After hearing the tragic news from the Ft. Lauder-dale Hollywood International Airport, I went to see a movie whose primary theme featured the terror of grief, A Monster Calls. Based on an award-winning young adult novel written by Patrick Ness (from an idea by Siobhan Dowd), A Monster Calls has received a low box-office return. However, given the vast visualization and emotional wallop, you should see it on the big screen for genuine popcorn-eating fun and entertainment.
12-year-old Connor (Lewis McDougall) wakes up each morning at 12:07 a.m. with a reoccurring nightmare, that he cannot rescue his mother (Felicity Jones – Rogue One) from a pit. His mother is battling cancer and Connor channels his fears into his art. Inspired by his mother’s love of the original King Kong, Connor envisions his own monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who forces him to listen to three stories. Upon completion of the three stories, the monster demands that Connor tell him his own story and it must be the truth.
Directed by J.A. Boyona, this film is filled with allegory enhanced by quality special effects. However, it is the human exchanges between his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and principal (Geraldine Chaplin) that pack the most emotional wallop for the protagonist, Connor. I wished I saw A Monster Calls a week ago. It would have made my Top 10 list.
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea also focuses on grief. Last Sunday night, Casey Affleck took home a Golden Globe for his performance as Lee Chandler, a tortured man who loses a brother (Kyle Chandler) and is given custody of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Unlike the tortured Connor from A Monster Calls, Patrick is a callow high-school student who is both popular and a two-timing ladies’ man. Given the horrible history with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee does not have the emotional strength to mentor his nephew.
Minus monsters and special effects, Manchester by the Sea is pure and painful realism, with moments of humor and beautiful New England cinematography. This film is a roller coaster ride. A funny scene involving slapstick and a refrigerator freezer becomes an emotional breakdown for one of the characters that is painful to watch. However, this scene provides much character revelation and alters the family dynamic for the rest of the film.
While both films deal with subjects that we would like to avoid, both Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls are fine dramas for a matinee afternoon price.
Denzel Washington has entered the Hollywood legendary status decades ago, joining generational acting legends like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Fences marks Washington’s third directorial motion picture, which is based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning Broadway play. Having won a Golden Globe award (for Viola Davis), Fences is poised to receive multiple Oscar nominations.
Sanitation custodian Troy Maxson (Washington) returns home on payday and dutifully gives his check to his loving wife, Rose (Davis). After finishing a bottle of gin with his sidekick and discussing his glory days as a baseball player, Troy and Rose bring up their domestic woes.
Much like those controversial award-winning plays from the 1950s (Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) that became award-winning motion pictures, Fences features terse dialogue creating fantastic performances. Much like the performances given by Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski and Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie the Cat, Washington and Davis sink their teeth in their roles with conviction.
At 139 minutes, Fences is a long movie to sit through. Set in a Pittsburgh townhouse, watching the Maxson family air their dirty laundry gets long in the tooth. After witnessing much arguing and bickering, one wishes the Maxson family would move away.
Among multiple awards, Moonlight took home the Golden Globe award for best picture. Whereas Fences was a static story, Moonlight clocks in under two hours and feels more epic. Set in a crime neighborhood in Miami, Moonlight presents the right of passage for little Chiron Black and covers the span of time from 1979 to the present day.
Told in three parts, we meet “Little,” a bullied boy whose Mom (Naomie Harris from Pirates of the Caribbean and James Bond franchises) is a drug addict. Seemingly pulled out of a bad situation by a mentor, little Chiron witnesses a tragedy that colors the rest of his life. In Part two, titled “Chiron,” we see the teenager confront his own feelings that leads to explosive actions. “Black” is the final story which presents the protagonist coming to grips with his current situation as a young man of the streets.
With echoes of Boyhood, Breaking Bad and Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight is truly an original story that presents a culture we see on the street. For its originality with surprising plot twists, Moonlight deserves award consideration.
Currently available on DVD, Hell or High Water is film noir set in the modern west. Taking a cue from No Country for Old Men and Breaking Bad, Hell or High Water introduces us to the Howard Brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), who rob Texas banks a la Robin Hood.
Soon to be retired Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his Mexican/Comanche partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) pursue these masked bank robbers. A showdown is inevitable for these rangers and the brothers, but one walks away from Hell or High Water feeling sympathy for both sides of the conflict.
