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STAR TREK BEYOND

22 Jul

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Synopsis: A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that’s aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

Cast

Chris Pine………………………James T. Kirk

Zachary Quinto…………………………Spock

Karl Urban…………………Dr. Bones McCoy

Zoe Salanda…………………………Lt. Uhura

Simon Pegg…..Montgomery (Scotty) Scott

John Cho……………………………………Sulu

Anton Yelchin…………………………Checkov

Idris Elba……………………………………Krall

Sofia Boutella……………………………….Jaylah

Review:  The Star Trek franchise always had a series of elements that made it specifically Trek, among them the sense of hope, humor and adventure for mankind’s future, an over the top enemy combatant and most importantly the familial bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  This the third adventure in the reboot series, written by Simon (Scotty) Pegg, Doug Jung and under the direction of Justin Lin, not only accomplishes all the elements with a great story and script it also pays homage to Leonard Nimoy and dedicates the film to the late Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

The real crux of this, the third and best outing yet is that, finally the Kirk, Spock, McCoy trio really connect in the way you always knew, one can not be without the other. In a side plot we learn that Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) has died and Quinto’s Spock must now come to terms with his destiny, should he leave the federation and live on New Vulcan or stay with his friends. This seems to be a theme in other incarnations of Trek and feels right at home here as well.

Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah who befriends Scotty and helps the Enterprise crew against a common enemy Krall who is hell bent on destroying the Federation and all it stands for. Jaylah is a stand-out in the film in the sense that she is a strong independent woman who looks just as good in the command chair as Kirk. She keeps calling Scotty by his full name Montgomery Scotty, confusing his last name Scott with his nick name. This really endears you to her character.

The film is a real pleasure to watch for trek fans and the pacing of the script keeps you engrossed in the story. To appease modern summer blockbuster audiences there are battle sequences, an exciting climax to the story line and great visuals. Like the original trek the cerebral aspect and metaphor here is what can happen to a human being totally consumed by hate and revenge. If this third film is any indication may the franchise live long and prosper.

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Disney’s The Jungle Book

17 Apr

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Disney’s The Jungle Book.  First off it is safe to say this movie is less about Disney’s Jungle Book the animated version (1967) as much as it pays more attention to Rudyard Kiplings book.

The new version is live action with amazing CGI that brings you right in to the Jungle world of man-cub Mowgli, played well by new comer, Neel Sethi. The film has a PG rating and some scenes might be a bit too realistic for the very young. The casting is superb, Ben Kingsly as Bagheera the panther who found Mowgli as an infant and gave him to the wolves to raise as their own, Lupito Nyong’o plays the Raksha Mowgli’s wolf mother, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger who wants Mowgli dead, Scarlette Johansson as the snake Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louis the King of the apes, and the wonderful Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.
The only resemblance to the animated version is three songs lifted from that film:
1: Bill Murray as Baloo in an effort to befreind Mowgli after enlisting him into retreaving honey for him from live bees nests, sings the song Bear Neccesities with Mowgli. Rather than a disconnected musical number, Murray plays it as way to understand Baloo’s character and give dimension to his relationship with Mowgli. Not only is it pure Murray but it is a joy to watch, like a peacful float down a river.
2. When we first meet Christopher Walken as King Louis sitting on a throne in an ancient jungle temple, he comes across as The Godfather with a hidden agenda. He sings I Want To Be Like You so incidiously ,telling of his plot to get the red flower (FIRE), from the man-cub so he can take power and control the jungle, you can only think what a perfect choice he was to play the part. He sings it in a way that let’s you see inside him and understand just how power hungry and crazy he is. Not unlike any dictator he uses his underlings to capture the man-cub so they can negotiate face to face.
3. Lastly stay for the end credits, because there is a lot going on, a reprise of I want To Be Like You and the third song, Trust In Me sung by Kaa.
The film is a winner all around and incidently it is also Gary Shandlings last film he plays a minor character Ikki the Porcupine. (Very well too I might add.)
I saw it in 3D and the world you are drawn into like Avatar before it is complete and all consuming. Go and enjoy.

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 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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GRAVITY

31 Jan

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Director – Alfonso Cuaron, Screenplay – Jonas Cuaron , Screenplay – Alfonso Cuaron

  Synopsis:  Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. — (C) Warner Bros.

