Friday, October 02, 2015

Everest / *** (PG-13)

Rob Hall: Jason Clarke
Beck Weathers: Josh Brolin
Scott Fischer: Jake Gyllenhaal
Jon Krakauer: Michael Kelly
Doug Hansen: John Hawkes
Helen Wilton: Emily Watson
Jan Arnold: Keira Knightley
Guy Cotter: Sam Worthington
Peach Weathers: Robin Wright
Caroline Mackenzie: Elizabeth Debicki
Andy ‘Harold’ Harris: Martin Henderson
Michael Groom: Thomas M. Wright
Yasuko Namba: Naoko Mori

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. Running time: 121 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense peril and disturbing images).

There is a scene in the new mountaineering movie “Everest” when journalist Jon Krakauer asks two amateur climbers who have hired a guide to take them to the summit of Mt. Everest why they feel the need to climb such a mountain, one that has taken the lives of many professional climbers. They struggle to articulate their need to pursue a goal that they admit is filled mostly with pain. I might also struggle to articulate my own fascination with mountain climbing disaster pictures. I suppose watching an expedition/adventure that is bound to go bad is connected to our inability to turn away when witnessing the aftermath of a car accident. Our human need to empathize and understand what went wrong overrides any need we might have to keep a rosy outlook on the world. We need to examine adversity and tragedy as a mechanism to develop our own ability to deal with the inevitable reality of it in our own lives.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Mass / *** (R)

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger: Johnny Depp
John Connolly: Joel Edgerton
Billy Bulger: Benedict Cumberbatch
Steve Flemmi: Rory Cochrane
Kevin Weeks: Jesse Plemons
Marianne Connolly: Julianne Nicholson
John Morris: David Harbour
Lindsey Cyr: Dakota Johnson
John Martorano: W. Earl Brown
Charles McGuire: Kevin Bacon
Brian Halloran: Peter Sarsgaard
Robert Fitzpatrick: Adam Scott
Fred Wyshak: Corey Stoll

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Scott Cooper. Written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth. Based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Running time: 122 min. Rated R (for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use).

Johnny Depp delivers a speech about keeping secrets as notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger to an FBI agent with whom he’s in collusion in the new movie “Black Mass” during which he announces his performance as one of the great monsters of the screen. Immediately following that scene he has a conversation with another FBI agent’s wife that plays like a predator who captures his prey and instead of killing it, shows it just how much he can play with it instead. Scott Cooper’s crime film is an interesting study in this real life figure who surely couldn’t have achieved what he did without the help of the FBI, using their desire to control the Italian mafia in Boston to his advantage in becoming the biggest crime kingpin in South Boston.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Visit / ** (PG-13)

Becca: Olivia DeJong
Tyler: Ed Oxenbould
Nana: Deanna Dunagan
Pop Pop: Peter McRobbie
Mom: Kathryn Hahn

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language).

Let me start by pointing out that Kathryn Hahn is an excellent actress. She’s one of those actresses that you’ve seen in a bunch of films and television shows but have never quite caught her name. She often plays the girlfriend or sister who makes quips about the main characters. She’s played a few moms, like she does here. She seems like she must’ve come from someplace like Saturday Night Live, but she didn’t. She played Lily on six seasons of “Crossing Jordan”, a role that was created specifically for her. Mostly known for comedic roles, she has never been boxed in by them and finds her way into drama quite frequently. Although, her role here is small, it’s the emotional center of the story. Watch her work in the first scene, when she’s holding all her tension in her hands while trying to brush off her emotions with her words. It’s too bad she wasn’t used as effectively throughout.

I’d also like to add—before I get to the review proper—that I am pretty much done with the “found footage” format, especially for horror movies. Found Footage refers to the notion that a fictional movie was filmed as if it were a documentary that is capturing real events. Made popular by such movies as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity”, it was an interesting gimmick for a while. It has unfortunately been done to death by new filmmakers trying to make names for themselves in the horror genre. It’s nice when it’s done well, but more often than not it isn’t. Even worse, it’s lazy. It creates an easy way for writers to inject exposition into their films and allows excuses for poorly shot sequences and ineloquent dialogue. M. Night Shyamalan—who was nominated for writing and directing Oscars for his brilliant “The Sixth Sense”—should be ashamed of himself for submitting to such a tired, overused and lazy filmmaking style. Of course, it allowed him to make the movie for $5 million, which might’ve saved his floundering career with its nearly guaranteed financial success.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Criterion Thoughts—12 Angry Men (1957) ****

Juror #1: Martin Balsam
Juror #2: John Fielder
Juror #3: Lee J. Cobb
Juror #4: E.G. Marshall
Juror #5: Jack Klugman
Juror #6: Edward Binns
Juror #7: Jack Warden
Juror #8: Henry Fonda
Juror #9: Joseph Sweeney
Juror #10: Ed Begley
Juror #11: George Voskovec
Juror #12: Robert Webber

United Artists presents a film directed by Sidney Lumet. Written by Reginald Rose. Running time: 96 min. Not Rated.

I was lucky enough to have performed in a stage production of Reginald Rose’s “12 Angry Men”. It’s hard to find a play that offers such a diverse set of characters that each inhabit the stage for a play’s entirety. It’s kind of an actor’s dream play. Even if you’re playing one of the smaller roles in terms of number of lines, you still get to flex your acting muscles throughout.

Not that line count was a problem for me, I was also lucky enough to land one of the primary roles of the production, that of Juror #3, the antagonist to Juror #8. I hadn’t seen the movie at that time, and as a purist, I didn’t seek it out in order to preserve my original interpretation of the character. I wish I had, though. For one, I’m not much like Lee J. Cobb, who played #3 in Sidney Lumet’s 1957 big screen adaptation. I couldn’t have stolen his mannerisms or instincts. The main reason I wish I’d seen the film, though, is because of a key mistake my young acting mind made in my interpretation. I judged him.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

No Escape / **½ (R)

Jack Dwyer: Owen Wilson
Annie Dwyer: Lake Bell
Lucy Dwyer: Sterling Jerins
Beeze Dwyer: Claire Geare
Hammond: Pierce Brosnan
Kenny Roger: Sahajak Boonthanakit

The Weinstein Company presents a movie directed by John Erick Dowdle. Written by John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle. Running time: 103 min. Rated R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language).

“No Escape” is somewhat of an anomaly in today’s movie market. It’s a throwback to the films of the 70s in the way it doesn’t adhere to the current politics about making movies. It’s an original story, a thriller that doesn’t draw from a “true story” about actual people who live through an actual harrowing world event. It involves a fairly big name Hollywood actor working well outside of the genre stereotypes and the niche he’s built for himself. And, it’s the first foray outside the horror genre by its writing/directing team, the Brothers Dowdle.

That’s not to say it’s above pandering to its audience with Hollywood cliché. In fact, the screenplay is the major drawback of this otherwise fairly well-made film. It doesn’t have the grit and grime of a 70s screenplay, even though it should. It handles its audience with kid gloves and its characters as archetypes, missing out on that real-life feel this story deserves. Yet, it’s still somewhat refreshing to see a movie that isn’t rooted in some sort of comic book or well-established film franchise after the Summer of the Sequel/Reboot that we all just endured. I wasn’t all that displeased with most of the franchise entries this summer, but there’s something of a relief that comes with watching a film that has all of its story and mythology contained within its individual running time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jurassic World / *** (PG-13)

Owen: Chris Pratt
Claire: Bryce Dallas Howard
Gray: Ty Simpkins
Zach: Nick Robinson
Hoskins: Vincent D’Onofrio
Simon Masrani: Irrfan Khan
Lowery: Jake Johnson
Vivian: Lauren Lapkus
Barry: Omar Sy
Dr. Henry Wu: B.D. Wong

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connelly, Based on concepts created by Michael Crichton. Running time: 124 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril).

The whole concept behind Hollywood sequel making is counter to the notion of criticism. While a critic tries to guide and educate an audience on what will entertain and enlighten them, the purpose of a sequel is generally to make money off of fulfilling an expectation of the exact same approach to the exact same effect as the previous—or best—film in a franchise. So it is left to the critic to merely report whether the filmmakers have achieved a repeated effect or have failed. When you get a tent pole film like “Jurassic Park” that is filled with spectacle and thoughts, it becomes problematic for the studios, which inexplicably feel the need to reproduce the spectacle but rarely the insight.

Spectacle minus the insight was certainly the problem with the previous two movies in the “Jurassic” franchise. In fact, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park III” were so lacking in any sort of science fiction themes and insight that the latest in the series—the long-awaited reboot “Jurassic World”—totally ignores the existence of the second and third films. In doing so it returns the story to the roots of its science fiction foundation. Once again the characters are dealing with the themes of the original film about the dangers of playing God with science, the impossibility of containing nature and even some new ideas about the need of some humans to push every scientific development toward weaponization.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Straight Outta Compton / *** (R)

O’Shea “Ice-Cube” Jackson: O’Shea Jackson, Jr.
Andre “Dr. Dre” Young: Corey Hawkins
Eric “Eazy-E” Wright: Jason Mitchell
Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby: Neil Brown, Jr.
Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson: Aldis Hodge
Tracy “The D.O.C.” Curry: Marion Yates, Jr.
Suge Knight: R. Marcos Taylor
Tomica: Carra Patterson
Kim: Alexandra Shipp
Jerry Heller: Paul Giamatti

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff and S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus. Running time: 147 min. Rated R (for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence and drug use).

Despite the conservative political push of the 80’s lead by the Reagan White House, that decade was a particularly progressive time in which to grow up. As a child of the 80’s, I was heavily influenced by pop culture and heavily invested in the politics centered around it, more so than I even realized at the time. Tipper Gore’s heralding of the Parental Advisory label that was adopted by the recording industry seemed a tumultuous event in the eyes of a wide-eyed, music-obsessed prepubescent. Later, the banning of 2 Live Crew’s controversial “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” album was a neon sign of the times that most certainly were a-changin’ despite the wishes and desires of the conservative right. In the middle of all of this, heading the charge was a rap group from Compton, California that managed to bridge the gap between many of our diverse cultures in this country by introducing, not just the black community to gangsta rap, but the entire country with their debut album “Straight Outta Compton”.

Sadly, almost 30 years after N.W.A’s seminal album began the tide of change by exposing to the world what much of the black experience in America was like, we still find ourselves struggling with the same issues of misunderstanding the racial divide and dealing with the same issues of racism that were at the heart of what inspired those musicians at that time. Perhaps it is fitting then that now is the time that we finally get to see a movie chronicling the struggles of those musicians in a film that shares its name with their debut album. “Straight Outta Compton” brings to fruition many years of work by the two most successful members of that group, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, to bring their story to the silver screen. As such, it doesn’t seem the harshest examination by the men it is mostly about, but it is an intriguing and entertaining document on one of the most influential bands in modern music.