LE HAVRE, A Compassionate Indie

 

One of the better foreign films to be released in the US, Le Havre makes a statement about human rights.  I like the way the movie presents the characters, moves the story along and ends on an upbeat note.  If you love movies that put some heart into the storyline, then go see Le Havre.

 

Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) an illegal alien delivered to the French port of Le Havre in a shipping container and finds himself in the wrong European city and being pursued by Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) a relentless policeman. By chance the African youngster crosses the path of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a careworn shoeshine man who decides to help the boy on the run.  With support from his community Marcel sets forward a plan to get Idrissa to England.  When Monet gets wind of it, the two have to face the possible consequences.

 

Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) in LE HAVRE

The compassionate film shows that people have the selflessness to help those that are unfortunate in circumstances that put lives at risk.  Director Aki Kaurismaki (Man Without a Past), known for his filmmaking that involves the hardships of people, puts Idrissa in a situation that’s a hot topic  in America today.  It’s a poignant story that puts forth a lot of questions and with his heartfelt film shows how one man’s gets answered.

 

The film gets played out quickly, developing characters like Marcel, his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) and others in his community showing the simple life they are living. With the opening of the shipping container and the sight of the people inside, Kaurismaki introduces the problem, and with the exception of Idrissa who escapes, he sets their fate.  With Idrissa, however, Kaurismaki takes his destiny and survival and puts them into the hands one very special man.

 

Le Havre has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains some peril.  The film is presented in the French Language with English Subtitles.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A passionate look at life on the run. (B)

 

 

 

 

UNDERBELLY: THE TRILOGY, A CRIME THRILLER on DVD

 

 

Steamy, sexy, violent and disturbing, Underbelly: The Trilogy has all the things that entertain the male 18+ demographic group.  The Australian series is neither cheesy nor trashy, but extremely well made.  Based on true events the unrated 3 seasons runs over 1700 minutes on 12 discs.

 

But, let me warn you this trilogy becomes extremely addictive and your best gal may wonder why you are missing work, cutting classes or even a stranger deed, ‘not watching football’. On the other hand ladies, there’s always the mall…Ooo Macys, Hot Topic, Coach…

 

Underbelly: The Trilogy is based on real people and follows crime lords of the drug-fueled corruption wave that rocked Australia from the 1970’s to 2004.  The series is presented in three 13-episode season installments, each portraying a specific period of the country’s criminal history.

 

A scene from Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities

The first 4 discs, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities tells the story of the Griffith drug trade in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  The drug tricks come with a price and local politicians are fair game in this season.  Part two, called Underbelly: The Golden Mile involves Kings Cross section of Sydney, Australia the hotbed of criminal activity. Good cops, bad cops, strippers, gambling and dealers all have fun on this playground of sin.   The final four discs called Underbelly: War on the Streets focused on the Melbourne gangland killings between 1995 and 2004.  It’s the Sopranos on speed featuring The Carlton Crew crime syndicate in this decade long gangland war.

 

As a bonus the third trilogy features a Behind-the Scenes Featurette and “On the Newsreel: Carl Williams – A Day of Reckoning.” There is also a Behind-the-Scenes featurette in the A Tale of Two Cities discs.

 

 

If you enjoy series like The Sopranos and Australian movies like Animal Kingdom you are the right audience for Underbelly: The Trilogy.  The 3 exciting seasons are shown uncensored and in their entirety without any fuzzy blurs or deletions from the original content.  Even on DVD (The trilogy is also available on Blu-ray) it shows clean and clear in a wide 16X9 (1.78:1) format that fit my whole screen without borders or letterbox using my LG Blu-ray Player and LG Plasma Television.

 

The three series are unrated by MPAA but contain sex, nudity, violence, language, drugs, brutality and all the other things that crime organizations, gangs and hit men do.  After seeing this trilogy I must admit that Australian television has a more liberal take on entertainment viewing.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: An extremely addictive crime thriller. Story (A), Bonus Features (C) Overall rating (B)

 

 

GENERAL INFORMATION (Not all actors, directors are listed for the whole trilogy)

  • Actors: Caroline Craig, Jacqui James, Paul Tassone, Dennis Kelly, Daniel Roberts
  • Directors: Greg Haddrick, Brenda Pam
  • Genre: Crime
  • Format: Box set, Color, Dolby, DVD, NTSC, Widescreen (1.78:1)
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 12
  • Rated: NR (Not MPAA Rated)
  • Studio: Entertainment One
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2011
  • Run Time: 1755 minutes

 

 

POINT BLANK, ELECTRIFYING THRILLER ON BLU-RAY

Review by John Delia

Thrilling, Intriguing and vicious Point Blank keeps the adrenaline pumping with excitement at every turn. A fine cast ably directed by Fred Cavaye puts the film in a league with The Departed.  If you like a lot of action with a harrowing storyline then pick up a Blu-ray or DVD.

 

Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), a male Nurse’s Aid saves the life of a motorcycle patient not knowing he’s a criminal. The next morning he awakes to a gunman who knocks him unconscious and kidnaps his pregnant wife Nadia (Elana Anaya). When he awakens he’s instructed to go to the hospital and help the criminal get out and brought to a prearranged location.  When he discovers that he’s helping the dangerous criminal Sartet (Roschdy Zem) without the promise of ever seeing his wife alive again, things escalate into a ragging tale of kill or be killed.

 

Gilles Lellouche as Samuel in POINT BLANK

Acting by Gilles Lellouche, Elana Anaya and Roschdy Zem can only be described with words like realistic, stunning and gripping.  The three take on the major roles and with the fine direction of Fred Cavaye put on a great show.  I especially like Lellouche’s energy as Samuel who finds himself in some crazy dangerous situations while trying to free his pregnant wife.  Never wavering, his character pushes forward not knowing what his next test may be.

 

The electrifying Point Blank moves along very fast with action at every turn, however the movie was filmed in the French language so it is has English subtitles.  I don’t know how I can like it any more than at the movie theater, but I do because I can slow down the action so I can read the more involved subtitles during some of the significant scenes. You’ll want to see it again and again.

 

The cinematography by Alain Duplantier is outstanding on Blu-ray with shots that set the tone for the incredible chases, brutal attacks and punishing reprisals.  If you saw Killer Elite this year than you saw some of Duplantier’s fine photography.  He knows how to get all the action up in your face for amazing thrills.

 

The hour-long bonus called simply “behind the scenes documentary” that’s included on the Blu-ray provides one of the best diaries on making an action movie.  Filled with shot by shot scenes, wild stunts and pressure filming, the special extra proves to be the best I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s well worth a look, but be sure to watch the film first otherwise you’ll be treated to a lot of spoilers.

 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A must on Blu-ray for the electrifying story. Movie (A), Bonus (A) Overall rating (A)

 

 

Summary of Product Details:

 

Actors: Gilles Lellouche, Elana Anaya Roschdy Zem and Gerard Lanvin

Directors: Fred Cavaye

Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Subtitled, Widescreen

Language: French

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Rated: R (Restricted)

Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment

DVD Release Date: December 6, 2011

Run Time: 1hr 28min

 

 

 

 

THE HELP, An Oscar Contender

 

Now on Blu-ray/DVD The Help hits the street on Tuesday December 6th and it has all the ear-markings of becoming the hottest item of the holiday season.  My prediction for this film at the Oscars include nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, 2 Best Supporting Actress, Costumes and Musical Score.  It should do equally as well at the Golden Globes.  It’s a period piece that has it all, excellent acting, fine direction and a storyline that will be hard to beat.

 

The story from a book by Kathryn Stockett takes us to a period in history where prominent Southern ladies spent their days at teas and community events while their maids did the chores and cooked the meals.  But, it’s also a time where wrong versus right and segregation is at a new level of debate especially in this particular Mississippi town in the early 1960’s.

 

The story centers on Skeeter (Emma Stone) who has just returned home after completing her college education at Mississippi State University.  Being brought up by a black housekeeper, she’s familiar with the power of the local southern belles over the help.  A New York publisher gets a call from Skeeter about wanting to write a piece for his publication and the editor calls her back telling her that she wants something controversial and if she can supply it the story will get printed. When she writes a story about ‘the help’, things start getting mighty edgy in the Southern town.

 

I like the way writer/director Tate Taylor spools his story out slowly delivering a lot of character build-up in this segregation drama. Featuring fine acting from the whole cast their characters are caring, loving, controlling, hurtful and rebellious making the story forceful and convincing yet entertaining.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very realistic story and reminder of a troubled past shows great on Blu-ray (B+) Bonus Features (C) Overall analysis (B-)

 

A scene from THE HELP

I watched The Help in the Blu-ray format and it showed extremely well on my HD TV in the format that fits my entire screen. Filmed in the South during the lush time of the year, the cinematography picked up the gorgeous plantation surroundings, historical colonial interiors, shoddy homes of the maids and the garb of the Southern belles.

 

Cast: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Chris Lowell and Allison Janney

Directed by: Tate Taylor

 

DISC SPECIFICATIONS:

Feature Run Time: 138 minutes

Ratings: U.S.: PG-13/Canada: PG/Canadian French: G (Bonus Not Rated)

Aspect Ratio: Blu-ray: 1.85:1; DVD: 1.85:1

Audio: Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS HD-MA; 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital; DVD: 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital

 

Languages & Subtitles: Blu-ray: English, French Canadian, Spanish

DVD: English, French Canadian, Spanish

 

BONUS FEATURES all formats

 

3-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

Exclusive Blu-ray Bonus Features:

 

§ The Making of “The Help:” From Friendship To Film

 

§ In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi

 

§ Three deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

DVD Bonus Features:

 

§ Two deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

§ “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige

 

2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD)

 

§ The Making of “The Help:” From Friendship To Film

 

§ In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi

 

§ Three deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

DVD Bonus Features:

 

§ Two deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

§ “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige

 

1-Disc DVD Bonus Features:

 

§ Two deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

§ “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige

 

High Definition Digital Bonus Feature:

 

§ Three deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

§ “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige

 

Standard Definition Digital Download  Bonus Feature:

 

§ Three deleted scenes with introductions by Director Tate Taylor

 

§ “The Living Proof” music video by Mary J. Blige

 

 

 

THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Deliciously Bizarre

 

This film gets so incredible that it’s perfect for mainstream and fans of the “bizarre” alike.  It’s called The Skin I Live In and if you use your imagination and accept it for face value you will be thoroughly entertained.  It’s not The Bride of Frankenstein, but revenge has never been sweeter.

 

The film centers on Dr. Robert Ledgard an amazing plastic surgeon that looses his wife to a burning car crash because he doesn’t have the proper skin to save her.  This event pushes him to develop a synthetic skin that will save lives.  Twelve years pass and he comes up with the perfect skin, one that’s impervious to almost anything.

 

Dr. Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) and his patient (Elena Anaya)

But Ledgard still harbors feelings for the wife he loved and longs for.  When his daughter becomes the victim of a rapist, he sets out to take vengeance on the man that’s preposterous yet poetic justice.

 

Elena Anaya in a chilling scene

Anytime you have Elena Anaya (Point Blank) in a film for the guys and Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Femme Fatale) for the gals you have a recipe for emotion, art and romance.  Add a little of the bizarre to the mix and the result is The Skin I Live In a phenomenal story that intrigues and mystifies. Perfectly executed, the movie moves along at a fast clip never lagging or distracting with fillers that don’t work.

 

Under the direction of Pedro Almodovar (Volver, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down) his characters emit such poignant feelings for their actions that I found myself ‘believing’ the emotional trauma, reason for revenge and the astonishing resolution. It’s the kind of film you will leave the theater chatting about for a long time. It’s ice cream for horror fans and an enigma for lovers.

 

The Skin I live In is rated R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language.  Not a film for the meek or timid. The film is performed in Spanish with English Subtitles.

 

 

FINAL ANALYISIS: It’s Ice Cream for followers of the Bizarre. (B+)

 

 

INTO THE ABYSS, A sinking attempt at a hot topic

 

I’m not really fond of evaluating films based on political questions, religious beliefs or social values so with Into the Abyss my review will be short and sweet.  The film puts the capital punishment question of shall we put a murderer to death even if we know he did the killing?  What gets left out of the film however is the alternative; shall we torture the person the rest of his life by keeping him alive in a prison cell? Although Director Werner Herzog claims the film is not about the death penalty, he lets his audience be the judge.

 

The film centers on Michael James Perry a convicted killer of 50-year-old Sara Stotler in 2001.  Perry was sentenced to death in 2003, appealed the conviction and lost.  He was put to death by lethal injection in 2010. Perry did not act alone in the murderous romp that ended with the additional deaths of Stotler’s brother Adam and his friend Jeremy Richardson both 18.  An accomplice Jason Burkett took part in the murders by killing the two 18-year-olds and was sentenced to life in prison.

 

Director Werner Herzog on the set of Into The Abyss

Director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) tries to dissect the crime and punishment of Perry through Into the Abyss interviewing James Perry, several people connected with the trial, parent of Sara Stotler, relatives of Burkett and others.  To emphasize his point that no state should take a life, he interviews an executioner who provides his opinion based on his length of service and participation.

 

There is no positive resolve brought out in the film, only a message that the death penalty should be questioned.  Beyond that, the documentary provides an interesting look at the killers, yet evades the real issue, the death of three innocent people.

 

There have been many films about death row inmates, their trials and executions some based on true events and others a work of fiction.  This one didn’t impress me more than something shown on True-TV or Court TV.

 

Final Analysis: Interviewing 11 people on such a hot topic doesn’t work here, even if it includes the killer himself. (D)

 

 

Werner Herzog, Toronto, CA, September 10, 2011- The following is an excerpt from statements made to the Los Angeles Times concerning his film Into the Abyss. 
Herzog is adamant that his film is “not a film about capital punishment.” Even as he attempted to understand his subjects, he was personally unwavering in his opposition to the death penalty.

 

“This is not an issue film; it’s not an activist film against capital punishment, because the film has only partially to do with someone on death row.” “It’s very much about the whole environment. Families of victims of violent crime are equally important.”

 

“For me it has been a decision of principle,” he said. “I’m German and of the first post-war generation and in a way still feeling the barbarism of the Nazi regime: capital punishment, euthanasia and the genocide of 6 million people. So it’s clear that I cannot be on the side of capital punishment.”

 

 

ANSWERS TO NOTHING, meaningless entertainment

 

Here’s an attempt to make a film where the audience has to get involved with many characters for an ending payoff.  One problem with the movie, the title says it all, Answers to Nothing.  Taking a shocking event and building a story around it can be very entertaining, but not if it gets overly complicated and that’s what happens in the film.

 

Here is writer/director Matthew Leutwyler’s short synopsis of the film as provided by the studio. “Against the backdrop of a missing girl case, lost souls throughout Los Angeles search for meaning and redemption and affect each other in ways they don’t always see”.

 

Ryan (Dane Cook) and his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell)

How convoluted does Answers to Nothing get? The characters do not fit the cycle that the synopsis describes.  We have random roles that try to connect, but tend to tell their own story without any depth.  Ryan (Dane Cook), a shrink, is married to Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell) a lawyer who wants to have a child but their only chance involves in vitro fertilization.  Since Ryan has been having an affair with Tara (Aja Volkman) making this complicated fertilization process work has been quite the challenge.  Detective Frankie (Julie Benz) has been assigned to a missing teen case and finds herself overwhelmed by it, but has a hunch it’s Beckworth (Greg Germann) the missing girl’s next door neighbor. Drew (Miranda Bailey) has been depressed over her fight to retain custody of her brother with the help of her lawyer Kate.  Evan’s (Zach Gilford) a childlike character that doesn’t know how to identify a female dog from a male dog yet finds himself connecting with the complicated Allegra (Kali Hawk).  Allegra has a lot of issues that she has been taking to Ryan; especially that she hates black people even though she herself is African American. Carter (Mark Kelly), a teacher in the middle school, feels he has been a looser in life and has visions of being a hero even if it is only on his computer game. Finally, Jerry (Erik Palladino) is a troubled cop with a notion that he can get even for the death of his wife.

 

It’s nice to see Barbara Hershey (Ryan’s mother Marilyn) in a movie again, but what a waste of screen time for the icon.  Her part is so small and needless that it’s disappointing that she cannot lend her fine support to the film.  But, that’s the case of others in this film, especially the romance between Evan (Zach Gilford) and Allegra (Kali Hawk) that could have easily been eliminated with the right editing tools thus shortening the lengthy movie a bit.  The scenes of Evan’s character are unimportant to the plot and do nothing for the Allegra character.

 

The film is peppered with unresolved meetings and needless information bogging down the circle of redemption and heroism.  I found the affair between Ryan and Tara very unrealistic and awkward instead of something meaningful to the two of them. Jerry the cop is a great character and could have been developed more to add credence to why he wants to help Carter. Drew’s story could have been a stand-alone short film.  Aside from the heroism by Carter that does evolve within the missing teen storyline, Drew’s relentless need to give her brother back the opportunity she lost for him makes up the best part of the film.

 

The direction by Leutwyler of his chaotic storyline proves interesting at best as all the information has been provided, but it tasks the brain on how all the many pieces fit. Luckily I saw the film on a screening copy and able to replay the movie to make more sense of it, but who can afford to see the film twice at a movie theater to make sure all the stories in this convoluted story are meaningful.  This isn’t the Sixth Sense or Crash, although with the right script it could have been. My recommendation, wait till the DVD comes out and rent the film at a Redbox.

 

Answers to Nothing has been rated R for some strong sexual content, nudity, violence and language.

 

Final Analysis: A failed attempt at meaningful entertainment. (D)

CHILLERAMA, it’s horrormania on Blu-ray

 

 

We all know what a horror flick’s effect has on the brain, but how about a gory one that’s made with a comical tone.  Just arrived on Blu-ray/DVD, Chillerama, a campy weird and fun take on some of our beloved terror films.  It’s hysterically ridiculous, and that’s a good thing.  Just think of films like 1978’s “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and you will get what I mean.

 

Chillerama is three movies within a central movie about a horror film fest slated for the final showings at the closing of America’s final Drive-In Movie Theater that’s soon to be a memory.  The teens driving their vintage cars all show up at the outdoors theater to work on some sexual yearnings, wild parties and all around good fun.  All settled in for a night of horror, Cecil B. Kaufman (Richard Riehle) unleashes his marathon of lost horror film prints for his faithful followers.

 

First up is a wild and totally off the wall film called “Wadzilla” and it stars a giant sperm with teeth that wrecks havoc on New York.  It is so funny I nearly lost my breath from laughing so hard.  This film alone is worth the purchase, however there is a lot more.  The next film up is called “I Was a Teenage Werebear” a spoof on gay human/bear creatures that turn violent around straight teens.  It’s a scream, especially when one of the straights finds out he’s gay.  Closing out the show is “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” about Hitler who has found Anne Frank’s hideout and discovers a diary left to her by her father that details bringing a dead man back to life.  Well you know where this one is going as the leader of the Third Reich thinks he can conquer the world with one of these creatures.  It gets deliriously campy and weird with an ending fit for the deviant Fuher.

