Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York

   Written by Allan Loeb and directed by Marc Webb, this new film has a New York Indie vibe that we've seen many times.  It is a domestic drama about an upper West Side family that stars Cynthia  Nixon and Pierce Brosnan as the parents of Thomas, a twenty something navigating his way in the world. Thomas is played by new comer, Callum Turner, a very engaging young actor.

    Thomas lives on the lower east side of Manhattan and one day meets his new neighbor, W.F. played by Jeff Bridges. The always dependable Mr. Bridges is in fine form as the mysterious neighbor who integrates himself into Thomas's life. He learns about Mimi, played by Kiersey Clemons, a young woman that Thomas would like as more than just a friend as well as everything else about Thomas.

               The film starts to become interesting once Thomas learns of his father's affair with Johanna, played by Kate Beckinsale. Any interest soon wanes, however, as the stereotypical characters go about their lovelorn business. A twist towards the end is too little too late but does justify everything that's come before.

                  Mr. Loeb script is obviously inspired by the Simon and Garfunkel song as well as Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna", both of which are included on the soundtrack. This is typical summer counterprogramming. An adult film in a sea of summer blockbusters and kids films. However, it's pseudo Woody Allen and easily forgettable.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Wind River

From acclaimed writer (and now director) Taylor Sheridan comes this new character driven crime drama.
Jeremy Renner stars as a tracker/hunter working for the US Wildlife Department who discovers a dead body on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Elizabeth Olsen co-stars as the FBI agent called to the case who is unprepared for the brutal weather of Wyoming.

 It's an absorbing drama as the two with the help of the tribal police chief (played by the always dependable, Graham Greene) try to solve the death of a teenage girl that echos the death of Mr. Renner's daughter three years earlier.

The story plays out on the reservation, that even in warmer months is covered in snow with freezing temperatures. Mr. Renner does his finest work since "The Hurt Locker", especially in quieter moments. Ms. Olsen plays the fish out of water role well and eventually finds her footing among the rest of the mostly male cast. The film also co-stars Gil Birmingham and in a small but important cameo, Jon Bernthal. It's an old fashioned murder mystery that lacks much action until a violent confrontation at the end. 

The cinematography of the vistas and mountains is gorgeous. Sweeping cameras convey the icy wind and cold that chill the audience as well as the characters. Wind River reservation is a hard life for the Indians who live there. Living conditions are harsh and it's in a remote part of Wyoming. The story brings this grim reality to the audience. It is a film inspired by real events that drives home its point.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Detroit

       I have sat stunned through Holocaust and slavery films and documentaries that have been emotionally draining and hard to watch and now comes the film experience of "Detroit".  Based on the true story of the Algiers Motel murders during the 1967 riots, this film is packed with scenes that will set your emotions on fire. It is gut wrenching and terribly difficult to sit through (many people left before the end, including my wife) but it is an important piece of history and a story that needs to be told. There is no doubt that the injustice of this film can and does still happen today in America.

      Director Kathryn Bigelow using archival footage and reenactments, stages the centerpiece of the film around the Algiers Motel and the horrific murders that took place there during the days of rioting, set off by a raid at an illegal after hours club. Racial tension in Amercia was already at an all time high in the '60's with riots in many cities. It didn't take much for a simple prank to turn into a bloodbath that Ms. Bigelow's cameras take you front and center into the fear and tension of black and white, civilians and police, and men and women on that fateful night.

      The acting is outstanding. The ensemble includes John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and John Krasinski. The cast is so good, it feels like watching a documentary. Every moment feels real.  The violence and injustice is brutal. How Ms. Bigelow could keep her cast emotionally together during filming is a testament to her direction. 

      Writer Mark Boal did meticulous research to get the details right, as they were known. Obviously some liberties had to be taken to fill in gaps but this is as real as it gets and while a sucker punch to the gut, it's riveting and filmmaking at its finest.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Atomic Blonde

   Based on the graphic novel, "The Coldest City", this ultraviolent, action thriller stars Charlize Theron as MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton. Ms. Theron proves once and for all, she can hold her own very well as a action hero, right up there with Jason Bourne or James Bond. Her fight sequences are stunning as well as the car chases, seductions and everything in between.

