Archives for August 2014

“Talk to Me” and Get a Free DVD for Your Troubles!

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Released in 2007, Talk to Me tells the story of Washington, D.C. radio icon Ralph “Petey” Greene (1931-1984), who was an ex-con, recovering addict and community activist – and his manager Dewey Hughes, who in later years would be known as one of the founders of the Radio One urban radio network.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), Talk to Me stars Don Cheadle as Greene alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor as Hughes. Rounding out the main cast are Taraji P. Henson and Martin Sheen.

Even while the film is set around the turbulent times of 1960’s and 70’s, make no mistake, Cheadle and Ejiofor are center stage as their professional and personal relationship plays out on screen. The film creates an effective central tension between the two with Greene, focusing on his role as a truth-teller and ‘voice of the people,’ while business manager Hughes has bigger plans for the irreverent radio personality.

As far as filmed biopics go, this one is pretty solid, thanks in large part to the strength of the aforementioned performances. However, it should be noted that there are more than a few controversies around the “truthiness” of the film and the events that actually took place. To be sure, this is something commonplace for life stories given the Hollywood treatment – so I will allow you the viewer to make of it what you will. I WAS going to make a statement about this not being a documentary, but I thought the wiser of that statement …

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But now for the fun part … drop me a line in the Comments section and be eligible to receive one (1) DVD copy of Talk To Me! The packaging (plastic wrapping) has been remove, but the video is unwatched. You have until next Friday, August 29th 5:00PM EST to submit your comment(s). I will pick a name at random and announce that evening.

To make it a little more interesting, I ask that the comment focus on the following question:

If a family raises objections to a biopic, are you more or less inclined to go and see it?

Home Viewing – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

First things first – I admit, I have yet to see any of the Thor films at the cinema. No real explanation, it just is. When I do eventually catch them, however, I must admit that I quite enjoy them; Tony Stark sums up perfectly my sentiments in this clip:

I think because of the world (that of Nordic gods) they inhabit, reaching overtly theatrical heights is no major surprise. It is a tone set in motion by “Shakespearean auteur” Kenneth Branagh in the first Thor feature. In Thor: The Dark World, we are again thrust into both worlds (Earth and Asgard).

I will spare a detailed run down of the film’s events, but just know that there is a lot of plot and subplot going on.

In the end I have to admit, I was satisfactorily entertained. It is clear that the actors are comfortable with each other, as exhibited in their banter and exchange of dialogue. This rapport brings a levity that makes this comic book adaptation all the more enjoyable.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, my enjoyment of Thor has something to do with the fact that as a ‘standalone’ franchise in the larger Marvel MCU, I had set the bar of expectation pretty low. And I don’t mean it as slight. The ingredients for a well made motion picture are there: the high theater (that straddles the line of  camp) combined with very capable talent yield positive results.

For me, the standout performance is Tom Hiddleston as the ‘villain’ Loki; there is another diabolical villain in the form of Christopher Eccleston – he’s quite fine too – but I digress. Serious when he needs to be and mischievous and plotting all other times, Hiddleston seems to be having a wonderful time in the role. And that makes US have a good time, too. It will be sad that we will not be seeing him for a while. At least that frees up the actor to entertain us in other films.

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In the end, does this mean I will be seeing the third installment in the theaters? I have no idea at this point; but I am confident that regardless of the platform I choose to consume it in, Thor 3 will be a film to watch.

My rating: ILC heartILC heartILC heartILC heart halfish out of five hearts.

 

Frank (2014), directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Boy, I love going to screenings where the filmmakers are present. They offer so much insight into what we watch. And I especially love it when like in this case, they reaffirm some of my thoughts of the film.

Frank

Last week, I had the pleasure of catching Lenny Abrahamson’s latest feature, Frank, in a sneak peek/Q&A session with the director himself. But before I get too involved in a discussion of the film, two things – 1) I liked Frank and 2) consider yourself warned – this is not a film suited to everyone’s taste.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), our way into the story, is an aspiring musician who cannot seem to find his way. In a ‘creative rut,’ he has a chance encounter with Soronprfbs (don’t try to pronounce — seriously, don’t attempt it), a band playing a local gig, who just happen to be in need of a new keyboard player and so joins.

The band is led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a fake head (see above); it is an understatement to say Frank has a rather interesting approach to spearheading the band’s creative endeavors. After being with the band for some time and coming to terms with his talent deficit, Jon decides his job is to raise this avant-garde group from the depths of obscurity into stardom. One major obstacle to him accomplishing this is his fraught relationship with the other members of the band, lead by theremin-playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

What struck me about Frank is the sharp shifts in tone; for the first three quarters of Frank, the audience is caught up in rapturous fits of laughs as a result of the absurdity on display of this band’s machinations.

What happens in the final act, however, is a bit jarring. At this point Frank decides to challenge the notions of the viewers and expose us to a raw, emotional truth. As Abrahamson takes us down this road, I felt myself going with him, even to the point of being quite moved by the time the final credits rolled.

Kudos to everyone involved with this project for bringing what on its surface would seem to be an impossible story to the big screen and making it both enjoyable and accessible to its audience. As the titular Frank, Michael Fassbender’s performance is an interesting one; in it, he has the tricky task of animating a character without the use of his facial expressions, and somehow it works and is not distracting.

Unfortunately for me, I have not been exposed to the musical influences referenced as informing the movie (Frank Sidebottom / Chris Sievey, Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart), save for what was revealed to me in interviews with the cast and crew. While this contextual information is fascinating, I do not feel it is essential to one’s enjoyment of the film. Rather purposely, the filmmakers, including co-writers Jon Ronson (screenplay for Frank is based on his memoir) and Peter Straughan, seemed to have taken the source material and broadened it out to not only explore the characters but to also take a look at other themes such as artistry, mental illness and their intersection.

I could not let it pass without briefly mentioning the music in the film. Everyone is actually playing their instruments and singing their songs (rounding out the band are professional musicians: Carla Azar on drums, and French actor/musician Francois Civil on bass). According to the press notes, the music performed was recorded live; that is quite an achievement. But, as for the actual sound? I will leave it up to you to decide how to classify it. But heed what director Abrahamson said during the post screening session – it is neither good nor bad. To intentionally make the band horrible, he continues, would be rather cliche. I tend to agree. Personally, I like to think that the musical sound resides in some abstract, obscure place.

So like I said in the beginning, Frank is not a film for everyone. From the offbeat presentation, to the music and the dramatic turn in the closing stages of the film, this may be a bridge too far from some moviegoers. Which is fine, but know that you are potentially missing out on a film that may surprise you in its ability to entertain you.

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Frank opens today (August 15th 2014).

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Good Night, Betty

Betty-Joan-Perske-before-she-was-Lauren-Bacall-1944-2With sultry looks and a voice to match, Lauren Bacall epitomized the allure, glamor and resilience required of the 1940s film noir heroine/femme fatale. To the masses, she is probably most recognized for her professional and personal partnership with the legendary Humphrey Bogart, but that is only one part of the picture. Over the course of her decades long career, she held her own, through her extensive work on stage and on the  screen.

Born in the Bronx in 1924, Bacall’s striking appearance made it easy for her to find work as a model while pursuing an acting career. Her breakthrough came in 1944 when the 19-year old was plucked from obscurity and cast alongside one Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ production of To Have and Have Not. And the rest, as they say, is history …

In recent years, she appeared in more than a few prominent features, winning the Golden Globe and SAG Awards in 1996 for her performance in The Mirror Has Two Faces; she was also nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to Juliet Binoche (The English Patient).

As one of the few remaining survivors from Hollywood’s golden age, her passing at age 89, serves as a reminder that as the days increase, our direct links to that shared cinematic past are continuing falling away. We are well served to remember and appreciate the contribution that she, and others, made to the art form.

