Archive for July, 2014

A Most Wanted Man: Philip Seymour Hoffman Delivers the Goods—Movie

July 31, 2014

A Most Wanted Man” is one of the best espionage thrillers ever, it is that good. If Philip Seymour Hoffman had to leave us way before his time, then thankfully “A Most Wanted Man” gives him the opportunity to showcase all of his acting talent in one terrific film.

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Directed by Anton Corbijn with screenplay by Andrew Bovell, based on John le Carré’s novel, “A Most Wanted Man” is set in present day Hamburg, Germany. The film’s prologue tells us that the man responsible for the September 11 attacks, Mohammed Atta, did much of his planning with his collaborators in Hamburg, and the country wants to be sure that they are never responsible for anything like that again. It’s in this scenario that we’re introduced to Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a young Russian-Chechen who was tortured, abused and beaten in both Russian and Chechen prisons. He’s seeking refuge in Hamburg in the home of friends—a Muslim mother and son. Although his father beat him as a child, he also left him millions in Euros, which Karpov wants to claim so he can do something charitable with that inheritance. His friends put him in touch with Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), an idealistic young lawyer who agrees to help him. Against this backdrop we meet Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who leads a German secret anti-terrorism team that tries to develop sources in the Muslim community that will lead them to high-level terrorist suspects. Bachmann prefers to work quietly, looking at the big picture, building a case that will hold up for the long-term. His group infiltrates groups and families, going directly to their sources. His approach, “allows a minnow to catch a barracuda.” This philosophy runs counter to that of the Hamburg intelligence head, Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock), who wants to go for the big arrest immediately, consequences be damned. Karpov has been identified as a jihadist and potential terrorist and unbeknown to him, his moves are being monitored by Bachmann’s group. With the cooperation of Richter and Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), a banker whose bank controls Karpov’s funds, Bachmann puts an elaborate plan in motion which he believes will lead him to a much bigger fish—Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi ), a renowned and respected Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann’s team believe is secretly backing terrorist operations.

“A Most Wanted Man’s” international cast is low-key, but supremely talented. Nina Hoss is terrific as Irna Frey, Bachmann’s team colleague. Her rapport and chemistry with Hoffman is off the charts. Rachel McAdams is very believable as Karpov’s German lawyer. Robin Wright is fabulously unreadable as CIA operative Martha Sullivan working with Bachmann on his plan. Willem Dafoe seems right at home playing a German banker with conflicting allegiances. Dieter Mohr does an outstanding job as the man-in-charge you love to hate. Grigoriy Dobrygin is absolutely fantastic as the tortured soul, both physically and emotionally, seeking peace in Hamburg. It’s Karpov’s plight which propels the film forward, and Dobrygin is great in taking us through his journey.

No matter how wonderful the cast is, ultimately this movie belongs to Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that would be the case even if he was still alive. His portrayal of Günther Bachmann is simply astounding. Pudgy, disheveled, hard-drinking and world-weary, Hoffman’s Bachmann is a man who has little in life other than his job, or as Martha Sullivan puts it in one key scene, “making the world a safer place.” As amazing as he is throughout the entire movie, Hoffman’s final five minutes in “A Most Wanted Man” is a one-man master class in acting. It cannot be said enough how remarkable he is in this film.

“A Most Wanted Man” does a tremendous job in showcasing the underbelly of the spy’s world and just how unglamorous it is. A lot of risk, going by one’s gut and planning—some conflicting paths—go into thwarting unspeakable acts of terrorism. “A Most Wanted Man’s” plot builds slowly and steadily until by the movie’s last 20 minutes or so, you are at the edge of your seat waiting for what will happen next. If you look at your watch, it’s only to determine how much time is left for something to go wrong…or not. This is just one hell of a great movie.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

 

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Lucy: Not Enough to Love—Movie

July 27, 2014

In one year’s time, Scarlett Johansson has been a disembodied voice in “Her,” an alien with little voice in “Under the Skin,” and now, in “Lucy,” an infected human with an almost robotic voice.

