The Man of Steel

14 Jun

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CAST

Henry Cavill-Clark Kent/Kal-El

Amy Adams-Lois Lane

Michael Shannon-General Zod

Diane Lane-Martha Kent

Russell Crowe-Jor-El

Antje Traue-Faora-Ul

Harry Lennix-General Swanwick

Richard Schiff-Dr. Emil Hamilton

Christopher Meloni-Col. Nathan Hardy

Kevin Costner-Jonathan Kent

Ayelet Zurer-Lara Lor-Van

Laurence Fishburne-Perry White

Cooper Timberline-Clark Kent at 9

Dylan Sprayberry-Clark Kent at 13

REVIEW:  75 years ago Jerome Siegel and Jerry Schuster creatively introduced to the world, the  now legendary American icon, Superman. It has been said that Superman’s enduring popularity has do with the fact that the mythos behind the hero is the ultimate 20th century immigration story.  A stranger arrives in America’s heartland, is adopted by a farmer and his wife, and spends his young life coming to terms with his heritage vs. the culture of his new home.  Stranger makes good, becomes America’s darling and protector and vows to uphold truth, justice and the American way. Underlying Zack Snyder’s direction of this too much CGI’d Krypton, Superman’s home world, loud explosions, and over the top villain Zod, there is an inkling of the myth behind the hero.

In the telling of Superman’s origin Russell Crowe makes a fine Jor-el, Superman’s Kryptonian world, dad. That said, Zack Snyder removes the clean-cut Jor-el from the comic books and makes Crowe look like a warrior from say 300, Snyder’s CGI laden warrior film. Crowe becomes a guiding light in spirit, through-out the film and even has an encounter with Lois Lane.

Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as Kal-el/Superman/Clark Kent. He is the perfect embodiment of the character and gives Kal-el depth as he struggles with who he is. He is searching to understand his place in the world as we all do from time to time. He understands he has powers and he learns through Jonathan Kent, his earth dad played by Kevin Costner, to control his powers for the good of mankind.

Superman’s nemesis, General Zod, played perfectly by Michael Shannon, comes to earth to turn the planet into a new Krypton.  The interplay between Zod and Superman moves the story along as Kal-el must choose between saving all that he loves or sacrificing himself to save earth.

The good news is that the simple immigration tale that is at the core of the myth, though scattered in spurts throughout the film, remains somewhat intact. The bad news is the CGI effects and overuse of the hand held, stedicam , make a quarter of the film shaky and at times I felt like I was on a roller coaster.

Superman’s home planet and technology look so overcrowded with detail that I found it a distraction from the story telling. There was too much eye candy to follow and not enough human interaction.

There are many good points to recommend this film as a go-see; on the other hand it had many flaws in the visual style and some of the casting. Laurence Fishburne was poorly cast as Perry White editor of the daily planet. In Superman’s history Perry White never wore a small diamond earring in any ear, but of course the Superman story has been, told and retold, and reborn and reborn again so many times, I guess any new vision would be acceptable.  He does get cantankerous, but no “Great Cesar’s Ghosts” or Jimmy Olsen’s in site.

Amy Adams is miscast as  Lois Lane, traditionally; Lois was a lot more feminist and curvy than Amy Adams’ version of the character. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Lois Lane a little taller and dark haired. If you are trying to draw a whole new generation of young people into the Superman fold, then why not cast say, Jennifer Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), into the role?

The film does have much going for it as a reboot. I suspect this film will rival some of the recent Marvel superhero films that have preceded the Man of Steel. If you are a fan of the mythology as I have been, you will enjoy yourself. There is plenty of Superman pop-culture reference scattered throughout to please the most hardcore of fans.

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AFTER EARTH

2 Jun

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Directed by M. Night Shyamalan; written by Gary Whitta and Mr. Shyamalan, based on a story by Will Smith

SYNOPSIS: In After Earth, one thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind’s new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige (played by Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai (played by Jaden Smith). When an asteroid storm damages Cypher and Kitai’s craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth. As his father lies dying in the cockpit, Kitai must trek across the hostile terrain to recover their rescue beacon. His whole life, Kitai has wanted nothing more than to be a soldier like his father. Today, he gets his chance.

Cast

Jaden Smith-Kitai Raige

Will Smith-Cypher Raige

Zoë Isabella Kravitz -Senshi Raige

Sophie Okonedo-Faia Raige

Glenn Morshower-Commander Velan

Kristofer Hivju-Security Chief

Review:  This movie has its moments but should be entitled “Much ado about nothing” or a review headline should read Will Smith’s vanity gift to his son Jaden. Sadly the once promising young film director M. Knight Shyamalan co-wrote and directed this cliché, paint by the numbers sci-fi tale of a father and son’s journey to rediscover and renew their relationship.

