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Greetings again from the darkness. Definitely one of the best
documentaries at this year's Dallas International Film Festival, this
is one detailed and informative expose' that focuses not just on bad
guy Whitey Bulger, but a seemingly corrupt system that allowed him to
maintain his power.
Joe Berlinger is an award-winning and very prolific documentarian, and he certainly goes all in here with an overwhelming amount of information, detail and speculation. The film begins with the 2011 arrest of Whitey Bulger after 16 years on the lam. We then explore the trial, as well as the background of Bulger's 30 years of power in South Boston (after his release from Alcatraz).
The interviews are fascinating. We get first person responses from attorneys, thugs from the Bulger syndicate, as well as many of the victim's family members ... some still so desperate for justice after decades of pain.
The Bulger defense team claimed immunity due to his status as an FBI informant. Of course, this claim opens up the real intrigue here ... how deep did the corruption go with local law enforcement, the FBI and the judicial system? Was Bulger empowered by those who should have been protecting the citizens and pursuing him? Many questions are asked, and the likely answers do not quell conspiracy theorists.
While some documentaries seem a bit thin as they stretch material, Mr. Berlinger's approach is to supply much information, many details, and an endless stream of interviews ... all to force us to wonder if Whitey Bulger's reign of southie crime was permitted, even encouraged, by those we thought were the good guys.
Greetings again from the darkness. Most movies that take place in a
confined space are outright thrillers that usually take full advantage
of helpless feelings and desperate actions. Think back to Duel, Phone
Booth and Buried. A ticking clock and lack of a safe escape route had
us sweating bullets with Dennis Weaver, Colin Farrell and Ryan
Reynolds. This entry from the Dallas International Film Festival takes
a much different approach.
Noted British writer Steven Knight also directs this one, and rather than nail-biting tension, we get a pretty interesting character study. Mr. Knight has written some impressive screenplays: Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace, and Eastern Promises. Utilizing every ounce of his writing expertise, he keeps us connected to Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) as he drives on the freeway with intermittent rain being his biggest physical obstacle. There are no high speed chases. No stunts. No weapons. Ivan is not being followed by a spy or anyone else. He is merely driving and talking on the phone via Bluetooth.
In what could be considered the ultimate film gimmick, Tom Hardy is the only actor to appear on screen. His Ivan Locke is not just the only major character. He is the ONLY one. All supporting work and conflict is provided by a multitude of voices on the other end of a phone call. There is no need for me to delve into the story or the plot, but you should know that the situation Ivan finds himself in is not some creative web of criminal deceit ... instead it's his penance for one poor decision. That poor decision has him in a tough spot with very poor timing.
For those that wonder if Bane from The Dark Knight Rises has the acting chops to hold our attention, a reminder of Tom Hardy's fine work should alleviate concerns: Warrior, Inception, Lawless, Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He can act and he can make a character his own, just as he does with Ivan Locke.
Greetings again from the darkness. This is the perfect Film Festival
movie: low budget, recognizable star trying something new, up and
coming director, and potential star in the making newcomer. While it
has an air of familiarity, there was enough here to make it one of my
favorites from the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival.
Writer/director Kat Candler has real feel for creating real moments for characters, as she expands her 2012 short to feature length. She was also wise enough to nab cinematographer Brett Pawlak, who did such a great job with Short Term 12 (one of my top six films of 2013). The blue collar life gets a twist here as Aaron Paul (on top of the world after "Breaking Bad") plays an alcoholic, emotionally-distant, grieving widower having to deal with his two sons when he can barely make it through a day. This is certainly a different kind of role for Mr. Paul, and he shows real depth with minimal dialogue.
As impressive as Paul is, the real find here is young Josh Wiggins as Jacob. It's his first screen role and he absolutely owns the role of the big brother lashing out at his dad, corrupting his little brother (due to jealousy) and dealing with things that kids his age shouldn't have to. Not to give away much, but one too many incidents leads to a visit from Child Protective Services, and just like that ... the family is torn apart again.
