Category Archives: Movie Mnday

Double Identity and Feelings

Lyman High School’s Lymlight Production of Dr. Jekyll an and Mr. Hyde was excellent. It was nice being on my old campus. I was anxious to see the adaptation because I had taught the classic novella only a few weeks earlier at The Ampersand School.
The interpretation of the diaries, the epistolary effects of disjointing, and mixing monologue with flashback was great and came through clearly. The device of the magician’s presto-chango door was kitschy yet clean and effective.

Using the Victorian period’s phenomena of bodysnatching, and burgeoning science butting heads with spiritual ethics as a story arc showed understanding. The brothel asides were distractingly hideous.

I have a few very specific complaints. The stage work, acting, lighting, music, direction and passion are not among them. The inappropriate female dress across the board and the adaptation’s use of highly sexualized characterization are. If this were in any other theater, I’d be fine. In a high school, not so much. When the Man Servant, Poole, is reimagined as a female, it doesn’t follow that a distinguished Dr’s. head mistress would be dressed as a can-can extra for the Moulin Rouge.

It didn’t escape me that the highly stylized production was closer to rock opera than Victorian classic stageplay. The only thing missing was a Meatloaf solo. It came off a little closer to Rocky Horror Picture Show then Robert Louis Stevenson
I suppose my gripe is with the author of the adaptation: Jeffrey Hatcher. The Hyde character’s emotional enmeshment with Elizabeth and his resulting concern of the safety of this hooker, fails big time. Hyde has no conscience. To have him scare away a woman for her own protection is squarely in contrast to the alter-ego’s purpose. It only serves to invite shallow melodrama into the wannabe rock opera.
Again, having a high school cast lose the books meaning, in favor of a reality show plot, is not why I applauded. The great acting certainly was.

I can’t be the only one who knows it’s inappropriate to shove a teenager into a bustier and heels and claim it’s okay because it’s a performance…can I?

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Movie Review: TheTriplets of Belleville

This is one of those great movies which you may be unwilling to try. When we think of animated features we think they all have to come with mouse ears or scream “to infinity and beyond” or some combination and facsimile thereof. The greatest animated features typically have neither of these.

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Think timeless and lesser known, such as Heavy Metal, maybe not part two. You could go through the entire Ralph Bakshi collection as far as I’m concerned, as well. In order to find some of the best in animated films, you have to search. Because the ones that are delivered to you are simply not in the category.

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The Triplets of Belleville were an evening variety show favorite when television was new. In the context of this movie’s surreal satirical plot, they are has-been vaudeville style harmonizers with at least one hit for which they will be forever remembered, even when foiling a a room full of midget gangsters’ evil plots – listen for the sing-a-long. They are also keenly aware of their status and almost nothing else. Our heroine Mme Sauza remembered the hit she listened to with her pudgy grandson clearly enough to have been taken in by them in their golden-senile frog-eating years. As an after thought, this is a subtle warning to our protagonist that the French are in danger. Grandmother had been grooming her little grandson to be a cyclist. We first meet him as a chubby little boy watching the sisters on TV with his grandmother. The animation style in the first few minutes is a clear compliment to the long-gone age. We next find him as a lean and dedicated cyclist training for the streets of some backwater French town with grandmother in tow. When the great French bicycle race, Circuit De France begins, the lead cyclists are plucked and without circumstance, from the race and stolen away, rather exaggeratedly breathless, to the city of Belleville. Grandmother’s house chases the boxy villainous kidnapper and bodyguard clones across the sea, in a paddle boat, in an attempt to rescue her progeny who, along with two other cyclists, were kidnapped. The Tripletts happen upon the reliable woman and her locomotive obsessed dog, they are attracted to her by her ability to reproduce their tune on  bent bike wheel spokes. They take in the weary traveler and her dog-who’s el-train envy and dream sequences are nuanced wonders which provide a wonderful and ironic grounding to the otherwise fantastic reality in this movie.
Although you can ascertain historical and emotional relevancy, when you’re not sure what’s happening, you’re still willing to keep watching and find out. The animation continually borders on the grotesque, while walking that fine line of absolute beauty.

So Much of what you see is hyperbole, and when you get used to it, you are longing for more exaggeration.

