Archive for April, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive: More Blood Needed—Movie

April 27, 2014

Albeit very slowly paced, “Only Lovers Left Alive” may be the most realistic look at the lives of vampires in the 21st century since “Angel.” No magic day rings, no “oh, we live in Seattle where it’s cloudy, so it’s safe”…no nothing to let vampires frolic in the daylight. In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” vampires come out just in the darkness of night, like God and Bram Stoker intended.

Only LoversWritten and directed by Jim Jarmusch, “Only LoversLeft Alive” is the story of Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), a married vampire couple, although living separate lives in different parts of the world. Adam is a musician residing in Detroit. His work is known and revered, even though no one knows who the writer is. Eve is more of a free spirit, currently making her home in Tangiers, where she’s good friends with author, Marlowe (John Hurt)… yes, that Marlowe.

In addition to writing music, which he really doesn’t want anyone to hear, Adam collects guitars and other musical instruments. His chief supplier of these instruments and seemingly only friend is Ian (Anton Yelchin), who doesn’t know Adam is a vampire. One funny aside is Adam referring to humans as zombies, which is confusing at first, but then one realizes he means “us.” Adam is lonely, seemingly tired of living and near suicide. Out of desperation, he calls Eve and she agrees  to join him in Detroit. Their joyful reunion is short-lived when Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska ), pops in from LA for a visit. It’s that visit turns the couple’s life topsy-turvy.

If there is any actress paler than Swinton, I haven’t seen her. She’s perfectly cast as a vampire.  Swinton makes Eve’s joie de vie infectious. Hiddleston is terrific as the moody Adam. It’s hard to say why Eve was drawn to him, but it’s easy to see why he was attracted to her. If anyone can make a vampire seem truly alive, Eve is that “person.” Wasikowska imbues Ava with a delightful sense of fun. One doesn’t normally see this actress in such a care-free role and she carries it off with ease.  Barely recognizable underneath all his rocker hair, Yelchin is very good as the movie’s innocent. I have no idea of what Marlowe was like as a human-being, but John Hurt’s scenes with Swinton are fun to watch.

Placing the story in Detroit is sadly all too fitting. At night the city seems very gloomy and the number of abandoned homes and businesses makes the vampire setting perfect.

With all it has going for it, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is one gigantic slog. I struggled to stay awake and that’s a shame. The premise for the film is a good one…in this day and age, what does a vampire do to keep active, stay relevant, and want to live? Nightly kills are no longer necessary because blood can be easily obtained from doctors for a fee. If one doesn’t have a circle of vampire friends like those in “The Vampire Diaries,” what is a vampire to do to keep his or her sanity? Unfortunately “Only Lovers Left Alive” doesn’t explore these issues, so we’re left as bored as Adam. I feel his pain.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Other Woman: Fluffy Fun—Movie

April 27, 2014

Cameron Diaz may be the other woman, but Leslie Mann is the woman. Mann could be this generation’s Lucille Ball, because like Ball, she’s attractive and comedically there may be nothing she can’t do. By her sheer force of nature, she makes “The Other Woman” better than it has a right to be.the-other-woman-movie-2014-wallpaper-532aeb369f783

Directed by Nick Cassavetes and written by Melissa Stack, “The Other Woman” begins with lawyer Carly (Cameron Diaz) in the throes of what looks like a one-night-stand with businessman Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Before long the one-night-stand turns into something more…at least for Carly…and eight weeks later, she’s ready for him to meet her Dad (Don Johnson) for dinner. But at the last-minute something comes up for Don and he cancels. Thinking she’ll surprise him, she goes out to his home in the suburbs and there’s a surprise all right…only it’s on her. Who should answer the door, but his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann).

To make a long story short, the two discover that Mark has been cheating on both of them and decide to find out who the woman is. With the great “Mission Impossible” theme in the background, they follow him one weekend which leads them to the beach and Amber (Kate Upton). Angry that she’s not his one and only, Amber joins forces with the other two in figuring out a plan that ensures Mark gets his just desserts.

Though it’s a slight comedy, there is a lot to like about the film, especially with the women involved. One can understand Mark’s dilemma. Cameron Diaz has a great knack for comedy and she’s terrific at showing there’s more going on than just a great body and a wide smile…and she’s way more appealing here than she was in “The Counselor.” Kate Upton is appropriately cute and manages to hold her own with Diaz and Mann. And, as noted earlier, Leslie Mann is just plain fabulous. She gives us warmth, ditziness and smarts all in one great package. But it’s the object of all this affection, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who underwhelms. Although known for more dramatic roles, he’s got some good comedic chops, but he just seems a bit bland and smarmy. However, he does look nice in a suit. Once we’re introduced to Kate’s brother, Phil (Taylor Kinney), I kept thinking,”wouldn’t this movie have been better with him as Mark?” Finally is Nicki Minaj as Carly’s secretary, Lydia. With her attitude and ever-changing wigs, she steals every scene in which she appears.

What weighs “The Other Woman” down is its getting to the point. The back and forth with Carly and Kate goes on far too long before we finally get to their teaming. There are other scenes that also could be shorter or edited out entirely. While it’s nice to see Don Johnson, I’m not convinced we needed so much of him.

It’s not surprising that the film is written by a woman. “The Other Woman” has a lot of witty, sharp dialogue…especially when it comes to women judging other women. As the writer demonstrates, my gender is harder and perhaps funnier on ourselves than any man could ever be.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Cold Eyes: High Energy Astounds—Movie

April 22, 2014

Looking for a cops and robbers film for the 2014s? Look no further than Korea’s “Cold Eyes.” Directed by Ui-seok Jo and Byung-seo Kim with screenplay by Ui-seok Jo, based on Kin-Yee Au and Nai-Hoi Yau’s film, “Eye in the Sky,” “Cold Eyes” has it all—action, bad guys, good guys, great dialogue (it comes across even with sub-titles), chase scenes, gunfights, terrific acting and an absolutely fantastic score that ties the movie together.

Cold_Eyes_posterThe movie opens on a Seoul subway and seems to focus on a young woman, a businessman and a dozing middle-aged man. Is there a connection?

Chief Hwang (Kyung-gu Sol) is the leader of a small surveillance team that pursues high-stakes criminals. We learn that it isn’t easy to make this team, but once you do, you are joining a group of men and women who work hard and play hard. Thrown into the mix is new recruit, Ha Yoon-joo (Hyo-ju Han), quickly nicknamed Piglet. She’s smart, quirky and it’s fun to watch her grow and connect with other members of the team. As the head of the team, Hwang shows an easy rapport with all of his underlings. Kyung-gu Sol and Hyo-ju Han are especially good and their scenes together have a lot of the “Karate Kid-like” chemistry of master and student. It’s equally enjoyable to watch Hwang’s connection with his superior, Department head Lee (Jin Kyung). Kyung is really terrific portraying both brains and heart as the person most responsible for the well-being of the department.

And just who are they surveiling? The team is involved in several cases and these crimes seem to overlap, which can be confusing initially. No matter..stick with it and the cases eventually sort themselves out. The connection to these crimes appears to be James (Jung Woo-sung ), one of the coldest villains to ever grace the screen. Woo-sung is great in capturing the lack of compassion and downright meanness of this man.

The directors show us some spectacular chase scenes from up high and they are just amazing. We don’t often get that kind of aerial view, and when we do, it astounds. And it cannot be over emphasized just how fabulous the score from Dalparan and Jang Young-gyu is. The music is like another film character that just happens to be terrific.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I was a little taken aback by the amount of cameras Seoul has and how invasive they are. True, they make it easier to solve crimes, but they do give one pause.

Politics aside, “Cold Eyes” is one high-octane fantastic movie. The film was shown as part of Filmfest DC. When it comes to a theatre near you, make it your eyes’ business to see “Cold Eyes.”

4 nuggets out of 4

The Keeper of Lost Causes: So Glad It Was Found—Movie

April 22, 2014

From Denmark comes taut crime thriller, “The Keeper of Lost Causes.” Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard with screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s hugely successful novel of the same name, “The Keeper of Lost Causes” will grip you from the very beginning.Keeper of Lost Causes

Biding their time until backup arrives, the story begins with a stake-0ut featuring three detectives and some of their very amusing conversation about a flashing street light. Amusing goes shockingly horrific in a matter of minutes. We then meet up again with one of the detectives, Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), several months later. We learn from Carl’s supervisor, Marcus (Søren Pilmark), that Carl has never been easy to work with and now he is even less so. Marcus informs Carl that he’s been move from Homicide to run Department Q, a newly created division charged with categorizing and clearing out open cold cases.

Assigned to Carl is Assad (Fares Fares), a police officer just happy to come out of his former basement assignment into a new position. Although the two are just meant to cleanup cases—three a week—that isn’t enough for Carl. The photo and case file of a female Danish official, Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter), attracts his attention. Her case was presumed to be a suicide…jumping off a ferry…but her body was never recovered. Carl questions whether a woman would kill herself when she’s accompanied on the ferry by her mentally challenged younger brother. Against the confines of his designated duties, Carl decides to investigate and finds a willing accomplice in Assad.

“The Keeper of Lost Causes” follows several paths. First there is the developing relationship between Carl and Assad. We don’t learn a lot about Assad, other than that he is a practicing Muslim who makes very strong coffee, but we do gain greater insight into what makes Carl tick. Then there is the sad and moving story of the brother, Uffe Lynggaard (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), and what has happened to him in the years since his sister vanished. Finally are the very mysterious events surrounding Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) and her disappearance.

Søren Pilmark is perfectly cast as Carl, the taciturn, never by the book detective. Fares Fares’ Assad has a twinkle in his eye that shows he somehow “gets” Carl, and his scenes with Mikkel Boe Følsgaard are also very strong. Sonja Richter’s performance is very hard to watch, but she is amazingly good in them. Følsgaard is terrific as the mentally and emotionally challenged brother.

“The Keeper of Lost Causes” is an interesting combination of CBS’ “Cold Case” and “Without a Trace” series, only much, much better. The film is engaging on every level. Yes, there are holes or questions that might make one ask, “Why didn’t they do…? But those concerns fall by the wayside in the wake of the film’s compelling story.

“The Keeper of Lost Causes,” Denmark’s highest grossing film for 2013, was shown as part of Filmfest DC and is expected to have a wide release. It is well worth seeking out.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

Transcendence: Falls Flat—Movie

April 22, 2014

In many ways “Transcendence” is a movie about man vs. machine…a very smart machine in the form of artificial intelligence. Directed by Wally Pfister and written by Jack Paglen, “Transcendence” is set in the not too distant future.hr_Transcendence_4

When the film begins, the U.S. and probably the world, is Internet fee. A catastrophe of some kind has wiped out the ability to use the Internet, wifi, and all the devices dependent upon such technology. The movie goes back five years so we can find out what happened and why. There, in the Berkeley area, we meet two married scientists, Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall). They are both proponents of pushing the AI envelope…seeing how far science can take us in replicating thoughts, ideas, tissues and cells. Think a combination of “Her” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but on a much grander scale.

The film raises some interesting issues—certainly there are benefits to all this technology, but what happens when man’s bad impulses begin to outweigh man’s goodness. That’s the concern of a group led by Bree (Kate Mara). Early on in the film, a member of her group does something drastic which sets the wheels in motion for the rest of “Transcendence”–a showdown of man vs. machine.

