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Greetings again from the darkness. In a remarkable opening 6 to 8
minutes, we see John Lithgow and Alfred Molina prepare for, execute,
and celebrate their official marriage after almost 40 years together.
During this sequence, we quickly understand that Ben (Lithgow) is the
emotional one, and George (Molina) is the pragmatic, balanced one. The
brief ceremony is filled with love, admiration and happiness, and
leaves us with no doubt that these two are dedicated to each other.
Director Ira Sachs (Married Life, 2007) also co-wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias, and the film excels while Lithgow and Molina are on screen together. It comes across as a contemporary version of the 1937 Leo McCarey film Make Way For Tomorrow (with Beulah Bondi) and highlights the obstacles faced by an elderly couple who face financial hardships, New York real estate misery, and the not-so-welcome generosity of friends and family.
The gay component is not played up, rather the story is told in straight-forward manner as the couple is split up, and deals with loneliness and unease as they feel out of place living in a party house with friends (Molina) and sharing a bunk bed with a typically awkward teenage boy played by Charlie Tahan. The boy's parents are Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows, who face their own marriage and parental issues.
The happiness of the opening wedding ceremony quickly dissipates into misery for all characters. The only happy people are the grown men playing a Game of Thrones board game. Literally everyone else is unhappy, or at least disinterested.
Although conflict is ever-present, the Catholic Church is the closest to a real villain. John Curran plays a Priest in the terrific scene in which Molina is fired (because of his wedding) from his Catholic School teaching job. The poor town of Poughkeepsie takes a couple of shots as well, but mostly it's the pent-up frustrations of Tomei, the passive-aggressive approach of a few other characters, and the crazy teenage mood swings of Tahan's character that keep Ben, George, and we as viewers quite uncomfortable. See this one for the performances of Lithgow and Molina, and for the beautiful Chopin piano throughout.
Greetings again from the darkness. Much of what I write here
contradicts my long maintained stance that a strong story/script is the
basis for any movie worth it's proverbial weight. This neighborhood
crime drama does not spin a twisty plot. Nor does it flash fascinating
and colorful mobsters. Instead, it's the acting that elevates this to
the point of neo-noir must see.
This is James Gandolfini's final movie. He passed away while director Michael Roskam (Bullhead) was in editing mode. Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a would-be wise-guy who never-really-was and is now bitter and desperate, in a beaten down kind of way. As a farewell, Gandolfini leaves us a final reminder of what a powerful screen presence he was, and what a terrific feel for character and scene he possessed.
The real attraction and the main reason to see the film is the outstanding and mesmerizing performance of Tom Hardy. In many ways, his bartender Bob is the polar opposite of his infamous Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. Quasi-effeminate in his vocal deliverings, and moving with a slow, stilted shuffle, Bob is one of the least imposing guys you would likely look right through. At least that's the first impression. Hardy is so nuanced, we aren't even certain when his character evolves and exposes his true make-up. When he does, it's the highlight of the film.
Noomi Rapace, in yet another intriguing turn, plays local waitress Nadia, who befriends Bob after he rescues an abused puppy. Since the movie is based on Dennis Lehane's short story "Animal Rescue", it's no surprise that the main characters each share a need to be rescued. Nadia's ex-boyfriend is played to full creepy effect by Matthias Schoenaerts (so great in Rust and Bone, 2012). The scenes between Schoenaerts and Hardy show the movie at its tension-filled best.
As with most neighborhood crime dramas, there are many secrets, local legends, and allegiances in doubt. The players are weary and dream of either better times or ending the misery. Mr. Lehane wrote the novels that led to some other fine films: Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. He has a feel for realistic characters, and his material depends on extraordinary acting for fulfillment. This slow boil benefits from some of the best acting we could ask for.
Greetings again from the darkness. Somewhere there must exist a
checklist of the main plot lines for all the spy thrillers and action
films ever made. Should you wonder what's on the checklist, then this
is the movie for you. Ambition it does not lack. Striving to be an edgy
Bond flick, an action-packed Bourne thriller, and a complex Le Carre
mind-twister, the film, unfortunately, excels at none of these ...
though does manage to be entertaining enough for the pre-fall dead
Pierce Brosnan stars as a retired CIA operative called back into duty 5 years after a mission gone bad (seen courtesy of flashback). His boss is played by the always interesting character actor Bill Smitrovich, but we are supposed to buy in fully to the mentor vs protégé story line of Brosnan and Luke Bracey (the next in a long line of hunky Aussies).
