Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

“GREEN BOOK”  My rating: B 

130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Most of us will go into “Green Book” knowing — thanks to the ads — what the film is about. We can predict with some certainty what notes it’s going to hit, what emotional buttons it’ll be pushing.

None of this detracts from the movie’s immense pleasures.

The latest from director Peter Farrelly (yes, of the raunch-humor Farrelly Brothers) is a fact-based buddy film that dabbles in race and ethnicity, the universal appeal of music, and the glory of Detroit engineering at a time when bigger was definitely better.

It’s 1962 in NYC where Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is bouncing drunks at the Copacabana nightclub. He’s Brooklyn Italian down to his toenails…which he can barely see thanks to his pasta-packed middle-aged spread.

Looking for a temporary gig while the club is undergoing a facelift, Tony signs up for a job driving a musician on  a tour of the Deep South.  And not just any musician.

Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a Phd. pianist who studied music in the Soviet Union, writes and performs classical scores (although on this tour he’s offering a popular jazz sound) and also has doctorates in psychology and liturgical arts. (The real-life Shirley also was fluent in six languages.)

Oh, yeah. He’s black, too.

But the money is good and Tony swallows his ethnic prejudices. He kisses the Missus (Linda Cardelli) goodbye and gets behind the wheel of a big aquamarine land shark for an eight-week tour leading up to Christmas.  (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart

“THE FRONT RUNNER” My rating: B-

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It is easier to appreciate “The Front Runner” as a pivotal point in our political history than it is to warm up to it as a film.

The subject is Sen. Gary Hart’s 1988 run for the Democratic nomination for President,  the allegations of sexual impropriety that brought him down, and the media’s recognition (however reluctantly) that from here on out a candidate’s private life is fair game for coverage.

It’s been well acted and incisively directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “The Descendents”), yet even as it carefully lays out the parameters of the Hart affair “The Front Runner” seems remote and chilly. Perhaps there are no warm fuzzies in the film because there were no warm fuzzies in the true story.

Hart (Hugh Jackman) was a charismatic liberal with all the right responses. For those who swung left he hit the mark on race, economic disparity, the rapidly evaporating Cold War and other matters.  He might very well have made a great President, one who, according to an admirer, could “untangle the bullshit of politics so anyone can understand.”

Problem is, Hart was far easier to appreciate as a policy wonk than as an individual.  His marriage to Lee (Vera Farmiga) seemed solid — children, rustic home in the Colorado Rockies — but Hart bristled at any attempts to plum the depths of their relationship.  He insisted that the reporters covering him stick to the issues; his life behind the public image was off limits.

He wasn’t even on board with the usual photo ops, complaining that he was caught smiling “like some game show host.”

The screenplay by Reitman, Jay Carson and Matt Bai (on whose book it was based) runs on two parallel tracks.

There’s the insider workings of the Hart campaign, with an emphasis on tough-as-nails manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) and a host of young volunteers who see in Hart a politician who reflects their generational concerns.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

David Verdaguer, Natalia Tena, Oona Chaplin

“ANCHOR AND HOPE” My rating: B (Available Nov. 20 on Video on Demand)

113 minutes | No MPAA rating

Hovering delicately between knowing comedy and eventual heartbreak, “Anchor and Hope” sets itself up for romcom cliches and then cannily sidesteps all the traps it has laid.

Directed by Spaniard Carlos Marques-Marcet (who co-wrote the original screenplay with Jules Nurrish), this gay-themed yarn unfolds mostly on a residential boat floating on a London canal. (There also may be a reference here to “L’Atlante,” director Jean Vigo’s celebrated 1934 film about newlyweds living on a canal boat.)

The residents of this bohemian abode are Eva (Oona Chaplin…yes, Charlie’s granddaughter) and the tomboyish Kat (Natalia Tena), a lesbian couple in their mid-’30s.

As the film begins the two are burying their recently deceased cat in the back yard of Eva’s mom (Geraldine Chaplin, Oona’s Chaplin’s real-life mother), a latter-day hippie so insistently (insanely?) spiritual that even the agnostic Kat finds herself om-ing the dead feline into eternity.

