THIRTEEN LIVES (2022)

August 4, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It is 2018 and a group of boys have just finished soccer practice. After some motivational words from their coach, the boys start joking around with one of their teammates who has a birthday party slated for later that day.  Boys being boys, they decide to bike over the local cave for some pre-party exploring. Their coach tags along to keep an eye on them. All of that sounds innocent enough until we realize this is the Tham Luang cave, and they don’t realize Thailand’s monsoon season is about to arrive early and with full force.

The film is directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard, who is adept at mainstream storytelling as evidenced by APOLLO 13 (1994), A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), and CINDERELLA MAN (2005). The script was penned by William Nicholson (GLADIATOR, 2000) and Don MacPherson (THE AVENGERS, 1998), and tells the all-too-true story of the daring rescue mission that most of recall following on news reports. When the boys were no-shows for the birthday party, parents and friends rushed to the cave to find the bicycles, but not the 12 boys and their coach. Immediately, rescue efforts began with Thai Navy SEALS rushing to the sight. Cave diving is a unique skill practiced by only a few, and is much different than the open water diving in which the SEALS excel.

British cave divers John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) are called in. Volanthen is the father of a son, and can’t help but empathize with what the parents must be going through, while Stanton is crusty old geezer who admits to not liking kids, while also understanding he’s one of the few on earth capable of making the necessary dive. Once the two men reach the stranded boys and coach, it becomes apparent that, as difficult and challenging it was to find the group, getting them out of the cave seems all but impossible. Death hung heavy over the operation of last resort, which included calling in Dr. Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton), a cave diving hobbyist, and more importantly, an anesthetist.

The diving scenes are expertly filmed by DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and underwater camera operator Tyrone Canning. The ever-present claustrophobia and risk of disaster underscores how courageous these men were. Director Howard offers up multiple perspectives: the government, the military, the divers, and the parents. We get very little from those trapped, but that adds to the tension. We get a feel for the entire operation as water is being pumped out of the cave, a water expert and volunteers frantically divert new rainwater into the rice fields, and political maneuvering occurs as the outgoing Governor (Sahajak Boonthankakit) is being set up as fall guy in case the efforts fail.

So many elements could have caused failure – low oxygen levels in the cave, a brisk current of water making diving more difficult, and obviously too much rainwater entering the cave would endanger the boys and the divers. The rescue mission lasted more than two weeks. It’s a disaster movie based on a real event, and follows up the excellent 2021 documentary, THE RESCUE. Evidently the dramatization is for those who don’t watch or have access to documentaries, and as strong as Howard’s movie is, there is simply no way for it to eclipse the documentary or what occurred in real time. At its best, the film offers tension and a reminder of what can be accomplished with collaboration.

Available on PRIME VIDEO beginning August 5, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE BATMAN (2022)

February 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Riddle me this: does “The Bat, The Cat, and The Rat” sound more like an opening line to a joke or the title of a Dr. Seuss book? In fact, those are three core elements of this new, COVID-delayed, and highly anticipated film from writer-director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig. I’ll confess to being a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy (that concluded 10 years ago), and being a bit skeptical to a new version featuring Robert Pattinson in the titular role (I’m choosing to totally ignore the in-between portrayals in the “Justice League” movies). Knowing full well how important it is for fans to watch these films with fresh eyes and a clear head, this review is purposefully vague on what will surely prove to be some of the more popular and contentious discussion points.

Let’s start with a general description and the setup. The film is dark and gloomy and gritty and grimy. Gotham is a cesspool of corruption and crime, and we get no glimpse into the other side, assuming there is one. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is still in his second year as the Batman, often referred to as “Vengeance”. There is substantial backstory for Mr. Wayne, who lives in relative seclusion with his trusty manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), while the Batman prowls at night in his efforts to clean up the city. Of course he is unable to keep pace with crime and corruption, even with the close alliance he has built with good cop, Police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). It takes Batman’s Poirot-like detective skills to solve a riddle left as a clue in a particularly high-profile murder case. Soon it’s obvious a serial killer is at work and he has purposefully drawn the Batman into his game.

