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THOR: Ragnarok review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on November 3, 2017 at 6:15 PM

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Running time: 130 minutes in 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D

Release date: November 3, 2017

Genre: Action/Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction, Sequel, and Adaptation

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG:13


In this sequel to 2011's Thor and 2013's Thor: The Dark World is the seventeenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe series.  The superhero film is based on the Marvel Comics character Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins. 


The plot's setting is four years after the events of Thor: The Dark World, and two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is held captive on the planet Sakaar without his hammer Mjolnir.  He is placed in a situation whereas he must win a gladiatorial duel agains an old friend - the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) - in order to return to the planet Asgard in time to stop the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett) and the impending Ragnorak, the end of all Asgardian civilization.  


The Hulk character played by Mark Ruffalo joined the cast crossing over from other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, adding elements from the 2006 comic storyline "Planet Hulk" specifically adapted for Ragnarok.


Chris Hemsworth is Thor, the crown price of Asgard based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name, who has become a "lone gunsliger" while solving universe-ending perils in his search to learn more about the Infinity Stones.  His strong moral code, including his willingness to risk his own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward is his motivation.


Tom Hiddleston is Loki, Thor's adoptive brother and nemesis based on the deity of the same name.  He is a constant trickster, and is always trying to find new ways to be mischievous.  He is the narcissistic brother who has a chip on his shoulder due to the previous interaction he has had with his brother in The Avengers.  His relationship with his brother Thor isn't hate, but indifference and envy.


Cate Blanchett plays Hela, Thor's sister and the goddess of death, based on the deity Hel, who was been inadvertently released from her prison.  She is an arch enemy of her brothers Thor and Loki, and plans to gain supreme power(s) to gain sole rule of the universe by killing all of her foes.  However, she must make compromizes with a deeper evil doer to accomplish this feat.


Idris Elba is Heimdall, a former all-seeing, all-hearring Asgardian sentry of the Bifrost Bridge, als based on the same named deity.  He has gone into self exile after evil Hela invades Asgard.  He was once an elder statesman of Asgard to a warrior-wizard who lives in the hills with refugees evading persecution from Hela's regime.  His alliance is with Thor and the peace for the people of Asgard.


Jeff Goldblum is Grandmaster, one of the Elders of the Universe.  He has a fascination with gaming and chance who rules the planet Sakaar.  He enjoys manipulating lesser forms life-forms as a self-pleasure seeker.


Mark Ruffalo is Hulk/Bruce Banner, a genius scientist who, because of exposure to gamma radiation, transforms into a monster when enraged or agitated.  He becomes a successful and popular gladiator on Sakaar, as he is pitted against Thor.


Tessa Thompson is a tough, hard-drinking Asgardian warrior, who was once a member of Odin's elite troops and now works as the bounty hunter SR-142 for Grandmaster while hiding out on Sakaar.  She befriends Hulk and they have a hidden relationship.


Karl Urban is Skurge, an Asgardian warrior who is aligned with Hela and the guards of the Bifrost Bridge in Heimdall's absence.  He is Hela's henchman, but it plays on his conscience.


Anthony Hopkins is Odin, the king of Asgard, father of Thor, adopted Loki, and villainous Hela.


As this sci-fi action adventure film is action-packed, the comic book story laces the dialogue with humor.  With the potential of the end of civilizations is due in a post and apocalyptic manner from catastrophe such as warfare, pandemic, and extraterrestrial attack, satirical humor is retained.  The comedic acts anesthetizes emotions to experience both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously, arising from cynicism and skepticism.  Meanwhile, the science fiction is very imaginative with futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life.  It eschews the supernatural, and unlike the related genre of fantasy, its imaginary elements are largely plausible within scientifically established context of the story.


Thor: Ragnarok, is a fun ride for audience ecaspism.  Try it - you'll like it!!


FILM RATING (B)


 


NYFF-55 reviews, capsules, editorials , and coverage by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on September 28, 2017 at 11:15 PM

                                                            THE NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

                                                            September 28 - October 15, 2017


The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces 25 films for the Main Slate of the 55th New York Film Festival.


This years Main Slate showcases films honored at Cannes including Ruben Ostlund's Palme d'Or - winner The Square, Robin Campillo's BPM, awarded the Cannes Critics' Prize; and Agnes Varda &Jr.'s Faces Places, which took home the Golden Eye.  From Berlin, Aki Kaurismai's Silver Bear winner The Other Side of Hope and Agnieszka Holland's Alfred Bauer Prize winner Spoor mark the returns of two New York Film Festival veterans, while Luca Guadagnino's acclaimed Call Me by Your Name will be his NYFF debut.  Also returning are Armaud Desplechin, Noah Baumbach, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Claire Denis, Philippe Garnel, Lucrecia Martel, and Hong Sang-soo, who has two features in the lineup this year, while filmmakers new to the festival includes Sean Bean, Greta Gerwig, Serge Bozon, Dee Rees, Chloe Zhao, Joachim Trier, Alain Gomis, and Valeska Grisebach.


The NYFF-55 Opening Night is Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying, Todd Hayne's Wonderstruck is Centerpiece, and Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel will close the festival.  


Along with the many categories, a Retrospective on Robert Mitchum will be showcased.  Hollywood has had no shortage of men's men, but perhaps no actor advanced so complex and alluring a model as Robert Mitchum. His incomparabe career stretched across five decades from a bit player in war films and westerns in the 1940s into bona fide star working with some of Hollywood's most towering figures (Hawks, Preminger, Tourneur, Minnelli) in nearly every genre.


*OPENING FILM*

LAST FLAG FLYING

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Running time: 124 minutes

Release date: November 3, 2017

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Adaptation, and Sequel

Distributor: Amazon Studios & Lionsgate

MPAA Rating: R


In Richard Linklater's lyrical road movie, as funny as it is, it is heartbreaking, as three aging Vietnamera Navy vets - soft spoken Larry 'Doc' Shepard (Steve Carell), unhinged and unfiltered Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and quietly measured Minister Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) - reunite to perform a sacred task: the proper burial of Doc's only child, who was been killed in the early days of the Iraq invasion.  It is a film based on the 2005 novel by the same title and is a sequel to the 1973 Hal Ashby film The Last Detail.


These three men who once served in the same Marine unit together accompany Doc, as old friends, up the Eastern seaboard for the burial.  Now on a different mission, they forgo this mission to bury Doc's son at Arlington Cementary.  The trip up the East Coast with the casket takes on a bittersweet trip to Doc's home in suburban New Hampshire as Doc, Sal, and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lifes.


Director Linklater gives us a rich rendering of freindship, a grand mosaic of common life in the USA during the Bush era, and a striking meditation on the passage of time and the nature of truth.  Meanwhile the individual performances by Carell, Cranston, and Fishburne are brilliant.  Steve Carell portrays a mild mannered, yet stern man determined to bury his son in a meaningful manner.  His demeaner is of a loner who suffered a Bad Conduct Discharge from his Vietnam era military duty.  Though his performance is reserved, it is powerful. Bryan Cranston's performance as Sal is terrific.  He is a wise-cracking sarcastic bar owner who drinks up his profits with a carefree attitude.  His performance is the energy that fuel the pacing of the plot.   Laurence Fishburne delivers an impeccable performance as a once rowdy young Marine now turned into a thoughtful methodic preacher.  The chemistry between these three award winning actors is mesmerizing, as they give emotionally impacting portrayals of their characters.  The film offers a great cameo appearance from Cicely Tyson. And a superb supporting performances by J. Quinton Johnson and Yul Vazquez


This plot driven presentation portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interactions is often a wild and hilarious ride.  Yet, it is also, a fearless cinematic form of surealism.  With the use of great dialogue, this dramedy gives life to a subplotted 'Bromance' offering a heartbreaking and memorable emerging narrative.


In a Q&A session Richard Linklater said, "I read Darryl's book and I decided it would be a war and roadtrip movie about these guys who reflect on combat casualties.  We shot the film on Veteran's Day using actual empty coffins that felt real."  He continued by saying, "the project was in effect in 2005 as a sequel and we developed it.... this was structured directly from the novel."  Bryan Cranston commented about the dark comedy in the story by saying, "the humor gives texture to the grieving story and strengthens the structure."  Laurence Fishburne added, "the vets (three main characters) are more alike because of the people who are left behind in death and who they grieve for."


Last Flag Flying challenges the reality of why men and women are military.  It delves into the reality of combat missions and its reasoning.  And the resolution of death.  This is a brilliant film.


FILM RATING (A)


*CENTERPIECE*

Wonderstruck

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Running time: 117 minutes

Release date: October 20, 2017

Genre: Drama, Family, Mystery, and Adaptation

Distributor: Amazon Studios

MPAA Rating: PG


In the literary environment of family readings, Brian Selznick's 2011 critically acclaimed novel Wonderstruck is recognized as a masterpiece.  It is a vision of imagination and storytelling set in two different eras of two children's lives  who secretly aspire for more out of life.  As the author of the novel, Brian Selznick pens the screenplay and director Todd Haynes adapts this to the large screen with startling depth and beauty.


The film takes place in both 1927 and 1977.  In the earlier time period, 12 year old Rose (Millicent Simmonds) dreams of her mother, a mysterious actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook.  Rose lives in New Jersey with a dominate and often abusive father, but she finds her life restrictive, so she runs away from home for the bright lights of New York City's theater district in search of her mother.  In the latter film frame of this dual-level parallel plot, pre-teen Ben (Oakes Fegley) of Minnesota, is a self-determined boy who is raised by a female single parent who abruptly dies, while leaving Ben to be raised by his aunt. However, Ben has a strong inquiry as to who his father is.  Ben discovers a puzzling clue of the identity of his father who lives in New York City.  Motherless Ben sets of in search for his missing father he never met.  What makes both of these scenarios so unique is the fact that both Rose and Ben are deaf children.


These parallel adventures, unfolding largely without dialogue, are exuberant memoiric-style character and plot driven presentations portraying realistic characters, nolstagic settings, and life situations.  The two young actors are brilliant and simultaneously capture their trails to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The flashback scenes of Rose's perils in the 1920s New York City intertwines to the decades later quest of Ben's as he interacts with the sleeze of New York City's 1970s.  It is a lovingly intricate adventure focusing on the power of obsession, with a highly moral tale incoming of age.  The period piece settings cover a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop, which tremendously enhances the film.


Julianne Moore's presence in the latter part of this film as an adult Rose is a marvelous move in Todd Haynes' direction.  In a Q&A with Todd Haynes he explained about the production by saying, "when I read the book it was audible yet cinematical.  I thought it would be really special with relevance to young people."  He also added, "the museum setting from the two time periods assembles the museum backdrop as a venue that holds history."


Wonderstruck is a one of a kind marvel of storytelling.  It is a generation gap plot that brings the generations together.  It is also a historical coming of age that is a body of work that fundamentally tells important elements which each element shares.  The dual plots in the past from where they where centered around are focused mainly for young people on the verge of some maturation process significantly shaping and impacting the rest of their lives.  However, the film distinctly merges into a grander scale providing a broader societal aspect in the outcomes which they resulted in.


FILM RATING (A+)



*CLOSING FILM*

WONDER WHEEL

Directed by Woody Allen

Release date: December 1, 2017

Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes

Genre: Drama

Distributor: Amazon Studios

MPAA Rating: PG-13


Prolific filmmaker Woody Allen, along with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro bring to life recollections of a past era in one of New York City's memorable setting, Coney Island in the 1950s.


Led in a remarkble cast is Kate Winslet as a middle-age Ginny, a mother of a pre-teen boy Richie and wife of widower Humpty (Jim Belusi).  It's a layered story partially narrated by a charismatic Coney Island lifeguard Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake), who strikes affection with married Ginny.  Ginny is in a hemmed in and hard-press marital situation who in her own way loves Humpty, a carousel manager.  She works part-time at a diner on the boardwalk, while attempting to keep her cinephile son Richie from setting fires.  Meanwhile, Humpty a recovering alcoholic, relies heavily on Ginny to keep him sober, which resulted from the death of his first wife.


Adding to the layers of this complicated plot, Juno Temple is introduced into the film as Humpty's long lost adult daughter, Caroline.  She left the downtrotting environment of Coney Island to marry a mobster, but her return to home is for security reasons.  She has turned state evidence against her husband and the mob, and there is a 'hit' on her.  Humpty is of course happy for the return of his daughter, but Ginny is reluctant to the threat of violence being placed in their home with Caroline's presence.


As Ginny's demeanor becomes more and more depressed, she meets the suave and young Mickey the Lifegauard (Timberlake) on the beach.  As the partial narrator of the film, he sets the tone for a lonely and once aspiring actress, falls for his charms.  As an extra-marital affairs builds between Ginny and Mickey, Caroline becomes more comfortable with her estrange relationship with her loud and voicetrous father.  Yet, the mob is searching Caroline, as she takes on a part-time position at a diner that Ginny is employed.  The close community of Coney Island is all but too close to elude anyone or for anyone not to find out secrets.


Kate Winslet captures the screen with a remarkably strong presence, while Juno Temple twinkles in a character whose back is to the wall.  Jim Belusi is brilliant in his performance, which adds to a completion to a magnificent story of many dimensions.  The story imbodies memories of a carnival-style era, that set against a detailed backdrop.  The formidable and engaging performances define the characterization of hollow shells of complicated people.  


Wonder Wheel is a creatively embracing film daring its audience to live the life of its characters on their terms.


FILM RATING (A-)


*EDITORIAL: RETROSPECTIVE ON ROBERT MITCHUM*


Robert Charles Durman Mitchum (August 6, 1917 - July 1, 1997) was an American film actor, director, author, poet, composer, and singer.  A man who successfully reinvented himself in his discipline(s) for several decades and is rated number 23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male stars of Classic American Cinema.


Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut into a Methodist family, his mother Ann Harriet Gunderson was a Norwegian immigrant and a sea captain's daughter; his father James Thomas Mitchum of Scotish-Ulster and of Blackfoot Native American decent was a shipyard and railroad worker.  His siblings are Julie and John Mitchum.  


Throughout Robert Mitchum's childhood, he was known as a prankster, often involved in fistfights and mischief. When he was 12 years old, his mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with the school principal.  He then was sent to live with his sister in Hell'sKitchen, New York City, however he was once again expelled from another school.  He left his sister's home and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking on many different jobs, such as, ditch-digging and professional boxing.  He experienced numerous adventures during his years as one of the Depression era's 'wild boys of the road'.  At the age of 14, in Savannah, Georgia, he was arrested for vagrancy and place on the local chain gang.  By Mitchum's on account, he escaped and returned to his family in Delaware and married Dorothy Spence.  He soon became restless and went back to the rails to California.


In 1936, he arrived in Long Beach, California, again staying with his sister Julie, who now is aspiring to become an actress.  Julie encouraged him to join a local theater group, and Robert Mitchum soon felt the stink from the bug of acting.  He made a living as a stagehand and occasionally took on bit parts in the company's productions. He also, wrote several short pieces that were performed by the theater guild.  Yet, he fell back on steady work as a manual laborer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation after the birth of his first born child James, in 1940.


As the 1940s began, he got an agent and took small villain parts in B westerns with William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy series.  Soon he was given parts in Randolf Scott westerns and earned a contract with RKO Pictures where he was groomed for B western stardom in a series of Zane Grey adaptations.


He is initially known for his work in film noir.  The NYFF-55 showcases such films in this genre; Angel Face, Cape Fear, His Kind of Woman, Home from the Hill, Macao, The Name of the Hunter, Farewell My Lovely, Out of the Past, and Pursued.  His work also garnered succes in the western genre; Blood on the Moon, El Dorado, Till the End of Time, The Lusty MenTrack of the Cat, and The Wonderful Country.  However, his dramatic work was powerfully performed in; Cape Fear (remake), The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Thunder Road, Undrcurrent, The Yakuza, and Nice Girl's Stay for Breakfast.


It is amazing how this one man was so deligently successful  in the 1940s westerns and film noir.  Every decade he would reinvent himself in various other genres.  Meanwhile, he remained a successful writer, poet, composer, singer, and musician.  His biography alone is a story ripe for a major picture film. 