“Anchor and Hope” (that’s the name of the pub where Kat works as a barmaid…though it may also have symbolic meaning) centers on two plot developments.

First there’s Eva’s growing certainty that she wants to be a mother. This is a discussion Kat would just as soon delay as long as possible, but now Eva senses her biological clock kicking into overdrive.

Secondly, there’s the arrival from Barcelona of Kat’s party-hearty buddy Roger (David Verdaguer).  He’s a raffish charmer of a Spaniard who sprouts muttonchops whiskers, a deliciously droll sense of humor and a shitload of testosterone.

Eva wants a baby. Roger is a nice guy with, presumably, healthy sperm. And after night of drunken carousing, Eva and Roger agree that he will donate the required spunk.  Kat, who apparently was spared the mothering gene, is appalled.

Nevertheless, soon their houseguest finds himself in the bathroom with a plastic vial and a cell phone tuned to pornography.  In a show of solidarity Kat wields the semen-filled syringe with which her partner will become preggers.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs

“THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS”  My rating: B (Now available on Netflix)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At one point In the Coen Brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” several condemned miscreants stand on the scaffold awaiting the long drop.  One man sobs inconsolably; the guy to  his right tries to be sympathetic: “Your first time?”

Now playing on Netflix, “Ballad…” might be considered a toss off…but it’s a hugely enjoyable toss off.

The brothers — Joel and Ethan — have given us six short films set in the Wild West.  They are filled with loquacious characters, memorable faces, off-the-charts beautiful scenery.

In tone they range from comedy (usually of a very dark variety) to O. Henry-ish irony. There are a few moments of sweetness…not that they last. And there are a couple of terrific action sequences.

Zoe Kazan

Of course, the Coens aren’t exactly new to the genre, having given us a brilliant version of “True Grit,” not to mention the sobering modern Western “No Country for Old Men.”  Here they seem to be reveling in the opportunity to pay  homage to traditional Western tropes while playfully thumbing their noses at same.

A broad comic tone is set with the opening segment, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which features Tim Blake Nelson as a geeky parody of singing movie cowboys.  Buster wears an all-white suit, strums his guitar while riding (“he was mean in days of yore/now they’re mopping up the floor”), and cheerfully blows away anyone who gets in his way, employing a variety of trick shots. Of course, there’s always someone faster on the draw.

“Near Algodones” finds James Franco playing an outlaw with the world’s worst luck. A banker (Stephen Root) doesn’t take kindly to being robbed and fights back wearing armor made of kitchen pots and pans. The outlaw survives one lynching (it’s interrupted by an Indian attack) but he can’t rely on that sort of happy coincidence the next time he’s got a rope around his neck. The whole thing looks as if it were lifted from a Sergio Leone film.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin

“A PRIVATE WAR” My rating: B+ 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There have been enough movies about war correspondents to make up a cinematic subgenre, yet I can recall none with the pure emotional power of “A Private War.”

No doubt much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a true story.  Marie Colvin was a native of Long Island who got into the journalism game and by middle age was one of the most renowned war correspondents on the planet. By the time she died in 2012 covering the civil war in Syria for Britain’s The Sunday Times, she had seen more war than most career soldiers.

No amount of hyperbole can quite express how good Brit actress Rosamund Pike is in the leading role. Her nuanced performance paints an indelible portrait of a woman who was simultaneously heroic and horrified, driven into the arms of danger by a fatal idealism most of us can understand but few of us could emulate.

Kudos to screenwriter Arash Amel, who in adapting Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair profile has found just the right balance of the intensely personal and sweepingly epic; and especially to first-time feature director Matthew Heinemann, whose background in documentaries (his “City of Ghosts,” about volunteer Syrian rescue crews who risk death by pulling  victims from the rubble of bombed-out cities) provided the perfect on-the-job training for this scarily realistic hand-held depiction of modern warfare.

Early in the film Colvin loses an eye covering a revolution in Sri Lanka.  For most of us that would be it…time for a nice cushy desk job.

Not this woman.  (“I’m not hanging up my flak jacket.”)