With all the talent assembled for “Transcendence,” one would think this movie would be better. It just goes to prove that if it’s not on the page, no amount of good acting can breathe life into a film. Johnny Depp gets top billing, but in reality this movie belongs to Rebecca Hall. She’s a good actress and does what she can, but doesn’t have enough with which to work. Depp is absent from too many scenes and, for the most part, when he appears it’s via screen within a screen. Paul Bettany (who’s in the film more than Depp) and Morgan Freeman lend a sense of gravitas to the plot, portraying colleagues and friends of the Casters and act as the voices of reason. Finally, Cillian Murphy is on board as an FBI agent brought in to investigate an incident relating to Will (one can’t help but notice that Irishman Murphy sounds more American than Depp and that seems rather strange).

Maybe we’ve been exposed to too many television programs and movies about AI, but “Transcendence” just doesn’t seem to have any mojo. It falls to earth with a thud.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

Arguendo: Chair Movement Does Not a Performance Make—Theatre

April 22, 2014

Arguendo,” the latest offering by DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is an interesting attempt to make an entertaining mountain out of a mountain, but this attempt falls short…very short.

Directed by John Collins and performed by the Elevator Repair Service, “Arguendo” revolves around the 1991 Supreme Court Case, Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc. This case, in a nutshell, was about whether or not one had the right to dance nude as a freedom of expression under the First Amendment. The case made its way through the various state courts before ending up on the Supreme Court docket.Arguendo

Prior to “Arguendo’s” beginning, the stage is set with three leather chairs in the background. Then the play opens on the Supreme Courthouse steps with TV reporters (Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Susie Sokol, Benn Williams) grilling a woman (Maggie Hoffman) who dances in the nude for a living. She’s come to observe the proceedings. The repartee is very well done as she gives as good as she gets.

The heart of the performance finally starts…the hearing itself. It’s not nearly as entertaining as was the action on the steps. We have the lawyers arguing before the judges…three actors are on stage taking the parts of the nine judges. There is a lot of changing of wigs and much movement of chairs. The chair interplay is funny at first as are the expressions of the actors, but then you are left thinking, “is that all there is?” Sadly, the answer is “yes.” Oh, they try to jazz things up with the actual case transcripts scrolling up/down/across a screen, but that just serves to give one a headache. There is shuffling and throwing of paper…hilarious…not. Then the performance jumps ahead in time for a speech from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Susie Sokol), portrayed as a doddering old woman, explaining the rationale behind the collars the female justices wear. In her defense, Justice Ginsburg may be many things, but doddering is not one of them.

Over the years I’ve had a variety of experiences at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre…most of them very positive or at least thought provoking. This is the first time I’ve ever been bored.

1 ½ nugget out of 4

Under the Skin: Not Worth Even a Pin Prick—Movie

April 14, 2014

Talk about puzzling and disappointing—“Under the Skin” is this and not much else. What was Scarlett Johansson thinking when she agreed to star in this film? Better still, why did I sit through the entire movie? “Under the Skin” is billed as science fiction, but excuse me if I like my science fiction with a tad more dialogue and exposition.

Under_the_Skin_teaser_posterDirected by Jonathan Glazer and written by Glazer and Walter Campbell based on Michel Faber’s novel, “Under the Skin” is about a female alien who drives around Scotland luring single men into coming with her under a variety of pretexts and then using their bodies… for? Most of the time she drives a white van, but how she learned to drive or get money for gas (possibly money from her victims) is something we have to take on good faith. And don’t get me started on what she does about her clothing. Perhaps aliens don’t give off body odor, but certainly wearing the same clothing for days on end, running through all kinds of muck, surely that would give her clothes an “aroma.” But to give credit where credit is due, the lone amusing scene does answer the question about how/if aliens digest food.

What is good about “Under the Skin?” The photography is breath-taking. When it’s not raining we are provided with some beautiful pictures of Scotland’s countryside. All the scenes are beautifully shot and the score is perfect for this moody sci-fi.

Her” provided film-goers with just Johansson’s voice. If we didn’t know it before, we learned from “Her” that Johansson has a beautiful, lilting voice. In “Under the Skin” we have the exact opposite…just her body and very little else. To cast her in a movie and have her practically mute is a shame. The little dialogue Johansson speaks is used to draw men in. These men do speak, but their brogues are so thick they are nearly impossible to understand.

As noted earlier, “Under the Skin” has very little exposition, so if you decide to see this film, some of you may be as lost as I was. Who was the man on the motorcycle? What was he all about? An entry in Wikipedia will explain this to you. But if you need “Cliff’s Notes” to understand a film, is it really worth it? My recommendation is to save yourself the trouble and erase “Under the Skin” from your must-see list.

½ nugget out of 4

 

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Dom Hemingway: Jude Law Rules—Movie

April 14, 2014

Make no mistake, Jude Law isDom Hemingway.” For the slightly more than 90 minutes that he is on the screen, and he is in every bit of the film, Law inhabits this character like a second skin…like a man possessed. Looking worse than we’ve ever seen him…really bad hair and a gold tooth, Law is also better than he’s been allowed to be in ages. In fact, he’s terrific.

Written and directed by Richard Shepard, “Dom Hemingway” is the story of one man’s attempt to reenter society after twelve years in prison. During those twelve years, his wife remarried and died, and he became estranged from his daughter. Dom was a safecracker left holding the bag for crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). Upon his release from prison Dom wants what’s owed him…he wants it big…and he wants it now. At first he tries to make up for those years in three days…then a few weeks and then is forced to realize it’s going to take a lot longer, if it ever happens. It appears that life has other plans for him.DomHemingway1

“Dom Hemingway” benefits from a wealth of great acting. First and foremost is Jude Law. He has many awesome soliloquies throughout the film and soars in each and every one of them–it’s liking watching an actor do Shakespeare on speed. But Law is supported by amazing performances from a strong cast. Demián Bichir, so mesmerizing in FX’s The Bridge, gets to show off his quietly menacing side in “Dom Hemingway.” Also very good is Richard E. Grant as Dom’s ever patient friend, Emilia Clarke as Dom’s estranged daughter, Madalina Diana Ghenea as Mr. Fontaine’s cunning girlfriend, and, especially Jumayn Hunter as Lestor, who holds a long-standing grudge against Dom based on a horrific act perpetrated on one of his loved ones many years ago. Adding a gritty feel to the film is a fantastic musical score and some terrific cinematography.

But when all is said and done, Jude Law is what makes “Dom Hemingway” special. He alone makes it worth the price of admission.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Draft Day: All In—Movie

April 13, 2014

Welcome back, Kevin Costner! No one does a sports-related movie like he does and “Draft Day” is no exception. Directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, “Draft Day” is the antithesis of “Moneyball.”  “Moneyball” was for the brainiacs among us—using a statistical approach to baseball selections, while “Draft Day” uses the old-fashioned method of going by the gut for football picks. It’s something “Moneyball’s old-school managers would have appreciated. A cast of TV sports commentators, NFL bigwigs and ex-football players—all playing themselves—together with some of the best character actors in the business, help make “Draft Day” the entertaining film it is.

Draft DaySonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) is the General Manager for the hapless Cleveland Browns (the GM concept may be hard for my DC friends to understand since it’s been years since our team had one—an inside joke). The Browns were once great…think Jim Brown who makes a cameo appearance…but haven’t been winners in years. However, on Draft Day, hope springs eternal—each team has a clean slate, so to speak—with a lot of wheeling and dealing taking place to fill that slate. Although a hopeful time, it’s also a stressful period for coaches, recruits and players, since no one knows with certainty what the future holds—when the trade of a current player or pick for a current or future pick can turn one’s world upside down in a nanosecond.  This is what happens to Sonny when the Seattle Seahawks come calling with their number one pick. You might think you have it figured out, but writers Rothman and Joseph have some twists and surprises in store. And therein is the beauty of “Draft Day.”

Costner managers to capture entirely all of the emotions one in his position might experience—nervousness, elation, weariness and exasperation. His character feels this might be his one shot to get the team he wants, especially after having fired and inherited his late father’s team. Convincing  throughout, Costner is really  at his best in the wheeling and dealing scenes. Underrated Jennifer Garner is terrific as the team’s “capologist” (the person who manages business affairs and contracts for the team, monitoring what money is hitting the cap and when) and  as Sonny’s not-so-secret girlfriend, Ali. Although she’s nervous, too, but for other reasons,  she manages to be the voice of reason in a doozy of a day, professionally and personally. Her scenes with Kevin Costner and Denis Leary. as the newly hired coach, crackle. Chadwick Boseman, so convincing as Jackie Robinson in “42,” turns in another amazing performance as Vontae Mack, the college player who thinks he has a future with the Browns as their first round, seventh pick, only to watch his dreams potentially go up in smoke. Timothy Simons and Kevin Dunn (both great in “Veep”), Sam Elliott, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Langella, Terry Crews and Chi McBride are just part of the fabulous supporting cast that gives “Draft Day” its heft. But ultimately what makes this movie so successful is the script, the direction and most especially, Kevin Costner.

Last year, there was a painfully funny and sad obituary in the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) paper about a man who requested that members of the Cleveland Browns be his pall bearers so they could let him down one more time. I like to believe this gentleman is smiling down on “Draft Day,” thinking, “If only.”

3 nuggets out of 4

 

Lewis Black’s The Rant is Due: Paid in Full—Comedy

April 13, 2014

Lewis Black was in vintage form for his Thursday, April 10 show, “The Rant is Due,” at DC’s Warner Theatre. That is a good thing. Full of rage, venom, and just out-and-out funny, Black was on fire.The Rant is Due

So what was it this time? Black is from the DC area and given the fact that the show started late because he was stuck in Cherry Blossom traffic, he was certainly handed a jumping off point from which to rant. And rant Black did…beginning with the once upon a time stupidity of two-lane Virginia vs. three-lane Maryland. Then it was on to pedestrians and  traffic patterns. And don’t get him started on the tourists. Their poor ears must have been burning.

Is there anything Lewis Black does like? Tahiti. Dear God, how he loves Tahiti. To quote, “Lose your f**king kids in the store…get out and get on the plane. It’s the Garden of F**k Eden.  His best line about Tahiti was: “I was confused about my feelings about Crimea and after three days in Tahiti, I don’t “f**king care.”

Then it was back to what he hates. What Black seems to despise more than anything and anyone are politicians…especially the ones responsible for the government shutdown. While he was going on and on, I had a thought—perhaps if these politicians came to his show and listened to what Black had to say and the audience’s reaction to him, they might think twice about ever shutting down the government again.  Calling John Boehner “the mood ring of politicians,” and taking on President Obama for the healthcare web site failure…no one and nothing was safe from his hysterical ire.

Some of Black’s best barbs came in response to the audience’s demeanor. For whatever reason, some audience members felt it was OK (it’s not) to shout out. Given his disposition, this was risky, but Black handled them masterfully and one of his top lines of the evening was, “perhaps we should decorate the set with library books so people will know to be quiet.” Ouch!

Black had two opening acts—John Bowman and Joe Kashnow. Bowman, Black’s long-time show companion had some terrifically droll observations about performing at Penn State during the Sandusky trial. His riff about Justin Bieber was very funny, calling him Michael Jackson in reverse (think about it and it will hit you). Kashnow was recently profiled in the Washington Post. He is a wounded Iraqi war vet who was one of several chosen to appear in the recent documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.” Kashnow did about 10 minutes and shows a lot of promise. His bit about dying on the installment plan was extremely clever and amusing.

But face it—folks came to hear Lewis Black say things many of us think, but pay him to say it funny. He didn’t disappoint.

4 nuggets out of 4


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