 


 

SHOT review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on September 21, 2017 at 10:45 PM

Directed by: Jeremy Kagan

Running time: 89 minutes

Release date: September 22, 2017

Genre: Drama and Crime

Distributor: Paladin

MPAA Rating: Not rated


Feature movie and television director, producer, and writer Jeremy Kagan has a long standing accomplished professional career dating back 30 years.  In his new feature film project Shot, he weaves a multi-layered narrative that tackles issues of domestic union, oppressed bullying, illegal guns, religion, honesty, and forgiveness.


In this stimulating film starring Noah Wyle as Mark Newman, is a Los Angeles man coping with the strains of everyday life, along with the anxiety of the dissolvement of his marriage to his wife Phoebe (Sharon Leal).  As he and Phoebe conclude their lunch encounter, leaving their marraige in a negative balance, and begin to walk down the street, a shot rings out and strikes Mark leaving him severely bleeding on the streets of East Los Angeles.  In a frustrated and confused state, Phoebe attempts to help her husband.


While, in the other layer of this anxious narrative, there is a local teenager Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), who is a victim of bullying by gang members, receiving the solution of protection -a pistol - from his cousin a block away, accidently fires the weapon hitting Mark.  Miguel tucks the gun under his shirt and flees the area once he sees what he has done.  In this riverting moment, filmmaker Jeremy Kagan splits the screen to energize the narrative by showing each characterization of frustration and fear by all concerned.


Each scenario from the shooting that plagues this situation is explored thoroughly by the filmmaker.  Mark and Phoebe are forced to undergo a resolution concerning their marriage.  Noah Wyle brilliantly portrays a man coming to grips with paralysis of his legs.  The journey of mental and physical therapy is strenuous, but still remains unresolved.  The unresolvement spills over to his relationship with his wife Phoebe, but she stands strong to help him along.  It also, gives Mark a startling reality check, as the multi-plots intertwine.  Rendering Noah Wyle with a powerful final scene.


Meanwhile, Miguel who is a good kid, who comes from a religious family and seeks spiritual relief from the church is confused and scared. However, fear of turning himself into the police is a dangerous remedy, because he must tell the whole truth about who gave him the weapon.  Even his mother knows that this would be the end of Miguel's life if he goes to the hardened gang ridden prison.  This also renders Jorge Lendeborg Jr. with a powerful final scene as the plots merge.


This is a serious, multi-plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  However, this is not to spotlight the activities of criminal activities, but to examine the collateral damage the criminal activities project.  And it does offer the audience an abundance of supense promoting intense excitement, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expection, and uncertainty.  While in another theme of this emerging narrative, it is enhanced as a coming of age scenario, as young Miguel, masterfully played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr., shows he has to make an adult decision, in this challenging role of determination.


As this is emotionally impacting in content, it is also a fearless cinematic form of surrealism.


Shot is a visually extaordinary and philosophically provocative stimulating story about the limits of personal and spiritual limits.  Using crisp pacing in this multi-dimensional movie, it is convincingly a film that redefines forgiveness.  The moral tone is heart-wrenching and the innovated split screen depiction of the characters gives clarity to their excellent performances.  This film is shocking yet mesmerizing.....you won't be able to take your eyes away.


FILM RATING (A-)   


   

MOTHER! review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on September 15, 2017 at 4:35 PM

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Running time: 2 hours 1 minute

Release date: September 15, 2017

Genre: Drama, Horror, and Mystery

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating: R


Acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky who has generated controversy for his often surreal and disturbing films such as, Requiem for a Dream, Below, The Fountain, The Wrestler,Black Swan, and Noah all used the mindset of psychologically enduces his audiences.  With a star clustered cast consisting of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfieffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Stephen McHattie, and a host of extras this psychological horror film follows a young woman whose tranquil life with her husband at their country home is disruupted by the arrival of mysterious visitors.


In a newly renovated house Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her notable writer husband Him (Javier Bardem).  Him is having a severe writer's block, and it takes its toll on the tranquility of their blissful domestic and sexual relationship.  It also affects the venue itself, by Mother hearing and visualizing a beating heart within the walls.  This is a metaphor for a child to be brought into the world by the couple.  However, this doesn't help Him's writer's block.  


One day, a Man (Ed Harris) turns up at the door of the couple, thinking their home is a 'bed and breakfast' facility. Him welcomes Man to stay, although Mother is reluctant.  The next day Man's wife Woman (Michelle Pfieffer) arrives to stay, and they indicate that they are fans of Him's work.  Him feeds off of the compliments and inspires him to write, as well as, find a sexual explosion with Mother.  Everything is great until Him falls ill, and upsets the balance of the visitors.  Yet, the upcoming joy of Mother expecting a child is fuel for Him to complete his writing and publish.  Or is that enough for Him?  It seems that Him has an enormous thirst for praise for his enormous ego.  And only more fans visiting the house to praise him would satisfy him.


Watching this film may have a David Lynch influence, as the plot thrives on bizarre and absurdity in its tone. Howevver, the close-up shots of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem gives the production an innovatedly creative look at the characters.  It is quite evident, cinematic influences and themes are reminscent.  The style of this production is of getting down to thrill the soul of the audience, with admiration for such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick, Federico Felini, Werner Herzog, Jacques Tali, and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950).  The imaginative sequences of Him's fans invading the home gives a unmanageable circus atmosphere to the setting, much like the classic film Carnival of Souls (1962). This produces the director's knack for building a mood of fatalistic angst.


Much to the build up of this anxiety with apparations, spirtis, and depictions of extraordinary, as the second and third acts takes the audience, it can't execute on its delivery that a David Lynch would have done under the same situation of filmmaking.  I find that Darren Aronofsky's concept is charactized by the assumption of importance, especially when exaggerated by gore and blood scenes, much like a 'livng dead' attack.  The direction of the storyline falls to being pretentious and absurd.  It is a forced attempt to give the audience a chill-up-the-spine. Where as suspense is to be a vehicle to motivate and move the plot onward, there is little substance to promote intense excitement, high level anticipation, or uncertainty in this film.  What happens is that we are presented with a comical and whimsical delivery.  


As this film sparks controversy for being an energizing narrative for its spectacle, the performances by the major characters seemed forced and overacted.  These are accredited actors who have garnered accolades, but they are placed in a situation under Darren Araonofsky's direction to deliver anxious, confused, and troublesome performances.  The problem is that Mother! is penalized for poor execution.


FILM RATING (C+) 



RED TREES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on September 15, 2017 at 8:10 AM

Directed by: Marina Willer

Running time: 87 mins.

Release date: September 15, 2017

Genre: Documentary in English and Portuguese with English subtitles.

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

MPAA Rating: Not rated


In her directorial feature debut, filmmaker Marina Willer creates an addition to her short film by the same title to a feature length impressionistic cinematic essay of her father's journey as one of twelve Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Prague during World War II.  It is a visual journal told through the voice of Willer's father Alfred (as narrated by Tim Piggot Smith, Quantum of Silence), who witnessed bureaucratic nightmares, transportations, and suicides - but survivedto build a successful post-war life as an architect in Brazil.


Elderly Alfred Willer's memiors narrated with vivid visuals to enhance the historical story of the Willer family , led by his father, is also an examination of this Jewish family's ordeal of redicule and anti-seminism in Czechoslovakia.  The film's main setting is shortly before World War II (1937,8, &9), Czechoslovacia ceased to exist, its territory was divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the newly declared Slovak State and the short lived Carpathian Ukranine.  While the considerable part of Czechoslovia was directly joined to te Third Reich.  As the Germany economy beame burdened by heavy militarism, they set up an economy in Czechoslovacia to manufacture weapons.  Factories sprung up everywhere, along with steel and chemical assemblies.  This is when and where Marina Willer's father's memories come alive, in a poetic documentary. Her father tells hwo his father was a master chemical engineer and one of the inventors of citric acid.  His ingenuity allowed the Willer family to remain alive despite their Jewish origins and embark on an epic journey to Brazil and begin a new life.


