NOAH (2014)

March 30, 2014

noah Greetings again from the darkness. Since I am no biblical scholar, my comments are those of a movie lover. Tackling any part of a story from the bible is a journey filled with land mines and aggressive criticism – and that’s before your movie is released! Surely director Darren Aronofsky was prepared for backlash from those who forbid any interpretation of the Good Book. The story of Noah lasts but a few pages in the bible, meaning Aronofsky had to creatively fill some space to produce a 2-plus hour film.

Russell Crowe makes a fine Noah. He is relentless in his quest to fulfill The Creator’s request … and he flashes his “Gladiator” glare on a few occasions. Rather than an uplifting childhood bedtime story, this Noah carries the burden of God, his own family and the survival of all beings … his days are filled with moral dilemmas much larger than what you and I go through.

With all the miscommunication afforded by email and text these days, imagine if God conversed with you through images in your dreams. Maybe that process creates some areas of gray? Not if you are Noah. I guess he only dreams when God wants to show him something, so his decision making and mission is pretty focused. He is to build a giant floating warehouse to save two of every creature. Yes, that means a lot of death for those not invited. See, God is using Noah and his family to help cleanse the earth of mankind … God is ready for a re-boot. He is really not happy with how mean and nasty man has become ever since that whole apple debacle and the murder of Abel by Cain.

Some of the visual effects are spectacular. I especially enjoyed the high-speed montage showing the creation of life … you know, that first week. Also, the beginning of the flood is quite a spectacle, but the ark itself is actually quite stunning … constructed per the size noted in the Bible. The animals are all digitally created and we actually see little of them, though the on-boarding process goes remarkably smooth – considering this happens before the herbal sleep concoction is disbursed.

Most of the discussion will probably be on The Watchers … the fallen angels who once tried to help mankind, and for their efforts, God turned them into giant stone creatures. I will add that The Watchers need a new nickname since they did the bulk of the manual labor in constructing the ark and then protecting it … not much watching going on for these poor guys (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella, among others).

Noah’s wife is played by Jennifer Connelly and their sons are played by Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll. They welcome Emma Watson into their family in what turns into a very odd plot twist, and the villain, Tubal-Cain is payed by Ray Winstone. Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, is played to the hilt by Anthony Hopkins. All of these characters are pretty one dimensional, but it matters little since this is Noah’s story. The burden he carries is quite heavy and his decisions aren’t always popular.

If you are looking for the well documented story of Noah, it’s no mystery what book you should be reading. If you are after a pretty impressive visual interpretation, you could certainly do worse than Aronofsky’s take. And the best news … no Morgan Freeman voice-over!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see one of the most impressive set pieces ever built (the ark), plus some pretty cool fallen angels made of stones, a ferocious flood and a few trademark “Gladiator” glares courtesy of Russell Crowe.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: if you are extremely particular about bible movies … you know it will annoy you.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

March 16, 2014

grand budapest Greetings again from the darkness. Some of the finer things in life are an acquired taste. The exception to that is the film canon of writer/director Wes Anderson. You either “get” it or you don’t. Which side of the line you fall is much more a matter of style and taste than intellect.

This latest from Anderson may be his most visually distinct and stylistic presentation yet. He even tosses in a bit of a plot so that we have more reason to follow the outlandish antics of master concierge (and murder suspect) M Gustave – played with comic verve by Ralph Fiennes. Yes, the Ralph Fiennes known for such comedy classics as Schindler’s List, The English Patient and The Hurt Locker. Admit it, when you need a laugh, you fire up the Ralph Fiennes stand-up routine. OK, so he did have a role in the terrific dark comedy In Bruges, but nothing has prepared us for seeing him in this witty, fast-talking role at the center of Anderson’s wildest ride yet.

As any follower of Anderson films will tell you, there is always fun to be had in picking out the members of his supporting cast. Assisting Mr. Fiennes with this one are Edward Norton, Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton (oddly cast after Angela Lansbury dropped out), Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. Of course, there is also Bill Murray, in his seventh collaboration with Anderson. The most impressive new face is that of Tony Revolori, who plays the teenage Lobby Boy in-training … a role that turns vital when he is befriended by Gustave, and is invaluable in the telling of the story.