The simple plot is about a post apocalyptic earth that has been invaded by aliens. Humans to survive relocated to another planet. The aliens can sense human fear by the release of pheromones and thus can hunt them down. When General Cypher (Will Smith) takes his son Cadet Kitai on a training mission their starship, carrying an enemy alien in a cocoon, gets caught up in an asteroid field and their only escape route, a wormhole, takes them to the off limits planet earth where they crash land. Needless to say only Kitai and Cypher survive. The problem is the ship broke in two pieces when it landed. The first section has  Kitai, Cypher and a working tracking system, the only working homing beacon is in the tail of the ship which fell 100 kilometers away. Since Cypher has a broken leg, he sends his son, Kitai on his first ranger mission.

The rest of the story is about Kitai’s survival in the wild as he tries to hike to the other half of the ship and launch the homing beacon. Many adventures and cheesy special CGI effects later the ultimate confrontation takes place. Will Kitai fight off the alien, find the beacon, and save his dad?  What do you think? The plot is shallow and predictable. To make matters worse Will Smith speaks in slow monotone syllables in every sentence he utters, so you know what he is saying must be important. He has a pseudo-Carribbean/Bostonian hint in his speech.

I will say there are some tender moments and some disconnected literary references, such as Moby Dick and “The Wreck of the Hesperus”. Their ship is called the “Hesper” and General Cypher chases aliens with no fear as Ahab chased the whale. Overall the film falls flat, the sentiment seems fake and the story disingenuous.

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Frances Ha

31 May

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Directed by Noah Baumbach; written by Mr. Baumbach and Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named  Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness. FRANCES HA is a modern comic fable that explores New York, friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption.

CAST

Greta Gerwig -Frances

Mickey Sumner-Sophie

Patrick Heusinger-Patch

Adam Driver-Lev

Michael Zegen-Benji

Grace Gummer-Rachel

REVIEW: This delightful, interesting, black and white IFC film, starring the “Queen of Independent” films, Greta Gerwig, tells the tale of a twenty-something woman coming to terms with growing up. Frances is 28 and dreams of being a dancer with the dance company she apprentices with. It becomes apparent what she dreams and what reality is are two different things.  She shares her best friend Sophies’s apartment but as time moves on Sophie faces the real world while Frances is still stuck in her dreams.

There is a bit of Frances in all of us as we have to face adulthood and responsibilities. Frances is the child in us all and she is both reckless and joyous as she naively, almost blindly moves to attain her perceived goals. It is plain to see she is uncomfortable with convention and she knows, even with self-doubt that she must continue after her dreams no matter what other people think. In essence as her friendships grow apart and she builds new ones, they are made with the desperate hope someone will take her at face value. Gerwig gives Frances, humor, an adorable flightiness, charm, insecurity and an enormous amount of likeability. As people she meets see through her, she obviously thinks they are crazy for not taking her offbeat view of life seriously. She almost jokingly is labeled un-dateable, her dance mentor sympathizes with her but understands Frances is not a dancer.  Her adventures through New York City where she lives, are at once humorous and  soul searching. Gerwig gives a remarkable performance.

There is an interesting moment in the film when Frances, on a date, leaves the restaurant she is in, she offered to pay for dinner but the restaurant won’t take her debit card. She leaves the date in the restaurant to find an ATM to pay cash. While running back to the restaurant she trips and falls, when she returns her date notices her arm is bleeding. She was completely unaware of the damage she inflicted on herself.  It seems this moment is a metaphor for how she has lived her life, running from place to place, falling down and not realizing the consequences as she recklessly pursues her dreams.

The film overall has a light touch, and some laugh out loud moments. By the films end you can’t help but feel that Frances is just beginning to get it right. The title of the movie Frances Ha, is also a metaphor for who Frances is, you as an observer can’t take un-dateable Frances seriously, Francis Ha!  No spoilers on how the title becomes relevant. The film is about the search and Frances takes us along for the ride.

The film grew on me as the story progressed and I am sure all of us have met a Frances Halloway at some point or another. Gerwig makes this her own and shares a writing credit with the director.

