Archive for February, 2015

lazarus3 I’m sure you’re all  familiar with the biblical story of Lazarus, but in case you’re not, here’s the gist of it.  According to the Gospel of John 11:1-44, Jesus is told that Lazarus is ill.  Jesus resurrects Lazarus after he had been buried for four days.  Writers Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater and director David Gelb attempt to use this old story as scientists are looking for a way to advance medical technology by being able to bring a living being back from the dead.  But the consequences turn out to be much greater than imaginable.

The Lazarus Effect Trailer

Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass star in this interminable science fiction horror flick that not even Jesus himself could bring back to life nor would He want to.  The film begins at a science lab where a small group of research scientists and a documentary cinematographer are working and witnessing the resurrection of a sweet old dog.  The Lazarus Effect  Serum is successful as they see this old fellow seem to not only fight and come back from death, but to also counteract the onslaught of age related diseases such as cataracts.  The reselazarus2archers explain to the cinematographer about the science behind the serum and the DMT’s (I’m still not sure what DMT’s are, but there are a lot of them!) in the patients system.  But something goes wrong as the dog becomes aggressive and the serum doesn’t dissipate as anticipated.  This is where the film devolves into a low B grade horror flick.  With the overuse of acronyms and the initials DMT, the pair attempt to pull a political verbal feat:  use lots of words, but say nothing at all.

 

True love is at the heart of this film.  When Zoe (Wilde) dies, Frank (Duplass)  uses the serum to bring his betrothed back to life.  Picture a Zombie meets LUCY (the film with Scarlett Johansson) as the lazarus4DMTs are out of control and Zoe is using 100% of her brain!  Inexplicable events occur as Zoe shows her true bloody colors.  It’s a gruesome mess filled with things that go bump in the dark.

 

“The Lazarus Effect” is just another dead body on the pile of failed films with a similar theme.  Wilde is a simply gorgeous and a talented actress, but in this film both she and Duplass are just reading lines. There is palpable tension throughout the film, due to the filming technique, but that tension is followed by a roll of the eyes.  The use of strobe lighting, (every horror movie has to have the lights and backup generator fail, you know) increases the feeling of suspense and surprises the viewer with typical horror film “gotchas.”

 

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“The Lazarus Effect” is a mediocre sci-fi horror movie that attempts to draw people in with the star power of Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass.  What it forgot to do is write a script that’s interesting, full of possibilities or plausibility and isn’t completely predictable.  The babbling of supposed scientific jargon assumes that the general population didn’t pass the second grade.

 

Perhaps if this film came out on Halloween or at least closer to that holiday, it would have been a bit more fun to see.  The script, direction, believability or ability to suspend belief, along with less than adequate acting and a poor release date make this a must-skip movie.  Even if you are an Olivia Wilde fan, skip it.  She spends most of the movie looking rather pasty.  Death will do that to you.

 

2 Reels  (because it had a cute old dog that reminded me of my old buddy Bongo)

 

 

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Academy Award nominated foreign film “Wild Tales” is a sleek and elegant compilation of six stories typifying the possibility of situations going wrong—and then spiraling believably into something even worse and worse.  This unique film compiling 6 vignettes with a common theme bring to the forefront your most realistic and plausible nightmarish situation while it touches, even scorches, your nerve endings and emotions.

WILD TALES Trailer

Imagine driving along a country road along mountains and curves as you approach an old beater of a car who seems to think he owns both lanes.  As you attempt to pass him, he blocks you.  You try again and he blocks you yet again.  You try to maintain composure, but now he’s messing with you by going slow.  Your blood begins to boil, doesn’t it?  This is exactly what happens in one of the stories in “Wild Tales.”  Road rage is a common occurrence and as this man finally passes this extremely irritating driver, a middle finger wildtalescarand an exchange of some unpleasant words are uttered from the man who is passing.  But what might happen if that person’s car breaks down.  A second interaction occurs and it becomes much more than a flip of a finger and a crass word or two.  Spiraling further and further into anger and violence, one bad decision begets another.  It’s real.  It could truly happen.  You can identify with the main character.  You feel what he is feeling and you are there, on the side of the road with him.  As the end of the film finds irony, dark humor, and finality, you are quickly brought into the next short story, not fully recovered from what you just witnessed.

