Tag Archives: cinema commentary

Captain America the Winter Soldier

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Captain America, Steve Rodgers, returns to fight a new world order, in a modern world. When a S.H.E.I.L.D. colleague is attacked, Rodgers joins forces with Natasha, The Black Widow and Sam Wilson, The Falcon, as H.Y.D.R.A., once again tries to dominate the planet.

 

CAST:

Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce

 

Review: In the much anticipated return of Captain America, MARVEL has made one of the best movies so far, in their superhero war chest. The movie is non-stop action from beginning to end, the story is a tightly scripted action thriller, and there are enough laughs and back-story references to please any fan. In this sense the movie succeeds at bringing the old Captain America into relevance in today’s world.

The fun begins with a murder mystery, when Nick Fury is presumably assassinated; Captain America follows a trail with fellow agent The Black Widow. Along the way are many surprises and twists. His old friend Bucky Barnes returns as a ruthless assassin working for H.Y.D.R.A, with a mission to kill the good Captain. Steve Rodgers befriends a young soldier Sam Wilson, whom he trusts, and who admires him and his American values.

Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce represents S.H.E.I.L.D and is the money man who funds the operation through influencing a tight knit consortium of world leaders. Can he be trusted….? Is Nick Fury, really dead, will Bucky remember his friendship with Rodgers, will Stan Lee have a cameo?

In the bigger picture, Fury has built a secret arsenal underneath S.H.E.I.L.D headquarters. H.Y.D.R.A has been secretly funding the project through Pierce. When Fury figures this out, he confides in Rodgers and hands him a UBS storage disk that contains all of S.H.E.I.L.D’s secrets and in his presumably dying breath tells Rodgers not to trust anyone. The story continues along this line, as Rogers forms a team with Natasha and Sam.

There are cameo appearances by Gary Shandling, (comedian, The Gary Shandling Show) as a corrupt senator working for H.Y.D.R.A as well as the obligatory Stan Lee moment.

MARVEL stories always have a human touch and the relationships between the characters ring true. When The Black Widow flirts with the Captain, you can see what she is thinking inside. Rodgers is all about Truth, Justice and the American way and obviously thrives on trust and loyalty, Fury is all about distrust, protecting freedom and always ready to fight. The newbie to this scenario is Sam Wilson, The Falcon, whose loyalty to the Captain’s cause makes him a trusted and valuable friend.

This is a story loaded with intrigue; in fact some of the gadgets and technology are slightly reminiscent of James Bond films. The film has left enough loose ends to make a sequel, as with all good movie franchises, it also ties up the some unanswered questions from the first movie.

I must say, watching Robert Redford play the heavy, with his charm and understatement, makes him more insidious as opposed to over the top as most Bond villains are. He was perfectly cast and just how insidious he is, surprises you at various tense moments throughout the story.

I saw the 3D version of this movie and felt the effect never distracted, that said, the movie would be just as enjoyable with or without the 3D.

I hope MARVEL can keep up the good works and future movies in the franchise, such as the AVENGERS sequel, will live up to the bar as raised by this one.

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12 Years a Slave

17 Feb

12 Years a Slave

Synopsis:  In pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelf… Moreth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup)

 Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps)

 Benedict Cumberbatch (Ford)

 Paul Dano (Tibeats)

 Garret Dillahunt (Armsby)

 Paul Giamatti (Freeman)

 Scoot McNairy (Brown)

 Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey)

 Adepero Oduye (Eliza)

 Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps)

 Brad Pitt (Bass)

 Michael Kenneth Williams (Robert)

 Alfre Woodard (Mistress Shaw)

 Chris Chalk (Clemens)

 Taran Killam (Hamilton)

 Bill Camp (Radburn).

