A PERFECT DAY (2016)

January 14, 2016

a perfect day Greetings again from the darkness. “Somewhere in the Balkans, 1995” is the notice we receive in the opening frame, and the post Kosovo War setting is less about fighting a war and more about finding humanity in the aftermath. Based on the novel by Paula Farias and adapted by Diego Farias and director Fernando Leon de Aranoa, the film follows a group of Aid Across Borders workers as they make their way through the community, attempting to navigate the cultural and political challenges to offering assistance.

The corpse in a drinking water well is the immediate challenge facing the aid workers. Benecio Del Toro (Mambru), Tim Robbins (B), Melanie Thierry (Sophie) and their interpreter Fedja Stukan (Damir) are facing a short deadline in order to save the well from contamination for local villagers. Most of the movie revolves around their quest to find a rope so they can hoist the large corpse from the water. Searching for rope may seem a flimsy story center, but on their journey, we get to know these characters, some of the local cultural differences (in regards to dead bodies), the bureaucratic red tape faced, and the always present danger faced by do-gooders from the outside.

It’s understandable that a group in this situation would utilize humor to offset the ugliness, and there is no shortage of one-liners and wise-cracks, especially from B (Robbins). His cowboy approach is in distinct contrast to the veteran Mambru and the idealistic rookie Sophie. Soon enough they are joined by a local youngster named Nikola (Eldar Reisdovic) and an inspector Katya (Olga Kurylenko) sent to determine if the Aid program should continue. Oh yes, Katya and Mumbru are former lovers and it obviously didn’t end well.

As they work their way through the ropes challenge and the threat of land mines, we learn through the actions of Mumbru that no matter how much one wants to help, it’s only natural (and sometimes painful) to ask yourself if you are truly making a difference, or simply wasting time in a place filled with people who don’t seem to care. The specific use of multiple songs is at times distracting, and other times a perfect match (Lou Reed, The Buzzcocks). Del Toro proves yet again that he is a fascinating screen presence, and the message is strong enough to warrant a watch.

watch the trailer:

 

 


WELCOME TO ME (2015)

May 8, 2015

welcome to me Greetings again from the darkness. There is no shortage of films that feature some type of mental illness or disorder. Folks that don’t “fit in” make for characters that create unusual situations and generate cinema’s biggest friend – conflict.  Cast a talented performer who thrives in “off-center” roles, and the potential exists for some actual insight.

Kristen Wiig is obviously attracted to unusual characters, as well as stories that wobble between comedy and drama. Here she plays Alice Klieg, a woman diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Alice memorizes Oprah shows, spends hours watching infomercials, and attends state-mandated therapy with her psychologist (Tim Robbins). She also has many inappropriate social tendencies and is a consistent player in the California Lottery – a ritual that pays off nicely when she wins $86 million.

Once she collects her winnings, Alice decides to drop her meds cold and move herself into the spotlight. She relocates from her dank apartment into a suite at a local Indian Reservation Casino, and then buys airtime from a local infomercial studio run by brothers (Wes Bentley, James Marsden) in order to star in her own show, “Welcome to Me”.  With the help of a swan sled as a prop, Alice moves forward with a two hour TV block that is centered on her own thoughts and re-enactments of the most traumatic moments of her life. It’s about her personal pain, but also painful for the show’s producer played by Joan Cusack.

It’s difficult to tell what screenwriter Eliot Laurence and director Shira Piven (brother to actor Jeremy, and wife to director Adam McKay) are trying to accomplish here. Poking fun at mental illness is a delicate undertaking, but perhaps they meant this as more commentary on a society that is so quick to latch onto the troubles of others … whether as news or comedy. It could also be a statement on the narcissism that runs rampant these days, as Facebook is filled with selfies and photos of meals.

It could be argued that Alice’s TV show could be more accurately titled “TMI”, but it’s unfortunate there just doesn’t seem to be more substance here. Sure, there are some highly awkward and uncomfortable moments – some quite funny, but the movie really plays more like an extended comedy sketch, and whatever works seems due to the stellar cast: Wiig, Marsden, Bentley, Cusack, Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, and the underutilized Linda Cardellini. Just like “Perfect Polly” in the opening infomercial, what’s real and what’s real enough are in the eyes of the beholder, and perhaps this one could have used one more prepared statement.

watch the trailer:

 

 


TOP GUN (1986) revisited

February 13, 2013

top gun1 “I feel the need … the need for SPEED!”  A recent one week run of the re-mastered 3D IMAX version of Top Gun provided the opportunity to re-evaluate the 1986 film that catapulted Tom Cruise to the highest level of movie stardom.  It seems my initial reactions 27 years ago were spot on.  The best parts are still exhilarating and pure joy to watch, while the worst parts are still cringe-inducing and torturous to sit through.

Testosterone overload, hyper-competitiveness, and Type-A personalities were perfectly displayed thanks to the cocky actors that made up the Navy pilot training class: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Rick Rossovich, Barry Tubb, Tim Robbins and Whip Hubley.  Whether these guys are prepping for flight, ruling the skies, or peacocking afterwards, they are a blast to watch and perfectly capture that familiar pilot-persona. The Navy cooperated with the filmmakers … producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and director Tony Scott … to ensure the top gun2training was realistic and the flight sequences were breath-taking.  Additionally, some high-powered and experienced Navy pilots were brought in as consultants.