The real guts of the story is the parallel paths of father and son as they react to the displacement of little Wes (Deke Garner). Neither seems to fully accept the role they played in this mess, but both carry sorrow and anger the way males often do. Both pursue their own idea of proving something to Wes and to themselves - in very different ways. Juliette Lewis seems a bit out of place as Paul's sister, and is the only minor misstep in the script. We needed either more on her, or less.
Rural Texas and the challenges of youth are captured through so many details, and the realistic feel of dialogue and setting certainly stands out here ... as does the spot on camera work. This is one of the little movies I am really rooting for, because if it gets a chance, many will share my appreciation.
Greetings again from the darkness. Boo, Hiss to Poverty. Nobody likes
poverty and it's one of the more popular topics for political lip
service. Poverty also happens to be a frequent topic of documentary
filmmakers. A prize winner at Sundance, co-directors (and cousins)
Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos brought their film to the
Dallas International Film Festival.
The film focuses on three adolescent boys living in poverty stricken Rich Hill, Missouri (population 1396). Andrew is a sweet, athletic likable kid living with a medicated mother and dreamer dad (who can't keep a job, and sees no real need to try). Appachey is a chain-smoking, anger-riddled boy living in an out of control house. He struggles with authority and structure and freedom, and well everything else too. Harley is the oldest of the three boys and lives with his grandmother, while his mom is in prison after a committing a very violent and personal crime ... one at the core of Harley's behavior disorders.
If that last paragraph sounds depressing, you are both right and wrong. Somehow, despite the situations that these boys are in, there is always a flicker of ... not really optimism, but at least hope. This is the way to learn about the effects of poverty. Governmental statistics mean little, but the smile of Andrew means everything ... even as his father moves the family once again. The interconnection of parenting, schooling and the judicial system is on full display here, as is the healthcare system and the importance of hope and attitude. You will feel for each of these boys, and be forced to wonder how to make things better.
Greetings again from the darkness. Here's what happens when you don't
read carefully. I picked this from the Dallas International Film
Festival schedule because I assumed it was a documentary. I was a bit
shocked to discover that it's a biopic from director Stephen Bradley,
starring his wife Deirdre O'Kane as Christina Noble. Fortunately, Ms.
O'Kane and Ms. Noble are friends and the passion and respect shown in
the performance allows the film to deliver the message and pay tribute
to such an amazing woman.
If you are unaware of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation, it's worth researching her inspirational story. The film picks up her childhood in Ireland (with fabulous Gloria Cramer Curtis as young Christina). We see the gradual destruction of her family due to her mother's death and her father's (Liam Cunningham) alcoholism. The six children are split up and Christina is raised by nuns in similar fashion to what you might have seen in Philomena or Magdalene Sisters.
This (and some visionary nightmares) turns out to be her motivation to head to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 as a middle-aged single woman to try and make a difference for the ignored and abused street kids. Her tenacity and bulldogedness not only help raise funds, but also turn the tide for the local police and citizenry.
Christina Noble's network of homes have helped thousands of children in Vietnam and Mongolia. She is still working tirelessly today and everyday to make a difference. If you are looking for inspiration or proof that one person can make a difference ... look to Christina Noble.
Greetings again from the darkness. As a fan of director Ari Folman's
Oscar nominated Waiting for Bashir (2008), I was excited to see this
one on the line-up at Dallas International Film Festival. While some
will find The Congress a bit messy and difficult to follow, it
certainly reinforces Folman's innovative and creative approach to story
telling and filmmaking.
The first half of the movie is live action and the second half is animated. The best description I can offer is as a social commentary, not just on Hollywood, but society. While "Her" makes the case for virtual relationships, this movie makes the case for virtual everything else! Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, an aging movie star who is offered a chance to stay young and be popular forever. Just sign this contract, and Miramount Studios owns your complete public image. No more acting, just kick back and enjoy your money ... and watch what we do with your image and career.
The cast is very strong, but the movie has a feeling of having been rushed through production ... at least from the live action side. In addition to Ms. Wright, Danny Huston chews some scenery as a cut throat studio head. His blunt description of Ms. Wright's "bad choices" since The Princess Bride speak to not only many actors, but for many in the audience as well. Harvey Keitel plays the agent, Jon Hamm appears through voice only in the animated sequence, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road) plays Wright's son and central plot figure, and Sami Gayle plays his sister.
