Archive for May, 2014

Belle: Jumps Ahead in Class—Movie

May 28, 2014

Belle” is a fascinating look at race, privilege, sexism, customs and class during late 18th century England. A far more complicated film than its previews suggest, “Belle,” directed by Amma Asante and written by Misan Sagay, is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. To be sure, race is the film’s dominant issue, but what jumps out as a very close second is the topic of class. And as “Belle” very subtly illustrates, if you were not your family’s first-born male or came from a family of only women, your future could be very bleak indeed.

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Dido Belle is the illegitimate daughter of a deceased black woman and white Royal Navy Officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). To keep her safe, he brings the young Dido (Lauren Julien-Box ) home to England to live with his aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) and demands that she be treated equally…as a member of the family. Lord Mansfield is the respected Lord Chief Justice, and he and his wife are already raising a niece, Elizabeth (Cara Jenkins). She is the same age as Dido and the two young girls quickly bond. Helping to raise both is their maiden aunt, Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton), who has a sharp tongue, but is the family truth-teller. For the most part, Dido is loved by all and treated equally except when guests are in the home for dinner. Too good to eat with the servants, but not good enough to dine with the family, she eats many meals alone.

The movie jumps ahead in time and both girls, Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), are of dating age. They are pursued by one family of brothers. But is it for money or love? Also hovering in the background is John Davinier (Sam Reid), who is the son of a vicar and a rebel-rousing lawyer seeking an apprenticeship of sorts with Lord Mansfield. And, finally, there is the all important case on which Lord Mansfield will be ruling… (Gregson v. Gilbert)… which could do much to end slavery in England.

Belle’s cast is top-notch. Whether playing an American or Englishman, Tom Wilkinson never makes a false step. In “Belle” he is terrific at showing many conflicting emotions. Emily Watson is also very good as the mother trying to be fair to both girls. Penelope Wilton is wonderful as the outspoken, meddlesome aunt, and steals every scene in which she is a part. Sarah Gadon is fantastic as Dido’s cousin—accepting, jealous, supportive and ultimately human. Matthew Goode’s role is brief, but for me he makes more of an impression in “Belle” than he did all season-long in “The Good Wife.”   As the outspoken lawyer and Dido’s potential suitor, Sam Reid is very good and appropriately dashing. Lastly, there is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle herself. A relative newcomer, she is absolutely fantastic. One can’t wait to see what she does next.

In many ways, “Belle” has much in common with the television series, “Downton Abbey,” in illustrating how restrictive the English class system could be. Because Dido’s father provided her with a substantial inheritance, she was actually in better shape financially than her cousin. The lack of such a class system and the chance for opportunity…to rise above one’s birth… is perhaps what made America so appealing to so many. Unless and this is the big unless…unless one was black. And in this case, America fell very behind England.

“Belle” is part history, but wholly entertaining, too. It’s a story and film in which everyone can relate. It’s well worth seeking out.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

 

The Book Thief (2013): Rewards Await—Movie

May 27, 2014

The Book Thief” is an unexpectedly rewarding trip to Germany during WWII. For those of you who feared, like me, schmaltz and tears in large doses, fear no more. “The Book Thief” takes a look at what life was like for everyday Germans living under the Nazi regime.

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Directed by Brian Percival, based on the novel by Markus Zusak with screenplay by Michael Petroni, “The Book Thief” is the story of young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse). As the film begins in 1938 Germany, Liesel and her brother, escorted by their mother, are making their way by train to the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), who are going to raise the two. Because their mother is a Communist, her life is in danger and she thinks it be best for her children to live with the Hubermanns. While enroute, Liesel’s brother gets sick and dies. After his burial, Liesel’s mother decides to let Liesel make the rest of the journey on her own. Upon her arrival in the small town, Hans is there to meet the frightened Liesel and quickly puts her at ease. Hans and Rosa are an interesting, if stereotypical couple. Hans is all charm and fun—able to easily express love. Rosa is dour, gruff and cold. However, looks can be deceiving in both cases.

Almost immediately Liesel is befriended by adorable Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), her next door neighbor. The two become best friends and their relationship is fun to watch as it develops and deepens. Taunted at her new school because she can’t read or write, Liesel is protected by Rudy, but it is Hans who takes matters into his own hands and quickly remedies the situation. Liesel shows a great interest in reading and Hans is a born teacher. Liesel becomes a voracious reader and when the Nazis enforce book burnings, finds a risky way to continue her reading. Entering the mix is Max (Ben Schnetzer), a German Jew, who arrives malnourished and exhausted on the Hubermann’s doorstep,  seeking refuge from them. Because Max’s father had saved his life in WWI, Hans and Rosa don’t hesitate to take him in and hide him. To tell much more would give away the film’s intricacies and gems.

Sophie Nélisse is amazing as Liesel…able to portray all the emotions of a young girl, as well as one wise beyond her years. Her work with each of her co-stars is uniquely wonderful with each. Geoffrey Rush is terrific as the loving, delightful father. Emily Watson has a thankless role as the seemingly cold-hearted wife and mother, but she is great in the part. And when she warms up, watch out. Nico Liersch is astoningshly adorable as the blue-eyed blonde Rudy with some unexpected surprises up his sleeve. Ben Schnetzer is very good as the resilient Jew, Max, who also helps Liesel with her studies.

It’s rare to have a movie that portrays what it was like for ordinary Germans to live under the Nazis. Yes, the Nazis could insist that the Swastika flags fly and badges be worn everywhere, but they couldn’t necessarily rule the German people’s hearts. “The Book Thief” illustrates that many died for a cause in which they didn’t entirely believe. In Germany the Nazis did more than burn books—they scorched many lives and stole many souls.

Not necessarily sad, but definitely sobering, “The Book Thief” is now available On Demand and worth seeking out.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Godzilla: Godawful—Movie

May 22, 2014

Sometimes there are no words to describe how bad something is. That isn’t the case with “Godzilla.” Disappointing…boring…repetitive…dumb…those are just a few words that come to mind. How did this film screw things up so horribly?

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Directed by Gareth Edwards, with screenplay by Max Borenstein and story by Dave Callaham, “Godzilla” is a new take on earlier 1950s versions. In their own way, the original 1954 Japanese film and 1956 Japanese-America production,“Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” are classics and deservedly so. Such is not the case with the 2014 “Godzilla.”

The movie begins promisingly enough as scientists Ishiro Serizawa and Vivienne Graham (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) land in the Philippines in 1999 to consult on irregularities happening in a mine. From the Philippines we move to Japan and the home of husband and wife scientists, Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) and their young son, Ford. Joe and Sandra work for the same mining company, with Joe’s position more cerebral in nature. He spots something on a screen and then…The film jumps ahead 15 years and “something” is happening in Japan…. Serizawa and Graham are still in business and are now investigating what has happened there. This is when we get to hear the respected Watanabe say the immortal line, “We call him Godzilla.” Da da dum. We, the scientists and the various militia make our way to Hawaii (it doesn’t stand a chance), Las Vegas and San Francisco…trying to track the giant lizard and other entities and save the world.

I wasn’t expecting a work of art, but I was expecting to be entertained. The trailers seemed interesting and the cast…what a cast. “Godzilla” boasts a terrific cast of actors…not all of them household names, but all of them solid actors with many awards to their names (in addition to those mentioned the film includes Elizabeth Olsen,David Strathairn and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). What happened? I’m not sure that it would have mattered, but some actors don’t make it beyond the first half hour. The remaining actors have some absolutely horrific dialogue to orate. Perhaps this is the reason for these high quality actors…lesser actors would have required many more takes to say the lines without cracking up and would have cost the production more money in the end. In that regard Ken Watanabe must be singled out for trying to save “Godzilla” single-handedly.

Bad dialogue aside, there is something very odd about this “Godzilla.” It seems very old-school. Perhaps it’s the 50s horror-type music. Maybe it’s the over-use of the military in an old-fashioned manner. Or it could be that so much of the movie has a black and white feel to it. The music, militia and color are not necessarily bad. The bigger crime is that these elements are not used imaginatively.

I can’t imagine spending the extra money to see “Godzilla” in IMAX or 3-D. Instead the filmmakers should be paying us to see this mess. “Godzilla” and its fans deserved better.

½ nugget out of 4

Million Dollar Arm: A Perfect Game—Movie

May 22, 2014

Baseball fan or not, “Million Dollar Arm” is an unexpected home run. Directed by Craig Gillespie with screenplay by Thomas McCarthy, “Million Dollar Arm” is a feel-good movie to be sure, but sometimes feel-good movies can be more than good and “Million Dollar Arm” is that movie. And what better company to be producing a real-life fairy tale than the Disney Company?million-dollar-arm-poster2

Inspired by the true story of sports agent/marketer J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), “Million Dollar Arm” tells how his one night of TV channel flipping ignited a spark with the possibility of rescuing his business and launching a few careers. After failing to land some potentially big clients, Bernstein is close to losing his business. That particular evening he keeps going back and forth between “Britain’s Got Talent” and a cricket match in India. He wonders…what if he was to look for the next great baseball pitcher in India and do it as some sort of reality competition? With its huge population, this could be a big deal. He and his colleague, Aash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi), pitch (pardon the pun) the idea to investor, Chang (Tzi Ma). He agrees to back the project with the stipulation that the winner of the contest make it to tryouts within a year. And thus the reality show, Million Dollar Arm, was born. Bernstein heads to India, followed later by baseball scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), to begin his search and gets way more than he expected in the bargain.

Part of what makes “Million Dollar Arm” so wonderful is the way in which it looks at life in India and life in America…through Bernstein’s eyes and through the eyes of the eventual contest winners. Bernstein is a type-A plus person, so adjusting to the pace of India and having to learn how things get done in the country is quite a challenge for him…something he doesn’t handle well at first. The film also does a fantastic job, without belittling, in showing  just how small the contest winners’ villages are and how sheltered the two boys have been. When they go to their hometowns to say good-bye to their families they are treated like conquering heroes. Then it’s off to Los Angeles and some real culture shock. The boys are thrown into a variety of athletic and societal challenges. They speak little, if any, English. They’ve never been outside India and Bernstein and his “entourage”  aside, know no one in this country. Their loneliness and slight fear is palpable.  And the overall largess and richness of America is overwhelming. Couple all of that with the reality that they know next to nothing about their newly chosen career—they never followed baseball and, in fact, were track and field athletes—and it’s easy to understand how they feel. What happens to these two and how they face all of these obstacles is what helps make “Million Dollar Arm” so appealing. But “Million Dollar Arm” is not just a great story. It is also full of terrific acting.

Led by Jon Hamm, everyone seems perfectly cast. How Hamm managed to stay under the radar for so long… until “Mad Men”… is an enigma. The man can do drama and comedy and is over-the-top handsome. What was wrong with Hollywood? Brash, smart, egotistical, obnoxious—J.B. Bernstein seems to have all of these qualities and Hamm simply nails the role. But he also manages to make Bernstein likeable. Helping Hamm in his humanizing endeavor is Lake Bell as Bernstein’s tenant and possible romantic interest, Brenda. Prior to India, they’ve only had a landlord/tenant relationship, but it’s that relationship which bonds them via Skype while he’s in India, and continues once he’s back in Los Angeles. Bell is not your typical Hollywood beauty, but she projects intelligence and humor and that holds her in good stead against Hamm’s character. Aasif Mandvi is terrific as Bernstein’s business colleague. He offers just the right amount of sarcasm to his part and really works well with Hamm. Then there is Alan Arkin as Ray. I’m not sure when Arkin became the official curmudgeon of Hollywood, but it’s something he does perfectly. What’s so great about Arkin is that he never phones in his role. Yes, he’s played plenty curmudgeon-like characters as of late, but each characterization is distinctly different from the last. He’s completely believable as a pitching scout who knows what he’s seeing without ever opening his eyes. Pitobash is excellent as Amit, Bernstein’s newly-hired, eager-beaver assistant in India. Possibly the only person in India who not only understands, but loves baseball, Amit shows Bernstein how to navigate India and helps translate for him with the Indian players. Bill Paxton has a fine turn as Tom House, the UCLA baseball coach who’s skeptical about the project, but agrees to help. Finally there are the two athletes. Suraj Sharma as Rinku Singh, the contest winner, and Madhur Mittal as Dinesh Patel, the runner-up, are fantastic as the two pitchers. Rinku is more laid back and has the most unusual pitching stance ever seen in baseball. Dinesh seems to come from a humbler background and is more of a worrier. Both actors are fantastic in conveying all the emotions assorted with coming to a new environment with the weight of family obligations and expectations on their shoulders.

