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True Story (2015)
'Sometimes the truth isn't believable. But that doesn't mean that it's not true.'
Rupert Goold is a British director who has been noted for his television series 'The Hollow Crown' and Great performances. He wrote the screenplay with David Kajganich based on the novel/memoir by Michael Finkel.
A film based on a true crime story, in turn based on a book about that crime and the relationship between the criminal and the reporter, needs some clarification. According to reports, Christian Longo is a convicted murderer from the U.S. state of Oregon. On January 11th, 2002 Longo was put on the list of the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, where he remained for two days until his capture. Longo became a wanted man in connection to the murder of his wife and three children in Oregon after the body of his four-year-old son was found floating several feet from shore in a waterway off the Pacific Ocean in Waldport, Oregon. in searching the same area where his son's body had been found, divers located the body of his three-year-old daughter. The bodies of Longo's wife and two-year-old daughter were found five days later. After he fled the United States, Longo was recognized in Cancún at a hotel. In Lincoln County, Oregon, a federal arrest warrant issued in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon charged him with multiple counts of aggravated murder and unlawful flight. Longo was captured six days later without incident in the small town south of Cancún. He was taken into U.S. custody and was tried and sentenced to death in 2003. Diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, Longo first attempted to use that diagnosis as a defense in his murder trial. Years later, Longo admitted to being a narcissist in a letter he wrote to KATU-TV, a Portland, Oregon television station. He wrote, in his letter, that he eventually began "studying what a psychologist said I was and came to terms with it, almost totally agreeing that he was right ... his conclusion was the narcissistic personality disorder which he called 'compensatory' -- basically self-centeredness related to a damaged core sense of self."
The synopsis: Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) was a rising successful reporter, working for the New York Times, until his employers discovered he falsified information in one of his stories and was terminated because of it. He received a phone call from a man regarding an FBI Most Wanted individual named Christian Longo (James Franco), who's been captured and claimed to be living as Finkel. Longo and Finkel meet and form a potentially marriage shattering bond while Longo is in prison awaiting his trial. Finkel exchanges journalism tips for the real events behind Longo's alleged heinous acts of murdering his family. Through the twists and turns in the movie, only at the end will Finkel uncover the True Story.
James Franco is brilliant as Longo, and since Jonah Hill is known basically for his slapstick roles, it is rewarding to see he is able to carry off this difficult roll of a journalist who lives to uncover truth. Other actors include Felicity Jones as Finkel's wife, Ethan Suplee and Robert John Burke in minor but important roles. For the minor weaknesses in the film the final result is spellbinding.
Relatos salvajes (2014)
Sweet revenge, or why we need Anger Management
Damián Szifrón is the Argentine writer director (with producer backup from Agustín and Pedro Almodóvar) who present us with a series of stories that present the human animal and how it reacts to stress: six dark stories, involving six savage situations full of revenge and the dark sides of human beings - dreadful revenge to hated persons, accidental or intentional, dangerous and unexpected arguments, misunderstandings, and horrid confrontations that permanently change the lives of people involved. The film is advertised as wildly funny, and perhaps if we all view human foibles and anger management crises as food for laughter then the term comedy is appropriate. What the audience sees are situations most of us confront daily (on a much more quiet level) frustrations with politics, misunderstandings of conversations, immediate flash hate responses like road rage, jealousies mishandled, bullying and because we can relate to each of these stories the film works.
Briefly, the six stories have been summarized as '1) "Pasternak": one model and a music critic in a plane find that they have a common acquaintance called Pasternak. Soon they discover that every passenger and crew on board know Pasternak. Cosmic coincidence? (2) "The Rats": a waitress of a diner recognizes her client as the loan shark that caused a tragedy in her family. The cook suggests mixing rat poison in his food, but she refuses. But the cook decides to proceed in her plan. When his son arrives, the waitress tries to fix the situation. (3) "The Strongest": Two drivers on a lone highway have an argument with tragic consequences. (4) "Little Bomb": The demolition engineer has his car towed by a truck for parking in a wrong place and he has an argument with the employee of the towing company. This event destroys his private and professional life, and he plots revenge against the corrupt towing company and the City Hall. (5) "The Proposal": The reckless hit-and-run son of a wealthy family hits and kills a pregnant woman. He wakes up his parents and his father calls the lawyer. They propose to pay the groundkeeper to take the blame. Soon the father discovers that he is victim of extortion of his lawyer and the detective in charge of the investigation. What will be his decision? (6) "Until Death Do Us Apart": During the wedding party, the wife discovers that her husband has cheated her with one of the guests and decides to payback.'
Stylish photography, a fine cast of basically unknown actors (with major exceptions) and excellent direction make this macabre human comedy work. This won top honors in Argentina
Human emotion can contain illogical conflict, can love someone, yet hate the things that they've done. Machine can't reconcile that.
