Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: OK, Not Horrible Movie—Movie

October 15, 2014

A talented, likeable cast makes “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” a fun movie for every age group. Directed by Miguel Arteta, with screenplay and screen story by Rob Lieber, based on Judith Viorst’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” takes a look at life through the eyes of Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) on the eve and day of his 12th birthday.

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Birthday eve, Alexander has experienced the worst of  horrible days on a day when everything seems to be going right for the rest of his family—recently laid-off dad has an interview; harried, publishing executive mom in line for a promotion; older teen-age brother going to the prom with the girl of his dreams; and, teen-age sister about to star in her school’s production of “Peter Pan.” After midnight, Alexander goes into the kitchen, has a birthday cupcake and makes a birthday wish—that everyone else in his family knew what it was like to have a day as bad as his. Be careful what you wish for because…they finally do have his experience and it happens for them all on the same day.

Although Australian, Ed Oxenbould is positively phenomenal in the title role as the very American, Alexander. Perhaps he was cast because his character has a love for all things Australian. Who knows, but he is extremely good. Not conventionally cute, he’s adorable nevertheless and is capable of showing all forms of emotion. He does such a great job at keeping Alexander likeable that you find yourself rooting for his character to finally have a really good day. Steve Carell is terrific as the unemployed dad, Ben, who jumps in as a hands-on, full-time “famy” (half-father, half mommy–trust me, it’s funny when the baby says it) with great abandon and enthusiasm. His role has some slapstick moments, but is never too over the top. His scenes with Baby Trevor and with his potential co-workers are especially good. Jennifer Garner, as the stressed-out mom, Kelly, who’s trying to hold it all together as the sudden breadwinner, gets a chance to show off her comedic chops in some very amusing scenes involving a bike. As Anthony, Alexander’s older brother, Dylan Minnette is just terrific. This actor has a gift for physical as well as situational comedy. Some of his scenes are the movie’s funniest because he is able to tackle them so well. Kerris Dorsey, as the aspiring Peter Pan, is a complete revelation. Currently seen as the dour teen in “Ray Donovan,” she’s very likeable and funny as Alexander’s older sister, Emily, who catches a cold before her big debut. She’s evidently multi-talented because with her real-life sister, Justine, she sings the film’s closing credits’ song and is very good.

A recent article in the Washington Post has an interview with the real Alexander, now 47, upon whom the book was based. Although the film takes place in California, he was raised in Northwest DC, where he still resides with a family of his own, and is apparently no worse the wear for his childhood fame.

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is a family film that both children and adults can enjoy…although children will probably enjoy it more. It’s fun without being saccharine or stupid. It’s a good, not terrible way to spend an afternoon at the movies.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

 

Tusk: He is the Walrus—Movie

September 23, 2014

Is it possible that in “Tusk,” as an actor, Justin Long, makes for a better walrus than he does in portraying a human being? Based on this performance, the answer has to be “yes.”

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With “Tusk,” writer and director Kevin Smith proves once again that he has a creative mind like no one else in Hollywood. Based on Smith’s SModcast 259 The Walrus and the Carpenter, “Tusk” is the story of wise guy podcaster, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), who has a show with fellow shock jock, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment). They call their podcast “The Not-See Party,” in which Wallace finds videos of people doing a variety of stupid things, shows them to Teddy, and the two then make fun of the people on their respective videos. Wallace decides to follow up on one story—someone called “The Kill Bill Kid,” who accidentally sliced one on his legs while performing a stunt. “Kill Bill” lives in Manitoba, Canada, so after saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), it’s off to Canada Wallace goes. Once there he discovers that his story is no longer viable. Not wanting to waste the money his flight cost, Wallace decides to look for some other strange story in Manitoba. A handbill in a restroom bar provides him with just the ticket. The handbill is from Howard Howe (Michael Parks), offering free lodging for the opportunity to hear his lifetime of stories. Wallace’s curiosity is piqued, so he makes his way to Howe’s estate and what an estate it is!

Howe, confined to a wheelchair, appears to be the ever-so-gracious host and he does have some truly great stories to tell. Over tea, he reminisces about trips with Hemingway and others. Wallace is fascinated and doesn’t realize his tea has been laced with drugs. He passes out and when he awakens, Wallace finds himself strapped in a wheelchair and that’s just for starters. To tell more of his fate would ruin the movie’s “fun.”

