The Oscar-nominated 45 Years opens tomorrow in local theaters. Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, this film feels like 1970s old school Oscar nominations: the performances are excellent, the cinematography enhances the simple story with subtle symbolism and the slow pace builds to a subtle climax that is haunting.
While preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, Kate (Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Courtenay) receive some surprising news. Geoff’s deceased girlfriend of 46 years has been found frozen in ice after falling off the Swiss Alps. This revelation mars the gala that is supposed to celebrate marital stability.
After screening 45 Years, you will be thinking about this film afterward and will likely want to go back and review certain scenes. At one point, Kate makes a comment that in 45 years of marriage, the couple has no photographs in the house. Later, Kate goes to the attic and discovers slides of Geoff’s late girlfriend in Switzerland.
With this scene alone, veteran Charlotte Rampling earns her Oscar nomination. It is a subtle performance that chips away at a stoic character’s strength. With pure professional understatement, Rampling reveals the empty soul of her Kate. While this film will not be embraced by a callow generation, 45 Years will resonate with individuals with life experience.
Like a delicate flower, Charlotte Rampling blossoms in 45 Years, a film that should not be forgotten in overproduced marketing hype.
With much hype and Oscar hyperbole, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight will be leaving the big screen soon. Despite three Oscar nominations for cinematography, musical score (by Ennio Morricone) and best supporting actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s first financial flop and will likely secure his place in the Academy of the Overrated.
The first third of the film features the vast, wide open spaces that celebrate the best that the American Western has to offer. After introducing four of the Hateful Eight on the stagecoach, the film makes a pit stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. The rest of the film becomes more claustrophobic and the tone shifts from an adventuresome Western to that of an Agatha Christie parlor mystery. With this claustrophobic scenery shift, why bother seeing The Hateful Eight on the big screen? Its running time feels longer than the Arizona Cardinals/Carolina Panther’s playoff game.
With long-winded conversations, explosive violence and repetitive motifs, the quirky Tarantino has reached the law of diminishing returns with this motion picture.
In 2012, on the evening of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of Islamic militants attacked two American diplomatic compounds in Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and injuring 10 more. The first response from the U.S. State Department was the claim that the attack was a protest over an anti-Islamic video that had surfaced on the Internet in July 2012. The “protest video” theory was proven false and was a diversion by the State Department, which had failed to provide adequate security for Americans on foreign soil.
Based on the book 13 Hours by Michael Zuckoff, producer/director Michael Bay has attempted to cut through the propaganda and present the story of the Benghazi tragedy.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens and closes with Jack Silva’s (John Krasinski) arrival and departure in Benghazi. Leaving his large family at home, Silva is a security contractor for the American diplomatic compound and not-so-secret CIA annex. Silva works with a competent team of former military men, who are supervised by a boss with a Napoleonic complex.
The day of Sept. 11, 2012 starts off quietly, but Ambassador Stevens and the security team are advised to keep a low profile on this sad anniversary. As the sun begins to set, terrorist thugs begin encroaching upon the diplomatic compound. It is a subtle movement at first, but by sundown, barbaric intentions are revealed.
13 Hours tells a compelling story that is nuanced by the fog of war. Director Michael Bay uses many cinematic techniques that can trigger an emotional reaction. At the start of the battle, there is use of some frantic editing. As the battle rages on, there is some fantastic cinematography that is presented with concise visual clarity.
Best known for his comedic performances, Krasinski reveals more depth as an actor in this film. The actor’s ensemble is understated, capturing the fraternal culture of soldiers in the foxhole. Bay provides subtle moments for these men, showing moments of humor in the face of dread. This film provides an emotional wallop.
The awards season is peaking today with the Oscar nominations announcement. While films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominate the box office, this awards season provides unique opportunities to view eclectic movies.
Besides being a Golden Globe nominee, Mustang, which opens tomorrow in select theaters, is France’s submission to the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language motion picture nomination. Set in Turkey, Mustang follows the misadventures of five teenage sisters.
Trouble begins when the girls are seen frolicking on the beach with some boys. While the play seems innocent enough, the incident causes a scandal in the neighborhood. Things go from bad to worse as the family elders take Draconian measures to keep the girls in line.