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Star Trek

16 May

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Synopsis: In this much anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams Star Trek 2009 reboot , the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

CAST

 Chris Pine – James Tiberius Kirk

Zachary Quinto – Spock

John Cho – Hikaru Sulu

Bruce Greenwood – Captain Christopher Pike

Simon Pegg – Montgomery “Scotty” Scott

Zoe Saldana – Nyota Uhura

Karl Urban – Leonard “Bones” McCoy

Anton Yelchin – Pavel Checkov

Benedict Cumberbatch – John Harrison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OhTpsUKHTtc

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Review:  For the uninitiated among you, there are several elements in the Star Trek Universe, created by Gene Roddenberry, that have stood the test of time, in what must be close to 50 years of its’ existence:

1) The idea the universe is multicultural and must be celebrated, the first interracial kiss in broadcast history, a multi ethnic and species crew of the Enterprise, Klingons, Vulcans, Humans, Romulans etc, etc.

2) The Prime Directive of non-interference in a species natural development.

3) Most important the triad-relationship between Captain, James T. Kirk, Science Officer, Mr. Spock and Doctor, Bones McCoy. Against all odds and adversaries the three remain close friends.

Regarding the last, this triad can be seen in mostly all the Trek Spin-offs, Voyager for example it’s the friendship between Captain, Janeway and head of security, a Vulcan named Tuvok.. In the film versions of the original series we find Kirk, Spock, McCoy have become a close knit family.

J.J. Abrams changed the Trek Universe in 2009 with his Star-Trek reboot. Although he ultimately kept the Trek core values he eradicated several core Federation planets thus starting from scratch. In the end, that film as the new one was a satisfying  reboot for old trekkies as well as a nod the younger audiences Trek must embrace to stay alive. It is accepting change and going with it that has kept Star-Trek one of the most enduring sci-fi franchises this side of Dr. Who.

Into Darkness picks-up where the last one left off and brings us on a thrill ride of in-jokes, surprise appearances from the past, humor and most of all the development of friendship between Kirk and Spock.

Without giving anything away, the film brings us full circle as Kirk battles an enemy within Starfleet  and an old adversary that Kirk in this timeline, meets for the first time.

Once again Pike’s Kirk, Quinto’s Spock, and Urban’s McCoy, are spot on. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is frenetic, hilarious and polar opposites of James Doohan’s Scotty, which was wise, ironic and a miracle worker. When Nichelle Nichols first played Uhura, it was groundbreaking television, she was the first black woman to break the color barrier, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, is not groundbreaking,  so as a twist she has been in a romantic relationship with Spock since Abram’s 2009 Trek Reboot. Unfortunately she is not given much to do here until late in the film when she gets involved in the action. Anton Yelchin’s, Checkov, is wide eyed and enthusiastic with extreme Russian accent intact, and John Cho’s, Sulu is also spot on.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays John Harrison, a terrorist that wants to destroy the federation. He is a great villain and his story holds true to Trek-lore and history. Nuff said.

Star Trek was always a mirror of our times, the use of metaphors and other species to depict the human condition, has always been a necessary component of the Trek Universe. J.J. Abrams has a good handle on this and the film is a nod to the past and a look to the future of the franchise. In today’s world the film debates the issues of genetic engineering, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The film works on many levels and I hope it speaks to a younger audience the way the original series has spoken to me all these years. I look forward to Kirk and crew’s 5 year mission that lies ahead as we come full circle in this the second of Abram’s, Trek incarnations.

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The Great Gatsby

10 May

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Synopsis: Baz Luhrmann directs a lavish version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gasby. Leonardo DiCaprio, plays Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who spends half a decade building a monument to the woman he loves.

Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby)

 Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway)

 Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan)

 Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan),

Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson)

Jason Clarke (George Wilson)

Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker)

 Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim)

Review:  Considering Baz Luhrmann’s excesses in his version of Romeo and Juliet, also starring Leonardo DiCapro and his visual excesses on his film Moulin Rouge, we are also visually overwhelmed by all the sites and sounds of this version of Gatsby. The film runs 2 hours and 40 minutes and it is a long time to be bombarded with fireworks, stunning set design and loud music. On the other hand the same can be said for a Cecil B. Demille extravaganza. What Luhrman does do, and brilliantly I  might add, is let us inside the 1920’s world of Gatsby and his obsession for one woman, the excessive parties and fireworks are just a distraction. Luhrmann also has an apparent appreciation for the source material, when the film gets more serious there are certain moments of diologue and proes right out of Fitzgerald’s novel.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Gatsby’s friend, Nick Carraway, played by Toby Maguire. Maguire, as an actor, plays naive young men changed by extraordinary circumstances extremely well.  He is seen as a recovering alcoholic in a psychiatric hospital telling his story to his doctor. When Carraway reaches an impass and won’t talk about his dealings with Gatsby, the doctor encourages him to write about it. This is when the story unfolds as Carraway, who is writing a journal, narrates his writings.

