FLICKS: Fanny’s Journey

Posted on 16 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLICKS: Hacksaw Ridge

Posted on 09 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLICKS: La La Land & Split

Posted on 02 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLICKS: The Founder & Hell or High Water

Posted on 26 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLICKS: Fences & Moonlight

Posted on 19 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLICKS: A Monster Calls, Manchester by the Sea & For a Few Dollars More

Posted on 12 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


After hearing the tragic news from the Ft. Lauder-dale Hollywood International Airport, I went to see a movie whose primary theme featured the terror of grief, A Monster Calls. Based on an award-winning young adult novel written by Patrick Ness (from an idea by Siobhan Dowd), A Monster Calls has received a low box-office return. However, given the vast visualization and emotional wallop, you should see it on the big screen for genuine popcorn-eating fun and entertainment.

12-year-old Connor (Lewis McDougall) wakes up each morning at 12:07 a.m. with a reoccurring nightmare, that he cannot rescue his mother (Felicity Jones – Rogue One) from a pit. His mother is battling cancer and Connor channels his fears into his art. Inspired by his mother’s love of the original King Kong, Connor envisions his own monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who forces him to listen to three stories. Upon completion of the three stories, the monster demands that Connor tell him his own story and it must be the truth.

Directed by J.A. Boyona, this film is filled with allegory enhanced by quality special effects. However, it is the human exchanges between his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and principal (Geraldine Chaplin) that pack the most emotional wallop for the protagonist, Connor. I wished I saw A Monster Calls a week ago. It would have made my Top 10 list.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea also focuses on grief. Last Sunday night, Casey Affleck took home a Golden Globe for his performance as Lee Chandler, a tortured man who loses a brother (Kyle Chandler) and is given custody of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Unlike the tortured Connor from A Monster Calls, Patrick is a callow high-school student who is both popular and a two-timing ladies’ man. Given the horrible history with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee does not have the emotional strength to mentor his nephew.

Minus monsters and special effects, Manchester by the Sea is pure and painful realism, with moments of humor and beautiful New England cinematography. This film is a roller coaster ride. A funny scene involving slapstick and a refrigerator freezer becomes an emotional breakdown for one of the characters that is painful to watch. However, this scene provides much character revelation and alters the family dynamic for the rest of the film.

While both films deal with subjects that we would like to avoid, both Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls are fine dramas for a matinee afternoon price.

For more escapist entertainment, Silverspot Cinemas in Coconut Creek will screen the second Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone spaghetti western, For a Few Dollars More, on Monday evening. Before the 7 p.m. screening, a spaghetti dinner with a glass of wine and tiramisu will be served, along with some popcorn [for $23]. Details: www.silverspot.net.

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FLICKS: Top 10 list & future features

Posted on 05 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


flicks010517For 17 years, this first column of the year has been devoted to picking the best movies of the previous year. These choices follow the Aristotelian rules for good drama: story, character development and spectacle that enhances the first two rules. So, in no particular order, except in reverse alphabetical, here is the top ten list (in box).

Future films

Holding back for Oscar season, local theaters will be graced soon with Karen Allen and Celia Imrie in Year by the Sea directed by J.A. Boyona. A Monster Calls is based on an award-winning young adult novel by Patrick Ness (from an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd) and features Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and the voice of Liam Neeson.

The king of all monsters returns to the big screen in Kong: Skull Island, featuring an all star cast starring Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman. A week later, in March, Disney will create the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast featuring Emma Watson.

Introduced 17 years ago in X-Men, Hugh Jackman returns as the Wolverine in Logan. After performing in eight motion pictures, Jackman will be hanging up his character’s adamantium claws following this final performance as Logan, the wolverine.

For those with no plans for Valentine’s Day, 50 Shades Darker opens. For a movie franchise that no one admits to enjoying, expect this movie to have a spectacular box office on opening weekend. 2017 will be a unique year.

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FLICKS: 2016 in review

Posted on 29 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


This column completes my 17th year in which my picture has been associated with Flicks, which is as long as Dan Marino’s career with the Miami Dolphins. Since 1999, I have written through five presidential elections, covered over 30 film festivals in Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties and reviewed closed to a 1000 films for The Observer. I am very thankful that people still have an interest in my opinion about the movies.

2016 has been an interesting year for the business. The biggest blockbusters (Finding Dory. Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Deadpool) were released in the first half of the year. With the exception of Sully and Rogue One, the second half of the year suffered from a disappointing box office performance.

There can be many factors that have caused cinema’s deflating box office: riveting news coverage of the election and terrorism attacks, sports drama featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs and even the Miami Dolphins having their first winning season in eight years. The common denominator is that television programming has done much to erode the cinema box office.

In November 2016, the Ft. Lauderdale International film Festival promoted the motion picture industry in our community. Gregory Von Hausch, Jan Mitchell, Erin Fontes, Melissa Fresita, Lenny Wong and a crew of hundreds efficiently screened films from all over the world and hosted informative interviews from Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Arlene Dahl to a young talent like Bailee Madison.

Currently on the big screen is Lion, which earned the FLIFF “best in the fest” award. This film is truly representative of international filmmaking for it was produced in both Australia and India, featuring Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman in an important supporting role.

Sixteen years ago, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me was an independent motion picture that shocked the Hollywood mainstream by earning multiple Oscar nominations. This year’s Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea has earned honors on the cinema awards circuit. It is a drama about grief, but features some satisfying realistic humor.

My goal is to continue to write this column for at least another two years. However, I am concerned that I may be as extinct as the dinosaur. Stay tuned, I will do my best to keep stories interesting in 2017. Happy New Year!

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FLICKS: Rogue One

Posted on 24 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Forty years ago this week, Dino DeLaurentis’ version of King Kong was released on the big screen. Pompano Cinema had an actor in a gorilla suit roam around the marquee growling at patrons. Despite making the cover of Time magazine, the film was a disappointment, given the big budget and poor special effects. Six months later, Star Wars was released and movie special effects have been a constant on the big screen for 39 years.

The biggest use of special effects of Rogue One is not the space battles or spectacular fight on a sandy beach, but digital recreations of two characters from the original Star Wars. To reveal more would be considered spoilers, but know that the uncanny attention to detail will be honored at this season’s awards ceremonies.

Rogue One is an experiment from the Star Wars cannon. It is a standalone film from the Star Wars universe that George Lucas created that Walt Disney studios now owns. Some classic Star Wars characters from the previous seven episodes make appearances, but Rogue One introduces new characters and tells an original story.

Much like the late Robert Oppenheimer’s nuclear experiments, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a scientist who creates a weapon of mass destruction. When Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) forces Galen to design the Death Star for the Empire, Galen hides his daughter from the Empire’s gestapo.

Fifteen years later, Galen’s daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is found by the Empire and is jailed. Led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the Rebel Alliance break Jyn out of prison. With hidden motives, the Rebel Alliance recruit Jyn in an effort to stop her father from building the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Unlike the opening of the seven previous Star Wars movies, Rouge One opens in a leisurely way. The middle of the film drags a bit and suffers from some murky cinematography. But it redeems itself in the final third of the film with spectacular action sequences. With tragic overtones, Rogue One is not as kiddie-friendly as previous Star Wars movies. It is a pure war movie, with echoes of The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen.

Is Rogue One the movie to see this Christmas weekend? It most definitely is if you are a science fiction fan or a devotee of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein.

For a more human-driven drama, this holiday weekend offers award nominees Fences, starring Denzel Washington, and the animated Sing, featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey.

Merry Christmas!

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FLICKS: The Spirit of Krampus, Christmas movies & more

Posted on 15 December 2016 by LeslieM

flicks121516By Dave Montalbano


For that past five years at The Spooky Empire, I have observed the teamwork between a mother and her son, Cheryl A. Thayer-Blackford and her son, Jarrad Walker. These two are cosplayers, and their costumes are eye catching and unique. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that Jarrad is in a motorized vehicle, for he did not have use of his legs. Over the summer and under consultation with medical doctors, Jarrad had his legs amputated to improve the quality of his life.

Yet, as early as April, Jarrad planned to attend The Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Weekend as the Anti-Santa Claus – Krampus. When Hurricane Matthew forced the closing of Spooky Empire in October, Jarrad was more than prepared for Spooky Empire’s Halloween for Christmas. Cheryl and Jarrad’s perseverance paid off, for Krampus won The Spooky Empire Best Exhibition Costume Contest.

Best known for providing lumps of coal in the Christmas stockings of naughty children, Krampus represents the dark side of Santa Claus. By acknowledging his own tribulation through Krampus, Jarrad provided another lesson about the importance of the human spirit rising over adversity.

Happening this week:

Moana ruled the box office for the third weekend in a row. Moana has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, along with Moonlight, which is currently on the big screen in local theaters.

While lacking a Golden Globe nomination but with plenty marketing hype, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens tomorrow. Manchester by the Sea also opens tomorrow with much awards buzz. Already nominated for five Golden Globe nominations, Manchester by the Sea is on track to stay on the big screen until the Oscar ceremony in late February.

Stay-at-home holiday movies:

For those who seek a return to memory lane, there are always DVDs. Sitting on the shelf at your local library is the annual classic Miracle on 34th Street. Starring Maureen O’Hara and a very young Natalie Wood, this classic tale set in Manhattan feels as fresh today as it did when it was released 69 years ago. For his performance as Kris Kringle, Edmund Gwenn earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

While lacking the special effects of Disney motion picture, March of the Wooden Soldiers does feature a live action Mickey Mouse in a supporting role. Based on a Victor Herbert operetta, Babes in Toyland, March of the Wooden Soldiers stars Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy as toy makers who attempt to protect Little Bo Peep, the Three Little Pigs and the little old lady who lives in a shoe from the crooked man Barnaby Silas (Henry Brandon). This film is filled with much humor and charm that will surely put one in the Christmas spirit.

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