Monthly Archives: July, 2017

Theron doesn’t pull any punches in Cold War thriller

July 30th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Theron doesn’t pull any punches in Cold War thriller”

 

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“Atomic Blonde” gives us “Jane Bond,” a savvy, smart and sexy British Intelligence agent. In this high-paced action film, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being interrogated by her own people to explain the murder of fellow agents in the field during the Cold War in Berlin.

 

Based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City,” the film is filled with mesmerizing fight scenes, car chases and plenty of sexual tension. It also stars James McAvoy and John Goodman.

 

“Atomic Blonde” is reminiscent of every “James Bond” movie ever made, but with a female lead. The difference, however, is that Broughton looks as if she’s actually been in a fight. Near the end of the film, she’s a complete mess — something you don’t see with Mr. Bond. I found that, along with surprising twists and double-crosses, to be refreshing.

To read the rest of the review as it appeared in the Friday, July 28 edition of the Daily Journal, go HERE

"The Bad Mother" creates truthful humor in balancing motherhood and work

July 25th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"The Bad Mother" creates truthful humor in balancing motherhood and work”

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Sarah Kapoor writes, directs and stars in “The Bad Mother,” a comedic look at the drama of balancing motherhood and work.  Sometimes those scales of balance are completely out of whack which is what makes this new film hilarious, relatable, and at the same time quite poignant.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

As a stay-at-home mother, Tara (Kapoor) attempts to regain some of her inner-strength and creativity while changing diapers, shopping, cleaning, and toting kids around.  It’s an important job, but exhausting and frequently thankless and unappreciated.  There seems to be  something missing in Tara’s life.  With a devoted husband who has a slave-driver of a boss, the two find themselves in a tough situation.  Her hubby is demoted to traveling for his job during the week, leaving Tara to be a “single” mom until the weekends.  As her son inadvertently posts one of her well-written rants aThe Bad Mother_Scene Shot 04bout her husband’s work environment, it goes viral, setting into motion Tara’s eventual internal confrontation with her needs as well as society’s view of working moms.  Of course, there are hilarious, truly laugh out loud moments as Tara unintentionally finds herself higher than a kite just before her possible big break back into the work force.

Addressing the guilt and love of motherhood is eloquently portrayed in “The Bad Mother.”  Kapoor hits the nail on the head as she creates this character who loves her children more than anything, but craves for intellectual stimulation and continuing to develop her own identity.  Like so many of us, we do lose a part of who we are when we make the choice to stay home.  But we also gain a part of ourselves that we didn’t know even existed.  Addressing an issue that Heather Booth brought to the forefront of the United States government back in the 1960’s, daycare, Kapoor gives us a first-hand account of why this is still such a difficult and controversial issue.

Kapoor balances wearing the writer, director and actor hats with absolute grace and style.  Her character, however, is not always so graceful which leads to uproarious situations in professional and personal environments.  She’s extraordinary with her physical comedic performance as her character is  is under the influence during a television interview about her post.  Lacking an edit mode, her honesty and blunt conversation is shockingly real coated luxuriously in humor.  Kapoor is remarkable in every scene; her expressions are priceless.  As a former stay at home mom, it waThe Bad Mother_Scene Shot 03s as if she was channeling my younger life, filled with guilt, love, remorse, and pride into her performance.

Kapoor’s mother, Sadnha Kapoor actually plays her mother “Nani” in the film adding that element of reality to the story.  While she may be from a different country, all moms are the same–brutally honest right when you don’t want them to be, but more importantly when you need them to be.  Again, there is that wonderful layer of humor associated with this situation, but always maintaining that underlying message of balance in life and priorities.  This mother-daughter relationship is an element of the story that will resonate with any female out there.  As the two grow to understand one another, the journey these two women quickly travel is heartbreaking, surprising, and intrinsically beautiful.

Friendships and a longing for a lost love  find their way into this film as we look at the myriad number of relationships in life.  Again, that element of reality, aka chaos, in life is succinctly portrayed in “The Bad Mother.”

“The Bad Mother” is one of those gems that integrates socially relevant issues, relationship difficulties, and life into one genuine and hilarious story.  The characters are developed fully, artistically depicting the complexities of life, allowing us to relate to the situations and the emotions.  Rarely do you find a film that can balance all of this.  Now, balancing being a mom and working is still the question at hand.  At least we can laugh about it thanks to “The Bad Mother.”