Wallace has not been forgotten by Ally and Teddy who haven’t heard from him in a few days. Then they both receive a strange, disturbing voice mail from him and come to the conclusion that something bad has happened to him. They take off for Manitoba and meet with a local detective, Frank Garmin (Ralph Garman) who puts them in touch with Guy Lapointe, a former Quebec cop who has been hunting Howe for years. Together they go off in search of Wallace.

Thankfully, the success of “Tusk” doesn’t rise or fall on its acting. Truth be told, Justin Long isn’t all that good and in human form, he is in the movie a great deal. Granted, his character is not very likeable, but it feels like something more could have been brought to his performance. But when called upon to do other things, he really sizzles. Parks as Howe is riveting, and it’s easy to see how Wallace could be seduced by him. Although it’s nice to see Osment back on the screen, he’s not given much to do, but he does shine in his early scenes with Long. Genesis Rodriguez does a fine job as the girlfriend who’s too good for Wallace (or so we think). But Michael Parks aside, it is the unbilled, uncredited actor as Guy Lapointe who steals the show.

Truly only Kevin Smith could imagine something so bizarrely entertaining as “Tusk.” And if you’re a “Clerks” aficionado like me, you will definitely appreciate the scenes in the Canadian convenience store which are absolutely hysterical.

Your first reaction to “Tusk” might be, “what was that?” Part creepy…part very creepy…and part weirdly funny, you might not know what to think about what you’ve just seen. “Tusk” is definitely not for everyone. But if you love Kevin Smith as I do, “Tusk” should definitely be on your movie-viewing list.

3 nuggets out of 4

Life of Crime: It Pays Off—Movie

September 1, 2014

Sometimes messy is good and so it is with “Life of Crime.” Written and directed by Daniel Schechter and based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, “The Switch,” “Life of Crime” is fun (with one exception) from beginning to end. And the film is at its all-out best when Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) are on the screen together.

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Set in 1978 Detroit, “Life of Crime” revolves around a kidnapping that quickly goes bad. Two criminals, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes) plot to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of wealthy and corrupt businessman, Frank (Tim Robbins), and hold her for a one-million dollar ransom. Because we meet the Dawson family before the criminals do, we are aware that all is not well in the Dawson household. Frank is a boor, a bully, drinks too much and is emotionally abusive. Even the Dawson’s son, Bo (Charlie Tahan), seems to favor his mother over his father. And who knows what is going on with the Dawson’s fellow country club member, Marshall Taylor (Will Forte). Enlisting the help of Nazi-loving, arms-dealing, Richard (Mark Boone Junior), the kidnappers’ plan is put into action when Frank leaves for Florida for a business trip and some golf. Wearing shockingly funny masks, Ordell and Louis make their way to Mickey’s home and encounter some complications during the kidnapping. Things go from bad to worse when Frank doesn’t seem all that eager to pay the ransom. He’s got more than business and golf going on. More unforeseen problems come Ordell’s and Louis’ way and how all of this is played out makes for much of the film’s fun.

The cast does Elmore Leonard (to whom “Life of Crime” is dedicated) proud. Aniston, who is also one of the film’s producers, is outstanding as the not so dumb blonde housewife who gets smarter as the film goes along. “Life of Crime” enables her to use both her comedic and dramatic skills and she makes the most of the opportunity. John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey are terrific as the kidnappers with some heart. Bey’s character is the slightly smarter of the two and Bey’s inherent charm makes him so engaging, you almost want him to succeed. Hawkes’ character might not be as smart as Bey’s, but Hawkes manages to make him quite the lovable criminal. Mark Boone Junior as the crazy Richard is fabulous. He has the film’s more violent scenes and you can’t take your eyes off of him when he is in full-berserk mode. Will Forte puts in a good turn as the “friend” who wants to be more. Some of his scenes are out-and-out funny, while others have more pathos to them and he handles them all well. Charlie Tahan, so good in “Love is Strange, has another good turn in this film. Tim Robbins is great as the unconcerned husband and Isla Fisher shines as his girlfriend on the side, Melanie.

“Life of Crime” has a wonderful original, Shaft-like score which suits the film to perfection. The 70s were not pretty times for anyone, and Anna Terrazas‘ costume designs and the film’s makeup department capture the period flawlessly.  The clothes and makeup that Jennifer Aniston is forced to wear…let’s just say she suffers for her art. And outside of the hat that Hawkes wears, the men fare no better.

