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Friday, July 28, 2017

"Detroit" Directed by Kathryn Bigelow Depicts Detroit Riots in 1967 and the Police Murder Trials

"No justice for black people." says the mother of Philandro Castillo, who was shot & killed by an officer in his car this summer.  The disturbing depiction of the Detroit riots in 1967 mirror, time & time again, a pent up rage boiling over from racial discrimination & abuse compounded by a legal system that fails flagrantly to convict the killing of black men by white officers.  "Detroit" is directed by Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker").  Bigelow narrows in on the horrifying events in the Algiers Motel during the 5 days of rioting in 1967.  Three teens, Carl Cooper 17, Fred Temple 18 & Aubrey Pollard 19 were all shot & killed by Detroit officers.  All officers were all exonerated.   Seven other black men were brutalized & tortured along with 2 white women.  These devastating days in Detroit occurred 50 years ago this month.  The rebellious rioting & looting left 43 people dead, more than 4,000 people of color arrested & cataclysmic destruction of businesses & property.  The area resembled a war zone.  The State Police & Nat'l Guard were called out to establish order & defuse the rioting.  Bigelow presents racial discrimination & tensions in the city during this period.  The artistic contributions by black musicians & artists of the time; specifically in Detroit are juxtaposed against blatant racism & hatred.  The opening sequence utilize the paintings by Jacob Lawrence to illustrate the northern migration to large metropolitan cities for work only to encounter pervasive racial discrimination & harsh living conditions.  We see the shooting of a young girl in her apt. by a Nat'l Guard as tanks roll down the city streets.  The tempo & focus shift to following 2 men, a singer & his mgr. ordered to evacuate prior to performing.  The two wind their way through the disorderly streets ending at what seemed an oasis; the Algiers Motel.  There they become trapped & tortured by police while State Police & the Nat'l Guards turn their heads.  Seven men & 2 white women were forced at gun point to keep their heads & arms against the wall, they were systematically brutalized & 3 murdered.  This powerful film puts the audience amidst the victims.  The feelings of fear, anger, tension & ultimately despair at the failure of justice are visceral.  The 2 1/2 hours is a grueling & hypnotic experience.  After the night at the Algiers of Hell & murder, the 3 officers who murdered & colluded are brought to trial.  The case is thrown out despite 2 of the officers admissions of guilt by the judge for failing to provide the police their Miranda rights.  Following the ruling, a black women outside the courtroom said to a reporter, "If white men were found in the hotel with black women, no one would have died."  Unfortunately, this mitigates the impact of more pertinent, troubling issues.  "There never was any justice."  (Thelma Pollard, sister of slain Aubrey Pollard)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Lady McBeth"- She's No Ordinary Lady & This is an Extraordinary Film-A Must See Import from the UK

Dir. William Oldroyd (b UK) debut film, "Lady McBeth" is an astonishing achievement.  Set in the rural English countryside mid-late 19th C the film is adapted from the novel "Lady McBeth of Mtsensk written, surprisingly by a Russian author, Nikolai Leskov (b 1831-1895.)  Leskov's novel was converted into an opera by 20th C Russian composer Shostakovich.   Everything about this extraordinary social satire & suspense thriller is titilating, intense and shocking.  The movie is much more intense than "Madame Bovary" & "Lady Chatterly's Lover" combined.  Katherine is sold into  marriage "for a cow & piece of land not worthy for it to graze on."  Loveless is too tame a term for her marriage into a household where both husband & father-in-law are boorish & cruel and born of aristocracy.  Katherine (a star making performance by British actress Florence Pugh) is no wilting flower.  Her irreverence & strength overshadow an even more sinister, sex-driven sociopath.  Katherine makes her preferences for the outdoors known.  Forced attempts to restrain her are futile.  And, woe begotten to those who refute her lest it prove fatal.  Her illicit paramour, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis, born to an Armenian/American mother) succumbs to Katherine's wiles surpassing his own crude, animalistic nature.  Jarvis is an actor, singer/song writer & the sole American amongst a regal cast of British actors.  His swarthy sex appeal & swagger serve him well as long as he serves Katherine's plans.  The movie takes treacherous & unexpected twists that keep the audience on edge.  The household servant, Anna (British actress Naomi Ackie "Dr. Who" makes an unforgettable film debut.)  Anna is a brutalized servant & innocent victim in vindictive vendettas that befall her.  She is dehumanized and rendered utterly powerless to defend herself.  Australian cinematographer, Ari Wagner ("Ruin") does a magnificent job capturing the haunting beauty & chilling atmosphere.  This is a suspenseful & stunning film with a superb cast & brilliantly directed.  But what's done is not done for the infirm of purpose or thin skinned.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Dunkirk" a WWII Movie that puts the Audience Alongside the Trapped Allies on the Shores of France

