SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ (2016)

June 23, 2016

septembers of shiraz Greetings again from the darkness. It’s 1979 in Tehran, and the Shah of Iran has recently been overthrown in favor of Ayatollah Khomeini and the shift to fundamentalist Islam. Director Wayne Blair informs us that the Hanna Weg script from Dalia Sofer’s bestselling novel is “based on true events”. As soon as we realize the story is about a wealthy Jewish family, we are prepared for the sure to be unpleasantness.

Adrien Brody plays Isaac, a self-made man whose jewelry business has profited through his dealings with the previous regime. His wife Farnez is played by Salma Hayek, and their beautiful home is the setting for the going-away party for their son who is headed to the United States to continue his education, leaving behind his parents and younger sister.

Ignoring his own warnings that things are getting bad, Isaac is soon arrested by the Revolutionary Guard. As Farnez tries to see him, while also keeping things together at home, Isaac is being interrogated and later tortured as he is held captive.

As in many revolutions, it comes down to rich versus poor, and those who had power versus those who now wield the big stick. Isaac and Farnez are presented as good people who have helped others … including their housekeeper played by the always interesting Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog). Her loyalties begin to waver even as her son joins forces with the Guards. Why should she clean toilets while Farnez lives the high life? The scenes with Ms. Hayek and Ms. Aghdashloo are the film’s best, but even those aren’t strong enough given the material.

The film tries to maintain a neutral stance on religion and politics, though it’s clear where the sympathies fall. The ending dedication to “all victims of persecution” gives some idea of the lack of focus here. The over-acting from Adrian Brody does distract some from the manner in which the story ends. The lesson seems to be that one is never free when focused on material things, and yet revolutions always seem to be about the power that comes with money … rather than the issues initially proclaimed. In book form, this is a terrific and personal story about the impact of the revolution. Unfortunately, on the screen, it comes across as all too familiar and lacking in danger and suspense … none of which lessens the true hardships faced by this family.

watch the trailer:

 

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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

 

 

 


MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

June 8, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Not so many years ago, Woody Allen was thought of (along with Martin Scorcese) as the quintessential New York City filmmaker. He understood that and even poked fun at himself in his most popular film Annie Hall. At age 75, Mr. Allen remains an incredibly prolific filmmaker cranking out an original script and film every year. With his recent work, he has ventured outside of NYC and into England, Spain and now France. Clearly these new locales have re-ignited his creativity.

The script for Midnight in Paris is some of his best writing in years, and he explores our (and his) love of nostalgia without sacrificing the customary relationship struggles. While I hold steadfast to my rule of providing no spoilers, a quick glance at the character names gives you all the clues you need to put the basic idea in place.

 Owen Wilson plays Gil, a financially successful Hollywood hack screenwriter who longs to be a serious novelist in the vein of his literary heroes from 1920’s Paris. Gil goes on vacation to Paris with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Of course the parents don’t like Gil and it doesn’t take long (maybe one scene) for us to figure out that Gil and Inez are misfits as a couple.

In an attempt to escape the disrespect from Inez and the yammering of her know-it-all friend played by Michael Sheen, Gil goes wandering the nighttime streets of Paris. What happens next is either science-fiction or the culmination of Gil’s dreams. The bell tolls midnight and Gil is whisked away via a classic Peugeot to the world of literary giants he so worships.

As a viewer, half the fun in this one is staying alert to pick up the clues to the references: Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Juan Belmonte, Alice B Toklas, Djuna Barnes, TS Eliot, Matisse, Leo Stein, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin, Degas, Cole Porter and Picasso. Kathy Bates spikes the film with her lively turn as Gertrude Stein. Corey Stoll makes a ferociously direct Ernest Hemingway. Adrien Brody offers up a slightly off-center Salvador Dali – good for a laugh.  Marion Cotillard brings elegance and beauty to her role of the ultimate art groupie.  Of course, suspension of reality must occur if we are to buy off on her character choosing Gil (Wilson) over the bombastic Hemingway and fiery Picasso!

 This movie plays kind of like an all-star game. A chance to see all the names and players that you have heard about … all under one roof. For film lovers, there is a great little exchange between Owen Wilson’s character and Luis Bunuel. Woody has created a 90 minute tribute to all of us (like Gil) who have yearned to work with and live among the artistic giants. I would love to see Mr. Allen’s notes as he put this idea together. We can only imagine what didn’t make the film! Despite all the fun of inside jokes, the romantic idea of nostalgia and wishing for a better time is discussed and analyzed. Mr. Allen tells us that EVERYONE, no matter their era, has a romantic vision of some previous time which they believe would better suit their style and creative force. The story is balanced by having Gil’s novel based in a nostalgia store, and he ends up meeting an intriguing young lady (Lea Seydoux) at a Paris store that sells old records and books.

 Owen Wilson in the lead role is probably the only mistake Mr. Allen made.  Though his puppy dog excitement and innocence is played full tilt in the classic world he discovers, he just can’t hold up his end in scenes with Cotillard or Bates.  Despite this, I found the ideas and excitement of the setting to outweigh the distraction of Wilson.

As always, Mr. Allen has beautiful music accompanying his words and scenes. This time we are also treated to some breathtaking images of Paris, the Seine, and wonderful works of art (Rodin, Picasso, etc). Of course casting Carla Bruni, wife to the President of France (Nicolas Sarkozy) might have entitled him to film in Paris settings we don’t often see in movies. One gets the impression that this one was quite a bit of fun for Woody to assemble. If you enjoy art or literary history, you too will find this to be one jolly easter egg hunt!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you would enjoy a dreamlike trip to the artistic wonderland of Paris in the 20’s OR you thrive on discovering the hidden gems in Woody Allen films

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you still call them “freedom fries” OR you and your therapist are still working to overcome your anger at Owen Wilson for letting Marley die


PREDATORS (2010)

July 10, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. If you are a fan of the 1987 original film directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, you couldn’t help but be a bit excited about this new one since Robert Rodriguez is involved. What a letdown.  It plays more like an episode of Lost, or even The Twilight Zone.

With films from Mr. Rodriguez, we have always been able to count on creativity, ingenuity, humor and excitement. This one lacks all. Now to be fair, the director is actually Nimrod Antal, whose resume includes Armored and Vacancy, both of which are as empty as this one.  But Mr. Rodriguez was very involved in the details.

Of course when your cast is minus Arnold, you start with a major handicap. When you replace him with Adrien Brody, you appear to be aiming for disappointment. Sure Mr. Brody did a few sit-ups to prep for this role, but he is no action hero, regardless of how he mimics the Christian Bale Batman voice in order to seem tough.

The rest of the bad luck cast of characters is rounded out by Laurence Fishbourne, Alice Braga, the great Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez staple), Topher Grace and Walton Goggins (so great as Boyd Crowder in Justified, TV’s best new series this past season). Just to add to the misery, the film score is simplistic and a bit of a joke itself. It certainly misses the excellent work of Alan Silvestri from the first film.

Not much need to discuss the lack of any real new material here. The bad guys are pretty much the same. The weapons are pretty much the same.  The cast and script are weaker. The real money with this one lies in a “making of” documentary in which the first “pitch” meeting takes place and the producers are presented with the idea to make a thrilling new action movie … a new Predator movie … starring … Adrien Brody and Topher Grace!