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The Sense of an Ending (2017)
Life is what we choose to remember
This very quiet, sensitive and mesmerizing film adaptation of Julian Barnes' 2011 magnum opus THE SENSE OF AN ENDING has been adapted for the screen by Nick Payne and directed by Ritesh Batra. The magic of the novel remains intact despite the need to move form time period to time period (youth to old age) that often can disrupt the flow of a message. This is doubtless the combination of the director's sensibilities coupled with an extraordinary cast of some of England's finest actors.
This intense story follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought aboutuntil his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage (to Harriet Walker) and family (lesbian pregnant daughter Michelle Dockery) and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world. The interweaving of Tony's memories of his past (Billy Howle as the young Tony) as altered by the present struggle to attain a diary left to him by the mother (Emily Mortimer) of his old flame Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) that contained information of his 'affair' with the young Veronica (Freya Mavor) and her eventual husband Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn) who committed suicide apparently after receiving a letter of hurt from Tony make Tony as an older man reconsider the facts of his life.
The film is blessed with a stellar cast and with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication. The film is long, cerebral, and requires involvement on the part of the audience to fully appreciate the subtleties of Julian Barnes original novel. Highly Recommended.
'I know what I feel is not rational, not scientific.'
LIFE lacks life. Screen writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have attempted to offer the audience the feeling of discovering life on another planet but the story is slime and gets lost in the camera work and fascinating (for a while) floating crew and corridors of a space station. Daniel Espinosa directs or rather manages the action.
Six astronauts aboard the space station study a sample collected from Mars that could provide evidence for extraterrestrial life on the Red Planet. The crew (Ryan Reynolds briefly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Kiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare) determines that the sample contains a large, single-celled organism - the first example of life beyond Earth. Bu things aren't always what they seem. As the crew begins to conduct research, and their methods end up having unintended consequences, the life form (oddly octopus like) proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected.
Despite the paucity of story the fine cast manages to make us care about each other and each tragedy they encounter and offer a quiet warning of how perhaps exploring life on other planets is not that great an idea.
Special effects (Celia Bobak et al) are spectacular but become wearing, and the camera work by Seamus McGarvey tends to produce vertigo. Interesting film, but slight. Grady Harp, June 17
Black Butterfly (2017)
'You're finally starting to show some imagination.'
Director/actor Brian Goodman ('Catch Me If You Can', 'Blow', 'What Doesn't Kill You, etc) directs this surprising thriller with aplomb. The film is a re-make of the French film 'Papillon Noir' as adapted for the English version by arc Frydman and Justin Stanley. It is a gripping suspense film with a terrific twist at the end that few if any will see coming.
Paul (Antonio Banderas), a lonely, reclusive alcoholic, down-on-his-luck, divorced screenwriter, who after a tense encounter at a diner invites Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a mysterious vagabond, to stay at his woodland home while a serial killer preys on young women in the area. The demanding Jack muscles his way into Paul's work. As a storm cuts off power to the isolated cabin, the two men begin a jagged game of one- upsmanship that will bring at least one tale to an end. Paul's realtor (Piper Perabo) makes a few appearances, enough to establish her role in the surprising climax. In many ways the story centers on writer's bloc as well as trusting outsiders and the mixture makes a very fine film.
The ending is a bit long in the tooth but the shock of the conclusion makes up for all flaws. Banderas and Rhys Myers are very fine in these very strange roles.
3 Generations (2015)
'Everyone assumes that who I am is connected to who they thought I was when I was born. They're wrong.'
Gaby Dallal directs her own screenplay (co-written with Nikole Beckwith) in what is one of the most significant films abut the gender perception changing world in which we live. It is a very intelligent, humorous, sensitive and wholly entertaining film that has the courage to open the conflicts that face transgender people and their families.
Family living under one roof in New York must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a teenager who has come to the realization that he isn't meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray's biological father (Tate Donovan or his brother Sam Trammell) to get his legal consent to allow Ray's transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray's lesbian grandmother, living with her life partner Frances (Linda Emond) is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.
The entire cast is exceptional and as always Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, and Elle Fanning are superb wholly credible in their challenging roles. But there are also some fine small parts, such as the therapist Dr. Brillstein (Andrew Polk) and Frances (Linda Emond) who stand out as bight lights that enhance the story.
All in all an excellent film on every level and one that deserves a very large audience. Highly Recommended.