 

A desolate diner with just a couple of workers finds itself at the center of a crossroads in life.  Sounds a Twilight Zone, doesn’t it?  The position of the waitress is to serve a condescending and contemptible man who, from her childhood, is responsible for evicting her family and causing the suicide of her father.  His uncaring nature has only increased as is evidenced by his treatment of this gentle waitress.  What advice does she receive from the seasoned cook?  Rat poison.  What would you do?  Well, of course you wouldn’t poison him.  But…  What happens subsequently, again spirals out of control.  Throughout this short film, the dialogue and reactions are decadent.  The subtle nuances create a realism that will elicit goosebumps of empathetic fright.  But wait.  There’s more…

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Imagine one of your worst fears as a parent:  Your child has been drinking and driving and he/she is responsible for the death of a pedestrian who happens to be pregnant.  This happens to a wealthy family whose child has been sheltered from consequences his entire life.  How far will this father go to protect his son?  What is the line in the sand over which he will never cross?

 

The other three short films are just as intense with their ability to portray real situations gone awry.  They are also all thought-provoking as you find yourself having been in similar situations such as being towed.  (You’re welcome Cook County/City of Chicago)  What you want to say and do and what you actually do, hopefully, are two different things.  But what if you didn’t have the edit mode on one time?  What would happen and how would things unravel?  Check out “Wild Tales” and you will see!

 

“Wild Tales” is a foreign film with subtitles, but within seconds you forget that you are readingWildWedding because you are so enraptured by what is unfolding before you.  The filming techniques, acting, and story are all so perfectly coordinated that you forget that you are in a theater.  You tune out everyone around you and experience only the senses that the director wants you to feel.  “Wild Tales” is a wild ride of reality gone explicably wrong.  Never has wrong been so right.

 

Focus poster

 

“Focus” has the cast to pull audiences in, but its many flaws will make them think twice.  The bait and switch tactic is a basic con-man tool and that’s exactly what filmmakers have done with this film:  Set up a hip scene with cool and attractive actors, then switch the content with fluff, totally implausible circumstances, and angering situations.

FOCUS Trailer

Will Smith and Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall St.” and the soon to be released “Z for Zachariah”) star in this film that attempts to have high tension, fast cars, and high stakes situations with all the beautiful people.  We find Nicky (Smith) being a high-level, but low stakes kind of con artist who takes on Jess (Robbie) as his intern.  I guess in every profession you have to start at the intern level.  The type of con game this man is orchestrating isn’t your typical “let’s steal from the majorly rich and unlikeable king of evil” con game.  It’s the let’s steal from hardworking, honest people by ripping them off via identity theft, credit card fraud, or just plain old material robbery.  I’m guessing that every single person in the audience has had some sort of theft occur.  This did nothing but make me angry and I watched and listened to how Nicky targeted the “you’s and me’s” of society. ” It’s a high volume game,” as he stated.   My blood pressure increased for the first third of the filFocus1m as I’ve had my wallet stolen and my credit card information used.  It’s not fun nor is it in any way entertaining.

Eventually, the big con game begins and we have someone to root for and against.  A love story is all a part of this which I’m sure you saw coming with the gorgeous Margot Robbie and the charmingly buff Will Smith.  The two are a likable couple, but it is not clear where things are headed.   As Nicky gambled away, all you could do is shake your head.  He was a poster child for Gamblers Anonymous.  Learning more about the events at hand, the ridiculousness was completely overwhelming.  Finally, the film catches up with these individuals three years later and the real con game is set before us.  This is the meat and heart of the film.The pace improved and the game became more complex which was much more entertaining.  Still rather ridiculously improbable, but much enjoyable and at times, quite humorous.  The film redeems itself in the end with an unpredictable, unseen conclusion.  If only the first 2/3 of the movie could have been that pleasing.