“The Bad Mother” releases on DVD and VOD (video on demand) beginning August 1, 2017.   For more information about this film, go to www.badmothermovie.com

"Detroit" Is Bigelow's best film yet

July 24th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Detroit" Is Bigelow's best film yet”

 

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Many of us never knew about the Algiers Murder Trial following the riots in the mid-60’s in Detroit, Michigan, but all of us know recent riots such as Ferguson and  Rodney King.  History, it seems, repeats itself.  “Detroit,” written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow brings us back to that fateful date in 1967 when the city of Detroit had become a war zone. Starring Will Poulet, John Bologna, Alger Smith, and Jacob Latimore, the film recreates what happened to a group of young performers as they became stranded on the streets in the midst of violence.  This emotionally intense and exhausting film is aptly timed as we see the history we create today, reflected by our past.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scenes take us through a timeline of history, explaining with stop-action drawings and animation the unrest and inequitabldetroit3e treatment of Black people in America.  We are then thrust into an illegal, after-hours party where there is a raid taking place.  Bigelow sets up the tension right from the beginning, never letting us take down our guard.  While difficult to watch the cruelty, it’s necessary to bring you into understanding the realities and how perceptions are created.

July 23, 1967 is Day 1 of the Detroit Riots.  Bigelow uses found footage from television newscasts to bring a sense of urgency and reality to this recreation.  We meet the police officers, Krauss (Poulter) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) who play a pivotal role in not only many unnecessary deaths, but the need for the Algiers Murder Trial to take place.  The two young boys, Larry (Smith) and Fred (Latimore), band members of The Dramatics, whose journey is diverted to the Algiers Motel, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Tpoulter-detroit-wide-400x226heir lives intersect with other random people, Julie (Hannah Murray), Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), Greene (Anthony Mackie) and Dismukes (John Boyega), creating what would become a life-changing event for all.DetroitBoyega

Bigelow takes us into these characters’ lives from Day 1.  We see Dismukes’ hard-working and well-defined attitude, attempting to soothe various situations.  Officers Krauss and Flynn are the lit matches that are tossed into several barrels of gasoline, igniting havoc wherever they go.  Larry and Fred are characters that we immediately connect with, taking us on their emotional journey of fear, shattered dreams, and lost hope.

This is a complicated story as each aspect is clearly outlined, from the police officers’ viewpoint and their commanding officers’ responses to those who are on the street creating riots and attempting to stand up for their rights or just survive.  The situation at the Algiers Motel is as riveting as it is disturbing.  The brutality physically and emotionally is unfathomable.  The intensity of the dire situation takes your breath away, knowing that these events actually occurred.  The inhumanity is incomprehensible, allowing you to readily understand how a Black person would immediately fear the police and all interaction.

The film itself is grainy and gritty, conjuring the emotional texture of the story.  The feeling of constant darkness or muted colors gives a sense of impending doom and the style of perhaps a hand-held camera evokes an image of a documentary; almost a cinema verite form for a narrative film.  The elements that Bigelow painstakingly incorporates into the film create such power and impact—nothing less than the historical story deserves.  While Bigelow takes on enormous and heavy projects such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” it is “Detroit” that is her best yet.  She projects the underlying circumstances and incorporates reality and historical facts in a seamless manner, always conveying the emotional aspects with precision.  Her cast is simply stellar.  Poulter who immediately comes to mind from “We Are The Millers” and “The Revenant” has tossed his sweetness and boyish naiveté to the side and delved deeply indetroit5to himself to create a despicable moral monster.  Boyega stands out as his intensity is palpable.  He easily creates a character we care about and fear for his every move.  He is extraordinarily powerful in finding ways to exhibit a myriad number of thoughts and feelings.  Smith and Latimore are exquisite in their reactions and interactions, bringing the audience into their world and their minds.  We are with them every step of the way.  Bigelow has created an historical masterpiece as she directs these talented actors, tells an historically significant story which many don’t know, and bring many of us as close to empathy as possible without truly walking in their shoes.

“Detroit” is a story that should be told and never forgotten.  Learning from our past is the only way to make our future better and based on our current unrest, we need to remember history and take heed.  “Detroit” is a riveting and intensely distressing film  that is well-crafted and truly powerful.  This is an Academy Award winner just waiting for March 4, 2018 to arrive.

4 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Lady Macbeth" Chilling portrayal of repression, oppression

July 21st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Lady Macbeth" Chilling portrayal of repression, oppression”