“Life of Crime” takes one wrong turn in the last third of the film which really feels out of place. This scene could have easily been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have missed it. Thankfully the movie quickly moves on, almost as if it realized the mistake it made and with enough time left before the film’s conclusion, one can focus on the rest of the film and forget about what took place earlier.

“Life of Crime” has a great story with actors more than ready to do it justice. The film reinforces what a great storyteller Leonard Elmore was and makes for a fun afternoon at the movies.

“Life of Crime” is in theatres and available On Demand.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Trip to Italy: Bellissimo—Movie

August 28, 2014

If “The Trip to Italy” doesn’t start you thinking about packing your suitcase and heading off to the Italian countryside, pretty much nothing will. “The Trip to Italy,” starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is a follow-up to their 2010 “The Trip” and reunites them with director Michael Winterbottom in the pursuit of delicious dining and sightseeing.

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“The Trip” took Steve and Rob on a restaurant exploration of Northern England. For this go-round the two are off on a tour of six different places and restaurants in Italy. And what a tour it is. “The Trip to Italy” treats us to absolutely breath-taking scenery… an on-going discussion of Byron, Keats and Shelley…visits to some amazing historical sites… mouthwatering platefuls of food…and most especially, wonderfully delightful conversation. Whether it is in their car, in the restaurants, or even alone…yes, talking to themselves…the conversations Steve and Rob have are the best parts of “The Trip to Italy.” Both are excellent mimics and their turns at “doing” Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, just to name a few, are spot-on and absolutely hysterical. Perhaps one of the funniest bits is the conversation about Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. These impressions, going back and forth between the two actors as done by Steve and Rob, are uproariously entertaining and go on for about 10 minutes. “The Trip to Italy” has so many funny lines that I could quote, but I’ll refrain so you can enjoy them “live.”

“The Trip to Italy” does manage to throw in a bit of a plot…such as it is. Steve’s son, unhappy at home, joins the twos for the end of the trip and there are some nice bonding moments between Steve and his son. Rob’s life takes an unexpected twist while on the road and he also learns that he’s up for a part in an upcoming Michael Mann film as an accountant for the Mob. Watching him do all his “Godfather” impressions is hilarious and when Steve gets in the act, even more so.

Although “The Trip to Italy” seems factual, the film is by no means a documentary, and in reality, Coogan and Brydon are playing versions of themselves. What is very real are the stunning shots of the food. As an added bonus, for the foodies among us, there are sequences filmed in the various kitchens as the food is being prepared.

Steve Coogan is well-known in the U.S. and has shown with “Philomena” that he is up to performing dramatic roles. However, comedy is his true forte, and it is here that he really shines. Rob Brydon was unknown to me, but judging from this film, he is no less gifted at comedy and improvisation than is Coogan. The chemistry between Coogan and Brydon is fantastic and makes “The Trip to Italy’” the ultimate scrumptious entrée.

3 nuggets out of 4

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: Visit at Your Own Peril—Movie

August 25, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” is the testosterone-laden sequel to the 2005 film, “Sin City.” Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, the movie is directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez and written by Frank Miller. Many of the 2005 film’s characters and actors are back for “Dame.” However, if you don’t remember them, it matters not. It’s best just to absorb the film as given and not worry about what took place yesteryear.

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Watching this film, two things come to mind. Miller likes his women young and nude and with the exception of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, prefers his men to be near the sunset of their middle-age years. So if you’re a male viewer, you are in luck, but for us ladies…not so much. That’s not to say that “Sin City: A Dame to Die For” isn’t entertaining, because it does hold one’s interest for most of the film. It has a fabulous score throughout, is beautifully shot, has some great dialogue and showcases many actors who can deliver Miller’s dialogue with style, chief among them Powers Boothe and Eva Green.