Movie Monday: The Immigrant

This is one of those great movies which opens with a symbol of hope, quickly dashes said hope then teases it’s frayed and dirty ends throughout. In the case of The Immigrant, it teases that hope through the gas lit streets of a burgeoning vaudeville and low-rent brothel. Bruno, played by Joaqin Phoenix – which should be enough said for anyone to watch this film plays the would-be savior of an immigrant woman whose sister has been detained at Ellis Island due to TB. After the classic frame of a shawl-draped dark-haired woman looking over the bow of a raggedy ship at the bright and domineering Statue of Liberty, we are quickly swept into the cramped and damp processing line inside the immigration center. A bit of forshadowing takes place as Ewa Cybulska – Marion Cotillard, or Geeks like me know her as Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter Miranda in The Dark Knight Rises – warns her sister to cough quietly or not at all. It is a tip for the new world, don’t show your weaknesses. The sister is taken to an infirmary for an indeterminate period of time.

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From amongst the dark overcoats in the waiting area springs the spider. Bruno feels the subtle and nuanced twang of a silken web, and recognizes fresh prey, bribes a guard and pulls the remaining fly from the line and takes her home. We immediately trust Bruno the way Ewa trusts him, barely at all. She sleeps with a razor. We quickly learn what Bruno’s trade is. His trade is in skin. He leans out the window the next morning, and like a pigeon clapper awakens his “doves”  across the courtyard and they respond in turn. Beautifully haggard woman moan and groan there responses through half-open and closeline connected windows, across Bruno’s web. He begs them to get ready for the day. They confide in Ewa, during an instance of faux intimacy and sisterhood in which they take her to their bosoms and bathe her, washing off the dirt and in a way baptizing her into their order. The tell her in order to make enough money to bribe her sister’s way out of the infirmary on Ellis Iisland, there will be a lot of sewing of costumes to do, “or a lot of fuc*ing.” admits one of the doves. This secondary money making talent was rumored on the immigrant ship on the way over. It becomes her primary job when the effeminite and slight son of a wealthy man askes Bruno for the gentle Ewa to make a man of the boy. Very drunk and very desperate, Ewa reaches for the boy and they both recieve an initiation. The Immigrant spares us from any sexual explicitness. We know what prostitutes do. It instead focuses on the emotional toll and downhill slide these characters undertake.

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There is never a lure of glamour. Ewa’s existence sees small glimpses of redemption. We take hold of the American Dream for another brief moment as she finds the aunt and uncle whom were supposed to have sponsored her stay in the first place, but had dubiously disappeared according to immigration officers. It’s not Ewa’s new foray into stage burlesque – where she assumes the role of “Lady Liberty” ironically to a crowd of crude american men – which makes her uncle kick her out in the morning, it is a rumor of Ewa’s “woman of low morals” from the boat which threatens the good polish businessman’s reputation and becomes grounds for the eviction. She winds up back in the Immigration dormitory. The magician act on Ellis Island is headed by the levitating Orlando the Magician – actually Bruno’s cousin Emil, in a Dickensian melodramatic fashion – played by Jeremy Renner ( Yes, Hawkeye). They begin to attract back in NY when Bruno once again buys her way out of the island. We suspect it was he who sent the immigration guards to the aunts and uncle’s as well, hence no mention of the current job. She and Bruno are surprised – albeit differently – when Orlando is hired at the same theater as Bruno’s skin show and prostitution front. It ends badly.

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Now betrayed by her own family and having run away from Bruno and returned to be caught in the middle of a romance triangle, Ewa begins to find strength and simultaneously accepts her position, though holding out hope of reuniting with her sister. We learn that Bruno’s cruelty is his ability to love, and he is in love with Ewa, as is his trickster cousin.This ends badly. The Immigrant gives us scant characters to trust. Emil/ Orlando tempts us to believe he is the savior, but his trade is trickery and he has a more sordid past. Ewa has a redeemable quest but is willing to prostitute, eventually taking on the stage – eventually a walking tunnel in Central Park – moniker of one of the wayward daughter’s of NY’s finest family. Even the sisterhood of the call girls, who may bathe and watch out for one another, proves Brutus to Ewa’s Ceasar.

Framed in a sepia stained story of Ellis Island and early 20th century NY, the conflict and characters could have happened anywhere at anytime. When it came down to it it was another prostitute who commits betrayal. Bruno, although initially, hiding his intentions and posing as a benevolent benefactor, seemed to have been the most honest. His damnable traits kept him alive, his saving grace was almost his fatal flaw.

In the end the duality of our heroine, and of our villain is expressed explicitly. And then it is beautifully depicted in the duality of the final powerful scene. The movie ends as it begins, damn-near exactly. And it is my birth-state of NJ which becomes the promise land.This is a must-watch. 

