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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)




 

WONDER WOMAN review/editorial by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 3, 2017 at 12:35 AM

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes in 2D, 3D, and IMAX

Release date: June 2, 2017

Genre: Drama, Action-Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Adaptation

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13


Taking statements from Sharon Gosling's 2017 book "Wonder Woman:  The Art and Making of the Film" she determines, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman sees the hero brought to the big screen for the first time in her own movie, and fully realizes the breathtaking wonder, strength, and grace of such an historistic character.  Sharon Gosling expands that this groundbreaking film will take fans on a voyage of discovery through the world of Wonder Woman.


For the ones who are vague on the Wonder Woman character, (cited bio by wikipedia and public information) she is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics.  The character is a founding member of the Justice League, demigoddess, warrior princess, and Ambassador-at-Large of the female Amazonian people.  In her homeland, her official title is Diana the Princess of Themyscira (daughter of Hippolyta).  The Wonder Woman character was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston, and artist Harry G. Peter.  Marston and his wife Elizabeth's cohabitant, Olive Byrne, is credited as being his inspiration for the character's appearance.  Marston drew a great deal of inspiration from early feminists, and especially from birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger.  The character first appeared in All Star Comics # 8 in October 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942.  The Wonder Woman title has been pblished by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.


This film is adapted from fictional drama, and based on the original idea.  It follows the original theme and does not neglect the cinematic opportunities of the story.  The film depicts young Wonder Woman's (age 8 - Lilly Aspell, and age 12 - Emily Carey) origins as it relates that she was scultured from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and given life by Aprodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek Gods.  Her Amazonian training by her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright) and instructor Philippus (Ann Ogbomo) helped to develop a wide range of extraordinary skills in tactics, hunting, and combat. 


Adult Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) takes the reigns as the protagonist.  But when an American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off the shores of the Amazonian sheltered island located in the Bermuda Triangle and tells of a massive conflict of World War II in the outside world, and Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat.  The epic plot displays female empowerment with extraordinary powers and abilities, as she exerts a strong moral code with a secret identity.  The story sets the tone as a backstory with the flashback scenio as the basis of the narrative. It shows the contemporary Diana as employee of the Wayne Industries (as in Bruce Wayne aka Batman).  With non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous high energy physical stunts and chases, Gal Gadot an Israeli actress, martial artist, and model is perfectly cast for the Wonder Woman character as she combats the German invasion and mystical villians.  Of course this will set up possible sequels and additions to the new franchise.


As an epic production, this film covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.  The elements are elaborate and add an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, high production values, along with an overlap of science fiction and fantasy - all designed for pure audience escapism. 


It's a great, fun-filled, action packed summer movie.  Go 'woman power' !!


FILM RATING (A-) 




PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Dead Men Tell No Tales review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on May 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM

Directed by: Joanchim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

Running time: 129 mins. in Conventional, Disney Digital 3-D, RealD 3-D, and IMAX 3D formats

Release date: May 26, 2017

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Reboot, and Adaptation

Distributor: Walt Disney Motion Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13



In the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, this film serves as a soft reboot of the franchise. The filmmakers cited the first installment, The Curse of the Black Pearl, as inspiration for the script and tone of the film. Johnny Depp, Kevin McNally, and Geoffrey Rush reprise their roles as Jack Sparrow, Joshamee Gibbs, and Hector Barbossa, respectively.  The film also stars Javier Bardem as Armando Salazar, Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner, and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth.  The film also features the returns of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann respectively, following their absence from the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides.


Swashbuckling movies have always been exciting going back to the silent era Douglas Fairbanks films of the early 20th century.  This contemporary film is no different when it comes to excitement as Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old nemesis, Armando Salazar, who along with his Spanish Navy ghost crew who has escaped from the Devil's Triangle and is determined to kill every pirate at sea.  Jack, aided by a new ally Carina, must seek the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.  At the same time, he comes across Henry Turner, the son of his former crew member Will Turner.  Henry wants to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman so he can reunite his parents, Will and Elizabeth Swann.


As the film is structured in a prequel format, it also uses the present tense to incorporate the narrative.  It is a high energy big budget tale with non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous, often two-dimensional 'good guy' heroes and heroines battling 'bad guys' in the traditional swashbucklers on searches and expeditions for lost lands, treasures, and the unknown.  


Johnny Depp plays the eccentric but noble pirate captain of the Black Pearl on the hunt for the Trident of Poseidon. Javier Bardem as Captain Armando Salazar, a powerful and maniacal undead pirate hunter of the Spanish Navy, who was trapped in the Devil's Triangle.  After escaping, he seeks the Trident of Posedon to wipe out all piracy and exact revenge on his old enemy, Captain Jack Sparrow.  Meanwhile, Brenton Thwaites as Hery Turner tries to reconnect with his father Will Turner, as he struggles to break a curse that is preventing him from doing so.  Kaya Scodelario portrays Carina Smyth, a feisty, altruistic astronomer who has a diary with clues that leads her own her journey looking for the Trident of Posedon.  There is also the reprising character Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the one-legged pirate captain of the Queen Anne's Revenge, former captain of the Black Pearl, and Captain Jack Sparrow's former rival-turned-ally.