“Dame” opens with a beaten-up Marv (Mickey Rourke) struggling to recall what has happened to him. He vaguely remembers a fight and then the film goes slightly back in time where we see him “handling” some frat boys who gave him  lip. Obviously they didn’t know with whom they were dealing because it doesn’t end well for them. From the scene with Marv, the film jumps around with different stories taking place. Sometimes the stories merge, but not in any meaningful way. Each comes to a semi-conclusion only to come around again and again until its respective story concludes. The one commonality for all of the characters is Kadie’s Saloon, a stripper club where much of the action takes place. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny takes on the corrupt, violent Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) in a slightly complicated, but entertaining game of wits. Josh Brolin’s private-eye Dwight performs some eye-popping work with Eve Green’s Ava and Dennis Haysbert‘s Manute. Christopher Meloni is fun to watch as the detective who falls for Ava, as is Jeremy Piven as the detective’s partner.  In Kadie’s Saloon we encounter stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba), and her story, involving Senator Roark and Bruce Willis’ cop, Hartigan, is “Dame’s” saddest.

While it’s true that “Dame’s” acting won’t win any awards, the actors definitely capture the film’s spirit. Powers Boothe is always a hoot to watch in these types of parts and “Dame” is no exception. The manner in which the film shoots him works terrifically well. “Nashville’s” loss is “Dame’s” gain. Eva Green also gives her all and she is just perfect in the “noirish” role. Her first scene has her in a spectacular blue dress, which must have blown the budget on her costumes, because for the rest of the film she is usually nude. Jessica Alba is also very good as the struggling-to-keep it-together stripper. Josh Brolin and Mickey Rourke handle their manly roles quite nicely and newcomer to the group, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, more than holds his own with the old-timers. Rounding out the cast in other key roles are Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach, Christopher Lloyd, Rosario Dawson, Jude Ciccolella and Julia Garner.

Much of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is narrated by the characters. Josh Brolin’s narration almost has a Shakespearean quality, it flows so beautifully. Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt don’t fare as well as their prose just doesn’t have the same lyrical quality.

As noted earlier, the cinematography, courtesy of Robert Rodriguez, is sheer perfection as is the score, also by Rodriguez and Carl Thiel. The cinematography captures the look and feel of the novels flawlessly. And the way the lighting captures the actors’ eyes is spectacular, with the music the icing on the film’s cake.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is not for everyone. There’s a lot of blood and very graphic deaths and torture, but if you’re a fan of Frank Miller’s work, you won’t be disappointed.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

Frank: Read the Book Instead—Movie

August 25, 2014

Frank” is hugely disappointing. In fact, except for the acting of Domhnall Gleeson, who is NOT Frank, the film is a complete waste of one’s time. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson with screenplay by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, “Frank” is inspired by the story of Chris Sievey, a real person who created the persona, Frank Sidebottom, a papier-mâché head-wearing musician with the post-punk band, “The Freshies.” This does sound like a very interesting premise for a film, but unfortunately “Frank” squanders the opportunity to tell an engaging story and Gleeson aside, doesn’t get the most from what should have been a great cast.

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Rather than being told from the perspective of Frank (Michael Fassbender), the film is told through the eyes of Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), a version of screenwriter Ronson, who was a member of Chris Sievey’s band. Jon is an aspiring musician who works in an office during the day. Through a quirk of fate, Jon scores a last minute gig as a keyboardist for the band,”Soronprfbs,” fronted by papier-mâché head-wearing Frank. Frank is considered a genius by the other band members who practically worship him. Jon’s last minute substitution turns into a full-time position and he’s soon off with fellow band members to a remote portion of Ireland to work on an album. Outside of Don (Scoot McNairy), the band’s manager, and Frank himself, the band is fairly hostile to Jon, especially Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Jon is very active in social media and is constantly blogging, tweeting and posting videos of some of the band’s sessions.”Soronprfbs” starts to get a following and the group is invited to participate in the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX. It’s there that the film takes a twist which propels the film to its conclusion.

In reality, “Frank” is really Jon Burroughs’ story as we watch him grow and mature right before our eyes. Domhnall Gleeson does a terrific job in serving as the film’s guide. It’s through Jon that we see as much of Frank’s humanity as he allows anyone to see. Gleeson has the most fully realized performance, showing a range of emotions as the sometimes frustrated, but always learning musician. Scoot McNairy does good work as the band’s seemingly chill manager, albeit one with a host of personal problems. Unfortunately Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s one-note performance underwhelms and truth be told, she’s not a good singer, which becomes painfully apparent later in the film. Finally, there is Michael Fassbender. When you can’t see an actor’s eyes, the actor is already at a disadvantage. Therefore the voice becomes very important. Michael Fassbender’s Frank is an American and while his accent is fine, whatever acting there is, just isn’t very good. In fact, he’s shockingly mediocre. It might as well be Mickey Mouse inside the mask for all the difference it makes…and who knows, it might even make the movie better.

The script falls short on many levels. Why is Frank the way he is? We get some answers, but not enough of them. Why the band’s hostility to Jon? Why did the band think Frank was so special? A fully-rounded story would have elevated the film considerably.

In “Frank” we do see a potential star-making performance in Domhnall Gleeson, but not much else.

If you want to skip the movie and learn about the real Frank Sidebottom there are several options. One is a documentary, “Being Frank,” by David Arnold and Steve Sullivan and the other is a biography by Mick Middles, “Frank Sidebottom: Out of His Head.” Both will be available later this year. “Frank: The True Story That Inspired the Movie,” by Jon Ronson, is currently out in eBook format.

1 ½ nuggets out of 4

Love Is Strange: Wonderful Acting Stymied—Movie

August 11, 2014

It’s so apparent that “Love Is Strange” is a work of love that it’s just a shame that the film isn’t better than it is. Directed by Ira Sachs and written by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, “Love Is Strange” is a very compelling story about families, love and how families deal with adversity.

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“Love Is Strange” features John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George respectively, who, after nearly 40 years together, finally marry. The film opens on their wedding day as the two prepare for their ceremony taking place in a small NYC park, followed by a reception in the home of Ben’s family. Ben is an artist and George is a music teacher in a Catholic school. After the wedding all seems well until George is called into Father Raymond’s (John Cullum) office. Word of his marriage has reached the archdiocese and Father Raymond is obliged to fire him. Everyone knew that George was gay and in a long-term relationship, but the school was willing to look the other way until the marriage made the relationship official. Neither George nor Ben is rich and living in NYC is very expensive, so they sell their apartment in the hopes of finding something cheaper soon. While George looks for another job, they are forced to split up physically…George staying with two gay cops who live in their old building while Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and Elliot’s wife, Kate, and teenage-son, Joey (Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan).

George is considerably older than his two roommates who seem to throw one party after another. To say he no longer fits into their lifestyle is putting it mildly. But Ben’s living conditions seem worse…not just for Ben, but for his family as well. Most NYC apartments are small (for the common person), and Kate’s and Elliot’s apartment is no exception. There’s not a lot of room for privacy with the addition of another person…no matter how loveable that person is.

“Love Is Strange’s” script and acting are extremely well-done. Sachs and Zacharias have created a very relatable story on many fronts and the actors carry out their roles flawlessly. Molina and Lithgow are extremely believable as the much in love couple put in an untenable situation—living apart after all these years. Lithgow is sheer perfection as the older dreamer of the two. In his own way, Molina matches him as the more down-to-earth partner. Marissa Tomei shines as the working-from-home successful author as well as a wife and mother. She truly captures the emotions of  a woman trying to hold it all together without exploding. And young Charlie Tahan is fabulous as the teen-age son, struggling to make friends and trying to “figure it all out,” only to suddenly have his life upended when he is required to share his room with a 70-year-old.

The city of New York is also a major player in “Love Is Strange,” showing us the parts of New York that tourists don’t often see…the little neighborhoods and shops. Additionally, “Love Is Strange” is bolstered by beautiful piano solos throughout, often used to transition from one scene to another.

So how can this film, with all of its favorabilities, not be a total success? In one word: direction. Sachs has taken his beautiful script and doesn’t seem to trust it and his actors enough to just let them act and let the words speak for themselves. He tries too hard to be cute with lingering camera shots on random people which are distracting and meaningless. And sometimes the audience does need a clue as to what just happened without having to guess. I spent too much time asking myself, “What just happened here?” “Who are these people?”

“Love Is Strange” is a meaningful little film with terrific performances that could have benefited from another, different director at its helm.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Very Tasty Trip—Movie

August 11, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey” takes some spices from India mixed with mouth-watering French cuisine and a dollop of timeless English panache to combine for a crowd-pleasing entrée. Directed by Lasse Hallström, with screenplay by Steven Knight, based on Richard C. Morais’ book, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a sensual delight…or as a famous chef once said, “La sauce, c’est tout!”