Marina Wliller states, "Red Trees is a reflection about growing up during the war, surviving and finding a home. It is a celebration of diversity and acceptance.  Its title refers to my father's realization that he was color blind when, as a child,  he drew trees covered with red leaves.  In a time when the world is turning its back on refugees, I felt this was an important moment to share this very personal story."


The film is a combination of her (filmmaker) journey to recreate her ancestry, the story of her father and grandfather's plight during World War II.  It also gives her a new look at her father and grandfather, which was never told.  As she wonders why their is a creative nature in her family's DNA, as she is also a creative designer and her brother is a successful architect - how can this be when her father is color blind?  It is an impressive awakening for Marina Willier as she undertakes her family's history.  


Archival footage enhances the narration as Alfred Willer recalls the Allies dropping bombs on German occupied Czechoslovacia and its collateral damages on cultural arts in Prague.  He tells of the resistance, as well as, Hitler's order to arrest and execute 10,000 randomly selected Czechs.  The apprehending of thousands of Jews to be transported to concentration camps was a threatening horror for the Willer family.


I find this historcal cinematic family portrait impacted with a driven  honesty in epic porportion.  It is a most important entry in feature film productions from a woman and also in her memorable storyline.


FILM RATING (B) 

CROWN HEIGHTS review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on August 25, 2017 at 4:50 PM

Directed by: Matt Ruskin

Running time: 99 minutes

Release date: August 25, 2017

Genre: Drama and Biopic

Distributor: Amazon Studios and IFC Films

MPAA Rating: R


In this American biographical drama film written and directed by Matt Ruskin, and adapted from This American Life podcast, is the true story of Colin Warner who was wrongfully convicted of murder.  It is also, a story of Colin Warner's best friend Carl King who devoted his life to prove Colin's innocence.


LaKieth Stanfield portrays Colin Warner and Nnamdi Asomugha plays Carl King.  In the spring of 1980 during the Mayor Edward Koch administration of New York City, a 16 year old teenager Mario Hamilton is gunned down in the streets of Flatbush, Brooklyn.  The police illegally pressure a 14 year old child witness Thomas Charlemagne (Skylan Brooks) to falsely accuse Colin Warner and Norman Simmonds.  As a result, Colin Warner, an 18 year old is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.


The story takes on an intense journey of proving Colin's innocence by his childhood friend Carl 'KC' King.  He devoted his life to fighting for Colin's freedom.  He works on appeals, takes loans for lawyer fees and becomes a legal courier to learn the court system.  Meanwhile, Colin who is convicted of a crime he didn't commit, spends years in prison.  With support of the love his life Antionette (Natalie Paul), Colin never gives up declaring his innocence.


This is a serious, plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  It depicts the lives of historical personage from past and present, while taking on pathos-filled tales of domestic situations to directly appeal to the audience.  The formidable naarative promotes intense excitemnt, suspense, and a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, and uncertainty.


Crown Heights is a heartbreaking fact-based narrative giving a special performing platform for LaKieth Stanfield's remarkable portrayal of Colin Warner.  The film pushes the actual story past its powerful drama, and involves the viewer.  Using kinetic clarity and dramatic intensity, the well structured biopic follows the extensive journey of finding justice for a man who spends 21 years behind bars for a crime he never commited.


Fim Rating (A)


SHOT CALLER review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on August 19, 2017 at 12:50 AM

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh

Running time: 2 hours 1 minute

Release date: August 18, 2017

Genre: Drama, Crime, and Thriller

Distributor: Saban Films, Lionsgate

MPAA Rating: R


Filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh who also scripts this crime drama, crafts a smartly structured thriller that takes its audience on a monolithic, enigmatic ride into the mind a sinister character.


This is a character study drama of Jacob Harlon/Money (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a financial strategist stock broker, and a wealthy family man married to Lake Harlon who are raising a young son.  When involved in a tragic car accident that kills his best friend Tom (Max Greenfield), Jacob/Money is sent to prison for manslaughter.  This alters his life drastically and lays out the premise of this story, as he adapts to prison life.


While inside prison, he joins a prison gang for protection and becomes more deeply involved in the "skin-head" criminal activity for institutional survival.  The plot is developed around sinister actions of criminals and mobsters.  The underworld figures and ruthless hoodlums are into drugs, sex trafficking, and weapon smuggling.  At this time Jacob/Money is taken under the guidance of the leader of the gang, Bottles (Jeffrey Donovan).  To prove his loyalty and for self protection, Jacob/Money goes to the extent of killing the current enforcer Bottles in jail to protect his family and takes a life sentence in prison in the process - thus becoming the new enforcer himself.


The supporting cast members are dangerous thugs, with names such as "Shotgun" (Jon Berntha), "Chopper" (Evan Jones), "The Beast" (Holt McCallamy), and "Ripper" (Keith Jardine) to name a few.  The setting is somewhat as film noir, while exerting realism and grit.  The performances excels in authenticity.


As a character study drama, it shows the transformation of a man who turns into a master criminal in the prison system.  An everyday regular guy turns his life into a hard-core mob boss.  The film is a serious plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  The distinct film noir sets a mood style and tone of melacholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment,, disenchantment, pessimism, moral corruption, evil, guilt, and paranoia.


Shot Caller is an excellent film that will thrill with virtual intense excitement, suspense, high levels of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, and nerve-wracking tension.  The central stuggle is between a criminal and society.  A cautionary tale, rooted in a main character who commits crimes, while morally debating his life or death situation as he struggle pits of innocence against a lethal enemy who is out to kill him and family.


FILM RATING (B+)





DETROIT review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on August 4, 2017 at 2:25 AM

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Running time: 2 hours 23 minutes

Release date: August 4, 2017

Genre: Drama, Thriller, and History

Distributor: Annapurna Pictures

MPAA Rating: R


Two-time Oscar winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, whose work of, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Hurt Locker, and Point Break has brought a very credible historical dramatization of the 1967 Detroit Riots to the screen.


Director Bigelow gives a quick yet informative backdrop of race relations in the 1960s American, depicting the migration of southern African-Americans (then refered to as Colored People or Negroes) to Detroit and many other northern cities to avoid the horrid life of southern segregational poverty and "Jim Crow" laws to find employment.  Detroit, known as "Motor City", was the place where lucrative automobile employment was available for African-Americans.  The work was hard on the automobile assembly lines, but it was steady.  However, segregation was still apparent in the residential accommodations.  Black Americans found their places of entertainment regulated by licensing organization as the Motown sound of music gave birth.


In the sweltering summer of 1967, Detroit's predomiantly African-American neighborhood of Virginia Park was a simmering cauldron of racial tension.  About 60,000 low-income residents were crammed into the neighborhood's 460 acres, living mostly in small, sub-divided apartments.


The plot takes root as the characterization is established at the same time.  There is a scene in the film where legendary Motown musical "Martha and the Vandellas" are sing "Heat Wave".  Meanwhile, an aspiring R&B group (now legendary) known as, The Dramatics are waiting to take the stage.  Fred (Jacob Latimore) the manager of the group confronts riot police on the streets to get to the show.  Once he arrives, he must tell the lead singer of the group Larry Cleveland Reed, the show will be canceled due to the rioting.


The theme and tone is of intensity, as the Detroit Police Department, which had only 50 African-American officers at this time in history, was viewed as a white occupying army.  Accusations of racial profiling and police brutality were commonplace among Detroit's black residents.


July 23, 1967, the Detroit Riots began.  The entire city was in a state of economic and social strife:  As the Motor City's famed automoble industry shed jobs and moved out of the city center, freeways and suburban amenities beckoned middle-class residents (whites) away, which further gutted Detroit's viality and left behind vacant storefronts, widespread unemployment and impoverished despair.


At night, 12th Street in Detroit was a hotspot of inner-city nightlife, both legal and illegal.  A Detroit vice squad police raid was made on Scott's (illegal after-hour) Club.  The establishment was hosting a party for several military Vietnam War returning veterans.  On this humid night the patrons were reluctant to leave the air-conditioned club under rude and racial infused orders by the police.  Out on the street, a crowd began to gather as police waited for vehicles to take away the 85 patrons away.  An hour passes before the last of the patrons are taken away, but by that time a couple of hundred onlookers lined the street.  A bottle is thrown at the police and within an hour, thousands of angry black people had spilled out onto the street from nearby buildings.  Thus, the Detriot Riots began.


