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

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

May 17, 2015

 

mad max Greetings again from the darkness. Thirty years have passed since we last saw Mel Gibson donning the leather in 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which was of course, the third in the franchise after Mad Max (1979), and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). Over the years, rumors have persisted that writer/director George Miller was going to add to the franchise and take full advantage of today’s high-tech movie making techniques by securing the budget necessary for a true blockbuster. It may have taken 3 decades, but Mr. Miller’s dream is realized with his $100 million version (compared to $300,000 budget on the first one) that will undoubtedly satisfy the Mad Max fans, while also reminding the industry what an action movie can be (Michael Bay’s corneas may burst into flames watching this).

Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky, a loner haunted by a tragic past seen only through millisecond flashbacks that occur at both inopportune and opportune moments. Hardy has the physicality to pull off the role, but despite the title and the history, this film belongs at least as much to Charlize Theron who literally drives the story as Imperator Furiosa. Tired of living under tyrannical rule, Furiosa frees a group of “breeders” played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton. Their plan is to escape across the desert (well, everything is desert these days) and return to Furiosa’s childhood home known as “the green place”.

This is pretty much a two hour chase sequence featuring monster vehicles, soaring motorcycles, massive gunfire, screen-filling explosions, and enough stunt work to amaze even the casual movie-goer. All of this is accompanied by ear-bursting high-octane music courtesy JunkieXL (the first Max films were scored by Brian May of Queen). Some of this “music” is raw heavy-metal shredding occurring live on one of the chase vehicles – quite a sight and sound gag. It should be noted that stunt work is the surprise here. These days, most movies rely on CGI effects, while Mr. Miller mixes an extraordinary number of old school stunts with the compliment of CGI for such things as an overwhelming sandstorm and Ms. Theron’s mechanical arm. It’s a fascinating blend of old and new.

John Seale certainly deserves mention. He is an Academy Award winning cinematographer for The English Patient, and has also been DP on films such as Rain Man, Witness, Dead Poet’s Society and The Firm. He has four Oscar nominations and is not the first cinematographer one would think of when putting together a huge action film; however, the choice pays off in what is a beautifully shot film – both in space and close up scenes. It brings an element of propriety to what on the surface appears to be out-of-control, non-stop chaos.

The post-apocalyptic look and feel is accented by periodic splashes of color that prevent the usual bleakness from others in this genre. Many will be surprised at the minimal dialogue, but the straightforward plot removes any need for extended conversations from folks simply trying to survive.

Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) may be the most interesting of all characters, and probably has the most lines of dialogue (while still not saying much). He is a slave caught up in the dream of serving his master, while then re-discovering a modicum of humanity buried somewhere deep inside. Fans of the series will also cheer the presence of Hugh Keays-Byrne who plays the very striking Immortan Joe, and also played Toe Cutter in the original film 37 years ago.

Filled with nostalgia and respect for the original series, this fourth entry also provides a new palette for a new generation of fans. The biggest change comes from the focus on strong women who are out to change, or at least escape, a world rotted by the male lust for power. It’s difficult to say insanity rules this world, because so little sanity exists that rational beings are non-existent.

George Miller will always be known as the creator of the Mad Max series, but we shouldn’t forget that he also directed the Happy Feet movies, as well as Babe: Pig in the City. Perhaps those two personalities allow him to create a world as crazed and chaotic as we see in his latest Max film. Mostly we can feel happy for him that he was afforded the opportunity realize his filmmaker dream … a nice reward for 30 years of patience.

watch the trailer:

 

 


JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2012)

March 2, 2013

jack Greetings again from the darkness. As a kid, I always enjoyed “Jack and Beanstalk” as a bedtime story. However, I never quite understood why Jack was a hero for stealing from the giant. Was I the only kid who felt a bit sorry for the giant? Along comes director Bryan Singer and frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and the backstory clarifies things for me. The humans and giants had a long ago battle that ended when King Eric banished the giants to a land between heaven and earth. King Eric is either referred to as “The Great” or “The Evil” depending on whether you are a human or a giant.

The prologue offers up simultaneous bedtime beanstalk stories for young Jack, living with his widowed dad, and the young Princess Isabelle, who lives in the castle. Flash forward 10 years and Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is living with his grumpy uncle (his dad died), and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is a young lady being forced to marry the King’s (Ian McShane) trusted adviser Roderick, played as a scoundrel by Stanley Tucci. Isabelle is a bit too adventurous for the King and jack3the next thing we know, she has escaped from the castle and stumbled into Jack’s humble abode. Of course, this happens on the same day that Jack traded the horse for the magic beans. The beanstalk appears and the real fun begins.