"Dunkirk" is a daring & relentless WWII movie depicting the horrific & heroic events of our British / French allied troops trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France by the Germans.  Dunkirk is a vivid & indelible portrayal of the slaughter of the soldiers stationed on the beaches & in the air off France  not unlike the opening scenes during the invasion on the beaches of Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan" starring Tom Hanks.   "Dunkirk" is directed by Christopher Nolan (b UK 1970, "The Dark Knight" & Interstellar") with an imposing cast of British actors:  Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh & Tom Hardy.  The film also stars Irish actor Cillian Murphy and marks the film debut for British rock star Harry Styles.  The movie is myopic historic storytelling but larger than life portrait of epic battles & struggles for survival amidst overwhelming enemy fire.  Rylance (one of our best actors) stars as a stoic hero from Dunkirk.  He risks his life (& that of his son & another young man) to save the lives of allied soldiers.  He ventures out into the waters off the coast of Dunkirk to rescue  allied soldiers floundering in the waters off ships destroyed by German planes & subs.  The movie is short on dialogue but grandiose in realistic army maneuverings and the slaying of thousands of lives by enemy fire, drowning and bombings.  Few of the actors are given names; Styles is one of the few (Alex, a British soldier) and Tom Hardy (Farrier, the unflappable British war pilot).  Neither Rylance nor Branagh (a British naval commander) are assigned names.  Nonetheless, both actors are reason enough to see any film in which they partake.  Acad Award winning composer Hans Zimmer (b Germany 1959) adds a magnificent score and the breathtaking cinematography is by Hoyte van Hoytema (b Switzerland 1971 "Her" &"Spectre").  This is a war movie about survival; man's basic & most driving instinct.  It's also about heroism and the unsung heroes who altruistically sacrificed for the lives of others.  "Survival isn't fair," but sometimes "survival is enough."  "Dunkirk" is an unforgettable WWII film that honors the legacy of our brave allies who persevered.  The movie elicits a visceral response to their horrendous experiences.

"Baby Driver" ooh Baby Baby This Lady Went along for the Super Cool Joy Ride

Not a fan of the shoot-em up, wild toad car chase movies?  Never mind, "Baby Driver" redirects the genre on overdrive with a mix of music, choreography, romance, intense drama and unique & stirring  relationships led by a super stellar cast.  Steering the A list cast is Ansel Elgort ("The Fault in Our Stars") as Baby, the boy wonder behind the wheel.  Elgort is the real deal.  He has tremendous talent & sex appeal.  He sets female hearts spinning.  Baby's be-witching love interest, Deborah is the British beauty (Lily James "Cinderella" & "Downton Abbey").  Deborah & Baby's burgeoning love story sets sparks on screen.  (Their kiss is sure to steal the award for "Best Kiss" from the teen choice awards.  I'll follow this winning actor in whatever roles are sure to come his way.  Baby's get-away driving for an intimidating, oddball mix of bank robbers is orchestrated under headman, Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Baby's driving is incredibly intoxicating; all other chase scenes seem stuck in the holding gate.  Wait, there's so much more throttle to this addictive movie; perfect casting (including John Hamm as a Bonnie & Clyde banker robber) and Eva Gonzales as is his sexy, sociopathic Bonnie.  The film has a heartwarming & surprising relationship between Baby & his deaf/mute foster parent.  The final shoot-em up car chase runs on too long but the film doesn't finish with an emotional dead end.  The clever script follows through on the aftermath of the crime spree blood-bath that is gratifying & poignant.  "Baby Driver" is spread out to the edges of every scene with pulse-raising charm.  "Baby Driver" scores in every gear.  Put yourself in the passenger seat & go along for this super cool joy ride.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Victoria and Abdul" Directed by Stephen Frears Stars Judi Dench and an All Star Int'l Cast

