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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Operation Finale" Israeli Capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina (1960) Stars Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley

"Operation Finale" is an intense and chilling film about the capture of Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) by the Israeli Mossad led by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac).  The well orchestrated abduction of Nazi Leader Adolf Eichmann living under cover in Argentina by the Israelis to make him stand trial for genocide in Israel was a remarkable & perilous operation.  American film director Chris Weitz whose previous films include "American Pie" and "Cinderella" takes a potent & poignant historic crime thriller, a factual event of omnipotence significance very seriously.  "Operation Finale" works as a captivating manhunt and serves as a respectful homage to the millions murdered in the Holocaust.  Both Isaac portraying Malkin who led the team who seized Eichmann, portrayed by Kingsley are extraordinary.  Both give tour-de-force compelling performances.  They're both cunning & manipulative as captor & captive.   The other members of the cast who portray Mossad operatives are equally gripping making the weeks long mission & hostage stand-off suspenseful and credible.  By 1960, the Nuremberg Trials in Germany involving the US, French and Soviet Military tribunals were settled 14 years prior.  Twenty-four Nazi officials were tried and found guilty, twelve were sentenced to death by hanging.   "The Nuremberg trails of Nazi leaders, in open court by an int'l tribunal had left a profound long-term effect in bringing Germans back to democracy and humanity" (Journalist Anthony Lewis).  But, the horrors and scars left on survivors was beginning to fade for the  greater part of the world.  Attorney Deborah Lipstadt who won her legal battle against an infamous Holocaust denier in the UK speaks to the irrefutable significance of trying Eichmann in the Israeli Courts.  "The judges' primary objective was to conduct a scrupulously fair legal proceeding that would win the respect of the world. {Israeli Jurist & polititian} Hausner's  goal was to tell the story of the Holocaust in all its detail and in so doing, to capture the imagination not just of Israel's youth and world Jews, but of the entire world."  "Operation Finale" is one finer films that pays tribute to the most barbaric & heinous event of the 20th C.  It's engrossing but stays focused as a reminder to question where humanity draws the line for that which cannot be tolerated.   Eichmann's trial is not covered in great detail at the end of the film.  However, it's important to know what he at his trial.  "I must say I regret nothing.  It was actually an achievement that was never matched before or since."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Agatha Christie's "Ordeal by Innocence" - Oops Christie Did it Again A Whoops Who Dunnit with Bill Nighy

Agatha Christie (b. UK 1890-1976) is one of the most beloved & prolific murder mystery writers of ALL time.  Her novels & plays are timeless and forever being adapted. This remains a mystery in and of itself; how impregnable & unforgettable her legacy remains.  "Ordeal by Innocence" first released in 1958 has been adapted into a BBC series (2018.)  It's the best deal on TV for a deliciously sumptuous & wickedly entertaining murder mystery caper.  It's set in the 1950s at the wealthy British country-side estate belonging to the prim & proper (so it would seem) Rachel & Leo Argyle.  Of course, not all is at it appears, especially behind closed doors.  Rachel & Leo adopted 5 orphans whom they've raised with the intent of producing thoroughbreds.  But not having been to the manor born, all bets are off.  The 3 part miniseries, directed with cunning & style by Sandra Golbacher (b. UK) begins with the bludgeoned murder of the matriarch on Christmas Eve.  Christie inveigles her constrained murder contenders from within the household.  The suspects become whittled down as the body count goes up.  The exceptional cast of British actors (except for one stray American, a perfect Crystal Park, 1 of 3 adopted daughters) is led by luminary actors Bill Nighy as the patriarch Leo Argyle and Anna Chancellor as the formidable Rachel Argyle.  Though Rachel is one uptight, frigid mum she's the first to go with a blow to the head.  The biggest mystery of all is how the "Downton Abbey" like estate is maintained with only 1 servant (Moven Christen) who serves to cook, clean and carry out all chores.  Regardless, the 5 motley mix of "fortunately" picked orphans grow into a tight knit brood - some are closer than others.  The BBC series is shot using flashbacks of the siblings, Jack, Micky, Kristen, Mary and Hester from their rigid upbringing to the handsome brooding adults they've become.   Mary (Elinor Tomlinson "Poldark") is married to Philip (Matthew Goode ("The Crown."). Almost 2 years after the murder for which Jack was arrested & killed in prison (an unresolved murder) a witness appears Arthur (Luke Treadaway) to provide an alibi that could exonerate Jack of the crime.  Arthur's arrival comes on the brink of Leo's marriage to Rachel's former secretary (the lascivious Alice Eve).  The two outsiders, Phillip & Arthur start to stir the pot which adds a few more corpses to the brew.   "Ordeal by Innocence" takes some liberties with Christie's storyline but this rendition adds an original cast which adds dynamic color & dubiousness for a much darker, sinister plot.  The sneak peek pieces begin to fall into place just when you think you know where the hammer will fall.   No question, "Ordeal" is the best crime drama to be revealed this summer on TV or the big screen.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians" - Call Me Crazy but It was a Fun Over the Top Romp

