Monday, October 31, 2016


  Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, this new drama is a very intimate story of identity and human connection. The film is divided into three chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man from a poor neighborhood in Miami,  first seen as a nine year old, then as a teenager and finally as an adult.

The character is played by three different actors,  Alex Hibbert as "Little", Chiron's nickname as a child, Ashton Sanders as the teenage Chiron, and Trevante Rhodes as the adult Chiron, now known as "Black". The film also features Mahershala Ali, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, and Naomi Harris. The acting is remarkable, especially considering the dialog is sparse throughout much of the film.

Mr. Jenkins direction is flawless, pulling depths of emotion from his characters, often without words. He relies heavily on Chiron and the world seen through his eyes as he struggles with his identity and sexuality. A world highlighted by the excellent cinematography of James Laxton. The story unfolds at a slow deliberate pace, drawing the audience deeper into Chiron's life to the point you don't want his story to end.

Dividing the film into three distinct periods in Chiron's life is a bold move. Much of the story remains untold between the chapters, where the audience must fill in the pieces. The transition from teenager to adult in particular is shocking at first, but you soon realize it was almost predestined. What never changes is Chiron's struggle with identity and his desire for a real emotional connection. There is poetry in this film.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Accountant

             Well here's a story that just doesn't add up. A highly functioning autistic boy is trained by his military father in martial arts and weaponry only to become an accountant for criminal organizations and kills people on the side. And furthermore, he covers his tracks by doing taxes for the locals in his small town.

               The story is fairly ridiculous with plot holes everywhere but the crazy thing is, Ben Affleck makes it work. Mr. Affleck's conviction in the title role makes the whole thing very watchable and even enjoyable though you don't buy any of it for a second. 

                Anna Kendrick co-stars as the damsel in distress along with J.K. Simmons as the Treasury Agent in charge hunting the "The Accountant". The film also features Jean Smart and John Lithgow as a corporate power brother and sister team who hire Mr. Affleck to check their books for a major discrepancy (ooh, the tension). Jeffrey Tambor, Jon Bernthal and Cynthia Addai-Robinson round out the cast.

                 While the film may be baffling in many ways, it  has it's moments of suspense and excitement until it falls completely flat at the end. Unfortunately, the door is left open for a sequel. I can see it now..."The Accountant 2: The Audit" coming soon to a ledger near you.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the 2010 oil rig disaster in the gulf of Mexico, this new drama recreates the event with amazing detail. Director Peter Berg realistically charts the events leading up to and during the explosion that destroys the Deepwater Horizon rig and tragically takes the life of eleven crew members. Watching the film, it's actually a miracle that more people weren't killed but for the survivors, it will still be a nightmare that will haunt their dreams for a lifetime.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams along side Kurt Russell as Jimmy "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell. Mr. Jimmy runs the rig and Mr. Williams is one of his engineers. They both frantically try to rescue their fellow crew members and control the damage until it becomes clear they must try to save themselves too. The film also co-stars Gina Rodriguez as Andrea Fleytas, another crew member as well as Kate Hudson as Mike's worried wife back home. John Malkovich also co-stars as Donald Vidrine, the BP executive who orders the drilling to continue after routine tests show an irregularity.

Credit Mr. Berg and his team for recreating the amazing action sequences including the multiple explosions and the fire that follows. He sets up an emotional connection to the characters and when things go wrong, the audience is pulled right into the nightmare and concerned for every life.

You can read about these disasters and watch them on the news but this film does an excellent job of putting you right in the middle of one. It is extremely exciting and tremendously sad at the same time, when you realize what you are watching actually happened. You owe it to these brave souls to stay through the credits for a tribute to the crew that lost their lives as well as acknowledging the work of the entire film crew that brings the story to life with incredible realism.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

American Pastoral

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Phillip Roth, this new drama fails to live up to the depth and impact of the book.

Directed by and starring Ewan McGregor, it is the story of a family torn apart during the turbulent '60's. Mr. McGregor plays Seymour "Swede" Lovov, a successful Jewish businessman living in the New Jersey Suburbs. His non-Jewish wife, Gwen, is played by Jennifer Connelly and their daughter, Merry (from 16 on) is played by Dakota Fanning. The film also co-stars Peter Riegert as Seymour's father, Molly Parker as a therapist and Uzo Aduba as Vicky, a senior employee at Seymour's Glove factory.

Mr. McGregor's direction is pretty straight forward with a literal eye for the screenplay. He and his team capture the look and feel of the '60's with an assist from archival footage. The acting is good but the real problem here lies in the screenplay. 

The script by John Romano edits out the depth and richness of the novel, breaking it down into key moments  that propel the film through it's heartbreaking story. This doesn't do any justice to the characters or their circumstances. Everything plays out rather superficially with an illusion of depth.  