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Written and directed by Luc Besson, “Lucy” poses the question of what would happen if humans were able to access 100 percent of their brain’s capacity. As we learn from a lecture given by the film’s Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) on this topic, dolphins access more of their brain’s capacity than do humans. As he is giving his lecture, we meet, at the same time, Lucy, a young grad student in Taipei. In Taipei she’s been partying hard and taken up with a so not worthy guy, Richard (Pilou Asbæk). Perhaps starting to see the error of her ways in the light of day, she attempts to break things off outside a luxury hotel. Richard brushes off her comments and asks her to make a “delivery” of a briefcase to a man inside the hotel for him. When she turns him down, he handcuffs her to the case and tells her that only the recipient of the briefcase has the key to the handcuffs. Forced to make the delivery, she discovers that the man, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), is part of some sadistic drug ring. The drug in question, she later finds out, is a synthetic drug called CPH4 which can increase the user’s brain function capacity. Without giving too much away, this drug eventually leads her to Paris and Professor Norman.

“Lucy” has a lot going on—some of it very excellent, some not so much. What is very good is the first 40 minutes or so. That part of “Lucy” is tense, gory, gross and exhilarating. Johansson is absolutely terrific in those scenes. But too much of “Lucy” has a plethora of animal symbolism, allegories of all kind and a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo…mumbo jumbo of which Morgan Freeman is almost able to make comprehensible…almost.

Morgan Freeman is a hugely talented actor. But as “Lucy’s” voice of reason, his role is very similar to the one he just portrayed in “Transcendence.” One hopes that someday soon he gets a part into which he can truly sink his teeth. Unfortunately, Professor Norman is not that role. Scarlett Johansson gives a master class in showcasing fear and horror in “Lucy’s” early scenes. It’s actually a physical tour de’ force. But as the film progresses, through no fault of her own, she becomes more robotic, and that’s just not entertaining

Attention must be paid to and discussed about “Lucy’s” antagonists. Lately there seems to be an overabundance in films and in television shows of Asians portrayed as unfeeling, heartless, soulless killers. I don’t want to be too politically correct here, but these portrayals seem like a disturbing trend. There’s good and bad in all races and nationalities. Wouldn’t it be more challenging for a writer to mix the villains up a bit?

It would appear that Luc Besson was aiming for something larger than what was ultimately delivered, which is too bad. He had the acting talent to make that happen.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Magic in the Moonlight: Reality During the Day—Movie

July 27, 2014

There is most definitely a bit of “Magic in the Moonlight” because in the moonlight Colin Firth doesn’t quite look old enough to be Emma Stone’s father. Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Magic in the Moonlight” won’t rank as one of Allen’s top ten movies, but that said, it is still wittily clever, well-acted, magnificently shot, beautifully costumed and has a wonderful 1920s score to boot.

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“Magic in the Moonlight opens in 1928 Berlin with a Chinese-style magic show. When the performance ends and as the magician caustically calls out his crew and begins to take off his makeup, we realize that the magician is none other than very British Colin Firth, identified as Stanley. Backstage he’s greeted by fellow magician and long-time friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who has a request of Stanley. He has wealthy American friends who live on the French Riviera and whom he believes have fallen under the spell of an American psychic. He thinks she’s a fraud, but can’t prove it and is afraid this family will be swindled by her. He knows that Stanley has a passion for ferreting out and exposing charlatans and asks for Stanley’s assistance in protecting his friends. Forgoing a trip with his fiancée, Olivia (Catherine McCormack), Stanley agrees and the two are off to the Riviera where Stanley will live with his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) during his stay. Her home is near the estate of the American family of Grace (Jacki Weaver) and her two sons, George (Jeremy Shamos) and Brice (Hamish Linklater). It’s at their home that Stanley meets the psychic, Sophie (Emma Stone), and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Stanley is quite open in his contempt for what Sophie does and his comments, while boorish, are still extremely funny. Try as he might, though, he is hard pressed to discover how Sophie is cheating, although he is certain that she is. In spite of his feelings, however, Stanley does enjoy Sophie’s company. One evening as they are out for a drive in his convertible there’s a sudden downpour. Unable to get the convertible top down, the two seek shelter in a nearby observatory where Stanley used to go as a boy. He shows Sophie how to make the ceiling open to the sky. Shortly after that ride life takes a strange turn for Stanley and the movie itself. Confused by it all, Stanley confides in his Aunt.