Geopolitics, inner-office power plays, and mistaken identity all come into play, as do the innocent neighbor, an imperiled young daughter and backroom deals between the CIA and a Russian President-elect. All of this plus a quietly creepy assassin played by extremely limber gymnast Amila Terzimehic, a revenge-seeking (former Bond girl) Olga Kurylenko playing dress up, the rarely seen/scene-stealing Will Patton, car chases and crashes, gun fights, fist fights, knife fights, computer tracking and sneaky drones. Of course, all of these are on the aforementioned checklist.
Director Roger Donaldson has a varied career with such films as No Way Out, Cocktail, The World's Fastest Indian (highly recommended), and The Bank Job. This film is based on Bill Granger's Devereaux novel "There Are No Spies". Donaldson's eye for action sequences are a plus, but the key here is Mr. Brosnan. He brings an edge that his James Bond never could ... he even yells a few times! However, as with most movies, the script makes or breaks, and in this case the plausibility test is badly flunked.
Greetings again from the darkness. Most movies fit pretty easily into a
genre: drama, comedy, action, etc. This latest from film festival
favorite Lenny Abrahamson is tough to classify. It begins with silly
and funny inner-dialogue from an aspiring musician/songwriter (Domhnall
Gleeson), transitions into a dark dramady with complex characters and
dialogue, and finishes as a bleak statement on mental illness and the
That's more than I would typically disclose, but some have described the film as an outright comedy and I find that unconcsionable. If you are expecting a laugh riot, you will not only be disappointed, but are likely to miss the unique perspective provided.
The screenplay is written by "The Men Who Stare at Goats" collaborators Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan. Clearly inspired by the late British comedian and musician Chris Sievey (and his character Frank Sidebottom), Mr. Ronson's work with Mr. Sievey is the driving force. It's also the reason Gleeson's character is emphasized over Michael Fassbender's titular character who dons the paper mache head for the bulk of the movie. This script decision probably keeps the film from being truly great.
The exceptional and attention-grabbing first 15 minutes set up a movie that dissolves into an exploration of the creative process within mental illness ... Franks states numerous times that he has a certificate (certifiable). There is also an ongoing battle between art and commerce, as waged by Maggie Gyllenhaal's character and that of Gleeson. Social Media power is on full display as this avant-garde performance art band gathers a huge following prior to ever really producing any music.
Without seeing Frank's facial expressions, we witness his transformation from mystic/guru to an unstable and socially uncomfortable dude striving for likability, but unsure what the term really means. Must artists suffer for their art? Why does society latch onto the newest social media gimmick? What is creative success and why are so many afraid of it? The film begs these and other unanswerable questions. Certainly interesting, but definitely not 90 minutes of laughter.
Greetings again from the darkness. Starting out with a typical marriage
counseling session, director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader
lull us into a movie-going comfort zone based on our experience with
such Hollywood fluff as Hope Springs and Couples Retreat. All that
should be said at this point is ... not so fast!
A crumbling marriage and the subsequent lack of success with communication, leads therapist (Ted Danson) to recommend a weekend alone at a private country estate. The twists and turns that await Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), take marriage counseling to an entirely new spectrum. Sophie wants to reignite that early relationship spark and Ethan just wants things back to normal.
The setting does justice to the legend of beautiful California real estate, but things aren't all they seem as Ethan and Sophie bounce back and forth between the main house and guest house. It's in these moments where the big relationship questions are addressed ... and the script is smart, funny, creative and dark. It's not likely anyone can watch this without having some inner dialogue, and probably even some real discussion afterwards.
Mark Duplass ("The League", Safety Not Guaranteed) and Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") not only carry the film, but also take on significant responsibility with wide-ranging personality traits and subtle physical changes. Duplass is exceptional and easy for most guys to relate to in how he handles the challenges. While I've never been a big fan of Ms. Moss, her performance here is quite impressive. Whether "together" or "apart", they complement each other nicely.
The closest comparison I have for this one is Ruby Sparks (2012), but this one will have you questioning what makes a relationship work and what should we really expect in our partner. The idea of recapturing the initial spark is absurd, but that doesn't lessen the need for realistic expectations. For the first feature from director Charlie McDowell (son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen) and writer Justin Lader, the unique and creative approach to such a complex topic make these two people to keep an eye on.
