Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Good Neighbor (2016)
Clever Idea Not Quite Realized
In what is clearly a low-budget, direct to video film, "The Good Neighbor" includes a clever idea and good work by actor James Caan.
The premise of the film is that two teenage, under-age boys play a prank on a neighbor by breaking into his home, setting up a surveillance system, and attempting to convince the man of paranormal activity (changes of temperature, doors opening and closing, and triggering an alarm). While the old man may be of a nasty temperament, the pain inflicted on him was clearly extreme and against the law.
The film's ending raises ethical questions about the invasive uses of technology in our lives. There is also a good turn of events revealed about James Caan's character through flashbacks.
Unfortunately, many of the scenes were amateurish in their execution, especially the endless conversations in the bedroom while the two teenagers spying on the neighbor. The film really dragged in those places.
SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS: Short scenes in the courtroom where the boys are being tried are interspersed throughout the film. At the close, the reaction to the verdict by bystanders and the disgust felt by the girlfriends of the two boys reveal a flawed judicial system. The filmmakers' position about the conduct of the lads was crystal clear in the closing scene. It would be interesting to learn the reactions of other viewers about whether or not justice was served in the tragic case of the good neighbor.
A Story of Heroism and Tragedy
In 1975, the American film "Operation Daybreak" sought to recreate the heroic story of the parachutists, who undertook the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia in 1942. But the recent film "Anthropoid" has probed deeper into the historical subject and filmed much of the action on location in Prague. The result is an intense recreation of an essential moment in history.
The screenplay for "Anthropoid" divides the film in half with the opening section leading up to the assassination scene and the second part the harrowing story of the roundup of the conspirators and the merciless revenge taken on the people of Czechoslovakia. The film was especially successful in the simulating the open-air Mercedes vehicle in which Heydrich rode and foolishly stood up and fired his pistol during the attack. While the plot was amateurish and did not go according to plan, Heydrich contributed to his own demise with his arrogance.
As indicated in the bonus track to the DVD, the actors were assigned the reading of John Martin's book, "The Mirror Caught in the Sun: Operaiton Anthropoid 1942." The screenwriters also did their homework in identifying the JINDRA underground resistance movement in Czechoslovakia. They also included a witty reference to president in exile Edvard Bene, by assigning the name Bene to a dog appearing in the film.
The location filming in Prague included scenes from the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, the Gestapo headquarters in the Ministry of Trade and a set that sought to recreate the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, that was the scene of the death of the two heroes, Jan Kubi and Jozef Gabčík. The British actors Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy were both good in the respective roles, and the cast included a number of Czech performers.
The film leaves no doubt about the significance of this event in the history of Czechoslovakia. The film also challenges the viewer in determining whether the daring assassination plot produced any positive effects. The aftermath of the Lidice tragedy and a staggering 15,000 Czechs who lost their lives following the assassination is underscored in the film. The plotters were well aware of the risks, as apparent in one character who admonishes his co-conspirators that "I fear Czechoslovakia will be wiped from the map" after the assassination. While the film notes that following the assassination, Churchill voided the Munich Agreement and the death of Heydrich marked the only time a high-ranking Nazi official was assassinated during the war, the question that remains unanswered is "Was it worth it?"
The Meddler (2015)
Sarandan is Outstanding in Character Study
"The Meddler" includes some touching, heartfelt moments in the mother-daughter relationship of Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandan) and Lori Minervini (Rose Byrne). Their bonding unfolds as they are recovering from the death of the husband/father who meant so much to their lives.
As the film begins, there is no doubt that the "meddler" is Sarandon's character Marnie, who is interfering in her daughter's life. Both characters have relocated from New York to Los Angeles, and neither has truly grieved the loss of Joey. But the mother's oppressive behavior begins to drive a wedge between the characters.
While there are some clichés, such as a stereotypical film psychiatrist, and some scenes that stretch credibility, such as Marnie becoming a chauffeur to a young computer store employee, other moments are creatively developed. The film shifts gears as Marnie truly begins to affect the lives of a young lesbian couple and and elderly hospital patient. Those subplots are some of the most moving in the film.
J.K. Simmons turns in an excellent performance as the unfortunately named Randall Zipper becomes the unexpected love interest in Marnie's life. The relationship of the ex-cop Zipper and Marnie is thoughtfully developed.
While there were good lines dialogue, interesting characters, and imaginative situations (especially Zipper's chickens!), the strength of the film is Sarandan's standout performance. Her character's meddling turns into altruism and human sensitivity in an extremely well-developed character.
Maggie's Plan (2015)
Maggie's Plan is a Fizzle!
