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Greetings again from the darkness. Are you ready for a family- oriented
movie based on the origins of the universally beloved children's
character "Winnie the Pooh"? Well, despite the PG rating, this is not
one for the kids no matter how much they adore the cuddly,
honey-loving bear. When you realize it was directed by Simon Curtis
(WOMAN IN GOLD) and co-written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (MILLIONS),
filmmakers known for their crowd-pleasing projects, the final version
could be considered borderline deceitful.
It's 1941 when we first see A.A. Milne and wife Daphne receiving an unwanted telegram whilst tending the English garden. We then flashback to 1916 when Mr. Milne was serving on the front lines of WWI, and returned with a severe case of shell-shock (described as PTSD today). His episodes can be set off by bees, balloons, and bulbs. This affliction also has him in a deep state of writer's block accompanied by a need to write an important anti-war manuscript.
Domnhall Gleeson plays the famous writer and Margot Robbie his wife. The 1920 birth of their son Christopher Robin makes it clear that lousy parenting exists in every era. Neither father nor mother have much use for their offspring, so they enlist the help of a Nanny Olive, played by Kelly Macdonald. Does it sound like a wonderful family flick so far? Well things do pick up when C.R. is shown as an 8 year old played by screen wonder Will Tilston. His bright eyes and dimples so deep we wonder if they are CGI, bring joy to the viewers, even if the parents remain icy and self-centered.
The film's middle segment allows father and son to bond on long walks through the 100 acre wood, and we are witness to how the toys become the familiar icons of children's stories: Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, and of course, Tigger. The picturesque English countryside makes a beautiful setting for the adorable and energetic C.R., known at home as Billy Moon (nicknames abound in the Milne household).
Unfortunately, the father-son segment leads to even more atrocious parenting. After the book is first published in 1926, young Christopher Robin becomes little more than a marketing piece for the family business. The walks in the woods are replaced by radio interviews and publicity appearances. No matter how Nou (the nickname for Nanny Olive) tries to bring normalcy to the boy's life, the parents remain oblivious to what is happening.
Alex Lawther appears as the 18 year old Christopher Robin. He's committed to serving his duty in WWII after surviving boarding school bullying and hazing. Equally important to him is escaping the shadow of the celebrity childhood, and finding his own identity one that is not associated globally with a fuzzy bear. The innocence of childhood stolen by selfish parents is painful to watch, whether 90 years ago with the Milne's, or today with any number of examples.
The 3 reasons to watch this film are: the photography is beautiful (cinematographer Ben Smithard), those other-worldly dimples of a smiling boy, and the near-guarantee that you will feel better about yourself as a parent (if not, you need immediate counseling, and so does your kid). In this case, being a well-made movie is not enough. The film is a bleak downer with the few exceptions teasing us with the infamous whimsy of the classic stories. Sometimes pulling the curtain back reveals a side of human nature akin to war itself. We are left with the impression that the audience and readers are to blame being held accountable for the misery suffered by the real Christopher Robin. Crowd-pleaser? More like the blame game.
Greetings again from the darkness. One of the sub-genres of film
documentaries involves profiling those folks who are doing
extraordinary things in life. Sometimes these people are changing the
world, sometimes they are sharing their talents, and other times they
are overcoming challenges that most of us don't have. Richard Turner of
San Antonio, Texas is one who checks all three boxes.
Mr. Turner is the world's best card mechanic a magician, if you will although he doesn't much like that word. Now you might be asking how a card trickster is changing the world, and it's a fair question. The answer becomes clear when we see him quietly bonding and sharing some card secrets with a young, similarly visually- impaired girl late in the film. That's correct, Mr. Turner is himself blind, and if you assume that a blind man cannot possibly execute highly complex and entertaining card tricks, you are encouraged to learn more about this remarkable man.
Mr. Turner is quick to recall what drew him to cards. He references the James Garner TV series "Maverick" as an inspiration, and soon decided that would make a pretty good way to earn a living. He has used his touch of hyper-activeness to relentlessly master his card skills, while also honing his stage presence. We hear others discuss his impact, and watch vintage clips of his TV appearances. "Blind" was a word he spurned for years, as he was driven to let his skills stand on their own against all others (skills that would be mind- blowing and world class even if he weren't blind). Turner's adamant refusal to admit his disability (no Braille, no cane, no dogs) was enabled by his dependence on his son, whose departure for college left a gaping hole in dad's life. We also meet Richard's sister Lori. She owns and runs her own construction company and is also blind.
Director Luke Korem expertly provides the necessary background for us to understand how Turner has become the star he is. Rather than focus on the technical aspects of card "magic", he focuses on the man and his personal journey. It's fascinating how he delivers a personal profile of the family man the flawed man who has slowly, but surely come to accept his disability after a life of denial. So while we "ooh and ahh" and gape in amazement at his card skills, our hearts are touched by the relationships he has with his wife Kim, his son Asa (yes, Asa Spades Turner), and his self- reflective drive that allowed him to reach 5th degree black belt. Mr. Turner likely fine-tuned his card skills for nearly16 hours today how was your day?
Greetings again from the darkness. "The Happiest Place on Earth" has
long been a Disney catchphrase. The irony for those living on the road
to Disney World is the focus of the latest from ground-breaking
filmmaker Sean Baker. Mr. Baker was the creative force behind the
remarkable TANGERINE (shot entirely with iphones) a couple of years
ago, and his most recent film solidifies his brilliance at bringing us
the fringes of society those we don't typically see on screen. Beyond
that, these are the folks many of us pay little attention to in real
The Magic Castle Motel is a lavender monstrosity that belies the daily struggles of those who live behind its purple doors. It's actually a seedy extended-stay that caters to ultra-budget guests. Included among those are 6 year old Moonee (Brooklyn Kimberly Prince) and her friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera). As we watch them spit on a car below their perch on the motel balcony, we quickly judge these as kids with a bit too much free time and a shortage of parental guidance.
As the summer days roll on, we tag along as Moonee leads Scooty and their new friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) in some boundary-pushing adventures. Their fun ranges from typical kid mischief to accidents with more serious ramifications. The brilliance here is that through the child's eye, we see joy and excitement and fun. We hear the purity of giggles and giddy screeches as the kids bound between tourist traps, ice cream parlors, and rooms forbidden as off-limits. All of this miscreant activity occurs amidst the adults who trudge on simply trying to survive another day.
While we might be tempted to recall Cat Stevens' lyrics, "while the sinners sin, the children play", it's director Baker that refuses to pass judgment. Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) was recently fired from her "dancing" job, and is now constantly on the prowl to make enough money to cover the weekly motel bill. She clearly loves her daughter, but is too proud and angry, and just has no idea of how to pull out of this vicious cycle of poverty. The artificial dreams that are prevalent in so many films have no place at the Magic Castle Motel. It's about the next meal and keeping a roof above.
Don't go searching for plot here. Instead, at times it feels like a documentary on Moonee or the spirited need for fun and laughter that is in the DNA of kids. We are just following a real kid around, and that's a tribute to the marvel that is Brooklyn Kimberly Prince. She steals every scene and most of the movie and that's in spite of the terrific performances from Ms. Vinaite and screen vet Willem Dafoe. It's a rare "normal" role for Mr. Dafoe, and he makes the most of it as Bobby, the motel's manager. He is also a father figure, mediator of disputes, bill collector, and protector of damaged souls. With no hint of saccharine or Hollywood mush, Bobby is unable to detach emotionally from those who live at the hotel, not because he is soft, but rather because he is human. We see his demeanor change drastically when the owner of the hotel arrives for inspection. Bobby understands the fragility of his own situation due to what he witnesses each day.
Director Baker is a master of color use and the blending of abrupt framed images with the handhelds in close proximity within motel rooms and personal interactions. His story (co-written with his TANGERINE and STARLET collaborator Chris Bergoch) never feels condescending, preachy or romanticized. There is no blatant political statement being made. These are folks living their lives as best they are able within the confines of their situation. The police and Child Protective Services are always hovering as a reminder that the next mistake could significantly alter lives. Somehow, the film is both hilarious and heart-breaking. The obvious comparison is to last year's MOONLIGHT, and it could even be viewed as a prequel to American HONEY. Mostly it's a slice of rarely seen life and further proof that Sean Baker is already an important filmmaker, and one that likely has more to say. As for the debate around the final scene, does it really matter? There is no better place for a child to escape reality even if it might only be in their mind. Sometimes that's the only escape we get.
Greetings again from the darkness. "Clean your plate!" Many of us heard
those words at the dinner table as we were growing up. At the time, we
assumed it was yet another way our parents conspired to keep us from
going back outside to play. Co-directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye explain
the much bigger picture the global issue of wasted food.
The opening has culinary expert Anthony Bourdain wondering aloud if we even deserve to live. Merely mentioning the topic of food waste disgusts him. His philosophy is 'Use everything. Waste nothing'. Over the course of the film, some startling statistics are thrown at us: one-third of processed food is never eaten, and 90% of wasted food (U.S.) ends up in landfills at a cost of 1 trillion dollars and elevated methane levels.
Some influential chefs discuss their approach to creatively utilizing what was previously considered waste. Dan Barber, Mario Batali, and Massimo Bottura are all on the leading edge of experimenting with new approaches to create delicious dishes from what once was wasted food products. Barber offers Bouillabaisse as an example of a tasty, acceptable dish made from what is actually food waste.
We learn that food is wasted at every link in the supply chain: on the farm, at the grocery store, in restaurants, and on our plates. In response, the EPA has established a food waste pyramid with the goal of preventing, or at least minimizing waste. The upcycle is described as the prioritization of food waste: people-livestock- generate energy-create nutrient rich soil.
The film takes us through each level of this, and we make our way around the globe. The United States, Europe, Japan, Sweden and South Korea all have specific programs designed to reduce food waste. Writers, journalists, farmers, chefs, and food activists all offer insight and specifics on not just what the problem is, but also some of the possible solutions (which is quite refreshing).
Some unconventional approaches include beer made from bread, better distribution methods, stores and shelters serving creative dishes, feeding waste to pigs for improved pork flavor, fishing initiatives, converting yogurt to energy, and educating kids on growing and eating their own food. The most extreme routes involve Japan chefs using pig parts that even the most adventurous among us might balk at.
The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the film and has pledged millions towards reducing food waste. The filmmakers leave us with the clear message that we don't need to produce more food, we simply need to act differently. There is an opportunity here for capitalism, and each of us can make a difference by paying attention to what we buy and what we throw away. The closing credit outtakes with Bourdain are comical, and of course, any film that includes Oscar the Grouch singing "I Love Trash" has something going for it.
Greetings again from the darkness. Does it make sense to create an
entire movie about a single scene from another movie? Director
Alexandre O. Philippe answers with a resounding "Yes" and proves it
with thorough and varied analysis of the infamous and iconic shower
scene from Alfred Hitchcock's classic PSYCHO.
"The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world."
That quote from Edgar Allan Poe opens the film, and reminds us that the hullabaloo surrounding PSYCHO would never have been possible if Janet Leigh hadn't been a beautiful movie star and if Hitchcock hadn't shocked us with the timing and if so many other pieces hadn't fallen into place. It's those pieces that are the focus of Mr. Philippe's expository on the immediate and lasting impact of the scene.
The film's title comes from the 78 pieces of film and 52 cuts that make up the 3 minute sequence being adored, admired and argued here. The interviews and insight come fast and passionately from filmmakers, writers, educators, film historians, and actors. We meet the ultra-charming Marli Renfro, who was Janet Leigh's body-double for the film and also graced the September 1960 cover of Playboy. There is also Tere Carrubba, Mr. Hitchcock's granddaughter and the daughter of Patricia Hitchcock, who has a minor role in PSYCHO. A few of the others who discuss the scene and film's influence include directors Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, and Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER'S BODY); and writers Leigh Whannell (SAW, INSIDIOUS) and Bret Easton Ellis (AMERICAN PSYCHO).
True technical analysis and peek behind the mysterious filmmaking curtain kicks into high gear when Walter Murch speaks. Mr. Murch is a 3-time Oscar winner and 9-time nominee for such timeless films as APOCALYPSE NOW and THE CONVERSATION. He is an expert on sound and film editing, two vital components to the shower scene, and he literally guides us through the individual cuts. Most fans of the film know of the chocolate syrup, but the casaba melon and the painting on the wall might be new territory. The film ties together, like never before, the script of Joseph Stefano, the storyboard of Saul Bass, the editing of George Tomasini, and the scene score of Bernard Hermann all giants of the industry.
Whether you are a film lover, Hitchcock fanatic, or film theorist, you are likely to find something new here. The film represents so many "firsts" and was truly a turning point in the film industry, while also being a cultural phenomenon. When Martin Scorcese talks about the PSYCHO influence on RAGING BULL, it's the culmination of a blissful 90 minutes.
Greetings again from the darkness. For those skeptics who scoff when
filmmaking is described as an art form and labor of love, co- directors
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman invite you to take in their nearly
decade-in-the-making project. It's the first fully hand-painted on
canvas feature film - experimental filmmaking crafted by more than 100
artists and including an estimated 130 paintings, with 65,000
The spectacular visuals were created by painting over the images both of actors performing scenes and van Gogh's paintings. By adding to and amending images, even 10 times or more, the scenes come to life with movement and a pulsating psychedelic feel. The familiar colors of his paintings create a level of connection, while black & white images are used for flashbacks and reenactments.
Though we have never seen this look on screen before (this goes beyond Linklater's WAKING LIFE), the stunning visuals are accompanied by what can be described as a detective story or murder/suicide mystery. It picks up in 1891, one year after van Gogh's suspicious death. A local Arles postman holds one last letter from Vincent to his beloved brother Theo. Having held onto it for much too long, he asks his son Armand Roulin to hand-deliver the letter to Theo. Sporting the yellow blazer so recognizable from his portrait, the angry and skeptical Armand heads to Paris. Little does he know, this is only the beginning of his journey a journey that finds him researching Vincent's life and a journey that helps him discover more about himself.
There have been many movies made focusing on this amazing artist: LUST FOR LIFE (1956), VINCENT (1987), VINCENT & THEO (1990), and VAN GOGH (1991). This one is filled with contrasting and conflicting stories, theories and recollections, and descriptions of events from those who crossed paths with the artist on a daily basis. We listen right along with Armand as he spends time in Avers-sur-Oise where Vincent lived, painted, and died.
Many of the actors involved are recognizable even in this artistic format: Chris O'Dowd is the postman, Douglas Booth is Armand, John Sessions plays art supplier Pete Tanguy, Eleanor Thompson is the innkeeper's daughter Adaline, Jerome Flynn is the controversial Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan is Gachet's daughter Margarita (recognizable from her piano portrait), Helen McCrory plays the disgruntled Gachet housekeeper, Aidan Turner is the boatman, and Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent. Since these folks were all part of van Gogh's artwork, we are fascinated to see them come to "life".
Vincent van Gogh picked up a brush for the first time at age 28. He was dead at age 37, and left behind approximately 800 paintings of portraits and landscapes many among the most famous pieces in the world today. Did he try to commit suicide as he claimed or was there a more sinister explanation for his death? Of course the filmmakers only hint at possible answers and can't solve a mystery that is approaching two centuries. Understanding the man is challenging, and perhaps our best hope is through the work he left behind. This is a compelling cinematic experience and we have certainly benefited from the filmmaker's labor of love. Clint Mansell's score leans heavily on strings and piano, and is perfect accompaniment for the story. One could question the closing credits use of Lianne La Havas' version of "Vincent" (renamed "Starry Starry Night") rather than Don McLean's, but one mystery per day is plenty. Spot the paintings, play detective, and mostly enjoy the visuals built on the works of a complex, talented, and tragic figure.
Greetings again from the darkness. The question must be asked: is the
movie worthy of the man? The man was the first attorney for the NAACP.
He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,
including the ground-breaking 1954 Brown v. Board of Education
(separate but equal public education). This man was a trailblazer for
Civil Rights, and in 1967 became the first African- American Supreme
Court Justice. This man was, of course, Thurgood Marshall
a man who
unquestionably deserves not just a movie, but a really good and
Chadwick Boseman has taken on film versions of such icons as Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in GET ON UP, so he likely jumped at the chance to play the revered figure, Thurgood Marshall. Mr. Boseman has true movie star screen presence, and supplies the young Mr. Marshall with a self-assured swagger that accompanies a brilliant legal mind a mind that refused to be ignored during a time it was desperately needed. Lest he be labeled a superhero, the film does portray Marshall smoking and drinking, while also hinting at his carousing. The common flaws of a great man.
It's 1941 and the young (33 years old) Marshall is the lone NAACP attorney, so he spends his time ping-ponging around the country fighting for fair trials for those African-Americans accused simply because they aren't white. He works only for "innocent" people and his efforts during this time were crucial to the Civil Rights movement gaining attention and legitimacy. Most of the film centers on a case in Connecticut (no, not the Jim Crow south) where a black man, Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown), is accused of sexual assault of a "respectable" married white woman, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). If you are reminded of the great book and film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, you must know that those literary and cinematic standards are such that few can ever hope to reach.
What follows is not one of the more dramatic or tension-filled cinematic courtroom dramas. There is simply too much levity for the film to be classified as a historical heavyweight. That said, the man and his story are fascinating, and though director Reginald Hudlin chooses a deft touch rather than a sledge hammer, it's likely the wise choice if the goal is to entertain, while also educating the masses to Marshall's early career. Josh Gad co-stars as Marshall's co-counsel Sam Friedman, a specialist in legal technicalities within the insurance industry. Boseman and Gad have nice chemistry (at times it feels like a buddy movie), and as a Jew in those times, Friedman is himself stuck in limbo between staunch racism and acceptance by the white community.
James Cromwell plays Judge Foster, yet another man caught between the old world he has lived in his entire life and the fast-changing society and legal system that permits him to silence Marshall, while also forcing (somewhat) fair treatment of the accused Spell. Dan Stevens (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) is Loren Willis, the disgusted and disgusting prosecutor. This character is so cartoonish that the only thing missing is a neon necklace that flashes "racist" as he speaks. Sophia Bush has a brief, yet important scene and Sterling K Brown (as Mr. Spell) has the film's most heart-breaking moment as he sits on the stand and explains why he lied.
Director Reginald Hudlin seems like an odd choice for the project. He has been working mostly in TV since back-to-back-to-back bombs BOOMERANG (Eddie Murphy), THE LADIES MAN (Tim Meadow) and SERVING SARA (Matthew Perry). Mr. Hudlin has experienced more success as a Producer, having been Oscar nominated for DJANGO UNCHAINED. Here he works with the father and son screenwriters Jacob Koskoff and Michael Koskoff. The elder Michael is a well respected criminal attorney and legal historian, and certainly understands the expectations that come with offering a public look at a near- mythical figure especially one as revered as Thurgood Marshall.
This isn't so much a movie about the icon as it is about a young man on the path to greatness and importance (he served on the Supreme Court from 1967-1991). The soundtrack is filled with jazz which complements the light-hearted approach, and further distances from any semblance of "heavy" or "historical". Director Hudlin adds a contemporary touch by having Trayvon Martin's parents (Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin) appear in a scene near the end. On the downside, multiple upshot camera angles are designed to make his lead character look larger than life. The truth is, Thurgood Marshall required no help in looming large. Hopefully this mainstream approach pays off and many are introduced to the legacy of a man who is more than worthy of this movie and another.
Greetings again from the darkness. Petty jealousies are so ridiculous,
and yet so common and universal. Director Liv Karin Dahlstram co- wrote
the film with Thorkild Schrumpf and they take on the awkward nature of
childhood friends versus current friends.
Human nature is on trial, and we see quickly that the verdict will be guilty. Turid (a terrific Marit Andreassen) and Signe (Jeanne Bee) have been planning, and are now executing, the surprise 50th birthday party for their friend Grete (Turid Gunnes). It doesn't take long before feelings are hurt, and Turid begins making the day about herself. Despite her lifelong friendship with Grete, she fabricates a competition with Signe, who gets to spend more time with Grete these days.
The three actresses are all spot on, but of course it's Ms. Andreassen whose character steals the show from the birthday girl. While her emotions and actions are difficult to watch, we've all seen folks act this way and perhaps even done so ourselves. "I don't eat horse" may stand for a lifetime of memories; however, looking this closely at our species doesn't always result in our liking what we see.
Greetings again from the darkness. We all know the kind of guy who
can't keep up with his cigarettes or find a tissue on his own. Instead
he passes each burden, no matter how small, onto his wife
case, a wife whose life is hectic with her own job and the care of
their toddler. In fact, it's as if she is raising two kids one who is
yet too young to speak, and another who is bearded and should be
carrying half the load.
Iranian filmmaker Kaveh Mazzaheri's latest short film (18 minutes) shows how, in an instant of crisis, our morality and true feelings can surface. Whether we like what we see, or whether we can justify our actions, are the topics for debate raised by this film.
Maryam (Sonia Samjari) is preparing her young child for the day when the husband/father Siyavash (Mohammad Ziksari) calls out from the other room. He's had a weightlifting accident and his life hangs in the balance. We witness Maryam's moment of truth and how she proceeds to handle the fallout. Ms. Samjari displays true depth of character through minimal dialogue, instead having us interpret her facial expressions. The film offers up the common "what would you do?" approach, but in a most unique and jarring fashion.
Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood, and the movie industry as
a whole, absorbs a fair amount of criticism for the perceived lack of
originality and creativity in this era of remakes and sequels. However,
filmmakers also deserve some credit for constantly finding fresh
stories associated with The Holocaust and World War II - seemingly
endless sources of material for new movies. As Russia's official Oscar
Foreign Language entry, this film from director Andrey Konchalovsky
(co-written with Elena Kiseleva) offers up three distinct perspectives
of the same tumultuous period.
Julia Vysotskaya plays Olga, a former Russian Countess and member of the French resistance. Ms. Vysotskaya is the wife of director Konchalovsky and has a screen presence somewhat reminiscent of Ingrid Bergman with her ability to appear alternatingly tough, loving, sensitive and stubborn. Her character Olga has been arrested for sheltering two Jewish boys. Philippe Duquesne is Jules, the lead detective assigned to Olga's case. His questionable loyalties are accompanied by a weakness of the flesh that is all too common among those in a position of power. Christian Clauss plays Helmut, a nobleman and German SS officer who is emotionally torn between his personal desires and his duty to the cause of his country.
The story is told from the perspective of each character through a blend of flashbacks and interviews. Harsh lighting, stark surroundings, and their respective wardrobes during the interviews appear to show each being held captive as they are interrogated by an entity that remains unheard and unseen. The interviews provide some insight into the characters, but almost seem intent on keeping us off-balance as the film progresses. It's really the flashbacks that are the most interesting and provide the fascinating details for Olga, Jules, and Helmut.
Beautifully filmed in black and white with an excellent use of lighting effects by cinematographer Alexander Simonov, the tangled web of paths intersecting during war time offers some terrific sequences: a father and son on a morning walk, an isolated and guilt-ridden officer in a fog-draped forest, the immediate scavenging after an unexpected prisoner death, the excruciatingly emotional deportation of Jews, and a remarkable sequence involving a meeting with Himmler and Helmut's subsequent mission to audit the concentration camps.
The brief flashes of joy are usually crushed by the weight of despair and bleakness, yet by the end, we believe we know each of these characters and what motivates them. Director Konchalovsky's film is an unconventional, creative, and ambitious combination of The Holocaust, Germany's quest for perfection, and the greed and daily desperation of those involved. The interviews might not be what you assume, yet cause us to wonder how might our own interview sound while reminding us that, no matter the circumstances, we can always choose to do good.
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