This is to take nothing away from Woody Allen, but as Stanley talks about Sophie’s virtues and how she has changed his life, I almost expected him to shout, “Marry Freddy??” and then burst into song with “My Fair Lady’s,” I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face…which got me thinking. Wouldn’t Firth be the perfect Henry Higgins should they ever do a revival (perhaps I should pitch my idea to NBC for another live telecast of a Broadway musical).

But back to “Magic in the Moonlight.” Woody Allen has assembled an amazing international cast. Jacki Weaver is positively luminescent when talking about her late husband. Eileen Atkins is also very good as the sympathetic Aunt. Hamish Linklater, as the lovelorn Brice, has some very amusing scenes and adds additional humor to the film. Unfortunately Marcia Gay Harden isn’t given much to do as Sophie’s mother. Emma Stone is terrific as the psychic under suspicion. But despite her talent, sometimes it’s hard to get past the age difference between her and Colin Firth and that might account for the slightly less than sizzling chemistry between the two. In all truth, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” is Firth’s film and he’s fantastic. Condescending, charming, confused and love-struck…he does it all to perfection. He handles Allen’s snappy dialogue masterfully. One can only hope Firth teams up with Allen again…but perhaps next time his co-star will be slightly closer to his age and moonlight or magic won’t be necessary.

2 ¾ nuggets out of 4

 

Boyhood: One Terrific Passage of Time—Movie

July 23, 2014

Boyhood” is the amazing film about a Texas family focusing primarily on the story of Mason and his growth from elementary school student to college freshman. The film’s title is a tad misleading because while we watch Mason, Jr. grow, we also see the development of his family…his sister and most especially his parents.

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood’s director and writer, chose to work with the same cast over a twelve-year period, so we see the actual physical changes in each actor. While this might seem like a stunt, it actually works beautifully. By keeping the same actors in play over twelve years, “Boyhood” makes you are part of a real family, experiencing their growth with them.

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“Boyhood” begins when Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is six, looking like the little boy on the movie posters. He lives in a small town in Texas with his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The parents are divorced and their father, Mason, Sr., (Ethan Hawke), was working in Alaska, but is now back in Texas and sees them sporadically. Olivia is in a dead-end job and decides to move the family to Houston so she can get her college degree. This move is the first of a series of moves and husbands who turn out to have serious drinking problems. But through it all, Olivia is there for her children and they know it. Once the family is in Houston, Mason, Sr. enters the children’s live with more regularity and it is fun witnessing them bond as a unit. That relationship feels very genuine. As we experience the moves to new schools and towns, we see the children develop and grow. We watch Samantha go off to college and get to see Mason experience and lose his first real love.

It cannot be overstated how astoundingly fantastic the cast of “Boyhood” is. Patricia Arquette is amazing as the hard-working, practical mother. Her character may not be the best judge of male partners, but she is nothing if not fierce in protecting her children. Arquette beautifully portrays her character’s varying emotions and growth. Ethan Hawke is fabulous as the liberal dreamer, musician father. He has terrific rapport with the actors playing his children and his scenes as a father, particularly those with Mason, seem very authentic. The only problem with Hawke, through no fault of his own, is a physical one…the man doesn’t age. Everyone else either gets fatter, thinner, older, wrinklier, grayer…nothing happens with him. He is positively ageless.

The two actors portraying Mason and Samantha are incredible. Linklater is so extraordinary and real in the early years as the older, bratty sister that she almost walks away with the movie. Her skill in being able to turn her tears on and off in an initial scene with Mason will have you laughing and silently applauding at the same time. One can’t wait to see what the future hold for her. Ellar Coltrane also demonstrates great promise as an actor. His ability to show the emotional growth and inner ferocity of his character is absolutely brilliant. His is a quiet, but very effective and affecting performance.

The supporting cast is very strong…most especially Marco Perella as Olivia’s professor husband and Jamie Howard and Andrew Villarreal as his two children, Mindy and Randy.

Working with the same actors over a period of years is not new. Most recently Michael Winterbottom’s 2012 “Everyday” was shot over the course of five years, shooting two weeks at a time over Christmas, in order to show the physical changes of a family while the father was in prison. He took the casting even further by using real-life siblings for the brothers and sisters in the film. But Linklater’s approach–working on a project for twelve years and making the transitions seamless takes this idea to a whole other level. His resulting movie is positively remarkable.

Even at 165 minutes, “Boyhood’s” time seems to flash by. But you will want to savor every minute.

4 nuggets out of 4

Sex Tape: Fun in a Variety of Positions—Movie

July 23, 2014

“People were furrier in the 70’s” says Annie to husband Jay in reviewing the sexual acts illustrated in the Joy of Sex before making their own “Sex Tape.”

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Directed by Jake Kasdan and written by Jason Segel, Kate Angelo and Nicholas Stoller, “Sex Tape” is a genial rom-com about the struggle to get the “oomph” back into a marriage after having children and more than ten years of living together. To be honest, as a straight woman, I have a hard time believing that if the woman looked like Cameron Diaz, maintaining “oomph” would be terribly difficult. That said, however, part of what going to the movies entails is the suspension of disbelief, and so, suspend away I will.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are a married couple with two children and they both have very busy lives. Annie is a successful blogger who is on the verge of selling her blog to a large corporation and Jay works at a radio station. As “Sex Tape” shows in flashbacks, they once had a fulfilling sex life and after ten years still love another very much. But the sexual part of their relationship seems to have evaporated. To bring back the spark, they decide to make a tape performing all of the acts shown in the Joy of Sex book in one session. That seems to do the trick for them, but if you’ve seen the previews you know the tape, instead of being erased as Jay promised to do, accidentally goes viral. The remainder of the movie is spent with the couple trying to destroy copies and getting the recording “off the cloud”…with hilarity ensuing. Truth be told, there are genuine laugh out loud moments and some witty dialogue. Additionally Diaz and Segel have very good chemistry and work well together. But somehow “Sex Tape” just isn’t as good as it might be.

Cameron Diaz successfully gives it her all, but one longs to see her do something truly worthy of her talent. When she’s challenged she can rise to the occasion, doing comedy and drama quite well. Jason Segel, looking shockingly thin, is a talented comedic actor and is very good as the doltish husband. His funniest scenes are with a psychotic dog and with the young son of his best friend, Robby (Rob Corddry).

The supporting cast is very strong beginning with comedic vets Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper as the couple’s friends, who have some very amusing moments. Rob Lowe, as Hank, the owner of the company to whom Annie hopes to sell her blog, is absolutely terrific. His Jekyll/Hyde personality is unexpected and very funny and the scenes in his home (which might be the largest home in movie history given the exceedingly long chase scene) with his insane dog are outrageous. And in Harrison Holzer we have yet another amazing child actor who dominates the screen…in a good way…every time he makes an appearance. Finally, there is a wonderful cameo by someone who shall go nameless.

“Sex Tape” is not a comedy that will stick with you, but while you are in the theatre, it does have some fun moments.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Sunset for Humans—Movie

July 22, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” may be the most entertainingly interesting of the entire “Ape” series. Directed by Matt Reeves with screenplay by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” delves into the good and evil in all species.Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_Apes

The film, through its human and ape leads, dramatically demonstrates that no one race or being is monolithic in thinking or behavior. On paper, this might not seem terribly interesting, but when portrayed on the screen, it most definitely is. What is curious is that “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” also has a very subtle anti-gun feel to it, which is ironic, since the first film’s lead, Charlton Heston, was such a strong gun supporter.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” very cleverly opens with real world news occurrences leading to the events in 2018, when a virus has killed much of mankind. Eight years later a group of human survivors, immune to the virus, are living under the leadership of Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) in San Francisco. These remaining humans dwell in chaos and economic depression. The humans and apes co-exist in fragile peace, in very separate communities until a human, Carver (Kirk Acevedo), wanders off into ape territory and runs into two apes. Spooked, he reacts in typical American fashion—pulling out a gun—and shooting at the two, one of which is the son of Caesar (Andy Serkis), leader of the ape community. With that gunshot, peace is destroyed. Amidst these hostilities, the San Francisco community is close to running out of power. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), an engineer of sorts, convinces leader Dreyfus to give him three days to make peace with the apes in order to gain access to a hydroelectric dam in their territory, which could provide power to the city. Malcolm and Caesar meet and come to realize that they have similar values and, hence,  a bond is formed and peace is made…for a period of time.  However, each has other “colleagues” who don’t share their values—Koba (Toby Kebbell)—a thorn in Caesar’s side—and both Carver and Dreyfus have views contrary to Malcolm’s. Can the humans and apes get along for good or will there always be suspicions and the threat of war?

“Dawn of the Planet of the Ape’s” acting seems to vary depending upon the species and the writing. For the apes, much of the acting is conveyed through the eyes and in their motions. As Caesar, Andy Serkis handles this perfectly. He really makes you believe in the ape’s humanity. At the same time, Toby Kebbell‘s Koba is very good in portraying Caesar’s exact opposite. The sub-par writing for the humans put the actors at a distinct disadvantage. Gary Oldman’s and Kirk Acevedo’s characters’ dialogue seems almost cartoonish and they struggle to rise above the script. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell as Ellie, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Malcolm’s son, Alexander, have much better material from which to work and are very convincing as the do-gooder humans.

“Dawn of the Apes” make-up and special effects for the apes continue to astound. The apes seem so real that they make the scenery seem fake.

“Dawn of the Apes is not a joyous or hopeful film, but it is an unexpectedly intelligent one and in its own way is very entertaining.

3 nuggets out of 4

Life itself: Save Yourself the Aisle Seat—Movie

July 22, 2014

Life itself” is the powerfully sad and inspirational documentary about film critic, Roger Ebert. Based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name, “Life Itself” is directed by Steve James with the cooperation and participation of Roger and Chaz Ebert. The film was begun five months prior to Ebert’s death from cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands (treatment for which left him unable to speak)  in April 4, 2013, which means that the interviews with Ebert are done as he types his answers to James’ questions, making the documentary especially poignant.

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What we learn about Roger Ebert is that he was first and foremost a journalist. While most of us know him from his groundbreaking TV show, “Sneak Previews,” or from his longtime career with the Chicago Sun-Times, we learn from the documentary that he always wanted a career in journalism, and was working for a newspaper at age 15. Surprisingly he never left his Illinois roots. Although he wanted to go to Yale, his family couldn’t afford it, so it was off to the University of Illinois where he became editor his college newspaper, the Daily Illini. After graduate school, he held a series of positions with the Chicago Sun-Times and in 1967 became the paper’s film critic and the youngest film critic in the country for a daily newspaper. Although other papers tried to lure him away, most especially the Washington Post, Ebert remained with the Sun-Times and in Chicago until his death. And that’s just for starters.

Even though “Life itself” is done with the cooperation of the Eberts, the film doesn’t feel like anything was held back. We definitely learn about Ebert’s achievements, of which there are many, including winning the first Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. But we also hear from Roger Ebert himself about his failings—alcoholism and living the high-life with women (before his marriage).

“Life itself” goes into great detail about Ebert’s relationship with fellow film critic and rival, Gene Siskel. Since neither man is still with us, hearing their point of views from their respective widows is as close as we’ll come to know what they really thought. To say theirs was a “love/hate” relationship is too simplistic. It’s pointed out that although Siskel knew what buttons to push, Ebert gave back as good as he got. “Life itself” does an excellent job in revealing just what the relationship was and how it evolved over the years.

At two hours in length, “Life itself’ is not a short documentary. But despite that amount of time and as forthcoming as the documentary is, “Life itself” doesn’t tell us how Ebert met Chaz. I’m not sure why, since so much time is spent on their marriage. However, because the film is full of so many other moments from Ebert’s life, these moments almost negate this one short-coming.

What “Life itself” does best is to share with us the love Roger Ebert felt for writing and for film. Writing was his passion and the fact that he continued to do so until the day before he died speaks volumes. For those who just know Roger Ebert for his “thumbs up/down” television reviews or for those who appreciated Ebert for his body of work, “Life itself” is a must-see.

“Life itself” is currently in theatres and available On Demand.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Begin Again: Once is Not Enough—Movie

July 16, 2014

With “Begin Again,” Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, New York City and, yes, even Adam Levine have combined to bring a joyous film to the screen. Although “Begin Again,” is a wonderful escape from some of the over-hyped films of the summer, this movie is so much more than mere escapism. Written and directed by John Carney, “Begin Again” is the story of two people who meet at just the right time…when each has something the other needs materialistically and emotionally.begin-again-poster

“Begin Again” opens in a noisy club during an open mic night. Gretta (Keira Knightley) is encouraged by her friend, Steve (James Corden), to come up to the microphone and sing one of her songs. After much prodding, she takes the “stage” and begins to sing. Although not many in the club are paying attention, one man at the bar is mesmerized…a slightly inebriated record producer, Dan (Mark Ruffalo). After Gretta’s performance, Dan approaches her and over time a friendship/business relationship is formed.

The back-stories of the two characters are cleverly told as each is introduced to us at the club. Gretta was part of a singer-songwriting duo, dumped by her partner, Dave (Adam Levine), romantically and professionally, while the two were are on a business trip to promote his music in NYC. Dan’s been in a downward spiral since separating from his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), and being tossed out of the company he helped found with former partner, Saul (Mos Def).

While Dave’s career as a singer appears to be taking off, after the break-up Greta is on the verge of heading back to London before being convinced by Dan to give him a chance to prove that he can he can make her a success. In so doing, he thinks he will be able to reignite his career as well. Turned down by his former recording studio partner to produce her music, Dan comes up with a very unusual recording approach that suits Gretta’s music and voice perfectly. It also presents the movie audience with the sights and sounds of a NYC that many of us have never before seen.

“Begin Again’ is filmed with a lot of love and it shows. Mark Ruffalo has never looked worse, but been better as the down-on-his-luck producer. He’s absolutely believable as someone who knows his way around the music business. Although he generates a lot of chemistry with Knightley, his scenes with the film’s children are even better. His work with Hailee Steinfeld as his teen-age daughter, Violet, and the young musicians are especially good. “Begin Again” gives us a Keira Knightley we’ve never before witnessed and she is fabulous. Knightley is no Barbra Streisand (and who is), but she sings in a voice that’s extremely well-suited to the songs she’s asked to perform. Her scenes with Adam Levine are outstanding and some of them will break your heart. Speaking of Levine—he’s absolutely tremendous as her boyfriend-singer who may want fame more than he wants to be an artiste. His final performance is simply amazing.

“Begin Again’s” supporting cast is very strong. Keener and Stanfield really sell their roles (is Keener ever bad?). James Corden has a great voice and he is wonderful as the supportive friend. His film, “One Chance,” is set to release in late August, and I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

Special shout-outs must be given to costume designer, Arjun Bhasin and cinematographer, Yaron Orbach. Bhasin nails the clothing for Stanfield and especially, Knightley. Her outfits are simple, but beautiful, and perfect for the role Knightley is playing. Orbach films NYC in such a way that you immediately want to book the next flight to New York.

In 2006 John Carney scored big with “Once,” and with “Begin Again” he scores again. He adds touches to the film that are just spot on. Watching Dan imagining Gretta’s song with instruments behind it is a stroke of genius and there are other smart touches throughout. “Begin Again” is more commercial than “Once,” but that is not a bad thing. In fact, it is terrific.

4 nuggets out of 4

Snowpiercer: Catch the A-Train—Movie

July 9, 2014

“Everyone has their preordained position,” says one of the lead characters in the new dystopian thriller, “Snowpiercer.” What happens, however, when people begin to question what is preordained? “Snowpiercer” brings that question to the forefront and provides some very thought-provoking answers. Directed by Joon-ho Bong with screenplay by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, “Snowpiercer” is a South Korean-American film which had a rocky road making its way to American theatres, but thankfully is now available to most of us.

