FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN (2019, doc)

June 6, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood is known for taking a real life person or event, embellishing the details, twisting the facts, and creating a fictionalized version meant to shock … or at least entertain. John DeLorean lived a life that made it almost too easy for Hollywood, yet numerous attempts at a biopic have stalled over the years. Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce were there to pick up the pieces and deliver a documentary with dramatized reenactments of actual (and hypothetical) moments. Co-writers Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton assist with a cinematic version likely to cause those who recall actual events to marvel at the full story, and those too young to remember will likely find it difficult to believe … or perhaps, sadly, all too believable!

The film provides the backstory where John DeLorean was a talented engineer at General Motors and became a star on the rise within what at the time was the world’s largest corporation. Turning around GM’s flailing Pontiac division by introducing the GTO as a muscle car, DeLorean’s success was a mixture of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, risk-taking, swagger, and ambition. Despite his actions leading directly to higher profits and large executive bonus checks, the stodgy old school regime forced him out in 1973. DeLorean, seen as a swashbuckling rebel, started his own company, De Lorean Motor Company, with the unusual stated goal of mass producing exotic sports cars made of stainless steel.

The dramatizations and reenactments involve Alec Baldwin as DeLorean, Morena Baccarin as his (third) wife, supermodel Cristina Ferrare, and Josh Charles as Bill Collins, the chief engineer he ‘stole’ from GM. We even get a behind the scenes look as Baldwin discusses the role from the makeup chair, and Ms. Baccarin is interviewed on how she viewed Ms. Ferrare.  These dramatizations cover possible conversations between DeLorean and Collins, as well as home life with Ms. Ferrare and the kids, and are more distraction than help.

More effective than these “what if” segments, are the actual interviews with the real Bill Collins, as well as others who were involved at the time. Unfortunately, we only see the actual Ms. Ferrare in clips, as she understandably wouldn’t want to be relive this part of her life. However, their kids, Zach and Kathryn, are interviewed on camera. Both are quite forthcoming with their thoughts, recollections, and the impact of growing up as DeLoreans’ kids. Zach carries his hostility on his sleeve, while Kathryn offers a bit more reticence. Both reactions are understandable, and ‘the car vs the dad’ discussions are fascinating … and these interviews are the film’s high points.

Opening with FBI footage of DeLorean’s lie detector test administered in 1983, possibly the most interesting aspect from an overall perspective is the contrast between his trial for drug trafficking and his later trial for embezzlement. Despite his being a truly desperate man when he agreed to the drug deal, it seems quite obvious – as the jury found – that DeLorean was a victim of FBI entrapment (possibly the first time many of us had heard the word). In the aftermath of what was a media circus not dissimilar to OJ’s trial, we do hear from both defense attorney Howard Weitzman and prosecutor Robert Perry as to how each viewed the case. However, the shell company in Geneva and the aspects to his embezzlement lead us to believe DeLorean’s character was truly compromised – or possibly revealed.

From a business viewpoint, it was quite interesting to learn that DMC (De Lorean Motor Company) ended up being based in Belfast, Northern Ireland (a great trivia question) due to 30% unemployment and the large government subsidies meant to stimulate an economy in the dumps. The lack of infrastructure and a workforce with no automobile experience led to quality issues that were simply too great to overcome …especially when combined with other issues on Planet DeLorean.

John DeLorean led a flamboyant life and experienced a very public fall from grace. Screenwriter Bob Gale explains how the DeLorean car was chosen for the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, and how a letter from DeLorean showed how much he still enjoyed the spotlight. Was DeLorean a renegade visionary or a con man? Was he a victim or a cut-throat businessman? Whatever your thoughts, he’s a textbook example of how the American Dream can come true, and still be followed by one’s worst nightmare. Sometimes there is no need to print the legend … fact will do just fine.

watch the trailer:

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DIFF 2019 Day 5

April 17, 2019

2019 Dallas International Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. Day 5 means we are now past the halfway mark for this year’s festival. Originally I had 4 films scheduled for today, but I opted out of the late movie since it would have required more than a 90 minute wait after the end of the third movie. It’s that kind of situation that makes festival scheduling a bit frustrating. Despite that, all 3 movies were worth the time: a documentary profile of an Italian model, a low budget quirky comedy, and a masterclass from two veteran screen actors.

 

 

Here is my recap of Day 5 films:

 

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MY MOTHER (doc)

 Caution is usually the best policy when choosing a biographical documentary shot by the subject’s family member. Often objectivity is sacrificed in the pursuit of a worthy tribute film. Oddly enough, it’s the mother-son relationship that provides the necessary spark as cinematographer Beniamino Barrese turns the lense on his mother Benedetta Barzini, a fashion model icon in the 1960’s and feminist spokesperson in the 1970’s.