None of that really matters though, as the best description I give this is “spectacle”. It’s a whimsical romp with nostalgic tributes throughout. It’s a movie for movie lovers from a true movie lover. You will notice the three distinct aspect ratios used to depict the different time periods, and the music is perfect … from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings to Alexandre Desplat’s fantastic composition over the closing credits. If you are up for some hyper-stylistic eye candy, this one is tough to beat (especially this time of year).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: colorful costumes and wild set design combined with oddly humorous deadpan dialogue delivery from the mind of Wes Anderson is something you “get” OR you never miss a Ralph Fiennes comedy!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: traditional story telling is your preference for movies

Below you will find two links … one for the trailer and one for the Desplat’s closing credit song.

the closing credit song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skpyDiCrMZs

the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fg5iWmQjwk

 

 

 


THE ART OF THE STEAL (2013)

March 16, 2014

art of the steal Greetings again from the darkness. Heist movies are a staple film genre that we can depend on to deliver plot twists, back-stabbing and misdirection. The best ones can make us chuckle along the way as we try to keep up, knowing full well we are a step behind.

The movie begins with a bit too much voice over from Kurt Russell’s character Crunch Calhoun. We learn that Crunch is a wheel man for a group of art thieves, and he was double-crossed by his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon). After serving his sentence in a Polish prison, Crunch becomes a stunt performer on motorcycles who makes a few extra bucks creating spectacular crashes for the spectators.

As you would expect, Crunch is soon enough drawn back into the world of stealing art … for the proverbial one last job. As the old gang assembles, it’s clear Crunch still doesn’t trust brother Nicky. But his need for money compels him to participate.  The rest of the gang consists of Kenny Welsh as Paddy, Chris Diamantopoulas as Guy, Katheryn Winnick (Crunch’s girlfriend), and Jay Baruchel as Frenchie (Crunch’s apprentice).

Writer/director Jonathan Sobol has solid instincts but would have definitely benefited from a script doctor, and more importantly, someone to stand up and rescue the mega-mismatch of Jason Jones (a bumbling Interpol Agent) and Terence Stamp (a parolee assisting with the investigation). Stamp is sadly underutilized here, though the film’s best scene has he and Russell facing off in an airport. Too bad the film couldn’t find a way to match these two up a couple more times.

The stylish direction would have been more effective if the stabs at snappy dialogue had been just a tad bit funnier and crisper. Baruchel helps with this some, and Russell still knows how to deliver a line, but this is not in the same class as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or The Usual Suspects. Heck, it’s not even Ocean’s Eleven. Still, despite all the things it’s not … it does provide some decent entertainment during the winter doldrums of movie releases.

It also gets bonus points for a creative use of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”, and for having a Canadian filmmaker’s use of the line “Canada.  America-lite“.

**NOTE: I’ve long been a fan of Kurt Russell and have often written of my disappointment in his movie choices. He has the looks, charm, screen presence and talent to have been a much bigger star had he only chosen his roles more carefully.  I’m convinced losing the Bull Durham role to Kevin Costner soured him on acting to the point that he has since refused to take acting too seriously again.  Crunch does not make up for missing out on Crash.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy most any heist film and appreciate the old school greatness of Kurt Russell and Terence Stamp.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your expectations are at the level of Guy Ritchie or The Usual Suspects.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbqvELZ1-P8

 

 

 


OSCARS recap (2014)

March 3, 2014

oscar twitter The 86th Academy Awards are over … after a mere 3 ½ hours!  Ratings and viewership were at a 10 year high, so ABC is thrilled.   Ellen DeGeneres is clearly a popular draw as host.   The nature of awards shows make them ripe for criticism, and sometimes the Oscars just makes it too easy.  But first, the good stuff.

If you follow my Oscar predictions, you know that I correctly predicted 21 of 24 winners. While that’s impressive, it’s clear that luck played a huge role. As I previously stated, many of the categories could have gone two or three or four different ways, but the  Gravity roll I was banking on did in fact happen … it finished the night with 7 Oscars, easily the most of any movie. What it couldn’t do was get past 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, creating the rare “split” between director and picture.  The day after has been filled with much noise from the experts who felt strongly that Gravity was the best movie of the year. As I’ve said, I found it to be a visual feast in 3D IMAX, but can’t imagine it will have much staying power on home TV.

The 3 categories I missed were Costume, Live Action Short, and Animated Short.  My personal preference won two of those categories, and in quite a shocker, Disney’s Get a Horse didn’t finish as the top Animated Short.  Three of the four acting awards went to first time winners, and all acting winners gave very sincere acceptance speeches (Jared Leto and Lupita Nyongo’s were particularly terrific).  This is a good time to recognize Meryl Streep’s phenomenal 18th Oscar nomination during her 36 year career.  To put that in perspective, this was Bruce Dern’s second nomination … 35 years since his first one!  American Hustle was 0 for 10 in this year’s Oscars, narrowly missing the record of 0 for 11 held by both The Color Purple (1985) and The Turning Point (1977).  Even more startling, of the 32 nominated feature films (not counting foreign language, documentary, or shorts), only 7 films walked away with a statue.

