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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.


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.


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.


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.




Ten Bad Ideas

Here are the first ten bad ideas about which I could think of writing:

What I did on my summer break.

My garden.

The things I had to sell so I wouldn’t go broke.

Fictitious accounts based on entries in an old schedule book I found.

A review of all of the Louis l’Amour Westerns I inherited.

An essay about Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are almost as good as Wesley Strieber’s The Hunger, but way better than anything written in the last 10 years about vampires.

Mousses or the animal moose.

Selecting a new sofa.

A man sees acrime committed in the background of a Vine video and is compelled to solve the mystery.

The history of single finger gestures.

Movie Review: Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace movie poster

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.


How the New IRS Rules Regarding Group Gratuities Could Impact Restaurants

It seems there is no refuge. The IRS will make keeping your own money a crime.

Jim Balis' Blog

For years it has been common practice for restaurants to add a fixed gratuity to parties of five or more. As of the beginning of this year, however, how restaurants handle tips for large parties is going to have to change. The IRS came out with a new ruling this year that draws a more distinct division between what are considered tips and what are considered service charges. From here on out, it will no longer be legal to require a tip and still call it a tip. If it’s a mandatory fee, it is now called a service charge, which changes how restaurants can handle payouts for bonuses.

It used to be that cash tips generally went unreported, though both tips and wages are technically taxable. Those days are mostly gone now, what with credit cards and more stringent reporting and tracking requirements. This change in what constitutes service…

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