Director Bigelow focuses on how Detroit Mayor Cavanaugh asked Michigan Governor George Romney to send in the state police and the National Guard.  Soon after, Governor Romeny asked President Lyndon B. Johnson to send in U.S. troops.  Nearly 2,000 army paratroopers arrived and began patrolling the streets of Detroit in tanks and armored carriers.  Kathryn Bigelow now dives deeply in one particular historical incident when a telephoned report of sniping is reported, coming from the Algiers Motel.  The police respond and interrogate ten black men and two white women, none whom were armed.  By the time the interrogators (police, state troopers, National Guardsman, and a black security guard) left, three black men had been shot to death and the others, including the women, beaten.  This highly intensed, frighteneing, and racially tone extensively lingering scene is remarkably performed by John Boyega, Will Porter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O'Toole, Anthony Mackie, Nathan Davis Jr., Peyton Alex Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, and Joseph David-Jones.  An epologue prior to the film credits detail the court case results of the Algiers Incident, as a result of the deaths of the black men and physical assaults of the other victims.


Detroit is a poignant film, under brilliant direction.  The impeccable performances enhanced the historical depictions, and the achival footage reflects the realism.  This is a gritty and raw film, that doesn't pull any punches in its delivery.  Using real facts from people who lived through this time and ordeal, newspapers, sworn documents, court transcripts, and filmage, Kathryn Bigelow has once again shown she doesn't have any fear in tackling issues that are relevant and meaningful.  Bravo!!


FILM RATING (A) 







DUNKIRK in IMAX review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on July 21, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Running time: 106 minutes in English, French, and German

Release date: July 21, 2017

Genre: Drama, Action, and History

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13


The production development of this film is much of the hype as the release of the film.  Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Begins - among many other big name movies) wrote the 76 page screenplay (his shortest to date).  This was written with a precise mathematical structure, requiring the basis of the characters to be fictionalized rather than taken from actual eyewitness accounts.  Nolan decided to make the film as a triptych, told from three perspectives; the air (planes), the land (on the beach), and the sea (the evacuation by the navy) cited by IMDB interviews.


Dunkirk's cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65mm and 65mm large format film stock with the extensive use practical effects such as employing 6,00 extras, assembling boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using geniune era-appropriate planes for aerial sequences containing little dialogue and creating soley supense through details. 


However, the storyline dismisses the prelude historical fact of the how and why The Battle of Dunkirk was a disasterous failure.  It focuses on the Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo or the Miracle of Dunkirk.  This is the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk.  In the north of France, between May 26 and May 27, 1940, during World War II, the British, French, Belgian, and Canadians troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the Battle of France.  With 400,00 Allied troops retreated to the beach, they were prey for execution by the German land and air assaults.


As the film depicts the story of survival by the Allies, it also relies on the heroic rescue sequences by a hastily assembled fleet of boats that the troops were able to embark from the harbor's protective mole onto British destroyers of the Royal Navy and civilian merchant ships, while others had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in the shoulder-deep water.  Some were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships by what came to be known as the little ships of Dunkirk, a flotilla of hundred of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure crafts, yachts, and lifeboats.


The characters in the film are not given actual separate lead or supportive parts, but more as an ensemble.  Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private is given more screen time than everyone else.  He is the focus of one man's plight to survive the chaotic military retreat.  Other known actors such as Tom Hardy, James D'Arcy, and Kenneth Branagh hit their marks to enhance the lackless character-driven narrative.  Yet, the aerial dogfigh sequences are engagingly and add a thrill to the film.


Dunkirk is a movie best experienced in a 70mm or an IMAX format.  Technically, this exceptional epic historical film is a period-piece movie that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop.  It's extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by granduer and spectacle, dramatic scope, and high production values does not compensate for the lack of a good character and/or plot-driven narrative presentation.  The lack of this narrative diminishes the overall production.  This film could be a better production as a docu-drama, using authentic factual characters relating to their lives during this period in history.


FILM RATING (C+)


 





WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on July 14, 2017 at 8:50 PM

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Running time: 139 minutes

Release date: July 14, 2017

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Sequel, Reboot, and Suggestive Adaptation

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In this dystopian science fiction film directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback and Reeves is the sequel to the 2014 film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  It is the third installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series.


The film stars Andy Serkis as Caesar, a noble and intelligent common chimpanzee who is King to a tribe of genically enhanced apes; Woody Harrelson as Colonel McCullough, an iron-fisted human soldier obsessed with wiping out Caesar and his tribe to defend his people from destruction; Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a common chimpanzee who lived formerly in a zoo before the simian Flu outbreak; Amiah Miller as Nova, a bold and kind non-speach young human female war orphan whom Maurice adopts as his daughter; Karin Konoval as Maurice, a wise and benevolent Bornean orangutan who is Caesar's advisor; Judy Greer as Cornelia, Caesar's wife and Queen; and Terry Notary as Rocket, a common chimpanzee who is Caesar's brother figure.


The picks up two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his apes have been embroiled in a war against humans.  As the ape population decreases, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts in order to avenge his fallen companions.  The encounter with the apes and humans puts them into the ultimate confrontation, to determine the fate of the Earth.


In War for the Planet of the Apes, the third chapter of the critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise, Caesar (Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel McCullough (Harrelson).  In a epic costume drama paired with a highly adventurous action film, this high energy big-budget movie pulls out all of the stops when it comes to physical stunts and chases with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, non-stop motion, spectacular rhytm and pacing, and often two-dimensional 'good guy' heroes battling 'bad guys' - all designed for pure audience escapism.  It's another great outing for Woody Harrelson.


With a great supporting cast consisting of Max Lloyd-Jones as Blues Eyes, Caesar and Cornelia's oldest son; Devyn Dalton as Cornelius, Caesar and Cornelia's youngest son; Ty Olsson as Rex, a Western lowland gorilla traitor who was once a follower of Koba and now serves Colonel McCollough to defeat Caesar; Michael Adamthwaite as Luca, a Western lowland gorilla in Caesar's tribe; Aleks Paunovic as Winter, an albino Western lowland gorilla in Caesar's tribe; Alessandro Juliani as Spear, a common chimpanzee in Caesar's tribe; and Gabriel Chavarria as Preacher, a human soldier - all hit their marks to make this a great addition to the franchise series.


While using action as its basis, this film uses philosophical sequences to shadow the well structured storyline, as Caesar and Colonel McCullough are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.  This is the best summer film of 2017 (so far).  *Spoiler alert* You'll enjoy the final exodus scenes.


FILM RATING (A) 



FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2017 review coverage by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on July 13, 2017 at 5:20 PM

                                                      FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2017

                                        (Montreal, Canada from July 13 - August 2, 2017)


To quote Mitch Davis, Co-Director of the Fantasia International Film Festival, "Our Axis showcase of cutting edge animation and genre narratives return with a lineup that includes a number of widely talented newcomers, several talked about films of the oment and not one but two newcomers from the gifted Masaaki Yuasa.  And that is just a small fraction of what thenext weeks hold for you.  Get set for over 150 features and roughly 250 shorts, many showing for the first time on this continent, some screening for their first time in the world.


Fantasia Film Festival turns 21 years old and it is flickering "Lights and Filmic Ecstacy".


                                                 HIGHLIGHTED FILMS AND REVIEWS


VALERIAN and the City of a Thousands Planets in 3D

Directed by: Luc Besson

Running time: 137 minutes

Release date: July 21, 2017

Genre: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction, and Adaptation

Distributor: STX

MPAA Rating: PG-13


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the visually spectacular adventure film from Luc Besson, the legendary director of The Professional, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, and Lucy.  Based on the 1967 groundbreaking French graphic novel and science fiction comic book series Valerian and Laureline written by Pierre Christin and ilustrated by Jean-Claude Mezieres comes at futuristic space adventure.