Some will be reminded of A Scanner Darkly, and others of Cool World. The best this movie has to offer is not in its (creative) presentation, but rather in its ability to provoke thought about the look of future society and the impact of technology ... as well as the whole issue of identity and what makes us who we are. It's a brain-scrambler if you stick with it.
Greetings again from the darkness. Caught this one at the Dallas
International Film Festival, and the most impressive part of director
Jeff Radice's approach is just how much he attempts to tackle. Most
baseball fans immediately associate the name Dock Ellis with his much
publicized 1970 no-hitter thrown while under the influence of LSD.
Radice doesn't focus on the baseball side of this story, but rather
much more of the man and the times.
One must be of a certain age to have watched Dock Ellis pitch (he retired in 1979), and the era must be considered when understanding his often outspoken and arrogant behavior. Jackie Robinson had long ago broken the color barrier in baseball, but it wasn't until the early 1970's when things really started to change. 1971 saw the first all black and brown lineup from the Pirates (with Dock Ellis on the mound). The blacks and Latins interviewed here recall the moment they noticed.
In addition to his baseball and related antics, we get some history on his marriages, style, drug abuse and struggle to remain healthy near the end of his career. Radice scores with the numerous interviews of former teammates, as well as friends and family. Steve Blass and Bruce Kison provide a contrast to the words of Dave Cash, Mudcat Grant and Al Oliver, but the most insight comes from Ellis' friends and family. This is where we see the hope and disappointment that Dock produced.
We also see the later years as Dock became a drug counselor and educated many on the mistakes he had made. Radice uses a 1981 movie called "Dugout" features former major league pitcher Bo Belinsky talking to little-leaguers about the importance of staying on the right track ... the parallels to the career of Dock Ellis are obvious.
Some terrific game footage is used, but one of the most interesting moments occurs when Brad Corbet, Jr explains how his father (former owner of Texas Rangers) had interaction with Dock Ellis the player, and later with Dock Ellis the addiction counselor. There is also much made about "everyone" in baseball being on "greenies" (amphetemines) during the era ... an interesting contrast to the steroid era. The main thing we learn is that there was much more to Dock Ellis than LSD and curlers in his hair.
Greetings again from the darkness. Since I am no biblical scholar, my
comments are those of a movie lover. Tackling any part of a story from
the bible is a journey filled with land mines and aggressive criticism
- and that's before your movie is released! Surely director Darren
Aronofsky was prepared for backlash from those who forbid any
interpretation of the Good Book. The story of Noah lasts but a few
pages in the bible, meaning Aronofsky had to creatively fill some space
to produce a 2-plus hour film.
Russell Crowe makes a fine Noah. He is relentless in his quest to fulfill The Creator's request ... and he flashes his "Gladiator" glare on a few occasions. Rather than an uplifting childhood bedtime story, this Noah carries the burden of God, his own family and the survival of all beings ... his days are filled with moral dilemmas much larger than what you and I go through.
With all the miscommunication afforded by email and text these days, imagine if God conversed with you through images in your dreams. Maybe that process creates some areas of gray? Not if you are Noah. I guess he only dreams when God wants to show him something, so his decision making and mission is pretty focused. He is to build a giant floating warehouse to save two of every creature. Yes, that means a lot of death for those not invited. See, God is using Noah and his family to help cleanse the earth of mankind ... God is ready for a re-boot. He is really not happy with how mean and nasty man has become ever since that whole apple debacle and the murder of Abel by Cain.
Some of the visual effects are spectacular. I especially enjoyed the high-speed montage showing the creation of life ... you know that first week. Also, the beginning of the flood is quite a spectacle, but the ark itself is actually quite stunning ... constructed per the size noted in the Bible. The animals are all digitally created and we actually see little of them, though the on-boarding process goes remarkably smooth - considering this happens before the herbal sleep concoction is disbursed.
