THE WALK (2022)

June 16, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This “inspired by true events” film opens with a history lesson: In 1954, in the landmark Brown v Board of Education case, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. This was followed in 1965 with SCOTUS ruling there should be no more delays in desegregation, and another ruling by the high court in 1971 stating that busing students was appropriate in facilitating desegregation. But it took the NAACP bringing suit against Boston Public Schools before a specific court ruling in 1973 forced the city to comply by the following year. The film from writer-director Daniel Adams (THE LIGHTKEEPERS, 2009) and co-writer George Powell picks up in 1974.

Justin Chatwin (“Shameless”) stars as Boston Police Officer Bill Coughlin, a born and raised “Southie”, whose daughter Katie (Katie Douglas) is finishing up one school year and looking forward to her upcoming senior year of high school. Her world is rocked when her best friend receives a letter stating that she has been reassigned to another school as part of the desegregation. Reacting as a teenager would, Katie claims it’s all unfair and she should get a normal senior year without having to share her school with black students. What we soon learn is that those black students feel the same way. Wendy Robbins (an excellent Lovie Simone) lives with her EMT dad (Terrence Howard), and her faith and courage and maturity aren’t quite enough to overcome the emotions, but she’s strong enough to follow in the steps of MLK rather than the Black Panthers.

We see that neither side wanted it handled this way. “Why do they hate us?” It’s the question asked a couple of times, and goes to the heart of the cultural and racial divide in Boston at the time. Officer Coughlin is at the center of much of what happens. He’s struggling with the bubbling emotions in his city, his concern for his daughter, his reassignment to protect the black kids getting bused to south Boston, and facing threats from Johnny Bunkley (Jeremy Piven), a local thug recently released from prison. Bunkley is protected by McLaughlin, the neighborhood power broker played by Malcolm McDowell. On top of all that, Coughlin considers himself fair, but wonders if he’s a racist … and wonders how exactly to define the word (a dilemma that still exists 50 years later).

The film does capture what a tumultuous time it was to be a parent, a kid, or a cop. Everyone was uneasy and looking for someone to blame and a way to maintain the status quo. Many characters are involved here, but most of the focus is on Coughlin and Katie. His challenges stem from work, home, and the neighborhood, while hers are that of a teenager feeling wronged and smothered. Some of the sub-plots work, while others are misfires. It’s vital to keep in mind that the story is set in 1974 … the first year of busing for desegregation in Boston public schools.

As powerful as the issues covered are, the film likely would have benefited from better casting, and a simplified and focused script. Mr. Piven is a fine actor, but miscast here as a street thug. Mr. Chatwin lacks the physical presence of a cop who commands respect, though his sensitive nature is a plus given his inner turmoil. Malcolm McDowell is always a treat to watch, but casting a Brit as a native Southie only exacerbated the inconsistencies many had with the accent. The film is one to watch for the history lesson, though not so much for cinematic expertise.

Opens on June 10, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


FATHER STU (2022)

April 12, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Well, if you are going to make a movie about redemption and bettering one’s self, who better to cast than Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson? Both men are stars who on multiple occasions have needed redeeming. Writer-director Rosalind Ross’ first feature film is based on the true story of Stuart Long, and Mr. Wahlberg was so committed to the project that he funded production when others chose not to.

OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a stretch having Mr. Wahlberg play the guy who becomes a priest, but that’s why they call it, “the magic of Hollywood.” Stuart Long was a real person and his story is compelling and worth sharing. Wahlberg so believed this that he self-funded the production, and clearly gave his all in the performance. My advice to anyone watching the movie is to stay seated. Things move extremely fast … and it’s that expeditious approach to storytelling that gives this a bit of a movie-of-the-week feel. Here’s what I mean by fast: We see Stu (Wahlberg) as a boxer. His parents are long-divorced, and after an injury, Stu decides to head to California to be an actor. He falls in love with a girl who convinces him to get baptized, and the experience inspires him to become a Catholic priest. Severe health issues ensue, yet he persists. That’s a whole lot to cover in two hours, and it explains why each piece skims only the surface and feels rushed … and this is only a partial list!