This film stars; Dane DeHaan as Valerian, a space and time traveling agent and Laureline's partner/love interest. Cara Delevingne as Laureline, a space and time traveling agent and Valerian's partner/love interest.  With Clive Owen as Arun Filitt, Valerian and Laureline's commander; Rihanna as Bubble (pop singer's debut fantasy film), a shapeshifting female entertainer; Ethan Hawke as Jolly the Pimp; Herbie Hancock as Defense Minister; Kris Wu as Sergeant Neza; and Rutger Hauer as President of the World State Federation.


The adaptation is set in the 28th century, Valerian and Laureline are special operatives charge with keeping order throughout the human territories.  On assignement from the Minister of Defense, the two undertake a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis wher species from across the universe have converged over centuries. to share knowledge, intelligence, and culture.  At the center of Alpha is a mysterious dark force which threatens thepeaceful existence of the City of a Tousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.


Starring alongside DeHaan and Delevingne s is an acomplished troupe of performers and newcomers to the big screen, such as, John Goodman.


The spectacular 3D production is set in a universe beyond imagination.  The main events of this film begin in the year 2740.  Classic and familiar, yet wildly exotic and exciting, this epic adventure follows Mafjor Valerian, a rougish government operative and a rising star in the human army.  He is an extraordinary warrior with a sixth sense for tactics, and is widely known for his bravery.  While his partner Sergeant Laureline, whose innate intelligence is matched only by her steely determination, fierce independeance and impressive displays of strength.  As driven and focused as she is in her career, she is old-fashined and simplistic in her personal life - she wants tofall inlove, get married and have a family.


While enduring wild skimishes and epic battles, the two antagonists add non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, to a great summer film.


FILM RATING (B-)



BRIGSBY BEAR

Directed by: Dave McCary

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Relase date: July 28, 2017

Genre: Drama, and Comedy

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classic

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In an extraordinarily dark, yet sometimes humorous dramatic fable James Pope (played by co-writer Kyle Mooney) has been living with his parents Ted and April Pope (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) in a desert bunker his entire 25 years of life, totally isolated from the outside world.  It is under the assumption that they are avoiding contamination from a dystophian atmosphere.  As this time is being lived, James is the star of the children's science fiction fantasy TV show "Brigsby Bear Adventures".  This has been James' lifelong project, unfortunately this show is produced and shown to an audience of one - him alone.  *Spoiler Alert*  James has been a victim of abduction from childhood.  It's been a lifelong scam!


This well structured dramedy interweaves a disturbing case of a child abduction case investigated and prosecuted by local police detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who takes a friendly admiration to James and his TV project.  As James is reunited with his birth parents played by Claire Danes and Matt Walsh, along with his newly acquainted younger sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), he finds himself attempting to fit into a world he has never known.  The basis of his existence is his fixation with the Brigsby Bear science fiction story he created (on obsolete VHS).  He finds that the TV and film industry has a place for this project, thus gives James a platform to exist in this newfound world of reality.


It is a bitter/sweet plot and character driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  The light-hearted comedy is consistently and deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter by sometimes exaggerating the situation, the language, action, relationships, and characters.  Yet, there is a coming-of-age scenario imposed where the story's central struggle is about the antagonist finding his place in the world.


Supporting cast members Andy Samburg as Eric, Christopher Sullivan as an FBI Agent, Jorge Lendegorg Jr. as Spencer, Ashlyn Brooke Anderson as Wizzle Prince, and Beck Bennett as Detective Bander, along with Yvonne D. Bennett, Kami Christiansen, and Michaela Watkins deliver fine performances to a smart plot.


Brigsby Bear is a deeply felt work that keeps regenerating and unfolding in surprising ways.  It is metaphoric in nature, and resulting in a captivating weird moral.


FILM RATING (B+)



ATOMIC BLONDE

Directed by: David Leitch

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Release date: July 28, 2017

Genre: Drama, Action, Mystery, Thriller, and Adaptation

Distributor: Focus Features/Universal Pictures

MPAA Rating: R


Adapted for screen from Anthony Johnston's graphic novel series (1989) comes a Cold War period piece action spy tale, in the setting as the Berlin Wall was torn down, starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, along with Sophia Boutella, John Goodman, and Toby Jones.


What makes a good spy movie?  The elements that go into the making of a great spy movie contains intrigue, elegance, mystery, and allure into an action packed tale of plot twists and double crosses.  The definitive basis would be espionage, which be inherently clandestine, as it is taken for granted that it is unwelcome and many cases illegal and punishable by law.  It is intelligence gathering.  These activities of government agents share the risk of being discovered by their enemies.


Atomic Blonde is the story of MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) who was sent to Berlin to investigate the death of another agent, and the disappearance of a list revealing every spy working there.  She finds a powder keg of mistrust, assassinations and bad defections that ended with the murder of MI6's top officer, as the toppling of the Berlin Wall. 


Now Lorraine has returned from the Cold War's coldest city, to tell her story to MI6 investigator Mr. Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA inestigator (John Goodman).  The film takes off in a backstory of flashbacks as the crown jewel of Her Majesty's Secret Service Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton is equal parts apycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to disploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission.


Charlize Theron's performance is impeccable in her choreographed action fight scenes.  Her characterization in the action sequences thrust her into a series of challenges that typically include physical feats, extended fights scenes, violence, and frantic chases.  She is a resourceful lead character struggling against incredible odds, which include life-threatening situations, and a villain David Percival (James McAvoy).


With the tone of woman empowerment, this femme fatale Lorraine Broughton character portrayed by Theron, is a confident persona.  She is especially confident in controlling her life and her authority.  Much like a James Bond character or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, she is designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination as a spy.  As the central character, she pursues the missing list of agents, and deters it getting in the wrong hands by any means possible.


The great thing about adapting this graphic novel to screen - is that it works very well.  Lorraine is an interesting, a tough as nails woman, very much like the spies that tend to show up in a British Ian Fleming drama - but she is a woman.  Of course, the fight scenes are over the top in its delivery, but it adds to the power of the action plot and reinforces the theme of the graphic novel it represents.  Great chemistry between Theron and McAvoy.


Supporting cast members give this film a good basis and solidifies the theme of this formidable movie.  A must see film!


FILM RATING (A)



GHOST STORY

Directed by: David Lowery

Running time: 92 minutes

Release date: July 7, 2017

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, and Romance

Distributor: A24

MPAA Rating: R


In this supernatural drama written and directed by David Lowery, the audience is taken down the road of spirituality, romance, and thought-provoking mysticism.


The storyline is of a young married man and woman, C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), is living in a small suburban house.  C is a struggling musician and M is a loving stay at home wife.   One night, they hear a heavy bang on their piano, but unable to find the cause for the noise.  Some time later, C is killed in a car accident outside his home.  At the morgue, he awakens as a ghost covered in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes.  As he wanders through the hospital, no  one else is able to see him, he comes to the end of a hallway and sees a doorway of bright flashing light open in front of him.  After staring at it, the doorway eventually closes.


C's ghost leaves the hospital and returns to his house, watching his wife grieve over her loss.  He continues watching over her for days and weeks on end that appear like seconds to him.  Eventually, he meets another ghost inside the house next door.  This female ghost tells him that she has been waiting for someone, but cannot remember who.


One night, C's ghost sees M returning home with a new boyfriend.  Angered, he makes all the lights in the house flicker and throws several books off the bookshelf, opening one to a passage that seems to upset M.  Some time later, M listens to a song that C had written for her when he was alive.  Finally, M decides to move from the house, but not before leaving on a small peice of paper tucked inside a crack in the wall.  C's ghost attempts to dig the note out of the wedge wall, but can't retrieve it.


As a haunting theme is established in the plot, it carries on as other families move in and are frightened from the house.  When the house is demolished, C's ghost must wander.  C's ghost finds himself thrust back into the 19th century on the same site.  However, he witnesses Native Americans slaughtering a family of settlers.  The corpes of the settlers decompose and a stage of evolution appears.  Thus, allowing C's ghost to travel through time and get to the place and time of C writing the note he needs to read.  Once he reads this note, his spirit vanishes and leaves the sheet he had carried discarded.