Much like Rinku and Dinesh, you don’t need to know a lot about baseball to love “Million Dollar Arm.” It’s Disney at its absolute best. And be sure to sit through the credits for the final ending of the story and a look at the real personalities.

4 nuggets out of 4

Locke: Multi-tasking at its Best—Movie

May 15, 2014

“I will do what has to be done.” This is Ivan Locke’s mantra and he lives it to the fullest…all within the confines of his fully-loaded BMW. I thought I was queen of multi-tasking until I saw “Locke,” and realized I am a mere piker in comparison. I joke, but in reality, “Locke,” written and directed by Steven Knight, with its cast of one on-screen actor, Tom Hardy, is a master class in acting and storytelling. With just one man,  car phone, highway and lights, you know what is happening every step of the way.

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Set in England, “Locke” opens as a man walks away from a Birmingham construction site, opens his BMW car door, takes off some of his work gear, slides into his seat, begins to drive to London, and then, most importantly, initiates the first of his long series of phone calls. From a variety of phone conversations, we learn that Bethan, a woman he met while on an out-of-town job and with whom he had a one night stand, resulted in a pregnancy. Although happily married with a family, he promised her that he would be there for her when the baby came and she is now in the hospital waiting to give birth. The timing of the delivery is not great, as one of the biggest jobs of his career is to begin the next morning. He first breaks the news to his boss that an emergency will preclude him from making it to the site for at least a day. He is immediately fired, but continues to work via phone with Donal, a member of his team, to make sure he will be ready in his stead come morning, and that the job will go off without a hitch. He carries on several phone conversations with Bethan, reassuring her that he is on his way to the hospital. He has a variety of phone calls with his sons about a soccer match. Finally, there is his wife, Katrina, who has absolutely no idea of what she is about to hear when she answers his call. The exchange is not pleasant and the hurt is palpable. Through all of these calls and his imaginary conversation with his deceased father, the camera is always on Locke. The change in his voice and facial expression varies, depending upon who is on the other end of the call. Most of the calls have serious elements to them, so the conversations with Donal, as they become more lighthearted, are a welcome relief.

The supporting cast…the voices we hear on the other end of the phone…are very good and help give the movie some depth. The vocal characterizations by Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland and Bill Milner are especially outstanding. In their own way, they each provide Hardy with someone with whom he can react.

However, this movie belongs to Hardy. It can’t be overstated how terrific he is. In a very confined space, Hardy has to hold the audience’s attention and somehow he manages to do it. It’s as though Hardy has taken to heart Locke’s “I will do what has to be done.” The tears his character sheds ever so slightly when on calls with his wife  feel very real. And the way his face lights up when talking to his sons or solving a problem with Donal makes you believe that he is not alone on the screen. It’s absolutely amazing.

Yes, one could quibble with the fact that what Locke is doing while driving is not exactly practicing safe driving, and should not be encouraged. But as Locke advises, “You have to be solid,” and solid he is. So is this movie.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Neighbors: Low Bro—Movie

May 14, 2014

It is true that if you go beneath…way beneath… the wealth of penis and bong jokes that is “Neighbors,” a few interesting subjects are addressed. But let’s face it—no one is going to see “Neighbors” for a discussion on peer pressure, growing up or the meaning of life. That discussion is saved for “This is the End”…just kidding. Directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Neighbors” is the story of a young couple, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and their baby, Stella, who have moved into their new home only to discover that a fraternity, headed by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) is moving next door to them.

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Already concerned that their youth is slipping away, Mac and Kelly now feel positively ancient with the frat house so close. The two decide to play it “cool,” by going over to the house with their baby, introducing themselves and just asking the guys if they can remember to try to keep the noise down. The request seems to work…at first. Mac and Teddy bond over “Batman” and Kelly manages to fit in with the frat brothers’ female companions. But then a call to the police goes very bad and soon there is all out warfare between the two homes…some very subtle harassment and other more blatant, explosive attacks.

What “Neighbors” has in spades is some terrific comic acting. Seth Rogen is always spot-on and this film is no different. There’s something about him that is just so loveable that you find yourself immediately on his side, no matter what. But in “Neighbors” he is surprisingly matched step-for-step by Rose Byrne. She proves to be a very talented comedic actress and she and Rogen mesh perfectly. Zac Efron demonstrates again that he is more than just a pretty face. Very good in the little seen drama, “At Any Price,” he shows that he is right at home on comic turf, too. And when the film calls for it, on a slightly more serious side, he does a convincing job portraying someone who doesn’t have much going on other than his fraternity. Dave Franco as Teddy’s sidekick, Pete, has a good turn as the fraternity’s voice of reason and someone who knows when it’s time to put the high jinks behind him. The lead actors are supported by a very strong,  predominately male cast. However, a special shout-out must go to the film’s scene stealers, twins Elise and Zoey Vargas as Stella. These girls are amazing. They really seem to be acting and their work with Rogen is especially good and extremely funny.

But ultimately the writing feels a bit stale and tired. Most of the real laughs have been seen in the previews. After a while penis and pot jokes just aren’t all that funny. “Neighbors” starts out with a bang, but ultimately sputters out…except for baby Stella.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Fading Gigolo: Bright Gem—Movie

May 14, 2014

At first glance, one might mistake John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” for a Woody Allen movie. But once you settle in and watch, you realize that Turturro has his own voice…a kinder, gentler voice that serves him and the movie well. Written and directed by Turturro, “Fading Gigolo” is the story of two NYC friends— Fioravante (Turturro), a florist, and former bookstore owner, Murray (Woody Allen). An off the cuff question by Allen’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), wondering if he knows anyone who would be interested in a ménage à trois…and she’s will to pay…with her and a friend, sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the film.Fading Gigolo

Murray runs the question by Fioravante to see if he might be interested and offers his encouragement for his participation. Murray would take a cut of the fee and both men can use the money, especially Fioravante. He initially has some doubts about pursuing this, most especially when it comes to his looks, telling Murray, “I’m not a beautiful man.” Murray reassures him with the hysterical comeback, “Some guys look better when they’re naked. I figured you’re one.” Deciding to use the name Virgil Howard on this new career path, Fioravante finally agrees. But before the threesome can happen, Dr. Parker decides on a trial run first. Turns out that Fioravante is more than good at his new “job.” The other member of the future ménage, the hilarious sex-bomb, Selima (Sofía Vergara), also requests a sneak preview and she is more than happy with this non-beautiful man.

New career aside, Fioravante’s life is fairly solitary while Murray lives in a boisterous home with Othella (Tonya Pinkins), helping to raise her young sons. When one of them gets lice, Murray takes the children to a woman he knows who handles this kind of problem—a young Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose husband was a rabbi in the Hasidic community in which she lives. She’s been a widow for two years and has been guarded from afar by the love-struck neighborhood watchman, Dovi (Liev Schreiber). Murray turns out to be pretty good at his new job, too. He quickly sizes up Avigal’s loneliness as well as her tenseness and mentions that he knows someone who can be of help. Watching Avigal leave the confines of her constrictive neighborhood and Dovi’s reaction to it is one of the film’s small pleasures. When Avigal meets Fioravante, he immediately puts her at ease and you can sense a change taking place within her.

Turturro beautifully captures the NYC ambiance…not the big city with its skyscrapers…but the NYC of its small, bustling communities that exist within it…the vitality which makes the city such an inviting place to live. We are introduced to folk who come it its delis, bookstores and coffee shops. And to say he gets the most from his actors is putting it mildly. Woody Allen rarely acts in anyone elses movies but his own, and truth be told, as an actor, he hasn’t been this likeable in years. He is absolutely terrific as the “helpful” friend. Vanessa Paradis simply glows as Avigal. She’s unconventionally beautiful and the way in which she blossoms from the dowdy, shy woman to someone with a voice is amazing. Sharon Stone is also very good and sympathetic as a woman trying to put some spice in her life. Vergara and Schreiber add zest, fun and depth to the film. Finally there is Turturro himself. He is utterly fabulous. He might not be a “beautiful man,” but over the course of the movie he becomes one.

“Fading Gigolo” is a small movie with a large heart and awesome performances. It’s NYC and entertainment at its best.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Andrew Garfield Truly is a Hero—Movie

May 12, 2014

What is it about directors and their toys? Why do so many of them not know when enough is enough? “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has so much going for it from an acting and plot point of view, but the 30 minutes or so before the film’s final 10 minutes almost does it in. Thank goodness for Andrew Garfield, who, as Spider-Man, really does save the day.

The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_posterDirected by Marc Webb, with screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens explosively with a great chase scene with Paul Giamatti (as we’ve never ever seen him before) as the villainous Aleksei Sytsevich and some very witty dialogue from Spider-Man. The film feels almost joyous in part…at least in the beginning. Spider-Man/Peter Parker is basking in his “Spidey” ways and enjoys helping people and making a difference.. And he’s in love…in love with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). His main problem at the film’s start is that NYC has grown tired of him. To some, he’s a vigilante…to others he seems to be inserting himself into situations where his help may not be wanted. However, his life begins to change when he and Gwen break up. His concerns for her safety have finally gotten the best of their relationship…at least for a while.

Entering into the mix are two new characters—Matt Dillon (Jamie Foxx) and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Matt works as a maintenance man/electrician for the mega corporation, Oscorp. As a lowly worker, no one ever notices him and this “invisibility’ has taken a toll on his psyche. To make matters worse, it’s quite possible that credit for a plan which  he submitted to Oscorp and could have brought him millions, was stolen from him and has truly embittered him. Harry is Peter’s childhood friend, whose father owns Oscorp and is dying. In his own way, Harry has led an invisible life, spending most of his time abroad, deliberately kept away from the family business…Oscorp. These two lonely characters collide in a very sad, violent manner, becoming Electro and the Green Goblin respectively. In so doing, they initiate a battle scene with Spider-Man that seems to go on for hours and hours.

Therein lies “The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s” problem—the very lengthy war between the three. It would appear that no one had the guts to tell the director, “Cut! Enough already! The audience will get it.” I understand that the film needs to get its money’s worth of the 3-D effects. But in all honesty, 3-D is completely unnecessary in making this movie more enjoyable or entertaining.

What does work for “Spider-Man 2” in spades is the acting and the dialogue. As Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Garfield is spectacular. He’s capable of expressing joy, sadness and everything in between. He brings a real fun-loving spirit to the film. Garfield also has terrific chemistry with all of his co-stars. His scenes with Sally Field, as his Aunt May are absolutely perfect…but Field is no slouch in the acting department either. There seems to be nothing she can’t do. She just feels so right as his aunt. Emma Stone is very good as Gwen…who loves Peter, but is not content to be the “little woman” waiting for him on the sidelines of his life. Stone has just the right “oomph” to make this believable. (As an aside, it must be said that no matter how good Garfield and Stone are, they cannot and do not pass for high-school seniors. College seniors, perhaps, but high school is one glaring, laughable mistake). Jamie Foxx does an excellent job in showcasing the life of the invisible. Dane DeHaan is fantastic as the “poor little rich boy.” He knows how to work those huge eyes of his as either those of a villain or innocent. His early scenes with Garfield feel like real friendship and his work with Chris Cooper as his dying father and Colm Feore as his father’s right-hand man are heart-breakingly done. “Spider-Man 2” also does a great job in rounding out Peter’s back-story with Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott as Mary and Richard Parker, his and mother and father.

“The Amazing Spiderman 2” has so much going for it via story and acting, the prolonged fights just really serve to lessen its “amazingness.” Hopefully director Webb has gotten this out of his system.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

Land Ho!: Oh, No—Movie

May 6, 2014

In the episode of  “Seinfeld,” when Jerry and George try to pitch a TV show which is about nothing, who knew that idea would come to fruition many years later in the movie, “Land Ho!” That might be a tad harsh, but not overly so. A joint U.S./Iceland production,written and directed by Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, “Land Ho!” is the genial story of two late 60-something men—former brothers-in-law, Mitch and Colin and their taking of Iceland by storm…not.landho-poster

Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is a divorced, newly retired surgeon and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) is a widower who recently separated from his much younger second wife. Mitch surprises Colin with a trip to Iceland, supposedly to get Colin out of his funk, but in truth, Mitch needs the trip just as much Colin. The two men couldn’t be more different. Mitch is gregarious to a fault…a big man with a huge heart. Colin is slight with a gentle spirit. Somehow the pairing works. And there you have it. The two men have small adventures along the way, smoke pot and have a chance get-together with Mitch’s much younger cousin. But primarily this is the amiable story of two men, via road-trip, putting the past behind them and deciding to look forward to what lies ahead.

