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Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman Sets New Paradigm for Women In Film
Let's start with what must not be overlooked.
"Wonder Woman" is the vision of Director Patty Jenkins who is the first woman to direct an action film with a budget that topped $100 million.
Jenkins, who did a superb job on this super film, is the real Wonder Woman here. She pulled it off BIG time.
As I sat in the theater and marveled at this film, I kept thinking that not only should parents rush their little girls out to see it, they should rush their boys out as well. Wonder Woman really sets a new paradigm for how women can and should be seen in film.
Now keep in mind that this is a man talking, but I loved the fact that Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is such a lovely mix of intelligence, power, strength, beauty, empathy, humor, vulnerability, righteousness, integrity and yes, love.
I dare say that I think we're still living during a time when many people confuse strength and meanness in women. Far too many men think ill of strong women and I think, ironically, a lot of women do too.
However, the fantastic news with "Wonder Woman" is that even in these cynical times, there isn't a trace of "the B word" to be found in this characterization.
Somehow, I've also equated meanness with fearfulness, but Woman Woman is SO confident and powerful that she need not be either.
Oh, and another thing. Wonder Woman is probably the least exploited, strong woman character that I've ever seen on film. In that sense, she's somewhat like Emma Peel from "The Avengers" television series, but on superhero steroids.
However, having said that, both women are totally hot. They just don't "lead" with their "hotness."
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman has power that doesn't lie in her sexuality – although, believe me, she has that – but rather in her personal integrity, strength of character, superhero strength and intelligence. It's a winning combo that no strong man who's sure of himself wants to miss.
I'm glad I did not.
There's no doubt that a male director would've "tarted up" Wonder Woman. Doing so would give men some sense of control over this powerful and threatening female figure. However, that's not the case here.
Yes, Wonder Woman is a symbol, but Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot obviously worked hard to make her human and real and they've completely avoided compromising her power by making her an object. Mission accomplished.
If I weren't too long in the tooth, I'd get a Wonder Woman poster for my bedroom wall However, if I did, I'm sure she'd be angry and would come bursting through the wall and beat me good for it.
In the next film, I'd love to see Wonder Wonder tackle Neanderthal Man.
No contest. Michael Corbin, www.ArtBookGuy.com
Feud Delivers a Stunning Cautionary Tale
If you haven't been watching this spectacular Ryan Murphy miniseries on FX, you are missing out.
Murphy has the uncanny ability of going right for the jugular and getting to the heart of the matter. It stings, but it sings.
This is something I often aim for in my own writing.
Life is short. While you'll never hear me complain about long, wide, sweeping vistas and the most elegant dialogue you've ever heard, I also want to get to the point. Don't bury the point. In "Feud: Bette and Joan," Murphy doesn't bury the point, he shines a spotlight on it.
Murphy and all of his directors and one of the most stellar casts you've ever seen anywhere – TV, stage or film – tell the hell out of the story of the notorious feud between Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
This is simply a master class in acting, screen writing, producing and storytelling. I've never seen anything like it. The actors – and I mean all of them – are absolutely KILLING these roles. Every single one of them is simply at the top of their game.
I'm writing this review after having seen Episode Six of this eight- installment miniseries. Sorry it took so long.
All I can think is this it was such a shame that Hollywood was hell bent on destroying Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both of whom were just hitting their strides when Jack Warner felt they were too old to contribute anything worthwhile.
There are so many lessons to be learned here. Here are a few:
Aging isn't a bad thing. It's a glorious thing.
Talent doesn't fade with time, it grows.
Beauty doesn't fade, it changes.
Women get better with age. Period.
Power hungry men are scared little boys.
Hollywood was – and is – a machine that will chew anyone – and I mean anyone - up and spit them out in an instant. Same yesterday, today and probably tomorrow.
Why feud when you can join forces?
Make peace with your past. If you don't, it will haunt you.
Marriage is not for the faint of heart.
Get in front of the story before the story stabs you in the back.
What goes around will surely come back around.
Artistry and fame can co-exist, but it's a tough trick.
When you dig someone's grave, dig one for yourself.
Success is subjective and life is a roller-coaster.
I could go on and on. What fascinates me so much about "Feud: Bette and Joan" is the fact that it's about so much more than a feud between two Hollywood legends. It's truly a cautionary tale about work, ambition, gender, social class, love, marriage, success, money, survival, family, morals you name it.
It's such a pleasure to sit and watch these actors, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Alfred Molina, Judy Davis, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Jackie Hoffman and others just having the time of their careers with these roles. It's like watching kids playing, only they're adult actors on screen.
While there are many talented young actors out there, they simply don't have the commanding presence and gravitas of these seasoned veterans. Good actors only get better with age.
Too bad Jack Warner refused to believe that.
Even today, while Hollywood is a bit more generous, any aging actor knows that while wrinkles and thinning hair are great for characters, they signal the death knell for screen careers.
But if you're the vengeful sort, take heart. There's a simple reality that we simply cannot escape whether you're in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington, DC, Wall Street or the Great Plains feud or no feud politics or no politics
No one is getting out of this alive. - Michael K. Corbin http://artbookguy.com/film-reviews-_783.html
Silence is yet another Oscar-worthy Scorsese master work
After deciding that I'd go to a Saturday matinée of this Martin Scorsese film, I began to laugh.
I knew that I wouldn't have to arrive at the movie theater super early to get dibs on my favorite seat because, seriously, is anyone other than me rushing to the theater to see a film about Christian persecution in 17th Century Japan?
"I'll probably have the theater all to myself," I thought.
As things turned out, I was wrong, but not far off. There were eleven people – including me - in the theater during my viewing of this film. There's good news and bad news in that.
The bad news is that based on my very narrow theater experience, millions of people aren't going to see yet another Scorsese masterwork. Pity.
The good news is that Scorsese was able to get this film made during a time when it appears that our culture is obsessed with many of the things that run afoul of God, Jesus Christ, faith and everything else that this film is about.
It was such a pleasure to sit there in near silence and let this profound piece of film making just wash over me. This is what Martin Scorsese does best. He gives you brilliant storytelling, spectacular cinematography, soul-scouring drama and delicious food for thought that I'm certain will remain with me for months to come.
Without question, "Silence" should be winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 2017 and Scorsese should be Best Director. Few storytellers in the film making arena have his mastery and authority. God bless them, but they just don't.
Actors Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are all fantastic as Jesuit priests fighting bloody battles beneath brutal Japanese religious rule. Garfield is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination here and I continue to be astounded by Driver's total commitment to his roles. Neeson gives us his usual steely reserve that only vaguely hides the moral turmoil brewing beneath.
I'm left with so much emotional and mental residue from this film. Scorsese weaves so many themes in this epic screenplay adapted from Shūsaku Endō's novel of the same name published in 1966. You leave asking yourself just what would you do or not do for your faith? Do you have faith? Would you die for your faith? Would you deny Christ? Should you trust God? Where is God? Is He here with me amid the silence? Does His silence mean He's not there?
"Silence" is a deep, beautifully-woven film that Scorsese finally completed after many years of staying the course. One might argue that that mere fact that he got this film made was an act of faith and utter devotion in itself.
By the way, I must give some hearty shout-outs to Tadanobu Asano, Yôsuke Kubozuka and other Japanese actors who are simply sublime in this film. I want to see more of these fantastic actors in roles in which they're playing contemporary human beings not primarily defined by their race or culture, but rather their contemporary humanity. But that's a story for another day. No?
In short, "Silence" is a glorious film that really is the jewel in Martin Scorsese's film making crown. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
A Delightful Film That Spotlights a Loving Streep Performance
Here's something that I've discovered
You can be the most super-talented singer, dancer, actor, visual artist or whatever in the world, but if you don't have the drive, discipline, work ethic and ability to work with others, talent won't take you very far.
So many creative people think they should succeed on the wave of their talent alone. You know you get out there and sing your heart out on "The Voice" and the next thing you know, the corporate machine comes calling, signs you up and takes care of everything on your behalf behind the scenes.
