MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014)

August 3, 2014

magic Greetings again from the darkness. One of the most prolific writer/directors since the end of the studio era, Woody Allen cranks out a script and film every year. A few are great, while the others fall somewhere between highly entertaining and watchable. None would be considered a true dud. His latest is a bit fluffy and falls comfortably into the watchable category … with nary a glint of anything more ambitious.

The line of actors maneuvering for a role in Mr. Allen’s films stretches around the proverbial casting couch.  The list of those involved with this one is again quite impressive: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins, Simon McBurney, Catherine McCormack, and Hamish Linklater. They each perform admirably, yet aren’t enough to elevate a somewhat lackluster script. Ms. Stone and Ms. Atkins are especially enjoyable.

Woody mixes his love of magic with his cynical religious views, and blends those with his too frequent older man/younger woman sub-plot.  The scenes with Firth and Stone are fine, but their onscreen banter would have been better served as Uncle and Niece than awkward rom-com aspirants. Despite this flaw, there remain some excellent lines and moments, plus some staggering shots of the south of France locale. The wardrobe and cars are beautiful … the film is set in 1928.

Screwball comedies are clearly a favorite for Mr. Allen to write, but his directing leans more towards the leisurely pace found in more traditional rom-coms. The mixed genres don’t always fit together, even when stacked with a superior cast. Still, it must be noted, that even at his least brilliant, Mr. Allen delivers films that are pleasant and watchable. As movie lovers, we can live with that as we await his next masterpiece … or at least his next movie in one year.

watch the trailer:

 

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PARKLAND (2013)

October 15, 2013

parkland1 Greetings again from the darkness. Fifty years of investigation and research have spawned an endless number of theories about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened, that tragic day in 1963. President John F Kennedy and his lovely wife Jacqueline had captured the hearts of many Americans, and on a trip to Ft Worth and then Dallas, the streets were lined with eager citizens who just wanted to catch a glimpse … hoping some of that Camelot magic would rub off. Instead, a city and a country, went spinning off into feelings of anger and devastation. Rather than show us what we already know, this is a peek at a few individuals impacted in ways you might not have previously thought about.

Vincent Bugliosi made a name for himself as the prosecutor in the Charles Manson Family murder case, and then penning the corresponding book “Helter Skelter” (subsequently made into a movie). Parkland (the name of the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was taken after the shooting) is based on Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”.

parkland4 The main stories we follow are that of Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale), their mother Margueritte (Jacki Weaver), Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), local FBI Agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston), and the emergency room doctors and nurses who treated JFK and Oswald (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Marcia Gay Harden). You might think that’s too many stories for a single movie, and you are probably correct. However, it’s fascinating to see the frenetic pace and immediate fallout of just how these people were impacted. Sure, we would like more details and backstory, but that’s not the approach this film takes. It just provides a taste of the gut-wrenching decisions Mr. Zapruder has to make while grieving for his beloved President; and the shock of Oswald’s brother as reality hits; the jaw-dropping delusions of Oswald’s mother; the absolute frustration of the CIA and FBI agents knowing their historic failures will be their legacy; and the disparate emotions that enter the operating room with Kennedy and Oswald.

parkland5 The film doesn’t take any stance on the grassy knoll, CIA involvement, LBJ involvement, or number of shooters. This is not a crime solving story or research into conspiracy theories. No, this is a look at real people in extraordinary situations that no amount of preparation can pacify. There are so many little details revealed … one of the most powerful occurring at the Lee Harvey Oswald funeral, and another as the JFK casket is loaded onto Air Force One just prior to LBJ taking the oath. So many little things you have probably never before considered.

parkland6 If you were alive at the time of the assassination, you understand the impact. If you have read any of the stacks of books written about that day, you understand what happened and the messy investigation that followed. Bugliosi and director Peter Landesman effectively mix news reels from the day with dramatizations of the fallout, and the actors do a tremendous job of showing just how personally this affected those at the time. A different perspective brings with it interesting discussion … and a big thanks if your mother is nothing like Oswald’s!

**NOTE: Since I am a Dallas resident, I was relieved to see the film didn’t dwell on the hatred directed at the city following the shooting

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in the stress and emotion experienced by so many after JFK was assassinated.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for another conspiracy theory in the mold of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

watch the trailer:

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


filming PARKLAND in Austin, TX

January 16, 2013

This was posted January 2013.  In August 2013, the trailer was released and I posted an update:

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/update-parkland-trailer/

Filming has begun on Parkland, a movie that will capture the chaos of November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot.  Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”, the adapted screenplay was written by journalist Peter Landesman, who also directs.   The movie should be released later this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

Parkland Hospital in Dallas is where President Kennedy was taken after the shooting, and for the movie, Austin State Hospital will “stand in” for the hospital.  The film stars Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton and Jacki Weaver. It’s being produced by Tom Hanks’ production company.

My niece Hannah lives at Scottish Rite Dormitory and took some time to watch the filming at the nearby church.  Below are a couple of photos: one of Hannah on the set with some of the classic cars from the era, and another of Paul Giamatti in action.