What makes this movie watchable and more enjoyable than it deserves is the beautiful Icelandic landscape and more importantly, the fabulous performances of the two leads. Earl Lynn Nelson is a revelation. A newcomer to acting, he is a natural. He’s what you’d imagine Matthew McConaughey’s grandfather might be like. Blessed with a charming Southern accent, he has most of the dialogue and he’s terrific. Nelson’s expressive face lets you know that there is a lot more going on beneath his jokester surface. Paul Eenhoorn is a veteran actor and he is equally amazing in a much more low-key manner. It would be very easy to be run over by Nelson’s garrulous Mitch, but pro that he is, Eenhoorn’s Colin more than holds his own with just the right expression and tone.

The problem with this movie is that everyone else in the cast has limited acting experience and it shows. It’s one thing to be natural, but it’s something else entirely to act with virtually no emotion. And that is the case with almost every human with whom the two men interact.

Jerry Seinfeld was able to make a fortune from a story about nothing and it worked. “Land Ho!” feels like a story about nothing and that is simply not enough to make the time pass or the movie move.

“Land Ho! debuted” at the Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled for release later this year.

2 nuggets out of 4

The Last of Robin Hood: A Huge Star Diminshed—Movie

May 1, 2014

In the last years of his life, Errol Flynn’s star had dimmed considerably. So perhaps it is only appropriate that the first film about him would seem so small.

The Last of Robin Hood” is about the final years of Flynn’s life, told primarily through the eyes of Florence Aadland (Susan Sarandon), the mother of Flynn’s last girlfriend, Beverly (Dakota Fanning). Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, “The Last of Robin Hood” stars Kevin Kline in a role he was born to play—Errol Flynn. If doppelgangers do exist, than Kline is Flynn’s…no makeup and prosthetics needed.

The Last of Robin Hood

The film opens in October 1959, with Beverly flying into Los Angeles immediately after Flynn’s death at age 50 in Canada where the two had been spending time together. His death and her presence at his side brings their here-to-fore little known relationship into the forefront and the media onslaught on Beverly is horrific. The huge crowd airport crowd and screaming of questions from reporters is so bad that she faints and is rushed away. A reporter recognizes Florence in the crowd and contacts her later, hoping for a story. After some thought, Florence decides to work with him and his tape recorder begins to record.

The film then goes back in time to 1957 as we watch Beverly get ready to go to work. She’s a dancer in a Gene Kelly movie and is dressing for the trip to the studio. Her mother urges her to change her outfit to wear something that makes her look a little older. That advice seems strange at first, since isn’t the goal for a woman in Hollywood to look younger…even in the 50s? However, this scene will make sense soon after in the film. On this particular day, Errol Flynn is on the same lot as Beverly. He spots her from a distance and is immediately “smitten.” He sends Orry Kelly (Bryan Batt), a famous Hollywood costume designer, who’s in Flynn’s dressing room at the time, to ask her to meet him later. Beverly agrees to the meeting and things progress rapidly from there.

How much did Florence know about her daughter’s relationship with Flynn early on? We’ll never know precisely, and she claims innocence about knowing anything at first. But in the movie it takes her husband (Beverly’s father) all of about 30 seconds to figure out what is what. But once she does know, she does everything she can to encourage the relationship.

“The Last of Robin Hood” boasts an outstanding cast. As Errol Flynn, Kevin Kline doesn’t do an impression. He really embodies the man. As noted earlier, it’s an added bonus that he happens to look just like him. Dakota Fanning is absolutely terrific as Beverly. We know she’s underage when she first meets Flynn, but it’s to the actress’ credit that there’s an audible gasp from the audience when it’s revealed how young she is…not because she doesn’t look it, but because she’s mastered the act of seeming older. Fanning is able to play wide-eye innocent and wise-beyond her years convincingly…often within the same scene. But the scene stealer, without chewing up the scenery, is Susan Sarandon. Her Florence lives so vicariously through her daughter, it’s like watching the second coming of “Gypsy’s” Mama Rose. It all becomes understandable when we hear Florence’s extremely sad back-story.

What’s very strange about “The Last of Flynn” is that Flynn is almost an aside in his own movie. His life story is not an uninteresting one. He was a huge star whose fall from grace was in large part due to his prior relationships with young women. Perhaps someday we’ll learn more about him in a different film. For now we are left with this small movie with some very large performances.

“The Last of Robin Hood” was shown as part of Filmfest DC. It is scheduled for release later this year.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


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