Queen Victoria of the UK & Empress of India is the longest reigning monarch;1837-1901.  Dir. Stephen Frears (b UK 1941) ("The Queen" starring Helen Mirren) soon to be released film is about Queen Victoria, the endlessly fascinating privileged aristocracy lifestyle and a myopic focus on the mysterious & little known & unlikely friendship between the Queen & an Indian commoner Abdul (a mesmerizing Ali Fazal {b India 1986}).  Abdul and a compatriot from India (rising star, Adeel Akhtar "The Big Sick") are ordered/privileged to travel to England to present Queen Victoria a Mohair, India's  distinguished medal of honor for the Queen's 50th Jubilee.  This exquisite and sumptuous looking film occurs during the Queens waning reign depicting a discreet & little known relationship between Abdul & the Queen.  This unlikely companionship sprung from an abject presenting of the Mohair to the Queen who becomes intrigued by the swarthy & sexy Abdul, a subject of India; she is the Empress of India but knows very little of nor has ever visited.  Dame Judi Dench plays the ailing Queen with a steely hand, and healthy appetite.   Dench will be bestowed an Oscar nom. for her imperial performance.  Dench is surrounded by an elite cast of British actors including Sir Michael Gambon as her befuddled advisor, Eddie Izzard as "Bertie" the Queen's son & successor King Edward VII, Simon Allow, Olivia Williams and Fenella Woolgar.  Beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted and an heretofore hidden (destroyed) niche in British Royalty history add up to a crowning achievement in cinema.   Bertie is disdained by his mother & is bent on dismissing Abdul & his family from England upon the Queen's death.  As King, he unceremoniously dismisses Abdul back to India & destroys all photos, journals & evidence of Abudl's presence & connection to his mother, Queen Victoria.  In 2010, a journal of Abdul's was discovered in India that was irrefutably written on the Royal Household's ledger documenting his service & friendship with the Queen.  I consider this film Oscar gold but it's unlikely to garner mass appeal among the masses.  Still, this gem of a film is a jewel in the crown.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"The Big Sick" Hits it Out of the Park as a Sophisticated Romantic Comedy -Produced by Judd Apatow

"The Big Sick" is a smart, delightful romantic comedy written by & starring comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiai.  The story is co-written by his wife Emily Gordon ideally played  by Zoe Kazan.  Kumail is a Pakistani-American (b Pakistan 1978) whose parents immigrated to the US when he was a youngster.  The conflict & comedy come from the expectation Kumail will maintain his family's  Muslim religions traditions and Pakistani heritage.  Kumail naturally assimilates in the American melting pot.  The heat turns up rather quickly between Emily & Kumail. She gets his attention by heckling Kumail during his stand-up.  The easy rapport & clever dialogue between the two makes them a shoe-in as a happy duo.  But, as their relationship deepens Kumail reveals the improbability of being together in the future feeling obligated to conform to an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman.  This is a real deal breaker.  Soon after their split, Emily becomes seriously ill.  Kumail is called by a friend of Emily's to support her at the hospital.  Her health deteriorates rapidly & Kumail  signs a release "as her husband" to put her into an induced coma to combat a possibly fatal infection.   Kumail becomes a steadfast, vigilant fixture at the hospital during her frightening ordeal.  He contacts her parents, Beth (Acad Award winner Holly Hunt) and Terry (Ray Romano "Everybody Loves Raymond").  The parents aware of the recent break-up are grateful for his help but now want him banished.  The movie is a cosmic cocktail mix of the crazy lives of comics and the inexplicable bonds of love & unbreakable family ties.  The comedy club scenes are brilliant & Kumail's one man show of life as a Pakistani-American is brilliantly droll.   Kumail maintains close ties to his parents & married brother, Naveed (a scene stealing Adeel Akhtor) with their weekly family meal.  Every meal a gorgeous, single Pakistani women "just happened to drop in."  The extreme stance & umbrage taken by Kumail's parents with his defiance to an arranged marriage & daily prayers are overplayed but not without warmth.  Beth & Terry, Emily's parents, are rightfully worried about their daughter's welfare.  They bring their own marital baggage.  Underlying all the neurotic personalities there's a camaraderie & comedy that's hard to heckle.  If you have to explain the joke, then the joke's not funny.  The odds of the Cubs winning the World Series are as rare as a winning, romantic comedy.  "The Big Sick" defies the odds by scoring a big hit.  "The only honest art form is laughter, comedy." (L Bruce)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Comedy "Austin Found" is a Hilarious Find - A Fraudulent Kidnapping Makes for a Fun Film