“Focus” doesn’t find its focus until too late making it film to watch when it comes on your pay cable channel.   Robbie is not only gorgeous, but she’s a very talented actress which is evidenced, unfortunately, not in this film, but in “Z for Zachariah.”  ”Focus” just focuses upon her beauty and how cute she can sound and look.  The role of Nicky isn’t exactly one of his more outstanding roles, but it was an absolute pleasure to see Gerald McRaney in his rather unlikely role. Focus3 A film, unless its a documentary, shouldn’t make you dislike the protagonist from the beginning.  ”Focus” does just that.

Wait for the DVD or release to cable to see “Focus.”

4 Reels

 

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McFarland, USA, starring Kevin Costner and Maria Bello, is a classic Disney wholesome family movie telling the tale of an underdog who makes it to the top with hard work and determination.

Mc6McFarland Trailer

Although a fitting Disney story, this is actually based on the true story of real life coach Jim White who is on his final attempt at a coaching job after losing job after job due to his temper and differing opinions.  The final straw or maybe I should say that shoe he was waiting for finally dropped as he flung that literal shoe toward one of his players resulting in his termination.  The only school that would even consider hiring him was a small California town called McFarland which is primarily Hispanic with their jobs being “pickers.”  With Mr. White (Costner) and his family in tow, the Whites attempted to make the cultural change with the hope that something better would come along.

The Real Pickers: FOOD CHAINS movie trailer

Mc4Mr. White attempts to be an assistant coach to the seasoned and uncaring head football coach which lasted all of a day.  Still employed as the physical education and life sciences teacher, White sees the actual abilities of these young men—running.  As he recruits these speedy sprinters for a newly developed cross country team, he begins to see these kids as people, not just a way to move on.  He develops relationships with them, understands and helps them, and inadvertantly helps himself to grow as a person as well as a father and husband.

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Although we know how this film is going to progress and end, it is a heartwarming tale about these minority kids whose families don’t have much of an education, let alone the ability to guide their youngsters in the educational direction.  Getting up at 4:30 am to pick in the fields before school, attend school, and then go back to the fields is the harsh reality of these kids.  Their children will probably become pickers, and so on.  With the right guidance, and in this case, it’s Mr. White, they have an opportunity to make different choices, ultimately changing their destiny.

 

Costner’s role develops nicely from disinterested teacher/coach/father to one who has empathy and understanding for those around him.  Is it a reach for him or challenging in any way? No, but he portrays this real life coach adequately.  However, some scenes are rather flat and cardboard, not really reaching the possible emotional highs and lows.  It’s just very even-keeled all the way through the movie.   Bello is the supportive wife and mother who seems rather selfless and always understanding—yes, a Disney-esque wife.

 

Since this is a Disney film, the setbacks they experience are really just a mild disturbance because together they can get through this.  At each and every junction in the story, whether it’s a loss at a track meet, a negative interaction with another team, or a forgotten birthday caMc7ke, you know that things will come together in a positive way at the end.  It’s Disney.  It is all presented in a nicely wrapped little package for you to enjoy.

 

The pace of the film becomes a bit sluggish as the boys go from track meet to track meet and we watch as the family starts to become integrated and welcomed into the community.  There is most definitely a dull portion of this film due to poor editing and slow responses in delivering lines.  There are also a few unforgivable, over-the-top reactions, making it clear that the kids are getting a lot of guidance from the director.

 

“McFarland, USA” is a film the entire family can enjoy.  It’s clean and wholesome with a positive message for everyone.  With a predictable story-line and adequate acting, it accomplishes what it set out to do:  tell a nice story for all to enjoy. But the best part of the film comes at the end.  In real life, each of these boys have now grown up and we find out what has happened to them.  Not everyone has a happy ending, but they all find their own way in life thanks to the love and caring of the White family.

 

3 Stars

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You didn’t sit through 5 hours of last night’s Academy Award ceremony to find out the winners, the losers, and who was wearing what and why?  No worries.  Here’s the quick run down so you can be a part of today’s conversation at work around the water cooler.