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William Shakespeare didn’t see this one coming!  The master of developing a complicated and layered plot, weaving together profoundly interesting characters would never have envisioned his character of Lady Macbeth being taken on such an extraordinary journey…but I’m sure he’d be thrilled with the outcome!  Using his character’s name as a reference point in this new film directed by William Oldroyd and written by Alice Birch,  adapting Nikolai Leskov’s book “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” to create one of the most powerful and chilling films depicting a lonely and unfulfilled housewife.  Set in rural England in the early 19th century, Katherine is wed to a distant, cold, and uncaring middle-aged man.  She meets and begins an affair with a young stable worker, but this is just the beginning of the continuous downward spiral of morality.  Equating her with Lady Macbeth is strikingly chilling.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

image.aspxKatherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman, just barely having left her childhood behind, standing at the alter to wed a man at least twice her age.  Her trepidation is palpable as she is assisted by the housemaid Anna (Naomlady2i Ackie) to prepare for the activities of the wedding night that lie ahead.  Alexander’s (Paul Hilton) interactions are quite unexpected, but sets the tone for the remainder of the film.  He’s more than cold; he’s harsh.  Treating Katherine more like a dog than his wife, he sets incomprehensible restrictions upon her to which you see the blood begin to boil deep inside.  We first get a glimpse into what makes her tick as she figuratively kicks the dog in the barn to save a young woman from humiliation or worse.  Using the verbal commands her husband used with her, she lashes out at these men, ordering them to obey her.  She takes control.  It’s an unexpected situation tha

LadyMacbeth3t makes you cheer for her while wanting to reprimand her for doing so.  The emotional scales begin to weigh more heavily in one direction as we get a “taste” of her intolerance for the despicable treatment by her father-in-law, Boris (Christopher Fairbank).

Katherine’s rebellious nature cannot be quelled and when Alexander takes an extended trip, her physical needs bring her to Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).   Katherine’s grasp of manipulation is extraordinary as we see her take a potential rape situation and turn the tables.  Their steamy love affair doesn’t go unnoticed by Anna as the two women’s relationship also spirals downward.  We see this in Anna’s physical treatment, aka care, of Katherine; the cinching of the corset, the scrubbing in the bath, the temperature of the water and we have emotional sympathy for Katherine.  Being treated unequally and rebelling against this is an act that we wholeheartedly support.  But we slowly begin to see things unravel.  Never have I watched a movie where the protagonist evolves into the antagonist, delicately yet forcefully.

This extraordinary period piece explores the time where women were not only second-class citizens, but were treated as property and completely oppressed.  It’s symbolic of what happens when a person is repeatedly emotionally beaten, but even more than that, it is a study in survival at any cost.  Katherine is never truly out of control, but she easily crosses boundaries that most of us, thankfully, would not.  There is a fine line between repression and oppression and the results of these actions are exponentially different.  The film is an arc of anticipation, building anxiety to how far this woman will go.  Our feelings of empathy turn to sympathy and then to horror as we are shocked by her actions.  It’s knowing that the volcano will erupt, but you’re peering over the top, watching the lava slowly rise and yet somehow hoping it will not blow.

Pugh is simply sublime in exhibiting her intellectual grasp of the character.  She exudes strength and resolve in her character while slowly revealing Katherine’s innermost turmoil.  Pugh masterfully performs this uniquely complex role filled with passion, outwardly muted anger, and continuous calculated acts to protect herself and her future.  We can see the wheels turning as she plans her next move, understated and always crystal clear.  It’s truly an Oscar-worthy performance.  Ackie’s portrayal of a young black female servant is equally as complex as her character’s relationship with Katherine is unexpected.  The entire cast seems to respond to the direction of Oldroyd, allowing the story to unfold with precision as we are spellbound by each character and the interactions.

Lady-Macbeth-Stairs“Lady Macbeth” is a masterpiece of writing, acting, and directing.  As commanding as the dialogue is, what is not said is equally as intense.  This comes from deft direction and intuitive acting, particularly from Pugh.  While there are many moments of silence, the subtle action within the scene says more than any dialogue could—the scrubbing of Katherine’s back, slowly, harshly; the hollow sound of the footsteps on the stairs of the house equates to the emptiness Katherine feels, but can never be filled.  The silence that Katherine experiences lulls her into a sleepy stupor and the horses hooves outside make your heart race in fear.  The setting is also important along with the costuming.  Of course, there is attention to detail for the time period, but it is what the camera accentuates that creates the mood and atmosphere we experience.  The blank walls and solid colors bring a sense of emotional starkness and the cold wind that moves through the heather and grasses as Katherine’s hair flows freely creates a hope for the future with some trepidation.  It’s this attention to each and every

There are definitive parallels between Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ and “Lady Macbeth” with the affairs, the murders, the secrets, and one scene of Katherine washing her hands in the river.  Loyalty versus morality is also extraordinarily portrayed in both stories, but it is this newest creation that delves much more deeply into the complexity of social issues of the time and the overall psychological impact—oppression and inequality can create a monster.

“Lady Macbeth” is a rare creation, integrating elements of a familiar story, but elevating it exponentially while addressing relevant social issues of the time period as well as today.  It’s a complicated story of power, oppression, greed, lust, loyalty and most importantly self-preservation. The acting is exquisite, the written and performed dialogue elegant, and the expectional precision of direction, cinematography, and attention to detail is unparalleled.  “Lady Macbeth” deserves to be viewed, analyzed, and discussed at greater lengths—it’s a timeless tale that is at once chilling and horrifying as it is psychologically impactful.  I couldn’t give a film higher accolades.

