Archive for April, 2013

42: Covers All the Bases—Movies

April 26, 2013

You don’t have to be a baseball fan or even baseball knowledgeable to appreciate the terrific storytelling of  “42.” Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, “42” tells how Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break Major League baseball’s color barrier and the challenges he faced in doing so on and off the field.42

It would have been very easy to turn “42” into a reverential bio-flick, but Helgeland and his cast are aiming for something more ambitious. We feel like we can really see into the characters’ pyches…warts and all. Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers General Manager, turn in wonderful, authentically nuanced performances. Boseman, who bears a strong resemblance to Robinson, shows the emotional toll it took on him to hear the racial taunts and epithets and still turn the other cheek. After one especially nasty episode, his breakdown underneath the Dodgers’ dugout is heart-breaking and feels very real. Ford gives probably the best performance of his career as the tough-minded GM/businessman who truly believes breaking the color barrier is good for the game he loves, the country…and good for business.

“42” is aided tremendously by a terrific supporting cast, most especially by Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, the Dodgers’ hard-charging manager; Nicole Beharie as Robinson’s elegantly graceful wife, Rachel; and Alan Tudyk  as the racist-baiting Phillies manager, Ben Chapman.  Also very good are Lucas Black and  Hamish Linklater as Robinson’s teammates Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca respectively, who lead the way in accepting Robinson as just another ballplayer.

Helgeland has done a great job in portraying the prejudices of the late 1940s. The racial taunts make you queasy and are really hard to hear. The ballparks and cities feel quite authentic to the times. The baseball sequences are very realistic, too. Particularly interesting is the scene in which the Dodgers turn Robinson from a second baseman to a first baseman. The movie’s one negative is the music–it is so over the top as to be intrusive.

Jackie Robinson died at a fairly young age of 53. It makes one wonder what affect  the stress of “holding it in” all those years had on him. One can only imagine. “42” provides life lessons for all of us while entertaining at the same time. This is one time that the action on the screen is more compelling than the action on the baseball diamond.

4 nuggets out of 4

The Place Beyond the Pines: A Place to be Visited—Movie

April 24, 2013

Shakespearean in nature, “The Place Beyond the Pines” takes some huge risks and succeeds on most levels.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance and written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, “The Place Beyond the Pines” revolves around two men, their connecting stories, and how their early encounter impacts their lives and the lives of their loved ones forever. If this seems ambitious, it is, and explains the nearly 2 ½ hours running time. However, the film is so engaging that you are never bored and the time flies by.The Place Beyond the Pines

“The Place Beyond the Pines” features three actors at the top of their game. Ryan Gosling has yet to turn in a bad performance and he doesn’t disappoint here as Luke, the motorcyclist drifter struggling to find himself and a life. Eva Mendes is very compelling as Romina, Luke’s yesteryear girlfriend. But the real star of “Pines” is Bradley Cooper. He is fantastic as the cop with so many inner conflicts it makes one’s head spin as he struggles to do right by his father, his marriage and family, all while trying to live up to his own expectations and moral compass. It’s the role of a life-time and Cooper is more than up to the challenge.

“Pines” is set and filmed in Schenectady, NY. The area is immediately familiar to anyone from upstate New York and lends an air of authenticity to the film. “The Place Beyond the Pines” features a terrific supporting cast. Ray Liotta, on a career resurgence, shines as the cop with questionable ethics. Ben Mendelsohn is equally good as Robin, the mechanic who takes Luke under his wing…for good and bad. Also look for standout performances from Bruce Greenwood and Harris Yulin.

Based on previews and commercials, ” Pines” was not at all what I expected. It was so much more.

3 1/2 nuggets out of 4

 

 

Starbuck: Way More than a Cupful of Fun—Movie

April 17, 2013

Starbuck is a wonderful comedy that is also smart with a heart as big as its star.

Directed by Ken Scott with screenplay by Scott and Martin Petit, this genial French-Canadian film revolves around lovable 40-something schlub, David Wozniak (Patrick Huard).  David comes from a close-knit family and works as a delivery man for the family’s butcher shop. His brothers view him as a loser and the opinion of his girlfriend Valérie (Julie LeBreton), isn’t much better. She’s  a police officer who loves him, but has grown tired of his shtick and breaks up with him, even though she is pregnant with his child. And that’s just for starters.starbuck poster

While in his 20s, to earn money, David became a sperm donor.  As the story opens, he learns that through a mistake made by the fertility clinic, he became the father of 533 children. 142 of them have filed a class action suit to find out the identity of their biological father, known only by the pseudonym, Starbuck.

Not knowing exactly what to do, David starts to do in-person research on some of his off-spring, to find out more about each. In doing so, he inserts himself into their lives without them knowing he is their father, but some kindly stranger instead.