The caped crusader proceeds to cross paths with Selena Kyle/Catwoman (a terrific Zoe Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), District Attorney Gil Golson (Peter Sarsgaard), and crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). As city VIPs begin showing up dead, it’s a masked Edward Nashton/Riddler (Paul Dano) who always seems a step ahead. All of the above receive their chance to shine on screen, and while none let us down, it’s not until the mask is ripped from Riddler, and Dano really shines, that we are left wanting more. It should be noted that Farrell (with his facial prosthetics and fat suit) is kind of a second fiddle here, but it’s surely intentional and meant to set the stage for more Penguin antics down the road.

Pattinson will certainly receive the most scrutiny. I found him to be an excellent Batman, with black eye makeup smeared by sweat under his cowl, maintaining the grungy tone. His whispery voice differs from Christian Bale’s gravely growl, but works for the character’s withdrawn nature and preference for detective work over than fighting. Staying true to the premise that this is only his second year, there is a significant shortage of “wonderful toys”, and the batmobile is less rocket ship and more souped-up coupe. The contrast to these is a batsuit that seems quite advanced (and looks cool). It’s Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne that didn’t work for me. I respect the reclusive billionaire aspect, but he mostly looks like someone on their way to a Nirvana gig, leaving us wondering how the heck could anyone not connect the dots between a creepy rich guy and a nearly identical creepy guy in a bat suit. It’s a minor complaint, but one that stuck with me.

Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (UP, 2009) takes a more classical approach than the dramatics of predecessors Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. Giacchino has been a frequent Pixar contributor, and scored some well-known blockbusters in franchises like ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘Spider-man’, and ‘Star Wars’. His work fits nicely here. Adapting characters and stories originated by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have found a way to put their own stamp on the work. Mr. Craig is Oscar winner Sally Field’s son, and his previous scripts include THE TOWN (2010), parts 1 and 2 of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, and upcoming high-profile projects in TOP GUN: MAVERICK and GLADIATOR 2. Director Reeves has previously helmed the excellent horror film LET ME IN (2010), as well as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

This marks the first in a planned Batman trilogy, and a couple of the last scenes seemingly set the stage for what’s to come. Although this is an odd movie, here’s hoping the franchise maintains this tone and avoids the typical Marvel/DC overblown CGI approach. After all, the Batman is but one man, not a God of superpowers. This film is an unusual blend of noir-horror-detective-action-psychological thriller wrapped in a gray box with a black bow, and though it will likely be divisive among fans (isn’t everything?), this 3-hour epic leaves us anticipating the next ‘bat time’ and ‘bat channel’.

Opens wide in theaters on March 4, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE GENTLEMEN (2020)

January 23, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Let’s get this out of the way upfront. Filmmaker Guy Ritchie’s return to London crime-comedy is most assuredly a bit too far removed from today’s acceptable Politically Correct line. It features mostly male characters and far too many stereotypes to count. It’s also ridiculously funny. Mr. Ritchie doesn’t take his story or characters too seriously, but he proves yet again that he’s serious about entertainment.

The film begins with Matthew McConaughey ordering “a pint and a pickled egg”, a jolt to the senses, and a very cool opening credits sequence (think James Bond). We then find Fletcher, a sleazy private detective, making a surprise appearance at Ray’s (Charlie Hunnam) house. Fletcher is played by a deliciously smarmy Hugh Grant. He is trying to extort 20 million from Ray by offering up the details he has uncovered about Ray and his boss, marijuana kingpin Mickey Pearson (McConaughey). Conveniently, Fletcher has turned the story into a screenplay, which he has generously agreed to include for the 20 million.

It’s tricky business trying to make drug dealers likable, and Ritchie steers clear of this despite the presence of a few. In addition to Mickey, we have Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) who is trying to buy Mickey’s business; Lord George (Tom Wu), who controls the Chinese syndicate; and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), an ambitious underling of Lord George who is anxious to make his own way, by any means necessary. Other players here include Mickey’s wife Rosalind (Michele Dockery, “Downton Abbey”, “Godless”) who runs a “safe space” garage for exotic cars owned by women; Coach (Colin Farrell) who runs a boxing gym for troubled young adults; and Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), a tabloid editor seeking revenge for a dinner party where he felt Mickey disrespected him.