"Crazy Rich Asians" may be all the rage for the latest soap opera, Cinderella love story and lives of the outrageously ostentation rich.  The crazy rich are the elite hierarchy of Asians in Singapore.  But, the film only scores a middling rating if you're debating on seeing it.  The film, "Crazy Rich Asians" is based on the best selling novel by Kevin Kwan (b. Singapore 1973). Kwan wrote the novel as a humorous, satirical look at the filthy rich Asians living the "shesee" style that only the elite few get to see.  The riches of the film comes in its platinum plus cast.  Rachel (Constance Wu, TV's "Fresh Off the Boat") is the heroine.  Rachel is a brilliant NYU Prof. and beautiful and engaging.  Fortunately for her, she's won the heart of Nick (Henry Golding).  The two have been an item in NYC for a year when Nick invites Rachel back to his home in Singapore to attend his best friend's wedding & meet his family.  What wasn't clear to Rachel was how rich Nick is.  That's not the only surprise in store, (unless you've figured the over the top soap opera plot).  Nick is in line to run the family's business.  His dragon lady mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeah "Crouching Tiger" is nixing Nick's choice to marry Rachel.  The leads are supported by an excellent ensemble who do their share of scene stealing.  Rachel's college friend, Goh Peik (Awkwafina) and Nick's friendly gay cousin Nico (Kerry Chu) are added baguettes to this diamond cast.  Astrid (Gemma Chan) is Nick's stunning cousin in a sappy subplot.  Astrid is beloved by all except her emasculated husband.  Chan, a former fashion model is  especially loved by the camera.  The soap opera has a bounty of mean girls and obnoxious cast ons you'd like to throw off the island.  Needless, the sparks between Nick and Rachel dazzle.  Buzz kill, true love wins out ending in yet another airport epiphany finale with a cheering crowd (back in steerage).  "Crazy Rich Asians" is the 2nd in the summers guilty pleasures.  The first, "Mama Mia Here We Go Again."  Me, I preferred Mama Mia.  I did like the musical score in "Crazy Rich Asians" and I'm glad they didn't add any "Bollywood" choreographed scenes.  There's enough dazzle in "Crazy Rich..." to require sunglasses; a sure crowd pleaser for the masses.

Monday, August 20, 2018

PUZZLE Coming of Age Story of a Woman in Her 40s Stars Irrfan Khan, Kelly Macdonald - Phenomenal Pick

Dir Marc Turtletaub (b Amer 1946 "Little Miss Sunshine") puts together a picture perfect film with all the right touches.  Agnes (Kelly Macdonald b. UK 1976, "Boardwalk Empire") is the complacent Catholic housewife devoted to her husband Louie (David Denman) and two grown sons.  Everyone's role seems shaped in stone until a tiny shift in Agnes' life sets into motion seismic changes which chip away at the formed foundation.  The film begins with Agnes making preparations for a birthday celebration.  Ironically, all the planning is made for her own fete which feels melancholy & fractured.  Louie clumsily knocks over a china plate.  Agnes tries to make it whole again but finds there's a missing piece.  The plot is predictable and the metaphors appear scattered throughout.  Needless, the superb acting and delicate directing form a complete arch for a woman finding her voice, her heart and fulfillment in this phenomenal transformative picture.  Agnes' younger self-absorbed son Gabe (Austin Abrams, "All Summers End") gives her a cell phone as a gift.  She's reluctant at first to utilize it.  Another gift Agnes receives is a 1,000 piece puzzle.  She immerses herself in the puzzles of a world map and completes it in an afternoon.  The enigma is how was it possible for Agnes to be so sheltered from the outside world and so beholden to only her husband, sons and church.  The elder son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) is sensitive & helpful to his mother.  The family's financial constraints didn't provide college tuition for Ziggy.  Louie brings his son into his mechanic shop where he is miserable.  Gabe, is filling out applications for college and depending on scholarship money.  Agnes worldly awakening & ephiphanies stem from connecting with Robert (Irrfan Khan b. India 1967) who shares her passion for puzzles and finding Gabe's college essay.   Both Khan & Macdonald give tour-de-force indelible performances.  Robert questions if there is any significance in coincidences, religious convictions or in irony.  As Agnes ventures into NYC to work on puzzles with Robert, unbeknownst to Robert, she begins to question her life, her obligations and her passions.  Bit by bit, she construes the true dynamics of her family members and all their assembled roles.  Agnes asks Louie "Isn't it just worth learning something to know it?"  The randomness in our lives can just fall into place or we can find what fits for ourselves.  "Ava Maria - maiden mild.  Tis thou, 'tis thou canst save amid, despair."  PUZZLE scrambles randomness, resurrection and rebellion into a wondrous journey that is worth following every fragment.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

