FLICKS: Where to Invade Next, Dough

Posted on 11 February 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


With full Michael Moore mass media pomp and circumstance, Where to Invade Next opens tomorrow in neighborhood theaters. Moore “invades” European countries in a quest to solve the problems of the United States of America. It has been said this documentary will present Moore in a kinder and gentler light.

Also opening this weekend is Dough, an independent comedy that tackles serious themes of racism and capitalism. The situations are painful, but director John Goldschmidt sets a lighthearted tone that does not alienate the ticket buyer.

Nat (Jonathan Pryce) is an old Jewish baker who is trying to maintain his business in a financially depressed London neighborhood. With Sam Cotton (Phillip Davis) attempting to use Eminent Domain tactics upon Nat, the old man stubbornly maintains his discipline and focus.

Enter Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a Muslim refugee from Darfur who lives with his mother. Ayyash hangs with a bad crowd who sells drugs. When caught with his pants down, Ayyash comes under his mother’s wrath.

She works for Nat and convinces him to hire her son. Ayyash and Nat find similarities through their differences – both adhere to their respective faiths with disciplined prayer. However, they discover they have generational differences, too; Ayyash ends up using his drug connections to increase the sales revenue for Nat.

Unlike a Cheech & Chong comedy, Dough takes a sophisticated approach to the effects of narcotic usage, much more in line with the Craig Ferguson comedy from 16 years ago, Saving Grace, starring Brenda Blethyn. Jonathan Price and Jerome Holder forge a unique comedy team, and I would love to see these two actors work together again on a future project.

As football withdrawal weekend takes effect, Oscar season comes into full force. Brooklyn, The Revenant, Spotlight and Carol are on the local big screen this President’s Day, weekend.

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FLICKS: Revenant

Posted on 04 February 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Revenant: “one that returns after death or a long absence.” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

With a title like The Revenant, one would expect a ghost story along the lines of Oscar-nominated films like The Sixth Sense and The Exorcist. There are definitely scenes in The Revenant that rival horror movies, but this film is an epic equally filled with scenic beauty.

In the American Frontier during 1823, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has joined Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) party. Glass mentors his son, a Native American named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), much to the dismay of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a trapper who was scalped by an Indian tribe some years before.

After some quick character introductions, the party is attacked by an Indian tribe. When retreating by boat down the river, Glass and Captain Henry rationalize that the boat is more of a target than an escape. The party set off walking to find a safe haven in Fort Kiowa.

While on foot, Glass is viciously attacked by a bear. In an immobile state, Glass witnesses Fitzgerald’s cruelty and cowardice as he is left for dead. Glass, however, rises from his wounds to seek revenge upon his enemy.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won the Best Picture Oscar and was directed by The Revenant’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Both films are a study between contrasts – Birdman features urban self absorption, while The Revenant features rugged individualism in wide open spaces. Both stories are strongly told and Iñárritu deserves his accolades this awards season.

If the previous award presentations are any indicator, DiCaprio is due to receive his Best Actor Oscar. In all of his previous Oscar nominations, there was something “Movie Star” about his performances, like a manufactured Oscar nominee. In spite of grisly scenes of violence, DiCaprio gives an understated performance that is character appropriate. A bug-eyed brute with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, Tom Hardy steals the movie with a complete performance.

With 12 Oscar nominations, The Revenant is worth seeing on the big screen. Clocking in over two-and-a-half hours, the film feels longer in a good way. With natural lighting and minimal production techniques, this film is good storytelling based on snippets of history. When the film concludes, it is breathtakingly exhausting, which was the filmmaker’s intention, for the first line of dialogue is “If you can grab breath, you can keep fighting.”

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FLICKS: 45 Years & The Hateful Eight

Posted on 28 January 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema Dave”


The Oscar-nominated 45 Years opens tomorrow in local theaters. Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, this film feels like 1970s old school Oscar nominations: the performances are excellent, the cinematography enhances the simple story with subtle symbolism and the slow pace builds to a subtle climax that is haunting.

While preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, Kate (Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Courtenay) receive some surprising news. Geoff’s deceased girlfriend of 46 years has been found frozen in ice after falling off the Swiss Alps. This revelation mars the gala that is supposed to celebrate marital stability.

After screening 45 Years, you will be thinking about this film afterward and will likely want to go back and review certain scenes. At one point, Kate makes a comment that in 45 years of marriage, the couple has no photographs in the house. Later, Kate goes to the attic and discovers slides of Geoff’s late girlfriend in Switzerland.

With this scene alone, veteran Charlotte Rampling earns her Oscar nomination. It is a subtle performance that chips away at a stoic character’s strength. With pure professional understatement, Rampling reveals the empty soul of her Kate. While this film will not be embraced by a callow generation, 45 Years will resonate with individuals with life experience.

Like a delicate flower, Charlotte Rampling blossoms in 45 Years, a film that should not be forgotten in overproduced marketing hype.

With much hype and Oscar hyperbole, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight will be leaving the big screen soon. Despite three Oscar nominations for cinematography, musical score (by Ennio Morricone) and best supporting actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s first financial flop and will likely secure his place in the Academy of the Overrated.

The first third of the film features the vast, wide open spaces that celebrate the best that the American Western has to offer. After introducing four of the Hateful Eight on the stagecoach, the film makes a pit stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. The rest of the film becomes more claustrophobic and the tone shifts from an adventuresome Western to that of an Agatha Christie parlor mystery. With this claustrophobic scenery shift, why bother seeing The Hateful Eight on the big screen? Its running time feels longer than the Arizona Cardinals/Carolina Panther’s playoff game.

With long-winded conversations, explosive violence and repetitive motifs, the quirky Tarantino has reached the law of diminishing returns with this motion picture.

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FLICKS: 13 Hours

Posted on 21 January 2016 by LeslieM

In 2012, on the evening of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of Islamic militants attacked two American diplomatic compounds in Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and injuring 10 more. The first response from the U.S. State Department was the claim that the attack was a protest over an anti-Islamic video that had surfaced on the Internet in July 2012. The “protest video” theory was proven false and [some say] was a diversion by the State Department, which had failed to provide adequate security for Americans on foreign soil.

Based on the book 13 Hours by Michael Zuckoff, producer/director Michael Bay has attempted to cut through the propaganda and present the story of the Benghazi tragedy.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens and closes with Jack Silva’s (John Krasinski) arrival and departure in Benghazi. Leaving his large family at home, Silva is a security contractor for the American diplomatic compound and not-so-secret CIA annex. Silva works with a competent team of former military men, who are supervised by a boss with a Napoleonic complex.

The day of Sept. 11, 2012 starts off quietly, but Ambassador Stevens and the security team are advised to keep a low profile on this sad anniversary. As the sun begins to set, terrorist thugs begin encroaching upon the diplomatic compound. It is a subtle movement at first, but by sundown, barbaric intentions are revealed.

13 Hours tells a compelling story that is nuanced by the fog of war. Director Michael Bay uses many cinematic techniques that can trigger an emotional reaction. At the start of the battle, there is use of some frantic editing. As the battle rages on, there is some fantastic cinematography that is presented with concise visual clarity.

Best known for his comedic performances, Krasinski reveals more depth as an actor in this film. The actor’s ensemble is understated, capturing the fraternal culture of soldiers in the foxhole. Bay provides subtle moments for these men, showing moments of humor in the face of dread. This film provides an emotional wallop.

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FLICKS: Mustang, Closed Season & Brooklyn

Posted on 14 January 2016 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


The awards season is peaking today with the Oscar nominations announcement. While films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominate the box office, this awards season provides unique opportunities to view eclectic movies.

