FLICKS: Beauty & the Beast opens &The Last Word expands

Posted on 23 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

With the releases of Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty & the Beast, the March 2017 box office has broken records, much like the old summer blockbuster season used to be. Could it be the weather? Uninteresting television? Perhaps all three motion pictures are providing big screen entertainment again.

Of the proceeding mentioned films, Beauty & the Beast is the weakest flick to go see on the big screen. A remake of the 1991 animated version (which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, losing to Silence of the Lambs), this Beauty & the Beast has exquisite production values, fine performances and music that will ignite sentimental tear ducts. Yet, during the film’s climax, director Bill Condon sacrifices good storytelling for technical splendor.

For a good story and realistic character development, The Last Word expands to more screens this weekend. Shirley MacLaine is garnering her best notices since her Oscar-winning achievement, Terms of Endearment. As Harriet, MacLaine is a control freak facing the twilight of her life.

Reading the obituaries of her contemporaries, Harriet contacts Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary for the local newspaper. Given Harriet’s prickly personality and Anne’s naivete, this business proposition seems doomed to failure. Upon closer examination of what makes a good obituary, Harriet creates four goals to achieve before the shadows claim her. Dragging a reluctant Anne along with her, Harriet embarks on a series of escapades.

Under director Mark Pellington’s confident direction, The Last Word unfolds in realistic fashion. Each one of Harriet’s goals is abstract, but the human interaction is humorous and feels true. There are many scenic gems found in this movie. Among the highlights are Harriet’s attempts to be a benefactor to an alternative radio station and be a mentor to an African-American girl of a single mother.

As both producers and actors, MacLaine and Seyfried form a good team. MacLaine is the dominant personality, but Seyfried gives a transitional performance that is endearing. These two veteran actresses develop a fine chemistry with young AnnJewel Lee Dixson, the African American child forced to take in a mentor. MacLaine, Seyfried and Dixson shine during an emotionally tense lunch scene with Harriet’s daughter (Anne Heche).

This weekend, the much hyped Power Rangers and CHiPS start crowding the cineplexes. Don’t let fine movies like Logan, Kong: Skull Island and The Last Word get pushed aside. These three films provide Saturday matinee popcorn-eating fun.

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FLICKS: The Last Word opens & King Kong rules

Posted on 16 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Shirley MacLaine returns to the big screen tomorrow in The Last Word, which co-stars (and co- produced by) Amanda Seyfried. A serious movie with humorous overtones, The Last Word will be a hit in the community.

Kong Skull Island was an international hit with box office gross exceeding over $160 million in three days. Compared to the full-court press that Disney marketing is providing for Beauty and the Beast, the marketing for Kong Skull Island has been modest. Fortunately, the movie exceeds marketing hype.

Perhaps a sequel to the 1933 Son of Kong, this new film opens in 1944 when a Japanese and American aviator crash land on the mysterious island. Their petty fight is abated when Kong makes an appearance and stuns the soldiers.

Almost 30 years later, Professor Randa (John Goodman) from the Monarch Organization requests to visit this mysterious island. The Vietnam War is ending and Randa would like to study Skull Island before the Soviet Union finds out about it. Besides recruiting Lieutenant Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squad, Randa recruits Marlow (John C. Reilly) as well as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist.

When the scientific expedition starts dropping bombs on the island, Kong is angered and brings down the helicopters. Divided across the island, the survivors attempt reunification, only to discover that Kong is the least of their problems.

Indiana Jones and Jurassic World fans will get their money’s worth. Kong Skull Island is part of the “MonsterVerse” series that began three years ago with the reboot of Godzilla. Unlike Godzilla, when the monster was hidden until the final 20 minutes of the film, Kong is front and center throughout.

With the exception of subterranean terrors that lurk on Skull Island, there are no outright villains in this film. Samuel L. Jackson is the most aggressive human character, but the script creates empathy for the character’s desire for revenge. Upon further review, the wrath of Kong is not caused by military aggression, but by scientific arrogance. Beyond big-sized epic adventure, Kong Skull Island contains a narrative with much intellectual depth.