CAST

Sandra Bullock – Ryan Stone

George Clooney – Matt Kowalsky

Ed Harris – Mission Control

Orto Ignatiussen – Aningaaq

Amy Warren – Explorer Captain

 

Review: Gravity is a pulse pounding, thrill ride of a film that is less cerebral than say Kubrick’ s, 2001 A Space Odyssey , less fantasy visually  than Cuaron’s Pan’s Labrynth, and certainly not based in the Star Trek/Star Wars style mythology. Gravity is a visually stunning “what if” adventure concerning itself with survival, if faced with abandonment, in a routine space walk  and disaster strikes.  Sandra Bullock as Medical Engineer Ryan Stone, on her first venture into space with George Clooney as veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky are busy working outside their space shuttle when they get an urgent message from NASA, the Russians by demolishing one of their obsolete satellites, causing fragments of debris, metal parts, and various other satellite parts to fly at enormous speeds in the path of the shuttle. All hell breaks loose causing Clooney and Bullock to spin out of control. Clooney manages to stop his spin, Bullock, who is now spinning away from the shuttle is alone and out of touch with NASA.  The silence, horror and panic in the vastness of space is as terrifying and real a moment, in brilliant use of 3D yet, that propels the events that ensue.   In Bullock’s character we learn her back story and come to realize this is a woman who lost a child and is about to confront her maker, and the changes that take place as she manages to save herself. The movements of Clooney and Bullock are tense as they clock the time the debris will orbit back and hit them again. Bullock’s face beneath the helmet she wears shows the desperation as she listens for Clooney’s voice to talk her through it. With their colleagues dead, you can only hope that these two manage to save themselves.   Using a thruster pack Clooney and Bullock make their way to the nearby International Space Station (ISS) only to find it damaged and unusable. En route to the ISS, the two discuss Stone’s life back home and the death of her young daughter. As they approach the substantially damaged but still operational ISS, they see its crew has evacuated in one of its two Soyuz modules and that the parachute of the other capsule has accidentally been deployed, rendering it useless for returning to Earth. Kowalski suggests the remaining Soyuz be used to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong, 100 mi (160 km) away, and board one of its modules to return safely to Earth. Out of air and maneuvering power, the two try to grab onto the ISS as they fly by. Stone’s leg gets entangled in Soyuz’s parachute cords and she is able to grab a strap on Kowalski’s suit. Despite Stone’s protests, Kowalski detaches himself from the tether to save her from drifting away with him, and she is pulled back towards the ISS. As Kowalski floats away, he radios her additional instructions and encouragement. The rest of the story is about Bullock’s rebirth and survival as she confronts her own demons and past. Cuaron uses imagery to depict Bullock as baby in a womb as Bullock floats through the Soyuz.

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This is a first class adventure movie; the use of 3D enhances the story in a way I have never seen before. You feel the sense of insignificance as alone and floating in the silence of space can be. The film is up for 2013 Best Picture Academy Award and Bullock is up for Best Actress.

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Nebraska

28 Jan

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SYNOPSIS: Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) takes the helm for this black and white road trip drama starring Bruce Dern as a tempestuous Missouri father who’s convinced he’s won a million dollar magazine sweepstakes, and Will Forte as the son who grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings.

CAST

Bruce Dern – Woody Grant

Will Forte – David Grant

Bob Odenkirk – Ross Grant

Stacy Keach – Ed Pegram

June Squibb – Kate Grant

Devin Ratray – Cole

Mary Louise Wilson – Mrs. Grant

Rance Howard – Uncle Ray

REVIEW:  Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, tells an American tale, of Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, as an old timer who believes he has won a million dollars from a magazine sweepstakes. The story is filmed in black and white, and takes on a journey through the bleak Midwest. Grant is stubborn and willing to walk from his home in Omaha to Nebraska to claim his winnings. His son  David begrudgingly agrees to drive Woody, and an journey of family discovery and Woody’s past unfolds. Bruce Dern’s portrayal alone is enough to see the film, the icing on the cake is the bleak journey of discovery and family secrets we are taken on. The “Grapes of Wrath Setting” adds to the determination of Woody as he slowly but surely gets to his destination of Lincoln, Nebraska. This is a post modern depression tale of middle America as it is today, you might say an up to date American Gothic. This is wonderful cinema and aside from Dern’s tour de force acting, the rest of the cast is a delight as well.

June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the exasperated wife of Woody. She is at her wits end with Woody’s antics and wants him in a home so someone else can watch him. Her portrayal is humorous, real and at times a bit saucy. You can’t help but love her for being outspoken.