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The Kadam family, recently arrived immigrants from India to France, has been through some hard times. Because they ran a restaurant in India, they decide to open a restaurant in their new country. When their car breaks down in a small French village near the site of a failed restaurant, the family’s elder, Papa (Om Puri), believes that the fates (and his late wife) want the family to open their restaurant on that very spot. As luck would have it, that site is directly across the street from a well-known French restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is the distance between Madame Mallory’s Michelin-star restaurant and what will be the new Indian restaurant. More than annoyed by competition she believes beneath her, Madame does everything in her power to make the restaurant fail, but in Papa she has met her match…and then some. Although she’s loathe to admit it, she is intrigued by the family, especially young Hassan (Manish Dayal), who impresses her early on with his culinary skills. Will the two restaurants be able to co-exist? Answering that question is where much of the movie’s joy lies.

Once you get over the idea of Mirren playing a French woman, she becomes a lot of fun to watch. In Om Puri she has the perfect sparring partner. The two have so much chemistry, it’s easy to picture a sequel for just the two of them. Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon (Marguerite), as the secondary leads, work well together, and Dayal is especially charming. There is something about his performance that makes you believe he really is a chef. His best scenes are actually when he is cooking or when he’s talking about food. Le Bon’s Marguerite seems like the stereotypical French girl—the one who does everything effortlessly. We don’t learn much about her, but she is very good as the film’s guide to what makes Madame Mallory tick.

It seems that any movie which has the slightest tinge of a Disney association—the distributor in this case—has a touch of sadness to it, and “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is no exception. The film’s opening sequences are hard to watch, but helps you understand what drives Papa. And while the film doesn’t dwell on discrimination or prejudice, it doesn’t shy away from the topic either. It very realistically touches upon the prejudice the Indian family faces initially in the small French community.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a genuine feel-good movie without being cloying or overly sweet. Fans of any of the televised cooking shows will enjoy the conversations about food…the scenes seem very authentic and make you believe that is how real chefs talk about the art of cooking. But whether you love watching chefs cook or just love to eat, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” should be on your entertainment menu. With terrific acting, beautifully photographed food and a visit to France, you should “just pack your knives and go.”

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Calvary: Quiet Film Makes its Mark—Movie

August 5, 2014

Set in rural Ireland, “Calvary,” written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, is an unusual, but thought-provoking look into the Catholic Church from the perspective of a small Irish community

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“Calvary” opens in the church confessional. For Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson), the Sunday begins like any other Sunday…until he hears, “I first tasted semen when I was seven years old. I was raped by a priest when I was seven for five years.” The parishioner says he wants someone to pay and he’s decided it will be Father James, “because there is no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good priest would be a shock.” The priest is told that he will be killed on the beach the following Sunday. Father James is not quite sure what to do with this bit of news, but it certainly leads to a more than interesting week for him. Although he recognizes the voice of the parishioner, he never says who it is. Therefore, for the audience, every male in town is a suspect.

Father James is determined to live his life as routinely as possible, performing his priestly duties as normal. The pastoral community is home to some of the most eccentric characters imaginable, all of whom seem eager to engage Father James in their problems. He is often forced to ask, “Why am I here?”, either to start the conversation or bring it to a close. Making a weird week even more so is a visit from Father James’ daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), yes, daughter. The fact that he has a daughter just adds another layer to his character. Fiona comes with her own set of problems to which Father James lends his support.

Brendan Gleeson is perfectly cast as the not-so-on-the-wagon priest with the specter of death hanging over his head. He imbues his character with warmth, humor, sorrow and weariness. It’s a quiet, but extremely powerful performance. “Calvary’s” supporting cast is very strong. David Wilmot, as the younger priest, Father Leary, provides an amusing, but sad look at someone who’s not exactly sure that the priesthood is where he should be. Kelly Reilly is wonderful as Father James’ daughter. It must be confusing to be a priest’s daughter and Reilly is enormously good at showing all sorts of conflicting emotions that one might have in this position. Other than Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd may be the actor most familiar to American audiences. A very talented actor, as Jack, husband to a wife who’s having an affair, O’Dowd is able to use those talents in such a way that one is never quite certain what his character is up to…especially in the scenes with his wife.

Although “Calvary” has a number of laughs, it is by no means a comedy. On the lighter side, the film provides an outstanding and often humorous look into the daily life of a small-town priest. But on the darker side, in its own unique way, the film explores what the years of scandal and betrayal have done to the Catholic Church in Ireland and just how far the Church has fallen in the eyes of its followers. There is one scene toward the film’s end film which encapsulates the situation perfectly, illustrating how suspect even the best priests are. “Calvary” is a gentle little film that packs a mighty punch.