The new comedy "Austin Found" is along the skewered lines of "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006).  Both parody beauty pageants of pre-pubescent girls.  Abigail Breslin had a breakout role as the daughter in a family of lovable wackos.   Breslin was not the typical pageant winning package but she wanted desperately to participate.  Breslin's doting family was totally dotty yet totally devoted to each other.  The film "Austin Found" features a young Breslin doppelgänger, Ursula Parker as Patty, the precocious & talented beauty pageant contestant who constantly sabotages her pushy stagemom's plans for glory in competition.  Patty is beautiful, bright & talented.  When questioned by the pageant director what is the hardest thing facing young girls she answered "The precious to look good & be thin."  Parker is a gifted violinist in real life.  She does her own playing in the film.  Her character wants to more time to practice but over programmed schedule doesn't permit sufficient time.  Her mother LeeAnn (Linda Cordellini "Geeks & Freaks") tells Patty dancing is what everyone loves, not the violin.  LeeAnn has plenty of plans for Patty to recapture her own glory days, and gain fame & fortune for them.  LeeAnn married Don thinking he was loaded.  Disillusioned with Don & his dismal financial state, LeeAnn concocts a plot to have Patty kidnapped to gain sympathy & notoriety.   She cons her drunkard ex-con, ex-boyfriend, Billy (a sleazy & sexy Skeet Ulrich) to do her dirty work.  Billy's fatal mistake is to be bullwhipped by LeeAnn & led on by her lascivious innuendos.  While in prison, Billy befriended T.J. (a praiseworthy performance by Craig Robinson "The Office").   T.J. agrees to help his friend harbor Patty under a false pretense of parental abuse.  Patty awakens terrified  & shackled in T.J.'s cabin after her mom drugged both her & her father (whose oblivious to the plan) to facilitate Patty's abduction.  Nevertheless, Patty finds her confinement liberating.  She confides in the kindhearted T.J. how constrained she is by her mother's demands.  The two form an endearing friendship despite the circumspect circumstances.  What kind of mother would go to such extremes?  A narcissist nut job like LeeAnn who expected more fame, glamour & recognition than her poor provincial life.  The screwball plot is deceivingly cunning and abetted by a cast who prove there are no small parts only small actors.  The sheriff (Patrick Warburton "Seinfeld") and news reporter (Kristen Schaal "Flight of the Conchords") with a vendetta v. the vixen mom are both guilty of scene stealing.   Our media frenzy society is subject to being spoofed. "Austin Found" is a rare find.  A smart, black comedy that is LOL & surprisingly unpredictable.  No one gets away from this film without clamoring for more.  Encore!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"The Beguiled" Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman & Kirsten Dunst Is Not Worth Your While

"The Beguiled" is a revival of the 1971 film which starred Clint Eastwood based on the novel "A Painted Devil" by Thomas Cullinan.  Sophia Coppola ("Lost in Translation" & The Virgin Suicides") puts a dry spin on a Civil War story where a Union soldier, Cpt John McBurney (Colin Farrell) receives refuge in a finishing school in VA towards the end of the Civil War.  The finishing school is occupied by a handful of young woman under headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman.)  Amy, one of the few remaining young girls in the southern school is scavenging mushrooms when she comes upon the wounded McBurney.  Taking sympathy upon the enemy soldier whom she can't discern as alien to Confederate soldiers, helps him seek refuge at the Seminary for Young Ladies.  Miss Martha takes him in as the Christian thing to do only to help him recover from his wounds with the intent of turning him in as a prisoner of the Confederacy.   Coppola's antebellum film is cast in faded sepia tones & candlelight revealing an epoch that is crumbling forever as they are studying French grammar.  Miss Martha and her assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) are still trying to cull southern etiquette & mastery requisite for young girls while the Union soldier recuperates and the world around them is burning to the ground.  Sexual flames are stoked by the dashing soldier's presence amidst a chaste & male deprived society.  McBurney is able to beguile & manipulate Miss Martha, Edwina and Alicia (a vixen Ella Fanning) to his advantage.  The women ignite their libidinous womanly whiles to capture the attentions of their captive Captain.  Hell has no fury like a woman scorned and there will be a heavy price to pay.  The power shifts as captive turns captor but nothing is fully captivating.  What's fatally lacking is tension & suspense.  "The Beguilded" has a monochrome, ephemeral aura without substance.  Coppola could have created a provocative thriller.  Instead, this was film felt arid & dusty, too easily blown away with the wind.