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

November 24, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The film is exactly what you would expect from a screwball romantic comedy steeped in drama based on bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, Philadelphia Eagles fanatics, a ballroom dancing contest, adultery, Hemingway, and a lead character who jogs while wearing a trash bag. Maybe not exactly what you would expect, but likely much more.

If you were told instead that the story is based on two damaged souls who help heal each other through dancing, you would have every reason to skip this one. However, as written and directed by David O Russell (The Fighter) and based on Matthew Quick‘s novel, this story is a frenetic, emotional roller coaster ride that provides a glimmer of hope for the two damaged lead characters, while reminding that each of us may be a bit off-center in some way. Now add in the best young actress working today (Jennifer Lawrence just turned 22), a rare performance from Robert DeNiro where he seems fully engaged, a pulling back the curtain on Bradley Cooper as much more than a pretty face, and one of the best and most pointed soundtracks in recent history …and  you have one of the best films of the year.

What you notice very early on is that what could be considered a trite story line, is instead pounding you with sharp, witty dialogue that pulls no punches in directness. The many aspects of family and emotional support are given time thanks to Pat (Bradley Cooper) being released after 8 months in a mental institution. He was sent there when he snapped after finding his wife in a compromising position with another man. Perfectly understandable if you ask me, but clearly he is the explosive one despite his claims to the contrary. An uncomfortable dinner party introduces him to Tiffany (Ms. Lawrence) whose husband has recently died and her coping skills have been shared with most of those in her workplace. This odd couple spark immediately and the wild ride begins.

Pat’s wife Nikki (Brea Bee) has issued a restraining order and his strategy to win her back consists of a positive attitude and maintaining control of his emotions. His supporters include his mother (Jacki Weaver, who was so great in Animal Kingdom), his OCD father (DeNiro) who so wants to re-connect with his son, his friend (John Ortiz) whose own marriage (to icy Julia Stiles) is a messy mess, his buddy from the asylum (a funny and not over the top Chris Tucker), and of course, Tiffany. The only real problem is that each of these supporters are teetering in their own way – just like Pat.

 The brilliance of this movie is the balance struck between the near violent emotional outbursts and the sharp, exacting words spouted by each of the characters. Director Russell once again shows his flair for working class northeasterners. He understands these tough as nails people who wear their emotions on their sleeves. These people are as likely to punch you as hug you … both being acts of love.

The soundtrack deserves special mention. It is very unique and varied, with each song serving an exact purpose. Especially keen are Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”, Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Be”, and “The Girl from the North Country” a Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet. When the music strikes a harmony with the scene, the movie is all the stronger. Rarely do we get the perfect storm of script, direction, acting, music and relevance.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: complex relationships between characters facing life’s daily battles carries a certain artistic symmetry for you OR you just want to see acting of the highest quality led by a fabulous Jennifer Lawrence, a resurgent Robert DeNiro and a surprisingly talented Bradley Cooper

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your Rom-Com’s to be lightweight and light-hearted for easy laughs

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj5_FhLaaQQ


ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

August 29, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. An Australian movie that packs a wallop! Writer/Director David Michod delivers an unsettling look into one family’s life of crime and the corresponding order of things – the circle of life in the Animal Kingdom. Supposedly based on a true story, this is a tough family that you would not want as relatives.  These are not smooth operators like Scorcese provided in Casino or Goodfellas.  No, in fact, these guys are much worse.

The matriarch is played chillingly by Jacki Weaver. She is mother or grandmother to the guys (except for one outsider) in the band of crooks. While she messes with your mind through the story, it’s not until the final 15 minutes when she really kicks it up a notch and becomes flat out frightening in her power.

There are only a couple of actors that most people would recognize. Joel Edgerton is the outsider in the group, and the one trying to go straight by playing the stock market with his “earnings”. The other is Guy Pearce, who plays the detective trying to both solve the cases and rescue young Josh, played by newcomer James Frecheville.

Not only is this the type of story that sucks you in, it is a reminder of just how distracting movie stars can be to a film. The lack of stars allows us to really be absorbed into this family, or better, this world of crime, deceit, corruption and paranoia. There is not a single movie star – no one who can capitalize on his film history of characters and immediately generate recognition. Here, the viewer must get to know an entire family for who and what they are. This is powerful stuff for a film lover.

The winner for best psychopath is Ben Mendelsohn as Pope. His dead eyes will scare you. His demeanor will scare you. His actions will disgust you. There are two lines in the film that help us make sense of what occurs. Early on, the narrator tells us that “all crooks come undone” at some point. Later, the detective (Pearce) tells us that in the Animal Kingdom, you are either weak or strong. The lines seem pretty clear.

The focus of the film is on Josh (Frecheville) who gets plopped into this family of criminals after his mom dies of an overdose and he calls his long-lost grandmother (Weaver). Josh spends the rest of the film trying to blend in while staying clean. Of course, even his stoic mask doesn’t save him from the path of destruction created by Pope.  The only question is, can he find a way to survive or escape?

In the end, the film is about survival, adaptation and exploring what really defines strong and weak, good and bad. Are you weak or strong?  It’s not always easy to tell … and beware of the quiet ones.  If you enjoy powerful crime thrillers, this one is worth checking out … and be appreciative for the lack of Hollywood star power. That’s part of why it works!