Monday, November 28, 2016


  Director Robert Zemeckis tones down the special effects he is known for to helm a wartime romance. He strives for an epic World War II romantic saga but overdoes the romance to the point it parodies itself.

      The film looks stunning from the set design to the impeccable clothes worn by it's leads, Brad Pitt (Max) and Marion Cotillard (Marianne). Movie stars in the old fashion sense, Mr. Pitt and Ms. Cotillard attempt to light up the screen like some modern day Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They work so hard to make you believe their love and attraction that it goes over the top to the point of laughable.

        Max and Marianne meet in Casablanca during World War II, spend days getting to know one another, carry out a successful mission and then it's off to London and suddenly a year later, Marianne is accused of being a German spy. Is she or isn't she? It's up to Max to find out the truth to protect the woman he loves and their daughter. It all sounds romantic and suspenseful but never really ups the ante and leaves plot points dangling and falling flat.

          Mr. Zemeckis has a scene in the desert where Max and Marianne make love in a car during a sandstorm. In the very next scene, they are back at home with not a speck of sand anywhere to be found on their car or themselves. A sandstorm like the one depicted would have buried their car and likely have smothered both of them but it looks great for the story. The screenplay by Steven Knight introduces Max's lesbian sister (played by a wasted Lizzie Caplan) in three short scenes. To what end? Her character is there for no other reason than to kiss her lover on a dare from some drunken soldiers. Really?

          Max is a captain in the Royal Canadian Air force but reports to a British officer played by Jared Harris. He spies for the Resistance in Casablanca  but is not really a spy. His role in the film is just one of many confusing and contradicting moments. The stars are beautiful, their clothes are beautiful but the story is a melodramatic bore. I did like the realistic resolution at the end though.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Handmaiden

The new film from acclaimed director, Park Chan-wook is an Asian adaptation of "Fingersmith, a novel by Sarah Waters originally set in a Victorian era. The setting is now Korea under a Japanese Colonial rule. The film is in both Japanese and Korean with subtitles.  Do not let the subtitles bother you, this film is not to be missed and best seen on a large screen.

This is an erotically charged psychological thriller played out in three chapters telling the same tale from different angles, each revealing twists and turns you never see coming.

It is stunningly beautiful in it's visuals, from the cinematography to the costume design, to the actors themselves. The plot, on the surface is a simple con game filled with humor, intrigue, sex, and a dash of perversity. With each subsequent chapter, layers are peeled back and the story becomes deeper and richer with explosive revelations.

This is a film that will reward the viewer in many ways, directed by a master filmmaker, who holds an audience in his grasp with every frame. Enraptured by it's intricacies,  I may have forgotten to breathe until it was over.

Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal excel in this new film by designer/filmmaker, Tom Ford. Only his second feature, Mr. Ford directs with confidence from his own original script.  The film is a very sophisticated thriller about relationships and the fragility of love and cruelty.

Ms. Adams plays Susan, an art curator in a troubled second marriage to Hutton, played by Armie Hammer. Her ex-husband Edward, Mr. Gyllenhaal's character, has just sent her a manuscript of his completed novel, entitled "Nocturnal Animals". Over a long weekend alone, Susan begins to read the novel which then comes to life on the screen.

In the film within a film, Mr. Gyllenhaal plays Tony, a loving husband who runs into trouble on a dark Texas highway late one night, while traveling with his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber). Also featured in this part of the story are Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (both excellent). The film cuts back and forth between Susan's world and Tony's story in the novel.

There are connections to be made and devastating revelations to be revealed between the two worlds and Mr. Ford frames every detail with exquisite production values and cinematography. The ending will surely garner discussion and images from the film may haunt you for some time.  

Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain is a force of nature in this outstanding original political drama. Playing Miss Sloane, a lobbyist in Washington who switches alliances on an upcoming gun control bill, Ms. Chastain commands the screen from the opening seconds until the very last shot. Easily one of the best roles of her career, she will be an automatic for a Best Actress nomination.

The film co-stars Sam Waterston, Mark Strong, John Lithgow, Allison Pill, Gugu mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jake Lacy as various allies and enemies. Even though the script is word heavy (it has a Aaron Sorkin feel to it), John Madden's direction and the entire cast work brilliantly to bring this terrific story to life. 

The less said about the twists and turns of this Washington potboiler, the better.  You can easily believe much of what you see on screen actually happens every day in D.C. and the film is so timely, it's issues will having you discussing it long after you leave the theater.

The last and biggest revelation hits like a ton of bricks but does strain credibility, however it makes for great storytelling and entertainment value so I forgive the plot machination from first time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera. This smart film grabs your attention from the start and is riveting until the very end.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bleed For This

           Miles Teller delivers another knockout performance as  real life boxer, Vinny Pazienza in this fact based boxing drama. Mr. Pazienza was on top of the boxing world when a car accident left him with a broken neck. This is the story of a miracle comeback.