Highly regarded Cinematographer Wally Pfister makes his directing debut with a fascinating story by Jack Paglen and a splendid cast. What this film did not register with the public is unsure perhaps because it is less an action film (though there is plenty of that) than a thought provoking one.
A quote by the main character summarizes this challenging and intelligent film well: 'For 130,000 years, our capacity to reason has remained unchanged. The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, mathematicians and...hackers... in this auditorium pales in comparison to the most basic A.I. Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology. And in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. So imagine such an entity with a full range of human emotion. Even self-awareness. Some scientists refer to this as "the Singularity." I call it "Transcendence."
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed-to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can...but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will's thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.
The cast is top notch and in addition to the three mentioned above, includes Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Cole Houser, Chris Garten and many others. But one star of the film that is difficult to honor adequately is the ingenious special effects genius who makes this very strange film work wonderfully. Grady Harp, August 15
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
'Okay?' 'Okay.' Perhaps, 'okay' will be our 'always.'
Based on John Green's immensely popular novel by the same name, adapted for the screen with extreme skill by Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber, and directed with sensitivity and taste by Josh Boone THE FAULT IN OUR STARS steps so far beyond expectations that it may just be another Nicholas Sparks young adults tearjerkers and actually becomes one of the more impressive dialogues about death and dying and the meaning and importance of love. Add to that a cast of young actors (an experienced actors) who 'live' their roles and the result is a film that should be experienced by everyone.
Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Add to that the presence of Gus' best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) who also has cancer which makes him lose his eyes (and his mental stability at times) and we have a trio of youth facing enormous odds who end up discovering the real meaning of being alive in the world and the importance of love. Hazel's parents are (for once in film) sincerely supportive in the face of a dying child and realistically portrayed by the brilliant Laura Dern and Sam Trammel. Hazel and Gus travel to Amsterdam to visit Hazel's favorite novelist Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) and discover he is a smarmy drunk who lives with the compassionate Lidewij (Lotte Verbeek). Sharing how the story plays out would involve spoilers for those who have not read the book.
The on screen chemistry between Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot sends this film into that rarefied realm of becoming a classic. But for this viewer, even more important is the lesson it offers about the process and concept and meaning and insignificance of death as an ending: it is a continuation.
A One Star Turn
Jeffrey Tambor is so very fine in this television series that concerns a mature father of three girls finally coming to grips with his true sexuality a transgender that it is unfortunate that the rest of the characters created by Jill Soloway and the actors portraying them are so stereotypical that the value of the show is diluted.
The little blurb about the story (for those who have for some reason now noticed that this series is in the Emmy talk for this fall) states: 'An LA family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone's secrets to spill out.'
Maybe it is partly due to the hyperpublicity of the Caitlyn Jenner story that lends an aura of 'also ran' to the tale, but in this particular point in our history with all the equality issues on their way to resolution at last, this series could have been more grounded in the reality of what is becoming a wider acceptance of transgender identity.
But for all its flaws, TRANSPARENT (a particularly fine choice of a title!) remains Jeffrey Tambor's moment to shine! Grady Harp, July 15
Woman in Gold (2015)
'They'll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they'll have to admit to it all.'
'I have to do what I can to keep these memories alive, because people forget-especially the young.' Maria Altman. What a wonder of a film this is! Unfortunately it was released so early in the year that by the time the Academy Awards come 'round few will remember to place Helen Mirren's name on the list of Best Actress nominees.
Simon Curtis directs this near docudrama with a flair for genuine feeling, for art, for music, and for history. Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and based on books and notes by both Maria Altman and E. Randol Schönberg the script rings true and while providing a fine story it also reminds us of the atrocities inflicted upon the world by Hitler's Third Reich.
The story is straight forward: the 80 year old Maria Altman (a radiant Dame Helen Mirren) engages a rookie young lawyer E. Randol Schönberg (finally an excellent acting role for Ryan Reynolds) who happens to be the grandson of the brilliant Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg to help her retrieve the painting 'Adele' (now simply known as 'Woman in Gold') a Gustav Klimt painting belonging to her family and was stolen by the Nazis and is hanging in Austria's Belvedere. Randy is married (Katie Holmes) and has a child and another on the way and finally gets a new job with a law firm, so he is loathe to accompany Maria on a trip to Austria in an attempt to restitute the theft of her aunt Adele. When Randy learns of the value of the painting together with the other Klimt paints that belong to Maria he joins her (with making money in time). Through a well developed relationship between Maria and Randy and a very fine series of flashbacks to the time when the Nazi's were condemning Jews to death camps and stealing their property Randy and Maria ultimately triumph in what seems to be an impossible quest. In doing so Randy gains an appreciation for his background, his miraculous grandfather, and the realities of the Holocaust that is his heritage.