Will Forte portrays David Grant, Woody’s youngest son, who reluctantly agrees he should take his father to Lincoln knowing the letter was a scam. David and his father learn to get along during the journey, they drink together, and David even put’s up with his father’s demands. David is determined to either make his dad face reality about the million or see him through to the end of his dream.

Stacy Keach plays Ed Pegram, Woody’s ex-partner in a car mechanic shop in Woody’s home town of Hawthorne Nebraska. Ed is convinced Woody is rich and wants to $10,000 in reparations from all the business that was lost over the years from Woody’s drinking and screw ups.

Rance Howard plays Ray, Woody’s brother and the two hardly say two words together, apparently they have nothing to talk about. Their moments together are comical and paint an unflattering family portrait.

As David and Woody visit the town of Hawthorne, Woody spills the beans about the million, he has been drinking and boasts a little about the letter. When word gets out Woody is rich, although not really the whole town treats him like a celebrity.

The following day, Ross, Woody’s other son portrayed by Bob Odenkirk and Woody’s wife Kate arrive in Haawthorne. They all try to cope with dad being the town celebrity as Woody just can’t wait to go to Nebraska and claim his fortune.

The film has won many accolades since its’ release, including The American Film Institute calling it one of the top ten films of the year and Bruce Dern has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

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Blue Jasmine

2 Aug

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CAST

Alec Baldwin-Hal

Cate Blanchett-Jasmine

Louis C. K.-Al

Bobby Cannavale-Chili

Andrew Dice Clay-Augie

Sally Hawkins-Ginger

Peter Sarsgaard-Dwight

Michael Stuhlbarg-Dr. Flicker

Review: Written and Directed by Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is Allen’s modern telling of Streetcar named Desire.  It is the story of a fallen Manhattan socialite, Jasmine (Blanchett) who moves in with her sister Ginger(Hawkins) after she loses all her money and social standing  because of her investment broker husband  Hal’s  (Baldwin) dirty investment dealings.

Jasmine’s state is post nervous breakdown and when she arrives in San Francisco she is a fish out of water. On the plane ride from NY to California she is talking to herself and the poor lady sitting next to her politely listens. Jasmine arrives at her sister’s home in Frisco’s mission district she asks a stranger  “Where am I exactly.”   This where the story begins and we realize Jasmine is over the edge and hides it by drinking vodka and downing xanax. Blanchette’s performance is masterful as Jasmine clutches to whatever dignity she has left.

Baldwin’s Hal is cold calculating, manipulative and charming. He gives Jasmine the dream life of jewels, furs, a Park Avenue address, a beach house in the Hamptons she has all the superficial trappings and spoils a woman can want. Hal is a philanderer, lives off the spoils of other people’s money and doesn’t care who he brings down to get it. He charms his way all the way into ruination ala Bernie Madoff.

The Stanley Kowalskis’ in this scenario are Jasmin’s sister’s ex-husband Augie, played by Andrew Dice Clay, he nails it, and Chili, Ginger’s new boyfriend played by Bobby Cannavale.

The story is told in flashbacks as Jasmin relives the past in her rantings, as much as she tries to reconcile what she has become each passing day she is haunted by her past. Blanchett’s mood swings are so real as she navigates from sober then drunk to passive on the pills. You are pulled along for the ride and her performance  is the best I ever have seen her do. Allen is known for writing great parts for woman and this role is no exception.

This is Allen’s strongest movie since Match Point and proves once again what a prolific film maker he is. The movie never uses humor as gag  style comedy, the moments of humor scattered throughout come organically from the situations Jasmine finds herself in and the self delusion that goes along with it. You hope throughout that Jasmine’s can turn her life around.

There are moments when you realize that Jasmine’s breakdown has an underlying feeling of betrayal, is she betraying herself, is she hiding a secret, was it Hal’s betrayal and philandering that put her over the edge. Allen who loves Ingmar Bergman’s films, gives this story a  tragic Bergamanesque take on the human condition in the way the film deconstructs inch after fragile inch of Jasmine’s character. Blanchett reveals enough of Jasmine’s demons to root for her to change. Jasmine is in such deep denial that when she castigates her sister for having such losers as a husband and boyfriend, you can’t help but think that she is actually talking about her own situation.

The way Allen writes each character none of them fall into charactures or exaggerations, he pulls great performances out of all his cast members.

This is one of Allen’s finest films and it is apparent Allen is still at the peak of his story telling powers. Blanchett is a tour-de-force and shows us why we like to go to the movies in the first place. I am sure she will see a best actress nod for this one.

 

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