Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Creed


Gifted young writer / director Ryan Coogler scored big two years ago with his first picture, Fruitvale Station, and scores again with Creed, his homage to the spirit the Rocky film franchise embued, if not the movies themselves. Coogler has cast Fruitvale leading man Michael B. Jordan to tell the story of the illegitimate son of Rocky fixture world heavyweight boxing champ Apollo Creed. Creed was Balboa's early opponent and later friend who died in the ring during a fight that Rocky wishes he had stopped as Creed's trainer. Jordan's character goes by Adonis Johnson, at once rejecting his father and desiring to embrace him by abandoning a respectable nine-to-five in a bank to train for the professional boxing ring. Johnson leaves the Los Angeles home of his adoptive mother, Mary Anne Creed, Apollo's wife (played by Phylicia Rashad), and moves to Philadelphia to learn from Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). Johnson keeps his parentage secret from everyone for a while, even the braided beauty (Tessa Thompson) in the apartment below his, whose brass turns him on. The two meet cute and their courtship is sweet and provides the film with some nice grace notes to offset the battering bluster in the bulk of the picture. The scenes between the craggy and inimitable Stallone and the truly adonic and chiseled Jordan drill deep into the heart of what this often savage sport means to those who are drawn to it and suffer from it. In that regard, the real beauty in this impressive movie is in the ring -- in the unsually intimate training sequences and, of course, the last reel bout between Adonis and the mouthy Liverpudlian boxing champ, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). All of it's brutal and bloody and boffo. Highly Recommended.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Night Before


The holiday music playing in my favorite hummus and tabbouleh restaurant this morning put me in the spirit so I went to a screening of Jonathan Levine's The Night Before to get out of it. Levine's movie of three best friends facing their last semi-raucous Christmas Eve outing before one of them becomes, albeit reluctantly, a father stars Seth Rogen as the dad-to-be, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a stunted, lovelorn musician of sorts and Anthony Mackie as a late-blooming professional football player with a social media addiction and mommy issues. For this last go-round, Gordon-Levitt's character scores tickets to New York's most exclusive and secretive Xmas Eve party, but God and his angels (metaphorically speaking, sort of) seem determined to keep the boys from attending. What starts out as an "innocent" adventure turns into a fiasco, a Red Bull stretch-limo charging through Brooklyn. Still, if it's a Seth Rogen bromance a couple of things are sure bets: (2) there will be pot, and (1) James Franco will make an appearance. In fact, not since Pineapple Express (2008), which costarred Rogen and Franco, have I witnessed such seemingly endless, blissful reefer toking in a movie. The contact high created a giddiness in the audience at the screening I attended that might not have been wholly deserved but the film is such brainless fun that you hardly notice how ridiculous it all is. The scene that features Rogen's Isaac, who is Jewish, attending, disastrously, midnight Mass with his Baby Mama (Jillian Bell) is brilliant. Recommended for those who like their comedy broad and vulgar and don't mind sexting images of, supposedly, James Franco's junk.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Spotlight


Actor / writer Tom McCarthy doesn't direct a lot but when he does the product is usually pretty terrific (The Station Agent, The Visitor). McCarthy's is a familiar face and voice, and his films are becoming just as recognizable -- smart ensemble pieces that combine the public and the personal. His latest film, Spotlight, is the story of The Boston Globe's Pulitzer-winning investigation into reports of children being molested by Catholic priests in Boston and the church's efforts to cover up the assaults. Though the Globe had spottily covered one case of a pedophilic priest who was reassigned in the '90s, no follow up reporting was conducted and information forwarded to the paper by survivors and other interested parties was ignored or lost. In 2001, the Globe's investigative team, named Spotlight, was charged with revisiting the matter after the paper's new executive editor arrives from The Miami Herald, reads a column about another predatory priest and asks the question voiced during the Watergate probe: Who knew what and when did they know it? The ensemble of performers is worthy of McCarthy's methodical and engrossing screenplay (written with Josh Singer)  -- Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Brian D'Arcy James. His direction is crisp and the design will be familiar to former journos -- and there are many of us -- who know how its feels to get a great story, tell it well, and, hopefully, make the world a better place. Highly Recommended.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Truth






James Vanderbilt’s debut as a director, Truth, is a stiffly earnest film that features a fine performance by Cate Blanchett but surprisingly inert turns by the rest of the cast. Blanchett stars as Mary Mapes, a producer for 60 Minutes who spearheaded the program’s 2004 investigation into President George W. Bush’s military record and reported that he had received favorable treatment as a member of the Texas National Guard. The news story was based on documents passed along to Mapes by a former military officer (Stacy Keach) who vouches for their authenticity. Though Dan Rather (Robert Redford) has concerns about the story, his confidence in Mapes leads him to green light the piece even while CBS fact checkers raise red flags. In the end, the story is discredited, the officer who leaked the memos recants some of his remarks to Mapes and the reporting team and anyone associated with the piece is canned. The film is based on Mapes’ account of the affair and attributes the debacle that led to Rather’s resignation from CBS to a convergence of haste, hubris and corporate cowardice. Sections of the film reflect a preachy self-satisfaction that rings dully because the aftermath was so devastating.

Steve Jobs


Director Danny Boyle’s latest motion picture, Steve Jobs, includes the Apple pioneer's infamous boast that while his engineering cohorts – Steve Wozniak and Andy Hertzfeld – were skilled “musicians” in the computer world symphony – he, himself, was the conductor who played the orchestra. A claim of startling arrogance but delivered with such brio that it is tough to deny. The musical analogies do not stop there in Boyle’s terrifically enjoyable film based on the biography by Walter Isaacson. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has written a set of beautiful chamber duets that showcase his sparkling, incisive and bristling dialogue. Boyle and Sorkin have constructed this baroque film in three movements, each corresponding to the premiere of a new Jobs’ product – 1984’s Macintosh, 1988’s NeXT cube and 1998’s iMac. Most of the film’s action is set in the wings of the hall where the product is being introduced and where Jobs (a masterful Michael Fassbender) demeans technicians (Michael Stuhlbarg), spars with corporate handlers (Jeff Daniels), cajoles and dismisses allies (Seth Rogen), but lovingly waltzes with his tireless marketing manager (a marvelous Kate Winslet). A leitmotif regarding Jobs' paternity is woven nicely through the three movements and moves to center stage in the film's exuberant and touching finale. Audience members may not like Jobs much after the film but they will certainly love the picture. Highly Recommended.

Yesterday

  Director Danny Boyle's hummably insightful morality tale, Yesterday, is a sure starmaker for amiable Hamish Patel, who plays ...