            Mr. Teller is excellent in the role, handling himself well in the boxing sequences but really excelling during his rehabilitation period. You can feel the strength and determination in every grimace and bead of sweat as he fights not only to walk again but to eventually return to the ring. 

               The film co-stars Aaron Eckhart as real life trainer Kevin Mooney and it is a trans-formative performance playing against type. Also co-starring is Ted Levine as a fight promoter and as Vinny's parents, Katey Sagal and Ciaran Hinds. 

                The acting is first rate and it's an amazing comeback story but as boxing films go, it doesn't have the emotional heft of "Rocky" or the depth of "Raging Bull" to go the distance. It does however, land a solid one-two punch with Mr. Teller and Mr. Eckhart.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

                 An amazing true story of courage and faith under fire. This new war drama is the story of Desmond Doss, a man of conviction and strong religious belief who wanted to serve his county in World War II but refused to carry a weapon. Think what you will about Mel Gibson, the man, you have to appreciate him as a director and the entire cast and crew that bring this remarkable story to life.

                 Andrew Garfield stars as Doss and he is sensational. It is a very demanding role, especially in the second half of the film and he is truly inspiring. Co-starring are Rachel Griffiths and Hugo Weaving as his parents, Vince Vaughan as Sargent Howell, Sam Worthington as Captain Glover and Teresa Palmer as Dorothy, the love of Desmond's life.

                 The first half of the film is backstory explaining Doss's decision to be a pacifist, how he meets Dorothy, and his subsequent enlistment into the army. The second half of the film is all about the battle of Hacksaw Ridge and this is where Mr. Gibson and his team excel. They bring the viewer smack into the middle of war in all it's horror and gore. The battle scenes are incredibly realistic and you feel every bullet and explosion. It is a visceral experience beyond the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan". The violence and gore only serve to illustrate the miracle of Medic Doss and what he does during this battle, without a weapon, to save not only himself but seventy five wounded soldiers.

                   The film ends with a wonderful coda, a short interview with the real Desmond Doss, filmed shortly before his death at the age of 87.  "Hacksaw Ridge", while difficult to watch at times, is a wonderful testament to a true American hero.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


If cerebral science fiction films appeal to you, then add this new sci-fi drama to your "must see" list. Don't expect much to happen though as the action, such as it is, is minimal. It's never mentioned in the film but if you have any idea what the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" is all about, you will probably appreciate the story much more than the average viewer.

When twelve alien vessels appear in various locations on earth, Linguist Dr. Louise Banks and physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly are brought in by the U.S. military to try to communicate with the aliens hovering over Montana. Dr. Banks, the main protagonist, is played by Amy Adams. Jeremy Renner plays Dr. Donnelly and the two of them spend the entire film trying to communicate with the aliens. Deciphering their written language becomes the key and if you are still awake by the third act, there is a revelation that turns the film on it's head. It just takes a long time to get there.

 The film co-stars Forest Whitaker as Colonel Webber,  who is in charge of the investigation and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern, the CIA agent suspicious of the alien intent. The film, however, really belongs to Ms. Adams as she is the key character to the story, bringing an emotional element to what otherwise would be a dry scientific treatise on how to communicate with aliens. She also does a great job "selling" the whole concept.

 I can appreciate Director Denis Villeneuve wanting to tackle a new genre but a thoughtful, philosophical, and theoretical sci-fi film isn't what you might expect from the trailer. Having said that, you still may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Doctor Strange

        Marvel Studios gets it right with this big screen incarnation of Doctor Strange, one of it's oldest characters. Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect choice for the role, completely inhabiting the character. The film works because of him and the fantastic special effects (for the most part) that really pop in 3D.

        Much has been said about casting Tida Swinton as "The Ancient One" since that character is an Asian male in the comics. Don't hold it against Ms. Swinton as she does an admirable job in a key role. The rest of the cast includes Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, a love interest and "go to" surgeon when Dr. Strange needs medical help, as well as Mads Mikkelsen as the central villain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as disciples of The Ancient One.

         This is an origin film and as such, has its share of dull moments as Dr. Strange learns to harness his mystical powers. Most of the action kicks in later in the film but, throughout, Mr. Cumberbatch brings a self effacing humor that adds laughs and keeps things interesting.

        As special effects go, the film takes the effects of "Inception" to a new level and the astral ride that starts Dr. Strange on his journey rivals the trippyness of "2001: A Space Odyssey". The dark dimension is a bit disappointing but the time spell Dr. Strange uses to his advantage redeems the effects team. And this is a film that actually works best in 3D to really appreciate the visuals.

       You can argue logically about plot points but remembering this film is based on a comic book may help you overlook your issues. It's simply a fun ride.  Make sure you stay through the credits for two good (for a change) extra scenes.