 Review:  Steve McQueen directs the story Solomon Northup, and gives us a compelling, unrelenting tale of abduction and slavery in pre-civil war years starting in 1841. The film is based on Northup’s memoirs entitled, “12 Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

Chiwetel Ejifor plays Northup as both a slave and an outside witness looking in. He does what he has to survive, thinking only of contacting his family left behind and his friends up north who can help him. He is abducted  in Washington, DC and sold by an English slave trader named Freeman. (Paul Giamatti). His first master Ford is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford has sympathy for the slaves but is helpless and can do nothing for them. He favors Northup and grants him every courtesy. During his time with ford he is taunted by the Ford’s overseer. When Northrup fights back, the overseer strings him up on a tree. It takes hours for Ford to come to his rescue, McQueen prolongs the shots of Northup hanging there, sweating in the sun with little water. Ford has no choice but to sell Northup in order to save his life. It is with his next Master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a mean, drunk, piggish, bigoted cotton plantation owner, that we see the reality of slave ownership in the deep south.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a slave girl named Patsey who Epps favors and Epps wife despises. She puts up with all manner of shame in order to survive. Nyong’o gives a bravura performance that tugs at your sympathies as she is whipped half to death at Epps’ wife’s request over a bar of soap.

Northup has a chance meeting with a Canadian Abolitionist, Bass (Brad Pitt) who after hearing Northup’s story sets the wheels in motion to get him released and sent home to his family.

McQueen breaks every Hollywood convention about slavery; this is no Gone with the Wind, or say The Little Rebel with Billy (Bojangles) Robinson tap dancing up a staircase with Shirley Temple. We see whippings, hangings and rape in a ways that are hard to take, but the restraint shown by Northup in long shots focused on his face as he internalizes his predicament, puts a human face on the chaos making it easier to swallow. You might say the same thing about Liam Neeson’s  performance as Oscar Schindler in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

The movie is harrowing, brilliant and a contender for a best picture Oscar.

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The Monuments Men

17 Feb

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Synopsis:  Directed by George Clooney and based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

 CAST

George Clooney (Frank Stokes)

 Matt Damon (James Granger)

 Bill Murray (Richard Campbell)

 John Goodman (Walter Garfield)

 Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont)

 Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz)

 Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries)

 Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein),

 Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone)

 Holger Handtke (Colonel Wegner)

REVIEW: George Clooney has directed a likeable film, in the old school, familiar style reminiscent say of a Guns of Navorone. George, (Frank Stokes),  leads his band of men through Europe during the last days of World War II. His job, as assigned by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to find and return the world’s art and cultural treasures, stolen by the Nazis under Hitler’s orders. It reminds us that Hitler didn’t just want to kill the Jews but destroy their culture and any knowledge of their existence off the face of the Earth. Most of the art was owned by private Jewish collectors, and Jewish families, past down generation to generation, the art priceless, the cost of lives, infamous, heinous and we must never forget the result of the Nazi holocaust.

In the telling of the tale, Clooney treaded the fine line of heavy handedness and lightheartedness. Given the implications of the subject matter these are hard issues to navigate and in this regard the movie becomes uneven. The film remains buoyant by the all star cast, Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone a Parisian who is forced to document every art piece taken by the Germans, also works for the French Resistance. Her performance transcends the material she is given and you understand her as she trusts no one, even Matt Damon, (James Granger), who tries to enlist her help for the Monuments men. Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin add to the light heartedness of the characters, their mission is clear and they are all experts in their creative fields. Each one has an ironic sense of duty vs. reality.  Murray and Balaban are experts at playing irony and are a joy to watch. John Goodman is always winning and teaming him with Jean Dujardin works on so many levels.

Hugh Bonneville, (Donald Jeffries) is the British counterpart who works with the Monuments Men, and is a friend of Clooney’s. Clooney enlists him as a way of saving him from a fall from grace he has had with bouts of alcoholism. Bonneville, who is so wonderful in Downton Abbey, adds certain class to the film as he tries to recover Michelangelo’s,  Madonna and Child statue.

The story becomes a race against time as the Monuments Men  must recover the last of the art before the Russian Army takes claim to it for war reparations caused by the lives lost by the war. The story could have been more involving, the pace perhaps a little quicker as the sense of urgency, however, the Monuments Men is a good story and deserves a look-see just to be reminded of what could have been, if not for brave men and freedom fighters, like these.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

5 Feb

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Synopsis: Martin Scorsese directs the story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort. From the American dream to corporate greed, Belfort goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late 80s. Excess success and affluence in his early twenties as founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont warranted Belfort the title “The Wolf of Wall Street.” — (C) Paramount

 CAST

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort)

Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff)

Margot Robbie (Naomi)

Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hanna)

Kyle Chandler (Patrick Denham)

Rob Reiner (Max Belfort)

Jon Favreau (Manny Riskin)

Cristin Milioti (Teresa)

Jean Dujardin (Jean-Jacques Saurel)

REVIEW:  Martin Scorsese has directed a controversial, raw story, of greed, debauchery, and addiction, filled with humor, shock and  lots of sex thrown in. The story is based on the autobiographical book, The wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, the founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.