[The girls seek to escape their repressive household where they are expected to stay virginal and spend time preparing to be good wives. Traditions seen in this film mirror everyday reality for many in that region.]
In a strange way, Mustang made me think about two Clint Eastwood movies. In Unforgiven, a personal incident is mishandled and eventually explodes into a full scale civil war. In Mustang, the girls’ claustrophobic relationship echoes that in The Beguiled. Even though it is presented as tragedy, there are moments of joy in Mustang that recall the innocence of films from France’s legendary director, Francois Truffaut.
One of Truffaut’s contemporaries was Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, whose dramas confronted family secrets. Opening tomorrow, Closed Season, directed by Franziska Schlotterer, shares DNA with the Bergman universe. Set in the Black Forest of Germany, a childless couple hides a Jewish refugee on their farm, circa 1942. One day, the infertile husband suggests that his wife conceive a child with the refugee. Things get complicated after conception occurs.
On a lighter note, Brooklyn recently left the big screen and will soon be available on DVD. Saoirse Ronan portrays an Irish immigrant who comes to America to live a better life. This delightful film features a fine ensemble cast and was screened at the recent Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. If Brooklyn is recognized by the Academy, expect a return to the big screen.
After learning about a big spoiler the day before release, I attended my screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with melancholy. It has been 32 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) redeemed his monstrous father Darth Vader. With help from a community of “teddy bears”, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) defeated the evil Empire and the Star Wars universe seemed poised to live happily ever after. Did I really need to see that the heroic actions I witnessed in my youth were all for naught? Fortunately, this seventh episode brings freshness to the franchise, while honoring the core fun of the original trilogy from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The film opens with Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seeking artifacts related to the Skywalker family. After witnessing him massacre a small village, a storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) develops a conscience. He rescues the pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and goes AWOL on the planet Jakku.
As if the pace were not fast enough, Finn meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger with natural special abilities. When Kylo Ren attempts to retrieve his deserter, Rey and Finn escape the planet and meet the legendary Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). The four humanoids, plus droid BB-8, form an alliance to outwit their enemies.
Thus far, I have only mentioned about 25 percent of The Force Awakens storyline and to include any more would take away from the thrill of discovery. Suffice it to say, director J.J. Abrams knows how to manage a fast pace while taking little moments for character development and revelation. In terms of good old-fashioned storytelling, The Force Awakens deserves its success.
Unlike the over-reliance on special effects from the recent Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), Episode VII feels more grounded in reality. While partially shot in Pinewood Studios, this Star Wars film was shot in locations as diverse as Abu Dhabi, New Mexico and Scotland. Even though this film takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, these outdoor locations provide natural realism.
The performances are excellent, with the old and new generations playing off each other with ease and respect. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since his character role as Branch Rickey in the 2013 baseball flick about Jackie Robinson, 42. Daisy Ridley is adorable. Adam Driver has entered the pantheon of rogue villainy reserved for actors like Bruce Dern [for those who have seen the John Wayne movie “The Cowboys”].
Despite my initial depression at having heard a big plot spoiler, I found Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be pure escapist entertainment that is Saturday Matinee popcorn-eating fun. Despite witnessing some PG-13 darkness, I left the theater feeling better than I did when I entered.
Published in the 19th century, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, created a public perception about “killer whales” that lasted over a century, until the Jacques Cousteau television specials of the 1970s, which launched the ocean conservation movement and changed our perceptions of undersea life.
The new movie, In the Heart of the Sea tries to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. The film opens in Massachusetts, circa 1850. Writer Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) schedules an interview with a reluctant Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a solitary husband who is haunted by teenaged memories. With the encouragement of his wife, Nickerson confesses his memory of surviving the sinking of the whaling ship Essex, a victim of the mythical White Whale.
The film flashes back 30 years and we meet young Nickerson (Tom Holland), who is boarding the Essex as a first time sailor. The teenager comes under the wing of Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the Essex’s first mate and an expert harpooner. Chase had been denied a captaincy and is forced to babysit the neophyte Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who received the commission due to family connections. This relationship causes conflict between the captain and the first mate.
The objective of whale hunting in the 19th Century was to provide oil for heating and lamps. We witness a successful whale hunt and Owen Chase lives up to his legendary status. Due to over fishing in a Pacific whaling area, the Essex is forced to venture further on into uncharted waters. When making port in South American, Captain Pollard and his crew are met by a crew of amputees who are warned about “the white whale.”
From this point, it is easy to deduce the rest of the plot. One is shocked by the gruesome elements not revealed in the television trailers. Let’s just say that the title In the Heart of the Sea has double meaning.
This film has many good things going for it: a good story, some interesting characters and some dynamic set pieces. Unfortunately, the many fine details do not come together to satisfy the whole viewing experience. It has been proclaimed a box office bomb that is likely to disappear from the big screen before the year is out. After all, Star Wars:The Force Awakens Friday, Dec. 18.
When I wrote my third book, “The Querulous Nights of Athena Minerva,” I sought to meld elements of a Gothic ghost story with that of contemporary horror. The feedback I received was that it was a good story, but very disturbing. The new movie Krampus also melds ancient folklore with popular culture, resulting in $16 million box office gross.
Krampus opens like a traditional Christmas movie with a Bing Crosby song and vivid cinematography featuring people entering a mall on Thanksgiving evening. Within seconds, it is chaos in slow motion as elvish displays get knocked over and people are hurting each other. The scene concludes with Max (Emjay Anthony) defending the honor of Santa Claus.
After receiving a lecture from his mom Sarah (Toni Collette) and dad Tom (Adam Scott), Max must prepare for the annual Christmas invasion by his redneck family, herded in by Uncle Howard (David Koecher) and Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). Max’s cousins are the spawn of every negative stereotype ever written about people from rural America.
Frustrated with the antics of his family, Max gives up faith in Santa Claus, rips up his letter to the North Pole and throws pieces of the letter to the North Wind. The pieces of his shredded letter end up in the underworld and Krampus is summoned.
The set-up is good, but the execution is clichéd. The second half of this low-budget film relies on flashing lights, dark cinematography and overly fast-paced editing. The cinematography solidifies the conclusion by returning the family to the land of Currier & Ives. However, this conclusion is as open-ended as an episode of The Twilight Zone.
When I heard the voice of Bing Crosby, I had “high hopes” for Krampus. In German Alpine folklore, Saint Nicholas rewards the nice children, while his opposite, Krampus, punishes the naughty ones. If this film focused on punishing the naughty children and adults of popular culture, Krampus could have become a classic like Tim Burton’s A Nightmare before Christmas.
During this busy season, I have learned the value of seeing a movie that provides escapism from the daily grind. People will leave Krampus wishing to spend more time with Saint Nicholas instead.
Fatherhood is a strong theme of the movie Creed. While this film is the first Rocky movie I saw without my dad, it is also the first Rocky movie Sylvester Stallone has made since the loss of his son, Sage Stallone, who died of a heart attack in 2012.
In this sequel, Rocky Balboa is a supporting character to Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan). A child of foster homes and reform school, young Adonis grew up without his father, who was legendary fictional heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Apollo’s widowed wife, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad ), takes in the angry boy and raises him as her legitimate son. The lure of the boxing ring remains in his blood, despite the cushy lifestyle he has achieved as a successful business executive.
Adonis seeks out his father’s old rival, Rocky Balboa, who still manages his deceased wife’s restaurant and is lonely since his sidekick, Paulie, died and his son Robert moved to Vancouver. (Note: the picture of Young Rocky and son is that of Sylvester Stallone and his real life son, Sage.) Adonis and Rocky form a partnership that extends beyond the blood, sweat and tears of the boxing ring.
Creed is about growth and passing the torch to a next generation that is willing to receive it. The beauty of this movie is the marriage of old traditions with new ideas. While Rocky may be befuddled by an Apple iPad and the Cloud, the old man can still teach his prodigy the importance of understanding one’s own heart. Creed is a must-see.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the strongest box office champion since James Bond’s Spectre opened. This Hunger Games sequel is a worthy conclusion to author Suzanne Collins’s young adult novels about a dystopian future. The producers do not skimp on the production values. Mockingjay Part 2 opens slowly, but explodes into breathtaking and violent action.
