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Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Liam, High Fidelity, Dirty
Pretty Things, My Beautiful Launderette, The Grifters, etc), with a
screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the book The Lost
Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith and with a cast that features
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, this film was destined to be a success. If
at times the story becomes a bit 'Hallmarky' that flaw is quickly
diminished because of the power of the story and the manner in which it
Former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace and is at a loss as to what do. His loathing for 'human interest stories' is legendary, but that changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench), who when she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, was sent to the convent to be looked after as a fallen woman. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic. Suddenly struck by the strength of the story Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for Anthony that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son's fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged.
There are many fascinating aspects to the story and the manner in which it ends but to share those would destroy the film for other viewers. Love conquers all and there is something in the genes that never lets go. Dench, Coogan, and Cathy Belton deserve special kudos but he cast that includes such non-verbal roles as Sean Mahon, and the bit parts by Peter Hermann, Mare Winningham, Sophie Kennedy Clarke, and Barbara Jefford add immensely to this sensitive film.
Director David Gordon Green is known for Pineapple Express (2008), All
the Real Girls (2003) and George Washington (2000) and makes it his
practice to cast his movie extras from locals in the area in which he
is shooting his films. In Austin, Texas he found a street person - Gary
Poulter - who plays a significant role in this film, Two months after
the film was completed Pouter was found dead on the streets of Austin.
That sets a tone for the film - very dark, little in the way of
redemptive force, but an opportunity for Nicholas Cage and Tye Sheridan
to prove their acting chops.
Joe Ransom (Nicholas Cage) drops the bottles as quickly as he burned his life. Joe is perhaps irresponsible, but is no less a hard worker. He manages a work team of black men who admire him in a forest where his task is to poison trees so that an outside contractor and come in and rid the woods of bad trees and plant good ones (there is a fine line of parallel to the story here). Joe encounters Gary (Tye Sheridan), a boy of 15 years, and his father, Wade aka G-Daawg (Gary Poulter), an alcoholic good-for-nothing. For Gary, all is not lost; there is still time for him to seek the right path, to escape from the control of damaging his father yet still support his mute sister and pathetic helpless mother. Joe struggles with his past as an ex-con, his alcoholism, his dependency on female sex workers, and attempting of manage his short-fused anger that gets him into trouble all too frequently. Joe takes on Gary, gives him work, lets him use his truck, and in general protects Gary from harm. A town bully/creep Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins) has endured abuse from Joe and is stalking him and eventually Gary and G-Dwaag in a revenge twist. How Joe deals with coping with redemption or ruin plays out in the final scenes of this film.
The film is unrelentingly dark, both in camera action and in storyline. The only thing that keeps is afloat is the sensitivity of the bilaterally desperately needy relationship between Cage and Sheridan - and they make us care about them.
There is a line in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning play he has
transformed into a screenplay for AUGUST, OSAGE COUNTY that states
'Thank God we can't tell the future, we could never get out of bed.'
And in many ways that is the mood of this grim examination of a
dysfunctional family living in the plains of Oklahoma, in this case
baked by the August heat and the suicide death of the patriarch. John
Wells directs what could possibly be one of the finest collections of
contemporary actors of the day possible and the result is a
stultifying, immensely well-crafted film. Gustavo Santaolla provides
the atmospheric musical score that underlines the tension and provides
breaks in the stifling displays of hate that fill this story.
Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) has cancer of the mouth and is addicted to prescription pills and alcohol. She's a shrewish woman to deal with and her husband Bev (Sam Shepard) has finally had enough: he takes his boat out on the lake and commits suicide. Violet's family gathers including youngest daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), middle daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) with her new fiancé, the wealthy cannabis loving Steve (Dermot Mulrooney), eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin), and her fat sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) with her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and son Little Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch). A memorable funeral dinner brings out the secrets and the hostilities and the individual sicknesses of each member of this unsavory family incest, adultery, lies, and other atrocities and the Weston women are forced to examine themselves and their lives whether they want to or not. Examining all of this gross mess of a family is Native American Johna (Misty Upham) who brings the only semblance of balance as the quiet maid serving these people.