We see photographs and flashbacks that prove what a stunning beauty Benedetta Barzini was at the peak of her modeling days. We also see clips of her appearances as a feminist spokesperson, and it’s in these that we see the fiery personality that is so prevalent in the current day exchanges with her director-son as he coaxes her through the process. There are also segments where she is mentoring younger girls and a return to the catwalk during Fashion Week.

She’s now in her 70’s, and remains physically striking with a lithe body that defies her age. But it’s the words coming out of her mouth – many pushing this to an “R” rating – that define the woman of today. The title of the movie refers to her preference to ‘disappear’ rather than ‘appear’ in the images of photos, film or social media.  When discussing the obsession society has with youth, she explains that Youth equates to Life, while Old age is associated with Death. That philosophy is a bit of a downer, but is an example of the insight she brings. In describing today’s marketing, she says women are usually associated with nature, while men represent thought and reason. The outspoken and wise feminist lives on.

Home clips from 1999 and a visit with long-time friend Lauren Hutton offer up more bits of what makes the woman tick, as does her listening to Leonard Cohen and smoking cigs and vaping at an alarming rate. In her mid-70’s, whether she likes it or not, her smile still lights up the screen and any room she is in. Still, we understand she has earned her own liberation from the camera, even as she puts a cap on it. Fin.

 

ODE TO JOY

 You might be familiar with the disease narcolepsy, but unless you or someone close to you suffers from it, you’re likely unfamiliar with cataplexy – a symptom of narcolepsy that causes sudden and extreme muscle weakness typically brought on by severe emotions such as sadness, anger or excitement. For Charlie, the trigger is happiness, so he has learned to (mostly) cope by avoiding his triggers: puppies, weddings, random acts of kindness, kids playing, and relationships. What he couldn’t avoid was being a groomsman in his sister’s wedding, which is how director Jason Winer and co-writers Max Werner and Chris Higgins choose to begin the film. We see the full effects and fallout (no pun intended) of Charlie’s disease.

Charlie works a calm job (out of necessity) at the public library, and his co-workers have mastered the art of assisting in keeping Charlie thinking non-happy thoughts. As tends to happen, love finds a way. Charlie crosses paths with Francesca (Morena Baccarin), a lively woman who appears to be Charlie’s opposite in most ways … making the attraction even stronger. A first date to a community theatre where a one-man show titled “Great Depression” is playing, we get the full effect of the challenges Charlie faces.

Cooper (Jake Lacy), Charlie’s younger brother, has been his main support system for most of his life – which is even more remarkable when we get the story of how Cooper got his name. When things fizzle between Francesca and Charlie, Cooper swoops in to date her and they set up Charlie with Bethany (a wonderful Melissa Rauch). Bethany’s own quirks seem to be a good fit, even if Charlie’s torch for Francesca still flickers. Surely you’ve never seen an oboe sing-a-long to the Cranberries “Zombie”, and if somehow you have, it likely pales in comparison to the one Ms. Rauch performs.

The laughs are many, yet the script and Freeman’s performance remain respectful to the disease and those who suffer from it. Jane Curtin appears as Francesca’s Aunt who is cancer-stricken, and no, the purpose wasn’t to show a disease worse than cataplexy, but rather to show we all have challenges in life – and how we deal determines the type of person we are. The story was inspired by a story on Chicago TV’s “This American Life”, and it’s a nice little gem that hopefully will find distribution.

 

THE TOMORROW MAN

 Noble Jones worked as the second unit director on David Fincher’s award-winning film THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), and he has made quite a name for himself in music videos and commercials. This is his first feature film as director and he also wrote this interesting script. On top of that, he cast two top-notch veteran actors to bring the story to life: John Lithgow and Blythe Danner. At times it feels like we are watching a masterclass in acting and many of their scenes together have a live theatre feel.

Ed (Lithgow) and Ronnie (Danner) cross paths at the local grocery store where they each shop at an alarmingly frequent rate. It turns out Ed is preparing for doomsday and Ronnie is hoarder. As they spend time together, their fondness for each other grows, but we are never really sure if it’s loneliness or connection that inspires the relationship.

Despite both having a very serious approach to life, there are many moments of levity and sweetness, but also doses of reality that keep us off-balanced – just as life does. Ed proclaims the world would be such a disaster with ball bearings … of course his view is a bit skewed since he spent 17 years on the business. Ronnie is brave enough to attend Thanksgiving dinner with Ed at his son’s house, and the explosive family dynamics drive home the challenges of co-existing with others at any age.

Ed tells the new checkout clerk that it’s “good to know your neighbor. You never know when you’ll need them.” His preparations for doom and gloom … or as he calls it, SHTF … are offset by Ronnie’s sweetness, and a yard sale leads to the surprise ending. As a bonus, filmmaker Noble has finally found a good use for the song “Muskrat Love”.