Ewen McGregor leads the King’s army and is in charge of the rescue party that must climb the beanstalk. Of course, Jack gets to go because of his inside information, and Roderick goes because he is in the midst of an ill-fated power play … a requirement in Fairy Tales! The best CGI in the film occurs in the land of the giants. Their first appearance is very impressive and we get to sit back and enjoy the special effects wizardry. This is action-adventure at a very satisfactory level and the creepy giants add a new level to what we have seen on screen. The battle scenes are a great deal of fun and provide some visuals that are quite intense.

jack2 Which leads to the main point here … who is the movie made for? It’s entirely too frightening for young kids who might enjoy the bedtime story, but I’m sure most teens are way too cool to see a movie about a kids’ book. This is terrific entertainment that many ages would enjoy, but my guess is very few will venture to the theatre for it. Support work is also provided by Ewen Bremner, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Nighy (who voices the two-headed giant). There will be comparisons to The Princess Bride, but that’s a bit unfair. While they both have princesses and farm boys, Rob Reiner’s film is a classic.

This is a wonderful story with terrific visuals, interesting characters, unique humor (pig in a blanket), and wild battle scenes … there is even a quite clever ending that made me laugh. Director Bryan Singer has received a lifetime pass from me thanks to his classic The Usual Suspects, but he definitely injected some spice into a traditional tale, and it deserves a look.

What’s that smell?  Ahhh … it’s the blood of an Englishman

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the bedtime story as a kid OR you want to see the best movie giants yet

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are scared of giants OR you have a magic bean phobia

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng9rjC8MOgU

 


WARM BODIES (2013)

February 3, 2013

warm2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 45 years since George Romero introduced us to Night of the Living Dead, which he followed 10 years later with Dawn of the Dead. In 2004, humor was injected into the zombie genre by Shaun of the Dead, and then in 2009 Zombieland kept it alive, so to speak. Now, thanks to the success of “The Walking Dead”, zombies are the new vampires in Hollywood. Writer/director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) turns Isaac Marion’s young adult novel into the first true Zombie Rom-Com … or Zom-Com, if you will.

Many of us were introduced to Nicholas Hoult a decade ago when he was the youngster alongside Hugh Grant in About a Boy. In his latest, Mr. Hoult plays “R”, a self-admitted conflicted zombie in a post-apocalyptic society. In this new world order, there are three distinct groups: Humans, Corpses, and Bonies. Humans are the paranoid types who build a wall and aggressively hunt down the two non-human groups. Corpses are the traditional zombie types who sniff and slog their way through warm3while trying to avoid deadly shots to the head. Bonies are those corpses who have given up all hope and now are indiscriminate in their search for meals.

So all of that sounds quite typical and expected, but what gives this movie its charm is the manner in which we as the viewer connect with R the zombie. His narration provides insight into his ever-present optimism, despite his need to feed on humans. In the film’s turning point, he actually rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer) during a corpse-human battle. Taking her back to his jet liner-condo, they communicate through simple gestures and R’s vintage vinyl collection.

A romantic comedy through the POV of a zombie is a bit unusual, and so is the wit and humor displayed by R. There is minimal warm4actual gore in the film, though you should be prepared for R’s keeping a brain-snack in his pocket in a manner not unlike Napoleon Dynamite’s tot stash. The tip of the cap to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is obvious in the character names, and the similarities to Twilight are inescapable. Still, there is quite a bit new here and most of it is quite enjoyable.

Hoult and Palmer’s on screen dynamics are key to the story, and there is excellent support work from Rob Corddry, John Malkovich and Analeigh Tipton. It would be easy to give away too much here, but instead let’s say that it is surprisingly clever, funny, witty, sweet and entertaining … especially for a Zom-Com that features tunes from Springsteen and Dylan.

**NOTE: despite my surprisingly favorable reaction to this movie, I was a bit shocked by the poor CGI on the Bonies. It’s probably due to budget constraints, but special effects that look outmoded by two decades are tough to overlook.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t mind a surprisingly entertaining romantic comedy half populated by zombies.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: suspension of disbelief is not your strong suit.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07s-cNFffDM