Perhaps, this film is more of an overdone romp, but it is mystical and causes great enthusiasm, while being thrilling and exhilarating.  It is excessive in its attitude of producing intensity because of the many elements involved.  It is an elaborate adventure fantasy film that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop, and adds an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, lively comedy, and high production values of special effects.  Yet, the fantasy aspect takes the audience to another dimension and netherworld places with elements of magic, myth, wonder, and the extraordinary that transcends reality.  


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will appeal to both childen and adults.


FILM RATING (B)




KING ARTHUR: Legend of the Sword review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on May 15, 2017 at 5:10 AM

Directed by: Guy Richie

Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes

Release date: May 12, 2017

Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure, and Fantasy

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In a very loosely based tale on King Arthur legends, the legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries A.D. comes a dynamic style epic prequel only acclaimed filmmaker Guy Richie could imagine.  Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclassic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur's journey from his royalty birth, cast off to the streets, and back to the throne.


If by chance you don't know of King Arthur, his Knights of the Roundtable, Excalibur Sword, his wife Guineviere, or Wizard Merlin the Magician, the details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of British folklore and literary invention.  His historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians, but the sparse historical background of Arthur is gleamed from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas.  Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138 A.D.), which was adapted from such earlier unknown sources, often served as the starting point for later stories of Camelot.


However, this epic costume drama filled with CGI and special effect medieval romps and fantasy monsters that include big-budget physical stunts and chases with rescues, battless, fights, escapes, destuctive crises (floods, explosions, (un)natural disasters, fires, etc., is a far-out take on the myth.  This film takes off when the 2 year old child Arthur's (Zac Barker) father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and mother is murdered, and Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur's uncle, seizes the crown.  Young Arthur, escapes by being smuggled aboard a small sea vessel that winds up on the shores of the back alleys in the city of Londinium.  As Arthur (now Oliver Zac Barker) is forced to make his way as a thief and beggar on the hard streets, he is taken in by a prostitute in a brothel.  


Once a annual challenge to pulling the Excalibur Sword from the stone, that it is solidly secured in and only released by the rightful heir to the throne, young adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) does so.  Instantly confronted by the sword's influence, he is forced to make up his mind to either join the rebellion with a shadowy young woman named Geinevere (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) assisted by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) or remain a street hustler.  As the tyranny led by Vortigern becomes intolerable, agrees to join the resistance, but he must learn to master the sword, face down his demons, and unite the people to defeat the tyrant Vortigern along with his fantastical montrous demon army - who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king.


The fantasy scenes takes the audience to netherworld places (another dimension) where events are ulikely to occur in real life - they transcend the bounds of human possibilities and physical laws.  It is a film that have an element of magic, myth, wonder, and extraordinary, appealing to both teenage children and adults.  


KING ARTHUR: Legend of the Sword is a period piece spectacular that includes high production values accompanied by granduer.


FILM RATING (B)





TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2017 reviews and coverage by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on April 21, 2017 at 10:50 PM

                                             TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2017

                                                                 April 19 - 30, 2017


The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff, in respnse to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the consequent loss of vitality in the lower Manhattan neighborhoods.


Over the 16 years, the Festival received over 10,000 film submissions and held 2000 plus screenings.  The Festival's program line-up includes a variety of independent films including documentaries, narrative features and shorts, as well as a program of family-friendly and student films.  The Festival also features panel discussions with personalities in the entertainment world.  


Recently, James Dolan's Madison Square Garden Company has entered the film festival business with its newly acquired stake in the film company founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.  In 2014, Tribeca Film Festival has sold 50% stake to the Madison Square Garden Company.  Among the properties owned by the MSG Company are Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre.  This offering the opening night event screening of documentary to the public of, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and performances by legendary talents Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow and others to be held at Radio City Music Hall.  This year has been about dramatically increasing the programming breadth.  Focusing more on relevance and revenue with the closing night film dealing with retrospective, The Godfather & The Godfather Part 2.


REVIEWS:


CLIVE DAVIS: THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES

Directed by: Chris Perkel

Running time: 123 minutes

Release date: April 19, 2017

Genre: Documentary


Chris Perkel's riveting profile of legendary music mogul Clive Davis spans a remarkable five-decade career, providing an incredible tour of the msot sensational music of the cultural revolution, from the 1960s to the rise of hip-hop.  Bruse Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Santana, Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Alicia Keys, Sean "Puffy" Combs, and a great many more artists to Davis.  This amazing film is definitive, fascinating and ceaselessly entertaining proof.


This film examines the life of Clive Jay Davis, born in Brooklyn, New York.  It begins with his birth in 1932 and how he related to his young domestic life.  As a young adult he enters Harvard Law School on a full scholarship and graduated 1956.  Four years later, he arrives at Columbia Recors as an attorney.  In 1965, he was promoted to administrative vice president of the label without having any knowledge of popular music.  Soon after in 1967, he became vice president and general manager, then the label's president.  


In this capacity he pushed the company full speed into rock music, with artists such as Janis Joplin and Carlos Santana leading the pack.  He guided Columbia Records to tremendous success until 1973, when he was fired after being accused of tax evasion and misusing company funds (related to payola).  However, with a reputation as a maker of musical talent, in 1974 he took over the record division Columbia Pictures and launched his own music label, Arista, famous for such acts as Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston.


It brings the audience to Clive Davis' 2008 move to Chief Creative Officer at Sony BMG, after a government investigation of the record industry, where he was fired as president of CBS Records.  Yet, he was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.


Filmmaker Perkel structures his documentary in a bias biographical sense of an amiable man, but in the industry that is "cut-throat" in nature, the portrait is not totally true.  Interviews with various competitors of the music industry, paint a different picture of him.  While amused in their interview shots, these same people see him as a cunning and often ruthless man.  These cutaway scenes are more of story telling shots, whereas the actual "chill footage" with the musical artists give more honesty.  Perkel mixes Lean-in footage with Lean-back footage to help change the Modality of the Experience for the viewer.


The film highlights Davis' annual music bash where every musical talent is invited.  The documentary is a major tribute to an 80 year old man whose successful career spans over 50 years in the music industry.


FILM RATING (A-)



CHUCK

Directed by: Philippe Falardeau

Running time: 98 minutes

Release date: May 5, 2017

Genre: Drama, Sports, and Biography

Distributor: IFC Films

MPAA Rating: R


The story behind the making of Chuck is a narrative on its own merit.  Screenwriters Mike Tollin and Jeff Feuerzieg acquired the rights to Charles "Chuck" Wepner's life story a decade ago and soon after, prolific film, stage, and television producer/actor Liev Achreiber was approached about the project.  Schreiber, a lifelong aficionado of the 'sweet science', realized his dream of playing Chuck Wepner (known to some as the Bayonne Bleeder), the New Jersey liquor salesman and heavyweight prize fighter who, at age 35, got a chance to fight Heavyweight Champion Mohammed Ali right after he shocked the world by regaining his title against a seemingly invincible George Forman in "The Rumble in the Jungle" bout in Zaire.


Chuck is as much about Wepner trying to deal with sudden fame as the ultimate underdog as it is about the epic fight 40 years ago when a journeyman brawler, against all odds, shocked the world by staying in the ring for almost the entire fight (15 rounds).  It is not just a boxing movie, but a true story of the rise, fall, and redemption story defying our expectations.


This biograpraphical character study plot-driven production portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction examines this American former professional heavyweight boxer's life, whose professional record of 51 fights was; 35 wins, 17 by winning knockouts, 14 losses, and 2 draws.


The film gives insight  as to Wepner's early life as he was born in 1939 in New York City, son of Delores and Charles William Wepner who relocated to Bayonne, New Jersey.  He learned to fight on the streets of Bayonne, known for the hardness of people who worked the civilian docks and U.S. Navy Yard.  As a youth he was always an avid player of sports.  With limited options for his future that included working as a longshoreman or joing the military, he opted for the latter, joing the U.S. Marines, where he became a member of the boxing team, developing a reputation for being able to withstand punches and becoming a military boxing champion at one of the airbases.


Played with flair and pathos, Liev Schreiber portrays Chuck Wepner, a married man with a young daughter who takes a job selling liquor to the local bars and stores in New Jersey.  Yet, he finds time to take local prize fighting bouts with the Northeast's Club Boxing circuit and earned the title of New Jersey State Heavyweight Boxing Champion during the period of 1974-75.  His epic life shows how his sudden celebrity status of fighting boxing greats such as Ali, Randy Neumann, and Ernie Terrell, gained him recognition by actor Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) to write the script, Rocky.  Along with the newfound status, Wepner succumbs to a detrimental life of drugs, booze, and wild women, while struggling to maintain the only true relationship he's known with his no-nonsense wife Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss) and a straight-talking local bartender Linda (Naomi Watts) with whom he has an undeniable immediate spark (whom he later in life marries).


With a supporting cast of Ron Perlman as Al Braverman, Michael Rapaport as older brother Don Wepner, Pooch Hall as Mohammed Ali, and others, the performances secure a complete successful biopic.


Chuck is an entertaining chronicle of the rise and fall of this larger-than-life legend.


FILM RATING (B+)



MANIFESTO

Directed by: Julian Rosefeldt

Running time: 95 mins.

Release date: May 10, 2017

Genre: Drama

Distributor: FilmRise

MPAA Rating: Not rated


From acclaimed visual artist Julian Rosefeldt, Manifesto features two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett in 13 distinct vignettes that incorporate timeless manifestos from 20th century art movements to futuristic genres. 


The narratives draws on writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxux artists, Suprematists, Situationists, and other artist groups, as well as the musing of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers.  Filmmaker Rosefeldt edits and reassembles these artists' manifestos into 13 brilliant collages, while merging the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, Andre Breton, Sturtevant, Sol LeWit, Jim Jarmusch, and many more.


The characters and settings are from an achorwoman to a hmeless man, from Pop Art to Dogma 95, as the chameleonic Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance as she transforms herself like never before.  The settitngs weave together history's most impassionate artistic statements in this stunning and comtemporary call to action.


Cate Blanchett performs these "new" manifestos while inhabiting 13 personas, among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, and a factory worker.  Her performances pays homage to the moving image and tradition of artists' personalities while imbuing new dramatic life into these artists' words.  


These manifestos are not only text which were intended to turn art - and eventually the whole world - upside down and revolutionalize it; at the same time they are testimonials about the search for identity.  With a series of striking monologues, this arthouse drama ultimately turns lines of conventional story exploring to intentional artistic cinematic expression.


Manifesto is emerging in depts by the talent of Cate Blanchett's profound performance and twelve different accents in each of the characters along with the different physical milieus.


FILM RATING (B)



TOM OF FINLAND

Directed by: Dome Karukoski

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Release date: 2017

Genre: Drama and Biography

Distributor: Kino Lorber

MPAA Rating: Not rated


This biopic of Touko Valio Laaksonen, a Finnish (died 7 November 1991) artist known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland, is a detailed story of man who stylized highly masculized homoerotic fetish art.  His influence on the late 20th century gay culture garnered him the title of the"most influential creator of gay pornographic images".


The film takes off during Finland's Winter War of World War II with the USSR.  Lasaksonen (Pekka Strang) serves as a decorated anti-aircraft officer, holding the rank of second lieutenant.  While serving on his tour of military duty he engages in hidden gay relationships with other gay personnel, with the fear of being caught and the threat of being imprisoned or executed.  After the war, he returns home to study.  


However, in his early life, depicted in a short backstory, tells of his middle-class life, raised b scholl teacher parens.  Living in Helsinki, in his spare time secretly started drawing erotic images for his own pleasure. Later on in his life he created a unique style that lack of dramatic composition, self-assertive poses, muscular male bodies depicting Nazi, Biker, and Lumberjack style uniformed leather images.


Still living under the fear of his homosexuality in a post-war Finnish government that threatens his existence, he begins his career in 1956 when he submits his drawings to the influential American magazine Physique Pictorial, which premiered the images in the 1957 Spring issue under the pseudonym Tom, and having coined the credit Tom of Finland.  With the U.S. censorship codes of the 1950s and early 1960s Laaksonen was rendering private commissions, that focused the primary market of gay men with erotic comic books and making inroads to the mainstream art world.  


The film gives insight into the pressure during peace-time Helsinki rampant with persecution of the homosexual and the men around him even being pressured to marry women and have children.  But once he leaves Finland and relocates in California, among the gay community, he can openly be who he is.  


This historical drama is plot-driven and portrays realistic characters, settings, and life situations.  The performances are highly engaging with intense character development and interactions by supporting cast members Jakob Oftebro, Werner Daehn, Jessica Grabowsky, and Jan Bome, along with others, make this a sensitive, yet impactful narrative.


FILM RATING (A)


DOCUMENTARY SELECTION CAPSULE


INTENT TO DESTROY: Death, Denial & Depiction

Directed by: Joe Berlinger

Running time: 115 minutes

Release date: November 10, 2017

Genre: Documentary

Distributor: Abramorama/ Survival Pictures


Academy Award-nominated director Joe Berlinger embeds himself on the epic film set of Terry George's The Promise, to take an unwavering look at the Armenian Genocide.  Historians, scholars, and high-profile filmmakers come together in Berlinger's cinematic exploration of the tangled web  of responsibility that has driven a century of enial by the Turkish government and its strategic allies.


Intent to Destroy is a timely reckoning with the large-scale suppression of a historical tragedy.  Berlinger confronts the fraught task of a shedding light on the Armenian Genocide - whose witnessesdescendants are still fighting to be officially acknowledged as as such by the international communtiry - how it was carried out during World War I, as the reign of the Ottoman Empire drew to a close, and how it laid the groundwork for the genocides that followed.


More than politics, this film explores the cultural suppression Turkey has supported to promote their version of history, recounting the shattering of the American films that have attempted to address the genocide due to governmental pressure to appease a strategic ally.  Throughout the film, Berlinger turns the camera on these efforts, exposing how Turkish officials have used diplomatic coercion to subvert international academia, forcefully muzzle advocates and the use of its geographic placement and geopolitical connections to strong-arm American and other key allies into accepting their version of history.


This is a film that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop, detailing, examining, and exposing the final days of the Ottoman Empire, as they committed crimes against humanity.


FILM RATING (B+)




*More reviews to be posted* 





THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 31, 2017 at 5:05 PM

Directed by: Niki Caro

Running time: 2 ours 4 minutes

Release date: March 31, 2017

Genre: Drama, Biopic, History, and Adaptation

Distributor: Focus Features

MPAA Rating: PG-13


The Zookeeper's Wife is film written and directed by a woman, about an unheralded female herione.  It is story telling the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonia and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of Jewish people and their animals during the German invasion and occupation during 1940s World War II.


Jessica Chastian brilliantly portrays Antonia Zabinski, a compassionate and confident married woman whose love of human beings and animals is exemplified by her love of life.  This film paints a richly portrait of a natural that few of us would recognize.  It explores how that sense of natural order imploded under the Nazi occupation of Poland.  Jan (Johan Heidenbergh) and Antonia, keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who sheltered Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, while managing their animals deal with German pressures.  With courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews, as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds.  The film uses Antonia's diaries, other contemporary sources, and author of the nonfiction book by the same title by Diane Ackerman to craft screenplay writer and director's film adaptation.