Within the first few minutes, the film introduces us to Belfort, played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, he describes his life as images depict him snorting blow off the posterior end of a prostitute, crashing his helicopter down on the front lawn of his Long Island mansion  and various othe unbridled deeds of debauchery. The story grabs you and never lets  you go, it is at once comedic and tragic.

The film in flashback , recounts a young married Belfort getting his first job on wall street where his naiveté is obvious. His boss Mark Hanna, played by Matthew McConaughey, takes Belfort under his wings and explains the ropes of large commissions in what is possibly the funniest luncheon moment I have ever seen. Hanna starts to do a primal chant, to raise his energy and urges Belfort to do the same. He also urges Belfort to do cocaine as an brain opener followed by self release to temper the energy. The scene is hilarious and starts Belfort on his road to greed, addictions and debauchery.

When Belfort loses his job, due to the stock market crash of the 1980’s,  remembered as black Monday, he finds a job as a penny stock salesman in his home town on Long Island. He literally becomes their best salesman ever, 50% commissions on every sale, he decides to start his own company. He puts together a team of cronies and phonies, which also happen to be some of the best character actors around, the first person he recruits is a nebbish, Donnie Azoff, played hysterically by Jonah Hill. The two of them create an empire of selling selling junk stocks to the rich by first offering them blue chip stocks to gain their confidence. The commissions they make are staggering and the money seems to pour in.

Belfort creates the firm of  Stratton Oakmont as his success continues. He hires con-artists and salespeople with no brokerage background and makes them all millionaires with his schemes. As a reward he throws big parties with hookers, drinking ,drugs and becomes the leader and spokesman of his cult of believers.  His addictions grow exponentially with his power and greed, he and his cohorts partake in bacchanalian orgies, he downs Quaaludes like candy, divorces his home town wife, marries a super model, is stalked by the FBI for insider trading  and so on and so forth. Scorsese does not miss any sordid or hilarious detail. One question comes to mind, is this comedy about American business as usual?  If so, should we as a species ask ourselves what motivates people to act this way and is this a true look at who we really are?

The film never disappoints and has a energy and a style that only Scorsese can deliver. DiCaprio is becoming a true super-star and his bravura performance, supported by a superb ensemble of character actors, makes this a must see, to believe  film. Some people may be offended by the themes of misogyny and addiction, but the film does deliver with a one-two punch. The film has been nominated for a best picture Oscar for the upcoming 2014 academy awards.

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American Hustle

28 Jan

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CAST

Christian Bale – Irving Rosenfeld

Bradley Cooper – Richie DiMaso

Amy Adams – Sydney Prosser

Jeremy Renner – Mayor Carmine Polito

Jennifer Lawrence – Rosalyn Rosenfeld

Louis C.K. – Stoddard Thorsen

Jack Huston – Pete Musane

Alessandro Nivola – Reggio

Michael Peña – Paco Hernandez/Sheik Abdullah

Shea Whigham – Carl Elway

Robert De Niro – Victor Tellegio

REVIEW:  Directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer is based on the ABSCAM sting of 1978.  The story concerns itself with Irving Rosenfeld a small time Hustler, sells fake art, owns a chain of Laundromats, and cons people out of thousands with fake investment scams. He is a genius at what he does and like most con-artists he has bigger dreams. He meets his match at a party, a woman, Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams. She is an ex-exotic dancer/stripper and is looking to reinvent herself.  Irving finds himself connected to her, and she with him, she falls for him and becomes his mistress.. He teaches her the con game and she reinvents herself as English noblewoman with Royal connections. The two swindle the desperate with bad investment schemes, until one of the investors turns out to be an FBI man named Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper.

DiMaso coerces the two into helping him put the finger on corrupt politicians like a New Jersey Mayor , Carmine Polito played by Jeremy Renner. Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s wife, whose son, Irving has adopted as his own. She gets involved much to Syndney’s dislike and almost ruins the sting operation. Irving is forever mending fences caused by his wife and DiMaso who wants to be in control but is at odds with Irving’s plans.