       The film also features James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones. Mr. McAvoy plays a gonzo British agent that Ms. Theron must contact in Berlin to help her retrieve a list of agents stolen by the Soviets. Mr. Goodman and Mr. Jones are high level spies debriefing Ms. Theron after her mission, which takes place in flashbacks. Mr. Marsan plays a German agent that holds the key to the missing list. The film takes place on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and it's all cloak and dagger silliness with double and triple crosses everywhere. 

      With an '80 time frame, and taking place in Berlin, it's only natural that the film have a killer '80's Euro pop soundtrack. The songs provide a great backdrop to the action and even add a humorous touch to a film devoid of it. Living up to it's original name, it's a cold hard script filmed in icy blue hues, dark and bloody.

        Director David Leitch has a great eye for the action sequences but the pacing suffers during any kind of lull in the action. It's not a great film by any means but for fans of Ms. Theron and the genre, you won't be disappointed. Make no mistake, this is a star vehicle and Ms. Theron drives like a pro.

Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets

      Based on a French graphic novel, this is the latest film written and directed by Luc Besson, the visionary behind "The Fifth Element".  Continuing along the lines of that visual cult classic, Mr. Besson ups the ante with incredible CGI and visual effects.

      Unfortunately, the script and the acting don't hold up quite as well as the visuals. The plot is unoriginal and the dialog is horrendous. The only thing worse is the acting. I can't imagine why Mr. Besson would think that dark, brooding, actor Dane DeHaan would make a wisecracking, action hero or where he found his cardboard leading lady,  Cara Delevingne. Not only are both actors terribly miscast but they have no chemistry between them either. Further head scratching casting include Ethan Hawke as  some sort of Sci-fi pimp and musician Herbie Hancock as a Defense Minister. Clive Owen also co-stars, probably just for the paycheck and in a very unusual role, singer Rihanna also co-stars as a shape shifting alien named Bubble.

         The cast is all wrong, the story is ridiculous, but man, what great visuals. Unfortunately that's not enough to save this mess. Where's Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich when you need them?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

            This is strictly for fans of the new prequels to the original 1968 "Planet of the Apes". "War" follows the logical progression of "Rise" and "Dawn" as the apes continue to evolve and be a threat to the surviving humans, who are slowing falling victim to the Simian Flu (becoming mute and losing intelligence). Caesar, the ape leader, has become a tragic Shakespearean character trying to lead his tribe to a promised land of shelter and safety.

           Andy Serkis does the "motion capture" acting as Caesar and it's truly amazing work. The facial expressions and fluidity of motion are just fantastic. Woody Harrelson, is the "Colonel", a crazed military leader obsessed with wiping out the ape population.  Steve Zahn also co-stars as "Bad Ape" who serves as comic relief in an otherwise dour and depressing film. Amiah Miller is the mute human child, who comes to be known as Nova (a link to the original film).

        Aside from the few big action sequences, the film does little to entertain (if you call watching apes get slaughtered, entertainment) and just serves to set up a natural progression that explains how the world of the original film came to exist. Besides the wonderful work of Mr. Serkis, there is to appreciate here. Luckily, the ending doesn't necessarily mean another sequel. 

Dunkirk


   Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, this brilliant new war drama tells the story of Dunkirk from three interlocking perspectives. It's Mr. Nolan's unique vision and remarkable direction that depicts a fresh and original take on this true story of World War II.

     In 1940, British and other allied troops were driven back to the beaches of Dunkirk by German forces. 400,000 troops were stranded waiting for ships that couldn't reach the beach through the shallow water. Strafed and bombed by the German aircraft, the British were easy targets while waiting for help. Mr Nolan divides the picture into three sections, from the land, sea, and air.  The time frame of the film also shifts with the different views and eventually we are watching the same action from all three perspectives.  

