FLICKS: The BFG & Independence Day: Resurgence

Posted on 30 June 2016 by LeslieM

flicks063016By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

It has been 34 years since director Steven Spielberg released his 6th motion picture, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, whose box office gross made him the King of Summer blockbusters. At the time, Harrison Ford was dating Melissa Mathison, who wrote the screenplay for E.T. When Mathison fell ill, Spielberg reviewed some of her screenplays and was impressed by her adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which was published in 1982, the same year that E.T. the Extraterrestial was released. While best known for his dark children’s novels like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s The BFG confronted an emotion he was unfamiliar with — sentimentality. The diverse collaboration between Dahl, Mathison and Spielberg has created a fine motion picture based on a book.

Sophie (Rudy Barnhill) is an orphan with insomnia. One night, she spots a giant (Mark Rylance) roaming the streets of London. Fearing reprisals from humans, the giant abducts Sophie and takes her to his hovel. Fearful at first, Sophie develops a kinship with the giant, who she names “BFG” — short for Big Friendly Giant.

Sophie learns that BFG is actually the runt of the giants and that he is frequently bullied by his brethren. When the mean giants get too aggressive, BFG plans to return Sophie to the orphanage. However, Sophie has another idea and it involves meeting the Queen of England.

Being Spielberg’s first Walt Disney movie, The BFG is pure family entertainment. There is fantastic cinematography that is spiritually enhanced by John Williams’ musical score. There are scary moments, but not scary enough to induce nightmares. There are subtle moments of humor, with a whizzpopping belly laugh that builds to absurd levels. The BFG is a good afternoon escape from the summer heat.

A sequel 20 years in the making, Independence Day:Resurgence opened last weekend with disappointing box office. While the sequel does provide the science fiction community their jollies, the film is not as good as the predecessor.

With reference to the fictional events of 1996, Jeff Goldblum and Madame President (Sela Ward) learn that the aliens are planning a counterattack. They recruit the children of the heroes from the first movie to fly into danger. Things go wrong when the aliens unleash a secret weapon. Cliches abound. One cliche involves sacrificial death. With a swelling musical score, this dramatic scene feels false; the sacrificial death proves meaningless.

The best part of this film features Goldblum and Judd Hirsch’s kvetching father. The bantering between the two feels real with much humor and humanity.

Happy 4th of July!

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FLICKS: The Music of Strangers & Finding Dory

Posted on 23 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

There is a strong disconnect from what I see on television news and what I am witnessing at the local movie theaters. While headline news is simply atrocious with rhetoric that can be found in either The Book of Amos or The Book of Revelations, at the cinemas, I see happy people attending happy movies.

Opening tomorrow, The Music of Strangers features cellist Yo Yo Ma assembling his “Silk Road Ensemble,” a collection of international musicians who bring forth their own cultural artistry. Formed in the year 2000, the subject of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is presented, but this tragedy is not exploited. This film talks about cultural understanding through the international language of music.

In this 15 year artistic odyssey, Yo Yo Ma travels through China, Iran and Spain, countries that introduced Western Civilization to Asian culture in the 15th Century. After this cross cultural exchange of goods and services, “Silk Road Ensemble” is an appropriate name for Yo Yo Ma’s band of musicians. We watch and listen to these fine craftsman express themselves with familiar instruments like a cello, banjo or a clarinet. Yet, we are also introduced to the indigenous sounds of instruments like the Chinese pipa and the Persian kamancheh. After watching these individuals perform and party backstage, you may feel better about the world.

When Finding Nemo was released 13 years ago, I was told that a mother was upset at the violence that Nemo and his father endured in the film’s opening. Now that the child is college age, I wonder how that individual is now holding up.  Unlike Finding Nemo, Finding Dory does not open with the death of a parent, but this sweet movie does provide some scary moment about loneliness and alienation.

This new Walt Disney Pixar motion picture opens with a close-up of big-eyed baby Dory, who announces her name and that “she has a short-term memory problem.” We are then introduced to Dory’s loving parents (voiced by Kate McKinnon and Bill Hader), who are teaching their special needs child. Dory becomes lost and spends the rest of the movie trying to remember why her parents are so important.

