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The man behind the moniker Deep Throat
Peter Landesman wrote (with the book by Mark Felt) and directed this film that takes a solid look at the manner in which our government has been revealed as corrupt under certain (if not all) presidents. It is interesting that THE POST, covering the same bit of history, is released at present and that he story has been well told before (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN). But where MARK FELT gains credence is in the comparison to our present day governmental scourge from the President through Congress and through all the aspects of the derring-do of Twitter-controlled fake news politics that plays like an endless bad comedy television show daily
As has been outlined elsewhere, 'The Watergate scandal, which engulfed the entire American public at large, and the administration of president Richard Nixon, was the single greatest political scandal in U.S. history. But for a long time, one of the great mysteries of that scandal was that of the identity a mysterious informant who gave information about the scandal to writers Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, but was never identified by his real name, only by a code name called Deep Throat. This character was later revealed to be Mark Felt, a former top man inside the FBI dating back to the days when J. Edgar Hoover ruled the roost, and beyond Hoover's death in May 1972. The cast, led by an extraordinary performance by Liam Neeson, is pitch perfect - Diane Lane as Mark's wife, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Michael C. Hall, Tome Sizemore, Bruce Greenwood, Noah Wylie, Ike Barinholtz, Brian d'Arcy James, Julian Morris, Eddie Marsan, Wayne Pere - each actor captures the essence of the characters they portray and make the movie speed by with finesse.
Despite the ugly story of our history and the proximity to the present situation, this film is one that deserves a broad audience. History repeats itself.
Get Out (2017)
'All I know is sometimes, when there's too many white people, I get nervous, you know?'
Multi-talented Jordan Peele both write and directed this controversial thriller that is likely to win awards in many categories. Not only has he selected a superb cast, but he also is willing to take the racial conflict where few have dared go - a story where the concept of being Black in a white atmosphere changes from being an advantage, a showcase for Black culture, to a nightmare of racism carried to the extreme.
The film opens strangely with an incident on the street of an apparent kidnapping of a black young man (LaKeith Stanfield). Jump some time later when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black photographer, visits Rose (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend's family estate, he becomes ensnared in the more sinister, real reason for the invitation. The parents (psychiatrist Missy - Catherine Keener and neurosurgeon Dean - Bradley Whitford) are strange but apparently conspicuously non-racist. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. The manner in which the Black 'help' - Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) - interact with Chris is bizarre, as is the presence of some of the guests at a party held in the estate at night. Where it leads must be seen - otherwise the mood and story are spoiled.
Unique story, well written and directed and photographed and acted, this is a fine film that makes many necessary observations.
Alone in Berlin (2016)
'What more can a man donate than his child?'
What more can a man donate than his child?'
Hans Fallada's novel 'Every Man Dies Alone' has been adapted for the screen by Achim von Borries, Vincent Perez and Bettine von Borries: Perez also directs this mesmerizing film about resistance in Germany during Hitler's reign in World War II. Many films and books have been written about the holocaust, the obliteration of the Jews and the gays while Hitler's nightmare raged, but few have addressed the ordinary citizens of Germany - Berlin in particular - who did not align with the Nazi regime but instead quietly resisted in the only manner available: courage and secretive acts of rebellion.
In 1940, German soldier Hans Quangel (Louis Hofmann) is killed in action during the French campaign. His parents, coffin maker Otto and his wife Anna (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson), are devastated by the loss, unable at first to even communicate with each other, and their crushing grief is placed in strong contrast to the joyful hysteria at Germany's victory. Deciding that Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime are responsible for this tragedy and much more, Otto cannot stand by any longer. As such, Otto begins to create handwritten cards denouncing the regime's abuses and lies, which he secretly deposits throughout Berlin while a disillusioned Anna insists on helping him. As the subversive cards pile up over the years, police detective Escherich (Daniel Brühl) is tasked to track down the ones responsible for the anti-Nazi cards while being pressured by his increasingly impatient SS superior (Mikael Persbrandt) for an arrest for this "treason," regardless of actual guilt. As the stakes rise even as Nazi Germany's day of reckoning approaches, Otto and Anna, quietly protective of endangered Jews (Monique Chaumette) are determined to spread the truth regardless of the odds even as their opposition awaits the fatal mistake that could doom them.
The entire film is wondrously underplayed - cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne, musical score by Alexandre Desplat - by the gifted actors Gleeson, Thompson and Brühl and the result is a near overwhelming sense of sadness and honor for those souls who had the courage to resist Hitler's horror. It is a very fine film that deserves a wide audience - especially now.
American Made (2017)
'I'm the gringo who always delivers.'
'I'm the gringo who always delivers.'
Based on a true story as written by screenwriter Gary Spinelli and directed with skill by Doug Liman, the facts are fascinating (the back story of the Iran-Contra affair), the multileveled changes to the story line pointing out the corruption and misdirection of the US in Central American affairs - all is brought to credible levels by the superb performance of Tom Cruise.
The film is cleverly related in video flashback segments made by the lead character Barry Seal. Opening in the year 1978, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) works as a pilot for Trans World Airlines. He is married to Lucy (Sarah Wright) and has two children with her, with a third on the way. Barry was recruited by the CIA (via agent Monty Schaefer played well by Domhnall Gleeson) who offers Barry better money by taking on reconnaissance missions for the CIA in a smaller plane with cameras just south of the border. Schafer convinces Barry that he would be working for the good guys, but it would have to be kept completely secret, even from his own family. He then lets Barry take the plane out for a ride. Through a series of odd circumstances Barry becomes a drug-runner, catches the attention of the Medellín Cartel associated with Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) who needs a man with his skill set. Barry becomes a drug trafficker, gun smuggler and money launderer. Schafer asks Barry to carry weapons for the Contras in Nicaragua. Barry invites pilots that are his friends and plots routes to smuggle drugs for the cartel. The CIA closes eyes to the scheme and Barry becomes richer and richer. He uses the Arkansas town Mena to laundry his money. But the DEA and the FBI are tracking him down. When the CIA shuts down the scheme, Barry is left alone and arrested by the agencies. Barry's wife's brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones) is a freeloader who adds to the mounting problems and tragedies.
To add to the sense of reality the film includes snippets of President Reagan's speeches and brig sin Oliver North (Robert Farrior), offers extended shots of flying the planes of the mission, and keeps the dialog in Central America in Spanish. The cast is strong, but the film goes on too long - the saving grace is the performance of tom Cruise who is wholly convincing as the now infamous Barry Seal> A bit of history that now somehow seems more credible than when it was first reported!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
'He should have come out of that surgery alive, but he died.'
Writer (with Efthymis Filippou ) /director Yorgos Lanthimos (Kinetta, Dogtooth, The Lobster) has created another controversial film that is unsettling, slow, accompanied by an unlistenable musical score, disturbing, and over overwrought.
For those who can think along the same plains as Lanthimous the film may satisfy.
Summarizing the plot is a challenge - After the untimely death of 16-year-old Martin's (young Irish actor Barry Keoghan) father on the operating table, little by little, a deep and empathetic bond begins to form between him and the respected cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell). At first, expensive gifts and then an invitation for dinner will soon earn the orphaned teenager (Martin lives with his mother Alicia Silverstone) the approval of Dr Steven's perfect family (wife ophthalmologist Anna - Nicole Kidman, daughter Kim -Raffey Cassidy, and son Bob - Sunny Suljic), even though right from the start, a vague, yet unnerving feeling overshadows Martin's honest intent. Martin confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family's domestic bliss. And then, unexpectedly, the idyllic family is smitten by a fierce and pitiless punishment - lower limb paralysis, anorexia, bleeding eyes - while at the same time, everything will start falling apart as the innocents have to suffer. In the end, as the sins of one burden the entire family, only an unimaginable and unendurable decision that demands a pure sacrifice can purge the soul. But to find catharsis, one must first admit the sin.
The bizarre story teeters on magic and mysticism but fails to engage the audience's compassion. The dialogue - even by great actors like Farrell and Kidman - is delivered in a rushed monotone and the screeching background music buries the story. If you have a lot of patience and strong endurance you may make it through to the unsatisfactory end.
The Mountain Between Us (2017)
'The heart's nothing but a muscle.'
Charles Martin's novel has been adapted for the screen by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz and in the capable hands of director Hany Abu-Assad the result is a challenging love story with big messages.
Stranded after a tragic plane crash in a small plane piloted by the mentally impaired Walter (Beau Bridges), two strangers - Neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photographer reporter Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) - must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain. They slowly discover each other's pasts - Alex is devoted to her career and is on her way to be married to Mark (Dermot Mulroney) and Ben is alone after a tragic marriage and is late to perform a surgery on a 10-year-old boy. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible. Philosophical lessons learned, survival learned, and love emerges.
Gorgeous photography, fine acting, and the presence of an irresistibly lovable dog make this love story propel into significance. A very fine film!
Trying to succeed by doing good things - not always honest...