 

"Frank vs. God" Takes legal action against the Almighty

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Frank vs. God" Takes legal action against the Almighty”

 

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Henry Ian Cusick, previously known for his character in the hit television series ‘Lost,’ and now ‘The 100’ has a new-found passion for independent film. One of several completed indie films, “Frank vs. God” is now available to see on all digital platforms and DVD. As Frank’s (Cusick) home is destroyed by a tornado, the widower tries to use his insurance to recoup his damages only to find out that “acts of God” are not covered.  The semi-retired lawyer, still in the throws of grief, lashes out against the Almighty, coming out of retirement and using his unique legal prowess to sue Him for damages.  Cusick, the Peruvian-born Scottish actor, sat down to talk with me about this film, family, and all things entertainment.

Watch the trailer here
IMG_0757Cusick’s unique upbringing included moving around the continent which he feels has given him a sense of commonality among all—something he hopes his children will have as well. He shared, “I think it’s pretty good to move kids around at an early age. They get a sense of travel. They get a sense of the world, that it’s not that big and that we are pretty much all the same.” He credits his lack of a “xenophobic attitude” to his childhood experiences and loves learning new things, particularly about different cultures and their customs.
This unique background doesn’t stop with his upbringing as he is a theatrically trained actor giving him, from this critic’s perspective, an leg up on others in his field. He admits that while “…most actors in the UK start off in theater, that’s our bread and butter…” the pay is significantly better in television and film. “You could do one day of TV [which] would be the equivalent of three weeks work in the theater.” Like his experiences as a child, he cherishes his dramatic training which helped him become more well-rounded as an actor. “I learned things that I wasn’t really interested in like poetry and a lot of classical stuff.   [There are] a lot of things I still use today which seems very obvious, but when I see young actors…they do classes and then they’ll get a job on a TV show. I just don’t feel that’s a full training.” However, Cusick certainly sees there is more than one path to lead to a goal, but, he adds, “…for the longevity of the profession, I would get good training in theater to fall back on.”
IMG_0758So how does a classically trained theatrical actor get involved with independent film? The answer, Stephen Lang. Accepting a lead role in “the bizarre” indie film “The Girl on the Train,” Cusick saw Lang’s name attached to it. He chuckled and said, “Stephen Lang’s in it, it must be something.  [Lang] said, ‘You know what? I just do stuff because I’m an actor. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.’” Cusick had a new perspective on taking a chance on films. “It’s not about waiting for the big bucks or waiting for the right role. It’s fun. It’s what we do. And you just don’t know who you’ll meet. He (Lang) opened my eyes to indie films and said take a chance.”
IMG_0753Taking a chance on an independent film can be worth the gamble as it is in his newest release, “Frank vs. God,” but it’s been a long time in coming to the public. After reading the script from his manager who happened to be friends with writer and director Stewart Schill, Cusick had about a week to prepare for this verbally heavy film. Much of the courtroom scenes depended on Cusick reciting chunks of verse, more reminiscent of a legal (and creatively entertaining) soliloquy. He’s had plenty of experience in this type of recitation, and gave credit to his assistant who ran lines over and over and over again. Great writing certainly helps and Schill’s script is at once engagingly eloquent. Cusick’s favorite scenes were in the courtroom because, as he was suing God for tornado damages to his home, every religion was represented. “Everyone had a valid point,” to support their religion, but as Cusick was brought up Catholic, it was arguing with the Bishop that most intrigued him. Regarding Catholicism, Cusick said, “…when I hear the good that it does, but [then] I hear the arguments of the whole taxation and how much money the Catholic Church has and can’t tell us.” Schill “pokes fun” at all of the religions, but Cusick emphatically added, “I think the one thing that comes through with this film is whatever the religion, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about love. Treating everyone with respect. Love one another. That’s the ultimate message that comes out of the film.”

IMG_0759Waiting for the release of “Frank vs. God” has been a long time in coming, much like Cusick’s other indie projects such as “Rememory” which premiered at Sundance 2017 and “Chimera” which even he hasn’t seen the final product. Working and waiting, Cusick also finds time to delve into positive impact projects like Jambios. It’s somewhat related to his “Rememory” project in that it taps into sharing memories with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. This newly released company encourages users to set up an account and share their stories. From “myjambio” to ourjambio,” you can share life’s stories with anyone you choose. Cusick shared that one woman “…found out she was dying and she’s leaving stories for her children which is so moving, so beautiful.” Creating books for birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions are yet other aspects of this site.
Cusick is obviously that well-rounded actor with his myriad number and types of projects in which he is involved. Portraying the lead role of David Frank in “Frank vs. God” truly captures the eloquence and articulate capabilities of this theatrically trained actor.  The bonus is that his real life persona is simply positive and inspiring.
See “Frank vs. God” on digital platforms (VOD) and DVD now.  For more informaiton about this film, go to Www.frankvsgod.com

For more information about Jambios, go to Jambios.com

 

Move over "Bridesmaids" and "Trainwreck" for "Girls Trip"

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Move over "Bridesmaids" and "Trainwreck" for "Girls Trip"”

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If you think “Girls Trip,” the newest female friend film starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, and TIffany Haddish, is just another version of “Rough Night,” you’re sorely mistaken.  This is actually really funny!  Although it’s jaw-droppingly raunchy, the situations and absolutely hilarious creating a wonderful escape and a fun night out.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Ryan (Hall), Sasha (Latifah), Lisa (Smith), and Dina (Haddish) are lifelong friends from college, but as the years pass, their lives go in different directions and their bond is weakened.  Ryan, a successful author married to her business partner, Stewart (Mike Colter), is asked to be the key note speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans.  Missing her girlfriends, aka the Flossy Posse, she invites them to join her.  It becomes a weekend of revelation, debauchery, and most importantly, reconnecting with her friends.gt1
“Girls Trip” introduces us to four very different women with whom you will be able to identify with one of them. Ryan is uptight yet the envy of every woman.  She’s strong, beautiful, and seemingly “has it all.”  There’s an underlying rift between she and Sasha, the talented journalist who has sunk into the trenches of celebrity gossip writing, which sets the group on edge.  Lisa, the mother of two who lives at home with her mom and has been out of touch with men for quite some time gives these girls a project on their trip:  help Lisa dust off her cobwebs and have some fun.  But then we have the true queen of the group—Dina.  Her spark is more like a nuclear bomb as shgt2e verbally and sometimes physically decimates anyone who upsets her or messes with her friends.
While there are many subplots to the film, the driving force of the story is that Ryan’s friends find out her husband is cheating on her.  Attempting to still enjoy the weekend, these women get themselves kicked out of hotels, party like they’re back in college, dance-fight, and “dust off a few cobwebs.”
“Bridesmaids” and “Trainwreck,” move over—there’s a new kid in town.  This is absolutely the raunchiest/best/funniest girlfriend movie to date.  With sexual situations and demonstrations, full frontal male nudity, and female competitiveness, the over-the-top, uproariously new take on how women interact is simply spectacular.  Perhaps a few situations were borrowed from other films and then tweaked to fit this film, but that works.  For example, there’s not one women out there that can’t relate to bladder issues and yes, bodily function humor, just like in “Bridesmaids” in the diarrhea scene, makes you laugh so hard you might have related issues!
This is a total escapism movie.  To its detriment, it’s very predictable and sometimes sappy, but so was “The Hangover” (1,2,and 3) and given the number of sequels, these aspects didn’t impede that film’s popularity.  “Girls Trip” is a comedy and it most certainly succeeds in this category.  It also succeeds in casting four very talented, powerful women as the leads and it doesn’t shy away from allowing these women to express themselves in whatever way their characters’ personalities should.  However, I’m somewhat concerned that the world will now know about Nordstrom’s remarkable return policy now.   With three female writers and one male, it’s obvious that this group just let loose and had some fun writing the script.
Hall is simply stunning in her role.  She’s conflicted on many levels, just like many women, trying to truly “have it all.”  Hall’s performance typifies how we lose ourselves, slowly, not realizing it until we have become someone else.  She exudes confidence one moment, only to let down her guard the next and reveal her true self.  While Latifah and Smith balance this group’s personality, it is Haddish’s performance as the foul-mouthed, exaggerated wild friend Dina that steals the show.  Her ability to spew fast-paced hilarious descriptions in any situation leaves you laughing with your jaw agape, shocked at what you just heard.
Given that these four women are Black certainly is an aspect of the film.  They are attending the Essence Festival for Black women.  This provides a few humorous situations to arise such as the white agent, Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) attempting to use what she feels are appropriate Black colloquialisms to be a part of the group.  Addressing these boundaries in such an open way is refreshing and never takes away from the focus which is as women, there is no bond like our friendship.
“Girls Trip” is a new spin on raunchy girlfriend movies filled with gut-bustingly funny situations.  While it is predictable, the film makes up for it in all the right ways—it’s a female’s comedy that rivals any of its male “bromance” predecessors.

 

3 1/2 stars

"War for the Planet of the Apes" Extraordinary special effects, performances

July 16th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"War for the Planet of the Apes" Extraordinary special effects, performances”

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From the 1968 original film, “Planet of the Apes,” starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, to the television series in 1974 and four subsequent sequels on the silver screen, comes yet another part of the saga: “War for the Planet of the Apes.” The story continues to evolve, sometimes at a snail’s pace, and with a heavy-handed overture of biblical and historical references indicating man’s eminent demise, but it is still able to provide fans with that needed next part in the saga.