First, you must know that “Birdman” won for Best Picture as well as  Best Director (Inarritu), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.  You didn’t see it yet?  Key conversation points:  What was real and what wasn’t?  What really happened at the end? and Didn’t you love the way the filming felt like it was a single take?

still alicejulianneJulianne Moore won for Best Actress and provided the audience with a humorous yet touching and heartfelt speech about Early Onset Alzheimer’s and the filmmaker’s fight with ALS.theory2

Eddie Redmayne won for Best Actor for portraying Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”  His speech was rather rambling, but at least they didn’t lower the mic and turn out the lights like they did for some other poor soul!

J.K. Simmons is one amazing actor and man as he encouraged everyone to call and thank their parents for everything they’ve done.

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JohnTravolta seemed as ease making fun of himself and his inabilities to pronounce names although his facial muscles didn’t seem to move at all.

Surprisingly, “Boyhood” didn’t make the cut with Best Director as it has with all the other award ceremonies.  But Patricia Arquette still represented it with a Best Supporting Actress award.

Neil Patrick Harris looked pretty good in his tighty whities, but I’m still not sure why he did that.NPH

The whole night was a bit of a snooze fest even with Lady Gaga’s beautiful rendition of Julie Andrews’ songs from “The Sound of Music” celebrating it’s 50th anniversary.  The crowd did rise to their feet with tears streaming down their cheeks after listening to the song “Glory” from “Selma” which ended up taking home a little gold statue.

There are such people called “Seat Fillers” who take the place of a winner so that the seats remain looking full.  Zzzzzz…

Oh, and the “locked” briefcase that Octavia Spencer kept her eyes on all night to make sure no one tampered with the contents as it possessed NPH’s predictions for the night.  That fell rather flat as well.

For you ladies out there, the dresses were rather bland and at times completely unflattering this year with the exception of Naomi Watts perfect form-fitting sleek dress, Anna Kendrick’s simple yet elegant salmon halter dress and Lupita Nyong’o's pearl laden halter dress.

Lupita1AnnaKThe comedy and one-liners were far and few between making this one of the least interesting Oscars in years even though the films were quite outstanding.

You are now well prepared to chat about the Oscars without having endured the 5 plus hours of boredom.  Congratulations!  Now go get a cup of coffee or water and start up a conversation about the shock that Linklater didn’t get Best Director and Inarritu for “Birdman” did!

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The Film Independent Spirit Awards ceremony takes place tonight, on the eve of the Oscars.  Will the winners of this predict the winners of the Academy?  Time will shortly tell.  In the meantime, here are Reel Honest Reviews’ predictions for the Independent Spirit Awards:

BEST FEATURE:  Four of the five competing are also in competition for an Oscar in the same category.  “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Selma,” and “Whiplash” are all a part of tomorrow’s competition.  “Love Is Strange” makes an appearance in tonight’s competition (Love Is Strange Interview with RHR), but I don’t think it’s strong enough to battle against the others.  RHR’s pick, if you’ve read my reviews, is “Whiplash.”  I was blown away by how emotionally powerful this film is and have yet to see a film that compares in that way.

BEST FEMALE LEAD:  What an interesting and  eclectic mix of lead actresses, only two of whom are competing for the same title tomorrow night:  Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) and Marion Cotillard (“Two Days,One Night”).  Jenny Slate’s unique comedy/drama, “Obvious Child” (Interview with Jenny Slate with RHR) about women’s choice and life of a stand up comic is a powerful statement and Rinko Kikuchi’s role in “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” is one not to miss.  Tilda Swinton’s performance as an older female vampire in “Only Lovers Left Alive” was unique, yet I don’t think she stands a chance against the others.  RHR’s choice would be Julianne Moore, but I think the judges are going to go with Rinko Kikuchi.still alicejulianne