Movie Monday Review: Leave

This is one of those great movies which opens extremely violently. It then continues enigmatically. Every time you think it’s giving you the clue you need, it changes the mystery. Just like last time, it’s a movie about brothers. At least you are made to think that. I don’t want to give you any accidental spoilers.

Come to think of it, you could say it’s a Band of Brothers reunion. Starring Rick Gomez, Frank John Hughes, and Ron Livingston (All Easy Company) and emotionally validated by Vanessa Shaw. OD’ing high-end escort as a debut in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, then a bit more of a dramatic career since including 3:10 to Yuma, The Hills Have Eyes redux, Side Effects and Showtimes’s Ray Donavan, really create a rounded co-star. The emotion in this movie is right on the surface.

This lineup of actors certainly helps portray it so that it doesn’t just come off as cheesy melodrama.

After the violent opening we discover that the attacked man is a writer, and not sure if the attack we saw happened or was a dream. What is alluded to is “you’ve been through a lot.” and some other vague hints of
trauma. We simply assume that means the opening violence. One begins to wonder, given the severity of the attack, why our protagonist has no scars or lasting negative effects.

Henry decides, after a small yet garish cocktail party thrown by his editor, that he’s going to go to his cabin in the woods to write his next masterpiece.
A quick bathtub scene between Henry and Amy solidifies the emotional bond. It’s an important factor later. It seems simple and inconsequential. Remember it at the end.
The second act of this mystery begins. We go immediately from an urban setting into a lone desert highway. It just gives the film a completely different feel. We are as alone and unguarded as our writer. Henry wonders aloud what the heck he is going to write about. The viewer may again begin to question reality. Wouldn’t a writer at least have some idea about his upcoming novel, before he leaves to isolate himself in his art? We also begin to realize that Henry has a meticulous eye for details. We assume it’s because he’s a writer, and that’s a common trait. It becomes a bit more useful. We get a little bit more action when an aggressive large wheeled, monster-style truck attempts to run Henry off the road. It’s purposeful conflict, reminding us that the attack isn’t so far away, even if Henry appears to have been completely healed. When our next main character enters the frame, he is sitting calmly at the counter of the diner which can’t be called a greasy spoon, for fear of insulting greasy spoons. A series of unexplainable and extremely tense events follow. An exchange of witty accusations and purposeful and seemingly contrived explanations volley back-and-forth and this reviewers sense of calm, security and trust follows. Hints and allegations begin to fly around and the stranger at the counter turns out to be extremely familiar after all. The scene happens to take this turn extremely easily after our struggle. So as a viewer, i’m still very skeptical. This is a type of tense conflict that keeps you glued. One begins to try to find comfort by assuming that the stranger was the attacker after all. He even asked Henry if he looks familiar to him. The keyword is: familiar. From this point on it’s hard not to spoil the movie. Just pay close attention to the verbal exchange at the counter.

The third act begins as easily as the previous two. We’re in a very comfortable cabin, drinking very expensive scotch, and eating a dinner of very comforting macaroni and cheese. It’s a heartwarming scene. Almost too heartwarming to be believable. You don’t trust the calm and easiness. After what we’ve seen so far it’s just too facilitating. It doesn’t take long for that skepticism to be proven. In the final scenes and denouement of this extremely well acted and well-written drama, as many mysteries are introduced as are finally solved. We are left with a very warm feeling; we are left with calmness and ease of mind. Leave is a wonderful movie full of intrigue. There are scenes of extreme violence and of tear rendering and heart wrenching love.

Be sure to take note of the final credits. It will make what you just saw even more authentic and add a special value. There’s really not a whole lot about the second half of this movie that I can tell you without completely ruining it just please watch it all the way through, including the writing and directing credits.

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Movie Review: Out of the Furnace

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This is one of those great movies to which you already know the ending. It’s not predictable. It might be accused of being formulaic. It’s a good formula though. We like it. It tells you that the good guys win after they’ve been beaten, badly, and get back up. It is stacked with solid acting, great actors, characters you just want to believe in and hope they win, so you watch it in case it doesn’t turn out the way you absolutely know it’s going to.

A couple of otherwise decent brothers from northern Pennsylvania – one a blue-collar mill worker , the other a soldier on his way to the Middle East – get seriously entangled in what passes for racketeering in this part of the world. It’s not the olive oil slick version of organized crime. It’s cut offs, illicit drug laboratories, and inferred progeny of incest. A small-time bookie and loan shark operating out of his hole in the wall dive bar holds debt over the younger brother – Rodney Baze –  played by Casey Affleck. The older brother -Russell Baze – who insinuates that he continually gets his younger brother out of as much dangerous he puts himself in, is played by Christian Bale. You know how good Christian Bale is already. Exchanging his English accent for the almost Midwest style of middle Pennsylvania is only the beginning. Quite frankly I haven’t heard Christian Bale uses native accent in much, maybe not since Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. The Prestige may not count, since he affected that one as well.

Willem Defoe is the local loan shark and bookie, John Petty, making most of his money on rigged bare-knuckle fights between one broke mill worker and another. The movie opens introducing us to a real son of a bitch named Harlan – that’s always a son of a bitch name-played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is awesome. I even forgive him for the Kurt Cobain meets Sling Blade character he played in The Hunger Games.Woody-Harrelson-and-Christian-Bale-in-Out-of-the-Furnace-2013-Movie-IMage1-650x488

There’s not a lot of useless exposition in the beginning of the movie. There is some building of hard-scrabbled character. We automatically care about the characters because they’re honest and they’re written very well. Their struggles seem like struggles. They don’t have to turn to the camera and explain them. They’re evident and they’re authentic. The father of the brothers is dying. Their uncle, the dying man’s little brother, “Red” Baze – played by the stalwart Sam Shepard sits vigil at his hospital bedside, only the hospital bed is in the living room. We know that won’t end well, the film is not trying to trick us there. So we already have empathy. There’s not a lot of political intrigue or argument when we find out that Casey Affleck’s character Rodney, comes home shell shocked.His tattoos are exaggerated a bit, but no more hyperbolic than the character itself.

Within the first 15 minutes Russell is locked up for DUI manslaughter. So we don’t have to wait for bad things to happen to him. We already believe he’s a good guy, visiting his dad every morning before he goes to work, having that job to begin with an looking after his little brother. We find out that he has a love interest who loves him dearly, played by Zoe Saldana. She doesn’t wait for Russell to return, to her own heart breaking chagrin. We learn upon their new meeting, outside of prison, that Lena is pregnant, with the sheriff’s baby. One of my all time favorites  Forest Whitaker plays the small-town sheriff, Wesley Barnes.

Wesley Barnes notices Russel’s return and leaves it at that. This shows he is a trusting and trust-worthy man. He and Lena even come for dinner to help console the remaining Bazes. The topic of love and Lena comes up when Russel questions Wesleys efforts in apprehending Harlan. Wesley deflects only once, accusing Russell of leaving Lena alone and unprotected while he did his bid. He later defends his position in the Baze home by saying that their relationship may not be fiery, bt it’s a good thing. That’s good enough, for now, for Russell. Barne’s forthrightness acts as a foil when Russel goes on a vigilante mission, avenging Rodney’s eventual murder at the hands of Harrelson’s Harlan. No spoiler alert needed, the movie really builds up to it. What you don’t know is when. He gets beaten so badly, so many times, it could happen at least three times in the film. Barnes’ nobility extends across state-lines and is respected and reflected in a NJ officer extending Red and Russel an opportunity to walk away and live to fight another day, “Wink, Wink.”

The characters are real, they are extreme but necessarily so, or they wont stand out against the backdrop of hard violence, hardcore rural decay and rust and hard-won justice. Shirtless fights occur in rings made of onlookers is dilapidated industrial warehouses and abandoned plants. Blood and sweat replaced oil and steam, suggesting that fights are the real job market and product. The cast is solid, the characters are a product of that, excusing any revenge plot predictability one may find. There is a notable comparison made to Russel’s inability to pull a trigger on a whitetail buck, and the ease he finds in doing so later on.

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The Bourne Legacy-Movie Monday

 

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Can I get a Trilogy out of Bourne and from The Avengers?

The Bourne Legacy stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross (if that is your real name…), a shadow government assassin who comes to a Jesus moment-rather it comes to him- in the form a drone attack on a hideout. It is clear to him, perhaps not the audience, that operatives are being wiped clean, eradicated. The reappearance of Jason Bourne in Manhattan, and Pamela Landy’s upcoming senate hearings spark panic amongst the shadowy unaccountable bureaucratic patriots who then decide to just zero the equation.

Willing participants take medication as a genetic virus therapy in order to increase cognition (blue pill), and increase physiology (green pill). They are then tricked into taking a yellow pill. the Levitra look-alike kills them off quietly. Insert Jefferson Airplane track here. Our man, Aaron has completed his viral gene therapy and has reached his peak performance physically. Handy, since he has to kick so much ass in such a short time, on only one bowl of oatmeal. The camerawork leaves a little ass-kicking to be admired. A lot of it is just accepted in the blur.

We learn that young goodman Cross needs to “viral-0ff” his smart pills or else the government assassins will take him and the pretty doctor, Rachel Weiss, on a long walk off a short rifle. The humanity-peak suggests that before entering the program, Aaron Cross’s original identity was a dummy, and his records show him as dead. He only has this identity now, and is deathly afraid-pun intended- of returning to his formerly stupid self. Insert parallels of super-soldier a la Capt America and irony of Renner-as Avenger-archer. 

A lot of the talent, and my biggest complaint of the whole Bourne series, is that most of the veteran talent is wasted in screaming and order giving roles, in tiny offices. This installment gives us Stacy Keach and Edward Norton bouncing protocol and government speak off one another. I have to comment that in these roles as senior analyst and department director-they pose a bigger threat to justice in America than their previous partnership in American History X. Just saying. A least as the Neo-Nazi and A-pupil skinhead, you knew they were the bad guys. They had accountability, too.

Bourne Legacy was a good intro to what is sure to be another decent action and spy trilogy. It constantly one-ups our expectations by adding layers to the corruption and manipulation of which we know our government is capable, but we accept as necessary. If Jason Bourne was a trained and brainwashed savant, Aaron Cross is the genetically modified next-best-thing. We also learn that there is another program which produces super soldiers, but with diminished empathy. The motorcycle chase scene was good, but it reaked of Terminator 2.

Jeremy Renner is solid. Rachel Weiss plays the necessary female role. I give it 3 blues and a green

Movie Mayhem -Movie Monday Makeup

So, for the second day in a row I sit in my little office. It is now an extra bedroom for my sister-in-law, Allison. If you don’t know about my wife’s 4 younger sisters, shame on me for not talking about them more. Allison has a family. Check it out! Two of my wife’s sisters showed up at 4 a.m. to stay for the weekend. Before they went to sleep, they rearranged my furniture. I awoke to a changed house. I looks great, and they certainly have a better sense of style and organization than we do. The three of them are walking Disney’s Tower of Terror 10 Miler.

This leaves my son, with his newly-casted broken arm, my father  and I to a night of Monopoly, pizza and  another disappointing University of South Florida Football Game. Not a bad option really. I’m taking halftime to write another movie review. This one is of Ralph Fiennes’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.

I was only slightly familiar with the story, and the history. From the outset I had trust. I trust Gerard Butler and I really trust Ralph Feinnes. I knew this would not be King Leonides versus Valdemort-which is why I trusted it. Feinnes’s General Marcius is brutal. He is a brutal speaker, who does not mince words when an OWS type mob (complete with a moral and political compass like a rooster-style barn-top weathervane) addresses the shortage of grain in the beginning. After he single handedly defeats the Volsces, the same angry mob decides to elect him consul. When two opportunistic, media dog tribunals decide to play the mob’s fears and anxieties against them, the citizens turn on a dime and demand Marcius’s head. Marcius responds with a “Screw you too!” and the angry mob chases him out of Rome.

Having already sworn a blood feud with The leader of the Volsces, Tullus Aufidius, played by Gerard Butler, Coriolanus decides that teaming up with him would be a great idea. Feinnes sells it quite well, Butler buys it convincingly.

Butler’s strong Scottish accent interferes with some of the Elizabethan English in iambic pentameter, but it’s still cool sounding. Imagine One Two from RocknRolla giving a courtroom summation. Who gives  a shite what he said, it sounded good to me. He plays Aufidius as a paramilitary everyman with the support of the proletariat- almost a Che Guevara, minus the mass murder and selling out of his nation to the very notion he was fighting of course. Aufidious’s realization that his men are modeling Marcius, instead of him, drives him mad. It leads to another obvious but important twist of fate and character interaction between Feinnes and Butler.The play between these to great actors is the story.

I enjoyed the modernistic feel, and thought that it gave the story relevance. Many modernized Shakespeare productions only succeed in making the characters hip and leaving the audience in the dust. This production, albeit adapted, stayed very true to the original, but it did not seem archaic. Thats hard to do without having Kenneth Branagh in the conversation.

I give it 3 deceptions and a crying to mommy!