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/

 


THE CONGRESS (Le Congres, France, 2014)

April 13, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

congress Greetings again from the darkness. As a fan of director Ari Folman’s Oscar nominated Waiting for Bashir (2008), I was excited to see this one on the line-up at Dallas International Film Festival. While some will find The Congress a bit messy and difficult to follow, it certainly reinforces Folman’s innovative and creative approach to story telling and filmmaking.

The first half of the movie is live action and the second half is animated. The best description I can offer is as a social commentary, not just on Hollywood, but society as a whole. While Her makes the case for virtual relationships, this movie makes the case for virtual everything else! Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, an aging movie star who is offered a chance to stay young and be popular forever. Just sign this contract, and Miramount Studios owns your complete public image. No more acting, just kick back and enjoy your money … and watch what we do with your image and career.

The cast is very strong, but the movie has a feeling of having been rushed through production … at least from the live action side. In addition to Ms. Wright, Danny Huston chews some scenery as a cut throat studio head. His blunt description of Ms. Wright’s “bad choices” since The Princess Bride speak to not only many actors, but for many in the audience as well. Harvey Keitel plays the agent, Jon Hamm appears through voice only in the animated sequence, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road) plays Wright’s son and central plot figure, and Sami Gayle plays his sister. Paul Giamatti appears in both live action and animated form as the family doctor.

Some will be reminded of A Scanner Darkly, and others of Cool World. The best this movie has to offer is not in its (creative) presentation, but rather in its ability to provoke thought about the look of future society and the impact of technology … as well as the whole issue of identity and what makes us who we are. It’s a brain-scrambler if you stick with it.

watch the trailer:

 

 


NO NO: A DOCKUMENTARY (doc, 2014)

April 10, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

nono Greetings again from the darkness. Caught this one at the Dallas International Film Festival, and the most impressive part of director Jeff Radice’s approach is just how much he attempts to tackle. Most baseball fans immediately associate the name Dock Ellis with his much publicized 1970 no-hitter thrown while under the influence of LSD. Radice doesn’t focus on the baseball side of this story, but rather much more on the man and the times.

One must be of a certain age to have watched Dock Ellis pitch (he retired in 1979), and the era must be considered when understanding his often outspoken and arrogant behavior. Jackie Robinson had long ago broken the color barrier in baseball, but it wasn’t until the early 1970′s when things really started to change. 1971 saw the first all black and brown lineup from the Pirates (with Dock Ellis on the mound). The former players interviewed here recall the moment they noticed. The most emotional moment of the movie comes from an old radio interview where Dock is reading aloud a handwritten letter to him from Jackie Robinson.

In addition to his baseball and related antics, we get some history on his marriages, style, drug abuse and struggle to remain healthy near the end of his career. Radice scores with the numerous interviews of former teammates, as well as friends and family. Steve Blass and Bruce Kison provide a contrast to the words of Dave Cash, Mudcat Grant and Al Oliver, but the best insight comes from Ellis’ friends and family. This is where we see the hope and disappointment that Dock produced.

We also see the later years as Dock became a drug counselor and educated many on the mistakes he had made. Radice uses a 1981 movie called Dugout features former major league pitcher Bo Belinsky talking to little-leaguers about the importance of staying on the right track … the parallels to the career of Dock Ellis are obvious.

Some terrific game footage is used, but one of the most interesting moments occurs when Brad Corbett, Jr explains how his father (former owner of Texas Rangers) had interaction with Dock Ellis the player, and later with Dock Ellis the addiction counselor. There is also much made about “everyone” in baseball being on “greenies” (amphetemines) during the era … an interesting contrast to the steroid era. The main thing we learn is that there was much more to Dock Ellis than LSD and curlers in his hair.

Rather than a trailer (which I can’t find), here is a link to a 3 minute interview with the film’s Producer, Mike Blizzard, during the Dallas International Film Festival.

 


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