Sunday, August 31, 2014


    The new film from writer/director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) stars Brendan Gleeson in a magnificent performance as a village priest facing his own mortality and the increasing loss of faith in his community. 

     During confessional at the start of the film, Father James is threatened to be killed in one week's time, for the sins of another priest.  He spends his last days tending to the secular flock of townsfolk in his small Irish village. His resolve to the church never waivers even as the threat becomes more ominous.  As the week progresses, we are introduced to the various members of the village ( Chris O'Dowd, Adian Gillen, and M. Emmett Walsh, among others) , many of whom are suspects, as well as his daughter, Fiona, back home after a failed suicidal attempt.

     The film co-stars Kelly Reilly as Fiona and the relationship between Father James and his frail daughter is warm and tender. His relationship with the rest of the town is strained at best. While many people are friendly enough, Father James presence seems barely tolerated and his faith is constantly tested.

      Philosophical and spiritual questions are raised throughout and the film is a serious drama.  There is a prevailing dark humor that helps lighten the mood but the overall tone is foreboding and grim as the story moves towards its inevitable conclusion.

      The film is a microcosm of problems faced by the Catholic church in a world filled with an increasing loss of faith. Despite its dark and depressing tone, it's still a terrific film, both thoughtful and entertaining with beautiful scenes of the Irish coastline.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Love is Strange

 John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star in this new drama from writer/director Ira Sachs. Ben (Mr. Lithgow) and George (Mr. Molina) have been together nearly 40 years and after New York  passes the law allowing gay marriage, they decide to tie the knot. Things take a turn once they make it legal and the story grows from their new, unexpected situation.

    This is a compassionate, honest portrait of love that is tested between the two men and the friends and family that support them. Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Molina are wonderful together. They are so natural in their performance that you are fully engaged in their characters and and feel welcome in their world. 

     Co-starring are Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows as Ben's niece and nephew. Ms Tomei gives a subtle yet strong performance and it's wonderful to see Mr. Burrows acting again (He was so good many years ago on the TV show, Northern Exposure). The film also co-stars Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez and Charlie Tahan in a pivotal role of Joey, Ben's great nephew.

      Besides the great cast, the other major character is Manhattan itself. Much like Woody Allen, Mr. Sach loves the city and there are great shots where the camera lingers just long enough at the end of a scene to appreciate the background of the city. The soundtrack too plays an important role. It is mostly Chopin and works beautifully to enhance the story.

     There are many themes at work here and Mr. Sachs balances them all but it is the strength of Ben and George's love that binds everything together. The end is bittersweet but Mr. Sachs leaves us in good place as we leave the theater.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    Writer Frank Miller teams up once again with director Robert Rodriguez to bring us more tales of Sin City. If you enjoyed the original, you will be happy to return to this world of highly stylized art, violence and comic book film noir.

      Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis (a cameo since he died in the original), Powers Boothe and Rosario Dawson all return and this time out are joined by Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green in the major roles.  Mr. Rouke is a standout bringing a heartfelt performance under tons of makeup to the unique character, Marv. Ms. Green brings the sexiness as the "femme fatale" Eva. Co-stars in minor roles include Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert and Ray Liotta. There is also a quick cameo from Lady Gaga.

     Much like the first, this is a living breathing comic book that delivers what you would expect, bullets, bondage gear, blood, sex and mayhem. The film is all about the visual. With the exception of Mr. Rouke and Ms. Green, every other character is a comic book stereotype devoid of any real emotion or depth. The three interwoven stories don't carry any weight or importance. They are basic stories of greed, lust, and revenge that justify the sex and violence.

        The real star of the film is the artwork that melds with the cinematography. This unusual technique is even more striking than the original film and looks fantastic in 3D.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Get On Up

    Chadwick Boseman stars as the "Godfather of Soul", James Brown in this new drama. Mr. Boseman is creating quite the career for himself portraying iconic figures in history. He was terrific in "42" as Jackie Robinson and shines here as James Brown, which is clearly not an easy task. He has all the moves down perfectly and embodies the man as well as the legend.

     The film co- stars Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, his long time friend and band member, Dan Ackroyd as his manager, Viola Davis as his mother who abandons him early in his life, and Octavia Spencer, who raises him when his father joins the army. The cast is excellent and all the acting in the film never feels false. Jamarion Scott plays Mr. Brown as a boy and he is a natural.

     While the acting and all the music are first rate, I can't say the same for the screenplay. The story is disjointed and all over the place, jumping around in time.  The film is broken down into significant periods in Mr. Brown's life but never sticks to a particular time frame. Plot lines are introduced and then left dangling, unresolved. The story would have been better served with a linear plot and maybe an occasional flashback but here the technique is misused and doesn't add anything to the story exception confusion.

      We are treated to important moments in Mr. Brown's life as well as in our own history. It's an honest portrait as it also doesn't shy away from Mr. Brown's drug use and abusive nature. He was a genius and a musical icon but as he says in the film, " you pay the cost to be the boss".


      The new film from writer/director Luc Besson is his personal thesis on the potential of the human brain.   Mr. Besson is in the enviable position of having the clout to share his thoughts and ideas with the world through financing of this action drama. What happens when we unlock 100% of our brain's potential?

       Known for some pretty outrageous films (The Fifth Element), Mr. Besson also has a proven reputation of getting the most out of his female leads (Natalie Portman in "The Professional", Milla Jovovich in "The Fifth Element") and he proves it here again with the casting of Scarlett Johansson.
Ms. Johansson elevates what is a pretty far fetched "b-movie" into an action packed film with theories that you may actually start considering since she plays it so seriously. And of course, having Morgan Freeman co-star as a professor contemplating the same theories also adds a degree of "take this seriously" to the proceedings.

         The action sequences are a visual treat (I'd expect no less from Mr. Besson) and while the story tries hard to be convincing, it all becomes rather silly by the end. There are obvious illogical holes in the plot but Mr. Besson sacrifices logic to make his point. My own conspiracy theory or just a strange coincidence but this film may help to explain Ms. Johansson's character in the film "Her".

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

   The very definition of a summer popcorn movie, Marvel studios has another hit franchise in the making (the sequel has already been announced). If you like sci-fi adventure with tongue firmly in cheek, then"Guardians" is for you. It's the most fun you will have at the movies all summer.

       This is a space opera in the the truest sense. No hidden messages, no deep thinking, just good guys vs. bad guys hurling through space with the fate of the universe at stake. If you are a fan of the original comics, you will be happily satisfied, even with minor tweaks to the characters. If you know nothing of the comics, the story is still easy to follow (even if you don't know the difference between a Kree and a Badoon). Credit director James Gunn, who also wrote the screenplay (with Nicole Perlman) to keep things moving at a quick pace, oversee some of the best CGI ever created in the characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, and remain faithful to the source material even while injecting original ideas of their own.

       The cast is simply terrific. Peter Quill is a star making role for actor Chris Pratt. Zoe Saldana is perfect as the assassin, Gamora as is Wrestler David Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Breathing sarcastic, yet heartfelt life into CGI Rocket Raccoon is Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel does a lot with a little vocalizing Groot. While Mr. Pratt is clearly the lead, all the characters get equal screen time and play off each other beautifully. The film also features Lee Pace as the villain, Ronan the Accuser, Michael Rooker as Yondu, leader of the Ravagers, Djimon Hounsou as the villain, Korath, Benicio del Toro as The Collector, and John C. Reilly and Glenn Close as members of the Nova Force. 

         If you are a fan of '80's pop music, you will really love the soundtrack too. The music is integral to the story and contributes to the overall fun of the film. And, as with every Marvel film, stay through the credits for two extra scenes, one everyone will enjoy and one only real fans will appreciate.

Begin Again

    Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley star in this charming comedy/drama from the folks that brought us the film, "Once". An unconventional love story filled with terrific music, this is a film that goes down smooth on a summer night (which is what you can say about "Once" as well).

     The film co-stars Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, and Yaslin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). Ms. Keener is Mr. Ruffalo's ex-wife and Ms. Steinfeld plays their teenage daughter. Mr. Bey, together with Mr. Ruffalo own Distressed Records. 

      Distressed is appropriate for Mr. Ruffalo as when the film starts he is very much down on his luck until he meets Ms. Knightley singing in a bar. She is a struggling songwriter and Mr. Ruffalo becomes inspired by her and decides to produce her first album. I won't spoil Mr. Levine's role but suffice to say, he does get to sing quite a bit (as does Ms. Knightley) and the original songs for the film make an excellent soundtrack.

      The editing at the beginning uses flashbacks in a clever way to introduce the characters. Director John Carney (who also wrote the screenplay) then takes the film to the streets of New York in an unusual way and the city itself becomes a character. There are equal parts drama and comedy but everything stays lighthearted and enjoyable.