If only life were that simple.
I'm still waiting for a TV reality show that reveals what happens during cutthroat contract negotiations or getting up at 4 am to rehearse or what happens when your drummer calls in sick two hours before the show or your manager quits in the middle of your tour or there's a fire at your home in Malibu while you're about to take the stage in Stockholm.
You know, what show business is REALLY like. But I digress.
What I loved most about "Florence Foster Jenkins" is that real-life woman's determination to pursue her passion even though she clearly lacked talent. What Jenkins lacked in talent she made up for in determination, passion and of course, self-delusion despite her well- warranted insecurities.
She was a well-to-do, high society matron and arts patron of early New York who financed her singing ambitions to moderate success. Meryl Streep, who plays Jenkins, does her usual brilliant job of getting into the head and heart of a character and making us have great sympathy for them. And boy, let me warn you, those singing scenes are truly, comically horrid.
I must say that Hugh Grant almost steals this film. He gives such a warm and loving performance as Jenkins' husband. Although this character doesn't veer far from what we're used to seeing Grant do on film, this time around, there's much more heft to his performance which is certainly Oscar bait.
The same can be said for Streep obviously, but also of Simon Helberg who is pitch-perfect as Jenkins' pianist. Helberg really does a great job of portraying the comedy and conflict that his character experiences. His performance has the qualities of a cartoon character, but Helberg manages to escape that and retain the character's humanity.
Director Stephen Frears delivers a very intriguing biopic here that's equal parts documentary, love story, morality tale and comedic drama or is it dramatic comedy? Also, I absolutely love the statement that this film makes about the importance of music and art in our lives. Don't miss it.
Ultimately though, for me, this film keeps tugging at the question of talent. It seems to me that burning passion and work ethic can carry even marginally talented people quite far ... if they strategize correctly.
I mean, seriously, while Florence Foster Jenkins was a truly bad singer, I can certainly think of some contemporary pop stars who best not laugh too hard when they see this film. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com
Café Society (2016)
Woody Allen's Romantic Tribute to Early Hollywood
First off, let me just say that I always look forward to July.
It's summertime and my birthday falls in July, but July is also when Woody Allen tends to release new films.
This time around, it's "Café Society," starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Parker Posey and Blake Lively among others. It's always so interesting to see who'll end up in an Allen film. I would think that most actors would kill to work with him because his films are so "grown up" and they deal with adult issues, questions of life and human dilemmas that are universally relatable.
You don't see spaceships exploding in Woody Allen films. Thank God. What we do see is plenty of glow and soft camera filters on Stewart among other niceties - and corruption - of that era.
Without giving away the plot, I'll just say that Allen has sort of done Café Society before. Remember "Radio Days?" Both films are very nostalgic and delve into our rich, cultural past. However, Radio Days had an almost documentary-like feel as opposed to Café Society which is much more romantic almost like a Hallmark greeting card.
Another thing that both films have in common is Allen's unique ability to interweave and cross reference upper and lower classes rich and not so rich cultured and not so cultured. I love it when he does this. He usually achieves this through exposing flaws in character. Human flaws and frailties continue to be the great equalizer.
It's great to finally see Jesse Eisenberg in a film where he plays a character that isn't pretentiously or obnoxiously intelligent. You know, the guy who has to prove that he's the smartest person in the room. In Café Society, Eisenberg plays a young man who is much more human and flawed in a down to earth way.
Stewart is the love interest literally caught between Eisenberg and Carell and while she's the female lead and gets lots of screen time, she doesn't really get to do much. We also only get passing, yet lovely glances at Lively. Carell does a fine job as Eisenberg's duplicitous uncle.
By the way, can I give a BIG shout out for Parkey Posey? Somehow this great actress makes film after film after film and remains under the Hollywood radar. Of course, much of her work has been indy films, but can somebody give her some starring roles please? She certainly has the chops to cop an Oscar, but she needs the right roles.