The look of the film, its’ colors and textures are very reminiscent of films made in that era. The music is strictly Disco and Jazz, giving the film its’ mood and setting. The script is a dark screwball comedy, and I found myself laughing at the situations as they grew more complex and absurd.

This is a fine film with an outstanding cast, all deliver solid and believable performances. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld and delivers New York greasy with class and panache. He is balding, with a comb over from hell. that he meticulously puts into place with latex and hairspray to keep the illusion of being someone else. He is adorned with bling that includes a big Star of David on a gold chain and bracelets. He wears suits that look like they fell off a hanger . Bales performance is real, comical in a human way, and pathetic every time he downs a heart pill.

Amy Adams delivers a fine performance as Sydney Prosser, it is wonderful to see her in a role that is down and dirty as opposed to squeaky clean. You understand her as she looks for something real in her life, opposed to the fakery she has been living, in order to survive.

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld plays her as ditzy, bored, scared, and looking for some excitement in her life. Every time she does something stupid, like accidently blowing up the microwave or causing a fire in her kitchen or some other thing it is obvious she is trying to get her husband’s attention. She is a very lonely and this is at the core of her performance.

The cast is rounded out by great performances by comedian Louis C.K. as FBI man, Stoddard Thorson and Robert De Niro’s cameo as mob boss(what else) Victor Tellegio, among others.

This comedic caper is one of the finest ensemble casts I have seen in a long time. The film is deservedly getting a lot of attention and rewards. Don’t miss it. I predict the film will walk away with Oscars.

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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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Zero Dark Thirty

23 Feb

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Synopsis: Based on actual events the film chronicles the decade-long hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011. The film has been nominated for The Academy Award for Best Picture 2012.

Cast

Jessica Chastain…………………………………………………………..Maya

Joel Edgerton…………………………………………………………….Patrick

Kyle Chandler……………………………………………….Joseph Bradley

Jason Clark……………………………………………………………………Dan

Chris Pratt……………………………………………Justin, a US Navy SEAL

Review: Jessica Chaistain, plays Maya, a newbie CIA operative in search of leads to track down and eradicate Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The ten year search after 9/11 is the basis for the events that follow and haunt Maya. There are gruesome scenes of water-boarding, a torture technique used by the American Government under George W. Bush, to extract information from terrorist captives, as to the whereabouts of bin Laden. You do get the sense of how wrong this technique is, how the Bush administration used this more as an excuse to show the world, see we are doing something to get bin-Laden. A case can be made against water-boarding, its use, and the Bush administrations abuse of authority at the time. There are those who agree with its use, and those who don’t. The film has no particular view one way or the other, like with any good work of fiction, it let’s the audience have their own opinions.

It is Maya’s feisty determination, played believably by Chaistain, a new Meryl Streep, yes she is that good, that forces the CIA to follow the hunches and leads she brings to the table. Although we know the outcome, it is the suspense of the build-up that makes this a riveting film. There are those that believe that Maya is being naive in her pursuit of obvious leads. She believes that bin Laden and his operatives are hiding in plain site, living life as an average citizen, more overt than covert. The powers that be are trailing the more covert, it takes Maya’s relentlessness to duty to make them see things the way she does. Was she right about bin Laden living in the big compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, was her leads to the compound a mistake. There are two points of view at odds here, Maya’s and everyone else’s.

The actual raid of the compound brings the action and suspense to its peak. The Navy SEALS, clandestine air craft are brought in and the raid proceeds on Maya’s hunch. The moment is so real, that when bin-Laden is found and shot, Maya’s decompression in the aircraft waiting to take her home brings tears to your eyes. She checks bin-Laden’s body bag as the SEALs are celebrating. They are in awe of bringing bin-Laden down, this is contrasted against Maya’s own personal feelings after ten years of frustrating pursuit. Chaistain alone in the aircraft before she departs home will bring tears to your eyes. You feel through her all the agony she is releasing through her silent yet emotional tears. This film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who directed The Hurt Locker, has the look and feel of a documentary and this plays well especially during the raid sequence. The hand-held camera effectively brings you into the action.

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