In addition to Mirren and Reynolds the cast is consistently excellent especially Daniel Brühl, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Allan Corduner, Moritz Bleibtreu and all the others. The film also sensitively includes a performance of Arnold Schönberg's string sextet Verklärte Nacht another act of homage among the many this film makes to the Austrian Jews who escaped to America. It is an enriching experience, worthy of many awards. Grady Harp, July 15
'There's no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.'
'There's no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.' For those charmed by the original BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL be prepared for an also ran very long and low on sparkle runner up. The story the second time around forgot about the appeal of the first story a charming Indian lad making the best out of a bad situation by creating a cozy and entertaining Indian rest home for aging English folk acted by an outstanding cast of winners. Perhaps that is because this time the screenplay is the invention of Ol Parker who in the first film relied on the charm of Deborah Moggach's novel: he needs her storyline in this version. And he needs a tighter director than John Madden who somehow forgot the themes of the original and let this version go on its own.
Start with Dev Patel who proved in other films and the television series THE NEWSROOM that he can be a fine actor. In this version he is a rude, unlikeable brat. The presence of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and the barely noticed appearance of David Strathairn and Richard Gere make the shaky dialog work as well as can be expected, but the purpose of the entry and retreat of others is unnecessary.
The company lays out the plot: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny (Dev Patel), and it's making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina (Tina Desai). Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy - posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig). Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge (Celia Imrie) juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co- manager of the hotel, Muriel (Maggie Smith), the keeper of everyone's secrets.
You can take it from there. OK to see for free
Tongues Untied (1989)
'I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do' - Gertrude Stein
Documentaries, well timed, make a difference. Especially when they are of the quality of this 1989-91 documentary about black men loving black men. TONGUES UNTIED was written and directed and narrated by Marton Riggs who with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill reciting his poetry, Riggs telling the story of his growing up, scenes of men in social intercourse and dance, and various comic riffs, including a visit to the "Institute of Snap!thology," where men take lessons in how to snap their fingers: the sling snap, the point snap, the diva snap. The film closes with obituaries for victims of AIDS and archival footage of the civil rights movement placed next to footage of Black men marching in a gay pride parade.
The film is a lyrical exploration of black gay identity in the United States. Made during a historical period marked by the onset of the AIDS crisis, the works navigate desire, love, loss, and mourning to engage and question sexual and political repression, expression, and deviation.
Riggs's stories are fierce examples of homophobia and racism: the man refused entry to a gay bar because of his color; the college student left bleeding on the sidewalk after a gay-bashing; the loneliness and isolation of the drag queen. The stories also affirm the black gay male experience: protest marches, smoky bars, snap divas, humorous musicology, and vogue dancing. It is as timely today as it was in 1991 when it was aired on PBS, setting off a wild debate about the National Endowment for the Arts funding for art with nudity, gay themes, and pointed political commentary. Impressive and important.
Stop the Pounding Heart (2013)
Roberto Minervini is an Italian director who elected to share this sensitive coming of age story about 14 year old girl in a family of goat farmers in Texas. Without the benefits of a cast of actors he manages to create not a documentary but instead a quiet observation of what life is like in the rural parts of a too fast world a place where values are different if not always better.
Sara is a young girl raised in a family of goat farmers. Her parents home-school their twelve children, rigorously following the precepts of the Bible. Like her sisters, Sara is taught to be a devout woman, subservient to men while keeping her emotional and physical purity intact until marriage. When Sara meets Colby, a young amateur bull rider, she is thrown into crisis, questioning the only way of life she has ever known. STOP THE POUNDING HEART is an exploration of adolescence, family and social values, gender roles, and religion in the rural American South. With minimal dialogue, amateur non-actors, and majestically beautiful cinematography this is a film that is a pastoral. It deserves our attention.
Belle et Sébastien (2013)
For the love of a dog
Nicholas Vanier directed this adaptation of Cécile Aubry's novel (adaptation and screenplay by director Vanier with Juliette Sales and Fabien Suarez) n a film that is in both French and German with English subtitles. The result is a film for the heart a reminder that during the atrocities of WW II there were moments of meaningful relationships, especially between animals and people (remember 'War Horse'?).
The film is set during WWII in the snowy Alps of occupied France, on the border of Switzerland. Six year old Sébastien (Félix Bossuet), raised and adopted by his grandfather, is lonely and dreaming of the day his mother will return from America for him. He befriends an enormous yet gentle sheepdog Belle who quickly becomes his best friend and protector. With Nazis in the village rooting out the resistance fighters helping Jewish refugees cross the border, Belle and Sébastien's loyalty to each other and the village that has embraced them both will be put to the test.
The scenery is magnificent and the acting by the young and gifted Félix Bossuet is extraordinary. It is a moment of devotion and love and caring and protection during WW II that creates a strong sense of caring about the true meaning of friendship.