 

birdmanBEST MALE LEAD:  What a talented and diverse group in this field!  Keaton (“Birdman”), Lithgow (“Love Is Strange”), Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), Oyelowo (“Selma”), and Benjamin (Jimi: All Is By My Side).  Gyllenhaal and his film have been overlooked and undeservedly so.  My prediction and pick is with Jake tonight.night3

 

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE:  Having seen 4 of the 5 films (missing “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”), it’ll be a tight race in this category.  Chastain (“A Most Violent Year”), Stone (“Birdman”), Ejogo (“Selma”), and Arquette (“Boyhood”) are all outstanding in their roles.  Chastain and Stone both have unique roles which are outside their norm giving them both an edge in this competition.  Arquette has been a favorite in all the other awards, but I think tonight Stone will take home the prize.

 

BEST SUPPORTING MALE:  Many of the same films for Best Feature are represented in the Best Supporting Male category:  Norton for “Birdman,” Hawke for “Boyhood,” Molina for “Love Is Strange,” and J.K. Simmons for “Whiplash.”  The addition is Riz Ahmed as Gyllenhaal’s sidekick in “Nightcrawler.”  Again, “Whiplash” is RHR’s favorite and Simmons’ performance was nothing short of brilliant.  Simmons should take this one home to add to his ever-growing collection.

Damien Chazelle

BEST DIRECTOR:  Again, four of the five Best Feature Films are represented in this category by their directors.  Missing is “Love Is Strange” and taking its place is David Zellner for “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter.”  All of these films and directors are deserving of this prestigious award.  I’ll be consistent and pick Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash,” but Ava Duvernay has been overlooked as well.  It’s a close call, but I think Chazelle will be the winner tonight.

 

Oscars_2015

 

 

The 87th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is just around the corner.  This Sunday evening, there will be a few very happy people, carrying a little gold bald statue home and five times as many people who were just honored to have been nominated.  Who will the winners be?  Predicting the winners is like going to Vegas and being sure the odds are in your favor.  And we all know that’s not possible.  But knowing a little about who those voting members are, does give you a little inside information.  Here are my predictions:

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Best Picture:  This year there are 8 nominations, 6 of which are classified as Independent Films.  Although “Whiplash*” is my favorite film, the others aren’t exactly slackers in the category.  Three films, “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Boyhood” are all extremely unique anbirdmand bring the creative bar to an all time new high.  I think that Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is going to take home Oscar this year.

 

theory2Best Actor in a Leading Role:  This group of talented actors, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch* (The Imitation Game), MIchael Keaton (Birdman), and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) all give genuinely transformative performances.  I think it’s going to be a tight race between Cumberbatch and Redmayne with Mr. Redmayne squeaking out the win for his performance of Stephen Hawking.

 

Best Actress in a Leading Role:  Generally, there is one standout in each of the categories, but in this particular group, each actress portrayed the character with perfection.  Marion Cotillar’s role as Sandra in “Two Days, One Night,” who ebs and flows in her fight to keep her job, finds strength and humility as well as resignation as essential characteristics.    Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl” sought and found perfection as the calculating and intelligent victim.  Both Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in “Wild” capture the essence of their characters, however the roles, in my opinion, really aren’t Oscar-worthy.  That leaves us with Julianne Moore’s magnificent portrayal as Alice in “Still Alice*”, a woman diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Again, I think it’s going to come down to two actresses: Cotillard and Moore with the winner as Ms. Cotillard for “Two Days, One Night.”

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:  This is a category that no matter who wins, it will be well-deserved.  Robert Duvall (The Judge) finds an opportunity to create a realistic, judgmental father who has regrets in life.  Ethan Hawke’s performance is unique in that it took 12 years to capture and retain the essence of his character, yet grow and change at the same time in “Boyhood.”  Edward Norton (Birdman) shines in his role as the egotistical and self-centered Mike, starring in a Broadway play.  Mark Ruffalo, initially not recognizable, finds a way to portray an upstanding, athletically talented, and loving father, husband, and brother in his role of David Schultz in “Foxcatcher.”  And finally, J.K. Simmons performance as Fletcher, a controlling music instructor in “Whiplash” has already been recognized with seWhiplashveral awards for this truly brilliant performance. Simmons is favored to take home yet another coveted prize for “Whiplash*.”