As the study of economics is considered “the dismal science,” the business practices in both The Founder and Hell or High Water can be perceived as gloomy entertainment. However, there are lessons to be learned from both movies and, whatever award consideration these two fine films receive, will be justified.
As we come to an end of Small Business Appreciation Month, I have often wondered if there have been any movies that have presented small business in a positive light. Beyond some Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, most Hollywood motion pictures present business practices in a negative light. Some of these motion pictures actually get nominated for awards.
Produced by the Weinstein Brothers, The Founder presents the growth of the McDonald’s fast food franchise in America. We are introduced to Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a traveling salesman who takes an interest in a unique food service business in San Bernadino, California. Run by the McDonald Brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), Kroc learns the secret of their success.
After agreeing to franchise McDonald’s in middle America, Kroc’s ambition outweighs the McDonald brothers desire for quality control. Conflict ensues and Kroc eventually gains an edge through a legal loophole.
The Founder is a good story about growing a business. You can enjoy watching Ray Kroc visiting service organizations like the Rotary and the Jaycees to promote the American Dream. You see how constricting the original franchise contract is for Ray Kroc; yet, by the time the story is told, you feel so much sympathy for Dick and Mac McDonald.
Split is the No. 1 box office leader for 2017, which is good news for M. Night Shyamalan, who has not had a hit movie in almost 15 years. James McAvoy portrays a dangerous man with 23 personalities who kidnaps three teenagers and sticks them in a closet.
This is a simple suspense film and, for the most part, Shyamalan delivers. While McAvoy may be considered for next year’s award season for his dynamic performance, Split is held together by Miami Native Anya Taylor-Joy’s grounded performance. If anything, the film has made Shyamalan’s next project more interesting.
It is easy to see why Damien Chazelle’s two movies Whiplash and La La Land received such award recognition in the entertainment industry. Both films reveal the didactic behavior of entertainment professionals with brutal honesty. The music and spectacle works as both escapism and distraction while hiding the tears of a clown.
La La Land is a simple story about ingenues attempting to be a success in their chosen profession. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist who worships at the altar of Jazz. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a barrister on the Warner Brothers lot.
Taking place over the four seasons of a year, Mia and Sebastian fall in love. Despite professional struggles, the two have time to fantasize their romance with a variety of musical numbers. This film is about growth. The duo’s vocals at the beginning of the movie are a bit flat. As the movie progresses, the two performers grow in confidence and so do their vocals. La La Land features a grand finale conclusion and Gosling and Stone are more than ready for the task.
There have been 10 musicals that have won Oscar’s Best Picture Award. While lacking the seriousness of The Sound of Music and Oliver, La La Land deserves it’s kudos for its own creativity. It is a simple romance, but with so much symbolism found in the details.
For the last week, I have been listening to Bill O’Reilly on his and Martin Dugard’s book, Killing the Rising Sun, a piece of nonfiction that debates whether or not the United States of America should have dropped two atom bombs on Japan to end World War II. While most of the attention focuses on President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, Killing the Rising Sun shines a light on the people of my parent’s generation who won the war; among them was Desmond T. Doss.
Though a patriot and willing to serve, Doss was a conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun. The screenplay about this pacifist circulated for 14 years in Hollywood, until Oscar award-winning director Mel Gibson was offered the opportunity to direct Hacksaw Ridge.
The son of an alcoholic World War I veteran father, young Desmond has a profound religious epiphany when he almost kills his brother. Growing up in rural West Virginia, the mature Desmond (Andrew Garfield) develops an interest in First Aid and a pretty nurse, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). World War II breaks out and Desmond Doss enlists, despite his father’s fears.
Being a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, Doss refuses to carry a weapon due to his religious conviction. This causes Doss much consternation as he runs afoul Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). Despite being hazed by his fellow troopers, Doss earns the respect of his platoon. This hazing and bullying is nothing compared to the hell awaiting these soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge in the battle of Okinawa in the final months of World War II.
Either as an actor or as a director, the violence of a Mel Gibson movie always feels righteous. As the director of the battle scenes from Braveheart and Apocalypto, Gibson created memorable visuals. Yet these visuals would be meaningless without character empathy being developed earlier in the motion picture. When the battle of Hacksaw Ridge begins, you care about the soldiers we were introduced to earlier. Considering the central protagonist is a conscientious objector who does not defend himself with a gun, the drama is further enhanced.