As if all of those characters don’t provide enough humorous crime fodder, we also have a Russian Oligarch, street gangs, heritage estate owners in need of cash, YouTube fight porn, and the plight of Laura Pressfield (Eliot Sumner, Sting’s daughter) in a heroin haven. Fletcher’s ongoing narrative for Ray provides the framework for the film, and each scene is filled to the rim with clever and wise-cracking dialogue – often delivered with flair by one of our colorful characters. Mr. Grant and Mr. Farrell are exceptionally fun to watch, and Ms. Dockery leaves us wishing her Rosalind was more prominently featured.

For some reason he’s never been a critical favorite, though Guy Ritchie garnered a cult following with his early frenetic crime flicks LOCK, STOCK and TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000). Lately he’s been focusing on big budget films like SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and ALADDIN (2019). He’s back to his roots here, and is joined by many actors and crew members he’s worked with before. Ritchie co-wrote the screenplay with Ivan Atkinson and Marne Davies. His cinematographer is Alan Stewart (ALADDIN) and his film editor in charge of those signature smash-cuts is frequent collaborator James Herbert.

Quick listening pays off in some deadpan one-liners that might otherwise sneak by, although most of them can’t be repeated here. The “c-word” most frequently used in the film is not ‘cash’, and is rarely a term of affection. There is even a Miramax gag. Too soon? Only you can decide. It’s rare for McConaughey to play the heavy, and he seems to relish the opportunity. But then most of the actors seem to really enjoy delivering these lines and wearing these clothes … well except for Colin Farrell’s track suits and spectacles! Certainly this one isn’t for the masses, and undoubtedly people will be offended. This is what happens when you make Guy Ritchie play nicely for a decade.

watch the trailer:


DUMBO (2019)

March 28, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of Disney’s commitment to live action remakes of so many of their animated classics; however, I’ll readily admit that teaming the always creative Tim Burton with every child’s favorite pachyderm piqued my interest. In case you don’t recall, Disney’s fourth animated feature film was released in 1941, and told the story of a baby elephant who could fly thanks to the flapping of his enormous ears. DUMBO was, at its core, a story of how being different can cause you to be an outcast, while also delivering the strength to overcome those who might treat you poorly or look to profit at your expense. It was a sweet and simple message delivered in a brief 64 minutes.

Taking up almost another hour, filmmaker Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger seize the original book by husband and wife writing team Harold Pearl and Helen Aberson and deliver a story that is anything but simple. Rather it’s complicated, convoluted and at times nonsensical. What does work is the visual splendor of watching a cute little elephant fly around a circus … first a tattered old-timey tent camp and later a futuristic amusement park.

It takes only about 30 seconds for us to recognize the silver screen stylings of Tim Burton. The ragged train cars in need of paint followed by the black smoke from Casey’s ‘smiley’ face engine, all point to the familiar visuals that harken back to Mr. Burton’s memorable films like FRANKENWEENIE, BEETLEJUICE, BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, BATMAN RETURNS, CORPSE BRIDE, and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (to name a few).

It’s 1919 as the train clackety-clacks from Sarasota, Florida through small southern towns and up to Joplin, Missouri, where youngsters Milly (Nico Parker, lookalike daughter of Thandie Newton) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) give a hug to their father Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell). Holt has been away serving in WWI, and returns minus one arm and one wife … while he was at war, she lost her battle to illness, leaving the children in the care of the circus performers. Holt and his wife used to be featured performers in the Medici Brothers Circus run by Max Medici (Danny Devito), but times are tough and Holt is assigned to elephant-tending duty, where Max has recently purchased a pregnant Mrs. Jumbo elephant.

We don’t have to wait long for the baby to arrive, be called a “freak” by Max, learn to fly, be separated from his mother, and be targeted by a greedy amusement park owner named V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). Vandevere’s Dreamland has some familiar Disneyland elements, and serves it purpose for reminding us that traditional circuses are being replaced by high tech amusement parks – an environment more in line with today’s youth.