In this awful film, screenwriter-director Rebecca Miller aspires to a Woody Allen-style drama-comedy. The characters are pseudo sophisticated New Yorkers engaged in a game of musical love chairs. Like Allen's recent screenplays, "Maggie's Plan" even attempts to draw upon a classic work work of literature in Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Unfortunately, the film fails in all of these goals.
The main ingredient that is missing is Woody Allen's clever dialogue. His own films often feature well-known actors stretching into a flimsy roles. The sparkling dialogue can compensate for plot holes and far-fetched situations.
In "Maggie's Dream," the situations are entirely unbelievable, especially in the lead character of Maggie (Greta Gerwig). It was never apparent that she was in love with the writer-professor John Harding (Ethan Hawke). And it was never credible that she too was a faculty member, who never brought any worked home.
The third part of the love triangle was a star turn by Julianne Moore, affecting a strange Slavic accent as Georgette, another member of the New York intelligentsia. The serial adultery of the characters was not funny, and the family system was as disturbing as that of "August: Osage County." By the end of the film, the viewer recognizes that Maggie never really had a "plan," especially for her own life. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," it is possible to empathize with the young people, who are the victims of magic tricks played on them in the forest. In "Maggie's Plan," the tricks played by Maggie, John, and Georgette are neither amusing nor life-affirming. And the reason is that they are being played on themselves.
The Sea of Trees (2015)
A Watered Down Version of Dante
The bonus track from the DVD of "The Sea of Trees" is entitled "A Story of Beauty and Tragedy." That pair of opposites recalls another seemingly contradictory literary work: the long late medieval work of Dante known as "The Divine Comedy." The second part of Dante's poem is the poets journey up the mountain of purgatory, as he is accompanied by his guide, Virgil. So too, in "The Sea of Trees," the protagonist, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) has traveled to Japan in order to take his life in the forest of Aokigahara at the northwest base of Mount Fuji. It is there that he experiences his purgatory on earth.
Arthur discovers his tour guide through the forest in another lost soul,Takumi Nakamura, as played by Ken Watanabe. Takumi is successful in allowing Arthur to bare his soul in his troubled relationship with his wife Joan (Naomi Watts). A string of flashback scenes paints the complete picture of the flawed marriage and eventual death of Joan. The emotion of guilt has led Arthur to his attempt at suicide and eventual redemption, due to the guidance of his friend in the forest.
The film may have been successful in its goal of spinning a yarn of beauty and tragedy. The forest scenes are fascinating and well-photographed. The story is moving. And the actors are excellent. But, in the end, the film really is not profound.
Dante's journey through purgatory offers an enormous range of human emotions and experiences. But "The Sea of Trees" is self-indulgent and limited in its monochromatic depiction of human guilt.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Clever Screen writing & Outstanding Acting
"Hell or High Water" is a carefully crafted film with superb dialogue and a fine acting ensemble. The film blends wry humor with the serious backdrop of a hardscrabble life in the midlands of Texas.
The structure of the film is well-conceived with a pair of brothers who are robbing banks for relatively small stakes pursued by the two police officers who are on their trail.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster are entirely believable as the troubled brothers, both ironically seeking a kind of redemption through the robberies. Pine's character Toby is the deeper thinker, who has carefully planned the bank heists to pay off the mortgage on his family ranch by the deadline of its foreclosure. Toby is motivated to offer his son the chance to break free from the family curse. Foster's character Tanner is the brother who desperately wants the respect from Toby. It is surprising how sympathetic the two brothers become as the film progresses.
The two Texas Rangers are Jeff Bridges' character Marcus Hamilton and his sidekick is Alberto Parker, as played by Gil Birmingham. The two cops have their own special relationship that serves as a mirror image of the two lawbreaking brothers. It is inevitable that there will be a "showdown" between the two pairs of characters.
The only disappointment in the film was its ending. The ultimate lack of resolution is, unfortunately, a weakness rather than a strength of the film. The final "conversation" also stretched credibility in what had previously been extremely realistic depictions of the bank heists and the cinéma vérité conversation between the cops.
Still, this film is a cut above most of the mindless Hollywood film fare. The filmmakers were clearly attempting to weave a social commentary about the callous nature of home foreclosures and the same general mood of discontent that was apparent throughout the 2016 presidential election. In this regard, "Hell or High Water" serves as a time capsule for the decade of the teens in twenty-first-century America.
August: Osage County (2013)
A Family Train Wreck
"August: Osage County" may be the most brutally pessimistic play/film since Gorki's "The Lower Depths" in the nineteenth century. But in this case, the depressing experience is not focused on the fated action of the lower class in Russia, but rather the neurosis of the American family.
While Eugene O'Neill addressed the results of repression and family secrets in his masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night, playwright and screenwriter Tracy Letts appears to have an even bleaker vision of family dysfunction. While the film's focal point may be the mother-daughter relationship of Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) and her daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts), every character in the extended family is afflicted is enmeshed in the same destructive family system. The characters collide, bouncing off each other like billiard balls.
At times, the depth of cruelty stretches credibility. This is especially apparent in Streep's character Violet. Many of her thoughtless and biting attacks on her her daughters went beyond belief. Similarly, the cruelty of Violet sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) towards her son "Little Charles" (Benedict Cumberbatch) seemed to come out of nowhere when she confronted him at the piano.
The depiction of the family train wreck is nonetheless compelling and provides a lesson in sensitizing ourselves to each other. The characters in this film never seemed grateful to have a family. Perhaps viewers can walk away from the experience with a new outlook on loved ones. After all, it can't get much worse than the month of August in Osage County.
Papa Hemingway in Cuba (2015)
Based on a True Story
For those who admire the writing of Ernest Hemingway, this film offers a wonderful perspective into the time that he lived in Cuba late in his life. This period also coincides with the overthrow of Batista in Cuba by the rebel forces of Fidel Castro. The film is successful in blending biography and history in a well-photographed motion picture--the first American film since the height of Cold War with location filming in Cuba.
The film is based on the true life story of journalist Denne Petitclerc, a young journalist who formed a bond with his idol Hemingway while writing for the Miami Herald in the late 1950s. Peticlerc sent a letter to Hemingway, who responded warmly. A virtual father-son relationship ensued in their meetings in Cuba.
Some of the most interesting portions of the film are those that bring to the forefront such political developments as the Cuban revolution led by Castro and the troubling harassment of Hemingway by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. There is even a scene where the journalist meets with American mafia boss Santos Trafficante.
The personal side of the film comes across in a fine performance by Adrian Sparks as the aging Hemingway, losing his powers as a writer and fighting personal demons. Giovanni Ribisi is good as the journalist, who provides support to Hemingway during the crisis that eventually end in Idaho when Hemingway took his life. There are good supporting performances from Minka Kelly as Deb, the journalist's girlfriend, Joely Richardson as the feisty Mary Hemingway, and James Remar as Trafficante.
The film might have probed deeper into the artistry of Hemingway and how his life story figured so prominently in his works of fiction. Occasionally, the famous books, "A Farewell to Arms," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "The Old Man and the Sea" were referenced. But the backdrop of Hemingway's creative process in bringing those literary works to life could have been explored more completely. In that way, we would know why Hemingway was such a great inspiration to so many writers.
Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)
Plenty of Action! Good Photography!
Jason Statham's "mechanic" character named Bishop is called out of a peaceful retirement in Rio de Janeiro when an old adversary blackmails him into accepting three high-risk "assignments." The film is well-paced with well-choreographed action sequences. Jessica Alba is good as the romantic interest, a sensitive humanitarian who is being held hostage by the film's villain named Crain.
The narrative moves from Rio to Thailand to Australia, and finally to Bulgaria. There are also expansive shots taken at sea where Alba's character Gina is being held hostage.
The film is successful in its obvious goal of an action picture. Tommy Lee Jones provides a good dose of understated humor in his character as an arms merchant.
With Stratham's character, who is a one-man wrecking crew, the film is eminently watchable!
An Amazing Screenplay!
Adapted from Philip Roth's novel, "Indignation" is a period piece with multi-dimensional characters and crisp dialogue. There is a strong ensemble spirit to the cast and a careful recreation of the 1950s in America.
Far superior to Roth's "coming of age" novel/film "Portnoy's Complaint," "Indignation" is rich in details, especially in character relationships. While the cast is not filled with household names, the performances are exemplary with Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon as the young leads, Tracy Letts as the authoritarian dean of the college, and Linda Emond as the mother of young protagonist Marcus Messner. All of the characters share an angst and deeply troubled connection with their world.
The setting of the fictitious Winesburg College in Ohio is an homage to Sherwood Anderson's short stories of "Winesburg, Ohio." But Roth's version is much stronger in its satirical exposure of mid-century America. The depiction of the college and, especially, the dean is virtually Orwellian. Marcus Messner finds himself trapped in a world where his every act is known to the school authorities.
Some of the most memorable parts of the film are the leisurely paced (and long) scenes with dialogue extended well-beyond the conventions of the screen. The most stunning sequence is a lengthy interview with Marcus in the dean's office. As indicated in the bonus segment of the DVD, the filmmakers were aware they were pushing the limits of moviegoers' attention spans. But the results made the risk worthwhile in this unforgettable scene.
Without a doubt, the star of this show is writer-director-producer James Schamus, who felt a special connection with the protagonist, Marcus Messner. His instincts paid off in stellar screen-writing that was clearly some of the finest in the year 2016.