FATIMA (2020)

August 27, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not Catholic and did not grow up learning much about Catholicism. However, I have heard the story of Fatima, Portugal and the 3 young shepherds who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. Writer-Director Marco Pontecorvo and co-writers Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi deliver a dutiful re-telling of the events that led up to the Miracle of the Sun.

The movie begins in 1989 as Professor Nicols (Harvey Keitel) visits Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga), now an octogenarian, at her nunnery. The professor is quite the skeptic, but it’s crucial to his new book project that he question the Sister about what she experienced in 1917. We then flash back to that era when 10 year old Lucia (Stephanie Gil) and her cousins, 7 year old Jacinto (Alejandra Howard) and 8 year old Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) are youngsters working as shepherds for the family flock of sheep. One day, a vision appears to the three children. It’s the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro) offering words of hope and a request for praying and strong faith.

Of course kids are kids, so their secret gets spilled almost immediately. As you would expect, no one believes them. Not their family or those in the small Portugal village. The townspeople gather regularly in the square to hear the Mayor (Goran Visnjic) read the names of the local boys and men who have been killed in war. It’s a gut-wrenching occurrence for all involved, and yet another opportunity for the mean-spirited folks to accuse the kids of lying about what they’ve seen. The local priest (Joaquim de Almeida) tries to frighten them out of the story, and even Lucia’s mother (Lucia Moniz) scolds and belittles her.

“The faith of a child” has rarely been more evident than with young Lucia. She stays strong despite being ostracized by the villagers, the church, and even her family. The film makes clear observation about faith and religion. What is religion but believing and having faith in something intangible – something that can’t be seen or touched. Director Pontecorvo delivers a faith-based film, yet one that is not preachy. It does make us wonder why the religious leaders are themselves so lacking in true faith, and why the politician is envious of the youngsters who draw an audience. Photographs of that day in 1917 … the “Miracle of the Sun” … are shown as part of the closing credits, while Andrea Bocelli’s remarkable voice sings out. It’s a low-budget film with some overacting (from adults), but the message and the performance of young Stephanie Gil make it worthwhile.

Available in theaters and On Demand August 28, 2020

watch the trailer:


ASTHMA (2015)

October 23, 2015

asthma Greetings again from the darkness. So this greasy, heroin-addicted slacker picks up a smartass tattoo artist while driving the Rolls Royce he has just stolen. What sounds like the beginning of a stand-up comedian’s best joke, is actually one of the earliest scenes from writer/director Jake Hoffman’s first feature film.  That’s right, you have seen him many times as an actor (he played shoe mogul Steve Madden in The Wolf of Wall Street), but now Dustin’s son is a full-fledged filmmaker.

When first we meet Gus (Benedict Samuel, “The Walking Dead”), he can’t be bothered to actually paint the wall he was hired to paint … “It’s already white!” Once relieved of his duties, he heads home and white washes his apartment … not just the walls, but his TV, books and Jim Morrison poster. He claims all of his heroes are dead, and that he was unfortunately born in the wrong era … the 70’s were so much more his style. He then proceeds to try and hang himself.  Of course, he fails at that too.

Next we see him car-jack the Rolls and then Ruby (Krysten Ritter) is accepting his offer of driving her to Connecticut. Having previously rebuffed his advances at a local bar, it’s obvious Ruby is intrigued by the banter and energy of Gus. The road trip brings it challenges and high points for Gus, and the two arrive at the communal retreat that features a mystic/yoga instructor (Goran Visnjic, Beginners) and a rock singer (Dov Tiefenbach), amongst others. Logan, the rock singer, and Gus softly battle for Ruby’s attention, but it’s difficult to watch as Gus drugs up and loses any sense of appeal.

It’s not long before Gus is being bailed out of jail by his well-off dad … played by Jerry Zucker, who in real life, directed Ghost and produced numerous Hollywood films. The two share an awkward car ride to the home of Gus’ bedridden mom played by Rosanna Arquette. Perhaps all of this makes more sense when you learn that Gus also takes life advice from his imaginary philosophical talking werewolf (voiced by  ). Maybe this explains what those of us who don’t shoot heroin are really missing.

The cast is strong, and each gives it their best shot. It’s just not very entertaining or enlightening to watch some aimless dude drift through life while higher than a kite. What is clear, and has been to me for quite some time, is that at some point the right role is going to come along for Krysten Ritter, and her career will take off. She has had a solid career up to now, but next level is within her grasp. She has quite a screen presence … way more than the imaginary werewolf. Mr. Hoffman’s feel for directing offers hope for future projects, and he is certainly to be commended for his use of cutting edge music. Next time … please give us a more interesting lead character.

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