 

That’s not all folks! The story that keeps it all together surrounds the closing Drive-In Movie Theater and a guy who mingles with the audience after he has just had sex with his dead wife.  There’s a lot of lopped off heads, slicing and dicing mixed with the raunchiest humanoids that ever graced the screen.

 

Just a note, however, keep the kiddies away from this one, 17+ must even be very mature as there are many scenes of depravity, emasculation, etc. that should lead to some ghastly toilet bowls in your house.  Especially when “Zom-B- Movie” comes up on the screen. I’ll say no more I think you get the idea by now. Chillerama is unrated but contains mock violence, drugs, sex, nudity, and all the other stuff that makes for a badass guys night.

 

Directors Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City, The Dark Backward), Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs,VH-1’s “Scream Queens”), Adam Green (Hatchet, Frozen), and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Knights of Badassdom) are all involved in the production so you know they can provide some unearthly tongue-in-cheek humor, a lot of guts and gore and tons of body parts.

 

After all this I almost forgot to mention the special bonus features that include:

 

Bonus features on Chillerama Blu-ray and DVD include:

 

Directors’ Video Commentary- After seeing it the first time, turn this on and hear from the greats while watching the second go-around.

Wadzilla Deleted Scenes and Trailer- just in case you haven’t seen enough sperm count.

The Making of The Diary of Anne Frankenstein– a necessary watch.

I Was A Teenage Werebear Behind the Scenes, Deleted Scenes, and Trailer

Zom-B-Movie Deleted Scenes- watch this before your friends return from the john.

Directors’ Interviews- are very good most of which took place at Comic Con.

Original Theatrical Trailer- no biggie

 

For you tech geeks here’s the lowdown on the quality:

 

Chillerama Blu-ray™

Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)

Audio:  DTS HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Length: 120 minutes

 

Chillerama DVD

Languages: English

Format: 1.78:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Length: 120 minutes

 

 

Final Analysis: A wild and gruesome crazy ride. (B)

 

 

HUGO, A MAGICAL MASTERPIECE

 

Director Martin Scorsese takes his audience on a magical ride through a Paris train station in the adventurous tale Hugo. Graced with an amazing cast that makes his wonderful characters come alive, it’s an enchanting production.

 

Set in 1920’s France the movie centers on young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who has been orphaned due to the untimely death of his father (Jude Law) to a tragic accident.  His uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) gives the boy the challenge of taking over his father’s work as a clock keeper in the main Paris train station where he has to wind the clocks and keep them in working order.

 

Trying to keep alive the urchin steals food from vendors and shops that encompass the interior of the vast depot.  One day, while snatching a mechanical mouse, Hugo gets caught by the toyshop owner George Melies (Ben Kingsley).  Forced to empty his pockets, George discovers that the boy has a notebook of special drawings. He takes the book and instead of turning him into the stationmaster (Sacha Baron Cohen) gives the boy a chance to work off his theft at his toy store.  So starts a special relationship that leads to an amazing adventure for Hugo and George’s granddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) Hugo’s new found friend.

 

Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Hugo (Asa Butterfield) find a new friend

The whole cast gives their best creating characters that are likable and interesting.  Butterfield (The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas) puts the adventure into the story running up and down stairs, traversing steel beams, climbing tall girders and sliding from upper floors to wind clocks, repair springs and oil winding mechanisms.  He’s a boy in a funhouse, but not one that ends with a family to cook him a meal.  Butterfield plays the poignant child with ease captivating the audience with his big blue eyes and the forlorn look of deadened life.  He’s the perfect character much like Barney Clark as Oliver in the movie Oliver Twist.

 

Martin Scorsese on the set of HUGO

When I think of Martin Scorsese the movie that comes to mind is Goodfellas, a brutal film that showcased the raw talent of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta.  With Hugo Scorsese strays off the beaten path and shows his love for film encompassed in an adventure about a boy searching for his meaning in life; a far cry from Scorsese’s violence and mayhem.

 

I have followed Scorsese films throughout his masterful career in awe of this ability to create realistic films with graphic portrayals in most of the dismal periods of history. Here he makes the most of his ability providing appealing characters, a challenging storyline and a heartfelt ending without the vicious punching of a boxer, the cleaver of a New York butcher, a stare of a crazed cab driver, an escaped con putting the fear in a family in Florida or police action in Irish Boston.

 

Woven into the fabric of his film Scorsese gives homage to one of the great moviemakers of all time.  It’s a dignified heartfelt thank you for bringing movies to life so we as the audience can have a variety of visions of our past, present and future.  Nicely inserted, the tribute provides a look at the great filmmaker George Melies who started it all without being pretentious or maudlin.

 

Hugo is rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril, and smoking.  Most every film lover will like the movie, but it may be challenging for pre-teens due to the over 2 hour length, not knowing the significance of the tribute to filmmaking and lack of knowledge of historical Paris. They should like the 3D effect that are very good however, especially the crowd scenes and Hugo’s clock winding jaunts.

Final Analysis: A lustrous adventure during a colorful era. (A) 

 

 

THE MUPPETS, ZANY FAMILY FUN

By Susan Phillips Delia, Guest Writer

 

 

I grew up watching “The Muppet Show” on television every week and the new movie The Muppets has all the same characters as the program.  The show hasn’t been around for a very long time so it was great to see the old gang getting back together.  If your children like a lot of silliness and some lessons to be learned in a fun way, then I recommend taking them to see The Muppets.

 

The movie is about the Muppets reopening their studio after a long hiatus, but they find they owe a lot of money on the building.  A bad man Tex finds out that there is oil under the property and wants to get the studio.   In order to save the studio, Kermit sets out to get the whole gang back together and start a new show to raise the money.  In the meantime two men who grew up watching The Muppet Show  set out to help them win over Tex.

 

Kermit, Amy Adams and Jason Segel in THE MUPPETS

The flow of the storyline is right on the mark starting with the two boys growing up and wanting to save the Muppet studio. It shows the passion they have for the Muppets and their wanting them to get back together to save their studio.

 

I loved the film it was a lot of fun there was both singing and dancing, but not too much and the songs are really funny.  They have guest celebrity appearances on the show so for example in order to get Jack Black  they had to kidnap him.  It was a hysterical skit. Other cameo appearances include Alan Arkin, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman and many others.

 

My two girls liked the film very much.  The five year old has got one of the songs stuck in her head and sings it a lot and the fourteen year old found The Muppets a lot of fun as well. I found I didn’t have to worry about my youngest wanting a potty break as she focused on all the crazy things going on in the movie.

 

Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Kermit in THE MUPPETS

Kermit is always the group leader so he always treats his friends in a loving way.  There is the normal love-hate relationship between he and Miss Piggy and it was like old times for me.  As far as whether The Muppets will stick around for future films, I feel they can make a comeback but first on TV so children can have that kind of programming. If they do start there than a sequel can be made; other than that this is a one-hit wonder.

 

The Muppets is rated PG for some rude humor. For the most part the film is very wholesome, but there were a couple of scenes that weren’t very nice. It wasn’t scary mind you, but there was this one show called the teacher and they showed people punching teachers that I found to be questionable.

 

 

I will give this a B+ for children, especially younger ones who are aware enough to identify the lesson here of working together as a team.

 

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BREAKING DAWN, A GOOD BEGINNING

 

Well the Twilight Saga has finally reached its ebb with the first half of Breaking Dawn that opens this weekend in theaters around the world.  Certainly expected to be earth shaking due to millions of young girls and twenty-something’s rushing to the box-office to get a look at semi-nude Robert Pattenson making love to his comely co-star Kristin Stewart.  It’s all about the look and feel of the film that makes this one a winner.

 

The Cullins at THE wedding

Bella and Edward have a stunningly beautiful wedding, one that could easily overshadow even some of the top weddings ever on film. Following the wedding Edward whisks his bride off to a secluded island for their honeymoon.  When they return home with Bella in pain it incites the Blacks to become vicious.

 

Edward (Pattinson) and Bella (Stewart) on their wedding night

Taking a crack at the ongoing series director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) gets a little edgy with an intense sexually charged wedding night on a private island with his two central stars.  Biding his time with the camera close ups and leaning into the special moment, Condon brings his audience within a hair of the actual act.  But, his reveal the following day provides enough evidence of a very bruising passionate union making the first half of the fourth installment a vampire’s saga.

 

The acting here has developed to a higher level since first we met Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.  Time to grow up and practice with roles in films like The Runnaways and Welcome to the Rileys have made Stewart into a viable star quality actress.  Taking Bella through several almost mystical scenes, dramatic moments and a near death occurrence, Stewart shows she can act.

 

Pattenson has developed extremely well himself using his seasoned ability from such films as Water for Elephants and Little Ashes to make his Edward character very palatable. Together with Stewart they blaze Breaking Dawn in a hot screen appearance together.  His dramatic appeal continues beyond Twilight with Cosmopolis and Bel Ami looking for release dates.

 

But, for the guys Breaking Dawn has dragging issues, especially the long-winded honeymoon that rolls out slowly with too much lovey-dovey before it becomes intimate enough to attract a macho audience.  Even Bella’s ‘growing’ entity within her seems to be drawn out with each of the Cullen women getting into the act, but here there’s forgiveness because Condon needed the time to split the film into two parts.  On the plus side the werewolves vs. vampires attack is very cool.

 

Breaking Dawn is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements. Be extremely cautious when deciding to bring immature pre-teenagers. The 1 hour and 48 minute film is part one of the final book of the Twilight Saga with part two being released in November of 2012.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A hot beginning to an expected violent ending. (B)

 

 

 

LIKE CRAZY, FLIMSEY & FORGETABLE

 

How to screw up your life without really trying seems to be the theme of the film Like Crazy an inconceivable little film that’s poorly written and delivered.  Even with heartthrobs Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, the unlikely plot just kills any chance for a dramatic winner.

 

Writer director Drake Doremus centers his film on Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) two college students who are about to graduate when they meet.  After a quick romantic interlude, the two decide to spend the summer together before going on to their chosen professions.  One problem, Anna is a British subject in America on a student visa and since she graduated must return to England.  But, the whimsical Anna chooses to be with Jacob for the summer turning her nose up at ‘immigration’.

 

Following an amazing summer together, Anna returns to her parents in England to try and figure out her life.  After some long distance romance, Anna returns to America only to get rejected due to violating her student visa and gets sent back to England.  So starts a complicated relationship that mixes marriage, unfaithfulness and a whole lot of sex.

 

Drake Doremus on the set of LIKE CRAZY

Although Doremus sets up a great theme to work with, he fails to instill any chemistry between his characters, provide a realistic script in a reasonable time frame and chooses (like his Anna character) to believe the audience will accept all this in the name of love.  Well, NO! Anna and Jacob have found a special kind of ‘true’ love in the first act that I accepted.  The moment Anna is out of the picture locked in London, however, Jacob starts to get sexually involved with Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) while he builds his chair business.

 

Anna then convinces Jacob to join her in London and the two decide to get married thinking that would get her a Green Card.  The red tape bogs the couple down so Jacob returns to the United States to run his chair business and goes back to his sexual tricks with Samantha, etc…. leading to an unlikely ending. I could fill in the blanks but just in case you really want to go see Like Crazy, so you can moon over the two main actors, there’s no reason to go any further.

 

As to Jones and Yelchin a suggestion, sweep this one under the rug and move on to another project.  From the looks of things on the screen, you probably already did this by the beginning of the third act.

Like Crazy is rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.  The film runs 1 hour and 29 minutes.

 

FINAL ANAYSIS: A romantic comedy running on empty. (D)

 

 

 

 

 

MELANCHOLIA, MESMERIZING

 

 

The film Melancholia by writer and director Lars von Trier stimulates the artistic part of the brain with sprawling landscape images, ominous tableaus and threatening visuals of a drifting planet. The film moves along playing out like the definition of its title. Melancholia: a mental condition and especially a manic-depressive condition characterized by extreme depression, bodily complaints, and often hallucinations and delusions.

 

Lars doesn’t pull any punches here or hide the intention of the story in any way.  He takes the lovely conflicted Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and pairs her with Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) a love-smitten man who has visions of a future with her.

 

Justine ( Dunst), Michael (Skarsgard), John (Sutherland) and Claire (Gainsbourg) check out a distant plane

In part one (Justine) of the two-act script, the newly married couple are on their way to their reception at a beautiful mansion and are late due to some issues with their limo driver.  The party is a gift from Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) who want to make the late afternoon soirée something that everyone will never forget.

 

A slow moving tableau in MELANCHOLIA

Lars treats his audience to an ominous feast however, complete with a brooding bride who has lost herself in an almost surrealistic emotional despair, a puzzled husband and other elements way beyond the word ‘festive’, ending the event both faithless and unfaithful.

 

At the start of part two (Claire) we find Justine forlorn still at her sister’s vast estate trying to recover from the night before, but this time Lars presents his audience a different kind of depressing stimulus, the threat of a collision between Earth and the roving planet Melancholia.  Here Lars’s camera focuses on the dangerous planet hovering over the estate with its expansive manicured lawns, neighboring lush woodlands, and opulent estate buildings.  Justine begins to succumb to the pull of Melancholia while Claire attempts to draw her out of the dreary mental state. Now on the verge of something even more unimaginable, Claire herself starts to slide into the abyss.

 

Kirsten Dunst feels the force of the planet Melancholia

Melancholia, although an amazing work of art accomplishes what Lars set out to do, make a depressing movie. If I could categorize the film on whether it is the best dismal film ever, it’s certainly near the top of the list. Not a mainstream contender for box-office glory, yet still art for those who like films intriguing and all absorbing.

 

Lars brings out some brilliant acting on the part of the main cast and support players in this fantasy tale.  Providing a stage for their craft with Dunst at the center of the enigma, Lars works his characters into frenzy as they try to come to grips with the inevitable. I especially liked Gainsbourg’s performance as the hapless woman who takes on her sister’s plight only to realize that time has run out for Justine and her family. I would love to see her recognized for her performance with an Oscar nomination.

 

Melancholia is rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content and language.  The film emits a depressive feeling that may tend to extract a somber mood from susceptible viewers. The film runs just over 2 hours.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS: A fantasy tableau that captivates. (B)

 

 

“J. EDGAR” a JUNIOR G-MAN

 

The interesting and historical J. Edgar has reached local movie theaters with very good performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench.  The film has a few flaws, but it does give a good account of the man who was the first director of the FBI.

 

The film follows the life of J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) the first director of the FBI who was appointed to the position in 1935 by the then Attorney General of the United States. During his 37 years in the position he set up a bureau that sought out many famous criminals, set up a library of information on persons of interest to the federal government, and he amassed some unsavory secret files that kept him in his job. His private life with his mother and tawdry long time affair with his assistant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) plays out intermittently throughout the film.

Clyde (Hammer) and J. Edgar (DiCaprio) during their younger years
The older J. Edgar and Clyde Tolson

The acting and make-up are a plus factor with DiCaprio giving an extremely good effort in the role of J. Edgar Hoover.  His ability to capture the essence of the man showing the power monger unwavering and stern in the quest for the best possible government bureau should get him an Oscar nod.  The skillful make-up prosthetics changes his face showing the character grow older and eerily becoming very reminiscent of the actual man.

 

Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy with DiCaprio as J. Edgar

In support, Naomi Watts brings Helen Gandy his secretary and loyal devotee to life with a superb performance as the ‘other’ woman in his life. But the first lady to Edgar, his mother played by Dame Judi Dench in a performance only she can give, stands out beyond any other support character.  She would only have to give one expressive look at Edgar in response to a question and it shows volumes.

 

What I don’t like about J. Edgar comes in the presentation.  Jumping back and forth from his final year as director to his early life as head of the G-men is very bewildering.  I would have enjoyed the film more if Director Clint Eastwood had introduced the character and started from the beginning of his life with the bureau to the final years.  I found some sections of the film hard to enjoy, especially the Charles Lindberg case that lost its importance with repetitive flashbacks.

 

J. Edgar is rated R by the MPAA for brief strong language, but it also contains a couple of sexual scenes, drug use and crime violence.  The film runs two hours and 17 minutes, about 20 minutes too long.

 

FINAL ANALYSIS:  A good film that could have been better. (C+)

 

ANONYMOUS, a work of art

 

I hope the film Anonymous is true because as being a former Theatre (plays) critic it has always intrigued me if William Shakespeare did or didn’t write his sonnets and plays.  So, being the kind of guy I am and having enjoyed the film so much, it must be very near the truth.  Even if this period piece was all contrived, the settings, costumes, acting and directing provide some awesome entertainment.

 

The film centers on Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) during her reign in the early 17th Century and Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) the Earl of Oxford.  Elizabeth has been getting very crotchety at this point in her life and shows it with malice.  Her attendants get the brunt of her emotional trauma but Edward is not without some of the impudence.

 

Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

Over many years Edward has taken a favor of writing poetry and prose and now in his latter life has chosen to turn some of it theatre. Knowing that Elizabeth will not be happy with his providing entertainment for the local playhouse, he seek out Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), a member of the Globe Theatre and gives him one of his plays.  The play gets performed and the audience wants to know the writer.  Being sworn to secrecy Johnson does not come forward.  Instead Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) comes forward to take the credit.  So begins the intriguing plot that includes danger, revelations, dastardly deeds, greed and an attempt at royal power.

 

Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) takes his cast into an era of evocative emotion when England stood on a dangerous precipice and only Elizabeth’s strong powerful devotion to her throne could hold back an insurrection.  Vanessa Redgrave gives a powerful performance as the ‘wicked’ Queen who used her authority to manipulate the people around her.  But, as Edward de Vere, Rhys Ifans one-ups her acting with an impeccable performance of his own.

 

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth in her royal robes
Costumes show the period well
David Thewlis wears his courtly garb while Joley Richardson is dressed for pubic appearance

Anonymous provides a platform for an amazing costume piece.  Combined with some gorgeous sets, special lighting, wide-angle cinematography and excellent make-up the presentation makes a show of its own.  Dazzling gowns, suits, ruddy town’s garb, stalwart guard uniforms and much more set the period in all its glory.  Plays dressed and presented on the ‘Globe Theatre’ stage are striking, rambunctious and fun to watch.

 

As for the validity of the speculative matter here is what Wikipedia says about the subject: “Around 150 years after Shakespeare’s death, doubts began to be expressed about the authorship of the works attributed to him. Proposed alternative candidates include Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Several “group theories” have also been proposed.Only a small minority of academics believe there is reason to question the traditional attribution,but interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, continues into the 21st century”.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare

 

Anonymous is rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content. The movie runs two hours and ten minutes but moves along at a fast clip with a feast for the eyes.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A work of art by Roland Emmerich. (A)