Snowpiercer-Movie-Poster-Chris-Evans“Snowpiercer” is so much more than yet another doomsday, end-of-the-world film. The manner in which “Snowpiercer” addresses the bleakness that is the film’s today and the unknown of tomorrow is what makes the film so unique. “Snowpiercer is intelligent, cleverly different with traces of humor and mercifully free of special effects and overwhelming overwrought music.

The film begins on July 1, 2014, when an experiment to fight global warming goes horribly wrong, causing the world to freeze. Those who manage to survive are now passengers on one gigantic train, the Snowpiercer, whose engine keeps the train circling the globe. We come to know the passengers 17 years later. The train is divided up by classes and as one might expect, those in the front are the rich and powerful, while the back houses the poor. The differences between the various cars are staggering. Living conditions and the numbers in the cars are vastly different. While some passengers are eating real food, those in “steerage” are making do with disgusting tasting protein bars. Over the years there have been quickly quashed rebellions, but in 2031 the rear-based passengers have finally had enough and mean business. Under the leadership of Curtis (Chris Evans) and his good friend, Edgar (Jamie Bell), those passengers decide to make their way forward through the train for a better life, regardless of the consequences. Naturally this is not taken kindly by the powers that be. Representing the wealthy is a weirdly bespectacled Mason (Tilda Swinton, who is beyond creepy in manner and appearance. As the rebellion continues, we meet a variety of passengers in varying degrees of leadership positions and learn much more about the early life of the tail-dwellers.

“Snowpiercer” has a very diverse, unusually talented cast of actors. As Curtis, Chris Evans has a chance to shine and he is terrific. He really inhabits his role and truly seems every inch the leader. His character has a horrific back-story and he is masterful in telling it. Jamie Bell is very convincing as Curtis’ friend who has a very unusual history. Octavia Spencer is fabulous as a mother of one of the young children. Tilda Swinton is fantastic as the very unusual Mason and brings just the right touch of humor to her role. “The Newsroom’s” Alison Pill is very good as one of the spookiest teachers you’ll ever meet and Ed Harris and John Hurt are great as leaders during different periods of time. Just sensational are South Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, as the father and daughter team with many secrets up their sleeves.

As noted earlier, “Snowpiercer” raises interesting questions. Just how far would you go to survive? What happens when people question authority? Is life pre-ordained? “Snowpiercer” doesn’t necessarily answer these questions for us, but it does give one something to think about…while entertaining at the same time. That’s not an easy accomplishment, but “Snowpiercer” pulls it off.  “Snowpiercer” is a very unusual film and one that you should definitely make time to see.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Mandarin Oriental Hotel: A Gift from the Gods—Restroom

July 9, 2014

Ladies: Had a tough day in your dingy, grey, government building? Feeling like an unappreciated slug? Need to freshen up for a hot evening out? Amidst a sea of DC blandness, an oasis of splendor appears at 1330 Maryland Ave SW—the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.mandarin-oriental-washington-dc

Walk into the hotel like the queen you know you really are and head straight to the back, past the posher than posh glass-enclosed handbags and jewelry displays.

Open the door on the right and slip into the lap of luxury that awaits you in the Mandarin’s ladies’ restroom. Let all of your senses drink it in…the mirrors, the lighting and the hidden stalls to your left. To call them stalls is really an injustice. In reality, they are more like beautiful closets, each with its own wooden door. There are five of these “closets” and two larger handicapped “closets.”

Next take a look at the individual sinks. Each sink has its own mirror and each comes with bottles of Gilchrist and Soames soap and lotion for your cleansing pleasure.photo 1 (3) When you are done, dry your hands with the monogrammed towels. Can they really be paper? To the touch they feel more like a luxurious 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton, but paper they are. photo 3 (2)It’s almost as if this is where paper goes to die. It seems like a sin to throw them away, but there is a beautiful wooden chest in which to discard them.photo 2 (3)

You can check yourself out in the full-length mirror and then it’s time to go. It will be hard to leave, but the rest of the evening…or day awaits.


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