Anyway, I enjoyed "Café Society." Like all of Allen's films, it's a cool, summertime diversion. It's not a masterpiece, but it makes for perfect viewing on a Friday afternoon. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com
La La Land (2016)
A Lovely Musical About Pursing Your Dreams Hollywood Style
There was something about "Old Hollywood" that was wonderfully inspirational.
Film stars back then were true stars. They were part of the studio system that made them stars. They seemed to have good breeding and manners.
They weren't blue bloods and most of them didn't come from old money. They came from working class, American families. They had dreams. They wanted to "be somebody." And so, why not be a star?
This is so fundamentally and almost uniquely American. The belief that you can come from "nowhere" today and be a "star" tomorrow still strongly echoes in the American psyche. Television shows like "The Voice," "American Idol," and "America's Got Talent" easily attest to that.
However, these days, we've carried it way too far. Today, there are too many people who believe that in order to be relevant or whole they must be on television or they must be "a star." It's really sad. That road is fraught with peril and pitfalls.
But I digress.
"La La Land" is a throwback to old Hollywood musicals. You know, those big, Busby Berkeley type films where the characters break into song and dance every ten minutes or so. There's always a production number right around the corner or in the next scene. Fred and Ginger.
While La La Land isn't as intricate as Berkeley, it does borrow some of his tricks and clichés. Director Damien Chazelle was clearly influenced by old Hollywood films at some point in his life. And fortunately for him and La La Land, it has paid off quite well.
La La Land is a delightful film about dreams. It's about the importance of dreaming and fantasizing about your life as you'd like it to be. In this case, it centers on characters beautifully played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
Their characters want to be happy and meaningful. They live in Los Angeles and they're both reaching for relevance in their respective venues. Throw in a little romance, some song and dance, some Technicolor with a pinch of nostalgia and jazz and you've got the film pegged.
As a nation – and world - we totally need this film right now. We're in a dark period. Things feel bleak.
We need to be reminded that life doesn't always have to be about strife and struggle and conflict, although the characters in this film clearly deal with these issues.
La La Land reminds us that a life lived without pursuing your dream isn't much of a life at all. It also teaches us that perhaps the greatest love of all is the selflessness that allows us to give flight to someone else's dream. If you truly love someone, you'll release them so they can become who they're meant to be.
Yes, I've already said too much.
La La Land is a must-see film for creative types who are prone to apathy, depression or indecision. Do yourself a favor and go see it. It reminds us that success is not the destination. It's part of the journey.
I promise you after seeing this film, you'll leave the movie theater ready to take flight and become one with the stars.
After all, you ARE a star. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
A Stunning and Original Art Film
After merely two major release films (see: "A Single Man"), it's probably safe to say that Tom Ford has mastered the art of cinematic storytelling.
It's not just about telling a great story, it's also about creating a cinematic experience that you're delightfully basking in and enjoying. Of course, you can ask, "Isn't that what film making is all about?"
Yes, but there's something that sets Director Tom Ford apart. It's obviously the fact that he's an accomplished designer and businessman, but I also think it's about his imagination. I mean, this guy's films are very contemporary yet harken back to old Hollywood.
Let's be honest. When I heard Tom Ford had a new film out starring Amy Adams who was playing an art dealer in Los Angeles?
Count me IN.
"Nocturnal Animals" is a gripping, detective thriller ... a story within a story. That's all I'll say. Yet it's also very human and empathetic and yes, sophisticated. Amy Adams has to be thrilled by the way she's photographed in this film. She's gorgeous and as usual, uses her eyes to great advantage to tell her character's story.
Jake Gyllenhaal also conjures up a great performance of a man done wrong and out for revenge. Michael Shannon is also a heavyweight in this film. He's a real actor who disappears in his roles. This is really the best that any actor can hope for whether they're a "movie star" or not.
Also, I've got to give a couple of shout outs for Laura Linney who absolutely kills her one scene in this entire film and Michael Sheen who gets a couple of fantastic lines to live by.
This film is such a compelling, visceral experience. Keep in mind that Ford directed this AND wrote the screenplay, so this is another Tom Ford production of the highest order. In short, he designed this film. It's beautifully bespoke.
Make no mistake, this is indeed an art film. You'll see this immediately during the opening credits and take note of how Ford segues from the credits to the first scene. Masterful. In fact, contemporary art plays a major role throughout the film. Love it.
In short, Nocturnal Animals is an enthralling piece of cinema and shouldn't be missed by those who love contemporary art or those who don't. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com
Jackie is intricate and complex with an Oscar-worthy Portman performance.
A person who goes to great lengths to create a myth is probably not going to be very thrilled when the veil on that myth is lifted. Not even when it's speculation.
The lifting of the veil itself can be either true or false accurate or inaccurate that ultimately doesn't matter. It's the fact that someone lifted the veil that's the issue.
In short, most myth makers don't like to be exposed.
But Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died quite some time ago, so no one has to worry about her anger or possible retribution.
Given that, let's talk about Pablo Larrain's film "Jackie," shall we? The Chilean director does a masterful job of looking at what might have been Jackie Kennedy's experience during the days of and immediately following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.
It's a flashback, fast-forward treatment of Mrs. Kennedy and how she crafted the whole "Camelot" image of their time in the White House.
Natalie Portman is absolutely brilliant in the role of Jackie Kennedy. She nails all of the nuances, emotions and conflicts of what Mrs. Kennedy likely experienced during that time.
Of course, we don't know for certain because Jackie Kennedy didn't write an autobiography and she's the ultimate creator - and editor - of the Camelot thing.
But back to Portman. Without question, this is an absolute Oscar-worthy performance. In fact, Portman's performance is an interpretation of Kennedy's stiff and studied performance as First Lady. It's inspired, human and heroic.
May the force be with any future actress who aspires to play Jackie Kennedy. Why?
Not only has Portman totally raised the bar on this role, she has literally shut it down. Her performance soars high above the mere fashion and beauty work of past actresses who simply don't have the chops to pull off this kind of portrayal.
I also love the way screenwriter Noah Oppenheim explores the issues of life and death, love and betrayal and our overall search for meaning. There's plenty of juicy dialogue and skillful layering here aided greatly by Composer Mica Levi's mesmerizing score. The music itself is almost a character in the film.
Also, big shout outs to Peter Sarsgaard who delivers a strong performance as Bobbie Kennedy, Greta Gerwig who is charming as Jackie Kennedy's secretary Nancy Tuckerman, John Hurt who is especially profound as the priest, Caspar Phillipson who is great in what amount to a few JFK cameos and Billy Crudup who is careful and tactful as the journalist.
Finally you know we're living during a time when everyone is so image-conscious. We're spending way too much time crafting and honing our exteriors and almost no time at all working on our inner cores.
If you work on improving your character, your image and legacy will take care of themselves. Despite your adversity, everyone will know the truth.
The vast majority of journalists out there merely want to get to the truth of things. It's not our job to help you craft "your image" or create a myth for you. That's the job of your publicist. It's our job to crack through the nonsense.
Many people these days don't like journalists because they want journalists to be "on their side." That's NOT the job of any good journalist although granted, these days, that's getting harder and harder to believe. A good journalist tells a truthful, objective, fair and balanced story come what may.
In this film, Jackie knows the truth all too well, but she was so busy crafting the image of Camelot along with keeping the nation emotionally afloat. This film itself sort of plays the role of journalist by lifting the veil on Jackie and getting closer to what was probably the truth about her during those days.
When you reveal the messy, sloppy, dirty, muddy, bloody, trouble-filled truth about your life, believe it or not, you actually put yourself on the fast track to martyrdom.
Ironic isn't it? I mean, who on this earth can't relate to a trouble- plagued life? Nobody gets out of this unscathed. With that said Jackie Kennedy herself might not love this film, but
"Jackie" does a much larger service to Jackie Kennedy - and JFK - than her myth-making ever could. -- Michael K. Corbin, ArtBookGuy.com