Tom Cruise was considered an up-and-coming actor when cast as “Maverick”. His 1983 film Risky Business brought him much notice … especially for dancing in his tighty-whities … but this is the role that vaulted him into leading man status.  What’s interesting is that many critics pegged Val Kilmer (Iceman) as the future star.  While Mr. Kilmer has had a very impressive career, it certainly doesn’t compare to that of Mr. Cruise.  The female lead went to Kelly McGillis (Charlie), whose star was rising quickly after Reuben, Reuben (1983) and Witness (1985).  Instead of this being her breakout, that label instead went to Meg Ryan (Goose’s wife) who turned a minor role into almost two decades of cute blonde roles in box office favorites.

top gun5 The sequences featuring the fighter jets and pilots in action are some of the best ever captured on film. We never get the feeling that we are being tricked with slick editing or special effects.  On the contrary, it feels like we are in the cockpit and involved in extended dogfights. Another superb element comes courtesy of the two Commanders featured.  James Tolkan plays the cigar chomping Commander of the USS Enterprise, while Tom Skerritt plays Viper, the super pilot and Commander of NAS Miramar’s Fightertown, USA … better known as Top Gun. The real life Viper, Pete Pettigrew, is seen on screen as Charlie’s date Perry in the first bar scene (just after Maverick sings “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”).

Over the years, there has been much analysis, speculation and even spoofs concerning the supposed homo-erotic undertones … especially the infamous volleyball game. At the time, no one would have guessed that the real sexual complexity and confusion would come courtesy of a Kelly McGillis confession twenty years later.

top gun3 The “worst” parts referred to earlier include the post-production add-on scenes filmed to allow for a wider audience (interpretation: to appeal to more women). The love scene between Cruise and McGillis is filmed in the shadows and made even more painful by the blasting of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”.  The shadows were necessary due to hair style and color changes of the leads since production had wrapped weeks before. That scene and the elevator scene were added because test audiences were disappointed the sparks between Cruise and McGillis had previously dead-ended. Those scenes combined with the “Miami Vice” feel of many of the non-pilot sequences, and the Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” agony, provide the Jekyll and Hyde feel that wreaks havoc on the viewer.

top gun4 The changes translated into major profits for the filmmakers as Top Gun became the highest-grossing film of the year. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won for Best Song (“Take My Breath Away”).  Although composer Harold Faltermeyer was not nominated for his Top Gun score, he was nominated the following year for his song “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II.  Simpson and Bruckheimer were the Super Producers of the 1980’s with other hits like Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop.  Mr. Simpson died in 1996 at age 52, and Bruckheimer has gone on to produce Pearl Harbor, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and TV series such as “The Amazing Race” and “CSI: Miami”.  He is consistently rated as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Director Tony Scott mastered his domain in the Action-Thriller genre with Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, and Unstoppable. Mr. Scott, who is the brother of director Ridley Scott, died in 2012.

Should you feel “the need for speed”, Top Gun is a great call … except when it’s not.

**NOTE: It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Tom Cruise as Maverick, but the role was first offered to others, reportedly including Michael J Fox and Scott Baio. Oh my.

**NOTE: Rick Rossovich who plays Slider is the brother of Tim Rossovich. Tim was a Pro Bowl Linebacker for Philadelphia Eagles, Tom Selleck’s roommate at USC, and had a nice acting career as a movie and TV tough guy.

**NOTE: The Navy capitalized on the popularity of the film by setting up recruiting tables at the largest theatres where the movie was showing.

watch Tom Cruise (Maverick) put his best move on Kelly McGillis (Charlie):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVNWSEX-WqU

 


GREEN LANTERN

June 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have admitted many times that I am a sucker for Super Hero movies. There is just something really cool about an average guy falling bassackwards into super-human strength and being able to fly. With that said, I readily admit some Super Hero movies are better than others. While this one has some entertaining moments, it certainly isn’t one of the better entries in this genre.

It is difficult to know if a viewer is better off as a Green Lantern expert or novice for this adaptation. I can see both sides. The film beats us over the head with explanations, lectures and details but falls way short of the desired action sequences.

 Basic storyline has test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) chosen by “the ring” to become part of the Green Lantern Corps … an intergalactic peace-keeping patrol. Yes, he would be the first human Lantern and no, he is not readily accepted by the leader Sinestro (Mark Strong). By the way, who would choose a guy named SINESTRO to be the leader of your army of good guys?

There are roughly a half million sub-stories that get a blip and then are cast aside. That’s the film’s biggest problem, next to the shortage of action sequences.  I was surprised at the lack of imagination shown for Green Lantern‘s constructs.  They were a bit cartoonish and reminded of what we saw in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  On the positive side, Parallax, the evil mass that threatens earth and Oa, looks like a tentacled tumbleweed with a scary face. 

 Some stellar supporting actors here (in addition to Mark Strong) include Tim Robbins, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Bassett, Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush. Duncan and Rush are voice only, but definitely have an impact. Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, the co-pilot and would-be girlfriend of Jordan. She is also involved with her Daddy’s defense contracting firm and just doesn’t work as a high-powered exec.

 The film is directed by Martin Campbell who also gave us the near awesome re-awakening of James Bond in Casino Royale (2006). He seems to have a feel for action, but gets to use very little of that talent in this film. It really seems to me that the writing was too scattered and just generally weak for a movie of this size. I kept thinking we were going to get some real mind games between Sarsgaard’s Elephant Man with psychic abilities and Reynold’s perfect body Lantern. Instead, we get just another tease and a disappointing action sequence to end the film.  I would say Marvel has a pretty clear lead over DC Comics on film … except, of course, for Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: Green is your favorite color OR you have any doubt that Ryan Reynolds has the physique of a super hero.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you never cared to see what would happen if The Elephant Man turned evil OR the recent exposure of Blake Lively has shown you enough