Finding Dory is that simple of a movie. Yet the film is rich with character development and emotional resonance. Dory (perfectly voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is such a vulnerable character, yet one is surprised by the strength she has gained through listening to her inner voice.

Dory’s charm forges a relationship with Hank the Octopi (Ed O’Neil), a streetwise curmudgeon with three hearts of gold. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by a new child actor) both return in supporting roles.

What is so unique about the documentary The Music of Strangers and the animated film Finding Dory is the lack of villains in both movies. In today’s popular entertainment culture, it is refreshing to see individuals overcoming challenges by simply being themselves.

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FLICKS: Wedding Doll, Genius & The Conjuring 2

Posted on 16 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Spoken in Hebrew with English subtitles, Wedding Doll opens tomorrow in local cinema. It is a quirky drama about growth that is both tragic and humorous. Hagit is a young woman with learning disabilities who works in a toilet paper factory. She is courted by the boss’s son, much to Hagit’s mother’s disapproval. Filmed in Israel with cinematography echoes of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Wedding Doll is a dry movie with a lively performance from Moran Rosenblatt as Hagit.

Genius opens tomorrow with Colin Firth headlining an all star cast as Max Perkins, the famed book editor of Scribner’s Publishers. Jude Law portrays Thomas Wolfe, a frail genius in the mode of Max Perkins’ previous clients: Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce).

To the shock of many box office experts, the relatively low budgeted The Conjuring 2 was extremely successful last weekend. A worthy follow up to the original film, this sequel presents the further adventures of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), a paraprofessional married couple in league with the Roman Catholic Church.

After wrapping up their investigation of the Amityville Horror in Long Island, Lorraine has a vision about her husband’s death. Feeling apprehensive, Lorraine wants to avoid getting involved with any future exorcisms. However, when the Hodgson family in London encounter an old man poltergeist, the Roman Catholic Church recruit the reluctant Warren family to investigate.

Due to their father’s departure, the Hodgson family recently moved into this London flat. Daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is taking it the hardest. She sleepwalks, is frequently ill and has nightmares. At first, Mother Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) dismisses Janet’s problems, until she witnesses paranormal activity in her other children.

Director James Wan knows how to tell a story. With a minuscule budget, Wan helped create the Saw and Insidious series of movies, terror tales that feature a dose of human compassion. Including The Conjuring series, Wan’s movies rely on tried and true suspense techniques. Each film builds to successful payoff, one that does not rely on blood explosions induced by computerized special effects.

With a confident hand, Wan directs a scene with Patrick Wilson that could have become maudlin. Learning that the family used to enjoy listening to Elvis Presley albums, the Warrens purchase the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. Given the poltergeist’s tampering with the electronics, Ed Warren picks up an acoustic guitar and entertains the family. Between the previous scares and future shocks, this musical scene creates an intimate moment between the family and the human audience.

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FLICKS: L’Attesa (The Wait) & Alice Through the Looking Glass

Posted on 09 June 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

L’Attesa (The Wait) opens tomorrow at the Living Room Theater on the FAU campus. Purely an art house drama with serious themes, L’Attesa is based on a play and a short story written by Sicilian legend Luigi Pirandello. The film stars Juliette Binoche as the matriarch of a mansion by the sea.

The film opens with Anna (Binoche) attending a funeral and returning to her lonely mansion. The phone rings and echoes through the halls. It is Jeanne (Lou de Laage), the girl friend of Anna’s son, Guiseppe. Jeanne and Guiseppe made plans to meet at Anna’s mansion for the Easter holiday.

The film is a slow paced mystery, full of haunted imagery. Owing a debt to Classic Neorealism of Italian cinema, director Piero Messina melds a modern interpretation of a Pirandello tragedy. The experienced craft of Binoche and fresh talent of Laage form a strong working partnership. See L’Attesa with a friend and discuss the film over a glass of red wine.

Grief is a hard sale for the summer box office season, especially when it is based on classic children’s literature, which might explain why Alice Through the Looking Glass is tanking at the box office. Throw in bad publicity from a cast mate and this has already become Walt Disney Studio’s biggest bomb of 2016. Sadly, it is a superior sequel to the origin film six years ago.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has become a successful sea captain because she believes the only way to accomplish the impossible is to believe it is possible. However, when Alice returns home, she learns that her mother is in financial distress. Realizing that her mother’s dilemma was caused by her actions in the previous movie, Alice follows a blue butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman) into a mirror, which is a portal to Wonderland.

Once in Wonderland, Alice learns that her best friend Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) suffers from melancholia. With the aid of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee & Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the Dormouse and the White Rabbit, Alice must steal from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and battle the vengeful Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). This imaginative flight of fancy will amuse art patrons who enjoy Impressionism and Surrealism with Steampunk motifs.

While dealing with darker themes, Alice Through the Looking Glass is an entertaining motion picture that I wished I saw on the IMAX’s five-storey screen. Stick around for the end credits in which a loving tribute is provided to the late Alan Rickman.

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FLICKS: To Life! and X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted on 02 June 2016 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

To Life! opens tomorrow in neighborhood theaters. A German movie (Auf das leben!) with English subtitles, To Life! is about two misfits who are separated by generational gaps, but united by personal pain and loss.

Ruth (Hannelore Elsner) is a troubled senior with a past. A victim of the Nazi Holocaust, Ruth was a popular cabaret singer in post-war Berlin. After a rocky start, Ruth befriends Jonas (Max Riemelt), a troubled man on the run. As these two lost souls confront their problems, both individuals find simple healing.

At 86 minutes, To Life! feels epic, especially during some clever flashback scenes featuring young Ruth (Sharon Brauner). Once the climax is reached, the film wraps up with sweet denouement that will make one toast “L’Chaim!”

It has been 16 years since Bryan Singer directed the first X-Men movie, a film hailed as the most realistic comic book movie of all time. Now Singer has closed out the second X-Men trilogy, and there is a sense of diminishing returns.

There is an attempt to make X-Men: Apocalypse a stand-alone movie, but the weight of five X-Men movies, two Wolverine movies and one Deadpool film constricts the narrative momentum. With X-Men: Apocalypse, the production staff reaches back to Biblical times to create a villain, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), an ancient one who recruits the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Of course, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mutants, most notably former X-Men teammates Storm (Alexandra Shipp, replacing Halle Berry) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

While running the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, wheelchair bound Professor X (James McAvoy) attempts to prevent the end of the world in 1983. Professor X reunites with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who served on the X-Men team during the Cuban Missile crisis and end of the Vietnam War.

With Hugh Jackman providing a cameo to set up his final Wolverine movie, X-Men: Apocalypse is a montage of superheroes performing their own unique talents: Mystique is a chameleon, Magneto controls metal and Professor X thinks.

Despite a critical drubbing, this film was the Memorial Day weekend box office champion. It is not a bad film, but it simply feels tired.

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FLICKS: Ma Ma, Weiner & PBS Memorial Day Concert

Posted on 26 May 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

With The Voice and Dancing with the Stars ending their respective seasons this week, only the NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey playoffs are providing reality television competition. Alice Through the Looking Glass and X-Men: Apocalypse will fill the big screens this weekend; however, two distinct and intimate movies are opening tomorrow with less promotion: the documentary Weiner and the Spanish movie Ma Ma.

Penelope Cruz gives a charismatic, truthful and fully naked performance as Magda, the protagonist of Ma Ma. In fact, the actress is seen topless receiving a routine breast examination. When the gynecologist (Asier Etxeandia ) orders more tests, we learn that Magda has cancer in her right breast.

Magda accepts the results with courage; she is busy dealing with the recent separation from her husband while taking her son, Dani (Teo Planell) to soccer matches. Between bus rides to her chemotherapy treatments, Magda meets Arturo (Luis Tosar), a man of constant sorrow.

With such a plot synopsis, Ma Ma might seem like a stereotypical Spanish melodrama. However, writer/director Julio Medem has created a movie that promotes the culture of life. These dark themes are offset by beautiful cinematography and Penelope Cruz’s life-affirming performance. This beautiful actress allows herself to look weather-beaten; yet, her eyes radiate a spiritual value beyond the physical.

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner deserves no award, as witnessed in the documentary Weiner, which also opens tomorrow in local cinemas.

Anthony Weiner was disgraced when he Tweeted a sexually explicit photo of himself to an adult female Twitter follower. The Tweet went viral, scandal ensued and Weiner resigned from Congress.

Perhaps the scandal would have faded as a political footnote, but he decided to run for Mayor of New York. Inviting a documentary camera crew along with him, Weiner faces additional political bombshells as more is revealed about his repeated exhibitionist behavior. Weiner is a case study of political narcissism, with cameos from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

If today’s political climate is too depressing to watch, take time to watch the PBS National Memorial Day Concert hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. It features entertainment provided by The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Renée Fleming, who gladly play second fiddle to the American Military Veterans. Thank a Veteran this Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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FLICKS: Pelé: Birth of a Legend & Money Monster

Posted on 19 May 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

When the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil begin in three months, the country’s greatest sports hero, Pelé, could come out of retirement and be involved. It’s been almost four decades since he kicked his last soccer ball in a Cosmos/Santos exhibition game in New Jersey, yet Pelé’s legendary shadow stands tall. Opening tomorrow in limited release, Pelé: Birth of a Legend provides a taste of Pelé’s acrobatic performances on the soccer field.

The film opens with Pelé entering the World Cup stadium in Sweden, circa 1958 at only 17 years old. The film flashes back to Pelé’s rough and tumble childhood in Brazil, where his friends steal peanuts to buy soccer balls. By playing soccer in the streets, Pelé’s talent is noticed by school coaches. The rags to riches story begins.

Pelé: Birth of a Legend is a simple story. The strength of this film is the visualization on the big screen. Given that his best goals were preserved in grainy photography or kinescope tubes, this film uses contemporary cinematography to convey the athlete’s greatness. Soccer fans and families will appreciate this fine film.

Two of my favorite movie subjects are “monsters” and “money.” Therefore, I was one of the few people to see Money Monster last week. Many of the narrative surprises were revealed in the trailers and television commercials, so it is no big spoiler to reveal that a Wall Street mastermind is the cause of all George Clooney and Julia Roberts’ problems.

Clooney portrays The Money Monster, a hyperactive television financial advisor, like Jim Cramer from MSNBC. After making a bad pick on a stock, a gunman from Queens County enters the studio and holds the Money Monster hostage. Julia Roberts is the director who calls the shots from behind the scenes without even getting her hair messed up.

Despite numerous plot holes and obvious Bernie Sanders political bias, Money Monster contains many humorous moments, mostly at the expense of George Clooney’s character. Actress Jodie Foster directs this satirical flick, which was easily influenced by 1970s political thrillers like Network and The Parallax View. Save your money on Money Monster, this film will probably be in regular rotation on television by October.

There are some good movies on the big screen at the moment, including The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War. However, if you are a sports fan, find Pelé: Birth of a Legend.

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FLICKS: The Man Who Knew Infinity, Papa Hemingway in Cuba

Posted on 12 May 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

The Big Bang Theory reaches its 10th season finale this evening. Much like Frasier, The Big Bang Theory does not talk down to their audiences with its references more often found in the halls of academia. The Man Who Knew Infinity would feel comfortable hanging out with the likes of Sheldon Cooper and Frasier Crane.

Based on the real life of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), The Man who Knew Infinity is a biopic about an Indian who earns admittance to the University of Cambridge in England. Due to colonialism, Ramanujan confronts racism from academic circles.

Seeing Ramanujan’s potential, tenured professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) takes the Indian genius under his wing. His formulas and proofs earn Ramanujan an international reputation during World War I. Unfortunately, his health deteriorates as his mathematical discoveries begin to change the world.

For those who are not academically-inclined, The Man Who Knew Infinity will be a dull film to watch. Yet, the performances and relationship between Patel and Irons keep this film interesting and honest. Sheldon Cooper and Frasier Crane would love it.

Being advertised as “the first Hollywood Film made in Cuba,” Papa Hemingway in Cuba has been lingering in local cinemas. This biopic details Ernest Hemingway’s (Adrian Sparks) final years in Cuba before Fidel Castro took over the island.

Despite some gorgeous cinematography and memorable one-liners, the film looks amateurish. With a muddled narrative, the acting and the editing feel out of sync.

Can’t get enough of Cuban landscapes? Look for Three Days in Havana, which premiered at last year’s Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and is available for streaming on Amazon.com. Gil Bellows (who co-directed with Tony Pantages) stars as an insurance salesman who gets caught in comic noir intrigue.

Papa Hemingway in Cuba and Three Days in Havana, which used many of the same locations, are sure to sell many cruises from South Florida to Cuba.

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FLICKS: Captain America: Civil War

Posted on 05 May 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Since his Marvel debut on the big screen four years ago with Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers has become my favorite superhero. When he was chosen to receive the super soldier serum, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) selected Steve Rogers because he was a good man; it is Captain America’s best trait.

When Captain America: Civil War was announced, one wondered if Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) would still retain his goodness. Captain America’s adversary would be Tony Stark, alias Iron Man, (Robert Downey Jr.), the superhero who started this Marvel Cinema Universe eight years ago. In the comic book universe, the Captain America/Iron Man Civil War was a statement about Post-911 America, with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers representing the sides of security and liberty, respectfully.

The new movie opens with an incident from Dec. 16, 1991. The film flashes forward to the present day, in which Captain America leads the Avengers against the terrorist Crossbones (Frank Grillo). When there is collateral damage, the United Nations decides that the Avengers need oversight by an outside agency, and to be registered. While Tony Stark decides to go along to get along, Steve Rogers sees these new restrictions as destroying civil liberties.

To complicate matters, the Winter Soldier is loose. The Winter Soldier, alias Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a childhood friend of Steve Rogers. As the United Nations debate superhero registration, an explosion occurs – causing more collateral damage. While the Winter Soldier is blamed, Steve Rogers suspects his old friend is the patsy.

Captain America: Civil War builds to a logical showdown. The movie lives up to its comic book visualization when the superheroes battle each other in a German airport. While there is much humor, there is an aggression we have not seen before in a Marvel Comic Books movie.

This aggression leads to more collateral damage, which forces this film into more serious territory.

Given previous visual epics, this Civil War ends with personal fight based on painful motives. We see sides to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that we have not seen before. To directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s credit, this big revelation feels truthful.

Given this wild political year, Captain America: Civil War is a timely commentary about the present day. Captain America’s final words provide much wisdom, and he is still my favorite Marvel Comics superhero.

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FLICKS: The Huntsman: Winter’s War, plus special screenings of Purple Rain

Posted on 28 April 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

As I prepared for my screening of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, I had to compliment Carmike Cinema’s management [Broward 18 in Pompano] for their bustling box office and concession sales. Over the concession bar were two television screens dedicated to sports channels, so I was able to keep track of the Heat, Panthers and Marlins. Cinemas are becoming more timely and intimate. This concept really hit home when the manager informed me that he was redoing the weekend schedule to insert special screenings of Purple Rain, starring the late singer Prince [like many other national theaters].

Modern technology has made mass entertainment more impulsive. While tonight is supposed to present the final screenings of Purple Rain, if box office is good, one can predict this film being held over until Captain America: Civil War opens next week (May 6).

While The Jungle Book dominated the latest box office figures, the much maligned The Huntsman: Winter’s War opened with a respectable box office sum of $20 million. A prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, which starred Kristen Stewart as Snow White, this new film focuses on the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the supposedly dead evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).

It has been a Leap Year since Snow White and the Huntsman was last seen on the big screen. In that time, television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time have provided much reinterpretation of the ancient fairy tales. Given the cultural and financial success of Disney’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, (Frozen), it was only a matter of time before Freya (Emily Blunt) replaced the mythology of Snow White.

We learn that Freya and Ravenna were sisters. With her nasty disposition concealed by her two-faced charm, Ravenna manages to cook Freya’s child.

Heartbroken, Freya goes north, freezes her heart and wages war on all mankind.

As Freya assembles her military and develops her military academy for orphans, we meet the Young Huntsman, who is infatuated with a red-headed archer named Sara (who grows up to look like Jessica Chastain). The Huntsman and Sara share swashbuckling adventures together and eventually get caught in the snare of the evil queens. Will anyone live to be happily ever after?

Based on the poor rating on RottenTomatoes.com, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is likely to be nominated for multiple Razzy Awards. However, there is a sense of fun about this movie and the actors appear to be having a good time swashbuckling. While this film is too dark to take impressionable children to, the crowd really warmed up to the action sequence in which the Huntsman, Sara and some dwarfs steal the magic mirror from a Minotaur guardian. The Huntsman: Winter’s War will be a bigger hit on DVD.

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