going much of anywhere, although there are suspicions that the younger guy (also an aspiring doc-er) just wanted to find new connections and financing for his own work so tensions arise all around.
What Happens: 44-year-old Josh (Ben Stiller) was once a noted emerging documentary filmmaker but he’s been working on the same unfinished project for about 10 years (something about life, political theory, and every trendy academic concern of the last few decades [I speak from experience here after a long life of college teaching], with a focus on interviewing elderly Ira Mandelstam [played by—an unrecognizable, to me at least—Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary folk-music-fame).  His wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), roughly the same age, seems to function as Josh’s producer when he’s actually working (which isn’t all that often because he’s awaiting grant funding; in the meantime his editor/soundman, Tim [Matthew Maher], is getting desperate for a paycheck); otherwise, I’m not sure what either of them do for the income needed to support their comfortable Brooklyn lifestyle (in which they convince themselves they’re satisfied even though Josh’s clearly hitting a creative wall and they both are being pressured to join the “baby cult” [Cornelia’s had 2 miscarriages, doesn’t want to try again] by friends such as Marina [Maria Dizzia] and Fletcher [Adam Horovitz, another musician I didn’t recognize—from the Beastie Boys—but this time it’s because I don’t know their music much at all], such a fanatical father that he has their new child’s sonogram tattooed on his left bicep).  One small source of income for Josh is teaching an adult-ed-class on documentary film, where one night he has auditors, young marrieds Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), with Jamie an aspiring documentarian (she makes organic designer ice cream), so a friendship develops; Josh and Cornelia are impressed that these hipsters have retro-tech-tastes for vinyl, typewriters, and VCRs, so they become closer, with Cornelia attempting to keep up with Darby at a hip-hop-dance-class, Josh (sounds like “Yosh” when Jamie says it) getting a trendy hat and reinvigoration for backing (his scenes with potential financier Hedge Fund Dave [Ryan Serhant] are hilarious as the younger guy just can’t conceive of what Josh is attempting to accomplish with his doc; I’ll also note that Serhant is the nephew of long-time Two Guys contributor Richard Parker [I assume; rj says that Ryan is “my younger brother’s son”], who, since his 2006 college graduation, has accomplished a lot as both an actor and a real-estate-broker [you can read his IMDb bio and a review of While We’re Young with a focus on Serhant's role]), then both of them joining the young(er)sters for a cleansing ceremony where you drink a concoction that helps you both hallucinate and vomit up your demons (seems to work quite well for everyone there).

 Jamie finally goes contemporary by joining Facebook to promote his emerging doc about random events (I must admit, I finally overcame my resistance to FB about a year ago in order to promote this blog, which has helped increase readership—especially outside the U.S., with lots of Russian readers recently [odd, in that I have very few FB friends offshore]), leading to a reconnection with an old-high-school-friend, Kent (Brady Corbet), so our foursome heads off to Poughkeepsie to interview him, whereupon they find he was in Afghanistan, opposed the war but still got a Purple Heart for heroic battlefield deeds (I'm proud to say that my Dad did the same in the Philippines way back in WW II), and has considered suicide so all of a sudden this serendipitous encounter is pushing Jamie’s film into intriguing territory, encouraging Josh and Cornelia to introduce him to her famous doc-maker-father, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), who’s receptive to the youngest man’s work but still feels that Josh’s current 6 ½ hr. cut contains too much unnecessarily-boring-material, setting Josh off on another one of his tirades against his father-in-law (who, admittedly, despite encouragement and support for Josh, is disappointed that his son-in-law hasn’t yet reached his potential).  As events unfold, Cornelia starts feeling alienated from Josh but attracted to Jamie while Darby’s edging away from Jamie, finding him to be too manipulative, revealing to Josh that their upstate “discovery” was actually her old friend and that they knew all about his life but set up the FB “connection” as a way to make Jamie’s film more dramatic while encouraging Josh and his connections into the needed financing.  It all culminates when Josh, Cornelia, and Jamie attend a lifetime-achievement-dinner for Leslie, with the 2 younger men arguing in private about authenticity vs. functionality, leading to Josh “unmasking” Jamie to Leslie, only to have the honored-authority-figure not be upset by Josh’s revelations because he doesn’t feel that they undercut the impact of Jamie’s subject matter as it unfolds on-screen (there’s also the question of Josh’s hair-trigger-ego here, as he admits he wanted a protégé, not a competitor, especially a more-successful-one).  By a year later, Jamie’s film is a hit at Sundance while Josh and Cornelia have adopted a baby but are appalled one day at a playground when they see another toddler make a cell-phone-call.