There were many frustrating (for me) points during the ceremony. The seemingly endless gags on pizza and Twitter (picture, above) were a silly waste of time and caused many East Coast viewers to stay up much later than necessary.  Also confusing was the decision to have Bette Midler sing the tribute song AFTER the slideshow honoring those who have passed away since last year’s ceremony. Having her sing during the slideshow would have been more touching and saved 3-4 minutes.  Ellen’s cruelest joke of the evening was directed at Liza Minnelli … and inexcusable in my book. Ms. Minnelli and her sisters were invited guests for the 75th anniversary of their mother’s (Judy Garland) classic 1939 hit The Wizard of Oz.  To be hit with such a cruel comment just minutes after the show opened must have been humiliating.

The cringe-inducing moments did not stop there.  How about the parade of less-than-perfect plastic surgery results?  The most obvious and difficult to look at were John Travolta, Kim Novak, and Goldie Hawn.  And if the fake hair and face weren’t enough, Mr. Travolta botched his introduction of singer Idina Menzel by inexplicably calling her “Adele Dazeen”.  At the other end of the spectrum, 67 year old Sally Field is the poster child for aging gracefully.  For me, the most uncomfortable moments came courtesy of the rift between “Slave” director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley.  An historic night for both of them should have allowed for a respectful sharing of the moment, rather than the icy cold shoulders and petty acceptance speeches.

The highlights of the evening helped offset the negative.  I found all of the musical moments to be really enjoyable: Pharrell Williams managed to get the stodgy crowd up on their feet, Karen O’s ballad was short and sweet, U2 unplugged added a touch of rock’s elite, and Broadway star Idina Menzel showed off her extraordinary voice singing the winning “Let it Go”. Pink elegantly performed the “Oz” tribute, and 75 year old Darlene Love brought down the house with her powerful pipes while singing her acceptance speech.

We also witnessed the youngest and newest member of EGOT, as Robert Lopez’ Best Song Oscar finished off his Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony collection.  So after all the predictions, good and bad jokes, musical interludes and pointless hero montages, the single best moment of the night for me was the speech delivered by Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o, including the inspirational final line, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”  In a room full of egos, it’s that line that sticks.

lupita oscar

 


NON-STOP (2014)

March 2, 2014

non-stop Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood is a true believer in the theory that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The constant attempts to capture the same lightning bolt in the same bottle would be kind of funny, if not so frustrating for us movie-goers. Liam Neeson’s surprise hit with 2008′s Taken spawned not just a sequel, but now two movies from director Jaume Collet-Serra – this one and the disappointing Unknown. Oh well, it’s easy money for Neeson and it’s not the worst early year release.

It’s been 20 years since Liam Neeson’s Oscar nominated performance in Schindler’s List. Rather than a great actor, he might best be described as a familiar screen presence … a guy we can somehow relate to most of the time. Well, at least until he unleashes his particular set of skills … this time in an airplane lavatory! The set up for this thriller is quite promising. Neeson plays an alcoholic US Air Marshal looking and sounding quite beaten down by life in the first few minutes. Once on his flight, he receives a text informing him that someone onboard will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an account. It’s a combination hijacking, extortion, whodunnit murder mystery and blackmail story. Unfortunately the three first time screenwriters (one of whom “wrote” for the WWE) botch every possible twist and turn. With a plane full of suspects, we play right along with Neeson as he begins the process to narrow down. We’ve enjoyed the claustrophobic approach to movie thrillers before in such movies as Flight, Air Force One, Flightplan and even Phone Booth.

For whatever reason, this plane never feels cramped and the tight spaces only come into play with the aforementioned lavatory fight scene, and even that seems like the most spacious airplane restroom in the history of aviation. Even the multiple drop-dead deadlines aren’t really played for full effect, and the decent supporting cast isn’t given much to do, save for looking suspiciously at Neeson.

Julianne Moore co-stars, but mostly her role consists of disbelieving stares and a tilt of the head. Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) gets a few juicy scenes, as does the always interesting Scoot McNairy. Unfortunately, Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o, Shea Whigham, Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”), and Nate Parker have little to do, and the absolute wasting of Anson Mount is a crime.

If you are skittish about flying, there is no reason to see this one, though the convoluted motive and lackluster reveal might help you forget the story takes place on an international flight. The one thing we do learn is that Liam Neeson can take a fire extinguisher to the head and bounce right back up without a mark. Let’s add that to his particular set of skills, while we less-than-anxiously await yet another collaboration between Neeson and this director coming in 2015.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have the late winter cabin fever blues and are in desperate need of a movie to get the blood pumping.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are hoping to get a jump on next year’s Oscar season.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiHDJ19A3dk


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers