Wednesday, May 25, 2016
As a first time feature film maker, Robert Egger demonstrates a skilled and assured hand at how to handle material that is delicate on several fronts. The Witch, which he wrote and directed, deals with puritanical religious dogma of the seventeenth century, witchcraft, and also the conventions of horror and psychological thrillers. So much could have gone wrong in setting a tone and a pace, but Eggers gets most of it right.
For starters, he set his film nearly four centuries ago in New England. As such the dialogue, much of which is taken from contemporaneous transcripts and texts, contains a style that, to the ears of a 21st century American, sounds like something out of a restoration village where actors pretend they know nothing about modern technology. Also the family at the center of the movie, who have been banished from the village for “prideful conceit”, exercise such deep religious conviction that we might feel uncomfortable laughter coming on. But the events that transpire are no laughing matter.
For all the hoopla surrounding Deadpool – strong box office receipts; excellent audience reception; and even positive critical consensus – it doesn’t take long to look past the surface to see that there’s not really much there apart from an admittedly entertaining comic book adaptation. Shouldn’t that be enough for a comic book superhero movie? We go for the entertainment, right? But nothing else?
This may be a case of people getting a little too excited just because the movie attempts to break ranks with the clichés of the genre. Instead of pleasant PG-13 action that’s short on bad language and long on mild violence, Deadpool sears up and down, there’s sex, and the violence (though cartoonish) very violent and full of blood. This ground has been trod before. Kick Ass got there first, although I think Deadpool does it better and with great moral clarity.
Friday, May 13, 2016
It feels almost obscene to speak negatively of a film like Dough. It has only the best intentions. It is not malicious and takes on several noble subjects that are both particular to its London setting as well as universal in the multicultural 21st century.
Jonathan Pryce is a wonderful actor who has made a career of flying just under the radar of superstardom. Here he plays Nat Dayan, proprietor of a kosher bakery that is on the brink of failure alongside the corporate one-stop shopping convenience next door. He’s hardly recognizable behind a thick beard and gristled locks of hair, and a yarmulke. Nat clings to an old way of life in which the family business passes from father to son and the Jewish community thrives in perpetuity. But time marches on and change comes. His son became a successful lawyer and the Jews are fleeing (most likely to the suburbs as they earn their continued financial successes), being replaced by immigrants and refugees, many of them African Muslims.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
The sudden death of the enigmatic celebrity, the electrifying performer, the virtuoso musician Prince made me jump immediately to a movie I’d never seen before. Purple Rain was Prince’s first movie. He starred in it and of course wrote all the music that his character, The Kid (a somewhat autobiographical version of himself), performs. He won an Oscar for Best Original Musical – the last time that Oscar category was even awarded. Purple Rain has never a bright reputation. It’s no work of cinematic gold and is only remembered today because it stars Prince and his music. By most accounts, it is the best of Prince’s four films so I can only imagine just how bad Under the Cherry Moon must be.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
I’m a big “West Wing” fan, so excuse me if you don’t know what I’m referring to when I say, “Crime. Boy, I don’t know.” That is a line from “Posse Comitatus,” the season 3 finale and the lynchpin moment when President Bartlett decides he’s going to take it to his opponent in the election. Woman in Gold is the Holocaust equivalent of that sentiment, an empty gesture at acknowledging something inexplicably awful.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
J.J. Abrams took the reins of the Star Wars franchise and reinvigorated it with The Force Awakens, otherwise known as Episode VII and taking place some three decades or so after the vents of Return of the Jedi. This new chapter is a more than welcome addition following the ill-reputed prequel trilogy and even the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy.
Friday, April 8, 2016
So here’s the thing: the Rocky franchise sequels have a truly poor reputation, but revisiting the first sequel, Rocky II, reveals a film that is not so bad as might be remembered. If it were a standalone film, it would be a moderately successful little boxing movie, probably largely forgotten by now, but decent. As the sequel to the wildly popular and Best Picture Oscar-winning first film, it had a lot to live up to.
Essentially, Rocky II follows the formula of the first film almost to the letter. It exists purely to have a rematch between Rocky and Apollo, a recreation of the sports drama of the previous film. Like the first film, this one was written by Sylvester Stallone. However, this time he took on directing duties in addition and of course starred in the film. Carl Weathers returned as Apollo, as did all the other principals: Talia Shire as Rocky’s love interest, Adrian; Burgess Meredith as Mickey the trainer; and Burt Young as Adrian’s brother, Paulie.