Patrick Huard is absolutely perfect as David. The success or failure of this movie rests almost entirely on his shoulders.  If he had played the role for laughs, Starbuck would have been ruined. Thankfully Huard is able to walk the fine line between schmaltz, empathy and comedy without falling once.

Starbuck’s supporting cast is very strong. LeBreton is quite fabulous as David’s long-suffering girlfriend and Antoine Bertrand is terrifically funny as David’s best friend and lawyer.

Vince Vaughn will be starring in the Hollywood remake of Starbuck, set to release in October. It’s hard to believe it will be better than the original. Luckily for movie-goers, Ken Scott will be writing and directing the English adaptation.

Although Starbuck has laugh out loud moments, it’s ultimately a feel-good comedy that will have you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face.

4 nuggets out of 4

Admission: Think About Applying—Movie

April 3, 2013

Admission,” starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, is a fun time at the movies and a terrific vehicle for this twosome.

Directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”) with screenplay by Karen Croner based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel, “Admission” takes a humorous look at the college application process and throws in some romantic complications to sweeten the plot.Admission

Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton. Soon after we meet Portia, both her personal and professional lives go into a tailspin. First the Director of Admissions (Wallace Shawn) announces his decision to retire which means that she and her very competitive colleague (Gloria Reuben) will be vying for his job. Then her long-time relationship with a Princeton professor (Michael Sheen) ends unexpectedly, leaving her vulnerable and at loose ends. To get her mind off her romantic troubles and better position herself for a promotion, Portia throws herself into her job with many recruiting trips. During one such trip Portia renews her acquaintanceship with former classmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd). John now runs an alternative high school and has a student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), he wants Portia to meet. Although Jeremiah is very bright, he is very eccentric, but John believes he would make an outstanding Princeton student. He also has a secret…John believes that Jeremiah may be the son Portia gave up for adoption many years ago. Although there are immediate, but not necessarily welcome, sparks between John and Portia, thwarting a potential love connection is Portia’s own difficult relationship with her mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin).

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have definite chemistry (is there anyone who wouldn’t have chemistry with Rudd) and that helps kick this quiet rom-com up a notch.  Lily Tomlin is also quite good as the not quite as tough as she seems feminist mother (who even has a Bella Abzug tattoo).

“Admission” boasts a terrific supporting cast who serve the move well. Much of the movie is very smart and inventive, especially the college application scenes, which are also quite funny.

“Admission” is not a thigh-slapper, but it is fun and has a lot of heart…and Paul Rudd, too.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Bates Motel: You Should Check-in Immediately—Television

April 2, 2013

It’s as if Alfred Hitchcock said to the producers of “Bates Motel,” “Make me proud.” He needn’t have worried. Full-fledged entertainment doesn’t get any better than A&E’s “Bates Motel.”   “Bates” is creepily disturbing on every conceivable level–I haven’t gotten this much pleasure from a television series since the first season of “Lost.”

Bates Motel” is a sort-of prequel to “Psycho”…set in today’s times, not yesteryear. That might cause a little confusion at the beginning, but the rest of the story is so compelling and the acting so good, it’s a teeny, tiny hiccup.Bates motel 1

Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates are absolutely fantastic as son and mother. Highmore, so adorable in “Finding Neverland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is all grown up and sensational as Freddie. Perfectly cast, there aren’t enough words to describe how good he is. Highmore conveys fragility, innocence and toughness in just the right tones. Episode 3, “What’s Wrong With Norman,” by Jacob Clifton, gives Highmore the opportunity to shine and boy, does he. At one point he keeps asking himself over and over, “What’s wrong with me?” It’s heart-breaking and eerie at the same time.  While his performance is strictly his own, it is easy to picture him turning into Anthony Perkins’ Norman. Farmiga’s Norma is a little more showy, but she never goes over the top with the character. Farmiga is able to keep an air of mystery about her. That mysteriousness turns into chemistry with every male actor with whom she interacts.

Carleton Cruse, one of “Bates’” executive producers as well as one of its writers, was also a writer and executive producer for “Lost,” so he knows all about weirdness and how to keep an audience interested. Of course what also makes “Bates” so compelling is that we know how it all ends, but the characters don’t. That gives “Bates Motel” a tinge of impending doom and sadness. We understand that no matter how hard Norman tries to make friends and be “normal,” it won’t happen for him. It’s no small feat that the writers, directors and most especially, the actors, make us hope in spite of ourselves.

In a television year full of new kinky killers and killings–“Cult,” “The Following” and “Hannibal”–“Bates Motel “stands head and shoulders above them all. It is not to be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4


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