The Zookeeper's Wife is passion of life in all its diversity and tells the remarkable World War II story of how the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Polish revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. The climatic scenes are presented as many cages in the zoo are emptied of animals during the air assault on Warsaw, and the Zabinski family decided to utilize them as hiding places for fleeing Jews. Over the course of three years, hundred of Jews found temporary shelter in these abandoned animal cells.  In addition, close to a dozen Jews were sheltered in Antonia Zabinski's two-story private home on the zoo grounds under the nose of a persistantly sexual stalking Nazi Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), with the threat of son Ryszard Zabinski's life at stake.


Epic and historical in nature, this character(s) study plot presentation portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character developement and interaction is acccompanied by dramatic scope.  It is a period piece that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.


This is a narrative told with grace, empathy, and conviction.  A brilliant character bio-drama vehicle portrayed and led by Jessica Chastain, giving recognition to Antonia and husband Dr. Jan Zabinski under the World War II German occupation of Warsaw, Poland.  The film maintains a high standard of production values and perfomances.  It's pacing, tone , and structure is perfect.  This is an Academy Award winning capable film.  A must see movie!


FILM RATING (A)



 








WILSON review and interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 24, 2017 at 8:35 AM

Directed by: Craig Johnson

Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes

Release date: March 24, 2017

Genre: Comedy, Drama, and Adaptation

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

MPAA Rating: R


From the humorous graphic novel, with the same title by author and screenplay writer Daniel Clowes, comes a story of a mid-live coming-of-age tale.  The focus is on the protagonist Wilson (Woody Harrelson), an over-opinionated middle-age man on a quest to find human connection by way of badgering those he comes in contact with in one-sided conversations punctuating his own lofty discussions with a brutally honest, self-negating sense of humor.


The film depicts Wilson as an irrevocable loner who sets out to find and reunite himself with his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern).  The chemistry of these two actors (Harrelson and Dern) ignite on screen as they set out to rekindle their long-dead relationship with their teenage daughter Claire (Isabella Amara), born after the marraige ended and given up for adoption.  It is a satirical adventure that engages many people, as they overcome the opstacles preventing them to reunite with their biological, now wealthy, teenage offspring daughter.  


In an odd series of vignettes, Wilson's outrageous and twisted life encounters those who attempt to engage him.  One such person is a lovely open-minded compassionate woman named Shelly (Judy Greer), whose life is a 'ying' to Wilson's 'yang'.  As Pippi is Wilson's early love interest bonded by their relentless search for their daughter, Shelly is the person that secures his life in the latter part of the film.  Meanwhile, Claire goes through a teenage and adolescent stage coming-of-age scenario.  These sequences bring her to bare a child, and putting Wilson and Pippi in a grandparent situation.


The light-hearted dramedy plots are consistently and deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter (with one-liners, jokes, absurdity, etc.) by exaggerating the situations, the language, action, relationships, and characters.  Yet, the serious plot-driven dramatic presentation portrays realistic settings, life situations, and delivers intense character development and interactions brought on by superb performances by a multi-talented cast.


In a lively and informative interview with the cast many questions was answered concerning the production.  Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern both mentioned and agreed, "The more Wilson's (in the world), the better because of his outburst of his truth."  Woody Harrelson added information concerning the hoarded set design of Wilson's apartment by stating, "I collect things in my Los Angeles place and it was easy for me to adapt. However, the drama in this film, is the struggle with him bringing situations of humor and comedy to his life. My character Wilson is unfiltered and it allowed me improvise, because you can catch something actually real."  I asked Laura Dern if she added more personal characteristics to her Pippi character in order to make it as animated and complicated than the script and novel called for?  She replied to me, "I collect parts of my personality.  I have fire and excitement from working with Woody.  I wanted to give the character a voice in her life."  Director Craig Johnson and screenplay/novelist Daniel Clowes explained about the transformation of adapting these literary characters to film.  Filmmaker Craig Johnson commented, "I had read the novel and I could see the movie from the Wilson character......and working with Woody, I could see he had the person down."  Daniel Clowes added; "It was 80 pages of strips, and I also had many different pages.  I sat down and organized it by writing a script, and then gave it to Craig.  And yes, Laura Dern created most of the Pippi character."  Judy Greer as Shelly and Isabella Amara as Claire contributed comments.  Judy Greer mentioned, "Craig's style is calm for the 30 day shoot and he set the tone.  I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but Woody and Craig offered me the script and I felt good about the role after my audition."  Isabella contributed a statement by saying, "The set was harmoneous and fun.  We were allowed to create with the script.  The movie touched on very controversial issues relevant to today."


Wilson is an intricate movie filled with sarcasm and dark humor.  It is a fun ride in "Wilson's World".


FILM RATING (B) 


 



NEW DIRECTORS - NEW FILMS review coverage by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 22, 2017 at 7:40 AM

                                                  NEW DIRECTORS - NEW FILMS

                                                         (March 15 -26, 2017)


Celebrating its 46th edition in 2017, the New Directors/New Films festival introduces New York audiences to the work of emerging filmmakers from around the world.  Throughout its rich, nearly half-century history, New Directors has brought previously little-known talents like Pedro Almodovar, Chantal Akerman, Hou Hsiao-hien, Christopher Nolan, Laura Poitras, Spike Lee, and Kelly Reichardt to wider audiences.


**  Film reviews to follow soon ** 

Beauty and the Beast review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 17, 2017 at 10:20 PM

Directed by: Bill Hoberman

Running time: 129 minutes

Release date: March 17, 2017

Genre: Musical, Fantasy, Romance, Family, Remake, and Adaptation

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG in Standard, Disney Digital 3-D, RealD 3-D, & IMAX 3-D formats


In a live-action remake of Disney's 1991 animated film of the same name, itself an adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale, is an American/British ensemble romantic fantasy musical epic film.  In this film adaptation, Emma Watson plays Belle, who is taken prisoner by a fearsome Beast aka The Prince (Dan Stevens) in his enchanted castle and learns to look beyond his appearance while evading a narcissistic hunter named Gaston (Luke Evans) who seeks take and wed Belle for himself.


The production development is a story within itself, as Disney began work on the film adapatation of the 1994 Broadway stage musical.  However, with a change of production theory and ideas, in 2011 Walt Disney Pictures having already beginning a new live-action version and remake of Beauty and the Beast after making other live-action fantasy films such as Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, and the recently Academy Award winning The Jungle Book it would be a better approach to entertain the international audience with an old-school full scale musical accompanied in this new new medium of live-action.


The plot is mirrored from the classic fairy tale, but puts emphasis on a duel storyline as it takes off with the backstory of the vain and pompus French Prince (Dan Stevens) hosting a debutante ball at his castle when a elderly beggar woman (Hattie Morahan, who is Agathe, a Villeneuve village resident and a once beautiful enchantress who watches and manipulaes the events between Belle and the Prince) appears seeking shelter from the cold.  When the Prince ignores her and taunts her appearance, the old woman reveals herself as the beautiful enchantress and curses the Prince by transforming him into a hideous ugly Beast confined to live is a cold unattractive castle.  She also turns his shallow servants into various household objects.


Years later, the second part of the duel storyline, in the village of Villeneuve, a young intellectual girl named Belle (Emma Watson) is bored of village life and seeks excitement.  She is grounded by her eccentric, overprotective and noble music-box inventer father Maurice (Kevin Kline).  Maurice feels he must be protective since the death of her mother since early childhood.  However, she is stalked by the evil vain hunter and former soldier Gaston (Luke Evans) who tries to woo her.  But she finds him obnoxious and repeatedly turns him down.


The duel plots merge when Belle and Maurice are placed in the confines of the Beast's castle, through a series of magical and mystical events **(avoiding the spoiler alert)**.  With supporting cast members; Daisy Duczmal as baby Belle, Rudy Goodman as the young Prince, Jolyon Coy as young Maurice, Josh Gad as Lefou Gaston's flamboyant bumbling sidekick, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere the Prince's bouteiller who has been transformed into a candelabra, Stanley Tucci as Mastro Cadenza the celebraed court composer transformed into a harpsicord, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the Prince's head of household transformed into a mantel clock, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the motherly head of the castle's kitchen transformed into a teapot, Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe the renowned opera singer transformed into a wardrobe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette the gutsy maid of the castle transformed into a feather duster, Adrian Schiller as Monsieur D'Argue a sly warden of the local village asylum who dastardly cohorts with evil Gaston against Belle in blackmail, Nathan Mack as Chip who is Mrs. Pott's son transformed into a teacup, and Gerard Horan as Monsieur Jean Potts an absent-minded Villeneuve potter, the large international cast add and maintain a high standard of talent in their performances as they share screen time.  Hattie Morahan narrates this fabulous fable throughout the film.


As a epic romantic musical laced with action and adventure, it is positively elaborate. It takes on an historical and imaginative event, mythic, legendary, as it is heroic.  It adds an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, high production values, and a sweeping musical score.  With eemphasis on full-scale scores, songs, and dance in a significent way, the musical and dance performances are perfectly integrated as part of the film narrative.  The fantasy scenes transcend the boundaries of human possibilities with elements of magic, myth, wonder, and the extraordinary.  Yet, the romantic scenes are affectionate affairs of the heart, that are long lasting and endearing.  In the caper aspects of the film being a thriller, it promotes intense excitement, anxiety, and nerve-wracking anticipation.


Beauty and the Beast, is a widescreen marvel and will be an Academy Award watch!


FILM RATING (A+) 

13 MINUTES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 17, 2017 at 7:15 AM

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Running time: 114 mins.

Release date: June 30, 2017 (NY/LA)

Genre: Drama, War, and Biography in German with English subtitles

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

MPAA Rating: R


In a collaborative production by director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), along with father/daughter screenplay writing team Fred and Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, comes an epic historical biopic that explores the dark past of one man's attempt to stop Hitler's horrific regime.


This the story of Johann Georg Elser (Jan. 4, 1903 - April 9, 1945), brilliantly played by Christian Friedel, a German carpentry worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on November 8, 1939 at the Burgerbraukeller (Hitler's annual speech on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch) in Munich.  A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform during the event which failed to kill Hitler, but killed eight people and injured over sixty others.


The film captures in retrospect much of Elser's background in the implementation in his assassination plan, as he travelled to Munich on November 8, 1939 to enter the Burgerbraukeller.  However, prior to this plan, Elser is shown as a pacifist man whose only wildness in life was an extra marital love affair with a married woman Elsa (Katherine Schuttler), while being married to his wife Maria (Cornelia Kondgen).  His work in the armament factory, where he reluctantly worked, was sufficient for him to survive in an oppressed society. As the days of oppression wears on his demeanor, he soon becomes upset and fed up.  His strong communist beliefs triggers him to sytematically steal explosives, hide packets of powder in his bedroom, to rebel the Nazis regime.  Realizing he needed the exact dimensions of the column to build his bomb, he master-minds an almost fool-proof plan.  He did not know Hitler would leave 13 minutes before the explosion.


In a plot-driven presentation, 13 Minutes takes on a serious investigative drama, as the hunt for Elser and accomplices are pursued by Nazis.  Eventually, Elser is captured and imprisoned.  With impeccable performances by supporting cast members Burghart Klaussner as Arthur Nebe, the ruthless interrogating head of the Criminal Police, and the leader of the Gestapo Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow), who try to unearth Elser's accomplices, the story takes on a envious feud between the two.  It seems the two interrogators can't imagine an ordinary man would attempt such a scheme by himself.


The tension of the story is in the portrayals of Elser, Criminal Police Chief Arthur Nebe, and Gestapo leader Muller during the imprisonment.  The interrogation scenes are shocking, yet mesmerizing.  The tone is desolate, gritty and harsh.  Filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel structures his film with true life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  This is a film of high production values accompanied by magnified dramatic scope of a heroic figure.  It is a must see film.


FILM RATING (A-)


 


THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 10, 2017 at 6:20 AM

Directed by: Joseph Ruben

Running time: 100 mins.

Release date: March 10, 2017

Genre: Drama, War, and Period Piece

MPAA Rating: Not rated


Jeff Stockwell scripts this historic character-driven presentation reflecting the eastern front theater of World War I, while exploring a young strong-willed idealistic woman, Lillie (Hera Hilmer), whose life journey and romance will have a significant shaping impact on the rest of those she comes in contact with.


Frustrated by a mundane privilege lifestyle in America's Philadelphia, Lillie is someone whose beliefs are to achieve remedied medical and spiritual rationale in a turbulent World War I.  After meeting Jude (Josh Hartnett), an American doctor, who has returned home from a remote medical mission within the Ottoman Empire to raise American financial assistance, decides she will leave her comfortable home and join this discipline as a nurse.  Inspired by the thought of being needed, she finds herself in a world both exotic and dangerous, and on the brink of what is about to become the first World War.  There, she finds her loyalty to Jude and the mission's founder Dr. Woodruff (Sir Ben Kingsley) tested when she falls in love with their perceived enemy, a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army, Ismail (Michiel Huisman).


As mildly entertaining this film is, the real substance is in the limited historical content that the major characters deliver.  The film strongly implies that the decisions which these characters make on these key days will impact the rest of their lives.  On a grander scale, these decisons (and the 20-20 hindsight which the historical aspect of the film adds), provide much valuable information about the broader societal problems and decisions which the main characters represent in its outcome.


The romantic aspect of this film which occurs with Ismail and Lillie, and with Jude as the jealous character, does not come across as being cinematiclly genuine.  Screen chemistry is the key to success, but these characters are penalized for poor execution.  And Sir Ben Kingsley is under-used in his minimal performance. The dramatic speaking is to be dialogue, yet its mannerisms seem to be monologue and banal which stalls the movement of the plot's pacing and action.  Its tragedy plot subtext, is to an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of certain magnitude.  Of course, the oncoming war is threatening and presents the form of action which will arouse pity and fear in the audience.  This creates an affect of purgation and catharsis of these strong emotions.  However, the way an actor plays a role, using his/her acting skills to create a character (characterization), ultimately depends on his/her ability to create a character that an actor can 'bring to life'.  The Ottoman Lieutenant, is troublesome in its casting and deflates a epic story that could better this fact.


While casting talented actors, the soft-soaked plot doesn't deliver engaging response.  This is a historically potent romantic drama.  The pre-World War I period-piece denotes a significant era.  However, the tone is banal and the performances lack credible substance.  This film is better suited for cable television because of its soap-style delivery.  As a 'epic-lite' genre, it takes a generic tone of a costume drama, that should cover a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop.  


FILM RATING (C)



THE SHACK review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 3, 2017 at 6:55 PM

Directed by: Stuart Hazeldine

Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Release date: March 3. 2017

Genre: Drama

Distributor: Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In a screenplay co-written by John Fusco and Andrew Lanham starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw is a story of guilt, death and loss of a child, and spiritual healing.


After the abuction and assumed death of Mackenzie 'Mack' Phillip's (Sam Worthington) youngest daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve), Mack and his family is grieve strickened.  The Phillips clan is a deeply religious family, although Mack has a skeleton in his closet from his dysfunctional childhood upbringing that caused the death of his abusive alcoholic father.  Holding on to their religious beliefs in dire times of their loss, Mack receives a letter and has the suspicion it is from God asking him to return to The Shack where Missy may have been murdered.