     It's an original way to tell the story of the massive evacuation. Mr. Nolan also make a deliberate choice to have little dialog focusing instead on the intensity and immediacy of what is happening to these soldiers.  Each perspective is seen through the eyes of particular characters. Tom Hardy is a British pilot already in the air hunting the German planes. Mark Rylance is a civilian sailor enlisted by the Navy to use his boat and many like him to sail across the Channel to help rescue the stranded soldiers. and Fionn Whitehead is the British soldier (with the most screen time) on the beach doing his best to survive and get home. Another deliberate decision by Mr. Nolan to use an unknown actor to represent "everyman", that forces the audience to focus on the character and the action around him, rather than the actor himself.
There are other recognizable actors in the film, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh,and Harry Styles (in his acting debut) but the real star is the film itself.  

                 With the help of a fantastic score that piles on the intensity, the suspense never lets up from the opening moments throughout the entire film. The running time is efficiently just under two hours with no wasted moments. Shot in 70mm, the cinematography is brilliant and the film deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible as Nr. Nolan's camera takes in everything, from every angle. Authentic boats and ships (many original ones) help recreate the story. Hundreds of extras and stunt people keep the film grounded in reality. The film is a lock for a Best Picture and Best Director nominations  and probably many more.  It reinforces the brilliance of Christopher Nolan as one of our greatest contemporary filmmakers. Don't miss it.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Spiderman: Homecoming


     Yet another reboot that strives to return the iconic character  to his "friendly neighborhood" Spiderman years and make us forget everything that has come before it. Peter Parker, aka Spiderman is once again a teenager in Queens but attempting to mix him into the continuity of the current Marvel universe still plays fast and loose with his actual origins.  

      This is an attempt at a lighter, more fun Spiderman film and for the average fan, it's certainly enjoyable enough. However, a true Spiderman fan (like myself) will miss the gravitas and "dark cloud" that always seems to follow our hero. It's part of his makeup to be a loner and every victory comes with a price. Now, he has a comic "sidekick", more people than I could count know his secret identity, Aunt May is a hot younger woman (played by Marisa Tomei), he no longer lives in a house but rather an apartment, Mary Jane (MJ) is now a odd girl named Michelle and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, nearly steals the film every time he is on screen. 

                   Tom Holland stars as Spiderman and he is a very engaging young actor. He captures the goofiness and awkwardness of Peter Parker's teenage years beautifully. Michael Keaton is the major villain, The Vulture, with a major upgrade from the comics. He seems to be the only actor taking his role seriously (but still having fun). Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green both play versions of another iconic Spidey villain, "The Shocker" sans the costume. Jon Favreau is once again, Happy Hogan (from the Iron Man films) with an even bigger role here. Chris Evans, as Captain America has two quick cameos and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts has the quickest cameo in history. The film also goes to great lengths to cast multi-racial actors in supporting roles in an obvious effort to reach a wider audience. I applaud this effort and the actors that play the parts but again, it messes with the original characters.

                    I did enjoy the sly nods to original Spiderman moments (many "easter eggs" here) and the three central action sequences are all well done and exciting. Overall though, I felt like I was watching a PG version of an alternate universe where Spiderman meets "Archie". There are over 50 years of Spiderman stories to tell, yet screenwriters still can't get seem to get it right. I'm sure that today's target audience will still make millions for "Homecoming".  While we are promised that "Spiderman will return", the trailers for "The Inhumans" and "Black Panther" filled me with much more anticipation and excitement. And by the way, the famous "after credit" scenes Marvel always adds, this time out, insults the audience and is not worth waiting for.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Lost in Paris

              This new independent film is a charmer from the husband and wife team of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. Together they have written, directed and star in the film which is a quirky romantic comedy.  

               Fiona, a Canadian librarian, gets a letter from Paris, asking for help from her Aunt Martha. She arrives in Paris and immediately things go wrong.  She finds herself unexpectedly involved with a homeless man played by Mr. Abel. Together they set out to find Fiona's missing Aunt Martha. Both stars are adept at physical comedy and give you many reasons to laugh throughout the film. There are also tender moments that come when you least expect it.

               The great French comedic actor, Pierre Richard has a wonderful cameo with Aunt Martha, played by Emmanuelle Riva. The film also plays tribute to the film, "Amelie" as many singular events, eventually thread together to the overall story. The setting is one particular area of Paris but it still represents the beauty of the city.

                 The film is in English and French (with subtitles) and while I expected it to be funnier, it was still charming, humorous and enjoyable.