To read the review in its entirety, go here

"Boiling the Frog" Will make you jump to action; a free web series starring Senator Al Franken

July 12th, 2017 Posted by News, Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Boiling the Frog" Will make you jump to action; a free web series starring Senator Al Franken”

Climate change.  Some people haven’t woken up to smell the coffee—that’s grown in Brazil where the rainforest is being depleted at a rate of upwards of 80,000 acres per day (‘Scientific American’).  And with today’s United States government leaders not just denying climate change, but taking action to accelerate it, what can we do?  It’s a depressing and sometimes emotionally crushing thought, but former-satirist and current Minnesota Senator Al Franken finds a way to reach audiences, educate them, and yes, even find humor in what most of us consider a devastating situation.

Franken has joined forces with Funny Or Die and ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ to give us (are you ready for the title?) Boiling the Frog.  Executive Producer David Gelber explained the title:  “If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump right out. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, place it on a stove and slowly start heating it up, it turns out the frog will stay in the pot and let itself get boiled.”  He continued, “We’re living in a time where politicians are more like the frog in the heating pot.  Despite climate change staring them right in the face, they’re not taking life-saving action.”  While I’d rather not observe that whole frog-pot experiment, the short web series is more captivating and entertaining and doesn’t harm a soul.  “Boiling the Frog” communicates relevant issues discussed between Franken and David Letterman.  Both of these men with their roots in comedy hope to find a way to make the world a better place.  And each with young children or grandchildren feel a sense of responsibility to them to make positive changes.

Franken, as Letterman put it, is more of a climate change optimist and given Franken’s position in government and his recognizable face and name, that’s a good thing.  As the two sit down for 6 short segments, their dry sense of humor underscores the seriousness of the consequences of taking no action or remaining ignorant.  From coal mine jobs and alternative energy technology to the Koch brothers identity and even Rush Limbaugh as topics, the two create an engaging series that just might open your eyes a bit while you chuckle.  At least one “take-away message” comes in each episode such as “Call your senator or congressman.”  Believe it or not, that really does matter!  Each episode is just a few minutes in length so it’s a short time investment that just might give you a high return in insight.

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To watch the first episode, go to  FUNNY OR DIE

For information about how deforestation affects climate change, go to climate.org

"The Journey" A Memorable Trip

July 6th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"The Journey" A Memorable Trip”

 

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What happens behind closed doors of political conversations is always anyone’s guess.  Writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm create the possible conversation between two warring political leaders which eventually resulted in a peace agreement which holds today.  The leaders?  Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness.  During an unusual circumstance, the two are forced into the closed quarters of a car trip, giving them an opportunity to not just dispute political positions, but to understand one another.  It’s an insightful and entertaining situation with stellar performances by Timothy Spall as Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness.  Who knows?  This may have truly been what happened.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film gives us an historical overview of the constant warring and turmoil between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, not long ago.  The two political party leaders could never discuss anything, creating this long and on-going volatile situation to remain.  Lives were lost and no hope for reconciliation seemed to be on the horizon.  Miraculously, the two buried the hatchet and hammered out a peace accord, and even became friends.  It was an unlikely story that unfolds in the new movie, “The Journey.”

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction creates a remarkable tale delving into the psychology of two very diverse men.  Their history and personalities couldn’t be any more different and their journey, both physically, emotionally, and cognitively, finds a way to paint a clear picture of the strength and resilience they have both counted on to lead their followers.  The cinematic style creates a passenger seat in the car in which the viewer sits.  We watch with anxiety and anticipation as the two, always at an impasse and stubborn as mules, break down the wall, brick by brick, to actually see the possibilities that lie ahead.  Their legacy is at the forefront of these aging men, realizing that they could each do what was deemed the impossible.

The entire film is about these radically different two men.  Finding the right men to portray Paisley and  McGuinness was crucial to the success of the story and movie—there is no question that Meaney and Spall BECAME their characters, using  not only their physical similarities, but capturing their speech patterns and mannerisms.  Spall’s body stiffness corresponds directly to the character’s mental inflexibility and his rigid personal beliefs.  His speech, almost unrecognizable, is a perfect impersonation, right down to the pauses and cadence.  Meaney’s portrayal is everything we think of as Irish.  His personality is larger than life, enjoying every aspect of it, yet recognizing the importance of his role.

Spall allows his character’s thick skin to be slowly buffed away, but only for moments.  It’s the twinkle in his eyes that reveals so much more.  The two actors are stellar together, recreating the personalities and what may have actually occurred.