DiCaprio is Gatsby, a mysterious, rich, quiet man owns an estate on Long Island. He throws extravagant parties, collects art, fills his house with strangers and music, but no one has seen him. Rumors abound about his background, he killed a man, his family was prominent and he inherited their fortune, he went to Oxford etc. DiCaprio has a boyish charm and a knowing smile that perfectly encapsulates the Gatsby of the novel.

Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love interest is played by Cary Mulligan, she is both beautiful and complicated. She love’s Gatsby but is married to a bigot and a brutish adulterer, the rich, Tom Buchanan.

Joel Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan’s menacing bigotry and unfaithfulness with a frightening edge. He loves his wife, Daisy, but his brutish ways keeps her at a distance. It is here that the conflicts in their marriage arise.

There are many secrets to Gatsby as well as to Daisy and her relationship with him.  Each piece of the puzzle fits together as new revelations about Gatsby are uncovered or shared with Carraway. The story is fascinating and holds your attention.

The use of 3D was very effective in the story telling, from the beginning titles that literally draw you into Gatsby’s world, to Carraway’s typing prose that at times fill the screen with fonts that fall like snow. The 3D enhances the majesty of Gatsby’s mansion and well as the musical numbers that are reminiscent of Buzby Berkley.

I must say that as good a movie as this is it falls short of being a great movie.  The film, which takes us to a post WWI New York during the roaring 20’s, is visually recreated with style, mood and the design of the time. When you are taken into that world a big piece of the picture is the sounds and music of the time and place. Luhrmann chose to juxtapose jazz sounds with the loud beats of Jay-Z, covers by Beyonce and Andre 3000,.and Fergie. Frankly this is a distraction when you are mentally focused on the 1920’s décor, color and costumes.  For an example of the contrasts at work here, the scene where Carraway meets Gatsby for the first time, there are cross cuts from Carraway’s face, to the fireworks at the party, to Gatsby himself looking out over the Long Island Sound, the music is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the moment is a brilliant use of the language of film. On the other hand as the music swells at a huge Gatsby party, the musician who is reminiscent of the Jazz Great Cab Calloway, sings a hip-hop belter that is so out of place, you are immediately removed from the time and space the film represents.  Luhrmann understands everyone will not like his use of say Fergie singing, so you have to ask is he doing justice to the story or trying to sell us a mix we can find on ITunes, or a Blu-ray DVD version of a long music video?

The movie’s cast of actors more than makes up for the flaws in the musical soundtrack and the story is a classic of modern literature. So for today’s young audience I say, you know what a DVD is, they used to call them books. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to get a young audience to appreciate a novel like Gatsby, then go for it.

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Iron Man 3

3 May

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Synopsis: Marvel’s “Iron Man 3″ pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible.

CAST

Robert Downey Jr……………………….Tony Stark/Iron Man

Gwyneth Paltrow……………………………………. Pepper Potts

Don Cheadle…………………………………. Col. James Rhodes

Guy Pearce…………………………………………… Aldrich Killian

Rebecca Hall…………………………………….Dr. Maya Hansen

Stephanie Szostak………………………………………Ellen Brandt

James Badge Dale………………………………………….Eric Savin

Jon Favreau ……………………………………………..Happy Hogan

Ben Kingsley……………………………………………the Mandarin

Ty Simpkins…………………………………………………………Harley

 

Review:  Iron Man 3 ushers in the official start to summer blockbuster season, and what a good way to kick things off.  There are three things to think about, other than the fact that this is the third installment:

1)      How solid the storyline is and how it has action, pathos and heart.

2)      How terrific the acting is with this top notch cast.

3)      Was the showing of  bomb blast that hurt the people Tony Stark loves, too soon after the Boston bombings. (More on this later)

Marvel media has been miles ahead of the competition in the Super Hero film genre, this film is another example of  their good story telling. I will start with the cast:

Robert Downey Jr. is perfect for the role of Tony Stark. He once again proves his charm and witticism as he narrates the story in flashback. In this film Tony moves away from being the playboy, millionaire, narcissist and starts to grow-up. The entire story centers on the demons he has created through the years, through his scientific research and his shallow callousness. Downey does this perfectly well; let’s just say he was born to play the part. Throughout the film you can see that Stark is fighting his own demons, he has been having PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) since the end of the Avengers and this is where the film picks-up his story. Stark is questioning his past as well what’s ahead.