Writer director Joseph Cedar studied philosophy and history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is a graduate of New York University's film school. He is rather new to the film industry but his mark is clear - making films that explore human nature and the manner in which we interact as people and as countries (in this case the Us Israel relationship). He knows how to create solid characters and has the ability to attract quality actors to make his dreams visual.
Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is the President of New York based Oppenheimer Strategies, a one man business doing consulting work largely in American-Israeli business and politics, that focus due to being Jewish (Focus: Israeli minister Micha Eshel played with enormous sensitivity by Lior Ashkenazi). Most of his work is as a fixer: doing work that others don't want to do and with which they don't want to be officially associated. In reality, Norman is a shyster, and not a very good one at that. His office is comprised of his cell phone and whatever is stuffed in his satchel that is usually slung over his shoulder as he wanders the streets. What he promises is making connections, setting up a meeting between his guy and the other guy under the guise of connections with significant people. All he needs is for one of the people that he approaches to believe a story to build that network. Not so much a story, but an act of kindness with that ulterior motive does eventually pan out as the connection of which he could have only dreamed. He is able to build off that connection to become the toast of the town, a status upon which he tries to parlay into being an even bigger fish in the pond. But the greater his exposure, the greater the potential scrutiny about him as a person, which could bring his fragile network come crumbling down around him.
In addition to Richard Gere's finely tuned performance other members of this memorable cast include Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Josh Charles, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Tali Sharon among others. There is much more to absorb form this fine film than the rise and fall of the main character - just when we need to hear all aspects of the Israeli situation.
'I told him about four frightened boys who prayed to Father Bobby's God for help that never came.'
I told him about four frightened boys who prayed to Father Bobby's God for help that never came.
Barry Levinson successfully adapted Lorenzo Carcaterra's disturbing book about the progress of four boys becoming men under stressful circumstances. Barry Levinson also directed the film with great sensitivity. Though difficult to watch for some because of the subject matter, this is a fine movie that deserves repeat watchings for the lessons it carries.
As children, Lorenzo Carcaterra aka 'Shakes' (Jason Patrick), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), Tommy Marcano (Billy Crudup), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard) were inseparable. They grew up in Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood filled with scams and shakedowns, but one where the rules were known by its residents. The one adult who they admired was Father Bobby Carelli (Robert De Niro), who understood them as kids more than most adults. In 1967, their lives would change forever when a typical teenage prank went wrong which led to the four of them being sentenced to various terms at Wilkinson Home for Boys, a reformatory. There, they were physically, emotionally and sexually abused primarily by Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon), the head guard of their cellblock, and fellow guards Ralph Ferguson (Terry Kinney), Henry Addison (Jeffrey Donavan), and Adam Styler (Lenny Loftin). Their time at the home affected the four, not all who were able to emerge from the experience to regroup their lives. To attempt to forget about the experience, they made a vow not to talk about it. Fast forward thirteen years, with Tommy and Johnny being career criminals, Michael an assistant district attorney and Shakes a newspaper writer, their friendship on the surface more loose than it was when they were children. When Tommy and John spot Nokes, it leads to Shakes and Michael banding together to exact revenge not only on Nokes but all four of the guards who abused them. Michael had long mapped out a plan even before Tommy and John saw Nokes, but that sighting and its aftermath alters the plan. Michael has the most to lose even if the plan succeeds. Most of the plan implementation is left to Shakes who has to enlist the machine of Hell's Kitchen, including mob boss King Benny (Vittorio Gassman), and their childhood friend, social worker Carol Martinez (Minnie Driver), John's girlfriend. Beyond co-opting aging lawyer Danny Snyder Al Pacino), who admits he may not be the best choice as an alcoholic who is no longer near the top of his game, the plan is threatened by a key piece, the need for an irreproachable figure to perjure him or herself, that person who Michael and Shakes hopes will be Father Bobby. Father Bobby, even if he knew of the abuse, is challenged to do his friends this favor of an illegal nature because he has to balance the morality of the situation. The film closes with events of years later that are disturbing.
Excellent acting, finely paced direction and a taut story in three acts make this a film to remember. Highly recommended.
A Family Man (2016)
'All families got problems but you only got one.'
Writer Bill Dubuque and Director Mark Williams have created a tender, sensitive family story that is well developed and addresses many of the issues we all face. A brilliant cast delivers the goods with style and empathy - and Chicago has never been so beautifully captured photographically as cinematographer Shelly Johnson has accomplished. The musical score is by the always-reliable Mark Isham.
As the boss (Willem Dafoe) of a Chicago-based headhunter, Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler), who works at the Blackridge Recruiting agency arranging jobs for engineers, prepares to retire, Jensen vies to achieve his longtime goal of taking over the company going head-to-head with his ambitious rival, Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie). Factors intervene: Dane's close friend Lou (Alfred Molina) is unemployed and desperate for work, Dane's wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) is concerned Dane is not spending time with his family, and Dane's 10-year-old son, Ryan (Max Jenkins), is suddenly diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia by the doctor Singh (Anupam Kher) and his professional priorities at work and personal priorities at home begin to clash with one another. Dane spends quality time with Ryan by touring the beautiful architectural wonders of Chicago and Ryan's wise observations set Dane on a new path. Dane finds a job for Lou (at Dane's expense of giving up a headhunter's fee for a friend), and Dane and Elise grow closer. Dane is pulled between achieving his professional dream and supporting his wife and son, who need him now more than ever.
Much of the success of the film is attributable to the fine performance by Gerard Butler, but he is enhanced by the performances of the entire cast. A very 'feel good' movie, perfect to restore faith in humankind just when we need it the most.
Victoria & Abdul (2017)
'Life is like a carpet. We weave in and out to make a pattern.'
Thanks to the investigative mind and writing of Shraibani Basu the journals of Queen Victoria - letters between the Queen and her Indian Munshi, Abdul Karim - have become public and the result is this richly colorful and tender film adapted form Basu's book by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Frears. Graced by the magical presence of Judi Dench and a strong cast the film addresses the late 19th century British position in the global empire, the racism present, friendship, and a significant amount of education about the differences between Muslim and Hindi citizens in India.
Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) arrives from India to participate in Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. The young clerk is surprised to find favor with the queen herself. As Victoria (Judi Dench) questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance that her household and inner circle try to destroy. As their friendship deepens, Abdul teaches Victoria Urdu and Indian customs and philosophy and the queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes, joyfully reclaiming her humanity.
The supporting cast is strong (though none of the characters are likeable!) and includes Olivia Williams, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Paul Higgins, Simon Callow, Tim Pigott-Smith, Fenella Woolgar and others. The cinematography is by Danny Cohen and the musical score by Thomas Newman.
A very entertaining and in many ways enlightening film, so very well pulled together by the performances by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. A worth successor to MRS. BROWN.
Home Again (2017)
A RomCom that stays light and airy
Writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (What Women Want, The Parent Trap, It's Complicated) serves us a delectable light treat for the holiday season in this well written and well-acted little piece of pastiche. The reason the film works so well is in addition to a nice light touch in writing and directing it is delivered by a strong cast of both well-known actors and some very exciting newcomers.
Alice (Reese Witherspoon), a recently separated mother of two daughters (Lola Flanery, Eden Grace Redfield) has moved from New York to Los Angeles to find a vocation and an escape form a bumpy marriage. She finds her life upended when three young, charismatic filmmakers (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff) move into her guesthouse at the encouragement of her ex-actress mother (Candice Bergen). But her unlikely new family and a budding romance come to a crashing halt when her ex-husband (Michael Sheen) shows up, suitcase in hand. And as the synopsis states, ' A story of love, friendship, the families we create, Home Again is a modern romantic comedy with one very big life lesson: starting over is not for beginners!'
Reese Witherspoon is wholly convincing as the central figure undergoing transition from a discontent marriage to a life when she feels free. The three young men are very well cast and offer a sense of credibility to what could be a rather silly idea. In all, it works - and makes for a light evening's entertainment - with a heart.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
'He stepped on a landmine. Can we get somebody out there to clean that up? Hello?'
Some sequels work, some don't. KINGSMAN 2 is a very long, every active visually, CGI spectacle that simply forgot to add a reasonable storyline to the huge cat of excellent actors searching for characters to portray. True, KINGSMAN is based on a comic book (Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons) and the initial film worked fairly well. This second installment written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (who also directs) is slight on story, big on special effects, and seems to care more about explosions and robotic figures than a spy spoof.
The 'plot': A devastating attack leaves Kingsman with just two surviving agents, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). They must travel to the United States to find Statesman, a forgotten ally operating out of Kentucky with its own distinctly American way of doing things. New allies and old friends band together to face the global threat of Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) and the Golden Circle.
In the midst of all this stars that attempt to make a difference in the experience include Edward Holcroft, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Elton John (yes, really!), Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, Tom Benedict Knight - and more.
For those diehard comic book fans this is a long evening of entertainment. For those who liked the first Kingsman, this one is naptime
'Here's an idea, how about a good old-fashioned stoning? I'd kill to be stoned right now!'
The seemingly endless series of the Johnny Depp films PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN seems to be coming to an end with this 5th installment. For fourteen years this tale has been on screen, television, video games, Halloween costumes etc and this latest version DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES seems to have a prescient subtitle! The story is more reflective this time round (we see the initial seeds for the series as we face the past), most of the cast members remain (if only for a brief moment for some like Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom), some fresh actors enter (such as the very welcome Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario), the mainstay actors remain (Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush et al), and the newest aspect is the increasing imposing use of CGI graphics.
But on to the story as written by Jeff Nathanson based on characters created by Terry Rossio, Ted Elliot, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert and directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) searches for the trident of Poseidon while being pursued by an undead sea captain Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew and finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis (Captain Salazar) escape from the Devil's Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea...including him. Captain Jack's only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that bestows upon its possessor total control over the seas.
Oh, there is more detail to the tale and the actors employed are excellent. Nigel Phelps designed the production, Paul Cameron is in charge of cinematography and the musical score is by Geoff Zanelli. The movie is a bit long in tooth (a slow excess of two hour) and for the most part the CGI effects are the stars, but for those addicted to the Pirates series this final (hopefully) version will satisfy. For others it is a visual hallucinatory delight.
Tulip Fever (2017)
'Before you were born, Amsterdam was captivated by a flower: the tulip'
TULIP FEVER has the promise of being a fine historical romance it is based on the 1999 novel by Deborah Moggach who also wrote the screenplay with Tom Stoppard. But as directed by Justin Chadwick the story slips and slides among far too many subplots and can't seem to decide which is more important romance or the tulip bulb madness that struck the Netherlands.
In 17th-century Amsterdam, an orphaned girl Sophia (Alicia Vikander) from the Catholic home for orphans run by the Abbess (Judi Dench) (is forcibly married to a rich and powerful merchant Cornelis Sandwoort (Christoph Waltz) an unhappy ''arrangement'' that saves her from poverty. After three years of attempting to produce a child as an heir Cornelis commissions a portrait, and Sophia begins a passionate affair with the painter Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan), a struggling young artist. Also in the household is the maid Maria (Holliday Grainger) who likewise has a lover a fishmonger Willem Brok (Jake O'Connell) who disappears to Africa. Sophia is unable to conceive even with her affair with Jan but Maria becomes pregnant from Willem. The two women strike a bargain regarding the expected child. Seeking to escape the merchant's ever-reaching grasp, the lovers risk everything and enter the frenzied tulip-bulb market, with the hope that the right bulb will make them a fortune and buy their freedom. Other significant actors in this hodgepodge tale include Tom Hollander as the strange Dr. Sorgh, Zach Galifianakis as the drunken Gerrit, Kevin McKidd and Matthew Morrison among others.
The setting and rich colors and cinematography by Eigil Bryld coupled with the fine musical score by Danny Elfman provide a terrific setting for the quality actors (Vikander, Waltz, Dench, Grainger) and all goes well until the second half of the film when confusion reigns on many levels and leaves the audience out of the story telling. While there are many fine features about this film, the viewer comes away feeling an editor needed more time to bring this film to success.
Crooked House (2017)
An Agatha Christie feast
It is difficult to satisfactorily transcribe Agatha Christie's ingenious mysteries to the screen and even Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, The Young Victoria, The Tourist) had difficulty finessing the complex characters in this murder mystery. As directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner the film feels choppy and disjointed and lacks the slow inexorable building to the climax in the way Christie's novels succeed.
Set in England with splendid photography by Sebastian Winterø (struggling with a rather dreadful musical score by Hugo de Claire) very briefly the story relates a spy-turned- private-detective is lured by his former lover to catch her grandfather's murderer before Scotland Yard exposes dark family secrets.
A more complete overview 'In Agatha Christie's most twisted tale, the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of a wealthy patriarch is investigated by spy- turned-private-detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons), who is lured by his former lover Sophia de Haviland (Stefani martini) to catch her grandfather's murderer before Scotland Yard exposes dark family secrets. On the sprawling estate, amidst a poisonous atmosphere of bitterness, resentment and jealousy in a truly crooked house, Hayward encounters three generations of the dynasty, including a theater actress (Gillian Anderson), the old man's widow 50 years his junior (Christina Hendricks), the family matriarch Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close), the inquisitive little Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), the nanny (Jenny Galloway) and the male contingency Julian Sands, Preston Nyman, John Heffernan, and a fine turn by Terence Stamp as Chief Inspector Taverner.
This is a true whodunit with a fine Christie flavor, but somehow the telling of it cinematically falls clunky.
The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)
'You're going to pardon an innocent woman? That's mighty white of you.'
Tom O'Connor wrote this rather silly spoof of action movies and the director is Patrick Hughes. The slight outline of the minimal plot 'The world's top bodyguard gets a new client, a hit man who must testify at the International Criminal Court. They must put their differences aside and work together to make it to the trial on time.' From there it is all car fires, explosions, innumerable killings and slaughters and noise, and the heart of the film that makes it tolerable is the always welcome presence of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.
To be more precise, 'The world's top protection agent (Ryan Reynolds) is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world's most notorious hit men (Samuel L. Jackson). The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years, and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their raucous and hilarious adventure from England to The Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades, and a merciless Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) who is out for blood. Salma Hayek joins the mayhem as Jackson's equally notorious wife. Other actors who are significant are Elodie Yung as Reynolds' love interest, Rod Hallett, Yuri Kolkolikov, Barry Atsma among others.
For two hours the noise level is at high pitch in the form of chaotic killing and explosions and car and boat chases. Though Reynolds and Jackson maintain their audience hold, the film itself is negligible in substance.
A United Kingdom (2016)
'No man is free who is not master of himself.'
A film that recalls the days of British colonization at its peak director Amma Asante brings a welcome light to the book by Susan Williams (Colour Bar) as adapted by Guy Hibbert. The cast is superb, the scenery and mood are well captured by cinematographer Sam McCurdy, and the musical score by Patrick Doyle takes us back to the 40s is a most appropriate and additive manner.
The year is 1947 and Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) of Bechuanaland (now known as Botswana), in England studying law preparing for his ascendency to the throne as king, meets Ruth Williams Rosamond Pike), a clerk and in a fine romance they fall in love and plan to marry. While they suspect that his uncle (Vusi Kunene), the Regent, would disapprove, nothing prepares them for the diplomatic firestorm and domestic political tumult their defiant love would spark. Now facing a citizenry leery of a white Briton as their Queen, the international opposition is even more unyielding from the British holding their land as a protectorate and fearful of South Africa's racist backlash to this affront to their apartheid domination. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds King Khama and Ruth must struggle to maintain their love and help their people in a land that would become the Republic of Botswana. Ruth's parents (Nicholas Lyndhurst and Anastasia Hille) swear to disown Ruth while her sister (Laura Carmichael) supports the their love and plans. The evil British government officials (Jack Davenport, Jack Lowden, Anton Lesser, et al) ultimately fail in their intent to control Seretse and Ruth in a manner that few of us realized was such a difficult struggle for independence.
This is a film that should be a 'must see' for all, especially now during the harsh racial struggles her and around the globe. Very highly recommended
George Michael: Freedom (2017)
'There is no such thing as a reluctant star.'
George Michael is honored in a fine documentary released in October 2017, a film he wrote and directed and supervised about his life in show business before his death on Christmas Day 2016. The film was completed under David Austin's direction. As he states in the film, 'Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I'm no exception to that.'
The movie is a frank and honest account of George Michael's professional life and career. Though the film was made by the man himself, various artists add to the narrative Tony Bennett, Mary J. Blige, Emmanuelle Alt, Naomi Campbell, Ricky Gervais, Elton John, Liam Gallagher, Cindy Crawford, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kate Moss Nile Rodgers, James Corden, Stevie Wonder, and many others.
The film highlights conversations with Michael, his crisis with Sony, his 'coming out' as a gay man and finding love with a Brazilian man who subsequently died of AIDS, his driving force to be the best performer and songwriter ever known, his many successful videos and clips from live performances and much, much more.
This is a very beautifully made film, steaming with love from Michael and from his many fans, and filled with information about the positive impact he made on the world. Completely entertaining and a fine tribute to an enormously gifted artist.
The Beguiled (2017)
'It's seems the enemy... it's not what we believe'
'It seems the enemy... it's not what we believe' Director Sofia Coppola continues to impress as she recreates a well-known novel by Thomas Cullinan as adapted for the screen by Albert Maltz, Irene Kamp (aka Grimes Grice) and Coppola herself. Yes, the film was also made in 1971 with Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, but this version is gentler and more subtle not only because of Coppola's vision but also because of the impeccable cast she has selected.
Very succinctly, the outline of the tale follows - While imprisoned in a Confederate girls' boarding school, an injured Union soldier cons his way into each of the lonely women's hearts, causing them to turn on each other, and eventually, on him.