Creating tension and the real-time feel of conversation between the men is attributed to the deft direction and insightful writing.  When you know the end of a story, it’s difficult to capture this, but “The Journey” is simply gripping.  The irony of the situation along with the willing spectators who concocted the situation are sitting on the precipice of peace, giving even more anxiety to the unfolding situation.  Their amazement becomes the viewers’. The uneasy laughter and the frustration each men exhibits strikes a chord from within, allowing you to identify with each of them, even if it is only in some small way.  But most importantly, this film gives you a glimpse into the human aspect of negotiations, mediation, and compromise within the world of politics.

“The Journey” is a wonderful amalgam of history and fiction, giving us food for thought and greater understanding for what happened to bring peace to Northern Ireland.  Spall and Meaney are splendid as they bring these men to life thanks to intriguing  and succinct writing and skillful direction.

“The Journey” is opening at the AMC River East and the Landmark Theaters in Chicago.  It’s a trip worth taking!

 

 

 

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" Couldn't catch a fly

July 3rd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Spider-Man: Homecoming" Couldn't catch a fly”
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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstien, John Francis Daley (8 more credits)
Starring:  Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and Robert Downey, Jr.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” snuck up on me as quietly and quickly as a brown recluse in a dark cellar.  Although this newest version of the oh-so familiar story of Spider Man isn’t as deadly as a brown recluse, it was at times mind-numbing. From the 2002, 2004, and 2007 adventures of the Tobey Maguire version of Peter Parker aka Spider Man to the 2 versions that Andrew Garfield gave us in 2012 and 2014, we now have Tom Holland portraying the infamous web-hurling Avenger.  While it’s a different spin on an old tale, it’s not enough to engage and hook a new crop of viewers into the land of Marvel.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” picks up right after his last appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” where the self-assured and mouthy young protege kept pace with his mentor, Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  Not yet ready to be a full-fledged evil fighting machine, Peter (Holland) is sent back to Queens to live with his Aunt Mae and finish high school while attending his “internship” with Stark Industries.  The young spider boy is itching to be an Avenger, but for noTom-Holland-Movie-Set-Spider-Man-Homecoming-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-6w he’s just a nerdy outcast, crushing on a gorgeous older woman (a senior at his math and science academy).  Peter attempts to navigates his way through the awkwardness of adolescence in high school while hiding his true identity.    Peter, not yet ready for prime time Avenger work, stumbles upon Vulture (Michael Keaton) whose dastardly plan needs to be stopped.  Kicking off his “training wheels,” the young Spider Boy learns a few lessons not only in life and love, but in becoming Spider Man.
The story has obviously been told at least 5 times before for the silver screen from different viewpoints, but this spiderironversion takes a fresh approach to the same old, same old.  Set in today’s society with a few futuristic concepts, Peter experiences the ups and downs of attending school.  His adolescent angst, while allowing us to see another aspect of Spider Man/Peter Parker, initially feels charming and sweet, but unfortunately, this just becomes dull and repetitive.  His side-kick, Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides a bit of comic relief in the film, but there’s just not enough to endear us to either of them.  The sporadic “guest appearances” via gym class and detention videos from Capt. America are a welcomed light in the darkness of this film.  And Keaton just can’t seem to shake the wings off his back as he will always be known as Batman and/or Birdman to all of us, and now he takes on the metallic wings of Vulture, Spider-Man’s newest nemesis.
While Keaton can easily be seen as Mr. Mom, Beatlejuice, or Ray Kroc, he can also just as readily become a heartless evil character.  Keaton adds depth of interest to any role and any film he’s in.  Unfortunately, his screen time is relatively minimal in this 2 hour and 13 minutes endeavor.  But when he’s a part of the film, you’re completely glued to what’s happening.  For you “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” fans, you’ll be thrilled to see Michael Mando as “Mac Gargan,” a character sure to be a major part of Spider-Man’s next installment.
I was hopeful that the classic Iron Man/Tony Stark sarcastic sense of humor and banter would be utilized in this film given the fact that Downey, Jr. had a part in the film.  This was not the case.  His role was even smaller and given his lines, I’m not even sure he left his house to be filmed—it could have all been “green screened” given the lack of interest and interaction he had with the other characters.  Jon Favreau portrayed Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s right hand man (after Pepper Potts) who was also completely underutilized and whose personality was simply crushed.
So, that leaves the weight of the film on Holland, the new kid on the block.  Can he carry it?  With a stilted and poorly edited script, I’d say, no.  Not even the special effects and the incredible splitting of the Staten Island Ferry can keep the interest level high enough in this film.  The film needed a backstory and the characters needed a bit more complexity.  And what happened to Marisa Tomei’s character of Aunt Mae?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.
Sorry, super hero/Marvel Comic fans.  This new Spider-Man film just can’t seem to catch the interest of film goers who want a well-told story.  Try spinning a new web for the next sequel.

