THAT SUGAR FILM (2015, doc)

July 29, 2015

that sugar film Greetings again from the darkness. Ever since Morgan Spurlock provided us with a gut check on the evils of McDonalds with his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, movie goers have shown a real appetite for information on food and nutrition. We have since had informative and entertaining documentaries on wheat, corn, fat, organics and gardening. This latest sweet film comes from Australian director Damon Gameau. He takes the Spurlock approach and personally becomes a lab rat to expose the effects of too much sugar. His mission is 60 days of eating “typical” sugar intake through what would ordinarily be considered “healthy” foods. In other words: no ice cream, candy or soda.

Mr. Gameau introduces himself as a healthy guy who exercises regularly and eats a diet of mostly fruits and vegetables. His girlfriend is 6 months pregnant as he begins this 60 day experiment into the world of sugar. There is a quick history lesson on how sugar became a food staple, and fellow Australian Hugh Jackman explains the pivotal event that occurred in 1955 – a Dwight Eisenhauer heart attack. This spurred debate between US doctors who blamed it on high fat, while the British doctors attributed it to an excess of sugar. The low-fat revolution began, and was actually responsible for the increased amount of sugar in our processed foods. We learn that a full 80% of the standard products on grocery store shelves contain added sugar.

A panel of medical experts provides the necessary tests upfront that set the baseline for blood work, enzyme levels, liver function, weight, etc. The comparison 60 days later is frightening, but it’s Gameau’s daily journey that provides the real insight and biggest eye-openers. He doesn’t spend much time focusing on any particular brands, though Pepsi (Mountain Dew), Coca-Cola and Jamba Juice each takes some serious jabs. Instead we witness his mood swings and lack of motivation for exercise.

British actor Stephen Fry explains the Glucose/Fructose make-up of Sucrose and we are given an overview of how our bodies process this – including a briefing on the role of insulin. As the days go on, we witness Gameau’s weight gain and he explains his lethargy and most surprisingly, his mental inconsistencies. He has bouts of cloudiness in a mind that was once clear. It’s this and the dramatic change in his liver that delivers the real scare.

It seems clear that all calories are not created equally (a calorie from an apple is not processed the same as a calorie from a Snickers), and that food companies have put much effort into hiding, or at least disguising, the amount of sugars added to the massive amount of processed food consumed each year by the average person. Perhaps Diabetes and Obesity and tooth decay are not thought to be immediate enough threats to cause a shift away from the convenience of processed food. Mr. Gameau shows just how dramatic and severe the changes can be in only 60 days. So imagine 5 years. 25 years. Just how much warning do we need?

watch the trailer:

 


SOUTHPAW (2015)

July 26, 2015

southpaw Greetings again from the darkness. Is it possible to have a boxing movie without a crusty old trainer? Or a cute kid?  Or a stubborn macho lead who makes poor personal choices?  It doesn’t seem to matter much as this latest from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) checks off most of the expected cliché’s, and still slides easily into the canon of boxing movies that now covers nine decades.

This one packs a satisfactory punch both inside the ring and out. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope (the name courtesy of first time screenwriter Kurt Sutter, known for “Sons of Anarchy”). Mr. Hope follows the expected arc: 1. On top of the World! 2. A nasty crash landing  3. Redemption and comeback. However, just because we are familiar with the trail, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the hike.

Gyllenhaal continues his impressive string of performances that include End of Watch, Prisoners, and Nightcrawler. In the latter, he transformed his body by losing 40 pounds. This time, he packs on the muscle to become convincing as a boxer. The recent trend of actors getting fat, skinny, ripped or ugly to attract awards attention is nothing new to Gyllenhaal, who has made a career of melding into his roles.

The supporting cast includes Rachel McAdams as Hope’s wife. The two share a background as orphans in Hell’s Kitchen and have a strong relationship with each other and their young daughter played by Oona Laurence. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays Hope’s long-time manager who telegraphs his true colors much too early (and no, this doesn’t refer to the recent news involving Mr. Jackson). Naomie Harris is a bit underutilized as the social worker, but the film is at its best once Forest Whitaker enters as Hope’s last hope (sorry). Mr. Whitaker always elevates a film with his presence, and his character here would have provided a boost with even more screen time.

A few topics are touched upon, though none very deeply. The father-daughter story line was pretty effective, but the anger management issue could have been explored more effectively since it was so crucial to the story and Hope’s personality.

Eminem provides some new music for the film, and it should be noted that this was the final score composed by the great James Horner, who only recently passed away. Sure the film “borrows” from Rocky and Raging Bull and many other boxing classics, but at least it doesn’t go full “Champ” on us.

watch the trailer:

 


PAPER TOWNS (2015)

July 23, 2015

paper towns Greetings again from the darkness. If you have ever watched Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild, imagine what the characters of Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels would have been like in high school. That gives you some idea of Margo and Quentin in this latest screen adaptation of a John Green novel (he also wrote “The Fault in Our Stars”).

Margo (Cara Delevingne) is the “live life to the fullest” youngster, while Quentin (Nat Wolff) is the “college-career-family” type who has his life timeline fully planned. As kids in the same neighborhood, they hang out together, but the inherent personality differences lead to polar opposite paths in high school. Margo is the exciting girl that everyone aspires to, while Quentin and his band of geeky friends never skip class, turn in all assignments and are elite college bound. Everything changes one night when Margo climbs through Quentin’s window and enlists his help in an evening of revenge shenanigans. He falls hard for her, and then … POOF … she’s gone.

It’s at this point that the film bogs down a bit. See, Margo loves a mystery and Quentin must decipher her many clues, as he is convinced she wants him to find her so they can be soul mates forever. Fortunately, the inevitable road trip provides some fun banter for Quentin and his brood, and it’s here where the true life lessons occur … friendship and finding happiness with one’s self.

Amiable is the best word to describe most of the characters in this film from director Jake Schreir (Robot & Frank). These are good kids and each very likeable … not the rebellious teens that usually get movies made about them. But they are so amiable, that there is a glaring lack of conflict in the vast majority of scenes. It’s as if the darkness and hard edge were purposefully sucked out of the Green novel. Adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, the formulaic approach is quite surprising. These are the writers behind (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and The Fault in Our Stars … three scripts that pulled few punches. On the bright side, the film is brave enough to include a Confederate flag joke, and what may be the best ever on screen tuba joke, and the all-too-rare multiple Black Santa Claus gags.

Newcomer Cara Delevingne looks like Mariel Hemingway but has the attitude of a young Linda Fiorentino. It will be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Nat Wolff was a secondary character in The Fault in Our Stars, but his natural ease on screen allows for a quick transition to leading actor. Support work comes from Justice Smith as Radar, Jaz Sinclair as his girlfriend, Halston Sage as pretty girl Lacey, and Austin Abrams as the comedy-relief buddy. Since it’s 2015, you know there must be a Duplass Brothers connection, and this time it’s Jay appearing as an English teacher. For those fans of The Fault in Our Stars, yes, Ansel Elgort has a cameo.

The film version is definitely for romantics, and not for those looking for hard-edged life journey. It’s actually a welcome change to have nice kids share the screen and have conversations without gratuitous violence, profanity or nudity. Because of this, it’s pleasant enough to watch, but probably won’t stick with you like the others mentioned here.

watch the trailer:

 


THE MAMA SHERPAS (2015, doc)

July 23, 2015

mama sherpas Greetings again from the darkness. If you are not directly involved, it’s easy to underestimate, or even remain oblivious, to the stress involved as an expectant mother makes baby-delivery decisions. In this age of readily available information, women can no longer simply accept what their doctor says. Documentarian Brigid Maher sets out to educate us on the options available to pregnant women.

Ms. Maher opens our eyes to the growing trend of collaboration between doctors and midwives. One of the key factors in this shift is the fact that nearly one in three babies are now delivered via cesarean (C-section), even though the World Health Organization (WHO) says the figure should be closer to 15%. To her credit, Ms. Maher doesn’t attack the medical establishment, but rather focuses on the positive effects of the collaboration. Speaking from her personal experience (as a VBAC – Vaginal Birth After Cesarian), and also presenting numerous actual case studies, she expertly guides us through various birth methods including yoga birth, hypnobirthing, and waterbirthing … each a form of natural birth in a hospital environment.

Viewers should be prepared for some up close and very personal camera work – especially when demonstrating that natural birth is even a possibility (in some cases) with a breech baby, a big baby, babies showing little progress, and extended-labor cases which have always been stressful to mother and child.

Executive Producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein have allowed Ms. Maher to expose this little-known network of highly supportive midwives and doctors who firmly believe that Natural childbirth is preferable whenever possible. These folks (not surprisingly almost all women) are committed to the cause of helping the mother and baby through the process.

This will prove informative to some, and inspirational to many … though, of course, many within the traditional medical industry (the industry responsible for 33% c-sections) will argue that this method is unsafe for mother and baby. It doesn’t appear this position holds water, as the collaborative method covers both the medical facilities and the natural (lack of medication) bonding between a mother and child. What a miracle of nature to behold!

watch the trailer:

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=the+mama+sherpas+trailer

 


FRANK THE BASTARD (2015)

July 23, 2015

frank Greetings again from the darkness. A literary wink is always appreciated, and writer/director Brad Coley delivers with a chance meeting of Tristan (Chris Sarandon) and Isolda (Shamika Cotton). Though these two destiny-named characters provide the most interest, Mr. Coley chooses instead to focus on the small town mystique, family lies and long-kept secrets.