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FLICKS: TCM’s Robert Osbourne, Logan & The Women’s Balcony

Posted on 09 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

As I write this week’s column, news is breaking that the host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Robert Osborne has passed away. A film historian with personal relationships from motion pictures’ golden age of movie stars, Osborne’s persona was a major influence upon this film columnist. Regardless of the film he introduced (classic film, an Oscar winner, a historical curiosity), Osborne had a knack of bringing a fresh perspective to a film he had seen countless times. TCM co-host Ben Mankiewicz will follow in Osborne’s footsteps, but the young host has big shoes to fill.

The passing of the torch is a major theme of Logan, this week’s box office champion. A culmination of seven X Men and two Wolverine movies, Logan takes place 22 years into a dystopian future. After decades of saving the world from hostile forces, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives in an abandoned oil field with his old mentor Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Wishing to live his final years in peace, Logan is confronted by a woman who has read too many X-Men comic books. The woman wants Logan to take a special little girl to Eden, which is found in Canada. Unwilling to become involved at first, Logan learns that Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Professor Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) have devious plans for the little girl and her “special” friends.

Starting with Bela Lugosi in Dracula and concluding 17 years later with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Universal Pictures created memorable monster movies that have enthralled many generations. It has been 17 years since Hugh Jackman first portrayed Wolverine. In Logan, he is provided a final curtain call for his duties as an X-Man. Logan is a current classic on the big screen.

The Women’s Balcony opens this weekend at neighborhood theaters. In Hebrew with English subtitles, The Women’s Balcony is a comedy/drama. While attending a bar mitzvah, the women’s balcony collapses in the middle of the ceremony. When it looks like the temple will be closed for a long period of time, a new rabbi quickly comes to the rescue of the worshipers. Unfortunately, he is more like the pied piper.

The temple opens quickly, but the women’s balcony is not restored. Being more orthodox than his predecessor, the rabbi wants the women to cover their heads to display their modesty. Naturally, the modern women rebel.

Unlike the angry protests that we see on the news every day, The Women’s Balcony has an infectious sweetness that will make the ticket buyer smile.

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FLICKS: On the Map & Kedi opens, while Moonlight shines on South Florida

Posted on 02 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Despite what presenter Faye Dunaway said Sunday night, Moonlight did win the Best Picture Oscar for 2016. In under two hours, writer/director Barry Jenkins shares a slice of South Florida culture through the eyes of a child, a teenager and an adult through three chapters of a larger narrative. Moonlight earned its honor through impressive storytelling and character development, a skill Barry Jenkins earned when he attended Florida State University, College of Motion Picture Arts. Congrats, Moonlight cast & crew.

On the Map opens tomorrow with a unique South Florida connection. Twelve years ago, Director Dani Menken appeared at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. As a producer, Menken earned the Best Documentary for 39 Pounds of Love, which features Ami Ankilewitz, an American-born Israeli who was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy who likes to party. In contrast, On the Map features the growth of professional athletes in Israel.

After World War II ended, the American sport of basketball grew as an international sport in Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union. Given the terrorist actions of the 1972 Munich Olympics, the story about the Soviet Union stealing the Gold Medal from Team USA became a mere footnote. Five years later, young Israel (a nation state less than three decades old) confronted the International Champion Soviet Union in an epic basketball game.

Told with grainy home movies and audio supplied by reel-to-reel tape recorders, On the Map retells the epic David & Goliath story about Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team.

Now 40 years later, the teammates reunite and celebrate their amazing victory. The memories are sharp and this story truly comes alive.

If you love the sport of basketball, get out of the house and check out On the Map on the big screen.

Kedi also opens tomorrow and will surely inspire cat lovers. Set in Istanbul, this unique documentary shows the symbiotic relationship between the urban dwellers and the cats. Like a National Geographic/Wild Kingdom documentary, Kedi captures kitty cats in a natural habitat demonstrating primal behavior.

It is ironic that people choose animation animals (like Oscar winner Zootopia) over natural animals at the movie box office. However Kedi provides many short stories about individual cats. The film pays off during the curtain call in which we revisit each of these cats and we remember each one of their stories.

March is predicted to be a box office bonanza with the releases of Logan, Kong Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast, respectively. However, don’t lose sight of the fine documentaries — On the Map and Kedi.

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FLICKS: Year By The Sea

Posted on 23 February 2017 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

As the longest standing film columnist in Broward County, I’ve seen certain movies like Boynton Beach Club and Play the Game that resonate in our community during this time of the year. Year by the Sea will be this season’s cult movie that neighbors will be talking about.

Based on Joan Anderson’s three New York Times best-selling memoirs, Year by the Sea opens with a montage of home movies. We witness a young man getting married as his parents, Joan (Karen Allen) and Robin (Michael Cristofer) bicker in the backroom. After 30 years of marriage, Robin sells their house and announces that they are moving to Kansas. Joan has other plans.

Taking a page from Henry David Thoreau, Joan relocates to Cape Cod to live her life, deliberately. While adjusting to the rustic life, Joan takes stock in herself and begins learning new things, like running the cash register, digging for clams and spending an afternoon on Seal Island.

As her editor (S. Epatha Merkerson) coaches her to write her next book, Joan develops a friendship with Erikson (Celia Imrie), a wise neighbor whose husband is dying in an old age home. As she copes with her empty nest syndrome, Joan realizes it is never too late to find some time to play.

Watching Year by the Sea is a pleasant experience. The Cape Cod Tourist Bureau should provide director Alexander Janko and cinematographer Bryan Papierski honorary keys to the city. This simple film takes full advantage of the New England shoreline. The setting becomes its own nurturing character.

As the most nurturing character, Celia Imrie steals the show. Besides dispensing words of wisdom with a glass of wine, Imrie’s Yoda-like character is a pleasurable person to hang out with. Year By the Sea is Karen Allen’s movie from start to finish. There are moments in which her performance could have become melodramatic or verged towards slapstick (especially during the early scenes in which our heroine is adjusting to island life). Allen underplays these moments, which makes her character more humane and empathetic. It’s great to see Karen Allen in a leading role again.

Take an afternoon to go see Year By the Sea with some friends some afternoon. It is a positive movie about life, letting go and renewal.

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FLICKS: Fanny’s Journey

Posted on 16 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Football withdrawal weekend provided box office gold for three motion pictures last weekend. The Lego Batman Movie, Fifty Shades Darker and John Wick: Chapter Two collectively earned more than 120 million dollars. In contrast, the Oscar best picture nominees, Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion barely earned $16 million at the box office.

Fanny’s Journey, a French movie with English subtitles, opens tomorrow. Based on a true story, this is a beautiful drama about World War II.

After Mussolini’s downfall, Hitler’s agents ruthlessly order their leader’s Final Solution — eliminate any and all Jews. Seeing the writing on the wall, responsible adults export children to Switzerland. When the adult leading the refugees becomes separated from the children, 12-year-old Fanny leads the orphans to the promise land.

What makes Fanny’s Journey so fascinating to watch is the everyday heroics of Fanny’s actions. The protagonist does not outrun enemy machine gun fire with a soaring musical score. Instead, she must find a way to cook and feed the dozen of children she is responsible for. Heroism is found to be the daily routine.

While the threat of danger is consistent, Fanny’s Journey never loses a child’s perspective of the world. At certain times, the child-like wonder about the world is fresh and innocent; one scene features children splashing each other by a cool stream. In contrast, there are moments of danger in which silence is needed for survival, but one young child cannot control their verbose nature. The Nazi atrocity is not seen, but the deadly threat is felt throughout the film.

As the son of two World War II veterans, I am well versed with that history. Today’s youth are well-versed about the achievements of President Barack Obama. This weekend, young and old will be given the opportunity to meet Fanny Ben-Ami, who will be visiting the Delray and Living Room Theaters, which will be screening Fanny’s Journey. Call the theaters for special dates and times.

Save the date: for Wednesday, Feb. 22. Silverspot Theater in Coconut Creek will premier Year by the Sea, starring Karen Allen and based on the memoir by Joan Anderson. Both the actress and the author are expected to walk the red carpet for the 7 p.m. show.

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FLICKS: Hacksaw Ridge

Posted on 09 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

For the last week, I have been listening to Bill O’Reilly on his and Martin Dugard’s book, Killing the Rising Sun, a piece of nonfiction that debates whether or not the United States of America should have dropped two atom bombs on Japan to end World War II. While most of the attention focuses on President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, Killing the Rising Sun shines a light on the people of my parent’s generation who won the war; among them was Desmond T. Doss.

Though a patriot and willing to serve, Doss was a conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun. The screenplay about this pacifist circulated for 14 years in Hollywood, until Oscar award-winning director Mel Gibson was offered the opportunity to direct Hacksaw Ridge.

The son of an alcoholic World War I veteran father, young Desmond has a profound religious epiphany when he almost kills his brother. Growing up in rural West Virginia, the mature Desmond (Andrew Garfield) develops an interest in First Aid and a pretty nurse, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). World War II breaks out and Desmond Doss enlists, despite his father’s fears.

Being a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, Doss refuses to carry a weapon due to his religious conviction. This causes Doss much consternation as he runs afoul Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). Despite being hazed by his fellow troopers, Doss earns the respect of his platoon. This hazing and bullying is nothing compared to the hell awaiting these soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge in the battle of Okinawa in the final months of World War II.

Either as an actor or as a director, the violence of a Mel Gibson movie always feels righteous. As the director of the battle scenes from Braveheart and Apocalypto, Gibson created memorable visuals. Yet these visuals would be meaningless without character empathy being developed earlier in the motion picture. When the battle of Hacksaw Ridge begins, you care about the soldiers we were introduced to earlier. Considering the central protagonist is a conscientious objector who does not defend himself with a gun, the drama is further enhanced.

See this movie on the big screen while you still can. It has been many years since I had such a genuine reaction to a big screen motion picture. With this film, I found myself pumping my fist and laughing after a jump scare. Hacksaw Ridge is a full cinematic experience.

Mel Gibson has earned professional redemption from his Hollywood colleagues this awards season with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Whether or not his film wins any awards, it is be the best picture on the big screen today.

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FLICKS: La La Land & Split

Posted on 02 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

It is easy to see why Damien Chazelle’s two movies Whiplash and La La Land received such award recognition in the entertainment industry. Both films reveal the didactic behavior of entertainment professionals with brutal honesty. The music and spectacle works as both escapism and distraction while hiding the tears of a clown.

La La Land is a simple story about ingenues attempting to be a success in their chosen profession. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist who worships at the altar of Jazz. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a barrister on the Warner Brothers lot.

Taking place over the four seasons of a year, Mia and Sebastian fall in love. Despite professional struggles, the two have time to fantasize their romance with a variety of musical numbers. This film is about growth. The duo’s vocals at the beginning of the movie are a bit flat. As the movie progresses, the two performers grow in confidence and so do their vocals. La La Land features a grand finale conclusion and Gosling and Stone are more than ready for the task.

There have been 10 musicals that have won Oscar’s Best Picture Award. While lacking the seriousness of The Sound of Music and Oliver, La La Land deserves it’s kudos for its own creativity. It is a simple romance, but with so much symbolism found in the details.

Split is the No. 1 box office leader for 2017, which is good news for M. Night Shyamalan, who has not had a hit movie in almost 15 years. James McAvoy portrays a dangerous man with 23 personalities who kidnaps three teenagers and sticks them in a closet.

This is a simple suspense film and, for the most part, Shyamalan delivers. While McAvoy may be considered for next year’s award season for his dynamic performance, Split is held together by Miami Native Anya Taylor-Joy’s grounded performance. If anything, the film has made Shyamalan’s next project more interesting.

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FLICKS: The Founder & Hell or High Water

Posted on 26 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

As we come to an end of Small Business Appreciation Month, I have often wondered if there have been any movies that have presented small business in a positive light. Beyond some Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, most Hollywood motion pictures present business practices in a negative light. Some of these motion pictures actually get nominated for awards.

Produced by the Weinstein Brothers, The Founder presents the growth of the McDonald’s fast food franchise in America. We are introduced to Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a traveling salesman who takes an interest in a unique food service business in San Bernadino, California. Run by the McDonald Brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), Kroc learns the secret of their success.

After agreeing to franchise McDonald’s in middle America, Kroc’s ambition outweighs the McDonald brothers desire for quality control. Conflict ensues and Kroc eventually gains an edge through a legal loophole.

The Founder is a good story about growing a business. You can enjoy watching Ray Kroc visiting service organizations like the Rotary and the Jaycees to promote the American Dream. You see how constricting the original franchise contract is for Ray Kroc; yet, by the time the story is told, you feel so much sympathy for Dick and Mac McDonald.

Currently available on DVD, Hell or High Water is film noir set in the modern west. Taking a cue from No Country for Old Men and Breaking Bad, Hell or High Water introduces us to the Howard Brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), who rob Texas banks a la Robin Hood.

Soon to be retired Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his Mexican/Comanche partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) pursue these masked bank robbers. A showdown is inevitable for these rangers and the brothers, but one walks away from Hell or High Water feeling sympathy for both sides of the conflict.

As the study of economics is considered “the dismal science,” the business practices in both The Founder and Hell or High Water can be perceived as gloomy entertainment. However, there are lessons to be learned from both movies and, whatever award consideration these two fine films receive, will be justified.

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FLICKS: Fences & Moonlight

Posted on 19 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Denzel Washington has entered the Hollywood legendary status decades ago, joining generational acting legends like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Fences marks Washington’s third directorial motion picture, which is based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning Broadway play. Having won a Golden Globe award (for Viola Davis), Fences is poised to receive multiple Oscar nominations.

Sanitation custodian Troy Maxson (Washington) returns home on payday and dutifully gives his check to his loving wife, Rose (Davis). After finishing a bottle of gin with his sidekick and discussing his glory days as a baseball player, Troy and Rose bring up their domestic woes.

Much like those controversial award-winning plays from the 1950s (Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) that became award-winning motion pictures, Fences features terse dialogue creating fantastic performances. Much like the performances given by Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski and Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie the Cat, Washington and Davis sink their teeth in their roles with conviction.

At 139 minutes, Fences is a long movie to sit through. Set in a Pittsburgh townhouse, watching the Maxson family air their dirty laundry gets long in the tooth. After witnessing much arguing and bickering, one wishes the Maxson family would move away.

Among multiple awards, Moonlight took home the Golden Globe award for best picture. Whereas Fences was a static story, Moonlight clocks in under two hours and feels more epic. Set in a crime neighborhood in Miami, Moonlight presents the right of passage for little Chiron Black and covers the span of time from 1979 to the present day.

Told in three parts, we meet “Little,” a bullied boy whose Mom (Naomie Harris from Pirates of the Caribbean and James Bond franchises) is a drug addict. Seemingly pulled out of a bad situation by a mentor, little Chiron witnesses a tragedy that colors the rest of his life. In Part two, titled “Chiron,” we see the teenager confront his own feelings that leads to explosive actions. “Black” is the final story which presents the protagonist coming to grips with his current situation as a young man of the streets.

With echoes of Boyhood, Breaking Bad and Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight is truly an original story that presents a culture we see on the street. For its originality with surprising plot twists, Moonlight deserves award consideration.

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