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  The range of “support” truly varies in this category.  Patricia Arquette’s role in “Boyhood” leans more toward the stature of lead actress while Laura Dern’s role as Bobbi in “Wild” is significantly less, yet still vital to the film.  Emma Stone* has such a range of abilities and showcases this in “Birdman” as the recovering addict daughter.  Knightley’s performance as Joan Clarke in “The Imitation Game” is competent, but the competition in this category is too tough for her to bring home Oscar.  Although Meryl Streep is good in anything she does, and I wouldn’t want to be competing with her for an Oscar, I don’t think she’s going to win another one this year.  And the Oscar goes to, at least my prediction, Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood.”  

 

Best Directing:  It’s always puzzling that the number of nominations for this category does not match the number of films nominated for Best Picture.  It is reasonable to assume that if you have a “best picture,” your ability to direct must have had something to do with it.  Unfortunately, until the Academy starts asking for my opinion and advice, the number remains at 5.  Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game).  All of these films tell a unique and entertaining story and range from biopic film, to fantasy, and everything in between.  Taking on a 12 year project, committing to it, and bringing it to fruition most certainly stands out with “Boyhood.”  However, Inarritu’s “Birdman” with its style, is a worthy opponent to “Boyhood.”  At the end of the day, or night in this case, I think Linklater will be finding a new spot on his mantle for another trophy for “Boyhood.”

 

There are 24 categories, 19 more of which aren’t included in today’s article.  The competition continues with Best Animated Feature Film, Best Cinematography, as well as Best Sound Editing and Mixing and many more.  With “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” receiving 9 nominations, these two films may dominate the night.  “The Imitation Game” followed closely behind with 8 nominations.  Be sure to watch the entire Oscar night complete with the Red Carpet on ABC, Sunday, February 22nd at 6 pm. Can you pick the winners?  To make your picks, go to www.oscar.go.com/nominees.

 

(What films are predicted to win is usually different from what films you want to win. *denotes my personal picks)

A Peaceful Man

What can be said about death in 4 short minutes?  Surprisingly, a lot.  “A Peaceful Man” says so much using an audible inner voice as Harper is dying a most violent death.  It’s as if he knows he is already dead and is looking back to narrate the final moments with the question of how meaningful his final words will be.

 

Startling the viewer with an extreme closeup of wide blue eye, the calm and reassuring deep voice introScreen Shot 2015-02-21 at 7.56.23 AMduces us to the volatile scene upon which we will shortly see.  The final moments of this man are captured in living color, complete with slow motion gruesome brutality by a

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 7.59.38 AM much larger man.  The camera lens’ depth of field and angles of shooting, along with the lighting brings impending doom to an all-time high intensity.  The accompanying sound effects of each and every skin splintering moment evokes an involuntary and guttural groan.  

 

The film questions the intrinsic violent nature of us all if we are placed under the right circumstances.  Kill or die.  How easily can we do this?  And does it all really matter?  We listen to Harpers thoughts as he is fighting for his life, “No one will remember me.”  People die every day.  Who remembers their names?  But didn’t we all want to be somebody?Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 8.00.30 AM

 

The ominous yet calmingly breathy, bass voice takes us through the scene which is augmented by the sometimes shrill and juxtaposing music to complete that feeling of “no escape.”  The jumping between real time and slow motion time compounded the importance of every movement so that we could almost feel what was happening.  A leg fracture, a hurling body toppling a container of screws, the focus of a metal grinder now silent—all focused upon while the inner voice tells us Harper’s deepest thoughts and feelings of his past, his lost hope, and what’s happening at that moment.  The words we hear are just as harsh and jarring as the visual violence we witness.Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 8.00.04 AM

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 7.59.05 AM“A Peaceful Man” is a beautifully created  short film bringing to light  how anyone pushed to the right limit can become nothing short of deadly.  The techniques Norris uses somehow bring beauty to violence or perhaps it’s a peaceful understanding of it. The special effects, stunts, and make-up create a reality to the film enabling the viewer to feel a part of the action.  The concise, articulate writing conveys a message of innate human capacity, the reality of every man’s situation, and the meaning of our individual lives, or lack thereof.  It’s shocking, horrifying, and captivating as it tells a complex story in under four minutes.  How meaningful will your final words be?