The pedigree here is beyond question. Wahlberg has twice been Oscar nominated. Two-time Oscar winner Mel Gibson plays his father, while 2-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver is Stu’s mother. Screen legend Malcolm McDowell plays the local monsignor who finds himself in a pickle, and the always-great Colleen Camp has a brief appearance as a seen-it-all motel clerk. Teresa Ruiz is terrific as Carmen, Stu’s reluctant love interest who first think she understands him, then learns she doesn’t, and then ultimately respects what he’s made of himself.

Catholicism plays a big role here, and there is plenty of guilt to go around. Wahlberg leans heavily into his charm to help us relate to Stu, but he and Gibson both have cringe-inducing moments for those familiar with some of their off-screen activities. Gibson’s ‘Hitler’ crack seems to walk an especially fine line. On the other hand, Gibson delivers a couple of memorable lines: one early on when he’s watching young Stu dance, and another later on when the two are re-connecting as grown men. Filmmaker Ross includes some actual Stuart Long audio recordings, photographs, and video over the closing credits.

Opens in theaters April 13, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


BOMBSHELL (2019)

December 19, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Movies based on true stories are increasingly popular these days. OK, not as popular as comic book films, but the appeal of tapping into ‘truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” is a natural, as viewers bring a sense of familiarity to the characters and/or events. On the flipside, this familiarity can create challenges for the filmmakers and actors as they must meet viewer expectations or risk being waved off as a flop. When tackling the story of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and the sexual harassment scandal of 2016, the folks associated with this project faced the added burden of an internationally reported story with faces and personalities recognized around the globe.

For the most part, director Jay Roach (TRUMBO, MEET THE PARENTS, AUSTIN POWERS), screenwriter Charles Randolph (Oscar winner THE BIG SHORT), and a very talented cast succeed in taking us behind the scenes of this unsettling story, so that we might better understand how 20 years of despicable behavior continued unabated. The film picks up in 2015 as the Presidential campaigns are underway. Megyn Kelly (a spot-on performance from Oscar winner Charlize Theron) breaks the 4th wall and takes us on a tour of the Fox offices – even pointing out Roger Ailes’ private and secure sanctuary. We then see the memorable moment where Ms. Kelly publicly questioned candidate Donald Trump about his history with women. It was a moment that shook the network, and elevated Megyn Kelly to worldwide notoriety.

Early emphasis is on Gretchen Carlson (played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman), and her declining role at the network as she is removed from the highly rated “Fox and Friends”, and placed on her own show in an unappealing time slot. Although her professional skills are presented in a way that has her appearing a bit amateurish, Ms. Carlson makes the case that she was unceremoniously removed due to her not going along with Ailes’ wishes behind closed doors. It’s Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes that kicks off the downfall of the network’s leader. She was the one courageous enough to be first.

Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisill, an ambitious producer who initially works for Carlson, and then moves on to “The O’Reilly Factor”. Kayla is a composite character written to represent many of the women who worked at the network. She is smart and working towards a shot at becoming an on-air personality. It’s that ambition that results in her sitting in Ailes’ office when he says “Stand up and give me a twirl.” His request (evidently not an uncommon one) is followed by his reasoning – “Television is a visual medium.” It’s Kayla’s interaction that allows us a glimpse at the systemic sexual harassment that became commonplace in the office. The toxic environment was not isolated to Ailes … as shown here, and proven later.

John Lithgow perfectly captures the elderly Ailes, who suffers from multiple physical ailments – none of which affect his ego or demented nature. He never sees the evil of his ways, as he’s been taking advantage of his power position for so long, the right comebacks and lead-ons have become second nature to him. What makes this even more frightening is that Ailes apparently used this harassment and manipulation as the first step in a form of mind control … to ensure the content of his network fit his ultra-conservative and closed-minded ideals. The message was clear: remain loyal to him or lose your career.

The ensemble cast is excellent, even if the leads dominate the story. Oscar winner Allison Janney portrays Ailes’ attorney Susan Esrcih, Connie Brittain plays his supportive wife Beth Ailes, Malcolm McDowell is Rupert Murdoch, and Kate McKinnon plays Kayla’s co-worker (and more) Jess Carr, who is forced to keep her private life in her desk drawer. Other supporting roles are filled by Liv Hewson, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Stephen Root, Robin Weigert, Anne Ramsay, and Richard Kind. Some of the real life names and faces include: Bill O’Reilly, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Wallace, Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, Geraldo Rivera, and Jeanine Pirro.