The story is grim, the play was even more grim, and it serves as an opportunity to examine how dysfunctional some families have become in this particular time in history. All actors give exemplary performances and if there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, this film would have won. It may be tough to watch and here at times, but it is a fine piece of American filmmaking.
Director and co-writer (with Austin Bunn) John Krokidas have created an
atmospheric visit to the beginnings of one of literary history's great
movements the Beat Generation and in doing so have carved a fine
story that combines not only the rise of the Beats but also examines
the slow emergence of recognition of sexual identity crises, in both a
positive and a critical manner. Cast with a group of very fine actors
and accompanied with musical director Nico Muhly's sensitive score that
includes the references to Brahms symphonies and trios and
transcriptions of themes along with terrific excerpts from Harlem's
jazz scene (courtesy of Dawn Newman as a jazz singer), this film is
successful on many levels, not the least of which is the reminder of
the permanent impact on American literature and sociology imprinted by
the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. The
very sensitive opening sequence, appreciated only at film's end, sets
the dark tone of the film and opens the window to understanding the
Beats (also called "the Libertine Circle" by Ginsberg).
The time is the mid 1940s and Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliff) is an English major in Columbia University, assigned to be the roommate of Lucien 'Make me cry or make me horny' Carr (Dane DeHann) who awakens Ginsberg's rebellious self and introduces him to the work of Rimbaud. Dissatisfied by the orthodox attitudes of the school, Ginsberg finds himself drawn to iconoclastic colleagues like the egotistical but genius Lucien Carr, William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Together, this gang would explore bold new literary ideas that would challenge Columbia University's staid stance and the sensibilities of their time as the future Beat Generation. However, for all their creativity, their very appetites and choices lead to more serious transgressions that would mark their lives forever. Lucien has been stalked since age 14 by the older gay David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) who sees Lucien as his lover, but in this version of the story Lucien acted out his same sex proclivities with both Ginsberg and Kerouac. Lucien murders Kammerer and drags his body into the Hudson River (recall the opening scene of the film) and it is the advice of both Kerouac and Burroughs that leads to the judgment of the questionable verdict. Ginsberg goes on to create 'Howl' and Kerouac moves toward 'On the Road' and Carr becomes a journalist. Despite the at times confusing dichotomy between the murder story and the literary awakening the Beats introduced, this is a fascinating depiction of a movement of enormous impact.
John Krokidas captures all the essence of the times in the 1940s New York City and his actors especially Daniel Radcliff bring this story to life. There is an uncredited role of Lucien Carr's mother superbly played by Kyra Sedgwick and any number of other fleeting bit parts that add to the mystique of the period. Recommended on many levels.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska accomplishes an outstandingly
effective, brave examination of Catholic priesthood with all the
inherent difficulties both within the life of being a celibate priest
in a time when the world's eye is focused on the abuses within the
Church. She wrote the screenplay with Michal Englert who also is the
cinematographer. The film succeeds not only because of the sensitivity
of the script but also because of the extraordinary acting by several
of the members of the cast.
Adam (the brilliant actor Andrzej Chyra) is a Jesuit Catholic priest who discovered his calling as a servant of God at the relatively late age of 21 and has been transferred to many different parishes the reasons are not completely clear. He is a kind, warm, caring and committed priest who truly cares of this flock. He now lives in a village in rural Poland where he works with teenagers with behavioral problems who fight and yell abuse. He declines the advances of a young brunette named Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska) saying he is already spoken for: Ewa is the love reason Adam's associate teacher Michal (Lukasz Simlat) left the seminary and never became a priest. But celibacy is not the only reason for his rejection. Adam knows that he desires men and that his embrace of the priesthood has been a flight from his own sexuality. When he meets Lukasz (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, the director's husband), the strange and tongue-tied son of a simple rural family, Adam's self-imposed abstinence becomes a heavy burden. He hears the confession of a teen who has had a same sex encounter elsewhere and when a new addition to the camp Adrian/Blondie (Tomasz Schuchardt), the lad is seduced by Blondie and the result is the lad's suicide by hanging. Lukasz sustains a beating and seeks Adam's solace and healing at night, and that innocent tender encounter is observed by Michal. The Bishop is alerted and Adam must leave for yet another assignment. He is followed by Lukasz and at last Adam's quandary is at least for the moment resolved.
The film is rich in metaphorical scenes a Skype call between Adam and his Toronto based sister shares Adam's desperate need to have someone to hug, Adam turns to drinking and in his altered state he drunkenly dances with a photograph of the Pope his only allowed passion, a funeral scene for the fallen lad, and a mesmerizingly beautiful religious celebration parade full of overtones. The film may for some be too huge in character depth and audiences more attuned to action based movies it might be too slow and deep and fragmented. Were it not for the brilliance of Andrzej Chyra's Adam the film may even offend some. But the total experience of the film is deeply moving.
Director John Polson is now well known as frequent director on
television series such as 'Elementary', 'Blue Bloods', 'The Mentalist',
'The Good Wife', ' Without a Trace' etc. TENDERNESS is an early effort
(2009) but the singe is evident. This little film slipped by everyone
despite a strong cast likely because the subject matter is rather
difficult to swallow, especially as related by the time flips the
picture takes in explaining the story.
Buffalo detective Lt. Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe), whose catatonic wife is in hospital, takes a special interest in Eric Komenko (an excellent Jon Foster!), a juvenile who killed his parents and will be freed on his 18th birthday. So has Lori Cranston (Sophie Traub), 15 or 16, her body fully developed and the object of lust by her boss and her mother's new boyfriend. She keeps a scrapbook about Eric, and when he's released from custody, she hides in the backseat of his car, insisting he take her with him on a trip toward Albany where he's planning to meet a girl. Cristofuoro is certain Eric will kill again, visits Eric's dead mother's sister Aunt Teresa (Laura Dern, excellent) with whom he lives since his release from Juvenile Hall, agrees with Cristofuoro's intuition and encourages him to pursue Eric in Albany. What happens on the trip to Albany the disintegration of Eric's fragile sociopathic psyche and Lori's obsession with Eric's none too subtle need to kill leads to a surprising end. It is a film that deals with compulsions on every level and in every character especially a self- destructive teen obsessed with a murderer, a young man obsessed with killing girls, and a weary detective obsessed with keeping the young man behind bars.
Jon Foster is the center of attention in the story and is supported the excellent work of Russell Crowe and Laura Dern. The supporting cast is strong. Serial killers continue to make an impact on writers, but this story takes a deeper look into the psyche of the main character, if not by words then more by body language.
Martin Scorsese must have had a very bad dream when he decided to
translate Jordan Belfort's book 'The Wolf of Wall Street' to the
screen. This is one of the loudest, crudest, foul- mouthed, misguided
messes ever put on film and it stretches to three hours (for those
with a strong enough stomach to last through that much lying, stealing,
crime, debauchery, all manner of substance abuse, and worse yet, the
mean-spirited manner of treating gullible people who cannot afford to
be scammed into poverty.
Wikipedia has a bit a different stance: 'Jordan Ross Belfort is an American motivational speaker and former stockbroker. He was convicted of fraud crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room, for which he spent 22 months in prison.' In The Wolf of Wall Street Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort, a Long Island penny stockbroker who served 36 months in prison for defrauding investors in a massive 1990s securities scam that involved widespread corruption on Wall Street and in the corporate banking world, including shoe designer Steve Madden. But neither of those capsules prepares us for the outrageously humiliating debauchery of this film's presentation. It is noisy, unremittingly loud and crude, has a script that basically consists of expletives, and in the end makes us feel embarrassed to be a member of the human species. That the film won such acclaim and placed DiCaprio as an Oscar candidate and did so well financially tells us a lot about our current state of mind and taste. To this we've come?
Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi has hit the mark again with THE
PAST a film equal to if not superior to his Oscar winning A
SEPARATION. Why this brilliant movie was not nominated for an Oscar is
a serious conundrum. Farhadi demonstrates further that his ability to
dissect family interactions and question ethical behavior among his
characters is unmatched.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian man deserted his French wife and her two children to return to his homeland, returns to Paris four years later at his wife's request: his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) is in a new relationship with an Arab man, the dry cleaners' owner Samir (Tahar Rahim), a reality her husband confronts upon his wife's request for a divorce. Coming back to accomplish the divorce procedure, Ahmad arrives in Paris to meet his ex-wife and her daughters 16 year old Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and the very young Léa (Jeanne Jestin) from her previous marriage only to discover that Lucie has defensive behavior and resents the fact that Samir and his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) are living in her home. Marie pleads with Ahmad to speak with Lucie to assess and correct her bizarre behavior (both of Marie's children relate well to the warmly tender and understanding Ahmad, despite his unexpected absence form their family for four years). Ahmad discovers that Samir is still married his wife is in a coma for the past eight months due to a suicide attempt and Lucie's behavior, superficially because she blames Marie's and Samir's affair as the cause of Samir's wife's suicide, makes living in the same house with Marie and Samir intolerable. The interaction between Ahmad and Marie, Ahmad and Samir, and Ahmad and the three children gradually discloses the mystery behind Samir's reason for suicide an exploration that includes confrontation with Samir's faithful illegal employee Naïma (Sabrina Ouazani) and a secret Lucie has been stifling. The manner in which Marie relates to her former husband Ahmad, her fiancé Samir (by whom she is pregnant) and the unresolved question of whether Samir's wife will remain in a coma or awaken drives this story to an end that is for the most part left up to the viewer to decide.
The entire cast is excellent, the cinematography by Mahmoud Kalari, the musical score by Evgueni and Youli Galperine and the writing and direction by Farhadi are exemplary. This is a tough ultimately brilliant work that deserves a very wide audience. Highly Recommended.
BETWEEN STRANGERS is a tough story told with unrelieved intensity,
acted with underplayed angst, and directed with quiet strength by
Eduardo Ponti. The "Strangers" are three unrelated women, each of whom
has a burden that grows until it must be lifted.
Mira Sorvino is a media photographer, daughter of Klaus Maria Brandauer (who has multiple awards for his own news photography, who has just had one of her images appear on TIME magazine - an image of a little girl from Angola who we gradually learn died in the fire Mira was photographing. She is haunted by the fact that the time she spent photographing the child could have been used to save the child's life.
Deborah Unger is a concert cellist whose wife-abusing father (Malcolm McDowell) is released from prison despite her conviction that he should die for his cruelty, forcing her to leave her own family in the attempt to end her father's existence.
Sophia Loren is a haggard housewife who has devoted her sad life to caring for her wheelchair-bound past athlete husband (Pete Postlethwaite) until she sees her illegitimate daughter she was forced to abandon becoming the sculptor artist she herself always wanted to be. Each of these women have visions of the same small girl at moments when they are forced to confront their pain and each finds a way back to salvation through 'living out a dream'.
Some may find the story saccharine, but the actors deliver these sad folk in such an honest way that together they manage to capture our hearts. It is a true pleasure to see Sophia Loren act again and even the makeup she dons for her dowdy role cannot hide the fact that she remains one of the most beautiful women the screen has known - and one of the best actresses. All cast members are superb. Just be aware of the fact that this is a bleak story that requires much from the viewer. The rewards are worth it.
There may have been a way to make us care about 'Our Man' who seems to
know little about boats and sailing, such as giving us a bit of
information about his life before he set out on this disastrous voyage,
or his reasons for responding the way he does throughout the film. But
it seems writer/director J.C. Chandor is so focused on the them of
'never give up' that he subtracts philosophy from the story and
replaces it with survival a man against nature theme.
The fragment of story can be summed up as follows: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor (Robert Redford) finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. Add endless storms, a heap of bad luck, and a lot of improbable happenings, toss in Robert Redford, bathe it in music by Alex Ebert, and provide sort of a sellout at the end and All Is Lost. For a man versus nature film it is well done, but it lacks a story not a theme but a story. It grows tiresome. Grady Harp, March 14
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