 

Harrison Norris’ film is a highlight of the short films shown at the Slamdance Film Festival this year.  If this is what this filmmaker can do in 4 short minutes, I can’t wait to see what he can do with a feature film!

FiftyPoster

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is one of the most highly anticipated Valentine’s Day films in history. This film, based on the book of the same name by E.L. James, according to EW, has “…already sold more advance tickets on Fandango than any other R-rated film in history.”  With more than 100 million copies of the book sold, the literary fan base is expecting a lot.  As is always the question, can the movie version live up to the book (and our imaginations)?

 

 

 

EL James had input into who would adapt her first of the trilogy of what has been coined “mommy porn.”  Using a female director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, and a female writer, Kelly Marcel, this team of women attempts to tell the steamy story of Anastasia Steele and her dominant and powerful boyfriend, Christian Grey.  For those of you (all two of you) out there that haven’t read the book, here’s the basic premise:  Sweet, innocent, and virginal college senior Anastasia meets the young, handsome, confident and successful Christian Grey.  An immediate attraction is evident, but behind closed doors, Mr. Grey shows many shades of red.  The two find themselves in a relationship with sadomasochism at the core; living out many women’s fantasies.  With any relationship, there is emotional bagga50-shades-of-grey-_2985754kge and the balance with this type of relationship can be devastating. 

 

 

 

Sometimes a book should just remain a book and in the case of “Fifty Shades of Grey” that is exactly the case.  Yes, I read the book.  Actually, I will admit that I read all three of them.  And rarely can the movie live up to the imagination and creativity of the mind’s eye while reading.  This book, in particular, is difficult.  How do you bring an X-Rated book full of taboo S & M into a mainstream theater?  Watching this content with 500 people you’ve never seen nor do you know makes it even more difficult.  It’s like taking your teenage kids to see “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  (*Guilty)

 

 

 

The movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” follows the content of the book exactly, although it does leave out some pretty steamy and provocative scenes such as the dinner party at Mr. Grey’s parents’ home.  But following the book exactly doesn’t make for the perfect adaptation.  With millions of people having read the book, the perfect Anastasia and Christian Grey need to be cast.  While Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) fits the bill, Mr. Grey (Jamie Dornan) did not.  Anastasia embodying the virtues of sweetness and innocence with the willingness to lose her purity flowed from the pages and onto the screen for all to see.  There is also a palpable chemistry, initially, between the two main characters.  Grey (Jamie Dornan), is no doubt gorgeous with his chiseled body, but his command and confidence is lackluster.  This confidence and dominance, in the book,  is what sets him apart from everyone else and when you are missing that, you miss the entire point of the film.

 

 

 

The ambiance, situations, and descriptions of homes and rooms, (yes, the Red Room) are an identical representation.  Their “interactions” in varying situations are also identical, but the intensity behind these “interactions” although erotic, become a bit mundane by the end.  Yes, the film borders on pornographic, but modestly uses suggestive camera angles and cuts to keep it in the safe zone.

 

 

 

Admittedly, Fifty Shades of Grey  is not literary masterpiece.  What it is is a vehicle of escapism for women of any age.  The film attempts to bring the book to life, but sometimes your imagination is far superior and much more creative and fun than what can be acted out in the reality of a stage or a film.  While “Fifty Shades of Grey” follows the book, it lacks the intensity and rationale behind both of the characters.  Dakota Johnson’s performance is adequate, but Dornan’s could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout as his interpretation was rather, dare I say, stiff.  Did he read the book?  Did he understand his character?  I don’t think so.