Where the film suffers is with its unnecessarily complicated story and underdeveloped characters. The usually reliable Mr. Keaton never really kicks in as the greedy and evil amusement park owner. Mr. Devito mostly yells his lines, and Mr. Farrell just seems categorically miscast. In what is the first film for both, young Ms. Parker shows flashes of talent, while Mr. Hobbins is given next to nothing to do. Eva Green does bring a welcome element as aerial artist Colette, but Alan Arkin’s role as a banker seems tacked on as a favor. Unfortunately we barely get to know the circus troupe, though Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney) strums her ukulele as she sings “Baby Mine”, the Oscar nominated song from the 1941 original, penned by Ned Washington and Frank Churchill. Adding to the Burton oddities, Michael Buffer makes an appearance as ring announcer … albeit a different ring than what he is most often associated with.

It likely won’t surprise you that Mr. Burton delivers a film much darker than the original, and at least he avoided the temptation of talking animals (the legendary Mel Blanc voiced Dumbo in the original). He does offer up a nod to the Pink Elephant sequence from the original, as well as the presence of mice … though wisely no crows this time around. Danny Elfman’s score is a perfect fit (as usual) and Oscar winning Set Designer Rick Heinrick (SLEEPY HOLLOW) works his magic, as does 4-time Oscar winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood (ALICE IN WONDERLAND). The technical mastery of the film is finalized with the work of Cinematographer Ben Davis, whose work on such grand scale films as CAPTAIN MARVEL, DOCTOR STRANGE, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY allows him to make the best of the visuals, even while the story disappoints. There is a contemporary message delivered near the end regarding the captivity of animals, and despite the dark, overly complicated story, it’s still quite fun to watch Dumbo fly.

watch the trailer:


WIDOWS (2018)

November 15, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Woman power. Black power. Racist old white men. Corrupt politicians. Abusive husbands. Cheating white husbands. Racist cops. Men are bad. Women are strong and good. If a filmmaker were to blend all of these stereotypes into a single movie, then as movie goers we should expect an ultra-talented filmmaker like Steve McQueen to go beyond conventional genre. Unfortunately, a nice twist on the heist movie formula from Lynda La Plante’s novel turns into predictability that whips us with societal clichés posing as societal insight.

I seem to be one of the few not raving about this movie. Hey it has the director behind  Best Picture Oscar winner 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Mr. McQueen),  a screenplay he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn (GONE GIRL) from the aforementioned novel by Lynda La Plante, and a deep and talented cast of popular actors. It ticks every box and it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser, despite my disappointment. Every spot where I expected intrigue, the film instead delivered yet another eye-roll and easy-to-spot twist with a cultural lesson. Each of the actors does tremendous work, it just happens to be with material they could perform in their sleep.

It’s the kind of film where audience members talk to the screen – and it plays like that’s the desired reaction. This is the 4th generation of the source material, including 3 previous TV mini-series (1983, 1985, 2002). It makes sense that this material would be better suited to multiple episodes, rather than hurried through 2 hours. There are too many characters who get short-changed, and so little time to let the personalities breathe and grow. But this is about delivering as many messages as possible.

A strong premise is based in Chicago, and finds a team of four burglars on a job gone wrong. This leaves a mobster/politician looking to the four widows (hence the title) for reparations. Since the women have no money, their only hope is to tackle the next job their men had planned. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon play the widows, though only the first three are given much to do, as the talented Ms. Coon is short-changed. In fact, Ms. Davis is such a strong screen presence that she dominates every scene she is in – she’s a true powerhouse. Even Liam Neeson can’t hang with her. Colin Farrell appears as a smarmy politician and Robert Duvall is his f-word spouting former Alderman dad. Cynthia Erivo has a nice supporting turn in support of the women, and Bryan Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin J O’Connor, Lukas Haas, and Jon Bernthal fill out the deep cast … see what I mean about too many characters and too little time?