But with more atmosphere included the story is an impressive historical setting as realized by designer Anne Ross and captured on atmospheric (if a bit too dark) cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd. And a more insightful synopsis describes this psychological drama about love and betrayal during the Civil War. As the costly American Civil War still rages on, Jane (Angourie Rice) a 12-year-old student of the forgotten Miss Martha Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies in warm and humid Louisiana stumbles upon a gravely wounded Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Taken in to recover from his injuries, the Corporal is imprisoned in a small room inside the mansion, however, before long, the seductive and unwanted guest will manage to take advantage of the female inhabitants' wartime-subdued desires. At first McBurney is met with careful and caring attention by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), Alicia (Elle Fanning), Amy (Oona Lawrence), Marie (Addison Riecke) and Emil (Emma Howard). But McBurney charms them as they nurse him back to health, and his lustful manipulations cause them to spiral into jealous and vengeful rages against him. Feeling trapped, John realizes that his benefactress cannot be trusted with his love or with his life!
The musical scoring by Laura Karpman and Phoenix (with nods to Monteverdi's 'Magnificat') greatly enhances the atmosphere. The story takes unexpected turns and ends rather surprisingly, but it all works well. Recommended
The Secret Scripture (2016)
'There's a sickness in people that stops them seeing the truth.'
Sebastian Barry's brilliant novel SECRET SCRIPTURE has been transformed into an eloquent touching film Johnny Ferguson and Director Jim Sheridan. With moody cinematography by Mikhail Krichman and a musical score by Brian Byrne (with a lot of help from Beethoven) and a perfect cast of actors, this radiantly beautiful film should satisfy a large audience those who love period pieces, Ireland, sweet romance, ad twists of plot.
Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave) must vacate the soon-to-be demolished mental institution in Roscommon, Ireland that she's called home for over 50 years. The hospital's psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana) is called in to assess her condition. He finds himself intrigued by Roseanne's seemingly inscrutable rituals and tics, and her fierce attachment to her Bible, which she has over the decades transformed into a palimpsest of scripture, drawings, and cryptic diary entries. As Grene delves deeper into Roseanne's past, we see her as the young woman Rose (Rooney Mara), whose charisma proves seductive. We learn that she moved to Sligo to work in her aunt's café, fell in love with a dashing fighter pilot Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor), and that a local priest Father Gaunt (Theo James) fell tragically in love with her. The elderly Lady Rose is institutionalized because it was rumored that she murdered her only child at childbirth. Dr Grene and a nurse (Susan Lynch) are supportive of Lady Rose as the story unfolds in the most sensitive manner.
There is much to be praised in this film the manner in which the conflict between the Irish and the British altered personal lives and relationships, the horrors of the early 20th century insane asylums, the struggle Catholics priests at times endure with their celibacy vows, and the beauty of Ireland but the cast is so fine that they shine with this material. This is a very fine film.
The Vietnam War (2017)
'We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint.' Scott
According to Ken Burns, 'shortsightedness is one of the major human themes. We live for the moment. No one's willing to do the necessary rolling up the sleeves until the catastrophe happens.' The massive made for television epic THE Vietnam WAR is the work of Ken Burns, the celebrated American documentarian who gradually amassed a considerable reputation and a devoted audience with a series of reassuringly traditional meditations on Americana. Burns' works are treasure troves of archival materials; he skillfully utilizes period music and footage, photographs, periodicals and ordinary people's correspondence, the latter often movingly read by seasoned professional actors in a deliberate attempt to get away from a "Great Man" approach to history. Like most non-fiction filmmakers, Burns wears many hats on his projects, often serving as writer, cinematographer, editor and music director in addition to producing and directing. His co-partner in this project is the equally impressive Lynn Novick.
The ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE Vietnam WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides-Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. THE Vietnam WAR features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.
Though especially difficult to watch as a veteran of that war, likely it is as difficult for those whose family members didn't return. The horrendous error made by America in attempting to impose democracy on a country that cared more about living than politics is outlined by both sides Vietnamese and American and to hear the tapes of the Presidents' foul language of hate and pompous superiority and ignorance, disregarding truth and reality for the sake of gaining re-election is devastating. But it should be seen, remembered, digested and become part of our mentality that war is wrong, especially as we continue that same Vietnam War mentality in the Middle East. This series is cathartic and hopefully healing and engaging in altered thinking about man's inhumanity to man.
Wonder Woman (2017)
'I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.'
Director Patty Jenkins knows how to make us appreciate that once tired cliché of Wonder Woman and in her new feminist viewpoint this Wonder Woman is indeed a wonder. The screenplay of the DC Comics perennial favorite comic book heroine was written sensitively by Allan Heinberg based on the story by Zach Snyder, Allen Heinberg and Jason Fuchs who remodeled Dr. William Moulton Marston's original creation from 1941!