 

 

 

You are going to see this film if you’ve read the book, but be warned that it just doesn’t live up to your imagination.  As one patron who screened the film early stated as we walked to the parking garage, “It was good enough.”  Yes, it was good enough.  And the box office intake will be good enough, I am sure, to give a green light to starting production of the second film in the trilogy, “Fifty Shades Darker.”

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!  You might enjoy dinner in and renting or streaming the movie “Secretary” with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service” opens during a dearth of decent films being released.   This “season” of lackluster films actually has a name:  The Dump Months.  “Kingsman” might just be the welcomed summer breeze we needed for February films in February with the stellar cast of Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine.  The premise of the film is that a young, precocious street punk whose father was a former, but now deceased, Kingsman is groomed to become the next “James Bond” type of hero just as world chaos is about to hit.

 

 

 

The Kingsman is a group of specially trained British Secret Service Agents who protect the world from evil-doers promising world domination.  As stated in the movie, it is a “farfetched theatrical plot” that works when it doesn’t take itself seriously.  In fact, when it makes fun of itself, which is quite frequently, it’s rather funny!

 

 

 

The young Eggsy, initially played by Alex Nolov, learns of his father’s death.  As he grows up (Taron Egerton) in a household with no appropriate father and a mother whose taste in significant others is on par with choosing Ozzy Osbourne as your ideal mate, he finds himself surfing the streets and getting into trouble.  Thanks to a medallion worn by his father, he calls for help and receives it in the form of Harry Hart, part of the Knights of the Roundtable, er, I mean, The Kingsman Secret Service.  Harry’s code name is Galahad.  Other Kingsman’s pseudonyms are Lancelot and the like—you get the picture.

 

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Harry takes Eggsy under his wing to help train him to become the next Knight/Kingsman.  Whilst (It’s a British film) this occurs, the evil Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) plots to cull the world’s population via sim cards and free cell phones.  Eggsy and the Kingsmen must figure out how to save the world from being decimated.

 

 

 

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is full of action, slow motion violence combined with acrobatics, so far over the top, it doesn’t feel real or offensive.  Fkingcolinor the Bond lovers out there, there are plenty of gadgets and references to his lore.  Each of the characters are also over the top, creating a rather vivid and fun story.  The standout in this film is Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine.  He is a billionaire with a lisp and a love of McDonald’s fast food.  Donning a NY Yankees baseball cap in various colors with matching Chuck Taylors, Jackson is just plain fun to see on the screen.  Quoting movies and making references to films similar to “Kingsman” is the kind of humor that keeps you engaged.  

 

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Firth perfectly portrays the proper British gent who can fight off 7 or 8 thugs while not mussing his impeccably coiffed hair.  Egerton nails the role of snarky street kid with a Cockney accent.  Michael Caine is consistently type cast in the role of British spy leader, but that’s ok because he fits it well.  And do you remember Mark Hamill from “Star Wars?”  He is completely unrecognizable as Professor Arnold, the brilliant scholar and professor with a passion for environmental theories.

 

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The film’s downfall is the monotony of the fight scenes.  There are so many of them with repeated similar special effects that you become totally disinterested and the film begins to drag.  However, I must say that I was completely entertained with exploding psychedelic heads set to classical music.  That was truly one of the most novel scenes in a movie.  They pulled this off without being totally disgusting and gory.

 

 

 

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” at the end of the day is just a shoot ‘em up spy movie complete with many, many  fight scenes and a predictable plot.  However, because it successfully makes fun of itself and every aspect of the film seems over the top, it becomes much more entertaining.  A bit of editing to trim down the fight scenes would have helped out in keeping the pace of the film more consistent and quicker.

 

 

 

This isn’t a film that everyone is going to like.  If you enjoy spy movies with humor, check it out.  There’s a bit of bad language, repeated violence, and some nudity at the end that deservedly gets that “R” rating.  Remember, it is the “Dump Months,” but surprisingly, this is better than “Seventh Son” which fits this dreaded season.

 

 

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