ARETHA FRANKLIN (1942-2018) I Say a Major Prayer for You, Forever and Ever You'll Stay in My Heart

I woke to the very sad but not startling news of the death of America's own Queen of Soul.  Ms. Aretha Franklin, I'm saddened by your passing and never having had the opportunity to hear you perform live.  I did have a ticket for a performance at Carnegie Hall which got cancelled.  It was later learned of your disabling fear of flying.  It's sad & difficult to think that you were fallible when you could make me feel so alive.  I can only thank you for the many ways your music empowered me.   Your musical voice, outspoken political voice and musical talents are omnipotent.  Your voice made life more wonderful and filled with miracles.  We found the sounds of angels in your singing.  Your legacy will continue to inspire and enhance the beauty that abounds.  I'm gonna keep on listening to you, forever and ever...that's just the way it's gonna be.  I say a little prayer for you... Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU


MAMA MIA HERE WE GO AGAIN - The Prequel is Preferred Over the Original - It's a Chick Flick Delight

MAMA MIA ('08) was the ABBA movie musical that was an abomination despite it's starring Meryl Streep in the lead as Donna Sheridan.  The main plot was Donna's uncertainty who impregnanted her with baby Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and a bond of brotherhood of fathers is shared amongst the three possibilities.  Why spoil the fun with DNA tests when the 3 fathers are Sam (Pierce Bronson), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth).  The three men are back again and breathe new life to this charming take on their younger selves along with the Donna's besties, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Waters).  MAMA MIA HERE WE GO AGAIN ('18) the prequel learned a few lessons from the original.  For one, Bronson doesn't sing as he painfully & pathetically . did in the original. Still, the baby didn't get thrown out with the bath water (a silly saying).  ...HERE WE GO AGAIN provides its A list cast a much more enticing script.  Young Sophie is portrayed by Lily James who would easily be America's sweetheart except she's a British actress. James was enchanting in "Cinderella" & "Baby Driver" as well as in her role in "Downton Abbey".   HERE WE GO opens on graduation day (1979) for Sophie, Tanya & Rosie with Sophie called to stage to give a speech which morphs into the 1st dancing disco trio and then into a flash mob.  This sets the tone for the high spirited film where things in life happen unexpectedly, happen a little more predictably here and with clever choreography, a 70s musical score all set on a beautiful and quaint Greek Island.  Sophie's 2nd musical number is "Waterloo" which wins Harry his first sexual experience.  "Waterloo" is trop; over the top.  If you're not won over by now it's time to turn your ship around; the rest of the film is not for you.  But, I couldn't resist (even if I wanted to) and I went along for the adventure.  The 3 actors playing Sam, Bill & Harry when they were all young, attractive and attracted by Sophie's magnetism and je ne se quoi.  The film is directed by Ol Parker (b UK 1969).  Parker is at ease directing British acting royalty ("The Best Exotic Marigold") and he's wise enough to give them plenty of rein.  Streep has a minimal, ephemeral part (for her there are no small parts).  Interestingly, it's the only movie sequel she's done.  Cher came to the party as the uninvited grandma guest.  I'd have cut the "Fernando" number with her & Andy Garcia.  The film may have been pandering to its audience.  This guilty pleasure doesn't require took much thinking.  "Just like that thinking too much can get you unhappy."  I found the film to be frivolous fun even with its abundance of horseshit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" Unmasks Racial Hatred Past, Present, Perpetual and Faces the True Facts

Spike Lee wears the trifecta crown as dir., producer & screenwriter of "BlacKkKlansman" based on Ron Stallworth's memoir.  Stallworth (John David Washington) is the 1st black officer, the "Jackie Robinson" on the Colorado Springs police force.  Stallworth became an undercover detective who along with his Jewish partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) infiltrated the clandestine & cowardly "organization" a.K.a. the Klu Klux Klan.  Stallworth's remarkable story exposed the KKK in the early 70s and foiled insidious plots to kill and terrorize blacks, Jews; all but the few with 100% Aryan blood.  Lee's film exposes our nation's racially divisive history & its prescient oppressive, murderous rage that has splayed its venomous head as fiercely as the water hoses utilized to dispel peaceful civil rights protestors of the past.  Harry Belaftone is brilliantly cast as a speaker to the union of black Univ students rallying v. racial oppression.  Mr. Belafonte is as famous for his acting/singing career as for his social activism.  He recounts the fear & horror of witnessing mob lynchings and his powerlessness.  The film is cleverly construed using the device of duplicities demonstrating opposing views of white power and black power.  Tribal affirmation, cultural heritage and pride underline the differences that divide but should provide a commonality of community and camaraderie.  This idealistic philosophy is overshadowed by the politics of  racial hatred & persecution, anti-Semitic propaganda, segregation, xenophobia and opposition to affirmative action.  The successful bi-racial, multi-ethnic partnerships of the detectives who together thwarted the KKK's atrocities were shortly lived.  Cross burnings were thwarted, a brazen bombing attempt was averted & a bad cop outed.  But, the commanding officer shut down Stallworth & Zimmerman's operation and ordered all records erased.  The depiction of young, beautiful black students embracing their inherent features as preached by Stokely Carmichael a.k.a. Kwame Ture were handsome & admirable; the KKK members & affiliates were hideous buffoons and alcoholics.  The overweight, intoxicated dullard in the KKK group credited blacks "they can dance, you got to give them that."  Scenes with footage from the "Birth of a Nation" cheered by Klansmen were shocking and sobering.  More disturbing are newsreels from Charlottesville Aug '17 along with footage of Trump who failed to condemn white supremacy or David Dukes.  Lee stirs up tension & disgust in this factual film that is at times hip, hilarious & engrossing at all times.  Everyone must see this outstanding film because everyone has skin in the game.  It's a shame everyone doesn't see beauty beyond the color of skin.   I see Oscar gold for Spike Lee, Adam Driver and John David Washington (a.k.a. son of Denzel Washington). "There is a higher law than the law of govt.  That's the law of conscience."  (Kwame Ture)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Gus Van Sant Directs DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT - Stars Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill

The biopic film draws using artistic license, on the life of John Callahan (JC).  JC was an ironic & irreverent acclaimed cartoonist (b. Amer. 1951-2010).  The film's dir. & screenwriter, Gus Van Sant (VS) (b. Amer 1952) adapted the film from Callahan's auto-biography.  Vs's perceptive insights and deft direction steer "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far..." with astute sensibilities along the scope of human strife and sustenance.  VS received 2 Oscar noms. for directing "Good Will Hunting" & "Milk".  VS is an established actor & currently in the Emmy winning series "Portlandia."  JC (Joaquin Phoenix in an Oscar worthy portrayal) is an apathetic alcoholic living in LA during the 70s early 80s during his early 30s.  The cleverly sequenced bio shifts from JC's life before & after the catastrophic car accident which rendered him a quadrapalegic (with limited movement in his right hand).  Callahan is seen in his automated wheel-chair racing recklessly through traffic & on city sidewalks when he takes a nasty spill.  He's splayed in the street calling out for help.  The trope to the film focuses on the need, ability & willingness to ask seek & provide help & forgiveness.  A group of young skateboarders come to JC's aid after his stunning wipe out.  He shares a self-deprecating life with the teens & some of his recent drawings.  Callahan is seen as a featured speaker on stage sharing his life story beginning with "...the last day I walked..." Prior to the accident HC was barely able to function without consuming alcohol from the moment he arose and living in squalor.  He's out partying the night of the car accident when he's approached & befriended by Dexter (Jack Black in a brief but pivotal role).  Dexter & JC are inebriated with Dexter driving.  JC wakes in a hospita, fully restrained in a gruesome apparatus, apparently unaware how he got there.  The Dr. bluntly delivers the news to JC that he will be a quadriplegic for life.  Life in the hospital is torturous & inhumane. He is studied by insensitive medical staff & med-students.  The only ray of sunshine comes from a visiting vision of beauty, social worker Annu (Rooney Mara).  Annu becomes his lover after coincidentally connecting in a public library.  Mara is lovely but not believable as John's girlfriend. VS parodies Jane Fonda & John Voight's relationship from the film "Coming Home." JC sinks further into self-destruction & alcoholism until he seeks help from AA.   Here he meets Donnie (Jonah Hill in an Oscar winning performance).  Donnie welcomes him into his home & his motley network of AA members.  The repetitiveness of scenes and progress & set-backs serve to reveal the despairing & unfathomable (too many) disease of alcoholism & its arduous recovery.  Asking for help & committing to the work of recovery set John on a track to rediscovering his inner strength, irreverent humor & illustrative skills.  At an AA meeting someone says, "Maybe life isn't supposed to be as amazing as it's supposed to be."  "...He Won't Get Far on Foot" is both intoxicating & inspiring.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