 

Here are a few films I recommend you take a look at:

(With Bogart)
To Have and Have Not (1944), dir. Howard Hawks
The Big Sleep (1946), dir. Howard Hawks (be warned, do not think about the plot too much)
Dark Passage (1947), dir. Delmer Daves
Key Largo (1948), dir. John Huston (fourth and final film with Bogart)

(Post-Bogart)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), dir. Jean Negulesco
Written on the Wind (1956), dir. Douglas Sirk – although she plays it rather straight here, this is a melodrama of epic proportions.

I know some people may be asking where is a film like Designing Woman (co starring Gregory Peck) on this list? Well I admit, I have not seen it.

What are some of your favorites?

WRITTEN ON THE WIND - American Poster by Reynold Brown 3

Fare Thee Well, Friend

When someone as well known and entertaining as Robin Williams passes away rather unexpectedly, the response is profound and immediate. Over the course of his vaunted career, he left audiences in fits of unbridled fits of laughter at his manic displays, but he could also reach moving, sentimental heights through the power of performance in films such as Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. He even pleasantly popped up in some unexpected places too (Dead Again).

Which is funny, because as a youth, I had quite the opposite reaction. Allow me to elaborate.

I found the poster!

I found the poster!

My brothers and I grew up in the time of Mork and Mindy. Apparently, my parents assumed that my brothers (especially) were huge fans – so much so that they bought a poster of Robin Williams in rainbow suspenders. This poster found residence for a number of years prominently displayed in their room. I tell you something – that poster was the source of many a bad dream. I swore his eyes staring down at me with the sole intent of tormenting my 4-5 year old soul.

Of course, this was all worked up in my head because as the years wore on, this response was replaced with a feeling of fondness when I would see him on the big screen and small because at the end of the day, he laid it out there for you to enjoy. Sure, there may have been a few “misses” along the way – no artist worth their salt will have a 100%, perfect track record. In fact, the ability to take that leap and see how everything shakes out, is something to be respected and admired. And in that regard, I truly respect the man and the gifts he shared with the world.

It has been said over and over in the 24+ hours since the news of his passing, but there is that bitter irony that a person who could make us laugh and leave us so full, also has within themselves something quite the opposite. Not surprising because I think that is a central theme of the human condition but, I would like to think that for fleeting moments, Williams’ art allowed him to exorcise just a little of that darkness. And through our joy in his performance, he was able to experience some measure of pleasure and satisfaction.

And while I may be permitted momentarily to be selfish, wishing that he was able to continue to share that energy with us, I also recognize the punctuated loss felt by those who were nearest and dearest to him. For them, I extend the deepest of sympathies.

 

Shake Your Groove Thing @ the Cinema – Fave Music From the Movies

An integral part of any movie going experience is the music that accompanies the film’s action. After the high of the wonderfully-tracked Guardians of the Galaxy, I started to think about some of my favorite soundtracks. I was certain that in digging around my site I would find a post/list. On the contrary, I was frankly quite surprised that a comprehensive post did not actually exist; sure I have alluded to some of my favorite bits of movie music from time to time, but never have I really fully fleshed it out. But no time like the present, eh?

Movie Music

On my list, you will not find much rhyme, reason or a discernible pattern as per my musical tastes, save for a slight penchant for 70’s disco. But overall, this is an eclectic mix of song and score spanning a host of genres. Good music is good music, I say. And when that music bolsters the story to be told on screen, double wow!

Also bear in mind, no particular order was considered; it was whatever came to the top of my head, with an assist of the internet in the event that I missed anything I would want to mention. At the conclusion of the post, feel free to share your faves in the comments section below.

A final note: I know there are a lot of great soundtracks out there for movies that I have not seen. To be fair, it would make no sense if (even knowing those songs) I included them on this list without seeing the completed film. In other words you will not be seeing Help, Hard Day’s Night on this list.

  1. Star Wars: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – the film is an integral part of my cinematic life, and so is the music.
  2. The Sound of Music – 45th Anniversary Edition – an important part of my youth and related school productions. I know all the words by heart and sing/hum along whenever I watch the film (which is not as often as it deserves to be watched).
  3. The Third Man (Original Score) [Bonus Track Version] – that haunting zither ….
  4. The Sting: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – great introduction to the ragtime music that fits the magnificent film to a tee.
  5. Best Of James Bond – from the Barry score to the titular songs sung by the eminent pop artists of the day, this is one where I cannot point to a singular movie but rather the collective.
  6. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Music From The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1988 Re-recording of 1938 Score) – the compositions of this Errol Flynn classic are as bright and boisterous as the poppy Technicolor film.
  7. Pulp Fiction – the film has not stood the test of time for me, but this soundtrack certainly has.
  8. Walt Disney’s Fantasia – introduced to this film by my dear dad, I was immediately entranced by the use of classical music and animation.
  9. Starter for Ten – a deserves-to-be-seen gem of a film with a fantastic not-to-miss soundtrack, featuring music of Kate Bush, The Cure, and The Smiths.
  10. Psycho/Vertigo – I cannot really decide between the two, but these here are examples of the Herrmann/Hitchcock partnership at their peak.
  11. Love Jones – neo-soul and jazz make for a wonderful musical mix.
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol.1 🙂
  13. Love & Basketball – a rhythmic musical journey through the 80’s and 90’s.
  14. High Fidelity – a movie essentially set in a record store better have a good soundtrack.
  15. Love Actually – love(ly) music is all around. Sorry, I just had to do it.
  16. Saturday Night Fever – basically a Bee Gees album. A classic.
  17. Boogie Nights – another harmonious time capsule that excellently accompanies its film.
  18. Grease – a sing along favorite of mine and I suspect many others!
  19. Muriel’s Wedding – ABBA sings the songs of Muriel’s life.

And Then There is the Small Screen …

So yeah, I love cinema. But I also love me some television too!

From time to time, I have tagged in this space couple of my posts as their content is targeted for the small screen. But like I have done in the past, I thought I would share with you some of the programming I am currently watching on television.

I really feel like scripted drama has for a number of years produced programming that rivals what is on offer at the local cinema, having the added benefit of time and space to allow a story  and characters to breathe and become fully formed.

 

Borgen

This Danish political drama accomplishes what few of our favorites at home are able to achieve – show the complex inner workings and machinations of governing and the impact and cost this quest for power has on the personal lives of its players. I am still getting through all the episodes, but shout out to Todd Mason for being one of a few to bring this series to my attention.

borgen-season-one-banner

 

Penny Dreadful (SHO)

Victorian Gothic horror at its finest. It’s a marvel – beautifully photographed and wonderfully played– this series takes many of the classic ‘monsters’ from literature, mixes them with some newly imagined folks and produces some must see television. It is a world of less than savory characters that we have just been introduced to. With a limited first series of just eight episodes, the stage is well set. And have no fear – you will have plenty of time to play catch up with it in time for the new season, coming sometime in 2015 (Season One is available Oct 7th on the following platforms: iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, Target Ticket, Sony Ent Network & VerizonFios).

Penny Dreadful

 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Well, just because it is the land of swords and castles and Kit Harington’s flowing locks blowing in the wind. This last season ended on such an epic note for me I cannot even begin to describe. And no, I have not read the source material and have no intentions of doing so (decided a while ago); I am just going to go along for the ride, courtesy of HBO.

Game of Thrones, Iron Throne

 

Outlander (STARZ)

The show has not even aired officially (starts this Saturday at 9:00PM), but the premiere episode (now available online and On Demand) has me hooked! So much so, I have already started to read ahead with the novels to find out what happens next.

Outlander

 

Orphan Black (BBC America)

If truth be told this past season had a whole LOT going on (sometimes too much); season one ROCKED. And um … Tatiana Maslany.

Orphan Black, Tatiana Malsany

 

The Great British Bakeoff (BBC One)

This is an import so I really do not get to see it in real time (first caught on a trip abroad) but I love cake and this is like the most exciting, tension-packed thing you will probably ever see in a cookery show. SERIOUSLY – you guys are going to have to believe me.

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Image Credit: BBC One

 

And coming this fall (next month to be exact) …

SOA-POSTER

The final season of Sons of Anarchy (FX). Sure I was a bit late to this party, but I am glad to have joined. Its departure will be sad, but I am confident it will be a satisfying end (notice I did not say “happy”). And the above poster does not hold out too much promise (save Hunnam’s face).

 

Also in my wheelhouse: American Horror Story: Freakshow; Devious Maids (it knows what it is and I LOVE that about the show); whatever Masterpiece has on offer (The latest? Endeavor); House of Cards; Doctor Who (as of this month, starring Peter Capaldi).

Doctor Who Capaldi

 

I know I am missing some stuff. I really watch too much television. But what about you? Any recommendations to fill my DVR queue? What are you all watching? Hit the comments section below.

Did Guardians of the Galaxy Cure Me of My CBMFS*?

(* where CBMFS stands for Comic Book Movie Fatigue Syndrome)

It came on so suddenly that I initially did not even recognize what was happening. Many good, some bad, but this spate of comic book movie adaptations started to feel like an assault on my cinematic sensibilities ultimately leading to a malaise, and overall indifference from one movie to the next.

This past year this May to be exact I experienced the rather acute symptom of skipping out on X-Men: Days of Future Past. Now THIS was a rather anomalous event for me, for two principle reasons — 1) It’s an X-Men film and 2) probably more telling, Michael Fassbender stars in it. On a Venn diagram, those two factors would generally be enough for me to go fetch. Not this time …

But you are wondering, I suppose, how would the full onset of CBMFS affect my viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend? Let me preface this by saying, early signs did not look promising – all the marketing and promotion for the film totally missed me. So much so that I could not clearly recall to you any trailers or “features” I saw in the build up to its release.

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A fact I now think may have played into my response to the film – in brief, this was possibly the most enjoyable installment the Marvel universe has delivered. It was an entertaining mélange of humor, drama, a healthy hint of romance and throngs of pulse-pounding action. And if you were to strip away these layers, there is a heart and sentimentality that rendered the film’s characters whole beings. In other words, a complete package.

The unlikely leader of this band of misfits is Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt. He is a Terra (Earthling), who after tragedy occurs is taken to the far reaches of the galaxy. The only remnant of his terrestrial existence being his Walkman™ and its accompanying mix tape, and an as-yet opened package and note from his mother.

His latest mission is to acquire an orb, which we are soon to discover is a great deal more powerful than he (or we could ever) imagine. Enter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), sent by baddie Ronan (Lee Pace) and über baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) to retrieve the orb; Groot (voiced sparingly by Vin Diesel) and his more talkative companion Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by scene stealing Bradley Cooper), a tag team seeking the bounty for the capture of Quill. Rounding out the Guard squad is strong man Drax, played by wrestler David Bautista.

As I reflected on the film post-screening, I realized this quest/object is not the whole story, it’s just the modern day Macguffin – the thing that the players care intensely about, and the audience may struck curious about, but ultimately is a distraction from what really matters – the characters and their personal journeys. This is what was so personally affecting for me about Guardians. Everyone has a story that is punctuated by the sense of loss and personal tragedy. Yet here they are, these ‘losers,’ on a mission for a much greater good. That is why, while I understand the need for continuity with the rest of the Marvel universe, I think more than anything, Guardians stands apart from the pack as being wholly unique and standalone.

That achievement is impossible to accomplish without the aid of some serviceable scribing and performing. Co-credited with the writing honors are this film’s director (James Gunn) and Nicole Perlman, the first female screenwriter in the current Marvel cinematic franchise – make of that what you will.

In addition to the entertaining central performances I listed previously, there is the supporting cast of characters that made this a most enjoyable trip to the movies. I was planning on pointing out a noteworthy performance here and there, but soon realized I was simply reciting the IMDB cast list.

As for the music, both scored and that courtesy of the Star Lord’s awesome mix tapes is, as I friend of mine mentioned, a welcomed character in its own right.

So back to the start – am I cured once and for all of my CBMFS? The answer is an ever-ambiguous I’m not absolutely sure. But what I am sure of is that Guardians of the Galaxy is a really, really good film that I recommend others see before the summer passes.