3 nuggets out of 4

Get On Up: Standing “O” for Chadwick Boseman—Movie

August 4, 2014

Chadwick Boseman gives an absolutely phenomenal performance as the hardest working man in show business in the James Brown biopic, “Get On Up.” In Boseman, director Tate Taylor found a James Brown for the ages, so brilliant is Boseman’s portrayal.

getonup

Taylor and screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth use interesting approaches to tell Brown’s story. In some instances, the film features a year and a song and tells the story in that time frame. Or we listen to Brown talk about events and then go back in time to when he was a child. Other times Brown talks directly to the audience and then goes about his business. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. Whatever the case, the film is never boring.

“Get On Up” wastes no time in showing the delusional, self-important side to Brown,when, in 1988, he pulls up to a strip mall that he owns and goes into a rage when he spots someone using a facility restroom in one of his buildings. And that’s just for openers. We then go back years to Brown’s childhood and what a horrific one it was. His mother, Susie (Viola Davis), was an alcoholic, who was routinely abused by her husband and Brown’s father, Joe (Lennie James).  When James was a very young child, Susie left the family, while James stayed with his father who beat him regularly. The one good thing Joe did was to finally leave James with his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer). She ran a whore house, but she did look out for him to some extent, at the very least giving him a roof over his head, a bed in which to sleep and food to eat.

At 17 Brown was arrested for stealing a suit. In retrospect this might have been the best thing to happen to him. In prison, he met a gospel group and struck up a friendship with Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis)…a friendship that lasted a lifetime and gave him the springboard to his recording career, beginning with the Famous Flames. Brown believed in his talent more than anything else and according to the film, thought he was better than most. Although he treated them horribly, Brown did love musicians and music and as he found new beats and new ways to showcase himself, did his best to keep his musicians on their toes. Although the film doesn’t show his warts in depth—in truth he could be a horrible, horrible human being—snippets of his temper, of wife beatings, and the manner he could cut people off if he felt the least bit slighted, are shown enough to give one a good idea of what Brown was like, professionally behind the scenes and personally. A more than complicated man, we learn about his trips to Viet Nam to entertain the troops and his involvement in the Civil Rights movement.

The cast surrounding Chadwick Boseman is extraordinary. The twin brothers, Jamarion and Jordan Scott, portraying young James Brown are extra special. They are called upon to perform in some harrowing scenes and they are remarkable. Viola Davis doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but the ones in which she does appear are heart-breaking, especially when she approaches Brown at the Apollo Theater. She is just terrific. Lennie James as the abusive parent is also extremely good in portraying Joe’s seething as well as his overt anger. Nelsan Ellis does an exceptional job in his role as Brown’s put-upon friend. Dan Aykroyd is also very convincing as Brown’s long-time manager, Ben Bart. Most especially there is Brandon Smith as Little Richard. His performance is amazing and makes you a hope a Little Richard film will someday be in the works. His screen time is very limited, but the way he captures Little Richard in voice and action will have you almost leaping to your feet when his work is done. Adding strength and depth to these performances are Octavia Spencer, Jill Scott, Josh Hopkins and Craig Robinson.

But when all is said and done,“Get on Up” belongs to Chadwick Boseman. Subdued and controlled as Jackie Robinson in last year’s “42,” “Get On Up” asks Boseman to do the exact opposite and he delivers in spades and then some. Although he lip-synchs to most of Brown’s songs, the dancing and the emotion is all Boseman, and he just astounds. He makes you believe you are actually watching a James Brown performance, be it in his youth or in his older years. Interestingly enough, when you watch Boseman dance as Brown, you see how much Mick Jagger has emulated Brown’s moves over the years (something as one of the film’s producers he readily admits doing). And it’s much more than the singing and dancing…Boseman seemingly captures Brown’s soul.

A special shout-out must go to the hair, makeup and costume crew. Without going into parody, they have depicted  Brown’s look perfectly.

James Brown had a long career and managed to stay relevant for most of it. “Get On Up” most definitely encapsulates most of Brown’s life and times. While the film might not be perfect, Chadwick Boseman is.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4


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