Saturday, November 28, 2015


          Based on the true story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the new crime drama tries hard to reach the level of "Goodfellas" but ends up a British version of the recent Boston true crime film "Black Mass". Instead of Whitey Bolger, here we have the infamous Kray twins running crime in London and keeping Scotland Yard off their backs.

          Easily the best thing about the film and the reason to see it is the fantastic performance of Tom Hardy as both Kray twins. Sure, the digital magic of CGI plays a big part in the scenes where they share the screen (and even fight each other) but Mr. Hardy inhabits both roles so completely, it's a marvel to watch. The brothers couldn't be more different and yet Mr. Hardy brings them both to life equally with the help of precision direction by Brian Helgeland. With every film he does, Mr. Hardy's immersion into his diversity of roles continue to show the strength of his acting. Co-starring are Emily Browning as Francis, the love interest of Reggie Kray and Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the detective that doggedly pursues the brothers. 

           Mr. Helgeland, who also wrote the screenplay, does a nice job recreating '60's London but keeps the film relatively intimate, filming many scenes in the same locations. At two hours, the film wears out it's welcome and easily could have been a bit shorter. More than just a crime story, it's really a character study of two brothers locked in a love/hate relationship that ultimately brings them down.


       Let's call this film what it really is...."Rocky 7". Writer/director Ryan Coogler continues the saga the only way possible, he reboots it. And in doing so he turns it 180 degrees with Rocky training the son of Apollo Creed and bringing everything back full circle.

         The film is heavy on dialog and could have easily used one more fight sequence but as with the original, it's all about the emotional road leading up to the big fight. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Creed) who, with his father's DNA coursing through his veins, wants to create his own fight destiny out from the shadow of his father. Mr. Jordan trained very well for the film. He's in great shape and the fight sequences are very realistic and exciting. Of course he can't deny who he is and eventually takes his father's name.

           Sylvester Stallone (how could it be anyone else) returns as Rocky Balboa and reluctantly agrees to train "Donnie".  The film moves quickly from Los Angeles to the streets of Philadelphia where every Rocky cliche fills the screen.  Mr. Stallone casts his own giant shadow over the film, given six previous incarnations. Here, however, he is the most honest and realistic in his portrayal of Rocky since the very first film. He is a man who has made peace with his past, accepts his present and isn't scared of his future.

            Tessa Thompson co-stars as Donnie's love interest and Phylicia Rashad has a small role as his step-mother.  It's the performances however, of Mr. Jordan and Mr. Stallone that carry the film and keep it interesting since the plot itself is a predictable, cliche filled retread. It ultimately ends evoking the original with a perfect set up for a new franchise.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


       Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, "Brooklyn" is a  exquisite and moving new drama. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby make magic together telling the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant who comes to New York in the early 1950's.

        Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis and it is the performance of a lifetime for this fine young actress. She is literally luminescent in every scene. Expressing a full range of emotions as she arrives in Brooklyn, Eilis is, at first shy and homesick but eventually finds her way. Her life takes a turn for the better when she meets Tony but it is not long after that, a tragedy forces her to return to Ireland. Returning home, her two worlds collide and difficult choices have to be made.

        Emory Cohen plays Tony and his courtship of Eilis is so natural and sweet, it's a joy to watch. We find ourselves embracing these characters and become completely invested in their lives. All the supporting actors, including Julie Waters, Jim Broadbent, Jessica Pare, Domhnall Gleeson, and Brid Brennan are also terrific. 

        The cinematography, lighting and costumes envelop the audience in a simpler time.  It is rare to find this kind of old fashioned drama in today's movie climate. Go for the fine storytelling and the appreciation of Ms. Ronan's wonderful performance. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


     Based on the best selling novel by Emma Donoghue, "Room" is an intense drama of fierce maternal love as well as sexual and psychological abuse.

      Kidnapped at 17 and locked away in a shed where she is repeatedly raped for seven years, "Ma" gives birth to Jack, who's entire world exists inside "Room". When the film opens, we observe Ma and Jack's daily existence locked inside "Room". Jack is five years old and the inside of the shed is the only world he knows except for what he sees on a small TV set, that he believes is all made up.