See this movie on the big screen while you still can. It has been many years since I had such a genuine reaction to a big screen motion picture. With this film, I found myself pumping my fist and laughing after a jump scare. Hacksaw Ridge is a full cinematic experience.
Mel Gibson has earned professional redemption from his Hollywood colleagues this awards season with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Whether or not his film wins any awards, it is be the best picture on the big screen today.
Football withdrawal weekend provided box office gold for three motion pictures last weekend. The Lego Batman Movie, Fifty Shades Darker and John Wick: Chapter Two collectively earned more than 120 million dollars. In contrast, the Oscar best picture nominees, Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion barely earned $16 million at the box office.
Fanny’s Journey, a French movie with English subtitles, opens tomorrow. Based on a true story, this is a beautiful drama about World War II.
After Mussolini’s downfall, Hitler’s agents ruthlessly order their leader’s Final Solution — eliminate any and all Jews. Seeing the writing on the wall, responsible adults export children to Switzerland. When the adult leading the refugees becomes separated from the children, 12-year-old Fanny leads the orphans to the promise land.
What makes Fanny’s Journey so fascinating to watch is the everyday heroics of Fanny’s actions. The protagonist does not outrun enemy machine gun fire with a soaring musical score. Instead, she must find a way to cook and feed the dozen of children she is responsible for. Heroism is found to be the daily routine.
While the threat of danger is consistent, Fanny’s Journey never loses a child’s perspective of the world. At certain times, the child-like wonder about the world is fresh and innocent; one scene features children splashing each other by a cool stream. In contrast, there are moments of danger in which silence is needed for survival, but one young child cannot control their verbose nature. The Nazi atrocity is not seen, but the deadly threat is felt throughout the film.
As the son of two World War II veterans, I am well versed with that history. Today’s youth are well-versed about the achievements of President Barack Obama. This weekend, young and old will be given the opportunity to meet Fanny Ben-Ami, who will be visiting the Delray and Living Room Theaters, which will be screening Fanny’s Journey. Call the theaters for special dates and times.
Kedi also opens tomorrow and will surely inspire cat lovers. Set in Istanbul, this unique documentary shows the symbiotic relationship between the urban dwellers and the cats. Like a National Geographic/Wild Kingdom documentary, Kedi captures kitty cats in a natural habitat demonstrating primal behavior.
It is ironic that people choose animation animals (like Oscar winner Zootopia) over natural animals at the movie box office. However Kedi provides many short stories about individual cats. The film pays off during the curtain call in which we revisit each of these cats and we remember each one of their stories.
March is predicted to be a box office bonanza with the releases of Logan, Kong Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast, respectively. However, don’t lose sight of the fine documentaries — On the Map and Kedi.
Despite what presenter Faye Dunaway said Sunday night, Moonlight did win the Best Picture Oscar for 2016. In under two hours, writer/director Barry Jenkins shares a slice of South Florida culture through the eyes of a child, a teenager and an adult through three chapters of a larger narrative. Moonlight earned its honor through impressive storytelling and character development, a skill Barry Jenkins earned when he attended Florida State University, College of Motion Picture Arts. Congrats, Moonlight cast & crew.
On the Map opens tomorrow with a unique South Florida connection. Twelve years ago, Director Dani Menken appeared at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. As a producer, Menken earned the Best Documentary for 39 Pounds of Love, which features Ami Ankilewitz, an American-born Israeli who was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy who likes to party. In contrast, On the Map features the growth of professional athletes in Israel.
After World War II ended, the American sport of basketball grew as an international sport in Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union. Given the terrorist actions of the 1972 Munich Olympics, the story about the Soviet Union stealing the Gold Medal from Team USA became a mere footnote. Five years later, young Israel (a nation state less than three decades old) confronted the International Champion Soviet Union in an epic basketball game.
Told with grainy home movies and audio supplied by reel-to-reel tape recorders, On the Map retells the epic David & Goliath story about Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team.
Now 40 years later, the teammates reunite and celebrate their amazing victory. The memories are sharp and this story truly comes alive.
If you love the sport of basketball, get out of the house and check out On the Map on the big screen.