Driven by a near-pathological need to experience and report the hardships of citizens in war zones, she returns again and again to dangerous environs, focusing not on soldiers but on the suffering of the common man. Even while the bullets were still flying in the U.S. occupation of Iran, Colvin hired heavy equipment to unearth a mass grave where Saddam’s minions had secretly murdered and buried hundreds of villagers who had defied his reign.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Viola Davis

“WIDOWS” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Widows” is a sprawling crime drama that wants to be something more…and almost gets there.

The latest from Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”) is a heist film with a twist: The perps are all women forced to engage in a crime in order to survive.

In the opening moments we see a group of career criminals — their leader, Harry Rawlings, is portrayed by Liam Neeson — saying goodbye to their families and going off to “work.”  That night all of them die in a fiery crash after stealing millions from a local Chicago crime lord.

They leave behind grieving women who aren’t sure how to get on with their lives.  Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), still has the couple’s posh apartment and at least a small reservoir of cash. But her love for Harry was so intense and complete that she’s a mere shell of her former self.

Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has supported her two kids with a dress shop — though her no-good hubby was always dipping into the till and, in fact, hasn’t paid the rent for months. Trophy wife Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty much cast adrift; her often-violent spouse (Jon Bernthal) has left behind nothing but bruises.

Worse is still to come.  Veronica is paid a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) whose millions, stolen by Harry’s crew, went up in flames. He now informs Veronica that she must make good on that debt…or else.  She has no choice but to recruit the other widows whose lives are also in danger; using as their guide a notebook in which Harry meticulously planned future crimes, the three women prepare and execute another multi-million-dollar heist.

This would be enough plot for most films. But the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is only getting started. What they envision with “Widows” is a multi-character examination of modern American urban life…and it isn’t pretty.

This is a world in which everybody is a crook, including — no, especially — politicians.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Jamal Manning is running for city alderman (hey, it’s Chicago). His opponent is the Kennedy-esqe Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), whose closet-racist father (Robert Duvall) has up to now kept the seat in the family despite redistricting that has left the voter pool almost 100 percent black. No matter who wins, the residents are going to get screwed.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Lucas Hedges

“BOY ERASED”My rating: B 

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In real life, forgiveness is a virtue.

In cinema, it’s a handicap.

That may be why Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” based on Gerrard Conley’s memoir of undergoing gay conversion therapy as a teen, seems simultaneously important and a bit underwhelming.

The film (and, presumably, Conley’s book) doesn’t go looking for villainy in religious-backed efforts to pray the gay away. The movie is astonishingly open minded and open hearted.  The folk who operate conversion camps are given the benefit of the doubt; they appear sincere in their beliefs and seem to have the best interests of their young clients at heart.

They’re  misguided, sure. But not evil.

That sort of evenhandedness, while morally sound, is narratively problematic. Great drama needs great conflict, and “Boy Erased” soft-pedals issues of prejudice and persecution that might kick the film into dramatic high gear.

What we’re left with is a well-acted, insightful drama that is more mournful than pissed off.

Egerton’s picture (he wrote and directed) begins with college freshman Jared Eamons (a terrific Lucas Hedges) arriving at a big city conversion camp with his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, with the poofy blonde ‘do and vaguely out-there fashion sense of a tasteful Tammy Faye Bakker).

While his mom retreats to the hotel where the two will be sharing a suite for the next two weeks, Jared gets a walkthrough of the joint.  His wallet, cell phone and personal effects are placed in a box and locked away (it’s a bit like reporting to prison).  His journal, in which he scribbles notes for possible short stories, is confiscated (it will be returned to him with certain pages missing). He’s told that all outside reading materials, music, radio and TV are banned.

The man in charge, Victor (director Edgerton), approaches the young men and women in his custody with the sort of enthusiasm and concern exhibited by a good athletic coach. He’s totally upbeat about the possibility of these kids bringing themselves back to God.

Because it’s really not their fault, you see.  Not that they were born gay.  No, that’s a myth.  Rather, at some point in their developmental years these individuals had their psyches warped by someone — usually a family member —  who triggered their gayness.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »