Friday, May 30, 2014
Veteran visual artist Robert Stromberg's Maleficent is a supremely efficient and dazzling motion picture. It presents the origins story of the evil queen from the Sleeping Beauty story economically, narratively, but with an extravagance of visual embellishments -- the grandest being star Angelina Jolie's cheekbones. They're absolutely amazing -- witchy and old Hollywood. In fact, every shot of the queen is wondrous. Jolie, one of the producers of the film, plays the wronged queen of the fairies and guardian of the creatures living in the magical moors that are threatened by greedy humans. (Yes, the parallel to Jolie's philanthropic work in developing nations is stark.) Spurned and dewinged by a man she foolishly trusted, Maleficent curses the daughter of the man whose treachery wins him the throne (Sharlto Copley). The queen's infamous curse is that on her 16th birthday the Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) would prick her finger on a spinning wheel's needle and fall into a death-like sleep. Over the course of those 16 years, however, Maleficent and her raven helper (Sam Riley) watch after the child who has been entrusted to the care of three inept and disputatious pixies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple) living in a cottage in an enchanted wood. The child touches the bitter queen's heart but nothing can reverse the curse but a true-love's kiss. It's an interesting twist but I'm not sure if young children, who will love the animation, will pick up on the film's message about the nature and meaning of love and devotion. Recommended.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Jonathan Teplitzky's film The Railway Man is a painful and highly affecting treatment of the true story of British World War II prisoner Eric Lomax, who along with scores of other Allied soldiers helped to build a railway from Thailand to Burma for their Japanese captors. Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) is discovered with a radio receiver he built from spare parts scavenged before the British surrender of Singapore and also connected to a map of the railway that he hid in a latrine. He is then beaten and starved by interrogators, led by the young "interpreter" Nagase. The scenes of his torture are nearly unwatchable but one must if one is to feel the full power of the film's conclusion. Most of the picture is told in flashback as Lomax, 35 years after the war, meets a lovely woman named Patti on a train to the Scottish Highlands. He is smitten, pursues her and they marry for she is taken by this rumpled, strange but loving fellow who seems fixated with train schedules. Soon after taking up house, Patti discovers Eric's wounds but only suspects how deep they go for he does not talk about them. The elder Lomax is played by Colin Firth (The King's Speech) with all of the classical discipline we have come to expect from this fine actor. And Nicole Kidman, whose screen work has always been interesting if uneven, has matured from girlish beauty into striking loveliness as Patti. Their friend and Lomax's fellow POW Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) warns Patti about the danger of probing into the regions that Lomax has guarded so carefully. But Patti is determined and it is that determination and sudden and surprising act by Finlay that lead to the confrontation between Lomax and Nagase that is the final act of the film. Though not a perfect film, questions about the prisoners' liberation and Lomax's life before Patti are not answered,The Railway Man is human without being sentimental and it carries an important message. Highly recommended but some scenes of prisoner torture, including water boarding, are nearly unbearable.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors flexes the same kind of comedic homoeroticism that has made wealthy men of writer / director Judd Apatow and his stable of actors, principally Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. Though Apatow is not formally associated with this picture, the doughy Rogen stars along with the adonic Zac Efron as the neighbors of the title. Rogen and Rose Byrne play new parents living the American Dream in a college town when the Delta Psi Beta men and their coterie of busty babes move in next door. Rogen's Mac and Efron's Ted become quick "bros" but then after too many late night frat parties and a call to the local constabulary they declare war. Once the barrages of penis jokes, simulated (and actual) intercourse and references to ejaculate are unleashed, there's no turning back. And for the audience you either go along for the ride or cover your eyes and ears. Perhaps it is true as some have written that once you've passed through the dense cloud of sex and drug references you will discover the film's deeper message about maturity and responsibility. I can't attest to that because Stoller has dialed the outrageous meter up to 11 and the quiet pillow-talk between two stoned parents tagged on the end just seems a bit, er, anticlimactic after 100 minutes of unspeakable vulgarity. Recommended but not for youngsters or oldsters who can't take a joke.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Friday, May 23, 2014
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Not 10 minutes into Gareth Edwards' weirdly off-kilter remake of the 1954 classic Godzilla, stunt-casted Bryan Cranston delivers a cringe-inducing scene. He's an American nuclear engineer in Japan who is forced to shut the door on his slow-footed wife (Juliette Binoche) and her team as the belly of a nuclear reactor in full-meltdown fills with radioactive gas. It's a stunning wreck of a scene that introduces this stunning wreck of a movie. Edwards ably stages scenes of mayhem and destruction as Tokyo, Vegas and Frisco are reduced to rubble and kindling by the gargantuan deep sea lizard and his two leggy foes, the M.U.T.O.'s. British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a big-eyed cipher, is the human star of the film, as the skeptical son of Cranston and Binoche's characters, who is a bomb disposal ace. Oddly, he never does actually get to show his bomb-defusing stuff, though, because he's too busy running toward or away from screaming monsters and screaming people. The real weakness in the film, IMO, is that we have no human villain to cheer against. It's tough to unload your animus on 300-foot-critters that humans created and who eat our weapons as if they were chili dogs. Reap, sow and all that jazz.The film also features the reliable David Strathairn as an admiral who is tasked with the destruction of the big battling baddies. His character is introduced in a truly bizarre tracking shot on the deck of an aircraft carrier as Strathairn's character addresses the crew, his back to the camera. When he finally turns to face the camera, I'm sure most of the folks in the audience were thinking, "Who the hell is he?" The picture is no biggie but see it if you must.
Friday, May 9, 2014
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel has beautfiul, fractal intimacy, which is to say it is lovely, complex and cold. That is NOT to say it isn't entertaining because it is, quite delightful, because like those geometric puzzles that fascinate math-nerds, Grand Budapest's component parts -- script, art direction, cinematography and performances (principally Ralph Fiennes amd Tony Revolori) -- are precise and astounding. It's a technical marvel, much like the work of Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; The Pillow Book), but, alas, lacks an essential warmth. Recommended.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Interestingly, even though Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum delivers deliciously brutal set pieces where our hero (K...
A-list movie and Broadway composers Pasek and Paul's score for The Greatest Showman, much like last year's celebrated La La Land,...
Here I post notes about Timothée Chalamet, whose work in Call Me By Your Name earned him accolades and honors around the world. These...
As a major studio release, Green Book has the expected number of Hollywood moments -- those scenes where the emoting and speechifying ta...