DEADPOOL (2016)

February 12, 2016

deadpool Greetings again from the darkness. Superhero movies have been dominating the box office for the better part of two decades, and most tend to lean towards moody and intense … though Iron-Man and The Avengers have certainly enjoyed adding searing one-liners to the mix. As for ratings, superheroes have steadfastly claimed PG-13 as the perfect blend of massive action, massive muscles and massive audiences. So it’s a little surprising to find a movie about a relatively unknown superhero, that’s the first feature from director Tim Miller (previously a visual effects guru), crashing through the R-rated barrier in no-holds-barred fashion. It’s startling and refreshing to see a new take on what had become just a bit too familiar.

This is a movie for which you will want to actually read the opening credits and stay for the post credit scene (a 2-parter). Additionally, you will want to make sure you keep not only little kids away (remember the hard R-rating), but also any grown-ups who are offended by harsh language (on the Tarantino scale), ultra-violence (on the Kill Bill scale) or any combination of sex, sex talk or sex jokes (all at an entirely new level). To label this movie as crass or profane is like calling Chewbacca somewhat fuzzy. And while it pushes the raunch-o-meter, it’s also blazingly funny at times (especially for a cancer movie).

The previously mentioned opening credits refer to the writers as “the real heroes here”, and while the plot is pretty textbook superhero stuff, it’s the barrage of one-liners and sight gags at which those writers so excel. They even make sure those unfamiliar with the Wade Wilson backstory understand that he is a former special forces operative turned mercenary for the average Joe’s and Jane’s. In no time, it’s drilled into our heads that he is also a wiseacre, wisenheimer, wise-ass, wisecracker and any other adjective that means funny but not wise.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson/Deadpool and leaves no doubt that he has finally found the role that fits him as well as his red suit. If you are convulsing as you flashback to Mr. Reynolds as Green Lantern (2011), take solace in the fact that this movie fires a couple of deadly shots at that oh-so-disappointing effort. His girlfriend Vanessa is played by Morena Baccarin (“Homeland”), and his best buddy/bartender is played by TJ Miller (“Silicon Valley”). Since Reynolds had a brief appearance as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), there are numerous nods to that franchise, including two key roles here for Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). The target of Deadpool’s revenge comes in the form of Ed Skrein (The Transporter Refueled) as Ajax and Gina Carano as Angel Dust … accompanied by her theme song “Angel of the Morning” (unfortunately it’s the Juice Newton version, and not the more powerful Merrillee Rush and the Turnabouts version). Lastly, it’s pure joy to see Leslie Uggams cast in a spunky supporting role, and Stan Lee appears in what might be his most unique cameo yet.

As for music, the range is Neil Sedaka to DMX – yep, you’re unlikely to find a more diverse soundtrack. Your kid may have a Captain America figurine on their bookshelf, but the R-rating for this one is solidified in the first 10 minutes, and is relentlessly reinforced until the movie ends – this means don’t bring your kids! We can only imagine how much fun those old enough to watch are going to have, and brace yourself for an onslaught of Deadpool comebacks over the next few weeks … only hopefully not in church, at the office, in front of grandma, etc …

watch the trailer:

 

 


SPY (2015)

June 24, 2015

spy Greetings again from the darkness. Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig are back together in hopes of recapturing their Bridesmaids comedy and box office magic. They are also re-teaming for next year’s all-female Ghostbusters remake.

This time it’s a parody of James Bond films … right down to the elaborate and creative opening credit sequence. Recognizing that combining action and comedy can be a bit challenging, Feig enlists the help of Jason Statham and Jude Law. Statham parodies his well known uber-intense characters with a running dialogue of his bravery and heroism, while Law is clearly having a blast as the ultra-smooth agent Bradley Fine (think Pierce Brosnan’s Bond).

In spite of the gentlemen, this is Ms. McCarthy’s film and she is believable as the frumpy CIA analyst who is the “voice in the ear” of super agent Fine (Law). He maneuvers the front line of dangerous assignments as she provides life-saving high-tech guidance from the relative safety of the vermin-infested basement CIA lab. Of course, we know McCarthy’s agent will end up in the field in her attempts to avenge a mission gone wrong.

It’s McCarthy in the field that will either make or break the film for you. Her scenes with Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz worked best for me, while her Jackie Chan-style kitchen fight scene and her chase scenes were a bit more difficult to buy off on. It can be confusing as a viewer when we are constantly bombarded with PC rules, and then Feig and McCarthy don’t hesitate to use her heft for laughs.

Other supporting work is provided by British comedienne Miranda Hunt, another fish out of water agent; Morena Baccarin as a strutting super agent at the level of Statham; Bobby Cannavale as a would-be terrorist; and Allison Janney as the CIA Supervisor. While each have their moments, it’s McCarthy’s visit to the spy gadget department that provides the best laughs.

The Action-Comedy-Spy Thriller genre is pretty sparse, and as you may expect, comedy is the priority for most scenes. McCarthy does well in her first true film lead, though my prediction is that her value as an actress will ultimately come from playing characters who are more “real” – like her role in last year’s St. Vincent.