Greetings again from the darkness. Whether you saw the first two in
this series will directly correlate to whether you head to the theatre
for this third entry. The filmmakers' attempt to attract a younger
audience by adding a "new" crew and dropping to a PG-13 rating
backfires, and will not provide the legs this franchise needed for more
The regular old geezers are back: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li (briefly), and Arnold Schwarzenneger. In addition, we get new "old" blood in the form of Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, and the dominating presence of Mel Gibson as the bad guy. The young blood comes in the form of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz, and MMA superstar Ronda Rousey. The blandness of the newbies simply steals valuable screen time for the old folks, and the movie suffers because of it.
The film's biggest flaw, however, comes with the biggest screen hog of all-time: Mr. Stallone. We understand that this is franchise is his baby, but why field an all-star team if you won't let them play? Snipes gets some time early in the film, replete with a reference to his real life prison sentence for tax evasion, and Ford and Arnold get in a few shots, but the only savior here is Mel Gibson. It's a reminder of just how good he can be on screen ... if we could just forget what a horrible person he can be off screen.
There is no need to go into detail on the plot or describe any of the characters. You know what you are getting if you buy a ticket. It's just a shame the film's direction and script aren't at the level deserving of a cast that includes: Rambo, Mad Max, Blade, Conan, Han Solo, Hercules, Zorro, The Transporter, He-Man, and even ... Sideshow Bob!
Greetings again from the darkness. Extra credit goes to the
writer/director team of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz for their indie
spirit and unique character-driven adventure - a rare Iceland based
comedy. The former Film School classmates bring color of personality
and color of terrain to the forefront.
Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) are former brothers-in-law, once married to sisters. The polar opposites are each battling loneliness and aging, and Mitch (the gregarious one) basically forces Colin (the reserved one) into a spontaneous vacation with him to Iceland. After this, we watch what amounts to a an AARP Road Trip Buddy film.
Mitch's bravura masks his loss of purpose and fear of mortality, while Colin mostly just shakes his head at each vulgar thought spoken without filter by Mitch. Despite the obvious differences in personality, the two come across as real guys soaking up the adventure. While Colin enjoys his solo hike that ends with a dip in the hot springs, Mitch sips his scotch while pestering a honeymooning couple (one of which is played by well known cinematographer Ben Kasulke) with questions about their private time in the room. He means no harm, he just thrives on fun ... whether it's his or someone else's.
Mitch and Colin have a definite on screen connection, and what makes this fascinating is that while Paul Eenhoorn is an established Australian actor, Earl Lynn Nelson is a real life retired surgeon who has only recently begun acting. Mr. Nelson's comfort in front of the camera is obvious whether he is telling his much younger cousin she has a "hot ass", or toking on weed at the hotel. Many long time actors would have struggled in this role, but Nelson ... while not always likable, leaves no doubt about his search for fun.
Other than the two lead actors, the landscape of Iceland is a key to the look and feel of the film. The panoramas are beautifully filmed, and if somehow a few people actually see the film, it would not be surprising is Iceland tourism spikes. Though the film offers no life lessons, and offers little in defense of "getting old sucks", this little senior citizen character study is a worthy entry into the "gray cinema" genre.
Greetings again from the darkness. Family dynamics often make for
entertaining movie fodder. The possibilities are endless and source
material is in full supply, given that most of us have enough stories
to write our own book! This latest from director Pieter Gaspersz drops
us right in the middle of the Valentino family, and all the bickering,
conflicts and secrets that any one family can generate.
The script is from Gaspersz' wife, Sabrina Gennarino, who also stars as daughter Maxine, one of the key characters in the film. You will probably recognize her along with many of the other actors who make up the family, though you may not recall all the names. Kathleen Quinlan plays the mother, and it doesn't take us long to realize everyone is tiptoeing around her - we just aren't sure why. Her husband is played by John Doman, and he is the most difficult character to connect with because he coddles his wife and basically ignores his (grown) kids ... even Christian (an underrated Pablo Schreiber), the son who has taken over the family stone business. Adam Scarimbolo plays Niky, the family screw-up (well, one of them anyway). Niky is lost in life, and it's obvious the conflict with his dad must be resolved before he can really grow up. Aunt Kat (the mom's sister played by Diane Neal) is apparently around to help out, but she spends most every day chugging booze.
While it may sound like an impossible family to understand, there are moments that strike an emotional chord and make the film quite watchable. There is some choppiness in the presentation, but it's beautifully filmed by Jonathan Hall, and pretty solidly acted by the entire cast. The themes of loss, grief, deception, and family (mis)communication are sometimes far-fetched, and other times spot on. The father's concern about "protection" for his daughter comes across as a bit awkward, until the big reveal towards the end. At that point, we all understand what he means by protection and why he had his doubts about her fiancé (played by Darrin Dewitt Henson). Until the reveal, there are times it plays like an extended episode of TV's "Parenthood", but in the end, the puzzle is mostly complete and the payoff is satisfactory.
Greetings again from the darkness. Comfort food gets its name from the
level of familiarity and satisfaction it brings us. It's the opposite
of "Innovation. Innovation. Innovation" that plays a role in this story
as we follow the culinary advancement of the young chef Hassan.
Director Lasse Hallstrom long ago mastered the art of tapping into the
emotional heart strings of viewers (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, An
Unfinished Life, Chocolat), so his films can easily be viewed as the
movie version of comfort food ... they deliver what's promised with no
From the novel by Richard C Morais, the screenplay by Steven Knight (Locke) serves up exactly what we expect and satisfies our taste for slick and sweet entertainment with characters who are both likable and learn their life lessons quickly. Even the backstory of tragedy that brings Kadan family from India is told in a near painless (and improbable) flashback manner as the family goes through customs.
While their travels and heartbreak could have been the story, we instead are front row for the cultural battlefield of snooty French restaurant vs friendly Indian family home-cooking ... 100 feet apart. A snooty French restaurant with a Michelin star requires the ever-present condescending high society Madame Mallory as the movie's "villain". Of course, when played by Helen Mirren, we know immediately that bad will turn to good. The driving force behind her transformation is Papa, played superbly by Om Puri. Stereotypes abound, but at least there is some humor blended so as not to be overcooked.
The real basis for the movie is the extraordinarily talented young chef Hassan (played by Manish Dayal). His skill in the kitchen folded in with his overall niceness make it impossible for Madame Mallory or her sous-chef Margueritte (Charlotte Le Bon) to avoid taking notice in their own ways.
The cultural differences certainly could have been played up and further examined, as could the backstory of all involved - the Indian family and Madame Mallory. An added level of depth and mystery could have been added if, say Catherine Deneuve had been cast in the Helen Mirren role (box office draw obviously played a role in her casting). More detail could have been provided for Hassan's time in Paris as well as what occurs with his Papa while he is away.
Instead, the movie and the story go exactly where we expect it to go, providing the level of enjoyment and satisfaction that we demand from our comfort food. And there's nothing wrong with a big serving of that from time to time.
Greetings again from the darkness. Nearly 50 years have passed since
director Luis Bunuel brought the 1928 novel of Joseph Kessel to the big
screen. It's a story of erotic fantasy told with Bunuel's unique
surrealistic style. The film also presents a young Catherine Deneuve at
her most striking.
Ms. Deneuve's Severine plays the bored housewife to her doctor husband (Jean Sorrel). He is extremely patient and understanding of her coldness in the bedroom, and it's clear that she loves him, despite the lack of physical attraction. Soon enough, we are provided a glimpse of Severine's masochistic fantasies. It's not until later that we begin to understand what drives her imagination.
Severine deflects the advances of an older family friend played by Michael Piccoli, who is so attracted by her purity, and unknowingly leads her into a world that might satisfy her in ways that her gentleman husband hasn't. When Severine meets Madam Anais (Genevieve Page), she begins playing out her fantasies through the afternoon shift at the brothel ... all while keeping up appearances for society.
Bunuel provides us teases of the source through flashbacks and sound effects - a carriage harness bell and the periodic meows of a cat. It's never Bunuel's intent to answer all questions, and he certainly makes no moral judgment towards Severine. Instead we get an exploration of the variances in love, sex and fantasy.
In the end, we aren't absolutely certain that we can distinguish between Severine's reality and her fantasy, but we do understand the importance of her fantasies within the structure of her day to day life. If watching Ms. Deneuve perform in this gem motivates you to see more, I would recommend Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Also, it should be noted that she still acts today.
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