Jim Croce died in a plane crash shortly after this appearance on NBC's new show, "The Midnight Special."
When it came to his music, Croce was truly a renaissance man who wrote a variety of music, from ballards to rockers like "Bad Bad Leroy Brown." A cartoon was made of this song, which Sonny & Cher covered on their CBS Variety show.
Old Blue Eyes crooned his own Big Band version, which ain't bad,
Yet, the essence of this song can best be distilled on the porch of a House of Blues..
Last Sunday afternoon, I caught Pollock, Ed Harris’s award-winning film about tortured artist Jackson Pollock, a motion picture that I reviewed for The Observer 16 years ago. Although I may never be a patron of abstract art, I was absorbed in Jackson Pollock’s craft with paint and canvas. It still holds up as a fine motion picture with an interesting story, intriguing characters and artistic details that supports a strong artist vision.
The strong visuals of Ghost in the Shell have been part of the Japanese/Anime culture for nearly 30 years. Besides being a graphic novel, there was an animated motion picture titled The Ghost in the Shell that was released in 1995 and spawned a total of four films. Ten years ago, Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to produce a live-action version. Last weekend, Ghost in the Shell opened to a lackluster box office that may cost some Paramount Studio executives their jobs.
First off, it is not a bad movie. The film opens with Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) being assembled on a laboratory table. Mira’s body is a victim of a terrorist attack, but her brain is left intact and inserted into an android shell.
Much like Blade Runner, this Ghost in the Shell features a series of investigations and action sequences as Mira seeks to uncover bad guys. The pursuit involves multiple betrayals with Mira questioning her own identification as a cyborg.
The major flaw with the film is the lack of original story. Besides the previous mentioned Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell lifts plot ideas from Avatar, Virtuosity and Innerspace. It feels more like an outline than letting a fresh story unfold.
The film does shine with visual effects. Director Rupert Sanders lets his camera linger on giant hologram figures in the big city. The figures are eclectic and their brief appearances are more interesting than some of the cardboard characters that are used to move the plot forward. While Johansson does shine, we’ve seen her in enough movies of this ilk: Lucy, Her and the Marvel movies.
So Ghost in the Shell is no Pollock or The Last Word, or Kong: Skull Island, for that matter. I wish that The Zookeeper’s Wife or The Case for Christ opened a week sooner.
From acclaimed French Director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, Potiche) comes Frantz, a film with a touch of Daphne du Maurier’s literary classic Rebecca.
Set in Germany during the post World War I era, Anna (Paula Beer) grieves over the loss of her fiance, Frantz. After a visit to the graveside, Anna witnesses Adrien (Pierre Ninney), a French war veteran, put flowers on the marker.
Despite the cultural divide from the Armistice of World War I, Anna and Adrien communicate with each other. Each individual talks about their experiences knowing Frantz, an artistic soul who died in the muddy trenches. At times this relationship evolution is beautiful, but the horrors of war reveal dark secrets of human nature.
Frantz is presented in grim black and white cinematography that also echoes Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca. Yet Ozon takes advantage of modern technology to include color cinematography for moments of beauty and grace. Given that Frantz is a study of grief, this film becomes life-affirming despite the tragedies on faces in life.
For a good story and realistic character development, The Last Word expands to more screens this weekend. Shirley MacLaine is garnering her best notices since her Oscar-winning achievement, Terms of Endearment. As Harriet, MacLaine is a control freak facing the twilight of her life.
Reading the obituaries of her contemporaries, Harriet contacts Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary for the local newspaper. Given Harriet’s prickly personality and Anne’s naivete, this business proposition seems doomed to failure. Upon closer examination of what makes a good obituary, Harriet creates four goals to achieve before the shadows claim her. Dragging a reluctant Anne along with her, Harriet embarks on a series of escapades.
Under director Mark Pellington’s confident direction, The Last Word unfolds in realistic fashion. Each one of Harriet’s goals is abstract, but the human interaction is humorous and feels true. There are many scenic gems found in this movie. Among the highlights are Harriet’s attempts to be a benefactor to an alternative radio station and be a mentor to an African-American girl of a single mother.
As both producers and actors, MacLaine and Seyfried form a good team. MacLaine is the dominant personality, but Seyfried gives a transitional performance that is endearing. These two veteran actresses develop a fine chemistry with young AnnJewel Lee Dixson, the African American child forced to take in a mentor. MacLaine, Seyfried and Dixson shine during an emotionally tense lunch scene with Harriet’s daughter (Anne Heche).
The Women’s Balcony opens this weekend at neighborhood theaters. In Hebrew with English subtitles, The Women’s Balcony is a comedy/drama. While attending a bar mitzvah, the women’s balcony collapses in the middle of the ceremony. When it looks like the temple will be closed for a long period of time, a new rabbi quickly comes to the rescue of the worshipers. Unfortunately, he is more like the pied piper.
The temple opens quickly, but the women’s balcony is not restored. Being more orthodox than his predecessor, the rabbi wants the women to cover their heads to display their modesty. Naturally, the modern women rebel.
Unlike the angry protests that we see on the news every day, The Women’s Balcony has an infectious sweetness that will make the ticket buyer smile.
Kong Skull Island was an international hit with box office gross exceeding over $160 million in three days. Compared to the full-court press that Disney marketing is providing for Beauty and the Beast, the marketing for Kong Skull Island has been modest. Fortunately, the movie exceeds marketing hype.
Perhaps a sequel to the 1933 Son of Kong, this new film opens in 1944 when a Japanese and American aviator crash land on the mysterious island. Their petty fight is abated when Kong makes an appearance and stuns the soldiers.
Almost 30 years later, Professor Randa (John Goodman) from the Monarch Organization requests to visit this mysterious island. The Vietnam War is ending and Randa would like to study Skull Island before the Soviet Union finds out about it. Besides recruiting Lieutenant Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squad, Randa recruits Marlow (John C. Reilly) as well as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist.
When the scientific expedition starts dropping bombs on the island, Kong is angered and brings down the helicopters. Divided across the island, the survivors attempt reunification, only to discover that Kong is the least of their problems.
Indiana Jones and Jurassic World fans will get their money’s worth. Kong Skull Island is part of the “MonsterVerse” series that began three years ago with the reboot of Godzilla. Unlike Godzilla, when the monster was hidden until the final 20 minutes of the film, Kong is front and center throughout.
With the exception of subterranean terrors that lurk on Skull Island, there are no outright villains in this film. Samuel L. Jackson is the most aggressive human character, but the script creates empathy for the character’s desire for revenge. Upon further review, the wrath of Kong is not caused by military aggression, but by scientific arrogance. Beyond big-sized epic adventure, Kong Skull Island contains a narrative with much intellectual depth.