This place is crazy.” I don’t remember which character said it, but it could have been any of them. The politics of the network (and Ailes himself) are always hovering over every scene. What caused Fox News to become such a toxic work environment?  Having a despicable leader doesn’t seem like enough. Why were so many men treating it as a frat house, and so few women willing to speak up? The answer seems to be that these were talented and ambitious women who were determined not to lose what they had worked for. When one character states that women owe it to each other to speak up, it really brings into focus how much courage is required to do just that.

Showtime’s multiple-episode “The Loudest Voice” with Russell Crowe as Roger Ailes and Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson was able to go into greater depth with the longer run time, but director Roach tells this from the women’s viewpoint. Ms. Theron truly disappears into the role of Megyn Kelly, while Lithgow, Kidman and Robbie deliver in a way that we forget we are watching actors. Some of the best segments feature these women reacting in the moment … moments we hope are becoming extinct. By the way, I wonder how much a “Team Roger” t-shirt is going for these days – or if they can even give them away?

watch the trailer:


A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

July 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Stanley Kubrick only made 11 feature films, and there have been arguments made for all 11 to be considered cinematic classics. This one must surely be included with Spartacus, Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining as films that are safe and secure in movie history. Based on the novella from Anthony Burgess, the focus on Alex makes this an extremely disturbing and uncomfortable film to watch, even 41 years after original release.  Still, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to watch it one more time … with a full house on the big screen.

Malcolm McDowell is just terrific as Alex, the sadistic, remorseless, psychotic leader of a pack of hoodlums who terrorize innocents just for the sake of doing so. To emphasize Alex’s distorted view of society, Kubrick utilizes a wide-angle lens to show us his Point of View. There is much commentary in the film and most of it is quite obvious. One of the least discussed is the interaction of Alex and his “droogs”. When they tire of his relentless power-mongering and the lack of big scores from all of their criminal activity, we see how young thugs would handle such a situation.  Got milk?

 There is also much criticism directed at the British government and the world of psychiatry, especially mind-control. Kubrick obviously had extreme views on these topics as he went off-track from the source material to make his points in extreme fashion. The idea of moral choice being the distinguishing factor of a man could be debated, but seems logical when contrasted with the anti-violence rehabilitation system favored by the minister.

There are some fascinating visuals with the milk-plus bar, the artwork and wide-angle lens … especially when focused on Patrick Magee’s face during the rape scene. Also, the use of Ludwig van Beethoven to put Alex in the mood for “ultra-violence”, and then his subsequent song and dance to “Singin in the Rain”, show what the other side of music can mean to those not quite right in the head.  Don’t worry about missing some of the “droogs” dialogue.  They have a language of their own and it is based in Russian roots.  Michael Bates adds a touch of comedy relief as the over-bearing prison guard. His mannerisms are quite funny, yet somehow believable.

The film received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, though sadly, McDowell was not recognized. While there is much in the film that is difficult to watch, the brilliance of the material, script, acting and directing are a treat for movie lovers. One bit of trivia: that is David Prowse who plays the writer’s bodyguard. Mr. Prowse would go on to play Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.

not sure if this is an official teaser trailer, but it provides a taste without spoiling any scenes:


THE ARTIST

December 27, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Remember the last silent film that received this much adoration, acclaim and publicity? Of course you don’t. It was 1927 and Clara Bow starred in Wings, the most recent silent film to be nominated for Best Picture (it won). My guess is, that streak is about to end thanks to French writer/director Michel Hazanavicius.

No doubt many will avoid this one since it is a Black & White silent film. What a mistake that would be. It offers a wonderfully entertaining and captivating story, and two outstanding and expressive lead performances. Jean Dujardin is remarkable as George Valentin, one of the biggest movie stars in 1927 (when this story begins). It’s around this time when the “talkies” begin taking over. Valentin is a very likable character, but foolishly believes talking movies are a fad and his fans will remain loyal to him and his traditional silent films. Not only do talkies take off, but the Great Depression also hits. Valentin finds himself out of work and broke.

