REMEMBER (2016)

March 31, 2016

remember Greetings again from the darkness. Earlier this year, 81 year old Maggie Smith impressed with her lead role in The Lady in the Van. And now, just a few weeks later, comes 86 year old Christopher Plummer in a gut-wrenching performance as Zev Guttman, a 90 year old German grieving widower suffering from dementia. Don’t let that description fool you … Zev goes on a cross-continent road trip with a mission of seeking justice against the Auschwitz guard who killed his family more than 70 years ago.

Zev lives in a nursing home and often can’t remember to wear shoes, much less that his beloved wife Ruth has passed away. It turns out another resident/patient at the home shares a history at Auschwitz with him. Wheelchair-bound Max (Martin Landau) says the two men are the last surviving members of their cell block, and must work together to find the guard – now living under the assumed name of Rudy Kurlander – and find justice for their families. So we find ourselves with a coalition of sympathetic senior citizen Nazi hunters.

Given the war atrocities, it makes sense that over the years, many movies have placed Nazi hunting as a core theme. Among the most well known are: The Odessa File (1974), Marathon Man (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Inglourious Bastards (2009), and The Debt (2010). But leave it to director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Where the Truth Lies) to find a different spin and a twist on a familiar theme. At times, Zev’s dementia distracts us from his vengeful mission, while at various other times, the innocence of children acts as a dual reminder – the fragility of old age vs. the eye-for-eye brutality.

It’s Landau’s Max who acts as a type of narrative structure for the story. His sharp and focused plan is written out in letter form so that Zev can constantly refer and be reminded of his purpose. The letter also provides us viewers with the necessary back-story to fully comprehend the what’s and why’s. Each time Zev re-reads the letter, he re-experiences the loss of his wife – yet another of the film’s reminders of the effects of dementia.

Zev’s search takes him from Ohio to Canada to Idaho to Lake Tahoe. He goes through four Rudy Kurlanders – with Bruno Ganz (Downfall, 2004) and Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot (1981) representing two. There is also a very uncomfortable sequence involving Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”) which reminds that hatred is often passed down through generations.

The nursing home “getaway” and the purchase of a gun have us thinking Zev is some type of senior citizen Jason Bourne – sharing the lack of memory, but none of the skills. The title of “Remember” has many meanings and interpretations here, not the least of which is as a display of loss, guilt, revenge, family and old age. Even the most poignant moment of the film occurs when Zev says “I remember”.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 

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SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015)

November 19, 2015

secret in their eyes Greetings again from the darkness. Why, Billy Ray, why? It’s not surprising that Hollywood green-lighted the Americanization of the 2010 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, El secreto de sus ojos. That original from Argentina is exemplary filmmaking and a thoroughly entertaining and compelling mystery-thriller; a must-see for any true film lover. Even if an Oscar-studded cast is hired (2 Oscar winners, 8 nominations), the guiding inspiration for a remake should be more than losing the subtitles and filming Julia Roberts without make-up.

The story balances two timelines spanning 13 years. Jess (Ms. Roberts) is an investigator who works with FBI Agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Assistant District Attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman), and a blustering District Attorney played by Alfred Molina. When Jess’ daughter is brutally murdered, the investigation is impacted by the suspect’s role as a department snitch. When we catch up all those years later, the unrequited attraction between now former FBI Agent Ray and now DA Claire is as strong as ever; Jess’ appearance is on par with someone suffering from a terminal illness, and the murder still hovers over these characters as if it had occurred last week.

It’s a fascinating story that was handled superbly in the original, yet mostly comes across as uninspired in this latest project. At times, it’s even a bit confusing in how the two eras are handled. The score from Emilio Kauderer and a couple of fine scenes from Ms. Roberts (although she gets no credit here for appearing sans-makeup) are the best parts of this one. Otherwise, Mr. Ejiofor (usually a fine actor) goes over-the-top, while Ms. Kidman is simply miscast and unable to generate the proficiency required for her position. Other support work comes courtesy of Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”) and Zoe Graham.

Other than lacking the grit and realism of the original, the editing and camera work (so exceptional in the first version) at times come off as amateurish this time around. The soccer/futbol sequence from the original is replaced with Dodgers baseball (Chavez Ravine and Vin Scully) and a link to former Manager Walter Alston. Normally that would be considered an improvement, but again, these fall short and fail to generate the necessary suspense. A weak impersonation of the famous long-tracking shot certainly doesn’t help.

For anyone who hasn’t seen writer/director Juan Jose Campanella’s (an Executive Producer here) excellent original, this version from Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) might prove interesting enough; however, those same folks are strongly encouraged to instead track down the original, and experience the emotional depth and filmmaking expertise that made it such a worthy Oscar winner.

watch the trailer:

 


THE COUNSELOR (2013)

October 27, 2013

counselor Greetings again from the darkness. The best dramatic writers thrive on creating a story filled with intricacies, multi-faceted characters, mis-direction, and a complex interweaving of sub-plots. Cormac McCarthy has proved he is one of the best such writers through his highly successful novels … some of which have made the transition to the screen: All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and of course, No Country for Old Men. This, however, is his first attempt at an original screenplay. Describing it as a disappointment is a severe understatement.

The cool parts of this movie: Bruno Ganz as a diamond dealer in Amsterdam and the two live cheetahs.

counselor2 The parts of the film that could have been interesting: the wardrobes of all main characters, Javier Bardem’s Brian Grazer-inspired hairdo, the line-up of luxury vehicles (Bentley, Ferrari, etc), and the “bolito”.

The parts of this movie that were never going to work: the opening scene with Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz frolicking under the sheets, dialogue that is too poetic for the characters, Brad Pitt as his grown up scammer from Thelma and Louise, Fassbender’s Texas accent, and Cameron Diaz (gold tooth, silver fingernails, cheetah tats).

counselor4 The part of this movie that is an outright disgrace: Cameron Diaz doing the splits while having intimate relations with the windshield of Bardem’s Ferrari … maybe this idea came from Joe Eszterhas after being rejected as too outlandish for Showgirls.

Chances are viewers will fall into two camps: thinking this is a wild and crazy ride inside the Mexican drug cartel, OR believing this is one of 2013’s sloppiest, messiest, most pointless and confusing wastes of time in a movie theater. I am solidly in group two and can’t even recommend you see this to determine where you fall.

The cast is filled with A-listers: Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. The writer is a renowned novelist. The director is three time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott. How could it miss? Even the best actors can counselor3sometimes be miscast. Even the best writers have work best left unpublished. Even the best directors lose control of a project. It’s a movie tragedy when all those things happen in a single film.

I guess the best running joke throughout the movie is that Fassbender’s titular character is constantly receiving counseling, rather than offering it. At its core, the story is just another drug deal gone bad (do any movie drug deals ever go “right”?). With it’s unusual visuals, unrealistic conversations, and convoluted sub-plots, this one would have played better as a slideshow. Instead, I am left with this: I’ll never look at a smudge on my windshield the same again.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your cable system doesn’t offer the National Geographic channel and you want to see two cool cheetahs

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: just the thought of Cameron Diaz humping a windshield stimulates only nightmares for you

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrAXTxNrsi8