Previewing Best Documentary Short Nominees – My post on the LAMB

The Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB), run by Jay Cluitt, has been sort of my conduit to blog film criticism and specifically posdcasting. I was on the MOTM episode last weekend and found out I had time to submit an article for ‘Best Documentary Short’ nominees for the Oscars. I was quite happy about that.

I watched all 5 short films and wrote mini reviews. Jay was kind enough to publish my post today on the LAMB.

Below is an excerpt, you can visit the LAMB site to read the whole thing. I found these shorts to be some of the most powerful films I’ve seen ever, even just at 20 minutes or so each. A common theme is “connectedness” of the humans on several levels.

This year’s short film documentary nominees are all excellent, however they aren’t really “feel good” films but they use the documentary short genre to deliver important and powerful information of our time. Recurrent themes like the plight of refugees and the Holocaust abound. This is great news to me because I believe in these causes and movies are a powerful medium to broadcast them. I rate this type of film by how captivating the presentation is, and my how captivating they can be! Since the Oscar should go to the film as an art form, the topic is actually secondary.

Extremis

Currently streaming on Netflix. This difficult short film takes the viewer into the real ER and hospital beds of the critically ill. Whether it’s cancer or a disabling disorder requiring a breathing tube, we see what doctors and families face every day. I have become increasingly interested in the right to die with dignity movement. This short really makes a great case for consideration. These are real patients filmed in a real hospital setting. The interviews with their families as well as the footage of them being interviewed by doctors are all real. It is almost impossible to watch in a comfortable way but then again, impossible to turn it off.

The White Helmets

Also streaming on Netflix. The Syrian conflict is unknown to a lot of Americans. It’s relevant because Obama’s administration gave a lot of aid and assistance to the refugees. I was always a proponent of this because I hated to think people had nowhere to go except into the bombs. This film made me realize I was right to support the Syrian aid. It focuses on a group known as the White Helmets. They are a volunteer Syrian force that assists those in the bombing zones. Like Extremis this is a hard short film to watch. It’s also a great film because you can’t turn away from it, it draws you in. …

Read the rest of my post at the LAMB site.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This movie opinion piece is based on my article first published as Voyage of the Dawn Treader Actors Grown into Their Skin on Blogcritics.

Much can be said in praise of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Among those praises is the acting. We saw most of these characters in the prior Narnia films, but never so grown up in their acting skills. In a way I think the franchise would have been better with all of them at this age (2010). I don’t know if the messages of Narnia can be properly played by kids who haven’t lived much. Maybe I have to go back and see the old one again? Whatever I may find in reviewing prior films, the actors in Voyage of the Dawn Treader are grown up to perfectly play the kids of Narnia.

The director Michael Apted is one to be respected. His back catalog includes Nell with Jodie Foster, a Bond film The World is Not Enough, and a slough of other films through the years that most any fan of film culture has heard of. All his efforts come together and make this movie appear a professional, emotive film for our times. It is regal, like the impression you get looking at a fine chandeliers.

There are three screenplay authors: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni. The first two worked together on the previous Narnia films while Petroni was brought in just for this one. This may be what adds a new dimension to this film for me. Of course, with three writers adapting a novel to a screenplay, it’s impossible for a humble viewer to say who brought what.

Stellar acting is delivered by the once small Lucy Pevensie, Georgie Henley. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is growing into an accomplished actress and yet she maintains an unassuming air rarely seen in big time actors. There is a scene before she goes into Narnia when she is in her school uniform talking with her siblings and I could tell by her experiences voice and movement that she had grown into a more soulful, mature actor.

Another actor grown into his own skin is Skandar Keynes, Edmund Pevensie. His interactions with the white witch in this film are much more believable than the ones previously. This is crucial to the impact of this film in as much as “dealings with the devil” are important to all the works of C.S. Lewis.

Ben Barnes, who plays Caspian, also plays a very maturely acted role and adds a lot to the film. When I look at photos of him off camera I am struck by how much older and mature he looks in the movie than how he appears in real life. I think all the characters really grew up to act in this film and it provides a positive impact.

Last but not least, Will Poulter plays Eustace Clarence Scrubb. This character by far gives the film more depth than previous Narnia ones. While we may not find him a loveable figure, we see ourselves in Eustace. Whoever has been self conscious or fearful can find relatable material in his character. He does an excellent job conveying an “unlikeable” character to the audience. The payoff? In the end we learn it’s ok to be imperfect. Aren’t we all? Furthermore, the imperfect can inherit the promised land.

It is clear to me the Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be remembered more than the prior ones in this franchise. This is due in large part to the actors having grown into their own skin and their craft.

Devil

One of Director M. Night Shyamalan’s stories was adapted into a screenplay and made into a movie. This is a different way to market something of his because he usually writes, produces, and even acts a small role in everything he makes. This time, he just gets the producer credit.

image

Devil is a combination of light horror (PG-13), mystery, and thriller. It’s hard to believe all three of those can be pulled off from inside an elevator but they are.

Devil is directed by John Erick Dowdle who recently directed Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes. He’s created a movie that looks smart and interweaves all three genres previously mentioned to make a scary, engaging movie that adolescents and adults will love. This film is not for kids. There are some bloody scenes that kids shouldn’t see. Having said that, it is pretty tame material for 13 and up.

The premise of this movie is that the Devil has entered an elevator at a metropolitan high-rise. The people locked in the elevator all have one shared flaw: they refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes in life. In each person’s case, the mistakes have caused death or other harm to befall innocent people. The Devil delivers justice in clever ways. There is a twist, as in all of M. Night’s movies. The twist reveals the mystery and so ends the movie.

The acting is top notch. The cast is a set of relative newbies. A notable performance however is given by veteran actor Jenny O’Hara. All the acting in this movie is given with a visible purpose and it makes the mystery all that much more fun to try and figure out. You feel like the characters are so real, you have a chance at figuring out what the end point will be. I find it incorrect that the movie is being marketed as a horror movie. I almost missed it because of such marketing. It is more than that. It reminds me of Rod Serling’s short Twilight Zone episodes. We can take a moral element from it and that is rare in today’s sound byte movie culture. So, to do my part for my blogging ‘compadres,’ I’m clearing up the misconceptions. This is a smartly crafted film. There are a lot of movies out there that are scary, but not many that leave you deep in thought as Devil does.

Meet the Robinsons

Disney’s Meet the Robinsons doesn’t start out like a Disney wonder, but it ends that way. If you can make it through the first 3/4 of the movie, you’ll be greatly rewarded (incidentally, I found that “Bridge to Terabithia” was the same way . . . is Disney using a formula here?) The story is spotty at the beginning and not much really makes sense. It reminded me of “Alice in Wonderland” at first the way it shifted from one (as Windows Vista ads would say) “wow” to another but without any real plot development. But just when you think it’s a random remake of Fantasia, a very sweet and human story about dreams and invention comes into focus.

This is a great movie for kids, but also for grown-ups (hmmm I find myself saying that a lot lately). The graphics, of course, are stellarly cool. Watching the spaceship alone is a marvel worth the 10 dollar admission. But there is much to marvel at in this movie. It is so complicated in art and story that it is one I’ll be buying on DVD so my kids can watch it over and over. As they get older they will come to understand it’s message about belongingness and believing in your own dreams. There are a lot of surprises in this one, and they all serve to make you more brave about being human with yourself and others. What does being “human” mean? Hmmm. That’s another blog altogether, but trust me, you’ll get it when you see it.

The movie closes with a quotation from Walt and it is like a perfect espresso after a delightful meal. This is one cartoon that won’t fall by the wayside with “Barnyard” or “Over the Hedge.” While those movies are good, they aren’t great like “Meet the Robinsons.” Did I mention I liked it?

Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
-Walt Disney

Postscript 11-23-2010: Re-watching “Meet the Robinsons” with my kids today I noticed the villain when discussing henchman says “not a good Minion.” Interesting that the henchman in two huge blockbusters recently: Despicable Me and Megamind both have a henchman named “Minion.” Coincidence?

The Time Traveler’s Wife – The poor woman!

My wife suggested we see The Time Traveler’s Wife last night and so we had a late date night. The movie was slow at first but once it got going, I found it to be touching and human. It brought up a lot of things to talk about on the ride home. The Time Traveler’s Wife (TTTW) is a romantic drama starring Eric Bana as the Time Traveler, Henry DeTamble, and Rachel McAdams as his wife, Clare Abshire. It was directed by Robert Schwentke. He has directed a proud set of films the most famous of them being “Flight Plan” with Jodie Foster. There are other cast actors of note you can find at The Time Traveler’s Wife IMDB page. Minor spoilers ahead.

Now for my DVD review: Henry “travels.” His wife might as well have a bumper sticker that says “travel happens.” They don’t have any idea why he does or when it will happen. This makes for a lot of stress in both their lives as they try and have a normal marriage and baby while he is “beaming up” all the time to certain locations.

One place he travels repeatedly is the meadow where he first met his eventual wife Claire. She was a 9 year old wandering off in search of imaginary friends. He knows what to tell her so she isn’t afraid because he is with her in the future. Theirs is a rocky relationship with some seductive kissing but far more moments of distrust, acute fear, and resentment. At one point he says to her, “You made a choice.” to which she replies indignantly, “I NEVER had a choice.” In a way I think that’s true because when someone comes from the future claiming to know all your desires, and you’re 9, it’s probably quite hard to resist that fantasy. In this case, the fantasy was all too real.

You see all the token time travel issues come up here. There is talk of how you cannot change certain things. There is foreshadowing of his death before it happens. There are some interesting twists that can only be possible when you have a time travel theme. The basic crux of the movie is Claire’s growth. She herself “travels” mentally from a 9 year old girl in love with a man who visits her in the meadow to a 30-something woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown married to a “spontaneous” time traveler. There are times he is in the room one minute and then there is nothing but his clothes collapsed on his shoes. Imagine going through a marriage that way?

Her undying love for him is what’s worth watching. Bana is a little bland in my opinion. I think just about anyone could play his role. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, is perfectly suited for the role. As I watched I was impressed by the emotion she could summon in many of the scenes. I have a feeling when you see her cry, those are HER tears. I wouldn’t say her performance is Oscar worthy but it comes close, darn close. Part of the problem might be the writing. While much of it was poetic, there was a lot of the same stuff between man and woman we’ve seen again and again. Like I said though, once the uneventful beginning is through, the middle to end is a wonderful, sometimes difficult, always romantic human love story.

I haven’t fought back a tear since “Meet Joe Black” played in the theater. This one had that effect on me. I’d say this movie is mostly for married people in their late 20’s and up. Some of this stuff I have lived through and the time travel aspect really allows the movie to delve into relationships and love and purpose in life. I’d give it 8/10. Have you seen it? Care to comment on any of these topics I’ve mentioned? Please do comment below.

The Girl on the Train (2016) 4/5

I really enjoyed this film, even after IMDB and RT gave it poor scores. This is one example of when you shouldn’t listen to the critics 100%. It’s a mystery and thriller with Emily Blunt, one of my favorite actors. This film is a winner in my book.

R | 1h 52min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller | 7 October 2016 (USA)
A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)
Stars: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson

Whodunnit? That’s what we have here. I think it’s close to impossible to guess until about 1/2 way through. At that point people are likely to have differences of opinion. Blunt’s figure is trying to find out why she is so afraid of herself. To start, we find her fear is based on listening to the bad others say about her, including her ex-husband. The stuff she hears is so awful, she drowns herself in drinking. Most people would just drink themselves to death but not her. She sets out to figure out why these people say these things. To her, they don’t “seem like her.”

It’s a thriller for sure and one of the best of 2016 in my opinion. The unfurling of the truth is a bit melodramatic, I was hoping for more, but certainly exciting. For fans of Emily and the thriller genre in general, I highly recommend this.

4/5 Shamrocks
4/5 Shamrocks

Amadeus (1984)

Why are gifted musicians crazy? It’s true, they really are. Wolfgang Amadeus was among the most loopy. He had a woman in his life who truly cared for him but basically his private life was a train wreck but didn’t he make beautiful tunes?

R | 2h 40min | Biography, Drama, History | 19 September 1984 (USA)
The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri – now confined to an insane asylum.
Director: Milos Forman
Writers: Peter Shaffer (original stage play), Peter Shaffer (original screenplay)
Stars: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge

Another item we see in this film is the evil mentor, the Obi Wan who seeks to take down and destroy his apprentice. You can’t blame Salieri for hating Mozart, after all he was practically composing out of the womb. He had “an ear” while others only had hard work and traditional training on their side.

In Mozart we see an annoying freak. We also so a tortured young man who was “above” us all. He heard the songs of the gods and brought them down to us. This is a highly entertaining film, despite a few lagging and questionably accurate segments. If you think it looks boring because of the classical music though, think again. I recommend this film to lovers of music, history, and passion filled biographies.

4/5 Shamrocks
4/5 Shamrocks

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

IMDB’s number one movie shouldn’t be fucked with right? Well, it has its imperfections. The reason they picked Tim Robbins will always be a mystery to me. All the other casting is good. It’s an inspired Stephen King novel and that’s why it’s good (and the only reason why), in my opinion.

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
Director: Frank Darabont
Writers: Stephen King (short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”), Frank Darabont (screenplay)
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Most people who see this film have a visceral reaction. It’s not boring in any way. I like prison films and this is sort of a sing-song one. Still, it’s a great prison film and I like it a lot.

You get to see what happens on the inside from a kinder, gentler, machine gun lens. Part of that is due to Stephen King. You know, he is very tame compared to some of the other horror writers. There is a bent in a lot of his stuff against traditional religion. I can definitely relate with that bent.

There is also a lot of Murphy’s Law. I probably don’t need to recommend this since it’s done quite well for decades on its own. Still, I recommend it to fans of prison movies and Stephen King’s outlook on things. Beware of a sing-song nature. This isn’t the hard, deep stuff of life as it claims to be.

3/5 Shamrocks
3/5 Shamrocks

 

The Godfather

Everybody knows the Godfather right? Well, that isn’t necessarily true. I think people about my age take it for granted as an amazing classic. We assume all movie fans have it memorized. I know my podcast cohort isn’t fond of it. As strange as that sounds, I must accept it is true. I’ll tell you what appeals to me about it.

R | 2h 55min | Crime, Drama | 24 March 1972 (USA)
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Mario Puzo (screenplay), Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay)
Stars: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

There’s something powerful about Don Corleone. He’s amassed wealth and an empire entire outside of society’s machine. He has become a new machine. He does “favors,” usually entailing crimes, for the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker. Then they owe their allegiance to him and his family mafia. What we see in the film is a powerful crime family made up of those people, built one by one.

There is a bunch of violence but it’s righteous. You get me, I get you back. That’s how it works in the mafia. This film changed the world and especially changed movies. The way things are done now is warped in a twisted and beautiful way little bit because of the Godfather. I recommend this film to people who can take righteous violence and who enjoy amazing period pieces with thick character development. Also, who can miss the best of Marlon Brando?

5/5 Shamrocks
5/5 Shamrocks

Network (1976)

In these days of the Hunger Games, this movie makes a pale statement. Still, it was fun watching this 1976 film make its statement against the media, specifically the news. Some of it even reminded me of the stuff trump is pulling these days (lowercase is intentional).

[JSON_ERROR_SYNTAX]
[imdblive:posterRemote_nolink]

[imdblive:title_nolink]

“[imdblive:plot]” -IMDB

Cast

[imdblive:cast]

Directed by

[imdblive:directors_nolink]

Written by

[imdblive:writers_nolink]

Other Info

[imdblive:genres]
[imdblive:certificate]
[imdblive:date]
[imdblive:runtime]min
IMDB Rating: [imdblive:rating]

The story is basically in a news station. A crazy newscaster who the world has grown used to and familiar with has a psychotic break and begins making promises that he will take his life on television. Instead of getting rid of him, the network sees the ratings go up and puts him on camera again and again.

We see the greed of the network from all angles. We also see the sheep-like nature of the audience. There is a culminating event that wraps the whole cynical point up nicely. There are some great classic actors in their 30’s like Faye Dunaway. I love films from 1976 and thereabouts. They are simply showing the buildings and attire of the day and yet it looks like the best retro modern films can offer.

I recommend this film mostly for political cynics. Besides that, it’s a tense but well made drama from 1976. I recommend to all.

%d bloggers like this: