Archive for September, 2010

The Tillman Story: A valiant effort to learn the truth—Movie

September 19, 2010

After you have seen The Tillman Story, you’ll leave the theatre with a feeling of disgust. Disgust with the military, disgust with the Bush administration and disgust with Congress. Then you’ll think about the Tillman family and want to personally thank them for their service to this country and apologize for the treatment they have received.

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev and written by Mark Monroe, with the cooperation of the Tillman family, The Tillman Story (first shown at the Sundance Film Festival) tells the horrifying tale of the Tillman family’s search for the truth about their son Pat’s death in Afghanistan. Bar-Lev’s conversations with Pat’s mom, Mary, his father Pat, brother Kevin who served with him in the Rangers and wife, Marie, are frank and heartbreaking.

Pat Tillman was a star football play for the Arizona Cardinals. He left  a career in the NFL and enlisted with the Army Rangers in 2002. The American public was told he enlisted immediately following the events of September 11. According to what he told friends and family, he joined the service because he thought it was the right thing to do. The whole September 11 thing was evidently the first of many lies to the public.

 Despite their best attempts, the Tillman family still doesn’t know all of the facts regarding their son/brother/husband’s death and probably never will. But what they do learn and what we learn through Bar-Lev’s eye-opening documentary is enough to rock you to your core. I needed a shower to wash away the stench.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

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The Town: Move over Woody and Clint and make way for Ben—Movie

September 19, 2010

The Town proves two things– Ben Affleck can act and most importantly, this man can really direct.

Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves, with script by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, and directed by Affleck, The Town is a tightly woven crime drama taking place in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. Boston is in Affleck’s blood and it shows in every shot—from the streets to the people to the accents. There is never a false note.

Ben Affleck is Doug McRae, the brains behind a small band of bank robbers. When the gang takes the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage for a brief period of time in the aftermath of a bank heist, the FBI heat on the robbers intensifies. The gang discovers that Claire lives in their Charlestown neighborhood, so Affleck purposely meets “cute” with her to see if she’ll be able to identify them. She doesn’t and the two of them hit it off, and after a brief time they  fall in love with consequences for all.

Affleck has assembled a terrific cast, some from television and others from the movies. All of them are great. Jeremy Renner as Jem Coughlin, whose character is like a brother to Doug, gives another phenomenal performance. He’s utterly convincing as the group’s hothead. Chris Cooper, as Doug’s proud, but defeated father, is once again fabulous in a small, but important role. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is very good as the low-key FBI agent on the case and boy,his looks hold up well in the big screen. Pete Postlethwaite, as Fergie the florist, gives a chilling, unforgettable performance. Rebecca Hall’s Claire is spot-on, particularly in the robbery scene, with just the right touch of vulnerability and strength. And finally, Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively turns in such a fantastic performance as Jem’s sister and Doug’s one-time girlfriend, that she could have people talking coming awards’ time.

The terrific directing is not limited to the actors. The car chases are fantastic and authentic…up and down and around the narrow streets of Boston. The scenes in and around Fenway Park feel real and the robberies are staged like a pro did them.

Affleck’s directing card should be getting very crowded. Any producer with a brain in his or her head should be begging him to direct their movies. He absolutely directs the beejeezus out of everyone in The TownThe Town also demonstrates that perhaps Affleck should have been directing himself years ago. Ben Affleck, the actor, hasn’t been this good since Chasing Amy.

Woody and Clint—look out! There’s a new hyphenate in town and he’s gunning for you.

4 nuggets out of 4

Machete: A sliver of fun—Movie

September 13, 2010

Tired of bullets? Looking for some action with a little more finesse from our hero? Then look no farther than Machete. Written by Robert Rodriguez and Álvaro Rodríguez and directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez, Machete is Grade-B entertainment at its best.

Longtime character actor Danny Trejo is very good in the title role. Because he takes himself seriously, we can, too. Throughout a ridiculous movie, he manages to keep his dignity and holds the film together. Machete revolves around Mexican ex-Federale, Machete (Trejo). Before the opening credits have finished rolling, his family is wiped out in front of him and the screen explodes in blood. Most of the scenes are gory. You’ll learn a million ways to slice and dice with a machete and see a number of decapitations and other machete-related amputations. Machete makes his way to Texas and becomes involved with immigration issues, crime lords and assassinations…trusty machete always by his side.

To say Machete has an eclectic cast is putting it mildly. And led by Robert De Niro, the cast is amazingly good. De Niro plays hateful Texas Senator McLaughlin. Is this performance on the same level as that in Raging Bull? No…his accent comes and goes, but it’s obvious he’s having a blast. Also joining in the fun is a bloated Steven Seagal, Don Johnson (Whatever happened to him?),a mini reunion of subordinate actors from Lost–Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey and Cheech Marin–Jessica Alba and finally, Lindsay Lohan, in all of her naked glory.

Except for immigration, Machete doesn’t take itself seriously. So take it for what it’s worth…if blood and guts are your thing, if you want to learn new uses for stilettos, view some of the best choreographed fight scenes including one with souped-up trucks and cars, and if you have a desire to see Robert De Niro in his campiest role ever, then Machete is for you.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

All’s Well That Ends Well: No, not really—Theatre

September 12, 2010

 The Shakespeare Theatre’s season-opening play, All’s Well that Ends Well, is, save for a few performances, an evening (or afternoon) of mediocrity. Directed by Michael Kahn, William Shakespeare’s play is beautiful to watch (Court Watson, scenic designer, and Robert Perdziola, costume designer) but ultimately not very entertaining or engrossing.

All’s Well is the story of Helena’s (Miriam Silverman) pursuit of Bertram (Tony Roach), Count of Rossillion and the means by which she goes to get and keep him. Or told from the male perspective, it is the story of Bertram and the lengths he goes to escape an unwanted marriage to Helena.

Silverman shines as Helena. Somehow she manages to make what could be a stalkerish part sympathetic. Marsha Mason, in her Shakespeare Theatre debut, is extremely good as the Countess of Rossillion, mother to Bertram and friend to Helena. Ted van Griethuysen turns in another terrific performance as the King of France and Paxton Whitehead as Lafew, friend to the King, is also very good. But for the play to work we have to see some reason why Helena would be so attracted to Bertram and Tony Roach gives us none. His portrayal of Bertram is very bland and he and Helena have zero chemistry. In fact, there is more chemistry between the King and Helena than there is between these two.

So, if Shakespeare’s your thing, go for Marsha Mason, Ted van Griethuysen and most especially Miriam Silverman and bask in the richness of their performances. Or, as the woman sitting behind me said after a scene that will become readily apparent, “it’s better than The Bachelor.”

Shakespeare Theatre Company Lansburgh Theatre 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC  Runs through 10/24

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1: Bloated but fun—Movie

September 10, 2010

Much like the man himself, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is bloated, but still entertaining and jam-packed with enough action for several movies.

Created by the same team who directed and wrote Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Jean-François Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri), Public Enemy begins with the shocking opening activities from the earlier film. Then we go back in time to see how Mesrine arrived at this point. Naturally this starts with yet another prison break.

That prison break sets the tone for much of Public Enemy. While fun to watch, much of Public Enemy concerns itself with Mesrine robbing banks in a variety of disguises, evading capture and breaking out of prison. This could become a bit monotonous if not for the sheer joy in which Vincent Cassel attacks the Mesrine role. We are also introduced to new characters who play an important part in the middle to end of Mesrine’s career. Olivier Gourmet as Le Commissaire Broussard is very good as the police official charged with capturing Mesrine. Matthieu Amalric turns in a creepily effective performance as François Besse, a well-known criminal in his own right who becomes friends with Mesrine during a stay in prison, breaks out of prison with him, and teams up with him for some sensational robberies and a kidnapping. The two eventually part company and Mesrine joins forces with Charly Bauer (Gérard Lanvin), an anarchist and extreme left winger. Lanvin is terrific as Mesrine’s partner in crime and political mentor. And finally, there is Ludivine Sagnier, who is utterly fabulous as the beautiful, audacious, vulnerable, Sylvie Jeanjacquot, Mesrine’s girlfriend/companion.

Cassel is magnificent in showing Mesrine’s complexities. He could be loyal to a fault, but mispronounce his name and watch out! He loved reading his own press, but pity the journalist who got it wrong. He wrote his autobiography while in prison to make sure his story was told the way he wanted to be portrayed. Was he really political? It’s highly doubtful, but he sure talked the talk. And as for sharing the spotlight–the scene in which he discovers he’s been shoved off page one in favor of a breaking story on the dictator, Pinochet, is hysterical.

While not as impactful as its predecessor, Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is still must-see viewing, most especially for Vincent Cassel. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4.

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play: Vibrating with perfection—Theatre

September 7, 2010

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play opens Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s 2010-2011 season with a huge bang. A great script, acted to sheer perfection, complemented with fabulous costumes, The Vibrator Play is just a great night of theatre.

Written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Aaron Posner, The Vibrator Play takes place in the late 19th century, when electricity was still wonderment for all. During this time, some doctors used Edison’s invention to treat female “hysterical disorders” with electrical stimulation to reach the point of paroxysm as a means of “helping” women achieve their former rosiness.

Such is the “hero” of The Vibrator Play, Dr. Givings (Eric Hissom) a true believer in all that electricity can do. He is married to the considerably younger Catherine (Katie deBuys) who is unable to nurse her baby. Dr. Givings and his nurse Annie (Sarah Marshall) begin treating the shy Sabrina Daldry (Kimberly Gilbert) whose husband (James Konicek) has brought her to Dr. Givings in the hopes of restoring her “glow.” It is the Daldrys who offer their housekeeper, Elizabeth (Jessica Frances Dukes), as a wet nurse for Mr. and Mrs. Givings. And finally, into this eclectic mix, comes Leo Irving (Cody Nickell), an artist who is experiencing “hysterical” issues of his own and comes to Dr. Givings for treatment.

The actresses assembled for this play are absolutely brilliant. Marshall says barely a word, but just the raising of an eyebrow evokes the right emotion. In a long list of performances this may be one of her best. Gilbert and Duke, also Woolly veterans (albeit still young), are fabulous. Gilbert’s scenes with Marshall and deBuys are great—comedic with deBuys and very heartfelt with Marshall. And finally there is deBuys. New to Woolly, she makes an unforgettable debut. She matches up perfectly with every actor with whom she interacts. One hopes she has a long career with Woolly.

The actors are not pikers. They, too, are great. Konicek is terrific as the clueless husband. Hissom gives a fabulous performance as the egotistical doctor/ husband who finally comes to appreciate how smart his wife is. And Nickell, as the artist who stirs the play’s plot, comes this close to taking his portrayal into caricature, but reins it in just enough to deliver a sensational performance.

Over the years, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre  has provided Washington with some unforgettable theatrical gifts. In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, is one of its best. It is not to be missed.

During your visit to the theatre, be sure and take in the collection of vibrators provided by the National Gallery of Art with the assistance of the Museum of Sex . On display are vibrators from as early as 1902 provided by Hamilton Beach.

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play runs through September 26

Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC

 

Animal Kingdom: Stomach-turningly teriffic–Movie

September 1, 2010

Animal Kingdom, is yet another winner from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by first-time feature director, David Michôd, the film begins bleakly and ends with a bang. In between, the scenes and characters steadily build to a slow boil. You’re not sure how where this is going or how it’s going to end, and the uncertainty weighs on you. The ending comes almost as a relief. And when you have a minute to think about what you’ve just seen, you realize that you’ve just been involved with one terrific movie by way of Australia.

Animal Kingdom is told through the eyes of 17 year-old Josh Cody (James Frecheville). We meet Josh in the movie’s opening scene, sitting next to his mother who’s just died from a cocaine overdose. His mother had been estranged from her family, but not knowing what to do after calling the EMT’s, he calls his maternal grandmother, Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver) for support and she comes to pick him up to live with her and her family.

And what a family it is. To call it a den of thieves, and God knows what else, is putting it mildly. Josh’s oldest uncle, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), is wanted by the police on a variety of charges and is in hiding when first introduced. The middle uncle, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), is a drug dealer and user. And the youngest uncle, Darren (Luke Ford), is so hapless and so afraid to utter a thought in front of his brothers, that you feel sorry for him. The close-knit family is rounded out by long-time family friend, Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), who may be the one sane member of the group. As for the mother, Janine, or as she is called, Grandma Smurf–she would make Ma Barker proud. Janine embraces the careers her boys have chosen for themselves and her kiss on the lips with each of them seems uncomfortably more than motherly.

While you will be appalled by the actions of this psychopathic family, you won’t necessarily be rooting for the police either. Outside of Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) who’s investigating the crimes of the family, the police force appears to be nearly corrupt as the Cody family.

Animal Kingdom’s actors are superb. Mendelsohn gives a chilling performance as the psychotic, cold-hearted uncle who instigates much of the action. Weaver is terrific as the grandmother from Hell. Relative newcomers Ford and most especially Frecheville don’t say much, but their body language speaks volumes and they do a great job in conveying the inarticulateness of boys their age. And the underrated Guy Pearce brings just the right touch as hard-nosed detective/father figure.

Although not especially gory, Animal Kingdom will turn your stomach just the same. The writing, acting and directing are just that brilliant. This is a film not to be missed. I can’t wait to see what Michôd does next.

4 nuggets out of 4


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