THE BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB Based on the True Beverly Hills Boys Ponzi/Murder Plunder Blunder

THE BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB directed by James Cox is scheduled to be released later this month.  It's a remake of the 1987 film based on the true criminal conspiracy by a bunch of Beverly Hills rich kids to commit fraud.  The financial gains investment scheme is finagled by former classmates from a private posh Bev Hills high school.  Their get rick quick shenanigans quickly sour into a Ponzi scheme & double homicide.  The "boys" are all in their early 20s.  They took their greedy lead from Dean Karny (Taron Egerton "Kingsmen" films) and Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort "Baby Driver").  There is a glut of devious guys doing dastardly crimes made all the more fascinating to ponder why they would throw their advantageous lives away.  THE BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB  has all the makings for a shocking & guilty pleasure but is buried beneath a rich pile of true crime thrillers.  The acting by Egerton & Elgort is convincing but Ron Levin, complicit in his own gifter fraud is played by Kevin Spacey.  Spacey phoned this performance he's served in so many times.  Perhaps they'll consider casting someone else in his heretofore stereotypical roles.  Hunt's girlfriend is played by the bankable and stunning Emma Stone.  These events & trials first occurred in 1984; prior to the Menendez brothers' murders and Jordan Belfort (portrayed by Di Caprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street."  The exclusive partying scenes by the wealthy spoiled set seemed as phony as a ticking Rolex.  The plot felt forced, incoherent and most egregious - not engaging.  If you're able to get a sneak peek on NETFLIX prior to squandering your pocketbook on the big screen, it's worth a look.  THE BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB is penny candy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

EIGHTH GRADE Earns an A for its Earnestness and Optimistic Outlook - Shout Out for Elsie Fisher

The burn out of the High School genre films has been resuscitated by Bo Burnham's heart warming film EIGHTH GRADE.  Burnham is quite the Renaissance man.  He's a comedian, singer, actor, screenwriter whose break out debut feature film is brimming with charm, candor, honesty, humor and the pathos of adolescents finding their paths.  Kayla (a remarkably convincing Elsie Fisher) is in her last week of 8th.  Kayla is not bullied, a mean teen or a beauty queen.  She is more or less your typical friendless student amidst a maze of phone crazed self-indulgent 13 year olds.  Kayla plays the cymbals in the student orchestra which is the most noise she makes at school.  She's voted "quietest" by her peers (they still vote for "the most...?") in schools.  If that seems archaic and politically passe the school does shooter lockdown drills.  (But, with a principal aiming a gun and saying "you're dead, you're dead" was too drastic - or is it?)  Those two issues aside, the reality of life today for young teens and their parents is realistically apparent.  Kudos for not utilizing 20 something actors in these roles and for not grouping the stereotypical dumb jocks, smart nerds or mean girls, etc.  The heroine, Kayla, is plump & pimply & unassuming.  Kayla finds her inner voice by posting on social media her sagacious advice & optimistic outlook.  Unfortunately, Kayla doesn't garner a following although these posts are some of the most winning scenes in the film.  The themes Kayla addresses are "being yourself,"  "putting yourself out there" and that "change can be a good thing."  Kayla lives with her single dad, Mark (an excellent Josh Hamilton).  The demarcation in generations are clearly drawn.  Not only are parents/adults in a whole other solar system, so to are the differences between 8th graders and high school seniors.  EIGHTH GRADE is overflowing with good intentions and irrepressible spirit thanks to Burnham's brilliant screenplay & directing and the outstanding performances by Fisher, Hamilton and the entire supporting cast.  If this film doesn't bring a smile to your face you belong in detention or in the corner with a dunce cap.  (Do they still do that?)