One of the reasons this version works so well is sharing the origins of Wonder Woman so well: her beginnings as a child ('sculpted from clay by Zeus) being raised by Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Antiope (Robin Wright), and finally flying off to defeat the god of war Ares (whatever happened to Mars?). Gorgeous scenery and terrific special effects offer a springboard to the story that follows.
When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny. In the setting of WW I in Germany the bad guys are Ludendorff (Danny Huston), Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), and Diana's allies are Steve (Chris Pine), Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner). The supporting cast is excellent also.
For once the CGI effects enhance rather than distract (until the final confrontation between Diana and Ares), the musical score (Rupert Greson-Williams) fits the film, and the photography (Michael Jensen) is rather splendid. There is enough pungent anti-war philosophy to make the film sail. This is bound to be followed by a series of more adventures: the public loves DC Comics and in this case the praise is worthy.
The Mummy (2017)
'Whatever's in there has been safely hidden for two thousand years. This isn't a tomb, it's a prison.'
A line from this 'movie' sums it up quite well: 'We recognize, examine, contain, destroy.' Why director Alex Kurtzman agreed to take on this hodgepodge of a film stretches the imagination. Completely miscast (Tom Cruise plays Ryan Reynolds) and devoid of plot, this film is a CGI playtoy that just gets very boring very soon.
Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension. The funky crew that is out to uncover ancient Egyptian history includes Nick (Tom Cruise) and his silly partner Chris (Jake Johnson) along with the guidance of Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) and a late entrance Dr. Jekyll- no, not kidding - (Russell Crowe). What happens concerns explosions, fire, the undead, vultures, plane crashes, scorpions, bad bugs, and endless caves and water holes. Oh, and there is a dagger missing an important stone and many sidebars of death and eternal life, etc.
Sad to think this 'epic' wasted $125,000,000 and crashed at the box office the latter at least protects us from a possible endless franchise which seems to be the destiny of films that do well no matter the content and degree of sophistication. Pass.
La reina de España (2016)
The misadventures of a Spanish crew during the filming of an American movie in 1950's Spain.
Writer/Director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque, The Girl of Your Dreams, The Artist and the Model) revives the storyline and characters of The Girl of Your Dreams and places the tale (and stars from the original) in a slovenly montage of Span in the time of Franco. It desperately needs an editor.
Briefly the story relates Penélope Cruz, as the famous movie star Macarena Granada, who flees the glitz and glamour of 1950s Hollywood to return to her roots in Spain where she has signed on to star in an epic film as Queen Isabella of Spain. Some would say it is enough simply to see Penélope Cruz on screen (she remains extraordinarily beautiful), but the story is so overwritten with meaningless side plots that make the very very long film become quite boring.
There are some fine actors involved Mandy Patikin, Clive Revill, Antonio Resines, Ana Belén, Rosa Maria Sardà, Jorge Sanz, Javier Cámara, and an embarrassingly tedious role for Cary Elwes, but the bluster takes over and even the scenery takes second place to the paucity of significant story. Pass.
'Art is the only trace we leave behind.'
Marcos Carnevale both adapted the 2011 Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano French film The Intouchables and directed this Argentinian version. That is a daunting task for any one man to reset a French masterpiece on Argentine soil and make it work. But for the most part except for die-hard fans of the French original this is a film that is fresh if a bit over acted. But we must remember that the film is based on a true story whether told in French or Spanish.
Felipe (Oscar Martinez) a wealthy businessman who has been quadriplegic, due to an accident, is looking for a therapeutic assistant. There are several highly qualified, but he decides to take the assistant of his gardener, Tito (Rodrigo De La Serna), who has decided to resign. Tito needs the money and tolerates the less tasteful aspects of care- giving as the relationship for both men grows strong for quite different reasons. Tito is the only candidate who does not look at Felipe with pity. The supporting staff is excellent especially the secretary/head of household Ivonne (Alejandra Flechner), the beautiful but unavailable Verónica (Carla Peterson), Tito's family (Monica Railo Joaquín Flammini, Rita Pauls) and other potential problems (Franco Masini) who prove to support the change in Tito as he becomes not only an hilarious companion but also a loving support for Felipe.
No, the film does not rise to the heights of INTOUCHABLES, but it has other qualities that are endearing. The one flaw that disrupts the spirit of the film is the overacting of Rodrigo De La Serna: if his antics could be tamed a bit the film would have a more touching result. Beautiful music (classical) enhances the film and the scenery of Argentina is splendid. Light but well worthy of attention.