Besides being a Golden Globe nominee, Mustang, which opens tomorrow in select theaters, is France’s submission to the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language motion picture nomination. Set in Turkey, Mustang follows the misadventures of five teenage sisters.

Trouble begins when the girls are seen frolicking on the beach with some boys. While the play seems innocent enough, the incident causes a scandal in the neighborhood. Things go from bad to worse as the family elders take Draconian measures to keep the girls in line.

[The girls seek to escape their repressive household where they are expected to stay virginal and spend time preparing to be good wives. Traditions seen in this film mirror everyday reality for many in that region.]

In a strange way, Mustang made me think about two Clint Eastwood movies. In Unforgiven, a personal incident is mishandled and eventually explodes into a full scale civil war. In Mustang, the girls’ claustrophobic relationship echoes that in The Beguiled. Even though it is presented as tragedy, there are moments of joy in Mustang that recall the innocence of films from France’s legendary director, Francois Truffaut.

One of Truffaut’s contemporaries was Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, whose dramas confronted family secrets. Opening tomorrow, Closed Season, directed by Franziska Schlotterer, shares DNA with the Bergman universe. Set in the Black Forest of Germany, a childless couple hides a Jewish refugee on their farm, circa 1942. One day, the infertile husband suggests that his wife conceive a child with the refugee. Things get complicated after conception occurs.

On a lighter note, Brooklyn recently left the big screen and will soon be available on DVD. Saoirse Ronan portrays an Irish immigrant who comes to America to live a better life. This delightful film features a fine ensemble cast and was screened at the recent Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. If Brooklyn is recognized by the Academy, expect a return to the big screen.

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FLICKS: 2015 in review & looking toward 2016

Posted on 07 January 2016 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


2014 was such a disappointing year that last year I could only name seven movies for my annual Top 10 list. A few weeks later, Hollywood released their Academy Award considerations and I would have balanced the list with the following motion pictures: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.

The movies for 2015 provided escapist entertainment. Beyond my own enjoyment, I could consistently hear people laughing, crying and applauding the images on the big screen. With good stories, interesting characters and clear visualization, movies were simply more fun in 2015. The included Top 10 list sidebar is presented in reverse alphabetical order.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens just dethroned Avatar as the biggest grossing motion picture of all time. Given the fragmentation of movies between television and Internet, the record breaking box office figures reveal that people still want to see big screen epic entertainment. Jurassic World allowed ticket buyers to see the actual size of a Tyrannosaurus rex on the Museum of Discovery’s 5-story IMAX screen.

2016 will feature a big screen box office battle between a Star Wars spin off (titled Rogue One) and Star Trek Beyond. Given the success of the Marvel Comics Expanded Universe, arch rival DC Comics plans to expand their universe with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will be followed up with Suicide Squad, featuring the Rogue’s Gallery of Villainy.

Despite a sense of diminishing returns from last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel is predicted to regain the box office championship throne with Captain America: Civil War. While Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) are expected to fight on the big screen, Civil Wars is a political movie that will examine the fine line between security and liberty on May 6, 2016.

Change is in the air locally. The Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF) is under new management. Given that the base of operations is in Manalapan, it remains to be seen if PBIFF will have relevance for our Observer readers this April. Stay tuned, we always have the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in November.

2016 will mark my 17th year writing this column in which we have witnessed the home video evolution from VHS to DVD to direct streaming through businesses like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Yet, for all of these technical innovations, nothing beats seeing a flick on the big screen for popcorn-eating Saturday Matinee fun.

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FLICKS: Backstage reflections for 2015

Posted on 30 December 2015 by LeslieM

flick123115By Dave Montalbono

Compared to the previous year, 2015 has been a consistent year for the box office. As predicted, Disney dominated with their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. While not the Disney Juggernaut, Universal Pictures scored big with 50 Shades of Grey, Furious 7 and Jurassic World. However, 2015 low budget independent fare like Ex Machina produced a high profit margin for investors.

In April 2003, The Observer covered the Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF) for the first time. Recent Oscar winner Adrien Brody, producer Robert Evans, musician Michael Jackson and the legendary Fay Wray were in attendance at an elegant gala held at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

Concurrently in Houston, director/writer Richard Linklater had completed filming the first year of Boyhood, a film that took 12 years to complete. At 2015’s PBIFF, Ellar Coltrane, one of the stars of this ambitious independent film attended.

The film, which was well received at the Academy Awards, also featured Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke.

Tired of being on the sidelines, I invested in a student short subject, Give Me Trouble starring local Blues Legend Joey Gilmore and featuring Robert “Hi Hat” Carter as the bass player. This film details a blues man’s last concert and will hopefully be entered in either the Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale Film Festivals. Gilmore and his band frequently perform in our neighborhood, so check ‘em out!

Best known for playing “Marcy Darcy” on Married with Children, Amanda Bearse found her niche behind the scenes as a television director. A Winter Park native, Ms. Bearse also appears on the soap opera All My Children and the movie Fright Night. Of the many celebrities that I have met this year, Amanda Bearse was a true class act; she asked every individual their name and was generous with her time.

I briefly met Burt Reynolds on the red carpet at PBIFF six years ago. Having just recovered from open heart surgery, Reynolds seemed timid among the paparazzi. Despite walking with a cane, Reynolds appeared “born again” at the Spooky Empire convention. He was chatting with his diverse fan base, fans of films like Deliverance or the Smokey and the Bandit movies.

Reynolds has done much for the film culture in South Florida. The Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater in Jupiter has provided a valuable stepping stone for local talent. At the peak of his stardom, Reynolds was generous to Palm Beach culture and his alma mater, Florida State University.

The film business is a forward-focused culture; however, it would be wise to reflect upon those Florida pioneers who paved the way for our future. Happy New Year!

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FLICKS: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted on 24 December 2015 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


[Editor’s Note: Some spoilers (plot points) may be in this article for those avoiding anything Star Wars related. May the force be with you!]

After learning about a big spoiler the day before release, I attended my screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with melancholy. It has been 32 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) redeemed his monstrous father Darth Vader. With help from a community of “teddy bears”, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) defeated the evil Empire and the Star Wars universe seemed poised to live happily ever after. Did I really need to see that the heroic actions I witnessed in my youth were all for naught? Fortunately, this seventh episode brings freshness to the franchise, while honoring the core fun of the original trilogy from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The film opens with Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seeking artifacts related to the Skywalker family. After witnessing him massacre a small village, a storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) develops a conscience. He rescues the pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and goes AWOL on the planet Jakku.

As if the pace were not fast enough, Finn meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger with natural special abilities. When Kylo Ren attempts to retrieve his deserter, Rey and Finn escape the planet and meet the legendary Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). The four humanoids, plus droid BB-8, form an alliance to outwit their enemies.

Thus far, I have only mentioned about 25 percent of The Force Awakens storyline and to include any more would take away from the thrill of discovery. Suffice it to say, director J.J. Abrams knows how to manage a fast pace while taking little moments for character development and revelation. In terms of good old-fashioned storytelling, The Force Awakens deserves its success.

Unlike the over-reliance on special effects from the recent Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), Episode VII feels more grounded in reality. While partially shot in Pinewood Studios, this Star Wars film was shot in locations as diverse as Abu Dhabi, New Mexico and Scotland. Even though this film takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, these outdoor locations provide natural realism.

The performances are excellent, with the old and new generations playing off each other with ease and respect. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since his character role as Branch Rickey in the 2013 baseball flick about Jackie Robinson, 42. Daisy Ridley is adorable. Adam Driver has entered the pantheon of rogue villainy reserved for actors like Bruce Dern [for those who have seen the John Wayne movie “The Cowboys”].

Despite my initial depression at having heard a big plot spoiler, I found Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be pure escapist entertainment that is Saturday Matinee popcorn-eating fun. Despite witnessing some PG-13 darkness, I left the theater feeling better than I did when I entered. On that note, Merry Christmas!

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FLICKS: In the Heart of Sea

Posted on 17 December 2015 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


Published in the 19th century, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, created a public perception about “killer whales” that lasted over a century, until the Jacques Cousteau television specials of the 1970s, which launched the ocean conservation movement and changed our perceptions of undersea life.

The new movie, In the Heart of the Sea tries to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. The film opens in Massachusetts, circa 1850. Writer Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) schedules an interview with a reluctant Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a solitary husband who is haunted by teenaged memories. With the encouragement of his wife, Nickerson confesses his memory of surviving the sinking of the whaling ship Essex, a victim of the mythical White Whale.

The film flashes back 30 years and we meet young Nickerson (Tom Holland), who is boarding the Essex as a first time sailor. The teenager comes under the wing of Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), the Essex’s first mate and an expert harpooner. Chase had been denied a captaincy and is forced to babysit the neophyte Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who received the commission due to family connections. This relationship causes conflict between the captain and the first mate.

The objective of whale hunting in the 19th Century was to provide oil for heating and lamps. We witness a successful whale hunt and Owen Chase lives up to his legendary status. Due to over fishing in a Pacific whaling area, the Essex is forced to venture further on into uncharted waters. When making port in South American, Captain Pollard and his crew are met by a crew of amputees who are warned about “the white whale.”

From this point, it is easy to deduce the rest of the plot. One is shocked by the gruesome elements not revealed in the television trailers. Let’s just say that the title In the Heart of the Sea has double meaning.

This film has many good things going for it: a good story, some interesting characters and some dynamic set pieces. Unfortunately, the many fine details do not come together to satisfy the whole viewing experience. It has been proclaimed a box office bomb that is likely to disappear from the big screen before the year is out. After all, Star Wars:The Force Awakens Friday, Dec. 18.

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FLICKS: Cramp your Christmas with Krampus

Posted on 10 December 2015 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


When I wrote my third book, “The Querulous Nights of Athena Minerva,” I sought to meld elements of a Gothic ghost story with that of contemporary horror. The feedback I received was that it was a good story, but very disturbing. The new movie Krampus also melds ancient folklore with popular culture, resulting in $16 million box office gross.

Krampus opens like a traditional Christmas movie with a Bing Crosby song and vivid cinematography featuring people entering a mall on Thanksgiving evening. Within seconds, it is chaos in slow motion as elvish displays get knocked over and people are hurting each other. The scene concludes with Max (Emjay Anthony) defending the honor of Santa Claus.

After receiving a lecture from his mom Sarah (Toni Collette) and dad Tom (Adam Scott), Max must prepare for the annual Christmas invasion by his redneck family, herded in by Uncle Howard (David Koecher) and Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). Max’s cousins are the spawn of every negative stereotype ever written about people from rural America.

Frustrated with the antics of his family, Max gives up faith in Santa Claus, rips up his letter to the North Pole and throws pieces of the letter to the North Wind. The pieces of his shredded letter end up in the underworld and Krampus is summoned.

The set-up is good, but the execution is clichéd. The second half of this low-budget film relies on flashing lights, dark cinematography and overly fast-paced editing. The cinematography solidifies the conclusion by returning the family to the land of Currier & Ives. However, this conclusion is as open-ended as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

When I heard the voice of Bing Crosby, I had “high hopes” for Krampus. In German Alpine folklore, Saint Nicholas rewards the nice children, while his opposite, Krampus, punishes the naughty ones. If this film focused on punishing the naughty children and adults of popular culture, Krampus could have become a classic like Tim Burton’s A Nightmare before Christmas.

This is my 17th December writing this column. During this busy season, I have learned the value of seeing a movie that provides escapism from the daily grind. People will leave Krampus wishing to spend more time with Saint Nicholas instead.

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