'Take your friends and run... They'll keep coming, and coming... You don't have to fight anymore.'
For those who have been following the Marvel Comic Books cinematic transformation, the character of Wolverine that hunk with the blades that shoot out from his hands when he is angry is well known. LOGAN represents the end of Wolverine, and surprisingly this is a very touching film and not just excessive gore (though that is certainly present throughout the film!). One line that underscores the mood of this piece is Logan's line 'Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.' James Mangold directs the story he wrote (transformed into a screen play with help form Scott Frank and Michael Green) with a great deal of empathy for the last of Logan and his return to a caring man.
The year is 2029 - the mutant population has shrunken significantly and the X-Men have disbanded. Logan (Hugh Jackman), whose power to self-heal is dwindling, has surrendered himself to alcohol and now earns a living as a chauffeur. He takes care of the ailing old Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his sidekick, the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant) whom he keeps hidden away. One day, a female stranger (Elizabeth Rodriguez) asks Logan to drive a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to the Canadian border. At first he refuses, but the Professor has been waiting for a long time for her to appear. Laura possesses an extraordinary fighting prowess and is in many ways like Wolverine. She is pursued by sinister figures (led by Boyd Holbrook) working for a powerful corporation; this is because her DNA contains the secret that connects her to Logan. A relentless pursuit begins. This time around we see Wolverine as the superhero beset by everyday problems -aging, ailing and struggling to survive financially. A decrepit Logan is forced to ask himself if he can or even wants to put his remaining powers to good use. It would appear that in the near-future, the times in which they were able put the world to rights with razor sharp claws and telepathic powers are now over.
Kindness prevails as a family (Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, and Quincy Fouse) provide caring and protection for Wolverine and his mutant daughter. The evil trackers are very well portrayed, the action is brisk, but underneath all the killing and mutilation is a story with a heart. Grady Harp, June 17
The Exception (2016)
A beautifully honed film
THE EXCEPTION is exceptional! Based on the novel 'The Kaiser's Last Kiss' as adapted for the screen by Simon Burke and directed with great sensitivity by David Leveaux this quiet little film offers insights into the Germany as usurped by Adolf Hitler from Kaiser Wilhelm II a portion of history rarely mentioned or filmed.
Captain Stefan Brandt, a German soldier (Jai Courtney) tries to determine if the Dutch resistance has planted a spy to infiltrate the home of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) in Holland during the onset of World War II, but falls for a young Jewish Dutch woman Mieke de Jong (Lily James) during his investigation. Living in a lavish mansion in Holland the Kaiser is accompanied by his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), Col. Sigurd von Ilsemann (Ben Daniels), and General Falkenberg (Anton Lesser). When they are visited by Himmler (Eddie Marsan) the energy between Stefan and Mieke strengthens and the manner in which Mieke is saved form discovery as a spy provides a satisfying conclusion to the story.
Excellent acting, lush photography (Roman Osin), a fine music score (Ilan Eshkeri), and reminder of the 'transition' between a monarchy and Hitler's Third Reich make for a very excellent film.
The Comedian (2016)
A look at the life of an aging insult comic named Jack Burke
The other side of the comedy tragedy mask, Art Linson created this bitter story which has been transformed into a razor sharp screenplay by Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese and Lewis Friedman about a has been caustic comedian desperately trying to survive and make a comeback as a stand up comedian past his prime. As directed by Taylor Hackford this is a very crude, foulmouthed seeming tribute to the comedians who are successful because they embarrass their audiences with truths the audience thinks they hide.
To wit, 'An aging comic icon, Jackie (Robert De Niro), has seen better days. Despite his efforts to reinvent himself and his comic genius, the audience only wants to know him as the former television character Eddie he once played. Already a strain on his younger brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law (Patti LuPone), Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony Schlitz (Leslie Mann), the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul Mac Schlitz (Harvey Keitel), and the two find inspiration in one another, resulting in surprising consequences. Both in community service as part of their parole requirements these two manage to step on everyone's better judgment as they find a common thread that is unexpected and just may lead to healing.
The cast includes Edie Falco as Jackie's patient agent, Cloris Leachman, Billy Crystal, Lois Smith, Hannibal Buress, Bill Boggs, Sheng Wang, Ryan Hamilton, Aida Rodriguez, Dov Davidoff, Nick Di Paolo, Jimmy Walker, Greer Barnes, Freddie Roman, Jim Norton and a host of other walk-on part of comedians playing themselves.
