THE PROMISE (2017)

April 19, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve said this before, but mixing romance with historical war time dramas is fraught with peril – it’s a difficult line to navigate for a movie. Writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and co-writer Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) have delivered a sweeping historical epic that is immensely watchable by not over-blowing the romantic triangle, the war atrocities or the courage and bravery of the main characters.

The one-too-many lovers are played by the talented Oscar Isaac as medical student wannabe Mikael; Christian Bale as Chris, an American war correspondent; and blossoming international star Charlotte Le Bon as Ana, an American tutor based in Constantinople. These are three varied and distinct characters we accept because they have admirable qualities, as well as human flaws.

Mikael marries a local girl (Angela Sarafyan who was the robot with hypnotizing eyes HBO’s “Westworld”) for the sole purpose of using the dowry to pay for medical school. His “promise” is that he will return and learn to love her (so romantic!). Chris is a hard-driving and hard drinking journalist who is not welcome most anyplace he goes and finds himself in quite a predicament with his job, girlfriend and life. It’s not until later in the story that he flashes a caring heart underneath his armor of brash. Ana is nearly angelic at times in her goodness and with a smile that lights up the screen. Her devotion to Chris is as odd as her attraction to Mikael, but seeking logic in matters of love is often a journey without merit.

The story is based around the time of WWI and specifically highlights the Armenian Genocide – something the Turkish government denies to this day, referring to it instead as a “relocation” of nearly 1.5 million Armenians. The film began as a passion project for Armenian-American Kirk Kerkorian, a businessman, philanthropist and the once owner of MGM Studios. He raised the money and helped assemble the team, but unfortunately passed away just before production began. He would undoubtedly be proud of the finished film, and find some solace (if not humor) in the fact that it hits theatres only a few weeks after The Ottoman Lieutenant, a Turkish government backed project that purposefully ignored the atrocities and leaned heavily to a singular view of history.

The cast is deep and includes (one of my favorites) Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mikael’s wise and courageous mother, Tom Hollander (“The Night Manager”) as a fellow prisoner of the Turks, James Cromwell as an American Ambassador, Rade Serbedzija as a leader of the Armenian resistance, and Jean Reno as a commander of the French Naval fleet that plays a vital role in 1915.

Cinematographer Javier Aguirresorobe captures some breathtaking vistas and desert landscapes, while also delivering the intimacy and urgency of both the romantic and dangerous moments (including a spectacular rain-drenched train sequence). The acting is superb throughout, with Bale dialing back his sometimes over-exuberant traits, Isaac giving us someone to pin our hopes on, and Ms. Le Bon bringing the compassion to an area when it’s so desperately needed. Expect to see her explode in popularity and respect when the right leading role comes along. Lastly, it’s rare that I would think this, but the film’s 2 hour and 14 minute run time might have benefited from an additional 10-15 minutes of detail towards the Turkish military strategies, and both the Armenian resistance and slaughter. It’s a part of history that should be neither ignored nor glossed over.

watch the trailer:

 

 


OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS – Live Action and Animated (2011)

February 15, 2012

Greetings again from the darkness. Every year I mention how the Magnolia Theatre in Dallas presents one of my favorite movie events … the Oscar nominated short films. Three hours of quality filmmaking! It’s also a reminder of just how frustrating it is that so few people actually get to see these interesting short films.  Why aren’t they screened periodically throughout the year in association with major film releases?  Pixar manages to do this successfully, so it only makes sense that others could follow suit.  With all of that being said, I must regrettably report that this year’s batch didn’t light the fire for me the way past years have.  The quality of the filmmaking was present, but the creative storytelling fell a bit short.

Below is my recap by category, and in order of preference:

LIVE ACTION

 THE SHORE (Ireland) directed by Terry George.  This one is probably the most mainstream/accessible because it tells a story that is easily relatable.  Ciaran Hinds stars as a man returning home to Ireland after 25 years.  He has his grown daughter (Kerry Condon) in tow, and she is much more anxious than he to reassemble the pieces of his past. As he reconnects with his former best friend and fiancé, we learn they have each harbored secrets and guilt since last they saw each other.  Watching how it plays out is actually quite touching, and includes some humorous moments as well.

TUBA ATLANTIC (Norway) directed by Hallvar Witzo.  Our lead character is an elderly man who has been told by his doctor that he has six days to live.  He is then visited by a self-described Angel of Death – a teenage girl volunteering to spend time with him, and help him through the stages of dying.  Their time together involves her causing him to lose one of his six days thanks to sleeping pills.  She also joins in on his personal vendetta against the local sea gulls, who clearly have been a menace for years. We also see the giant tuba that brings him some peace.

TIME FREAK (USA) directed by Andrew Bowler. One of the two characters has invented a time travel machine for the purpose of realizing his dream of visiting ancient Rome. Instead of visiting Caesar, he jumps off-track due to his inability to get over the minutae of life.  We also get the best Oceanography reference since “Seinfeld”.

PENTECOST (Ireland) directed by Peter McDaniel. We are dropped into 1977 Ireland as a young alter boy makes a critical mistake during mass.  His punishment forces him to miss his beloved futbol team’s big game. Given a second chance, we witness quite a funny pep talk by the local priest.  The sports analogy is impossible to miss, but the young man proves he may be a bit more hard-headed than first thought.

RAJU (Germany) directed by Max Zahle. A young couple travel to India to adopt an orphan boy. What they soon discover is that they are mere bit players in a human trafficking scam.  We see how differently the two people react and how self-interest can sometimes cloud one’s judgment.

ANIMATION

 THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR MORRIS LESSMORE (USA) directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. Despite a title that is impossible to remember, this little film was my favorite of the day. In a pretty creative way, it touts the impact that books can have on our lives. It has a tribute to Hurricane Katrina and The Wizard of Oz while it reminds us of the role books can play in providing hopes and dreams.  Humpty Dumpty and Pop Goes the Weasel both play a key role as we see books spring to life, and bring color to the world of kids and adults.

LA LUNA (USA) directed by Enrico Casarosa. This category wouldn’t be complete without the latest gem from Pixar. We see a young boy being introduced to a most unusual family business run by his father and grandfather. His real challenge is finding a way to keep them happy while still making his own mark. He succeeds in very dramatic fashion.

A MORNING STROLL (UK) directed by Grant Orchard. A NYC street scene plays out in three widely different eras: 1959, 2009, 2059.  The twist here is we see a chicken doing the same thing in all 3 time periods, while the people he confronts, and the environment, shift each time.

DIMANCHE / SUNDAY (Canada) directed by Patrick Doyon. A boy is searching for something interesting to do while his family carries on with their Sunday visit.  Things involved include a house-rattling train, 3 crows that mimic the old men, a “mounted” bear and a bunny rabbit.

WILD LIFE (Canada) directed by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. An English gentleman settles into a simple cabin in the harsh Alberta frontier in 1909.  His letters home paint a rosier picture than what reality dishes. The film compares his plight to that of a comet, replete with burnout.