There is no single thing to point at as the cause for letdown. The story just needed to be smarter and stop trying so hard to comment on current societal ills. As an example, a quick-trigger cop shooting an innocent young African-American male seems thrown in for the sole purpose of ensuring white guilt and an emotional outburst from the audience. It’s difficult to even term this film as manipulating since we see the turns coming far in advance. Two far superior message films released earlier this year are Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN and Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. For those who need only emotion and little intellect in their movies, this not-so-thrilling heist might work. For the rest of you, it’s good eye-roll practice.

watch the trailer:


ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (2017)

November 21, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Denzel Washington is one of our most iconic actors and he’s put together a remarkable career, including 8 Oscar nominations and two wins. He’s had his Al Pacino SCARFACE comparable with TRAINING DAY, his Robert DeNiro GOODFELLAS comparable with AMERICAN GANGSTER, and here he gets his Dustin Hoffman RAIN MAN as he plays the titular Roman J. Israel, Esquire. It’s a role that lacks Denzel’s usual cool factor, but it’s one in which he dives head first.

‘Esquire’ rates “above gentleman, but below Knight” as described by Roman. He has spent more than 30 years as the wizard behind the curtain of a two man law firm run by his mentor and partner William “Bulldog” Jackson. We never really meet Mr. Jackson, as circumstances force the closing of the firm and shove an uncomfortable-with-change Roman into the high profile and high dollar firm run by George Pierce. Mr. Pierce is played by a strutting Colin Farrell – and no actor peacocks better than he.

It’s here we must note that Roman appears to have a touch of Asperger’s and/or be some type of legal Savant. He’s kind of a Dr. Gregory House for the legal profession – remarkable on the details, while lacking in the delivery. His long held idealism and belief system were in fine form while he was the back office guy, but Pierce forces him into the front lines and it’s a bumpy transition with sometimes comic and sometimes tragic results.

The film bookends with Roman crafting a legal brief, that while somewhat convoluted, is actually more of a confession, with himself as both plaintiff and defendant. Much of the film focuses on Roman’s idealism and revolutionary beliefs, and what happens when that crumbles. There is an odd quasi-love interest with Maya, played by Carmen Ejogo (SELMA). We never really grasp why she is so taken by him, other than his seemingly solid belief system reminds her that a mission of goodness and justice is always worth fighting for.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy is one of the quiet secret weapons in Hollywood these days. His last project was the terrific NIGHTCRAWLER, and he’s also written the screenplays for this year’s KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and one of my favorites from 2006, THE FALL. Here he teams with Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD) to deliver a stylish look that feels unique to the story and characters … the frumpy look of Roman, the ultra-slick look of Pierce, and the various textures of the city. It’s really something to behold – especially when accompanied by Roman’s ringtone of Eddie Kendrick’s “Keep on Truckin’”. A couple of cast members worth mentioning: for you NBA fans, Sedale Threat Jr (son of the long time player), and simply for catching my eye in the closing credits, an actor named Just N. Time. There is plenty to discuss after this one, but mostly it’s a chance to watch Denzel chew scenery.

watch the trailer:


IT’S NOT YET DARK (2017, doc)

August 3, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. We all have two kinds of friends: those who sulk for days when the candy machine eats their quarter, and those with such zest for life that no personal or professional tragedy dampens their “can do” spirit. Director Frankie Fenton presents the remarkable story of Simon Fitzmaurice, an Irish writer and filmmaker who is robbed of his body by MND (Motor Neuron Disease).

Fellow Irishman Colin Farrell narrates the film, giving poignancy to Simon’s own words … words he can no longer speak himself. As a writer and filmmaker, Simon’s “before” life is documented through pictures, videos and many of his thoughts on the page. He was a youngster full of ideas and energy. We learn this from his father Damien, his mother Florence, his younger sister Kate and childhood friend Phil. More than any other, we learn it from his wife Ruth. In fact, this is as much Ruth’s story as it is Simon’s. She is a special lady in love with a special man. Their story will likely resonate with you.

In 2008, Simon’s short film THE SOUND OF PEOPLE was selected to screen at Sundance. Not long after, he was diagnosed and given 3-4 years to live. Less than 10 years later, he became the subject of this documentary which was also a Sundance selection. It’s not the path he envisioned, but as he says, “For me it’s not about how long you live, it’s how you live.”

