FLICKS: Timbuktu and Selma

Posted on 29 January 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

The best thing about the awards’ season is that interesting motion pictures are being released at local theaters. Timbuktu has been nominated for best foreign language motion picture, the first entry from Mauritania, a country from the continent of Africa. Timbuktu is a beautiful motion picture, but with a depressing theme about Sharia law. Not since The Stoning of Soraya M. has a motion picture so addressed the terrors of Islamic fundamentalism.

This film opens and closes with symbolism, a group of thugs race across the desert with automatic rifles — shooting at a racing deer, most likely a doe. Moments later, the thugs use sacred relics as target practice. The tone of the film shifts to a bucolic setting of farmers and cattle ranchers.

With low-key acting, we watch a husband and wife quietly discuss the affairs of the day. While under the tent, these individuals entertain themselves with stories and the playing of musical instruments. They talk about their dreams, expectations and a better future.

Yet, in town, we witness a primitive Orwellian world. The hooded thought police troll the streets in search of neighbors violating Sharia Law. Rumors, gossip and hearsay are treated as fact in the kangaroo court of the land. This surreal environment creates a distressing situation that eventually leads to multiple tragedies between honorable people and profane sycophants.

The word “Timbuktu” evokes exotic romance. Director Abderrahmane Sissako provides these expectations with glorious cinematography; but, he also creates a human story about a culture that is so foreign to the American way of life.

With much media hype, but modest box office gains, Selma has been nominated for best song and best motion picture. Much like last year’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Selma presents producer Oprah Winfrey’s perspective of civil rights history. Both films are entertaining with humane themes. Yet, when one walks out of Selma, one feels as if they sat in a historical lecture from a biased professor. The rhetoric veers toward propaganda with incomplete historical detail.

Most notably, the casting of British actors Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth as President Johnson and Governor Wallace, respectively. The two British compatriots come across as stereotypical two-faced cackling villains, which detracts from David Oyelowo’s sincere performance as Martin Luther King Jr.

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FLICKS: Song One & American Sniper

Posted on 22 January 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Much like his previous success with the Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby and the box office champion Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has managed to break a January box office record with an amazing $104 million gross.

It has garnered six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor (Bradley Cooper’s performance as Navy Seal shooter Chris Kyle).

The film opens in a most dramatic fashion. While stationed on a rooftop in Iraq, Kyle targets a woman and a boy. In his telescopic lens, Kyle spots a hand grenade. Should he take the shot or not?

The film flashes back to Kyle’s youth in Texas. A successful rodeo rider, Kyle watches CNN news and sees an American Embassy being bombed. He realizes his life’s calling – to protect and defend the people of the United States of America.

American Sniper focuses on Kyle’s four tours of duty. While on leave, Kyle and his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) raises two kids and attempts to adjust to civilian life. Yet, Kyle is haunted by the soldiers he feels he is abandoning on the battlefield.

From the opening scene to the quiet closing credits, everything about this film feels appropriate. As “the Legend,” Bradley Cooper gives a genuine performance of stoic emotion. He is a true soldier who cannot acknowledge his vulnerability — even to the woman he loves. American Sniper deserves its Oscar and Box Office success.

For quieter fair, Song One opens tomorrow, starring Anne Hathaway and Mary Steenburgen. This is a quiet drama about a guitar singer who becomes brain damaged after being hit by a taxicab. His estranged sister Franny (Hathaway) tries to reconnect with her comatose brother through his interests.

Song One is a simple, sweet movie about musical therapy. Romance blooms, but that is not the focal part of this fascinating movie. This film is about the importance of reconnecting a loved one through art and entertainment.

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FLICKS: Selma and To Kill a Mockingbird

Posted on 15 January 2015 by L.Moore

flicks011515By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Despite a modest $11 million opening weekend box office, Selma is expected to become a box office juggernaut this weekend and by the time the Oscar statues are distributed Feb. 22.

Selma deals with Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Five years previously, Alabama citizen Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, her only published book. Told from the perspective of an elementary school aged little girl named Scout, this book presents the fine line between imagined and real terror.

The first part of the book deals with Scout, her big brother – Jem, their best friend Dil (inspired by Harper Lee’s childhood buddy — Truman Capote) and their curiosity about the mysterious “Boo” Radley, a reclusive neighbor who is never seen in daylight.

The second part of the book deals with Scout’s father – Atticus Finch, a lawyer who must defend Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman.