So What? Writer-director Baumbach’s done some very intriguing films in his relatively-young-life (born 1969, a year before I finished my undergrad education so I’m a generation ahead of him just as he’s a generation ahead of Jamie and Darby, possibly putting into the characters of Josh and Cornelia concerns that might be very real for him—although he’s managed to establish a notable career in independent filmmaking so far that well exceeds anything Josh’s accomplished; even his debut success doesn’t seem to be generating much in the way of royalties, in that Jamie watched it [for free, I assume] on the Internet—although that’s a bit out of character because he and Darby usually distain such contemporary “brain-rot” options, yet he does adjust to the financial reality of doing his filming with a tiny digital camera rather than the old- (and expensive-) school apparatus of 16mm [regarding the comments about my own aborted career in 16mm noted in the paragraph just below, I must thank haughty professor Ron Policy for keeping me from that eternal-money-drain of a career path, especially given that I seem to think only in still images of paintings and photos, not in the motion world of cinema which I enjoy watching and writing about rather than trying to even conceive of making, even at the scripting stage), with my favorites being The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007), and Francis Ha (2012; review in our May 30, 2012 posting—although I had a few problems with the final impact of that one as well).  Once again, he’s managed in While We’re Young to craft an intriguing concept that blends intra- and inter-generational conflicts; a debate on how much the presence of truth matters in the realm of art (with Leslie’s concerns about documentaries “revealing the world” but without Josh’s tendency to overthink and overload his work—hmm, sounds like a film critic I’ve seen in the mirror a lot); and a mediation on the value of personal sincerity (Josh overplans in his quest for authenticity but it’s pushing Cornelia away; Jamie takes whatever he can—including the works of others, which he feels are for sharing; we’ll see if he still feels that way when others begin to “borrow” from him—but his own type of controlling nature is alienating Darby as well), but despite the value of these individual aspects the whole package feels a little forced, as if Baumbach’s in Fellini/Bergman/Allen self-reflection mode without quite crafting a film that stands alone enough for others to successfully learn from/meditate on rather than it just being about what’s troubling this accomplished cinematic artist in recent years.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Closer than I’d like to admit to a half-century-ago, I was a beginning grad student thinking that I’d like to make a transition from painting to filmmaking, but first I had to get at least a B in a Super-8mm production class to advance into the hallowed (and beyond my resources if I’d been thinking clearly) world of 16mm.  Only 1 of my projects had a partial degree of success, with the others being mundane overall and 1 dismissed by the instructor as “constructing a freight train to carry a teacup’s worth of message” (it was a response to a breakup with a long-time girlfriend so I filled it with various genital-innuendoes and an angry-yet-sob-story-soundtrack; in retrospect I agree with the evaluation and thank the gods that this chunk of drivel no longer exists).  Consequently, I’ll have to say that, despite the humor in the generational-clash-early-scenes of While We’re Young, which Ben Stiller (and, let’s not forget, Ryan Serhant) mine for fabulous comic effect, I think the overall film stumbles into that same “freight train-teacup” problem in that the intent really seems to be about a question of ethics in terms of how a documentary’s content must be stumbled onto for it to manifest proper authenticity (Josh’s position) vs. using “whatever means necessary” to get your work before the public in hopes of enhancing/maintaining your career (Jamie’s attitude, with no sense of irony for a change).  It’s an intriguing philosophical point, but hardly one that needs the high-budget-construct of a feature-film-release, especially one where the implied results are that subterfuge in the name of art fits in the modern world just as succumbing to the mores of your actual age group will bring happiness (and I’m still not sure what Josh and Cornelia are doing to support themselves, let alone their new child).  Maybe Baumbach is just going for under-appreciated-satire (mostly by me; check the links far below to see 85% positive from Rotten Tomatoes, 76% from Metacritic) rather than ponderous thoughts on life and art or maybe I just saw way too much of Woody Allen’s similar-yet-superior Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989; now there’s a film that would finally get a full 5 stars from me if I’d ever start reviewing older releases) in it, but to me While We’re Young was using a lot of effective-culture-clash-humor to set up a conflict of ethical perspectives that just didn’t mesh well enough to generate the best holistic on-screen-experience (or maybe I’m just having my own culture-clash with the work of filmmakers and reviewers who’re generally not of my Baby Boomer generation).

 With that last consideration in mind, I’ll pull my Musical Metaphor for While We’re Young from a Boomer who’s never stopped reinventing himself, Bob Dylan, with “Forever Young” (from the 1974 Planet Waves album) performed by him and The Band (as part of the latter’s farewell concert [Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976; San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom] as recorded in The Last Waltz [Martin Scorsese, 1978]) at; or if that song’s message sounds too idealistically-optimistic about our pre-middle-aged-years, here’s another take on the (sometimes-misguided) exuberance of youth, again from Dylan, “My Back Pages” (from the 1964 Another Side of Bob Dylan album) at, the original recording but if you’d like another take on it here’s a version with the verses sung by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Dylan, and George Harrison (from the 1992 30th Anniversary of Dylan’s public career at NYC’s Madison Square Garden) at—I’ve also used this before somewhere (my archives aren’t that detailed), yet it seemed a natural companion piece to the Dylan/Band video that began this massive detour away from whatever Baumbach’s actual intentions were in his film.
                                     Furious 7 (James Wan)
The Fast and Furious “family” of race-car-based-daredevils returns again, not so much saving others from cold-hearted-villains (except as collateral damage) but trying to save themselves from an ultra-deadly-avenger out to kill them all in retaliation for their actions in the previous installment; a mundane plot but full of special effects and thrilling confrontations galore.
What Happens: As a response to the events of Fast & Furious 6 (Justin Lin, 2013)—but with the action of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Lin, 2006) interspersed (or so says a detailed summary, if you’re interested in more than I’m going to offer here; I wouldn’t know because this is only my 2nd exposure to the series, having seen Fast Five [Lin, 2011] out of curiosity as a fan of Dwayne Johnson [with the added pleasure in this new one of seeing him perform one of his signature wrestling moves, the Rock Bottom, from his WWE days as The Rock, on ultra-villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)])—we meet the vicious elder Shaw (a stealth-special-forces-soldier—in killing ability if not actual superpowers—“engineered” by Great Britain but now in a rogue-state-of-mind) at a London security-hospital where he singlehandedly disposes of everyone guarding his seriously-injured-comatose-younger-brother, Owen (Luke Evans), then sets out to avenge himself on the Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) “family” (which does include 1 sibling relationship [Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster)], 1 in-law [Mia’s husband, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker)] and 1 other marriage which long-time-fans would know better than either me or the amnesiac character herself [Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriquez)], married to Dom but not aware of it for most of this movie), beginning with U.S. Diplomatic Security Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) who ends up stuck in a hospital for most of the movie.  In the meantime, the Toretto group endures an astounding motorized battle along the twisting highway through the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan (cars—dropped from an airplane!—trucks, a heavily-armed-bus) to rescue a gifted hacker, Megan Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who’s created a God’s Eye espionage computer program that can tap into every device on Earth to track anyone; attempts to retrieve Megan's device in Abu Dhabi (where Dom drives a car from 1 of the 3 Etihad Towers through its neighbor, then into the final skyscraper from dozens of stories above ground); and finally a faceoff through the streets of L.A. with Shaw plus a terrorist group led by Mose Lakande (Djimon Hounsou), who briefly commanded the God’s Eye until all of the baddies except Shaw are dead (he somehow survived a good chunk of a concrete parking lot falling on him, so he’s now housed in maximum security until another sequel may come along).  At the end, there’s a touching farewell to Brian who simply leaves the “family” activities for a safer life with his wife and 2 kids (but it’s really a final tribute to Walker who died—in a brutal car crash, but as part of his civilian life during a break in filming).

So What? Well, to me, not much, except for highly respecting the production values of this complicated extreme-action/special-effects-enterprise.  In a way this series reminds me of the constraints that confront the scriptwriters (!) of professional wrestling (it’s that Rock connection again) where a very limited set of options (an increasingly-declining use of actual holds; a lot of body-busting-finishing-moves that often are the same action going by different names—Dallas Page’s Diamond Cutter, Steve Austin’s Stone Cold Stunner, Randy Orton’s RKO; the introduction of metal chairs and other illegal weapons, the use of which are often unseen by the referee; outside interference from a manager/bodyguard/partner/sibling, etc.) have to be constantly rearranged for the ongoing drama of these entertainment formats to perpetuate themselves with exaggeration of known quantities being about all that the creators can turn to.  So just as wrestlers now sometimes endure falls from precipitous heights or get slammed onto cars (with Hobbs suffering a combination of these tropes in the near-opening scenes of Furious 7), Dom and his crew are pushed further to the limits in situations that basically revolve around fast cars maneuvering through unlikely terrain, said cars becoming airborne (in 3 major scenes of this movie), and hand-to-hand-battles displaying variations on martial-arts-or-street-fighting skills (another thing you’d find in WWE matches; maybe when Vin’s tired of driving around so much Dwayne’ll introduce him to Vince McMahon).  However, the most difficult challenge for the Furious filmmakers this time was keeping the storyline moving after Walker met his untimely demise while principal cinematography was still active, forcing the special effects folks to use his 2 brothers as body doubles matched up with CGI “face implants” of Paul, along with older footage and voice recordings to keep his character alive in the story rather than just suddenly killing him off (as they seemingly did with Rodriquez in Fast & Furious [Lin, 2009], although she was back with memory loss in Fast & Furious 6, which she just as suddenly overcame at the end of the current Furious 7 when she feared that Dom was dead after his bruising battle with Shaw).  Here’s a short news segment that shows how many of the "keep-Walker-alive"-effects were created; I’m not that aware of him from the previous episodes, so I’ll admit that the special-effects-team fooled me as to when he was actually on screen, although his limited actions and lines in those final scenes did feel a bit odd for such a major character in the series, but there’s only so much you can do to revive the spirit of the deceased without turning this into a zombie movie.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Even though the plot is structured to simply overwhelm the audience with stunning stunts (the airdrop of the 5 “family” vehicles; Brian teetering on a bus about to go over a cliff; Dom intentionally driving a car over another cliff; the Abu Dhabi buildings leap; the collapse of the parking garage out from under Shaw after fair-weather-friend-Jakande riddles the concrete surrounding him with the helicopter’s armaments; Hobbs taking down that helicopter with a hand-held-machinegun, firing from the street) that combine the finest in cinematography and computer-generated-imagery, the whole thing just looked like a product-reel for a combined martial-arts/CGI-factory, requiring a level of suspended-belief that would take you airborne high enough to drop some more cars.  Still, if all you’re looking for is well-crafted-escapist-entertainment, Furious 7 delivers that in admirable fashion, with an actively-appropriate-viewer-response ($252.5 million domestically, over $800 million worldwide in less than 2 weeks of release, pushing the entire franchise to $3.18 billion worldwide as of this writing), possibly to see how the series creators can continue topping their previous extravagances, possibly to see how the whole thing holds together with Walker as a part-human, part-CGI experience himself.  As for a Musical Metaphor to honor the heritage of this most successful series (as does this current movie, with a good number of flashback shots and Dom retrieving his magnificent hotrod from the earlier movies for the final showdown with Shaw; it’s quite a muscle machine, but I know as little about cars as I do about previous F&F movies so just know that it looks like a killer ride—at least until Dom and Shaw intentionally smash head-on), I’ll turn to a version of the Beach Boys’ “Shut Down” (from the Surfin’ U.S.A. and Little Deuce Coupe albums, both 1963) with some appropriate race-car-imagery added for those car-fanatics among you at; however, if you’d prefer just the band, here they are, either in their original configuration back in 1964 at or doing their car-medley (“Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” “I Get Around”) as part of the 2012 50th anniversary concert tour at (what I saw in Berkeley was fabulous, no matter their ages).  By the time you read this Furious 7 will likely have soared to even-greater -ox-office-status, but if you’re a fan of this type of thing I’m sure you’ve seen it at least once already while if you’re not I think you can get all that you need from watching the trailer, which well captures the pace of this “furious” assault on your eyes and nerves.  With that, I’ll drive off into the sunset myself until it’s time for my next posting.
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Here’s some more information about Woman in Gold: (Art of the Heist: The Lady in Gold, 57:00 documentary on the theft of the famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of the fictionalization of this event in Woman in Gold, including interviews with Maria Altmann—sorry that what seems to be the original wide-screen-format has been squeezed into the old 4x3 video format for this posting; directed by Nigel Janes, 2007)

Here’s some more information about While We’re Young: (1:15 anatomy of a scene with director Noah Baumback that involves actors Ben Stiller and Adam Driver)

Here’s some more information about Furious 7: (this is the official site link, not just for the trailer) (40:15 interview with the Furious 7 main cast—well, the hero “family,” not the villains—and director Justin Lin)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Glad you cleared up the 'is it true to real life events?' issue for me, as I wasn't sure things were resolved by Altman and Schoenberg in such a neat, ordered fashion. Thanks Ken!

    1. Hi Jason (I know him from LinkedIn correspondence; I encourage my readers to check out his reviews at the link above), Thank you for commenting here. Ken

  2. Yes, Bookends was a superb album, one that resonated in my youth but interestingly had faded until your comments on Woman in Gold. The power of such a reference sometimes exceed that of a flawed Baumbach exercise. In fact that seminal work by Simon and Garfunkel may prove to have more staying power than all three of the above filmmakers' efforts.

    Woman in Gold shines the brightest and is the only one I would unequivocally recommend to a young couple pondering the Bijou's marquee hoping for a memorable choice on date night. I would certainly skip Furious 7 although it's clear that supercars flying through skyscrapers wins the dollar race, kind of like a Tesla (Fur7) blowing away a Volt (Gold) which handily dusts off a limited range Leaf (Young) when the later runs out of gas before the contest is over. While We're Young might have been a vehicle that Woody Allen could have tuned for a few more laughs and a lot more irony. But of course, Mr. Allen has already done this story. Yes, Ryan Serhant is my nephew and finds arguably better airtime as a high rolling broker on Bravo's Million Dollar Listing New York. While We're Young provides him some traction in the movie world as a somewhat typecast New York hedge fund manager (which is essentially what my step-daughter does in NYC). It's possible we are looking at Serhant's Revenge of the Creature introduction prior to his Good Bad and the Ugly breakout. As long as he does not end up talking to a chair things should be good. Critically, on While We're Young, I am onboard with the only other San Francisco critic that rivals Mr. Burke, Mike LaSalle who questions Noah Baumbach's execution of this film.

    1. Hi rj, Thanks for your very useful comments on all aspects of my rambling review, with you additions bringing it all to a more complete sense of closure. Ken

  3. The film is plain simple and best enjoyed by looking through the heartfelt performances of its lead stars, especially Ben Stiller.

  4. Hi Thomas, Thanks for your comment about While We're Young. Ken