FLICKS: Once in a Lifetime & The Girl on the Train

Posted on 19 October 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


It has been 21 years since I produced A Tribute to the Men and Women of the World War II Generation with 133 6th graders at Loggers’ Run Community Middle School. The presentation featured big band numbers, a chorus inspired by the Andrew Sisters and testimonials that induced a few tears from some very hardened middle-aged teachers and 12-year-olds. I’m proud of this program and the fact that some of my former students have remained in touch with me via Facebook. A French film with English subtitles, Once in a Lifetime took me back to my experiences from two decades ago.

Based on a true story and filmed at the actual high school where the movie was originally filmed, Once in a Lifetime introduces us to Anne Gueguen (Ariane Ascaride), a history teacher. Talking to her diverse student body, Ms. Gueguen informs her jaded students that she is entering them into a contest. The subject is the Holocaust and students balk about learning “ancient history.”

Co-written by Ahmed Dramé (who portrays one of the students), the French high school looks and sounds like an American classroom. There is multiple rivalry between the diverse cultures that create tension. Gueguen allows her students their moments to speak, but she carefully crafts their arguments into understanding. Once the boundaries of mutual respect are established, Gueguen brings in a guest speaker, Léon Zyguel, a Holocaust survivor.

In an age when educational socialization is emphasizing pressing the buttons on the latest technology (that may be obsolete in five years), Once in a Lifetime is a reminder of the importance of classroom debate and discussion. This is a riveting motion picture for nearly two hours.

Last week, I mentioned Haley Bennett’s earthy performance in The Magnificent Seven. Proving to be a chameleon, the actress portrays an opposite role as Megan in The Girl on the Train, based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins.

Emily Blunt portrays Rachel as the girl in The Girl on the Train. She is an alcoholic who suffers from blackouts. As she commutes to the city via railroad, she spies a suburban couple living Rachel’s ideal life. With a pang of jealousy, Rachel finds relief in drinking vodka from her water bottle.

The Girl on the Train is an interesting thriller until it reaches its climax, which stumbles into unintentional humor. However, this film will be remembered for Blunt’s vulnerable performance, which has received some Oscar buzz.

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FLICKS: The Magnificent Seven

Posted on 12 October 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


When The Hateful Eight was released last year, one hoped for a revival for the wide open spaces of the Western genre. Instead, we were given a claustrophobic drama with eight people screaming tedious Quentin Tarantino dialogue at each other.

Whereas the story of The Hateful Eight was weak, the story of The Magnificent Seven is as strong as ever. The current version of The Magnificent Seven is the second interpretation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the Japanese movie that inspired the American Western starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen.

The 1960 American version features a classic musical score composed by Elmer Bernstein. The late James Horner and Simon Franglen composed current version of The Magnificent Seven theme song, which features a few notes from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns. These aural elements enhance the viewing experience on the big screen.

All three movies share a similar narrative, but all three movies provide a fresh perspective of seven gunfighters who unite for a common principle. This current version of The Magnificent Seven opens with a town hall meeting inside a church. Robber Baron Bart Boque (Peter Sarsgaard) tells the community to get off of his land. The community rebels and Bogue’s henchmen kill the townfolk, making Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) a widow.

Seeking justice, Mrs. Cullen rides into a neighboring town and catches the eye of Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a certified bounty hunter. Hearing Mrs. Cullen’s story and being offered a modest stipend, Chisolm starts recruiting fellow gunfighters to defend the town.

Gambler and amateur magician Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the first recruit. Chilsom reunites with an old friend, Goodnight (Ethan Hawke) who brings along a new partner, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a knife-wielding prodigy. While on the trail, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) join the merry band and become The Magnificent Seven.

Full of great one-liners and cowboy proverbs, The Magnificent Seven deserves a better fate at the box office. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) knows how to direct action movies with human empathy. This film touches everybody’s nobler side.

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FLIFF & Silver Skies

Posted on 05 October 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


The 31st Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) unveiled its poster at Oceans 234 in Deerfield last Wednesday night, Sept. 28. At the poster dedication, President and CEO Gregory Von Hausch announced the premier of over 100 films in 17 days in November.

Besides turning sweet 16, actress Bailee Madison returns to FLIFF with Annabelle Hooper & The Ghosts of Nantucket, Bailee’s debut film as a producer. While most of the films will be screened at the Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale (formerly Cinema Paradiso, at 503 SE 6 St., Ft. Lauderdale), Dreamland will open the festival at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino (1 Seminole Way, Hollywood) on Friday, Nov. 4. Directed by Robert Schwartzman, Dreamland features performances by his brother Jason Schwartzman and his mother Talia Shire (known from performances like Rocky and The Godfather), who will be in attendance that evening.

Having earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Martin Landau will accept the FLIFF Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with co-stars Armand Assante and Michael Pare, Landau is expected to attend the screening of The Red Maple Leaf, the official closing night FLIFF film. In addition, Foster Hirsch returns to interview stage and screen legend, Arlene Dahl. These are just a few of the events and films planned for the film festival. Find out more and get tickets at www.fliff.com.

While the stalwart George Hamilton is not expected to attend this year’s festival, his film from last year’s FLiFF opens tomorrow, Silver Skies. This film is an ensemble comedy about seasoned citizens who are facing the foreclosure of their rental community.

Hamilton portrays Phil, an Alzheimer patient who thinks he is Dean Martin sometimes. Phil’s roommate, Nick (Jack McGee) sells programs at the racetrack. Each morning, they share breakfast with Eve (Barbara Bain) and Mickey (Jack Betts) who often gossip about the reclusive Harriet (Mariette Hartley), especially when a young, well dressed, black man visits her apartment three times a week.

While the foreclosure is the serious narrative, Silver Skies features comedic behavior from the main protagonists. There are also neighborhood romances featuring the [hussy] next door, Ethel (Valerie Perrine) and a recent widower, Frank (Alex Rocco), which is actually quite touching.

Not all of Silver Skies works. There is a scene involving sexual assault that is too graphic for the tone of this movie. However, the scene does set up a Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky joke that redeems it.

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FLICKS: Come What May & 31

Posted on 29 September 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Come What May opens tomorrow in local cinema. This serious film presented in multiple languages about 1940 European refugees seems very timely given current affairs regarding immigration. It is not a political film. It is the story about individuals coping with a homeland that has gone mad.

As the Nazis overrun France, a local mayor leads his citizens into the country. The villagers take with them a German child whose father (August Diehl) opposed the Nazi regime and has been jailed for lying about his nationality. The father escapes jail to search for his son, accompanied by a Scottish soldier (Matthew Rhys), who is trying to get back to England.

Lacking the budget of a major studio, Come What May still provides some riveting action sequences. One sequence features a Nazi airplane shooting at a young boy in a moving automobile. As the machine gun misses its target, you can see collateral damage — a home destroyed, an automobile and a bruising example of the fog of war. The final result, however, is that Come What May is a life-affirming movie.

It is 31 days before Halloween and that happens to be the name of Rob Zombie’s new crowd-funded, horror epic. 31 refers to a vicious game involving killer clowns who hold hostages captive in a warehouse. The object for the victim is to simply survive. Set on Halloween in 1976, the hostages are a troupe of carnival employees who are ill-equipped to play the game.

Horror movies work best with a simple plot and 31 liberally borrows from the Richard Connell’s short, story classic The Most Dangerous Game and Stephen King’s The Running Man. The conflict is visceral, with several theatrical touches that suggest pseudo-intellectual depth.

As the masters of ceremonies, Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr watch the game and wager on the sidelines. The voice of Malcolm McDowell is by far the most horrific aspect of 31. Reminiscent of the classic radio programs like Inner Sanctum, Suspense and The Twilight Zone, McDowell’s vocal intonation provides a pure “theater-of-the-mind” experience.

Unfortunately, the visualization does not live up to McDowell’s vocal artistry. Due to murky cinematography and fast-paced editing, the showdown between the killer clowns with funny names (Sex-Head, Doom-Head, Sick-Head) and the hostages become the dullest part of 31.

Don’t lose hope, Halloween movie fans, there is much positive Oscar buzz for A Monster Calls featuring Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones, and directed by J.A. Boyana, known for films like The Orphanage and The Impossible.

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FLICKS: Max Rose

Posted on 22 September 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


As a child, I used to bust a gut laughing at Jerry Lewis movies, and, in particular, the climatic scenes in Who’s Minding the Store and The Disorderly Orderly. One Labor Day weekend, I discovered his telethon for muscular dystrophy. I was impressed that this funny guy could raise millions of dollars for such a serious cause. I always wanted to do something like that when I grew up.

As I entered high school, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon began to age and eventually became an unintentional parody of itself. This was something Martin Scorsese sensed as he cast Jerry Lewis against type in The King of Comedy, starring Robert DeNiro. While he will always be associated with comedy, Jerry Lewis revealed a dark soul as Richard Belzer’s uncle on the television program, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Max Rose is cumulative swan song to Jerry Lewis’s film career. The film opens with a sense of nostalgia. As the credits roll, we see young Max (Lewis) and his wife Eva (Claire Bloom) through pictures and photographs. The film loses and regains focus as we watch Max learn that he is now a widow and he signs off on his spouse’s last medical forms. He returns home with his granddaughter, Annie Rose (Kerry Bishe) to contemplate the silence of loneliness.

Our marriage was a lie and I failed myself,” Max says at his wife’s funeral, shocking those in attendance, including his estranged son, Chris (Kevin Pollak).

The source of Max’s consternation revolves around a locket he found in Eva’s personal items, dated on a special day in 1959. All Max remembers about that day was that he was out of town recording a Jazz album that made him a “one hit wonder.”

As a narrative, Max Rose does plod along. Some scenes could have been shortened and the abrupt use of flashbacks did become confusing at first. However, there is a life-affirming resolution that does pay off.

Due to the actor’s physical limitations, most of Jerry Lewis’ performance is told through the lines on his face. From heartache to contempt, to childlike joy, Lewis delivers a haunting performance. The script allows him to reprise one of his most memorable comic moments.

While staying at an assisted-living center, Lewis, Mort Sahl, Rance Howard and Lee Weaver listen to Jazz music and improvise playing instruments. The scene is infectious with its warmth and humor and is a fine scene that fits into his film persona.

By the way, for those who have not seen it yet, check out Sully or Pete’s Dragon while they are still on the big screen.

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FLICKS: The People vs. Fritz Bauer, Sully and The Beatles: Eight Days a Week

Posted on 15 September 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


The People vs. Fritz Bauer is a slice of history from the 1950s. The film details German Jewish concentration camp survivor Fritz Bauer’s (Burghart Klaußner) in pursuit of Arch-Nazi bureaucrat Adolph Eichman (Michael Schenk). Despite his moral justification, Bauer is vexed by his German colleagues and meddling supervisors. Bauer pursues another course of action with the Israel Secret Service organization, Mossad.

Spoken in German with English subtitles, The People vs. Fritz Bauer is a backstage drama about a thrilling subject. We witness a happy domestic life in Argentina as Eichmann assumes another identity of a respective neighbor. Bauer and his agents are in hot pursuit, but closeted secrets nearly derail bringing in this undercover Nazi. The People vs. Fritz Bauer opens tomorrow.

On a far more happier historical subject, Sully opened with stellar box office numbers. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks in the title role, Sully is an action-packed thriller. Given that many of us know the ending of the story, it is a miracle that this film holds an audience in suspense. Then again, this film should not have been titled Sully, but Miracle on the Hudson.

Sully opens with the title character and his copilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) being investigated for landing a jet airliner in the Hudson River. Research and computer simulation makes the claim that the jet had enough fuel to return to LaGuardia Airport 30 seconds after landing. Given his 40+ years of flight experience, Sully insists that landing in the Hudson River saved 150 lives and that the computer projections are wrong.

The central conflict of Sully is man vs. machine. The special effects enhance this theme as we witness the plane landing on the Hudson from three different perspectives. Yet, it is the heroism of the New Yorkers that makes Sully such an enjoyable film. Given that this incident happened a mere eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Sully reveals the redemption of the American character. If the primadonna behavior of overpaid professional athletes is making you feel down, then go see the behavior of real Americans in Sully.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week. This documentary directed by Ron Howard features 30 minutes of actual footage from the Shea Stadium concert and concludes with the final Beatles concert in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Produced by the surviving Beatles and their widows, this film will be shown at Silverspot Cinema in Coconut Creek (www.silverspot.net) and at Savor Cinema in Ft. Lauderdale this weekend with special events. (www.fliff.com).

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FLICKS: Kubo and the Two Strings, FLIFF sets dates

Posted on 08 September 2016 by LeslieM

flicks090816By “Cinema” Dave


It sounds like a broken record, but superheroes and Walt Disney Studios dominated the summer box office. Despite negative mainstream reviews, Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice did well at the box office, but did not rival Captain America: Civil War in both revenue and critical appeal. The 2016 box office crown goes to Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, an animated tale with both story and heart.

While losing money for their producers, Kubo and the Two Strings is stop motion (as opposed to computerized like Finding Dory) animation like the original King Kong and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Lacking the narrative intensity of Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings is a contemplative motion picture about life, the rites of passage and spirituality. Like a good piece of Asian Literature or an Akira Kurosawa movie, Kubo and the Two Strings places an emphasis upon colorful visualization and primitive symbolism. While Kubo is an archetypal protagonist, he is a character. Expect Kubo and the Two Strings to be an Oscar rival to Finding Dory next awards season.

Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) Director Gregory Von Hausch has announced the dates for this year’s festival: Friday Nov. 4 thru Sunday Nov. 20. While guests and honorees have yet to be announced, the venues have been announced with opening ceremonies at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe and closing ceremonies at the historical Bailey Hall. The majority of films will be screened at either the Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood venues.

FLIFF will be a transformative festival. Much like old Joe Robbie Stadium, which is now called Hard Rock Stadium, Cinema Paradiso will now be known as Savor Cinema in honor of philanthropist Steve Savor. Having hosted several galas at his Villa di Palma in previous years, one can expect Steve Savor to energize the glamour aspect of South Florida’s biggest film festival.

In other news: this weekend, Tom Hanks stars as the title character, Sully, the commercial pilot who landed a jet airliner in the Hudson River. October sees the release of Dan Brown’s Inferno which is set in Florence, Italy and features a mystery evolving around Dante’s Inferno. Expect Tom Hanks to be in the news for the next two months, as Sully is directed by Clint Eastwood and Dante’s Inferno is directed by Ron Howard.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer opens Sept. 16 in local cinemas. Based on a true story, the film details German Attorney General Fritz Bauer’s efforts to bring Adolph Hitler’s chief bureaucrat, Adolph Eichmann, to justice.

With each passing Labor Day weekend, the memories of the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy fade into memory. Having turned 90, the old clown and humanitarian will be seen on the big screen on Sept. 23 in Max Rose. Playing the title character, Lewis is garnering his best notices since he was directed by Martin Scorsese in King of Comedy over three decades ago. Having recently been interviewed on the CBS Sunday morning program, it appears that Jerry Lewis will not fade into the darkness quietly.

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FLICKS: Mia Madre & Life, Animated

Posted on 01 September 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


This Labor Day weekend, two movies open with some award merit. Mia Madre was in competition in the 2015 Cannes film festival. The film’s leading lady, Margherita Buy, earned the best actress prize at the David di Donatello Awards in Italy. Life, Animated will be considered for Best Documentary during the 2017 awards season. Both Mia Madre and Life, Animated are entertaining motion pictures in which viewers will share some laughs and shed some tears.

Mostly in Italian language with English subtitles, Mia Madre introduces us to Margherita, an independent filmmaker producing a movie about workers’ rights and entrepreneurship. As she waits for her leading man, Barry Huggins (John Turturro) to arrive from America, Margherita checks her phone for the latest news about her sick mother.

Despite seemingly improving, the mother is terminal. Margherita must balance the demands between work, raising a teenager who is not doing well in her studies and impending grief. The American actor also brings onto the set his own petty neurosis and linguistic confusion.

Despite playing the protagonist’s irritant, Turturro’s appearances are welcome comic relief. In a supporting role, Turturro is allowed a full range of negative behavior, but remains somewhat likeable. Margherita Buy earned her David di Donatella prize for a retrained emotional performance. The audience feels for Margherita and her dilemma, which pays off for Mia Madre’s final scene.

Ripped from last year’s headlines, Life, Animated presents the story of Owen Suskind, an autistic, young man who learned to communicate with people by watching Disney animation. Using home movies, Owen’s parents discuss how the 3-year-old’s behavior changed overnight. Despite getting excellent medical attention and attending the best special needs schools in Washington D.C., Owen is sad and lonely. Feeling inspired, Owen’s father takes a puppet (Iago from Aladdin) and starts a conversation with Owen. A whole world opens up between Owen and his family.

While there is a great deal of joy in Life, Animated, there is also some harsh realities. Both parents are facing their own mortality and Owen breaks up with his only girlfriend.

These pains are universal, which is why these Disney animated movies like Aladdin, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast are magical motion pictures. If an autistic young man can find knowledge through Disney animated movies, perhaps we all should take a cue from Owen.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

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FLICKS: Florence Foster Jenkins

Posted on 25 August 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Five months ago I reviewed Marguerite, a French language motion picture about a music patron who believes she is an opera singer. She was not. This serio-comic film won numerous awards at several European film festivals and was based on the true story about an American patron of music. Florence Foster Jenkins is the American, as portrayed by Meryl Streep.

Set in high-brow Manhattan circa 1944, we observe scenes from The Verdi Club, a music appreciation society. The event is emceed by St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who also breaks up the singing by reciting Shakespearean monologues. Florence is first seen as part of the visual scenery, and perk of being a benefactor for the arts.

Given her generous contributions, most people tell Florence what she wants to hear. When she announces that she wishes to sing, St. Clair makes arrangements for music lessons. To accompany Florence and her music teacher, St. Clair hires pianist Cosme’ McMoon (Simon Helberg), a young man who is serious about his craft. Although he is paid very well, Cosme’ feels conflicted about supporting Florence’s total lack of talent.

Although her supposed sycophants are snickering behind her back, Florence believes the flattery she receives. As the film progresses, we witness the web of deceit that grows to absurd levels. There is an old Broadway question that asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer is “Practice, practice, practice.” With no talent but plenty of practice, Florence proves this Broadway adage.

Predictably, Streep absorbs the title role and gives a full performance. Like any Giuseppe Verdi opera, there is so much pain in this film, yet Streep shares the character’s salvation through music. Playing against type from his Big Bang Theory character, Simon Helberg gives a transformative performance of a mouse who becomes a man. Balancing the tightrope between love and being a cad, Hugh Grant provides his most interesting performance in 15 years.

With directorial credits including Dangerous Liaisons, Mrs. Henderson presents, Philomena and The Queen, Stephen Frears knows how to tell an interesting story about backstage life. It takes an experienced craftsman to tell an entertaining narrative with humor, while providing a sense of haute Manhattan culture.

As the children return to school this week, the motion picture industry will be releasing more serious fare. Florence Foster Jenkins won’t appeal to The Suicide Squad or Sausage Party ticket buyers, but this Meryl Streep/Stephen Frears film will be talked about during Oscar time.

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FLICKS: Pete’s Dragon

Posted on 18 August 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


During Christmas break of my freshman year at Deerfield Beach High School, Jan Herma invited me to go see Pete’s Dragon at the Deerfield Beach Ultra Vision. This G-rated half-animated musical held no appeal for me, as a 14-year-old. I declined the invitation and I’ve always felt a sense of guilt about not going, so I made myself watch the DVD.

The original Pete’s Dragon featured top-billed Helen Reddy, whose song Candle on the Water was getting constant airplay on FM radio. Mickey Rooney, “Red” Buttons and Jim Dale (the future narrator for the Harry Potter audiobooks) attempted to upstage each other, but still took second fiddle to the animated dragon named Elliott. After many unmemorable musical numbers and stilted family sentimentality, the film finally ends.

The new Pete’s Dragon is a far superior motion picture. The emphasis is on story, character development and realistic visualization of a fantastic subject matter. The film opens with pre-school aged Pete learning how to read in the backseat of a car. After his mother and father proclaim Pete as a brave boy, the car crashes into the forest. After shedding a few tears, Pete encounters a dragon and names him Elliott, after a character in his easy reader.

Six years later, Jack (Wes Bentley) and Gavin (Karl Urban) are lumberjacks who notice unusual occurrences in the forest. The lumberjack brothers consult with Forest Ranger Grace Meacham, whose father (Robert Redford) tells folktales about the time he met a dragon. Myth becomes reality.

While there are echoes of Lassie Come Home, ET the Extraterrestrial and King Kong, Pete’s Dragon stands on its own modern achievement. There is a freshness to this motion picture that makes it unpredictable. There is message about the importance of conserving the environment; however, it is not heavy-handed.

Besides providing the opening and closing narration, Redford plays a character that echoes his best work, most notably The Horse Whisperer and Urban Cowboy. With a gift for gab and wood carving, Redford’s Meacham reminded me of my father.

Having battled dinosaurs as a corporate executive in Jurassic World, Bryce Dallas Howard plays a much more appealing role. Currently on the big screen as Dr. McCoy in Star Trek Beyond, Urban takes on the most villainous role, but he is really not much of a bad guy.

The box office for Pete’s Dragon has been disappointing. I hope word-of-mouth drives this motion picture to pick up. This is a pure family motion picture that is both sweet and simple. While there is no profanity and scenes that will embarrass grandparents, Pete’s Dragon is filled will plenty of action, adventure and good acoustic music.

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