This religious Christian theme story opens unifying common elements found in all great religious and cultures upon which we can focus to build cooperation in a diverse world.  We need to focus on unity by finding common ground among people of different beliefs and backgrounds.  A focus on unifying elements creates harmony and brings people together instead of dividing people when it comes to times of loss of life, whether it be by religion, race, culture, political beliefs, or other differences.  While characterizing Octavia Spencer as Papa aka God the Father, Avraham Aviv Alush as Jesus God the Son, and Sumire Matsubara as Sarayu God the Spirit we become familiar with the Christian culture portrayed on screen.  We realize that there are certain values that are shared.  These universal thruths manifest in this film, served not only as stepping stones between cultures, but also as a springboard to reach spiritual enlightenment.  In this case, director Hazeldine share a transcendent spiritual film style as, Yasujiro Ozu (Japan), Carl Theodor Dreyer (Denmark, and Robert Bresson (France).  In spite of their different religious backgrounds - a Buddhist, a Protestant, and a Catholic respectively, a uspoken consensus of style is apparent.


As Mack grapples with his demons as he visits The Shack, the movie sheds light on and makes a serious attempt to questions.  Why are we here?  What's the meaning of life?  Is there a God?  Why is there evil in the world?  The tone is set and the plot delves into the moral aspects of redemption, forgiveness, keeping faith, life and death, good vs. evil, and more.  The moral ideals and taboos in the behavior of the protantagonist Mack is very well portrayed on screen, as well as, his other daughter Kate's (Megan Charpentier) performance, as a person dealing with her feelings of guilt pertaining to her younger sister's death and abduction.  The behavior and the lessons learned along the way represent the culture's ideals; what Mack does, all men should strive toward.


The life situations bring on intense character development and interaction, along with the use of special-effects to maintain a high standard production values.  Accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, and lavish heavenly settings, this film offers a serene attitude in the end result to processs pain, anquish, heartbreak, and sorrow.


The Shack, is a journey of overcoming misery, sadness,distress, heartache, agony, desolation, and dejection.  Yet, it raises one inevidable question, whether it is a spiritual movie or a religious movie?  It is one thing for sure, it is simply about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.


FILM RATING (B-)





 




 

APPRENTICE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 3, 2017 at 3:55 PM

Directed by: Junfeng Boo

Running time: 96 mins.

Release date: March 3, 2017

Genre: Drama in Malay and English with English subtitles

Distributor: Film Movement

MPAA Rating: Not rated


In a dramatic character-driven presentation, filmmaker Junfeng Boo also scripts a story that takes a hard look at a self-examination of one man's assessment of capital punishment in Malaysia.


Capital punishment in Malaysia is a legal form of punishment.  It is a mandatory punishment for murder, drug trafficking, treason, and waging war against the King.  It also, includes acts of terrorism, aiding terrorism (financially or otherwise), rape that causes death or child rapists.  The statutory provisions also carry the death penalty on abetting mutiny (Armed Forces), abetting suicide, kidnapping or abducting to murder, hostage taking, gang robbery with murder, and possession of fire arms.


Joseph Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) applies for a prison guard position at a maximum security prison.  Once, he receives his rookie position, he is assigned to a less secure area and is not allowed in the highly secured area.  His home life is of a family oriented situation.  He lives with his single older sister Suhalia (Mastura Ahmed) and grandmother (not credited in script or film) in a very close domestic relationship.  


However, in a story portraying realistic characters, settings, and life situations the plot takes on a inquistive manner as Joseph Aiman's curiousity causes him to seek why the doctrine of the veteran guards assume the doctrine of,  'they the prisoners against we the guards'.  His curiousity goes even furhter, as he seeks to favor his superiors.  One particuliar superior is an 'old school' chief guard Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), an executioner hangman, who takes his job and captial munishment seriously.  Rahim takes pride in the preparations, tools and mechanics used to carry out the executions of hanging.  


In a story inspired by revenge possibly deferred, John Aiman is torn between being bound to his duty as a guard, as he aspires to promote his status as Rahim assistant, and to learn more about this hangman who is the man who executed Joseph and Suhalia's father years prior.  Of course, Suhalia is upset and it does cause tension in their blissful domestic atmosphere.  With sensitive expressionism in their performances, each character displays a slow build discovery tone, as the plot takes on innovated reserved theme.  Each involving intense character development and interaction.  The key roles in this feature provide the audience with a better idea off how the film is going to be as Joseph Aiman is being groomed by Rahim for the next chief hangman's position.


The dark setting adds to the thought provoking and evocative theme.  This theme refers to what the story means opposed to what happens as it refers to the main idea within the plot.  It is stated through dialogue by John Aiman's character, as the screenplay/director's creates dramatic scope.  The dialogues delivered by the characters moves the plot and action along, provides exposition, defines the distinct characters, and gives substance to the film.


What's more often overlook about Junfeng Boo is the way his shots, even at their bleekist and most darkest, almost always seem to gravitate toward a kind of equilibrium and balance - a strong center of gravity that both permits wide improvisation and keeps it in check. It seems to aspire to a kind of fussily arranged, impeccable lit portraiture.


Apprentice is a strong presentation offering a controversial attitude of conscience, involving diligence of duty and a haunting of the past.  


FILM RATING (B+)


 




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