Both stories intersect and provide a satisfying conclusion that best explains why it is a sin “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

A best-seller for 41 weeks, this book earned Harper Lee the Pulitzer award in 1961. Hollywood came a calling and a film was produced in 1962, garnering an Oscar for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch. (It lost the Best Picture Award to Lawrence of Arabia.) Peck and Lee became lifelong friends. One must wonder how Harper Lee’s words influenced the actions of Martin Luther King and the civil rights march a few years after the book’s publication.

Starting this weekend, continuing through Feb. 28, the Broward County Libraries Division will be celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird as part of “The Big Read.” A program created by the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Libraries, “The Big Read” is designed to unite communities through great literature to discover the transformative joys of reading. All 40 Broward County libraries will be creating special programming for “The Big Read.” For a listing of programs, visit www.broward. org/Library/read.

On Monday, Jan. 26 at 12:30 p.m., Deerfield Beach Percy White Library will be hosting a special program. Copies of To Kill a Mockingbird will be distributed during the discussion, as well as other special surprises.

Enjoy a good read, enjoy an Oscar-nominated film this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Take the time to reflect how far we have come in a

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FLICKS: 2014 in review

Posted on 08 January 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

When Craig Ferguson wrapped up The Late Late Show last month, he and Jay Leno discussed their feelings about ending their own talk shows in 2014. Leno admitted that it was cool to talk to a supermodel when he was 40; but, at age 65, he did not want to look like a creepy old man. Both admitted that the world of entertainment has changed so much in the past decade; both men were wondering why they were interviewing people like “reality stars.” Having served as The Observer’s film columnist for 15 years, I have been wondering the same thing about the current entertainment culture.

In my previous 14 Films in Review columns, I have written about how much fun this column has been to write. As I reviewed falling box office figures and the lowest attendance records, I realized that the movie-going experience has not been as much fun in 2014. Therefore, I feel justified in limiting my “Top Ten” list by 30 percent this year (Presented in reverse alphabetical order):

Cinema Dave’s Top films:

Wild

Jersey Boys

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Heaven is for Real

Dolphin Tale 2

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Honorable mentions:

Rudderless

Maleficent

Hercules

Guardians of the Galaxy

Godzilla

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Boyhood

It is my hope that the motion picture industry was taking a deep breath before releasing a series of blockbusters. By owning the Marvel Comics, Star Wars and Pixar properties, expect Disney to dominate the Box Office in 2015 with such titles as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens and Inside/Out.

Master Marketeer that Mr. Mouse is expect many live action theme parks to coincide with box office successes. We’ve already seen rides like The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean become movies. Johnny Depp is currently in production with the 5th Pirate movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales. Tomorrowland opens this summer and features George Clooney as a scientist who controls time, space and dimension. Disney’s Animal Kingdom and 20th Century Fox are creating an Avatar land to coincide with the release of director James Cameron’s 2016 sequel.

Not to be outdone, Universal Studios, which already partners with Warner Brothers for the Harry Potter parks, is working with Legendary Pictures to resurrect classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, along with the return to Skull Island, King Kong’s home.

I was optimistic about the film business in our neighborhood; we had a strong revenue stream of work from major studios with projects like Iron Man 3, In Her Shoes and television shows like Magic City, Burn Notice and The Glades. Yet, Atlanta has absorbed business that South Florida lost [due to lack of incentives and] due to our lack of professionalism in the industry. Florida Film professionals need to become more results-orientated, with less emphasis of fame seeking and celebrity stalking.

2015 will be a pivotal year for our neighborhood festivals. Palm Beach International Film Festival and the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival will celebrate important anniversaries (20th and 30th, respectively). It is my hope, in 2014, that I will walk away from a movie feeling good about the industry again.

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FLICKS: Class Acts of 2015 offset depressing year in cinema

Posted on 01 January 2015 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

As predicted, 2014 was a critically and financially weak year for the movies. Perhaps Hollywood is resting before the release of guarantee box office franchises next year – the newest Avengers, Jurassic Park, Star Wars and the latest James Bond movie. For Cinema mavens, 2014 was a year in which many stories about the films were more interesting than the actual film itself.

Beyond revealing naked photos of celebrity starlets and revealing hypocritical political racism at the Hollywood executive level, the Sony hacking scandal did inspire a patriotic response. When terrorist death threats were issued to Sony Pictures for the distribution of the movie The Interview, a new level of censorship was revealed. Both liberals and conservatives agreed that the film should run. On Christmas Day, 300 theaters across America released it.

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FLICKS: Wild

Posted on 25 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

In my 15 years of writing movie reviews, I’ve always felt a stronger sense of obligation to my readers during the holidays. When I reviewed Oscar potential motion pictures in the past (No Country for Old Men, Brokeback Mountain), I felt the need to warn my readers that a film might be technically good, but the effect could be “Anti- Christmas” and depressing. During the opening scene of Wild, I felt the need to warn my readers.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) sits upon a mountain top and removes her boots and socks. Her big toenail is falling off, so she painfully removes it. Her shoe suddenly slips and falls down the mountain. Cheryl lets loose a string of expletive derivatives and throws the other shoe down the mountain.

Within the first two minutes of Wild, you can observe the self-destructive behavior of our protagonist. The question is do we really want to spend two hours of our time watching this woman? The answer is a definitive yes!

Cheryl sets off on a quest to hike the 1000 mile Pacific Coast Trail, from California through Oregon to Washington state. The hike is mostly a solitary one, with plenty of time for Cheryl to reflect upon her relationship with her mother (Laura Dern), her exhusband (Thomas Sadoski) and heroin. Yet, with such darkness in her life, the protagonist discovers the beauty in nature, animals and finds grace in an unsuspecting way.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild is a simple film about the complications of living. Cheryl’s dramatic flashbacks intrude upon the early narrative. Yet, Vallee uses these intrusions to enhance the emotional content of Cheryl’s life spiral. As the film progresses, the pace slows down, which gives Wild an epic quality. Despite the 115 minute running time, the film feels longer, but in a good way.

It has been nine years since Witherspoon’s Oscar winning performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Given her recent public relations debacle with the police, Wild is a definite career redemption for Witherspoon. She provides a truthful and naked performance and she is likely to be Oscar-nominated.

Despite some beautiful cinematography, this film touches upon the darkness of one’s soul. Critics are debating that Cheryl’s odyssey is one of either self acceptance or redemption. Either philosophy, Wild is likely to be on my top 10 list next year.

Merry Christmas!

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FLICKS: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 &The Grand Budapest

Posted on 18 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games literary trilogy has been stretched out to four separate stories on the cinematic big screen. This practice of stretching out the final book began with the Harry Potter series (worthy) and continued with the Twilight series (unworthy). Mockingjay is a 400 page young adult novel, which means that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –Part 1 is full of exposition that should lead to an epic big screen grand finale.

In the previous motion picture, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) challenged the federal status quo with an act of public defiance. Mockingjay opens with Katniss adjusting to her new role as a rebellious public symbol – the Mockingjay. Her new title is a creation of rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her agent Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Katniss, Alma and Plutarch are in direct conflict with ongoing villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

In her previous act of defiance, Katniss lost track of her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her ally (and possible love interest?) from the government sanctioned Hunger Games. Now, President Snow uses Peeta as a government propaganda pawn to confront the growing rebellion. Katniss is put in an emotional vice as she tries to separate her public obligations with her personal needs.

Director Francis Lawrence does an excellent job presenting this conflict for Katniss. It helps that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect conduit for audience empathy, for much of this story is told through her eyes. We have watched young Katniss age in the past two years; the stress and betrayals are revealed on her face. With this type of emotional connection, the well-directed action scenes take on more depth and one eagerly awaits the grand finale with part two next year.

As we wrap up 2014, mainstream critics are presenting their top films of the year, with The Grand Budapest Hotel being consistently nominated. By the end of the month, this film will be on cable. Much like his previous motion pictures Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tennenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel is another peak into the vision of Wes Anderson. With high brow cinematography and low brow comedy, this film tells the tale of M.Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge with contacts everywhere. Art theft, international intrigue and the onset of a world war … this film has something for everyone.

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FLICKS: The Homesman

Posted on 11 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

The writings of Glendon Swarthout ages like a fine wine. While best known for penning John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist, Swarthout also inspired the South Florida Spring Break cultural phenomenon with his book Where the Boys Are. His best-selling novel featured the subject of veterinarians, with a title that became a pop hit song in the early 1970s, Bless the Beasts and Children. Swarthout has been gone for 21 years, but his writing is about to enjoy a renaissance with the new movie, The Homesman.

Written and directed by, and starring, Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman tells the tale of Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a spinster who is a wealthy land owner in the rural frontier. When three mentally unbalanced wives disrupt domestic life in this small community, a preacher (John Lithgow) approaches Miss Cuddy. The two determine that the three wives must be transported east toward civilization. After recruiting the scoundrel named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to be “the homesman,” the five disparate characters travel east to Iowa.

Along the way through the barren wilderness, the five encounter rain, snow, sleet, hail, bandits, Apaches and their own existential loneliness. As they draw closer to their goal, one strong member of this party encounters their personal heart of darkness.

With such a simple narrative and unique characters with conflicting motivations, The Homesman keeps the audience guessing until the final credits roll. This film unfolds like a John Ford epic western, but tainted by modern day sensibilities. There are many shots of wide open places and the cinematography is beautiful. There is a darkness to this film, much like No Country for Old Men, but there is no denying that Tommy Lee Jones has directed his best film yet.

While Jones’ acting is not much of a stretch from the curmudgeon characters that he usually plays, he has managed to surround himself with first rate talent. Meryl Streep is given a maternal cameo, while her daughter, Grace Gummer, portrays one of the mentally ill wives. Both are convincing and help bring some heart to the film’s climax.

The Homesman is held together by Swank’s tough performance. This actress has won two Oscars for portraying vulnerable women who exude strength under duress. Her Mary Lee Cuddy is no exception and her performance is earning critical buzz just in time for award’s season.

Like the Glen Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me, The Homesman is a good movie, but with underlying sadness.

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FLICKS: I’ll Be Me

Posted on 04 December 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Glen Campbell is one of those artists that we often take for granted, mostly because of longevity.

I was introduced to him as John Wayne’s costar in the original True Grit. Campbell’s music recalls some great memories about my father and I driving around Long Island. Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman” became a staple of AM Radio.

While most honored as a country singer, Campbell’s career was more prolific as a studio session musician. He performed guitar licks with The Champs, the Beach Boys, and Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Much like musician Steve Hunter, Campbell performed the soundtrack of my generation and most of us never knew it. Now stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, Campbell himself does not know the impact his music has had upon the world.

The documentary I’ll Be Me is Campbell’s swan song and it opens this weekend. Upon completion of his album with tour dates contracted, the Campbell family learns of their patriarch’s malady. The family decides to continue the tour as a farewell tour to the fans.

From Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl, for 151 performances in 425 days, the tour becomes a rollercoaster ride of emotions. At first, Campbell is able to hide behind his humor, with jokes and his impression of Donald Duck. When he gets confused onstage, he relies on his banjo -picking daughter Ashley to get through the musical numbers. These are sweet and humorous moments.

Yet, as the disease progresses, one witnesses the deconstruction of a celebrity. It is hard to watch the paranoia of a 76-year-old strong man. It is even harder to watch Campbell exit a tour bus with a knife in his teeth, as he tries to extract a delusional cavity.

Yet in an operetta sense, I’ll Be Me is a life-affirming movie. As Campbell’s musicianship fails, his ticket-buying fans provide an outpouring of love. Bruce Springsteen, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow discuss how Glen Campbell inspired their vocation.

Go see I’ll Be Me on the big screen, with a full blown sound system. It is a full concert experience. You will laugh and maybe shed a tear. However, there is no denying that you will leave the theater wanting to listen to more Glen Campbell music.

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FLICKS: Interstellar

Posted on 27 November 2014 by L.Moore

By Dave Montalbano

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

It has taken me three weeks to wrap my head around Interstellar. I attended the screening at the newly-refurbished Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science IMAX Theater (MODS) and I was overwhelmed with the visualization. Interstellar is a science fiction epic that is enhanced by the five-storey IMAX screen and clear concise aural elements.

There has been mainstream criticism about the audio problems plaguing screenings of Interstellar. Many of these problems are actually caused at the local level by projectionists who do not know to listen to movies in their own movie theaters. That was not the case

at MODS. Interstellar simulates the immediate silence one hears when travelling into outer space, like IMAX documentaries such as Space Station 3-D.

Besides directing the last Batman/Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan has created motion pictures with big themes and a tricky narrative structure: Memento, Insomnia and Inception. Interstellar is actually a simple story about family; but the narrative becomes convoluted when including Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to move the action along.

Farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a widower with two teenaged children: a teenaged boy who prefers farm life and Murph, a preteen who is interested in deeper themes about science. Like her old man, Murph has a bit of a rebellious streak.

Cooper is contacted by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who believes that the world is ending. Brand believes that there are inhabitable planets that can sustain earth’s population. With tears and regret, Cooper leaves planet earth in an effort to save the world.

Like Inception, Interstellar takes a scientific theory and attempts to simplify it. If one does not pay attention to the dialogue scenes between Mc- Conaughey, Caine and Anne Hathaway, one will be totally lost in space. Understanding Einstein’s theories about time travel will determine one’s enjoyment tolerance for Interstellar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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