With the ensemble actor’s participation, The Hunger Games movies will grow in stature thanks to Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There are political themes within as ancient as Aristotle and echoing lyrics from the classic rock band, The Who – “Won’t get fooled again.” The four movies comprising The Hunger Games are pure literary cinema.
Both Creed and The Hunger Games:Mockingjay Part 2 are serious movies that are pure popcorn-eating entertainment. See these films with family members and friends, for the values presented in both movies are worthy of discussion around the dinner table.
Given the horrors we recently witnessed in Paris, the heroism of a fictional character like James Bond should feel false. Yet the Spectre box office has proven the value of movie escapism. Of all the Daniel Craig 007 adventures, Spectre feels like the most typical James Bond flick.
The film opens strong with Bond in Mexico tracking an assassin. From this endeavor, Bond finds a clue to a terrorist organization with links to previous movies, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. The mastermind of crime is Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who employs Mr. Hynx (Dave Bautista), a huge henchman with a double barreled shotgun. Bond must rescue the beautiful Dr. Swann (Léa Seydoux), whose father was a soldier under Oberhauser.
Spectre raises some great questions about field espionage and computer surveillance, yet the film offers no solutions. After the opening, the best thing about Spectre is the cat and mouse game between Bond and Mr. Hynx. When Hynx disappears, the film limps to its conclusion.
Given that Halloween falls on Saturday this year, this will be a big weekend for Trick or Treaters. While this weekend seems devoid of movies featuring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney Jr., AMC is bringing back modern classics from the past four decades, including Halloween, Friday the 13th and Chucky incarnations. Only the Hallmark Channel’s Good Witch movies and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown seem to be geared towards family viewing.
Goosebumps has been successful at the current box office because it works as a family motion picture. Based on author R.L. Stine’s series of children’s books, Goosebumps provides plenty of jump scares mixed with humor and teenage character growth.
Dylan Minnette portrays Zach, a new kid on the block who recently lost his dad. His sidekick is Champ (Ryan Lee), who is often nicknamed “Chump” because he is such a goofball. The two befriend Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose weird father speaks with an accent that sounds like a mixture of Alfred Hitchcock and Basil Rathbone. Hannah’s father harbors a secret; he is R.L. Stine (Jack Black) and he has created an army of monsters through his literary creations.
Goosebumps is fun, much like the film Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein. While Jack Black is over-the-top (Black also voices “Invisible Boy” & “Slappy,” the mastermind ventriloquist’s dummy), Ryan Lee steals the show as a scaredy cat.
Crimson Peak, a Gothic romance with ghostly overtones, is not family fare. After losing her mother when she was a child, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) believes in ghosts. Ghosts repeatedly warn her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” but Edith does not comprehend their meaning.
Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson) and his serious sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), two English aristocrats in need of American finance. When tragedy strikes her father, Edith goes to live in England in the Sharpe’s mansion, which is sinking into the red clay of the land.
Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak is similar to his previous productions, The Devil’s Backbone, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and The Orphanage. Sadly, the narrative of Crimson Peak bogs down with dullness, despite some good performances by the stellar cast and some eye-catching cinematography that will be studied by artists for many years to come.
The Walk is a simple cinematic experience that deserves its box office success and critical acclaim. Told with exuberant energy, this film celebrates the core feeling of what it is to be a New Yorker.
The film opens with Frenchman Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) narrating his story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty. As Petit explains his early adventures as a wire walker, the camera pans back and reveals the old New York skyline, with the Empire State Building in the background and the Twin Towers in the foreground.
After years as a street performer, Petit assembles a team of like-minded individuals to manage high profile challenges. Petit gains notoriety in Paris when he crosses the bell towers of the Notre Dame cathedral. After being arrested and being put in jail for public disturbance, Petit sees himself on the cover of a Paris newspaper. After flipping the newspaper open, he reads that the World Trade Center Twin Towers would soon be nearing completion. Seeing this coincidence as a divine sign, Petit assembles an international team to walk a wire between the Twin Towers.
Released seven years ago, Man on Wire was an Oscar award-winning documentary about the same subject. The Walk is a complimentary film experience that provides cinematic detail as to the nuances of wire walking that stock documentary footage is unable to present. It is a full cinematic experience that needs to be seen on the big screen for full effect.
Every generation of ticket buyers learns about the underbelly of society through the movies. In the 1930s, Al Capone was represented by movies like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar and Scarface. The Genovese Family was a direct influence on The Godfather movies.
In recent times, the Boston thug and FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger has been represented by award winning motion pictures set in Boston, most notably Mystic River and The Departed. Each of these motion pictures presents its protagonist as an anti-hero who defies society’s conventions and is defeated by his own character flaws.
As portrayed by Johnny Depp, Black Mass details the 40-year rise and fall of Whitey Bulger. Already a sociopath thug in the Southie section of Boston, Bulger fathers a son with girlfriend Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson). When this son retaliates against a bully in the schoolyard and gets suspended from school, Bulger advises him to avenge himself “when no one is looking.”
Despite his criminal activities, Bulger is deeply connected with the legitimate world through his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), a member of the state legislature, and FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The legend of Whitey Bulger grows as he becomes the criminal lord of Boston. Bulger’s criminal empire expands to Ireland and Miami.
Johnny Depp is getting his best notices in years. Like a grey-haired cobra, Depp performs with steely restraint. A comforting friend one moment, Depp’s Bulger can easily knife an acquaintance in the back a moment later. While Depp is the master of ceremonies, Black Mass is a full ensemble piece featuring good performances from Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch.
While it does not match the artistic heights of The Godfather movies, Black Mass does provide an interesting chapter in Hollywood made gangster movies. Scott Cooper’s Black Mass is a fine companion piece to Ridley Scott’s American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe headlining a fine ensemble cast. These movies walk a fine line between fantasy and reality.
When I attended the Friday afternoon screening of Black Mass, the packed auditorium was full of men wearing T-shirts representing Al Pacino’s Scarface, Giancarlo Espositio’s faux fast food chicken shack from Breaking Bad and older men wearing black. This bizarre experience was like going to the opening day of a Marvel comic movie, except that Black Mass does not celebrate heroes.
With the start of couch potato season (that is, the opening of college and professional football, U.S. Open Tennis, and baseball pennant runs), the motion picture industry has become more strategic about releasing films in September. Nineteen years ago Paramount Pictures found box office gold by releasing The First Wives Club as a counter to non-stop programs of televised sports.
Last week, War Room ended Straight Outta Compton’s August box office domination. Produced for a mere $3 million, War Room has grossed over $39 million, creating a comfortable profit margin. War Room is a faith-based movie about the power of prayer healing a family’s domestic woes.
With little fanfare beyond some cheesy television commercials, 90 Minutes from Heaven opened last weekend. This film is a quiet, thought provoking piece of Christian cinema.
In 1989, Pastor Don Piper (Hayden Christensen) gets into a car accident and is pronounced dead for 90 minutes. Despite the dire situation, another preacher demands he be allowed to pray with the corpse. When he sings What a friend I have in Jesus, Pastor Don Piper is revived.
Enter Don’s wife Eva (Kate Bosworth). Besides being the pastor’s wife, she is also a school teacher with three children. With the support of the family, the community and the medical staff, Eva holds down the house as her husband makes a painful recovery.
90 Minutes in Heaven is a simple drama. Deliberately slow-paced at times, the film accurately presents how medical recovery can be a depressing experience. Eva Piper, Kate Bosworth, absorbs the brunt of the pain and only reveals her vulnerable character when she is alone, away from her children and friends. Considering the bad rap he has endured for his role as “Young Darth Vader” in the Star Wars prequels, Hayden Christensen enjoys career redemption with this film.
Before the screenings of War Room and 90 Minutes in Heaven began, there was a series of interesting trailers about other upcoming faith-based motion pictures, including Captive starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Kate Mara, and Woodlawn, starring Sean Astin and Jon Voight, as the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Woodlawn should spark local interest because it features the story of Young Tony Nathan, former Miami Dolphin utility player under Don Shula.