The film is slow to start but after a life changing moment, the pace does pick up a bit. However, unless you are the father of a daughter (I totally understood Seymour's pain), you may find yourself losing interest in the story.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


     "Denial" is based on the true story of Deborah Lipstadt's legal battle for her historical interpretation against David Irving, who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the accused, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team, led by Anthony Julius and Richard Rampton, to prove that the Holocaust really happened.

        The film stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt, Timothy Spall As David Irving, Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius and Tom Wilkinson as Richard Rampton.  The cast is outstanding. Ms. Weisz is fiery and defiant in her pursuit of her defense as the accused. Mr. Wilkinson is just brilliant as Rampton and should be a best supporting actor consideration. Mr. Spall plays the heavy well with a purposeful scowl. And Mr. Scott is a revelation in one of his best roles to date.

       Director Mick Jackson keeps thing taut and to the point. The screenplay by David Hare is smart enough to leave just enough doubt as to the trial's outcome to keep the suspense high.

      Scenes filmed at Auschwitz are chilling and strengthen the audience resolve for justice. Besides the obviously strong subject matter, I also found the machinations of the British legal system fascinating. This is a powerful drama well worth your time.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Birth of a Nation

          Written and directed by as well as starring Nate Parker, this new drama may not be completely historically accurate but it is an emotional powerhouse and an important American film. It is the story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher who led a rebellion in 1831 that sparked the flames that eventually led to the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. 

           Mr. Parker has clearly put his heart and soul into this project but he may have been better served by a different director. His acting is excellent but starring in your own film is always tricky and in this case, Mr. Parker has a hard time turning the camera away from himself, as his subject matter. The film co-stars Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earl Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union. While Mr. Turner is of course, the focus of the film, other characters are sacrificed with little development or after thought. The film would have also benefited from additional editing and a variety of pace. It's a deliberately slow paced film which I interpret as a metaphor for the building anger and rage inside Mr. Turner. 

            The film positions Nat Turner as a hero and while his intentions to fight injustice (as well as a spiritual calling from God, if you believe Mr. Parker) are righteous, the result caused the deaths of not only the fifty seven or so slaves that joined him in rebellion but over 200 innocent black people killed by mobs and the militia during the rebellion. The violence in the film is horrific, brutal and I'm sure accurate in the way many slaves were treated. There has been controversy over certain scenes that may not have actually happened and others that definitely didn't happen, but Mr. Parker has "based" his film on history, never claiming to be making a historical documentary. His script canonizes Nat Turner and justifies violence against violence. 

              Taken as a whole, the film unflinchingly focuses on an important period in American history that deserves to be seen, discussed and certainly further researched.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Girl on The Train

      This train wreck of a movie is billed as a thriller but unintentionally comes across as a bad comedy. There was lots of unexpected laughing from the sold out show I attended.

       It is based on the best-selling novel which follows a "Gone Girl" formula but not quite as biting. Much like its central character, Rachel, the film is a mess. The story is silly and beyond belief, filled with amazing coincidences and contradictions. The dialogue is ridiculous and it's about as exciting and suspenseful as watching paint dry.

       Rachel is played by Emily Blunt and she is the best thing about the film. As the alcoholic ex-wife of Paul Watson, played by Justin Theroux, we watch most of the film through her blurry eyes. The film also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, and Edgar Ramirez. Laura Prepon also has a small part as Cathy, Rachel's roommate.

       This is a story that works much better on the page than the screen and if I were you, I would just skip this train and read the book.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

              More like the Magnificent bore, this unnecessary remake is two hours of setup for a 10 minute one sided shootout. It's an excuse for Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia Ruflo and Martin Semsmeier to play cowboy.

              Director Antoine Fuqua throws in almost every western cliche in the book in an attempt to recall the golden days of westerns and while the film looks great, the story lacks the gravitas of the original western (based itself, on the Japanese film, "The Seven Samurai") and any depth of character.  The seven heroes are stereotypes that give us no reason to cheer them on except for the pre-conceived notion that we should because they are, after all, the "Magnificent 7".

               Peter Sarsgaard chews the scenery as the villainous Bartholomew Bogue and Haley Bennet is Emma, the widow who hires Mr. Washington and crew to save her town. Ms. Bennet has the final word as the only fully realized character in the film. For two hours plus, our heroes, with almost no backstory, are introduced, give each other steely eyed stares, twirl their revolvers and set up the inevitable gun fight against overwhelming odds. Of course every bullet fired brings down a "bad guy" instantly so the odds are actually in our heroes favor.

             Anyone who has seen the original western will recognize one of the greatest movie themes in history (by the late Elmer Bernstein). I kept waiting for that theme to rouse me out of my stupor but Mr. Fuqua commissioned an original score to separate his vision, so even that was a letdown.  Thankfully, he does resurrect it for the closing credits, which only serves to remind you that the film has been done much better before. Twice, in fact so seek those versions out for true movie magic.