 

"The Beguiled" Is a watered-down version of the original

July 1st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"The Beguiled" Is a watered-down version of the original”

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THE BEGUILED

Written by: Thomas Cullinan (novel), Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp (original screenplay), Sofia Coppola (screenplay)

Directed by:  Sofia Coppola

Starring:  Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Kirsten Dunst

 ****SPOILER ALERT****

It’s difficult to review a remake of a film, but if filmmakers are going to do it, the comparisons are going to come.  I’m going to start at the end for this review.  I left the packed theater of the Sofia Coppola 2017 version of “The Beguiled” feeling confused and somewhat dissatisfied.  Having heard such rave reviews, I assumed I was missing something—I The Beguiled 4was and so was the new version.  I decided to watch the 1971 Clint Eastwood film to compare.  This endeavor filled in all the missing pieces of information; character development in particular. While this older version lacked in stylistic cinematic artistry and suffered from the overblown and typical 1970’s musical overlay, the overall story and character motivations were much clearer and, more importantly, much more interesting.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE 2017

WATCH THE 1971 VERSION TRAILER HERE

The overall story design remained the same:  Set in Virginia during the civil war, a wounded confederate soldier, Corporal John McBurney, is happened upon by a young girl who guides him back to her boarding school to be helped.  The women who reside here, comprising all ages and lead by Miss Martha, are all very fearful of Northerners and are attempting to survive during very difficult times.  Their Christian upbringing forces them to heal this man before he is turned over to the Confederates to his imminent  incarceration and death.   As the women get to know him, they become attached, thwarting their initial desire to turn this Union supporter over to the Confederates.  However,  when the Capt. makes an error of judgement, let’s just say hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.

the-beguiled-sofia-coppola-movie-image-stills-trailer-1Coppola creates a beautiful yet dark and hazy image of this time period, reflecting, perhaps unintentionally, the unclear character portrayals of not only McBurney (Colin Farrell) , but of the young women at the seminary.  She ominously creates the opening scene filled with the feeling of impending doom as the camera follows little Amy (Oona Laurence) from behind, collecting mushrooms in the forest.  With the surprise encounter of the soldier, Amy’s good nature is at once revealed as she takes pity on this “Blue Belly” from the enemy side and assists him back to the seminary.  Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is the no nonsense and resilient leader here. The girls follow her unquebeguiledcolinstioningly as many quake in their boots, particularly Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  With the precision of a surgeon, Martha repairs McBurney’s badly injured leg using a little liquor as disinfectant, tweezers, and sewing implements.  Regarded as a prisoner, McBurney stays behind a locked door.  He is visited by each of these women, all with different personalities and all are quite smitten with this kind and gentle Northern soldier, giving them a new perspective on the “enemy.”   The healing process is slow, as is the overall pace of this film, never truly allowing you to get to know any of the characters’ motivations or background.  It isn’t until McBurney makes his fateful blunder, temptation getting to the best of him, and then uses intimidation to try to get the women to do as he says, waking us from a peaceful slumber.beguiled elle

While the story is almost identical to the original, it is truly the character development that lacks in this newest version.  Farrell portrays a very kind and gentle man until his leg amputation—quite understandably.  He is polite, grateful, and gracious with each of the women.  Unfortunately, try as he may, he does succumb to the wily ways of Alicia (Elle Fanning).  The very name of the film, “The Beguiled,” invokes images of manipulation and deceit, none of which Farrell’s McBurney exhibits.  Eastwood’s rendition of McBurney immediately gives a sense of mistrust of him as we see his lies unfold and read his subtle looks as he exploits each of them.  He is a con artist of the most ultimate sort, taking advantage of the goodness of others to his advantage.  And his use of sexual attraction, tampering with young women’s mental well-being, is truly unforgivable.  Kidman’s Martha is a nuanced portrayal of an inflexible yet lonely woman, but there is no indication of her past as is unveiled in the original.  The relationship between she and Edwina is also unclear, never truly seeing the pain they each experienced in the not so distant past.  Fanning finds a way to be rebellious and antisocial, looking more like a Goth-type character than the original role of a floozie.  Together, these woman seem to  float around one another, emotions ready to collide and explode, but always softly avoid detonation.  The original film allowed us to be privy to each of these women’s hopes and hurt, particularly as it related to their relationships with men, and then devilishly become beguiling themselves.

Coppola’s visual and stylistic story can’t carry the weight of the psychology of the story.  The anger and competition among women is never really fulfilled which left me baffled and unfulfilled.  And, ironically, no one was beguiled by anyone in the 2017 version.  Had the screenwriters stuck more closely to the original script, updating the musical score and cinematic capabilities, “The Beguiled” would have been well-worth remaking.

 

 

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