REBEL IN THE RYE (2017)

September 7, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Holden Caulfield is dead.” So states Jerry’s letter to his mentor. You likely know Jerry better as J.D. Salinger, and he wrote that while hospitalized with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after WWII. Of course, we know this proclamation is premature, as Holden Caulfield is the main character from Mr. Salinger’s famous (and only) novel, “The Catcher in the Rye” … a high school literature staple for decades.

Imagine your dream is to become a great writer, but your own father continually reminds you that “meat and cheese distribution has been good for this family.” Your restlessness often works against you, and though you are hesitant to admit it, a mentor for writing and life direction is desperately needed if you are to avoid the family business. Enter Columbia professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey).

This is Danny Strong’s first feature film as a director, though you would surely recognize his face from his frequent acting appearances – often as a weasly character. He is also the creator of TV’s “Empire” and wrote the screenplays for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY (Parts I and II) and LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER. Strong does an admirable job in showing the commitment required to hone one’s writing skills and proving “the difference in wanting to be a writer and actually being one.”

Jerome David Salinger is played well by Nicholas Hoult. His scenes with Spacey’s professor are the film’s best, and Hoult also shoulders the responsibility of Salinger’s writing frustrations, personal life challenges, military service, and finally, his decision to become the most famous and long-lasting recluse (by comparison, Howard Hughes was an amateur).

We learn that Burnett was instrumental in getting Salinger’s first short story published, which finally gave Jerry the answer needed for a writer’s most dreaded question, “Have you been published?” Quite a bit of time is devoted to his odd romantic relationship with Oona O’Neill (Eugene’s daughter and the future, long-time wife to Charlie Chaplin). Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson) plays Oona as an enigmatic lover attracted to Salinger’s genius, but incapable of being patient for his career that might happen (and might not). She opts for the sure bet.

Salinger’s military service included Utah Beach on D-Day, and nearly as remarkably, his toting the tattered manuscript ‘Catcher’ pages throughout his tour. He returned home in 1946, and in 1951 “The Catcher in the Rye” was published. It’s been referred to as the Great American novel and a rite of passage, while also being banned and derided for its whiny Holden.

Director Strong emphasizes Salinger’s turn to Zen Buddhism and his sessions with Swami Nikhilanda, as well as his evolving distrust of stalking fans and two-faced media. Support work is provided by Sarah Paulson as Salinger’s salty agent, Lucy Boynton as his wife, Victor Garber as his father, and Hope Davis as his supportive mother. Just as in real life, we get nothing of Salinger’s later years of solitude and isolation in New Hampshire, where he died at age 91.

The book has sold more than 65 million copies, and continues to sell well today. In a shift from the recent documentary SALINGER by Shane Salerno, and the book “J.D. Salinger: A Life Raised High” by Kenneth Slawenski, this dramatization doesn’t dig too deep, but it does allow a new generation to personify the legend. Perhaps it even paints a picture of a better/nicer man than what his real life actions showed. Regardless, the older Salinger certainly seemed to embrace the cause of “write and get nothing in return”.

watch the trailer:

 

 

Advertisements

WILD CARD (2015)

February 8, 2015

wild card Greetings again from the darkness. Most of us know what to expect when we hear “it’s a Jason Statham movie”. However, when you add to that “written by two-time Oscar winner William Goldman”, it generates a bit more excitement and higher expectations than normal. This becomes slightly complicated when the Jason Statham part stretches his acting, but it’s the script that is essentially a letdown.

The film is a remake of the 1986 film HEAT with Burt Reynolds, and both movie versions are based on Goldman’s novel of that title. This time it’s Jason Statham as Las Vegas security expert Nick Wild, who possesses a particular set of skills … to go along with a drinking and gambling problem. Known for such films as CON AIR (1997), THE MECHANIC (also with Statham, 2011), and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (also with Statham, 2012), director Simon West is no stranger to action sequences and cool guys with baggage. There are a couple of outstanding fight scenes that capitalize on Nick Wild’s preference for non-traditional weapons, including a huge finale at The Silver Spoon Diner where he utilizes, well, silver spoons.

Statham gets an opportunity to do something besides fight and drive, as he is cast as the emotionally handicapped warrior with a big heart. He protects his friends and does favors for those who are weaker. In fact, the banter between he and Michael Angarano (as Cyrus) is some of the best work of Statham’s career. The noir-speak dialogue allows Statham to have some fun with vocabulary words, but the script never really lets him connect with anyone other than Cyrus. Instead we get too many scenes of guzzling vodka and an extended blackjack scene that is so predictable, it’s actually kind of annoying to watch.

The biggest downside to the film is the steady stream of recognizable and pretty well-known actors who pop up for only a brief scene or two. The list includes Sophia Vergara sporting a sweater that flaunts her assets, Max Casella as her conniving boyfriend, Jason Alexander as an office-sharing attorney, Hope Davis as a blackjack dealer, Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy Garcia’s daughter) as Nick’s call girl friend in need, Milo Ventimiglia as bad guy Danny DeMarco, Anne Heche as the supportive diner waitress, and a wonderful, but all too brief, Stanley Tucci as a hotel/casino owner modeled on a few real life owners and mobsters.

Although the film skips the traditional Statham car chases and love-making, we do get many flashy shots of him driving a classic Pontiac GT. The old school Vegas setting is a welcome diversion from the glitzy new Vegas we more often see in movies. Keeping with the retro feel is Dean Martin crooning “Blue Christmas” in the opening moments, and other classic songs carefully coordinated throughout the story. Statham’s struggles with alcohol and gambling, and his stated intent to leave Vegas forever provide the film with an incredibly disjointed and lightweight story from the pen of someone as decorated as William Goldman.  It’s nice to see Statham sport a bit of emotional depth, but the film likely doesn’t offer enough fight scenes for his true fans. The dark and humorous moments provide enough entertainment to encourage those fans to give it a shot, but please be careful with those spoons.

watch the trailer:

 


DISCONNECT (2013)

April 14, 2013

disconnect1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s an impressive cast. The director, Henry Alex Rubin, gave us the excellent documentary Murderball.  Unfortunately the material here is mostly obvious and cliché-filled with no real message, other than our dependency on technology is leading us to be less “connected” to those real life people we live with. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this … other than the characters in this movie?

I’m calling this movie “Crash on the World Wide Web”. Crash was the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It had multiple story lines andworked extremely hard to appear very important, just like this one does. Disconnect shows us the Boyd’s – a family comprised of a workaholic lawyer dad (Jason Bateman always on the blackberry), a teenage daughter (Haley Ramm), a teenage loner son, and a mom (Hope Davis) who has no close bond with any of them. The boy (played by Jonah Bobo from Crazy Stupid Love) is cyber-bullied by two cruel boys (Colin Ford from a We Bought a disconnect3Zoo, and Aviad Bernstein).

We also meet a married couple played by Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard. They learn they are the victims of identity theft and the source could be her online support chat room (grieving the loss of their young son) or his online gambling problem. They hire a cyber-crime expert (Frank Grillo) to help them track down the alleged perpetrator (Michael Nyqvist). This expert also happens to be the father of Colin Ford’s character – the cyber-bully from story 1.

disconnect4Finally we see an ambitious local TV reporter (Andrea Riceborough) who stumbles onto an online sex chat room featuring young stud Max Thieriot. As the trust builds between these two, we know disaster is fast approaching.

The two father-son relationships take a turn after both fathers “invade” the privacy of the boys’ online accounts. What they learn is painful and enlightening. The real point or message of the stories seem to be that technology is killing real communication and human interaction. This is the disconnect that is occurring while online connections are thriving. Did we really need a movie to tell us this?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are somehow oblivious to the inherent dangers of online communication OR if you are unaware that teenagers can be cruel and loneliness is open to all ages OR you want to see why I prefer Jason Bateman in dramatic roles rather than comedies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have been the victim of identity theft or cyber-bullying … no need to re-live that pain

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqCcQOlDM4o


REAL STEEL

October 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Shawn Levy brought us the Night at the Museum Movies and I guess that’s about the same audience he is after with this one. Most will compare this to Rocky, and the similarities are obvioius, but the film this most reminds me of is Dreamer with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning – A spunky kid trying to prove everyone wrong in an against all odds competition. But while this one is entertaining enough, I would not put it at the level of either of those movies, which both had better performances and a much better script.

 Hugh Jackman is Charlie, a pompous, bombastic, self-centered hustler who tries to stay one step ahead of the collectors chasing him. He is always looking for a big score in the robot boxing game. What? You aren’t familiar with this sport? Well the film is set in not-too-distant-future, but the only thing I could tell had evolved was the technology of robots and cell phones. Jackman’s world gets jacked up when his 11 year old son (Dakota Goyo) is thrust into his life after the mother dies. Yes, he has been an absentee father and the kid is ridiculously smart and cute.

The two of them set off to make noise in the robot fight world with a dilapidated old model that they rescue from the junk yard in a driving rain storm. There are very few surprises along the way, but father and son develop a bond thanks to the success of their robot, and said robot is not the only one who gets “rescued”.

 Supporting work is provided by Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis and James Rebhorn. These are all competent actors who deliver fine work, but there is nothing special to the script. The one thing that makes this one a little different and will certainly appeal to 10-12 year old boys, is the fighting robots. The fights are action-packed and enjoyable/exciting to watch. They actually look like boxing matches … only with metal creatures, who for some reason are built to mimic human movement.

There have been countless other robot movies: Transformers, Bicentennial Man (Robin Williams), I Robot (Will Smith) and, of course, Lost in Space! Don’t expect much more from this than those offered, but it is a simple fun ride, especially for the pre-teen who enjoys any type of frenetic clash.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are always looking for a movie that you and your 11 year old can see together

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer to miss Hugh Jackman in hyper-over-acting mode.

watch the trailer (and get a feel for the robot fighting):