FLICKS: The Clouds of Sils Maria

Posted on 23 April 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


The Clouds of Sils Maria is a two-hour piece of visual poetry. But people who keep reviewing the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer …for the 47th time … might not appreciate the slow pace, beautiful scenery and levels of emotional subtext. The film invokes memories of the 1970s, when Ingmar Bergman, Louis Malle and Francois Truffant films enjoyed the limelight on the marquee of art house cinemas.

The film opens on a crowded train. Valentine (Kristen Stewart) is the handler for veteran actress Maria Enders (Julliette Binoche), who is enroute to a film festival to accept a lifetime achievement award for her auteur director, Wilhelm Melchoir. Melchoir had directed a play that made Maria a young star … 20 years ago.

A hotshot new generation director wants to direct the same play and cast Maria as older rival. This forces Maria to escape to Sils Maria and contemplate. Taking Valentine with her, Maria escapes to the bucolic beauty of the white mountains. Despite having a constant companion who’s connected with current trends and fads in show business, Maria suffers from bouts of loneliness and a sense of impending mortality.

An Oscar winner for The English Patient, Juliette Binoche is Europe’s answer to Meryl Streep. With subtle nuance, Binoche makes her Maria Enders a full character, consistent with quirky contradictions. She is not afraid to let herself look ugly during emotionally revealing scenes. At age 50, Binoche holds her own in a brief skinny dipping scene with Kristen Stewart.

As she puts her Twilight years behind her, Stewart is garnering her best notices for her supporting work in this film, for which she won the Cesar Award in France, and also in Still Alice. Stewart’s Valentine first reveal presents a tough multitasking front for her boss. Yet, in the mountains of Sils Maria, Valentine’s emotional shield begins to crumble. The interplay between the 25-year-old Stewart and the 50-year-old Binoche resonates with a rare truth found in movies these days.

This film is full of subtle symbolism. Yet, director/ writer Olivier Assayas does not get bogged down with art house intentions, but creates some fine comedic moments between Binoche and Stewart. Some of the best laughout- loud moments involves Chloe Grace Morentz as the flaky female lead who will be portraying the young Juliette Binoche.

The Clouds of Sils Maria cannot compete with the box office juggernauts of 50 Shades of Gray or Furious 7. However, Juliette Binoche’s performance has haunted more than Dakota Johnson and Michelle Rodriquez.

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FLICKS: 5 to 7, Fall to Rise

Posted on 16 April 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


The juggernaut known as Furious 7 has netted a quarter of a billion dollars box office gross thus far, with the hype for Avengers: Age of Ultron dominating media outlets. Still, there is some quieter fare opening tomorrow, with stories about dancers and a novelist set in New York City.

Written and directed by Jayce Bartok, Fall to Rise features the story of two ballerinas in the twilight of their careers. Lauren (Katherine Crockett) is a ballet star who was let go due to injury. She is also a new mother who is married to a lawyer (Kohl Sudduth). Lauren’s instinct to return to stage is stronger than her maternal instinct.

Like Rocky Balboa, Lauren reunites with her Mickey Goldmill – Shelia (Daphne Rubin-Vega), a former ballet star who works at a dance studio for little girls. Shelia trains Lauren and gets her into prima ballerina shape. Despite the physical difficulties it takes to achieve center stage, it is Shelia and Lauren’s domestic lives that are far more difficult.

This film takes the viewer to the backstage territory that we visited in Birdman, just a few blocks away, minus the pulsating jungle rhythm. It’s a simpler story to follow, but not without some Greenwich Village avant-garde moments. During her emotional breakdown, Shelia goes to a comedy club and bares her soul to a puppet with Johnny Carson/ Jimmy Fallon mannerisms. This sequence seems out of place with the rest of the movie, but it also is the most interesting scene.

5 to 7 is a 93-minute romantic comedy about a novelist. Brian (Anton Yelchin) meets Arielle (Berenice Marlohe) and they share a cigarette. The two develop chemistry and agree to meet each other every Friday evening from 5 to 7. Complications arise when Brian learns that Arielle is a married woman with two children.