Most of the discussion will probably be on The Watchers ... the fallen angels who once tried to help mankind, and for their efforts, God turned them into giant stone creatures. I will add that The Watchers need a new nickname since they did the bulk of the manual labor in constructing the arc and then protecting it ... not much watching going on for these poor guys (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella, among others).
Noah's wife is played by Jennifer Connelly and their sons are played by Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll. They welcome Emma Watson into their family in what turns into a very odd plot twist, and the villain, Tubal-Cain is payed by Ray Winstone. Methuselah, Noah's grandfather, is played to the hilt by Anthony Hopkins. All of these characters are pretty one dimensional, but this is Noah's story. The burden he carries is quite heavy and his decisions aren't always popular.
If you are looking for the well documented story of Noah, it's no mystery what book you should be reading. If you are after a pretty impressive visual interpretation, you could certainly do worse than Aronofsky's take. And the best news ... no Morgan Freeman voice-over!
Greetings again from the darkness. Some of the finer things in life are
an acquired taste. The exception to that is writer/director Wes
Anderson's films. You either "get" it or you don't. Which side of the
line you fall is much more a matter of style and taste than intellect.
This latest from Anderson may be his most visually distinct and stylistic presentation yet. He even tosses in a bit of a plot so that we have reason to follow the outlandish antics of master concierge (and murder suspect) M Gustave - played with comic verve by Ralph Fiennes. Yes, the Ralph Fiennes known for such comedy classics as Schindler's List, The English Patient and The Hurt Locker. Admit it, when you need a laugh, you fire up the Ralph Fiennes stand-up routine. OK, so he did have a role in the terrific In Bruges, but nothing has prepared us for seeing him in this witty, fast-talking role at the center of Anderson's wildest ride yet.
As any follower of Anderson films will tell you, there is always fun to be had in picking out the members of his supporting cast. Assisting Mr. Fiennes with this one are Edward Norton, Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton (oddly cast after Angela Lansbury dropped out), Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. Of course, there is also Bill Murray, in his seventh collaboration with Anderson. The most impressive new face is that of Tony Revolori, who plays the teenage Lobby Boy in training ... a role that turns vital when he is befriended by Gustave.
None of that really matters though, as the best description I give this is spectacle. It's a whimsical romp with nostalgic tributes throughout. It's a movie for movie lovers from a true movie lover. You will notice the three distinct aspect ratios used to depict the different time periods, and the music is perfect ... from Vivaldi's Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings to Alexandre Desplat's fantastic composition over the closing credits. If you are up for some hyper-stylistic eye candy, this one is tough to beat (especially this time of year).
Greetings again from the darkness. Heist movies are a staple film genre
that we can depend on to deliver plot twists, back-stabbing and
misdirection. The best ones can make us chuckle along the way as we try
to keep up, knowing full well we are a step behind.
The movie begins with a bit too much voice over from Kurt Russell's character Crunch Calhoun. We learn that Crunch is a wheel man for a group of art thieves, and he has recently been double-crossed by his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon). After serving his sentence in a Polish prison, Crunch becomes a stunt performer on motorcycles who makes a few extra bucks creating spectacular crashes for the spectators.
As you would expect, Crunch is soon enough drawn back into the world of stealing art ... for the proverbial one last job. As the old gang assembles, it's clear Crunch still doesn't trust brother Nicky. But his need for money compels him to participate.
Writer/director Jonathan Sobol has solid instincts but would have definitely benefited from a script doctor, and more importantly, someone to stand up and rescue the mega-mismatch of Jason Jones and Terence Stamp. Stamp is sadly underutilized here, though the film's best scene has he and Russell facing off in an airport. Too bad the film couldn't find a way to match these two up a couple more times.
The stylish direction would have been more effective if the stabs at snappy dialogue had been just a tad bit funnier and crisper. Baruchel helps with this some, and Russell still knows how to deliver a line, but this is not in the same class as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or The Usual Suspects. Heck, it's not even Ocean's Eleven. Still, despite all the things it's not ... it does provide some decent entertainment during the winter doldrums of movie releases.
It also gets bonus points for a creative use of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams", and for having a Canadian filmmaker's use of the line "Canada is America-lite".
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