Gwyneth Paltro as Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts, who now runs Stark Industries, also changes but is steadfast in her love for Tony. She falls victim to a terrorist organization headed by The Manderin and the chase begins. Pepper is strong in many ways, she stands by Tony and puts up with his boyish behavior, worries about how the PTSD is effecting him and suffers through watching the Stark Mansion get blown to bits.

Don Cheadle plays Col. James Rhodes,former Stark employee, now working for the defense department. He still marvels at Tony and the two of them  ultimately are forced to work together due to circumstances. Tony always has the upper hand  as Rhodes watches in awe. Their on screen chemistry is great together.

Guy Pierce as scientist geek, Aldrich Killian, is spurned by Tony in a flashback from 1999. His experiments in genetic engineering are blown off by Tony and he spends the next 13 years, through research, plotting his revenge. How does this tie-in with The Manderin, played by Ben Kingsley, the answer  is told in the film, no spoilers here.

Ben Kingsley plays The Manderin, a terrorist who is hell-bent on teaching America and the President a lesson. The mystery lies in his bombing attacks that leave no evidence of a bomb or bomb parts at the scene of the attacks. Kingsley has many secrets and his acting as always is right on the money. He gets to play both serious and comedic and he navigates this brilliantly. He looks like he was having a good time.

This brings me to the question of the Boston bombing, was watching bombs go off  critically hurting Stark’s friend and former bodyguard Happy, a little too soon for most audiences?  Many people were critically wounded in the Boston tragedy and to see Stark seeking revenge for his friend, Happy, may be too uncomfortable for some. The filmmakers did not know in advance of the Boston events, it wasn’t anyone’s fault really that this film came out so close to the Marathon tragedy. I hope people will go to see it and just lose themselves into a good story.

On a lighter note, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee does his Hitchcock cameo in this film. Can you spot him?…..

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42

26 Apr

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Synopsis: Hero is a word we hear often in sports, but heroism is not always about achievements on the field of play. “42” tells the story of two men—the great Jackie Robinson and legendary Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey—whose brave stand against prejudice forever changed the world by changing the game of baseball.

Cast

Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson),

 Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey),

 Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson),

 Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher),

 Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker),

 Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese),

Andre Holland (Wendell Smith),

 Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman),

Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca),

 T. R. Knight (Harold Parrott)

 and John C. McGinley (Red Barber).

Review: 42, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, is a glossy, well presented, old fashion, reverential, bio of the first major league great, to break the color barrier, Jackie Robinson. The year is post WWII, 1947 America. The Americans are home from war and baseball is “white” America’s national pastime. A young Jackie Robinson plays in the “Negro” leagues, and as talented as he was, back then, there would be no future for him in the majors.  Along comes Brooklyn Dodgers GM, Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford and the rest is history.

Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Rickey was honest, passionate and his love for baseball is apparent. His face lights-up when he discusses the game. Rickey understands in order to make money and fill the seats, he must bring up young talent in order to win the coveted pennant. He also understands that in order to do so he must recruit a player from the Negro Leagues. Even when his own staff disagreed him the search begins and it is Jackie Robinson he chooses.

Chadwick Boseman, new to films, brings life to Robinson. We see how much he loves the game and how devoted he is to his wife, Rachel. It is through her faith in him as well as Rickey’s that helps him through the bigotry and hatred he is to face in the majors.

The script tends to gloss over the real pain and anguish Robinson must have felt, and instead, looks at the bigger picture of Robinson’s contribution as the first black American to break through Major League Baseball’s color barrier. When the music swells, or the emotions flair, you know something important is happening, and you get swept up in the myth behind the probable reality. The only draw-back to this is that you never really get a sense of the inner man. That said Boseman does a pitch perfect job, no pun intended.

Nicole Beharie plays Rachel Robinson, a devoted wife, and mother. The story of the Robinsons romance is very sweet and the love they share is at times is so strong, you cry when she does, feel exuberance when she does and understand her concerns. Beharie does this very well in spite, again, of a slick Hollywood script. Even with her, you don’t get a real sense of who she is inside.

Throughout the film, bigotry is shown with liberal use of the “n” word, white bathrooms vs. colored only bathrooms, and fellow ball players losing their jobs over their prejudices. However, rather than portray this in a gritty, realistic manner, the filmmakers chose to give us the cliff note, high school version, of real events.

As history proved Jackie Robinson not only broke the color barrier, but was admired and revered by adults and children. He was a great player and as Branch Rickey points out, “It’s not about what color your skin is all they see is a great ball player.”

Overall the film had the potential to be a really memorable bio, in the end although you do get swept up in the emotional impact of the story, and it’s cultural message, a message that in today’s world, is sorely been missed, the film only scored a triple when it should have been a home run.

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