This cruel disease allows him to feel everything, yet he can’t walk, speak, breathe or eat without artificial help. The film shows us how Simon documented the many phases of the disease, right down to his last dance. One form of “artificial help” allowed him to return to filmmaking. He utilized eye gaze technology to finish writing and then direct his first feature film, MY NAME IS EMILY. With all of his physical challenges and the support of his wife and kids, it’s wrapping the movie that proved to him that he “made it back to work”. It provides the answer to his earlier question, “What is a man?”

It’s touching to hear Ruth describe how the hiring of a nurse allowed her to go back to being a wife and mother, rather than a care-giver. She and Simon even later had twins (kids #4 and 5), and he wrote a best-selling book/memoir on which this film is based. Last year the documentary GLEASON provided a similarly inspirational story about Steve Gleason, an NFL player stricken with ALS. These two films and these two men (and their wives) provide a sentimental, sincere and life-affirming message that life is worth fighting for and living to the fullest.

watch the trailer:

 


THE LOBSTER (2016)

March 12, 2016

lobster Greetings again from the darkness. The scene playing over the opening credits is baffling to us and sets the tone of peculiarity that runs throughout the film. A lady gets out of her car during a rainstorm to perform an unthinkable act as we watch through the windshield as the wipers rhythmically clear our view. Next we watch as Colin Farrell’s wife announces, after 11 years of marriage, she is leaving him for another man. Curiously, Farrell asks if her new man wears glasses or contacts.

Welcome to a dystopian future via the warped and creative mind of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, 2009). It really boils down to a satirical look at relationships and our societal outcast of single adults. In Lanthimos’ world, Farrell, now a single man, must check in to the oddest country hotel you’ve seen. He has 45 days to find a romantic partner. If he doesn’t, he will be transformed into the animal of his choice. He chooses the lobster because of its long life span … ignoring the probability of ending up on a restaurant platter.

It’s an oddball world overly structured with rules enforced by the Hotel manager – a terrific Olivia Colman. Farrell befriends a couple of other single fellows: the limping man (Ben Whishaw), and the man with a lisp (John C Reilly). It’s funny and uncomfortable and kind of sad to watch these folks awkwardly try to connect with others with a deadline fast-approaching.

The first half of the movie is really black comedy at its finest, but once Farrell escapes the Hotel and joins the “loners” in the forest, the tone shifts a bit. An uneven romance develops between Farrell and a woman played by Rachel Weisz (who is also the film’s narrator). Even though this group of loners pride themselves on independence, it’s ironic that Farrell has merely traded one set of rules for another … courtesy of the rebel leader played by Lea Seydoux.

It’s a bizarre film, and one from which we can’t look away. The deadpan-yet- emotional dialogue delivery is strange enough, but the site gags are even further off the charts – keep an eye out for animals (former singles) strolling by in the background (peacock, camel, etc). There is certainly insight into modern day relationships and how people connect based on instantaneous judgments … but at least we don’t have to dig our own graves … yet!

watch the trailer:

 


SAVING MR. BANKS (2013)

December 22, 2013

banks1 Greetings again from the darkness. Surely it’s a coincidence that Disney Studios has released this movie just a few months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the classic Mary Poppins film. Regardless of the promotional angle, the story of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) going all out to woo stuffy Brit writer PL Travers (Emma Thompson)actually turns out to be a well made and pretty interesting story of two stubborn people butting creative heads. Even better is a behind the scenes glimpse of the creative and collaborative process of bringing the Travers book(s) to the big screen.

Director John Lee Hancock is the perfect fit with his track record of glossy, feel-good, inspired by true life stories with The Blind Side and The Rookie. We never lose sight that this is a Disney production of a Disney story. The only Disney blemish shown is a quick shot of him stubbing a cigarette in an ashtray. Mr. Disney was an expert at hiding his smoking habit from the public … well at least until he died from lung cancer in 1966, a mere two years after the premiere of Mary Poppins. Mostly Walt is depicted as working diligently to provide the trust and security that Travers sought in protecting her most precious flying nanny.

banks2 The real star here is Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Travers. Her desperate need for money is mentioned once, but the story is more concerned with her innate need to protect the legacy of her story … no animation, no mean Mr Banks, no Dick Van Dyke, and no silly songs. Watching her interact with the songwriting Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak) and the Disney screenwriter played by Bradley Whitford is the most fun this movie has to offer. Her “no, no, no” mindset is quite frustrating for the quite successful Disney creative team. The armchair psychology is really where the movie falters a bit. Watching Walt struggle to mesmerize Travers with his Disney magic feels a bit forced, and when combined with numerous flashbacks to her childhood, leave the audience way ahead in figuring out the key to her heart and mind.

Once the daddy issues come to light, we get Hanks’ best scene in the film. As he finally connects with Travers by laying bare his childhood (and fatherly) challenges, he eloquently explains the importance of imagination and storytelling for both children and adults. A desire to re-write or re-imagine our childhood seems to be at the core of many adults. It seems many dwell on the negative aspects of childhood, and even here, Travers’ dad (Colin Farrell) may be the nicest alcoholic who ever inspired their kid to be a writer.

PL Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff) wrote 8 Mary Poppins books between 1934 and 1988, but was so unhappy with the film version that she never agreed to a sequel and it wasn’t until the 1990’s when she agreed to a stage version (no Americans allowed!). She passed away in 1996 at the age of 96, and the actual recordings played over the closing credits show just how well Ms. Thompson captured the strong will of the author.

**NOTE: Tom Hanks has an impressive family tree.  He is a distant cousin of Walt Disney and Abraham Lincoln.

**NOTE: On his deathbed, the last words Walt Disney wrote were “Kurt Russell”.  The reason for this was never discovered, although Mr. Russell was under a 10 year contract with Disney at the time.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in the creative collaboration process between two very talented sides with extremely different motivations

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a kids’ or family movie about the classic Mary Poppins movie.

watch the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5kYmrjongg

 


DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

March 10, 2013

dead ma Greetings again from the darkness. On the surface, this looks like just another early season crime thriller. From that perspective, it works well enough. However, there are some elements that add complexity and interest, and set this one above the usual. It’s directed by Niels Arden Oplev who was responsible for the original (and very cool) Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). This looks to be his first English language feature and he re-teams with the exciting and talented Noomi Rapace.

The film begins with a body in the freezer, and crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and his crew attempting to solve the mystery of who killed his friend and associate. Someone has been tormenting Alphonse with little clues and he falls right into the trap of jumping to conclusions. One member of his crew is Victor (Colin Farrell). We slowly learn more about Victor thanks to an awkward and slow connection between he and his neighbor Beatrice (Ms. Rapace). Their initial acknowledgment of each other is an exchange of waves between balconies. It’s an effective visual.

dead man2 The movie bounces between crime thriller and romantic/love story, and offers a couple of big ol’ shoot-em-ups. The added fun of secret missions from both Victor and Beatrice provide the twist this one needs. Actually there are 4-5 exceptional scenes in the movie which make up for the often plodding pace … not typically a good thing for a thriller. The pieces are greater than the whole, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting watch.  Noomi Rapace has quickly made the transition to English language films and she has the ability to play gritty or glamourous – something not all actresses can pull off. Colin Farrell is one of those actors who seems to consistently choose scripts that don’t showcase his skills. He was excellent in In Bruges, but often takes roles that require little more than flexing his world class eyebrows. The quiet scenes with Rapace and Farrell give this movie a higher quality feel than it otherwise would have had.

dead man3 In addition to Farrell, Rapace and Howard, we get some really enjoyable support work from Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert and F Murray Abraham. Ms. Huppert in particular adds a touch of class and humor, and her character could have easily been expanded … same for Mr. Abraham. Cooper plays an idealistic, but not so observant buddy to Victor and loyal crew member of Howard.

This one reminds at times of a couple of Mel Gibson revenge flicks: Payback and Edge of Darkness, though what really helps here is the strength of the cast and unusual scars of Victor and Beatrice. A slightly tighter script and improved pacing would have jumped this one a level or two, but it’s entertaining in spite of the flaws.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: seeing Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace flash their acting talent intrigues you

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a taut thriller with many surprises and twists

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq3rls47cNE