CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

April 20, 2014

capt america Greetings again from the darkness. Many were unimpressed with the first Captain America movie, though I have always had a soft spot for the most heroic and genuinely pure of the superheroes. This sequel opens with Steve Rogers trying to acclimate after a 70 year sleep … he thinks the internet is pretty cool. It is a bit surprising that the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe, known for You, Me and Dupree) are the ones who load up on plot lines within a Marvel movie.

Starting off with big time action sequences, the movie then morphs into a geopolitical weave of intrigue between SHIELD and HYDRA. New to this maze of distrust is Robert Redford … proving once again that Hollywood doesn’t trust guys wearing suits in fancy offices. In a twist, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves the target of a manhunt by those they work for. Then they drag Falcon (Anthony Mackie) into this … his flight suit is a nice effect. All of this happens after an unexpected action-packed sequence featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).  The titular Winter Soldier provides an identity twist, as well as some intense fighting.

The multiple plot lines and emphasis on trust issues all correlate pretty well to some of the things going on in the world today. That adds an enjoyable element that really brings relevance to the Captain America character. Because of this, the repartee between Cap and Natasha is limited … we get some, but much less than what we have come to expect from other Avengers-related films. And it’s probably a good idea to go a different direction with the Avenger who really is different from the others. Don’t miss the extra scene in the closing credits … it’s the lead in to Avengers: Age of Ultron movie coming in 2015.

**NOTE: there is the always-anticipated Stan Lee cameo, and it adds the usual touch of humor

watch the trailer:

 


DOM HEMINGWAY (2014)

April 17, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

dom Greetings again from the darkness. Maybe I should apologize, but I won’t. This was hands-down my favorite from the Dallas International Film Festival. It was probably the least favorite of many others. With the most outlandish and uncomfortable opening scene in recent memory, the movie comes across a rough blend of early Guy Ritchie and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Given that description, no movie lover would expect Jude Law to be the star who dominates most every scene. Yes, pretty boy Jude Law has gone “ugly” the way fellow pretty boy Matthew McConaughey went “indie”. It’s a shock to see Mr. Law looking shaggy and paunchy … in his best moments! He holds nothing back in his portrayal of this vulgar, verbose ex-con so full of swagger.

Joining Dom is his old buddy Dickie, played by Richard E Grant – whose smooth comedic delivery is a terrific complement to the harshness of Dom. After serving 12 years in prison, Dom is on a mission to get the money he is due from a Russian mobster played by Demian Bichir (yes, Mr. Bichir is Mexican). Of course, nothing ever goes as planned in Dom’s life, so a coke-fueled night of celebration at a glamorous French château leads to one of the most startling cinematic car accidents, leaving Dom penniless.

The story now veers off the Dom’s attempt at redemption … reconciliation with his daughter played by “Game of ThronesEmilia Clarke. The bi-polar aspects of Dom’s persona comes through when comparing his “criminal” scenes and his “daughter” scenes. The contrast does provide relief from the relentless raucous dialogue delivered with the most extreme cockney accent possible. Still, the redemption story line takes away from what makes Dom such a force of nature and so much fun to watch on screen. Writer/director Richard Shepard gave a very enthusiastic and passionate Q&A after the screening, and it was quite obvious he “liked” this character, despite the flaws.  Mr. Shepard was responsible for one of my favorite little known gems, The Matador (2005).

This is a violent, vulgar character delivered in blaringly over-the-top mode by an actor that has previously shown no such tendencies. As with all comedy, and especially such raucous, irreverent black comedy, the audience will be divided by those who find this extremely entertaining and those who think it’s a waste of time and talent. Expect no guarantees from me on which camp you might fall into.

**NOTE: the movie contains quite striking primate art, as evidenced by the movie poster shown above

watch the trailer:

 

 


WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. JAMES J BULGER (doc, 2014)

April 16, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

whitey Greetings again from the darkness. Definitely one of the best documentaries at this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, this is one detailed and informative expose’ that focuses not just on bad guy Whitey Bulger, but a seemingly corrupt system that allowed him to maintain his power.

Joe Berlinger is an award-winning and very prolific documentarian, and he certainly goes all in here with an overwhelming amount of information, detail and speculation. The film begins with the 2011 arrest of Whitey Bulger after 16 years on the lam. We then explore the trial, as well as the background of Bulger’s 30 years of power in South Boston (after his release from Alcatraz).

The interviews are fascinating. We get first person responses from attorneys, thugs from the Bulger syndicate, as well as many of the victim’s family members … some still so desperate for justice after decades of pain.

The Bulger defense team claimed immunity due to his status as an FBI informant. Of course, this claim opens up the real intrigue here … how deep did the corruption go with local law enforcement, the FBI and the judicial system? Was Bulger empowered by those who should have been protecting the citizens and pursuing him? Many questions are asked, and the likely answers do not quell conspiracy theorists.

While some documentaries seem a bit thin as they stretch material, Mr. Berlinger’s approach is to supply much information, many details, and an endless stream of interviews … all to force us to wonder if Whitey Bulger’s reign of southie crime was permitted, even encouraged, by those we thought were the good guys.

watch the CNN Films promo:

 

 

 


LOCKE (2014)

April 15, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

locke Greetings again from the darkness. Most movies that take place within a confined space are outright thrillers that usually take full advantage of helpless and claustrophobic feelings and desperate actions. Think back to Duel, Phone Booth and Buried. A ticking clock and lack of a safe escape route had us sweating bullets with Dennis Weaver, Colin Farrell and Ryan Reynolds. This entry from the Dallas International Film Festival takes a much different approach.

Noted British writer Steven Knight also directs this one, and rather than nail-biting tension, we get a pretty interesting character study. Mr. Knight has written some impressive screenplays: Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace, and Eastern Promises. Utilizing every ounce of his writing expertise, he keeps us connected to Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) as he drives on the freeway with intermittent rain being his biggest physical obstacle. There are no high speed chases. No stunts. No weapons. Ivan is not being followed by a spy, a hit man or anyone else. He is merely driving and talking on the phone via Bluetooth.

In what could be considered the ultimate film gimmick, Tom Hardy is the only actor to appear on screen. His Ivan Locke is not just the only major character. He is the ONLY one. All supporting work and conflict is provided by a multitude of voices on the other end of a phone call. There is no need for me to delve into the story or the plot, but you should know that the situation Ivan finds himself in is not some creative web of criminal deceit … instead it’s his penance for one poor decision. That poor decision has him in a tough spot with very poor timing.

For those that wonder if Bane from The Dark Knight Rises has the acting chops to hold our attention, a reminder of Tom Hardy’s fine and varied work should alleviate concerns: Warrior, Inception, Lawless, Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He can act and he can make a character his own, just as he does with Ivan Locke.

watch the trailer:

 


HELLION (2014)

April 14, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

hellion Greetings again from the darkness. This is the perfect Film Festival movie: low budget, recognizable star trying something new, up and coming director, and potential star in the making newcomer. While it has an air of familiarity, there was enough here to make it one of my favorites from the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival.

Writer/director Kat Candler has a real feel for creating real moments for characters, as she expands her 2012 short to feature length. She was also wise enough to nab cinematographer Brett Pawlak, who did such a great job with Short Term 12 (one of my top six films of 2013). The blue collar life gets a twist here as Aaron Paul (on top of the world after “Breaking Bad“) plays an alcoholic, emotionally-distant, grieving widower having to deal with his two sons when he can barely make it through a day. This is certainly a different kind of role for Mr. Paul, and he shows real depth with minimal dialogue.

As impressive as Paul is, the real find here is young Josh Wiggins as Jacob. It’s his first screen role and he absolutely owns the role of the big brother lashing out at his dad, corrupting his little brother (due to jealousy) and dealing with things that kids his age shouldn’t have to. Not to give away much, but one too many incidents leads to a visit from Child Protective Services, and just like that … the family is torn apart again.

The real guts of the story is the parallel paths of father and son as they react to the displacement of little Wes (Deke Garner). Neither seems to fully accept the role they played in this mess, but both carry sorrow and anger the way males often do. Both pursue their own idea of proving something to Wes and to themselves – in very different ways. Juliette Lewis seems a bit out of place as Paul’s sister, and is the only minor misstep in the script. We needed either more on her, or less.

Rural Texas and the challenges of youth are captured through so many details, and the realistic feel of dialogue and setting certainly stands out here … as does the spot on camera work. This is one of the little movies I am really rooting for, because if it gets a chance, many will share my appreciation.

** watch the Sundance Film Festival interview with Kat Candler:

 


RICH HILL ( doc, 2014)

April 14, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

rich hill Greetings again from the darkness. Boo, Hiss to Poverty. Nobody likes poverty and it’s one of the more popular topics for political lip service. Poverty also happens to be a frequent topic of documentary filmmakers. A prize winner at Sundance, co-directors (and cousins) Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos brought their film to the Dallas International Film Festival.

The beautifully photographed film focuses on three adolescent boys living in poverty stricken Rich Hill, Missouri (population 1396). Andrew is a sweet, athletic likable kid living with a medicated mother and dreamer dad (who can’t keep a job, and sees no real need to try). Appachey is a chain-smoking, anger-riddled boy living in an out of control house. He struggles with authority and structure and freedom, and well everything else too. Harley is the oldest of the three boys and lives with his grandmother, while his mom is in prison after a committing a very violent and personal crime … one at the core of Harley’s behavior disorders.

If that last paragraph sounds depressing, you are both right and wrong. Somehow, despite the situations that these boys are in, there is always a flicker of … not really optimism, but at least hope. This is the way to learn about the effects of poverty. Personal stories about real people. Governmental statistics mean little, but the smile of Andrew means everything … even as his father moves the family once again. The interconnection of parenting, schooling and the judicial system is on full display here, as is the healthcare system and the importance of hope and attitude. You will feel for each of these boys, and be forced to wonder how to make things better.

watch the trailer:

 

 


NOBLE (2014)

April 13, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

noble Greetings again from the darkness. Here’s what happens when you don’t read carefully. I picked this from the Dallas International Film Festival schedule because I assumed it was a documentary. I was a bit shocked to discover that it’s a biopic from director Stephen Bradley, starring his wife Deirdre O’Kane as Christina Noble (the real Ms. Noble is pictured, left). Fortunately, Ms. O’Kane and Ms. Noble are friends and the passion and respect shown in the performance allows the film to deliver the message and pay tribute to such an amazing woman.

If you are unaware of the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, it’s worth researching her inspirational story. The film picks up her childhood in Ireland (with fabulous Gloria Cramer Curtis as young Christina). We see the gradual destruction of her family due to her mother’s death and her father’s (Liam Cunningham) alcoholism. The six children are split up and Christina is raised by nuns in similar fashion to what you might have seen in Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters.

This (and some visionary nightmares) turns out to be her motivation to head to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 as a middle-aged single woman to try and make a difference for the ignored and abused street kids. Her tenacity and bulldogedness not only help raise funds, but also turn the tide for the local police and citizenry.

Christina Noble’s network of homes have helped thousands of children in Vietnam and Mongolia. She is still working tirelessly today and everyday to make a difference for the kids. If you are looking for inspiration or proof that one person can make a difference … look to Christina Noble.

** Here is the direct link to the site for the movie.  You will find a trailer and plenty of information on Christina Noble:

http://noble-movie.com/

 


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