With a light touch, this film is a comedic rite-of-passage tale about the birth of a writer. The film drags during the conclusion when the moral to the story is revealed, but the lag is forgivable. Despite being in summer blockbuster movie franchises (Star Trek, Terminator), Yelchin has proven to be a successful actor on the independent film circuit. Being New York based, the producers managed to recruit Glenn Close & Frank Langella in small but pivotal roles as Yelchin’s parents. These parents provide genuine comedic highlights.

While most Manhattan ballet dancers will prefer Fall to Rise, most audiences will find 5 to 7 an engaging flick for a matinee price.

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FLICKS: Furious 7, X+Y and Walking Man

Posted on 09 April 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


Over the Easter weekend, Furious 7 broke box office records for an April release. With a gross of 147 million, this film owes much to the well-promoted tribute to the late Paul Walker, who passed away last fall from a tragic car accident.

The tribute is a fine one, with visions of poetry. People left the movie in tears.

For a full evening price ticket, it is disappointing to write that Furious 7 is not a successful movie overall. The set-up is good. As always, the characters are engaging and new villain Jason Statham gives both Vin Diesel & Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson their lumps. The first big action sequence in the mountains is thrilling; but, as the action progresses, the reliance apon computerized special effects diminishes any sense of danger.

As long as Vin Diesel feels like producing this Fast and Furious series of movies, expect a “Fast 8” in 2017. This 15-year-old series revolves around a core group of individuals that resembles a family dynamic. Every two years, it’s nice to check up on these people.

Last Thursday evening, the Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF) announced that X+Y won the Best Feature Film Award. This unique motion picture features a young mathematical genius, Nathan (Asa Butterfield), who goes on a field trip to Asia. Considered autistic, Nathan makes new friends and learns that his estrangement from people has more to do with a blocked trauma from his past.

Omo Child: The River and the Bush tied with Walking Man for Best PBIFF documentary. Directed by Josh Salzberg, Walking Man presents a bipolar father and son who go on a cross country walk to bring attention to teenage suicide prevention.

It is a road movie, but, along the way, we meet young people who have attempted suicide. Back home, the mother explains the up and down behavior of the father and son. Whereas the son’s mood swings would occur on a daily basis, the father would have a manic/depressive episode that lasted three years.

The climax is presented as a confession from the mother and father. We learn the importance of maintaining communication with empathetic people. What makes Walking Man a successful documentary is the candor about this painful, but important, subject.

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FLICKS: X+Y, The Record Man, Walking Man, Hidden Assets & The Lost Key

Posted on 02 April 2015 by L.Moore

PBiFF2015Ellar Coltane and Randi Emerman Axler (2)By Dave Montalbano


The April zeitgeist known as the Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF) wraps up tonight at Boca Raton Cinemark Palace 20 with While We’re Young, starring Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver and Charles Grodin.

The final party will be at Yoko-San Restaurant, 99 SE Mizner Blvd, Boca Raton.

When The Observer started covering PBIFF in 2003, young Ellar Coltrane was just beginning work on his 2014 movie Boyhood [which received an Oscar for actress Patricia Arquette]. After a whirlwind of promotion,[including picking up a Shooting Star award at PBIFF], this fine young gentleman will be returning to Texas as he makes plans to attend college in New England.

Directed by FSU alumnus Mark Moorman, The Record Man provides nostalgia for people who grew up in South Florida during the 1970s. With George McCrae receiving the key to the city of West Palm Beach, the sold-out audience responded with religious fervor, including singing along with Steve Alaimo, KC and the Sunshine band.

2006 PBIFF voluntePBiFF2015 Mr and Mrs George McCrae (2)er Mitchell Egber produced The Record Man and organized the music for the gala event Saturday Night at the home of Marty & Joyce Kobak. Besides hob knobbing with guests like Connie Francis and Tom Arnold, the party featured live performances by George McCrae, Jimmy “Bo” Horne, Charlotte McKinnon and the Derek Mack Band.

While celebrities and parties draw attention, the purpose of a good film festival is to feature the work of independent filmmakers. Asa Butterfield stars as mathematical genius with poor social skills in X + Y, a British drama with much dry humor. Although laced with profanity, this is a family film shot in Great Britain and Asia. It is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year for its logical unpredictability.

Josh Salzberg brought his documentary Walking Man to town, a father/son road movie about suicide prevention. With echoes of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild, Salzberg brings a raw authenticity about healing by a cross country walk through the state of Missouri.

Word-of-mouth has been strong for the Alfred Hitchcock inspired Hidden Assets, directed by local actress Jacqueline Journey.

The Lost Key has inspired discussions about the meaning of intimacy.

It’s sad that we have to wait another year for such an intimate festival … PBIFF.

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FLICKS: Queen and Country, PBiFF begins & Dan Aykroyd

Posted on 26 March 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


Five-time Oscar bridesmaid, but never a bride, director John Boorman, has created indelible images on the big movie screen. He directed Lee Marvin in two savage movies, most notably Point Blank, which featured an all-star ensemble cast. Through the years, his visual acuity created both beautiful and nightmarish imagery in Deliverance, Excalibur and The Emerald Forest.

Released 28 years ago, Hope and Glory was his semi-autobiographic tale about his British childhood during the World War II blitzkrieg. Opening tomorrow is Queen and Country, which continues the adventures of Bill Rohan (Boorman’s alter ego) during the Korean War. While war is background theme to both movies, there is much humor in these films which present a character’s rite of passage. Queen and Country is Boorman’s big screen swan song, so expect an appropriate “goodbye” from a master craftsman.

The 20th Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBiFF) opens tonight with a red carpet screening of Welcome to Me at the Muvico Parisian 20 & IMAX at City Place in West Palm Beach. Saturday Night Live alumus Kristen Wiig (currently queen of independent film production) stars as a narcissist who suffers from a comical nervous breakdown. The cast includes Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini, Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The Lost Key will be part of PBiFF’s “Jewish Experience,” which features an assortment of 35 international films from Germany, Hungary, France, Cuba and Bulgaria. Bulgarian Rhapsody is the country’s recent representative of the Oscar race. Israeli actor Udi Persi from 10% My Child will be spending the week in Palm Beach County.

If history is a good indicator, this year’s PBiFF should be a lot of fun with many surprise guests and memorable experiences. With the grand finale being held at the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton, there is no excuse to miss! For further updates and information, please visit www.pbifilmfest.org.

Promoting his Crystal Head Vodka, Dan Aykroyd blew into town [March 20] as an energetic juggernaut. At ABC Liquors in Sunrise, Aykroyd was a human autograph machine as he signed vodka bottles, Ghostbusters and Blues Brothers memorabilia.

Blues History was made at Stache in Ft. Lauderdale when Aykroyd reunited on stage with South Florida resident and Blues Brother Matt “Guitar” Murphy for a mini reunion concert. The night was emotional and definitely defined the spirit of the Blues.

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FLICKS: 3 Hearts, Cinderella and PbiFF

Posted on 19 March 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


After screening at the 32nd Miami International Film Festival, 3 Hearts opens in limited South Florida release tomorrow. Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) misses his train, but finds comfort with Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). After an intense experience, the two part ways. Marc settles in and develops a deeper relationship with Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) with plans to marry. When meeting his future in-laws, including matriarch (Catherine Deneuve), Marc discovers that Sylvie and Sophie are sisters.

Nominated for numerous awards at the Venice and Lumiere Film Festivals, 3 Hearts is a French Film with English subtitles and features the plot device of a romantic triangle. With the cinematic legacy of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuve, this film reveals that French storytelling is consistently modern.

It was French scholar Charles Perrault who penned European folk tales and crafted what we now know as the fairy tale Cinderella a.k.a. The Glass Slipper. As recent box office figures have revealed, this tale of love, romance and service has struck a chord with modern audiences.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Thor), the audience retraces the narrative about how Ella (Lily James) became “Cinderella.” We meet her adorable parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell, who was in Agent Carter) who teach their daughter that it is important to have the “courage to be kind.”

These life lessons go into effect when Ella’s parents die. A wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her sinister sisters (Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger) have Ella clean the furnace and she gets covered with “Cinders.” Considered “too dirty” to attend the Prince’s ball, Ella meets her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) who gives the heroine a makeover. By now, one should figure out the rest of the plot.

Cinderella deserves its success. Kenneth Branagh makes the sugary romance palatable, the characters are not overblown and the actors ensemble chooses restraint. This film can best be summed up in one scene – Ella’s “walk of shame” — because it is a beautiful moment due to the heroine’s pure motives.

Next week, the Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBiFF) celebrates 20 years with appearances from Tom Arnold, Ellar Coltrane and others, and music provided by TK Records, who has a South Florida connection with K.C. and the Sunshine Band. At this international festival, keep an eye out for The Lost Key, a Spanish documentary about a Rabbi who talks about intimacy, lust and love.


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FLICKS: Chappie, Eva & The Lovers

Posted on 12 March 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


After viewing the last of the Academy Award Best Picture nominations, I thought it was time to take a break from the “serious” fare and view pure “escapist” entertainment like Chappie, featuring Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and acclaimed director Neill Bomkamp.

How could a film about science fiction robots fail?

While it does not quite fail, it does not succeed either.

Somewhere in the not-too-distant-future, robots have become the police force of Johannesburg, South Africa. Due to aggressive police policies, crime is minimal. However, there are a bunch of low intelligence thugs that like to steal money and create havoc. During a routine raid, a robot is shot down.

Enter Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), a genius inventor who seeks to make the robots more autonomous with his gifted software. Enter Arch Rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman) who has created a behemoth robot that relies on human communication. Enter boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) who only seeks a profit in selling low cost protectors of society.

Had Bradley not scrimped on the security budget, she would have noticed the criminal activities of Vincent and Deon. Eventually, Deon inserts his lifegiving software to the slain robot and “Chappie” is born. Chappie, who is kidnapped by South African gangsters, [portrayed by Ninja and Yolandi of the rap-rave group Die Antwoord] becomes acclimated to their culture and speaks their lingo.

Chappie is cute, but suffers from too many story logic flaws. It is also a movie that distracts you and makes you think of other science fiction movies like Wall-E, X-Men, Alien and Blomkamp’s Oscar-nominated science fiction flick District 9. Too bad, but the film is open-ended enough for a sequel.

This Friday the 13th features the opening of two new movies.

Eva is the recipient of 3 Goya Awards, Spain’s version of the academy awards. Like Chappie, it deals with robotics, but it also deals with human expression and emotions.

Sans robots, The Lovers is Roland Joffe’s return to prestige from his triumphs three decades ago with films like The Killing Fields and The Mission. Josh Hartnett is a marine biologist who travels from India to the Caribbean in the 18th century. This film also includes Bollywood Idol Bipasha Basu in her international film debut.

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FLICKS: Whiplash & Mr. Kaplan

Posted on 05 March 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


You can add Whiplash to the list of Oscar-nominated films that may be better than the actual winner [Birdman]. This is a very simple film in which young Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a first year drummer at a prestigious New York musical conservatory. The John Houseman of all educators, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is a scary influence who wants gifted drummers to be great. Thus, the road to hell is paved with misguided intentions between a student and his mentor.

The intensity of Neiman’s drive and the darkness of Fletcher’s motivation provide an epic quality to this simple story. Whiplash forces you to rethink what it means to be successful. Young people might sympathize with young Andrew’s drive, while a former teacher might agree with mastermind Fletcher’s methods of developing talent.

Paul Reiser portrays Neiman’s loving, but ineffectual father. Reiser’s few scenes emphasize the importance of family values over ephemeral success. When accepting his Oscar for his role as Fletcher, Simmons ignited social media with his acceptance speech that supported this subtle theme of Whiplash.

He said, “Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”

Mr. Kaplan opens tomorrow. This film was the official submission of Uruguay to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards. Told in Spanish with English subtitles, this film provides serious themes about aging, the Holocaust and deadbeat dads, while creating some humorous moments.

Jacob Kaplan (Héctor Noguera) is the aging oddball of his community. Concerned that he might hurt himself, the family provides an assistant to drive Mr. Kaplan around town. While listening to the news, he learns that former Nazis have settled in his community. A child of the holocaust, Mr. Kaplan believes he has spotted a Nazi tormentor. With his befuddled assistant Contreras (Néstor Guzzini), Mr. Kaplan decides to kidnap the Nazi and send his tormentor to Israel.

Taking a cue from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Mr. Kaplan walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Not until the final scene does one realize that Mr. Kaplan is either heroic or delusional, but at least he managed to enjoy another adventure with his Sancho Panza.

[Note: Speaking of Don Quixote, the play Man of La Mancha is currently showing at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through March 28. Info: www.thewick.org.]

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FLICKS: Birdman, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks & DeliMan

Posted on 26 February 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


As a Florida State University Communications graduate, I took at least two classes in which Luis Bunuel’s films were examined. Working in cooperation with Spanish compatriot Salvador Dali, Brunuel surrealistic cinema inspired Mexican filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro González Iñárritu. After directing the depressing Biutiful (2010), it seems that Inarritu decided to examine some of his recurring philosophy theories from a comedic perspective.

With the absurdist visuals, over-the-top-ensemble-acting and the story about a backstage nervous breakdown, one can see why the Academy Awards chose Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), as the best motion picture of 2014. In a year in which the motion picture industry made most of their box office mojo from costumed superheroes like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Birdman allows industry insiders to assuage their guilt from reaping benefits from themes they don’t necessary believe in.

Years after being out of the spotlight from playing the superhero Birdman, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) seeks to perform in something “relevant.” Thomson funds a Randall Carver short story What We Talk About when We Talk About Love on Broadway. The film focuses on the final three preview rehearsals leading up to opening night.

Backstage, we witness intense backstage drama. Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone) helps her Dad backstage and is a recovering drug addict. Newly-hired method actor Mike (Edward Norton) gives a brilliant performance, but is a backstage louse. Mike’s girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts) has been a journeyman actress who is getting to perform on Broadway for the first time. Under pressure, backstage and alone, Riggan begins hearing the voice from “Birdman,” his dormant superego.

People either love or hate Birdman. The crowd I saw this film with departed the theater in silence. Some people walked out of Birdman, claiming that this was the first motion picture they have walked out of in four decades. Birdman is truly one of the most unique motion pictures to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and will be an influence upon future releases for artistically inclined producers and directors.

As I write this column, the ABC Network is releasing their celebrity participants on Dancing with the Stars, which will preview Monday night. Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks opens this weekend and features Gena Rowlands as a South Florida senior citizen who makes an offbeat friendship with Michael Minetti (Cheyenne Jackson), a gay dance instructor. This film explores the themes of intolerance and ageism, but also the spiritual redemption of dance.

My Dad would have turned 93 this weekend. One of my fondest memories was sharing a pastrami sandwich and coffee with him on Broadway 14 years ago. While Birdman retraces our steps on Broadway, the newly released DeliMan reminded me of how good that meal was, even though this documentary takes place in Houston.

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Imitation Game & 50 Shades of Grey

Posted on 19 February 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano


The Imitation Game premiered at the 2014 Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and it had generated so much Oscar buzz from the European Film Festival circuit that festival director Gregory Von Hausch could not guarantee a seat for a critic’s screening.

In the summer of 2002, I reviewed an espionage movie titled Enigma, which featured Kate Winslet as a code breaker who helped to defeat the Nazis. It was an absorbing story, but the screenplay ignored an important historical character,

Professor Alan Turing. Played by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, Turing is the central character of The Imitation Game.

The film opens in darkness with the sound of Morse code. We learn that Nazi U-boats have been sinking the British Navy and American conveys with ease. British spies have located the German “Enigma Machine,” but cannot decode Nazi transmissions.

Enter mathematician Alan Turing, a brilliant mind with poor social skills. Placing an ad in the British press, Turing assembles a team of code breakers by having them complete a complicated crossword puzzle. Among the most gifted code breakers is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). History shows that the good guys won World War II, but the cost of victory destroyed one man’s soul. For those in love with analogue technology, espionage drama and group dynamics, then The Imitation Game is the film for you.

50 Shades of Grey is not a film for everybody; it is not a film that people will not admit to enjoying, but it is a film that people will secretly covet at home. At a critic’s screening last Wednesday night, the audience laughed, got intensely quiet during the more graphic scenes and moaned during the cliffhanger ending. This is more a tribute to Sam Taylor- Johnson’s skills as a director than E.L. James’ skills as a writer.

With an 85 million dollar opening weekend box office take, expect Universal to continue filming their 50 Shades of Grey trilogy for future Valentine’s Days.

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