       The bond between mother and son is unbreakable and even "Old Nick" as Ma has decided to call her tormentor can't come between them. This is a remarkable drama with a screenplay by the author that mirrors her novel almost scene for scene. The camera work and set design of "Room" gives the viewer a 360 degree angle of the claustrophobic world they inhabit.

       The story is narrated by Jack so most of what happens is from his point of view. When"Old Nick" pays his "visits" to Ma, she puts Jack inside a cabinet to shield him from what is about to happen. The camera stays on Jack as he tries to make sense of what might be happening on the other side of the cabinet door. The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a very delicate touch.

        This is an emotional powerhouse of a story. Brie Larson as "Ma" and Jacob Tremblay as "Jack" are both incredible. The chemistry between them is undeniable and young Master Tremblay is nothing short of astonishing. Joan Allen co-stars along with a brief cameo by William H. Macy as Jack's grandparents. 

          While the subject matter and plot sound horrific, the focus is really on the relationship between mother and son and there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


            Co-writer and director Tom McCarthy's riveting new film is based on the true story of how a group of Boston Globe reporters exposed a massive scandal and cover up of child molestation by priests in the local archdiocese. It is the best investigative thriller since "All The President's Men".

        The film stars an ensemble of quality actors. Liev Schreiber is Marty Baron, the new editor in chief who strongly "suggests" opening an investigation into the church. The team of specialized reporters known as "Spotlight" are played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D'Arcy James. their boss is Walter "Robby " Robinson, played by Michael Keaton. While all are just terrific, it is Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Keaton who really stand out. They inhabit their roles so completely, you forget you are watching actors. The film also stars John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup and Jamey Sheridan as various real life characters important to the story. If there was an Oscar for best ensemble, this group would be a lock for the award.

This is storytelling at its dramatic best. Mr. McCarthy and his co-writer, Josh Singer get all the details right and the script isn't afraid to tackle this delicate subject matter head on. Mr. McCarthy directs his ensemble with an even hand, giving each actor a chance to shine in various scenes. Howard Shore's music drives the action and keeps the story moving at a brisk pace.

Thought provoking, revealing and extremely entertaining, "Spotlight" is easily one of the best films of the year.

Monday, November 09, 2015


      Director Sam Mendes returns with star Daniel Craig for the 24th  James Bond film. This is Mr. Craig's fourth turn as Bond and rumor has it, it will be his last. Mr. Mendes previous partnership with Mr. Craig resulted in the biggest grossing Bond film ever, the terrific "Skyfall".

        "Spectre" follows the Bond formula perfectly and the result is far from terrific.  Seeking to top their last effort, they instead cram in every element of what you have come to expect from James Bond and end up with an overstuffed turkey. Granted it's a tasty meal at times but the formula shows it's age and between the fine action sequences, boredom has set in.

      The plots reveals a thread running through all four of Mr. Craig's films that seeks to bring closure to his tenure as Bond. Christoph Waltz plays Oberhauser, chewing the scenery as the over the top villain. In typical Bond fashion, he explains everything to the trapped hero facing certain death. His great reveal should come as no surprise to Bond fans. The film also stars Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Wishaw as Q, Andrew Scott as C, and Lea Seydoux as Madeline Swann, the requisite Bond "girl", who holds her own for most of the story but in the end, still needs to be rescued by our hero.

          Of course there are some spectacular action sequences and beautiful scenery but something about it all seems too familiar. Maybe it's a comfort level we've come to expect from these films but you can telegraph every sequence before they happen. There really is no suspense anymore.

         Mr. Craig wears a stiff upper lip along with his finely tailored clothes whether he is seducing Monica Bellucci, an assassin's widow, for information or getting tossed about like a rag doll by wrestler, David Bautista in a train sequence that pays homage to both "Goldfinger" and "From Russia With Love" at the same time. In fact, there are many moments that honor Bond history and that is one of the most enjoyable things about the film.

         With or without Mr. Craig, James Bond will return and fans (including this one) will look forward to it with much anticipation. I can only hope the next one will be called "Phoenix" as it rises out of  Spectre's ashes.