 The most fun in the film occurs when Valentin and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) are on screen together. Their characters have a chance meeting and there is an instant spark. Valentin gets her the first break of her career and before long, she is on the rise as fast as he free falls. Only Valentin’s dog and driver (James Cromwell) remain loyal to him during the tough times, but Peppy works behind the scenes to ensure their bond doesn’t die.

It’s impossible to watch this film and not notice the influence of Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Blvd. Also, Dujardin’s Valentin looks to be a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly, replete with the electric matinee idol smile. Both Dujrardin and Ms. Bejo (who is the director’s real life girlfriend) have the elastic face and bright eyes necessary for silent film stardom. They really allow us as viewers to forget the silence and enjoy the characters.

 Unless you are a film historian or a real movie buff, your only exposure to silent films may be from short clips or Mel BrooksSilent Movie. This one will change that and offer you glimpse at just how powerful film images can be.  Another thing that will jump out is how crucial complimentary music is.  It will guide you through the scene.  Ludovic Bource is responsible for the terrific original score, and other pieces of music are also used … particularly Bernard Herrmann‘s piece from Vertigo.

This is a fully realized story with excellent character development. You might wonder how this is possible with no dialogue, but that’s why this is a must see film garnering an abundance of critical acclaim. It’s very easy to access and is purely entertaining … with moments of both happiness and sadness. It has everything a really good movie should have … just with fewer lines of dialogue and a really smart dog!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see one of the best movies of the year OR you don’t believe a silent movie can hold your attention (this one will prove you wrong)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you just don’t like movies … sorry, I can’t think of another reason.

watch the trailer:


EASY A (2010)

September 18, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is an obvious (and proud of it) homage to the great teen films of John Hughes. It is updated for this generation of teens – replete with FaceBook, texting and webcam. While this one may not have the fully realized characters of the best Hughes films, it actually takes things a step further in its commentary on many topics: family life, parenting, religious zealotry, rumor-mongering and the public education system.

Writer Bert V. Royal‘s script delivers an intellectual and comedic look into high school life … told through the eyes of the smart, “invisible” girl. Director Will Gluck shows promise with this one … here’s a brief overview so as not to take away from the multiple layers.

PET PEEVE ALERT!!  High School students played by actors in their early-to-mid 20’s.

Emma Stone (Zombieland, The House Bunny) delivers a star-making performance as Olive. Forced into a faux-confession by her best friend, Olive experiences the efficiencies of digital gossip spreading as word leaks regarding the apparent loss of her “V card”. Even though this one is based in Ojai, California, it’s nice to know that high school promiscuity is still met with a certain stigma. Here that stigma is compared to Hawthorne’s expert novel, The Scarlet Letter.

This sets into action a series of unforeseen events. The school’s religious nuts, led by Amanda Bynes, take Olive’s situation as a personal affront and spend a great deal of effort trying to punish her for her sins. At the same time, the geeks and dweebs view Olive as their savior and proceed to take advantage of the opportunity.

While she is presented as a very sharp-witted, well-grounded teenager, Olive experiences the enormous power of a reputation. All of this is balanced out by her extraordinary relationship with her free-spirited, yet wise parents played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci.

I can’t possibly do justice to the script or the numerous topics broached, but I will say that it’s a welcome new approach to teen movies. The usual schlock sex is replaced by sharp quips and real pressures. Do note that the dialogue is filled with much harsh language that wouldn’t be welcome in an environment other than a high school campus. Further support work is offered by Penn Badgley as the good guy, Thomas Haden Church as a new world cool teacher, Malcolm McDowell as an old school principal and Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor (in a role that gives me permission to feel the disgust I usually feel when she is on screen).

Don’t be scared off thinking this is another lousy teen flick. It is instead an insightful comedy that plays well for adults and teens. While you may not agree with all of the social observations, I believe you will agree the film is presented in a most entertaining and insightful manner.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: You have a severe disdain for gossipers, religious zealots and judgmental types OR you want to see the type of movies John Hughes would make were he still alive.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  high school over-swearing gives you a headache OR if you have seizures whenever Lisa Kudrow is onscreen.