DeNiro holds the stage well, but after about an hour into this film the language is so disconcertingly consistently foul and dirty that the film wears out its welcome. Not a comedy more of a tragedy of the fall of a comic from the past.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
'Help me get one more.'
Seeing and experiencing films such as HACKSAW RIDGE during Memorial Day is a strong reminder of the honor we owe to the men and women who have fought to protect us. Though wars continue, around the globe and within our strife-ridden country, the horror of war is ever present, but the courage and sacrifice veterans have made and continue to make deserve our honor.
HACKSAW RIDGE is a very fine film about the battle of WW II on Okinawa as written for the screen by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight and direct with great sensitivity by Mel Gibson. This, as we all know, is a true story of a young conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce/Andrew Garfield) who entered training for WW II having had a terrifying experience as a child with his brother Hal (Roman Guerriero/Nathaniel Buzolic), enduring the PTSD alcoholic father (a brilliant performance from Hugo Weaving), growing up as a 7th Day Adventist, and how he adjusts to military life in training, nears court marshal because of his refusal to carry a gun, and ends up in Okinawa where unarmed he save the lives of 75 fellow GIs. Thankfully the script allows the first half of the film show the character development of Desmond, introducing the men in his company (Luke Pegler, Luke Bracey, Nico Cortez, Farass Dirani, Jim Robison, Goran D. Klet, Damien Thomlinson, Sam Worthington, a brilliant Vince Vaughan, and more), and Desmond's love interest (Teresa Palmer) and his mother (Rachel Griffiths).
The fighting action is brilliantly depicted and well photographed by Simon Duggan and of course directed by Gibson. Rupert Gregson-Williams supplies the very appropriate musical score. The film is violent to watch: war is violent to watch. The message of Desmond Doss's honor is underlined by images at the end of the film. This is a very fine film particularly on Memorial Day.
'You can't get so hung up on where you'd rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.'
Writer Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, The Darkest Hour) wrote the story and script for this work to be directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Headhunters, Fallen Angels) and with the talent of Guy Hendrix Dyas as production designer and a massive crew in art direction PASSENGERS is a feast for the eyes and a rather humanistic sci-fi love story.
A mammoth company offers people the opportunity to leave the Earth and live on a new colony called Homestead Colony. They are being transported on a space vessel called the Starship Avalon. The journey takes 120 years so the travelers and crew are kept in hibernation chambers while the ship flies on its own and are to be awakened just before they arrive. And when one passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens, he quizzically explores the ship and sees he's the only one awake, he discovers he woke up 90 years early. The only talking being is Arthur (Martin Sheen) the robot bartender. He tries unsuccessfully to reenter his hibernation pod and spends the next year alone, wandering the ship. He looks at the videos of the other passengers and is impressed with Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He has to decide if he should wake her up. Eventually he does and the two court and try to make the best of their time together. But then it dawns on them that something happened to the ship that made it wake Jim up. And they try to find out what it is. Further troubling is the awakening of one of the crew Gus Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) who aids the in their trials. To say more would be a spoiler
The CGI effects are terrific, the story is more an honest love story than a sci-fi futuristic space adventure, but the film feels very long and soon the gorgeous visual effects become tiresome. Good performances from beautiful actors save the film.
'For evil to triumph, it only takes good men... to do nothing.'
Even the title of this film is terrifying: IMPERIUM 'English-speaking Neo-Nazi frequently refer to a "Western Imperium" as a theoretical future global empire following their political and philosophical views.' Unfortunately the theme of this film is based on true incidents as written by Michael German with Daniel Ragussis who also directs. It is a magnifying glass held up to the many organizations of racists who believe that all non- Caucasian people should be destroyed the white supremacists, be they KKK, or any other of the many hate groups whose influence is being more intensely felt during these times. It is a difficult movie to watch but at the same time perhaps it is a film that more people should see to be aware of a threat to equality that abounds, especially since January 2017!
Idealistic FBI agent Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) goes undercover to take down a radical white supremacy terrorist group. The up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy. He works in tandem with Agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) and Tom Hernandez (Nestor Carbonell) to infiltrate various groups led by Tracy Aletts, Sam Trammell, Seth Numrich, Jasson Finney etc.
The concept of FBI infiltration may not be a new one, but when it is based on a series of true events is underlines the dangerous world we have created. The film is very long u the cast is strong and the action, while at time convoluted, is fast paced. Daniel Radcliffe does a star turn!