Isolda manipulates her sad and recently divorced friend Clair (Rachel Miner) into a road trip from NYC to the childhood hometown that is at the heart of a deeply suppressed traumatic memory that took the life of Rachel’s mother. The traditional and well-worn aspects of rural town dynamics are all in play here.  Small town power-mongers are commonplace in these types of stories and here we get William Sadler in the patriarch role. He and his four sons make it clear to Rachel that she is not welcome in town and that she shouldn’t go digging up the past.

Mr. Coley teases supernatural elements along the lines of The Wicker Man, Stephen King and M. Night Shyamalan. Instead, we are left holding the proverbial empty bag after numerous plot twists. There are some fine moments involving individual character interactions, but the creepy and looming payoff never really occurs. As for the titular Frank (Andy Comeau), we hear many bad things about him, but he is a bit of a letdown in “bastard” terms as we get to know him.

It should be noted that this was the final film for Ellen Albertini Dow, who passed away this year at the age of 101. Her performance as the Rapping Granny in The Wedding Singer is indelibly etched into the mind of everyone who has seen that movie.

The unnecessary land-grab scheme really sucks the life right out of the family secrets intrigue, but it’s the use of photography, fire and flashbacks (usually during Clair’s panic attacks) that prove there exists some creative filmmaking ideas in the head of Mr. Coley.

watch the trailer:

 


MR. HOLMES (2015)

July 16, 2015

mr holmes Greetings again from the darkness. Be honest … would you be excited to see a film if it were described as follows: “A grumpy 93 year old man struggles with his failing mind and deteriorating body as he tends to his beehives during retirement in a small coastal town”. Chances are that synopsis would cause you to skip on to whatever else is showing at the theatre. However, a single revelation would likely change your mind … the elderly man is actually legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.

Ian McKellen stars and holds little back as he portrays the elderly Holmes trying to reconcile the past, the present and his failing health. And yes, there is one last case to solve … only it’s the last case he actually solved 35 years earlier. Sadly, Holmes can’t recall how that case ended, and the fictionalized version written by his friend John Watson offers no resolution.

We first see Holmes as he returns from an international trip – a trip that seems a bit out of place with the rest of the movie; at least until it circles back near the end of the film. In fact, we get quite a bit of back and forth between the present and past, and McKellen pulls off both the elder and much younger Holmes … though his performance as the faltering, frail one-time genius is Oscar caliber.

Laura Linney plays his housekeeper, but it’s her son Roger (Milo Parker) who jells with Holmes and re-kindles that twinkle in the eye. The scenes with Roger and Holmes provide poignancy and humor, and also the dose of reality so necessary to a film focusing on a living legend.

Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters) directs the film, which is based on the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, and pretty quickly pulls the rug out from under us on the iconic deerstalker cap and the ever-present pipe. Still, only the staunchest, least-flexible fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character will be turned off by this mostly gentle and insightful look at aging – and a reminder that even fictional geniuses grow old.

Baker Street makes an appearance, as does the charred and blackened Hiroshima site, and a blurry Dr. Watson. Don’t expect the frantic pace of Robert Downey, Jr or the elegant precision of Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead, enjoy the subtle moments, the wry smiles and the valiant attempt to bring a mortal end to the seemingly immortal Great Detective … with a few clues tossed in for good fun.

watch the trailer:

 


LILA & EVE (2015)

July 16, 2015

Lila & Eve Greetings again from the darkness. It’s the era of angry cinematic women, and this time we get Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez as mothers who go on a rampage of violence to gain vengeance for the murders of their sons. In 1991 Thelma & Louise tried to teach abusive and pig-headed men a lesson, and now Lila & Eve face off against neighborhood gangbangers.

Director Charles Stone III is best known for Drumline (2002) and Mr 3000 (2004) and this high-stress thriller seems a departure for him, though he compensates with a talented cast. In addition to Ms. Davis and Ms. Lopez, we get detectives played by Shea Whigham and Andre Royo, and Michole Briana White as the leader of the support group.

Stories of vigilantism always skirt the line between gritty and far-fetched, and unfortunately this one leans a bit too far the wrong way. Watching these two women so easily track down their targets and then so effortlessly ‘take care of business’ is head-shaking when combined with the tricky plot twist. The side story focusing on the support group was actually the most interesting, as it provides a glimpse of the grieving process and psychological effects experienced by mothers of murdered sons. Even this part flies off the rails towards the end of the movie – though it was with the best intentions.

Jennifer Lopez at least seems to take some delight in her character … a role much less restrictive than that of Viola Davis, who is forced to play it straight and angry (and she is very adept at this). Mothers seeking vengeance is a cause I can support, but not more can be said about this film as the first rule of Fight Club …

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


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