This is a methodical and philosophical story of life after death in an eerie and imaginable means.  The structure is not a usual three act production, but gives the audience a mysterious ride of spiritualism.  Perhaps, the plot may feel disjointed at times, along with limited dialogue, the moral is that ghosts that wander in the afterlife, must find resolvement and closure to their once human existence.


Ghost Story is not a film everyone will enjoy.  However, it is uniquely made movie that relies on the imagination of its viewer.


FILM RATING (C)



OKJA review and interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 28, 2017 at 9:25 PM

Directed by: Bong Joon Ho

Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes

Release date: June 28, 2017

Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure, Science Fiction, and Comedy

Distributor: NETFLIX

MPAA Rating: Not Rated


This is a film that stars an ensemble cast headed by South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun alongside Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jake Gyllenhaal.  It 's a story about a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company, Mirando Corporation, headed by a power hungry insecure Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) looking to make a profit off of a biologically enhanced pig called Okja.


Okja, is a multi-layered dark comedy narrative that offers a primary plot of Mija the young farmgirl who takes care of Okja from a little piglet to a massive animal.  Her story is a coming of age scenario centered around her young life on the verege of some maturation processing.  Her decisioning brings the outcome of which will have a significant shaping impact on her and Okja's lives.  


On the other hand, another story is implemented about Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), whose Mirando Corporation internationally markets the biological enhancement of pigs.  With assistance from a zany egotistical Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), a zealous zoologist, along with a deceitful Frank Dawson (Giancarlo Esposito) to guide Lucy into cornering the pork market.


For ten idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja the massive animal and an even bigger friend at her home in the mountains of South Korea.  But that changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate Mirando takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where images obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando has plans for Mija's dearest friend and pet.


However, Paul Dano plays Jay, the leader of an animal-rights activist gang, consisting of "K" (Steven Yeun), Red (Lily Collins) and others to bring down Mirando Corporation.  With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission, but her already daunting journey quickly becomes more complicated when she crosses paths with disparate groups of capitalists, demonstrations and consumers, each battling to control the fate of Okja...while all Mija wants to do is bring her friend home.


The black comedy performances by the ensemble employs a form of humor that is to make light of serious and often taboo subject matter thus provoking discomfort and serious thought as well as as amusement in the audience.  The narrative retains its serious tone and balances satire.


In a press conference with the cast, I was able to get questions answered about the production. Tilda Swinton spoke of how it is to work with filmmmaker Bong Joon-ho by saying, "it is a very relax business working with Bong.  He is a very good leader and invites me to bring something creative.  We decided to find villains in capitalism and food exploration.  When I saw the story, Bong and I knew we could build on the character and other characters."  Bong contributed with his comments, "my young lead actress Ahn was very experienced and has a lot of energy.  She is amazing and hilarious because she would comment about the catering and snacks on set."  He also said, "I am drawn to creature films and it seems to interact with social issues.  The fact that this large pig is a pet, it is also a food to be exploited.  My characters are to contradict protangonists and antogonists, but to have them as foolish people making mistakes....my villains are not pure villains.  I was so happy with the creature (Okja) on screen.  It was not cartoonish, but real.  I was impressed with the fresh product on screen."  Child actress Ahn simply replied to Bong's comment by saying, "Bong helped me maximize my performance."  While Giancarlo added, "we are in a situation with society where absurdity is relevent...but the point is to be rational.  As for my part, it is unknown his true purpose.  This was a return to a sweet story.  It was a loss of innocence tale."


Deftly blending genres, humor, poignancy, and drama, Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercing, The Host) begins with the gentlest of premises - and then bond between man and animal - and ultimately creates a distinct and layered vision of the world that addresses the animal inside us all by use of a great leading cast and supporting members Byun Heebong, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, DevonBostick, and Woo Shik Choi.


FILM RATING (B)


 



THE BIG SICK review & interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 23, 2017 at 7:20 PM

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Running time: 119 minutes

Release date: June 23, 2017 (limited) & July 14, 2017 (wide)

Genre: Drama, Romance, and Comedy

Distributor: Lionsgate/Amazon Sudios

MPAA Rating: R


Based on the real-life courtship between Pakistani-American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and co-podcast host Kumail Nanjiani, and American writer, producer and other co-podcast host Emily V. Gordon, comes the humorously romantic, yet often dramatic biopic they penned for the screen.


Kumail (plays himself) an aspring comedian connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his stand-up sets.  However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) who are set on a fixed marriage for him, as single Muslim women are paraded in front of him at regular dinner occasions.  This does not help matters as Kumail hides this fact from Emily along with her parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter).


As a biopic it is certainly true in its basics, but does not prevent information to be told thoroughly truthfully, in order, or completely.  As this talented cast of actors and writers in their own right, they contribute an art in the production for marketing values.  The whole impetus of this romantic comedy is to create perspective on the world these two people (Kumail and Emily) live.  The cultural differences, yet bigotted and racist environment, the contemporary society dictates sets the tone of the film.  However, plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and individual stories involving intense character development and interaction, brings to life an affair of the heart that is centered on passion, emotion, honesty, and romance.


Although, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are the lead characters in this film, the supporting cast of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano portraying Emily's parents Terry and Beth, as well as Anupam Kher and Adeel Shroff as Kumail's parents Azmat and Naveed complete a superb script with brilliant performances.  They bring individual magnitude to the production when Emily (Zoe Kazan) is beset with a mystery illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry whom he's never met, while deaing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.


In a press conferences with the partial cast questions were ask about the production.  American film producer Barry Mendel who worked with Bill Murray on Rushmore, followed by The Sixth Sense and The Happening with M. Night Shyamalan.  Barry Mendel's producing credits are also along with famed directors Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, and Judd Apatow, as he mentioned that "at SWS Festival Kumail came to me and Judd Apatow with his story and we loved it.  It was a great challenge to take a real life situation and market it a success on screen.  Listening to Kumail tell it, we knew this along with his humor it would work."  I asked Barry Mendel, "what makes your collaboration with Judd Apatow so successful after working Spielberg and others?"  He replied, "working with Judd is great, he is like making jazz....he is lightning in a bottle....he touches every detail."  Zoe Kazan added, "they are (Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel) so detailed and knowledgable...every part of the film has their touch."  Zoe Kazan an American actress and playwright, granddaughter of Elia Kazan, was also asked about her playwright experience contributing to the production.  She replied, "I had a creative aspect of my character, but what drew me in was the script.  I was able to amke it my own, rather than the real Emily be a  monitor on the set."  Holly Hunter added, "we had ideas and it was an open arms process on the script.  Act 2 of the film excited me because it is another love story amongst the series of serious medical scenes."  Ray Romano mentioned, "I wrote a little on a backstory for my character."  Veteran Indian actor Anupam Kher, who made this his 500th film, stated "without reading the script I accepted because of the idea of working with Kumail."  Kumail and Emily exchangingly spoke about their working as a pair.  Their combined quotes as a couple is, "when everyone added things, we felt that we could separate from the characters, script, and reality.  On the writing parts we had conflicts but when we go on the set everything worked out."


The Big Sick, with the fabulous one-liners, excellent ensemble, is touching and emotionally enhancing.  This is a well structured life journey film and a must see.


FILM RATING (A) 


    

CARS 3 accompanied with Lou (short) review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 16, 2017 at 3:40 PM

Directed by: Brian Fee

Running time: 109 minutes in 2D and 3D

Release date: June 16, 2017

Genre: Animation, Comedy, and Family

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

MPAA Rating: G


As PIXAR Animation Studios reigns as the leader in animation production, it brings a 2D and 3D animated comedy to the big screen.  It is the eighteenth PIXAR feature film and the third installment in the Cars film franchise, following Cars 2 (2011).  Director Brian Fee, who was once the storyboard artist on the original Cars (2006) and Cars 2, brings back the voices of Owen Wilson as  Lightning McQueen, Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, Bonnie Hunt as Sally Carrera, Chris Cooper as Smokey, Tony Shalhoub as Luigi, and Guido Quaroni as Guido.  This edition brings inArmie Hammer as Jackson Storm, McQueen's new racing rival, Cristela Alonzo as Cruz Ramires, McQueen's trainer and racing technician, and Kerry Washington as Natalie Certain the statistical analyst.  Additonally, several real life drivers and other racing related personalities from NASCAR have cameos, including Chae Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Waltrip, Shannon Spake, Humpy Wheeler, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Petty, Mike Joy, Ray Everman and as well as the legendary Richard Petty's return as Strip "The King" Weathers, who now acts as Cal Weaathers' (his nephew) crew chief.


The story picks up after McQueen loses his racing title to Jackson Storm, the face of the new high tech and next generation racers.  With the new generation of high tech racers, many question if the famous Lightning McQueen, the legendary Piston Cup veteran, will retire after he endures a terrible crash.  McQueen's sponsor Rus-eze, bought by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who wants to turn him into a racing brand for auto parts.  However, McQueen asks for a chance to race in the Florida 500 and begins to train with race technician Cruz Ramirez, who always had dreams of racing.  The clash of the new and the old (McQueen and Cruz) is the essence of most of this plot.  It is difficult for McQueen to accept that change is inevitable, and Cruz finds out certain things are fundamentally stable.


Interestingly, this film delves into the history of the car racing world.  It highlights the facts that Stock Car and Formula Car racing origins, from the years of the Prohibition Act (1919 - 1933) inacted after WWI, when moonshine (white lightning, mountain dew, and corn liquor) was illigally hauled by fast running cars.  The word "moonshine" is believed to be derived from the term "moonrakers" used in English smugglers and the clandestine nature of operations of the unlawful Applalachian distillers who produced and distributed whiskey by moonlight driving (without cars lights) to avoid the revenue agents.  The gave American stock car racing its birth by the likes of legendary Raymond Parks who won the inagural NASCAR championship in 1949.  It also, gave the origin to the single-seater series of car racing known as, Formula One (Grand Prix).


As an animated action adventure family film, it central plot is the struggle that plays out mainly through a clash of physical forces and encounters with new ideas.  The small amount of comedy delights and the essential aspect goes beyond the ordinary.  The whole range of comic tactics are from absurdity to mockery, to sarcasm to irony, each to disturb, disrupt, alter and change things from what is expected.  The film is mostly fast pace, but relies on sentimental sequences to raise emotions.  This edition may not be the best of the franchise, but the work of PIXAR is captivating.


LOU (Short film)

Directed by: Dave Mullins

Running time: 6 minutes in 2D and 3D

Release date: June 16, 2017

Genre: Animated, Family, Fantasy, and Short film

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

MPAA Rating: G


With the attitude of how to deal with bullies being relevant, Lou examines a red hoodie-covered fantasy creature with eyes and how it interrupts a young boy's mischievous behavior during school and recess.  The fantasy creature with eyes of baseballs and buttons grinning from inside a school's Lost & Found bin, reprimands a young boy who finds fun in rediculing and tormenting his class peers.  The moral is an honest and important message sent to the younger viewers.



Cars 3 FILM RATING (C+)


Lou FILM RATING (B)



HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 9, 2017 at 10:40 PM

                         THE 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL

                Co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center

                                                        June 9- 18, 2017


The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented with 21 films and discussions showcasing courageous activists exposing topical and provocative feature documentaries during challenging times.  In an era of global advances by far-right forces into the political mainstream, assaults on the free press, and the rise of "citizen journalism", festival organizers hope that the films in this year's program can serve as an inspiration and motivation for the audience, from seasoned activists to those searching for a role in local and global movements.


Now in its 28th edition, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is co-presented by the Film Society O lincoln Center and IFC Center.  All screenings will be followed by indepth discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, Human Rights Watch researchers, and special guests.


OPENING FILM

NOWHERE TO HIDE

Directed by: Zaradasht Ahmed

Running time: 86 minutes

Release date: June 23, 2017

Genre: Documentary in Arabic, Norwegian, Portugese, and Swedish with English subtitles.

Distributor: East Viilage Entertainment release in association with Ryan Bruce Levey Film Distribution.


Director and photographer Zaradasht Ahmed is a Kurdsih/Norwegian filmmaker. He was born and raised in Northern Iraq.  He states, "My ambition is to let the audience reflect on the human consequences of a brutal reality where all taboos are violated.  With Nowhere to Hide I want to show that we are all part of this reality - war, explosions, victims, terrorism, they affect us globally, and we are all responsible, despite our geographical whereabouts.  Meanwhile, I want to show the human resistance that is growing among these survivors; to show the hope of rebuilding after the breakdown of civilization.  In the end, as humans, the only thing that can help us survive is to believe that the will to build will always be stronger than the desire to destroy."


Nowhere to Hide follows male nurse Nori Sharif through five years of dramatic change, providing unique access into one of the world's most dangerous and inaccessible areas - the "triangle of death" in central Iraq.  Initially filming stories of survivors and the hope of a better future as American and Coalition troops retreat from Iraq in 2011, conflicts continue with Iraqi militias, and the population flees accompanied by most of the hospital staff. 


Nori, his wife, and four children find their lives of somewhat normality turned around during 2011.  As a member of a local medical emergency room, working regular hours, and returning home to help raise a family with his wife, now finds himself dealing with the collateral damage from the U.S. invasion against ISIS and suicide bombers.  As ISIS pushes into their region and take control of central Iraq, Nori steps his work to act as a doctor, as the real doctors flee from the hospital.  At home bullets fly randomly from ISIS snipers, and 2014 Nori and his family leave their home in Jalawla.  As Nori and his family travel the region in their vehicle seeking refuge, they witness the destruction.  The attitude of themselves and others to this carnage becomes numb, but his will to help others prevail.  He sets up temporary medical centers to care for the people he confronts and lives with.


What was Nori's original home project of filmming his hospital, family and communty over a five year period, drastically turns into a filmage of himself dealing with war.  It all comes full circle as he and a couple of others return to their hospital, only to find devastation.  This film touches on the refugee issue and the unsettle challenges of war's aftermath, in a first-person's account.


FILM RATING (A+)



500 YEARS: Life in Resistance

Directed by:  Pamela Yates

Running time: 105 minutes

Release date: July 12, 2017

Genre: Documentary

Distributor: Paladin


Documentarian Pamela Yates has formed a Resistance Saga, cinematically designed to galvanize audiences to fight back when society is faced with authoritarianism and deagogues.  It is long term courageous and strategic film resistance against daunting odds, with a powerful example being focused on the Mayan people (Indigenous tribes of Guatemala). 


The Resistance Saga Trilogy began with When the Mountains Tremble (1982) which introduced indigenous rights leader Rigoberta Menchu as the storyteller in her role to expose repression during Guatemala's brutal armed conflict.  The in her sequel film, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011), the poltical thriller detailing international efforts to build a genocide case against Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, with actual filmed forensic case evidence in his prosecution.  In this third film 500 Years: Life in Resistance (2017), it picks right up from Granito, providing insight access to the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people.  It is an epic story that led Guatemala to a tipping point in their history, from the genocide trial of General Efrain Rios Montt to the popular movement that toppled sitting President Otto Perez Molina.


The Guatemalan genocide or "Silent Holocaust" refers to the massacre of Maya civilians during the Guatemalan military government's counterinsurgency operations.  Massacres, forced disappearances, torture, and summary executions of guerrillas and especially civilian collaborators at the hands of U.S. backed security forces.  The terror apparatus has benn in existence since the early Spaniard explorations, conquering, and settling colonial rule in South Americas.  However, the repression in the 20th century, specifically in the 1960s and 1970s under the Zacapa program and the Arana presidency, recorded the genocide stages of the Massacre at Panzos, genocide under Lucas Garcia, General Benedicto Lucas, and Rios Montt are the most acknowledged.  It is reported that the deaths are approximately 200,000 Maya peoples and 50,000 Ladino in this 50 to 60 year period.  


The film is strained by repitition of protest scenes, but the focus on universal themes of justice, racism, power, and corruption is very relevent.  Yet, the documentary tells the story from the perspective of the majority indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala, and explores their struggles in the country's growing fight against impunity.



FILM RATING (B)




 


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