Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards & Rebel in the Rye

Posted on 28 September 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

Perhaps it was out of domestic protest from the antics of the NFL, but the motion picture box office had its best weekend since the peak of the summer blockbuster season, with The Kingsman: The Golden Circle, IT and The LEGO Ninjago earning nearly $100 million in revenue. With the much hyped Battle of the Sexes opening this weekend, expect to see more people at a theater near you.

For those considering walking to a theater near you, the documentary Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards opens this weekend. Granted people who wear Manolo shoes are not likely to walk long distances, but are likely to ride limousines to some gala events with red carpets.

Despite the trappings of fame, Manolo Blahnik is a man who sees himself as a simple cobbler. Born in Spain, Manolo was an odd kid who was enraptured by the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and was fascinated by the human foot.

Learning the foundations of ergonomic design, Manolo began making shoes that were more colorful and artistic. Before finding a new home in Bath, England, Manolo became an international superstar on the red carpets in Manhattan and Milano, Italy. Despite luxury of living the upper class life, Manolo is most content working in a shoe factory designing his next product. Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is very entertaining.

Rebel in the Rye presents the dark side of success. It is the story of J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult — in a fine, understated performance) and the creation of his much revered novel, Catcher in the Rye. Much of the film presents Salinger alone by his typewriter, talking to himself and acting out conversations with his protagonist, Holden Caulfield.

Despite the starkness of these scenes, Rebel in the Rye is a lively motion picture when Salinger interacts with other people. Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch) is a charming vision of Salinger’s unrealized dreams. As his creative writing teacher, Whit Burnett, Kevin Spacey provides memorable instruction to his atypical prodigy. The few scenes between Salinger and Burnett are electric.

In less than a month the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival opens and the much anticipated Blade Runner 2049 will be released soon. Don’t let Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards and Rebel in the Rye get lost in the crowd.

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FLICKS: Stronger opens, “Mother!” pontificates

Posted on 21 September 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

The Querulous Nights of Athena Minerva is the most disturbing book that I have written; it is also my least profitable. Dark themes are a tough sell; but, if one balances the fine line between horror with humor and humanity, a story can be profitable as It and Annabelle Creation can attest. Mother! was released last weekend and was a box office disappointment.

With award winning credits like The Wrestler and Black Swan, writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! was highly praised by urban elitist critics on Yet, the same site also revealed a far lower audience score. When old time New York film critic Rex Reed named Mother! the worst film of the year — perhaps the century, ratings from the urban elitist critics dropped.

Part of the attraction of Mother! are the deep Biblical themes that Aronofsky (who also did the much-panned Noah) claims he attempted, with an emphasis upon the Book of Genesis. The film begins in flames and transposes into a jeweled crystal that Javier Bardem places on the mantel. Once set, the scenery expands to reveal Jennifer Lawrence sleeping on the bed. Lawrence (revealed to be the title character) goes looking for “Him” (Bardem’s character name).

After the first jump scare, Aronofsky keeps the focus on Jennifer Lawrence’s face. Sometimes Aronofsky pulls the camera lens back to reveal that Lawrence does construction inside the house, while barefoot. A Man (Ed Harris) knocks on the door and says he is Bardem’s No. 1 fan and that he needs a place to sleep. After a night of drinking, it is revealed that the “Man” is missing a rib. The next day, a “Woman” (Michelle Pfiefer) arrives and reconnects with the “Man.” Mother is not amused.

During these expository scenes, Aronofsky directs with minimalist restraint. The cinematography invokes the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. Yet, as more characters enter the house (Mother never steps off the porch), the set becomes claustrophobic and invokes the dark visions of Francisco Goya and Caravaggio.

As the old saying goes, “Half of Art is knowing where to stop.” Such is the case for this film, which becomes as ponderous as a house waiting for electricity.

The story lacks coherence and one tires of Jennifer Lawrence’s cries for help, for she is not a real person but merely a dramatic symbol of Aronofsky’s fevered mind. Like Stanley Kubrick’s overrated The Shining, Mother! may be the darling of the urban elitist critic circle in a few decades. For the time being, there are better movies on the big screen besides this one.

For something more life affirming and more personal, Stronger opens this weekend. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, the man who lost both of his legs at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Stronger looks far more inspiring than some Hollywood elitist interpretation of the Bible.

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FLICKS: Polina & It

Posted on 14 September 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

As my mentors preached at the Dillard School of Performing Arts, success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Moments of youthful inspiration are often gobbled by factory line instruction and dogmatic adherence to the elder masters of the craft. Polina is a French film that examines the fine line between dedication and inspiration. 

The film opens with a school bus taking young ballerinas past nuclear energy plants. We meet young Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova), who is examined to determine if she will be a good candidate for a ballet school, with the eventual hope of entering the Bolshoi. Despite some physical limitations, little Polina makes the cut, which thrills her father, who has connections with organized crime.

As she matures, Polina tires of the rigid structure of Russian ballet. After witnessing modern dance from a French dance troupe (especially a male dancer on whom she develops a crush), Polina changes her discipline. Being a fish out of water in her new avocation, she performs poorly, especially when her crush dances better with an arch rival.

Polina is a pure art house film, filled with fantastic visuals that tell a simple story about artistic growth.  Being a trained ballerina, Anastasia Shevtsova shines with beauty and grace. French icon Juliette Binoche has a small, but pivotal role. She instructs her protege to stop being so centered (as she was trained at the Bolshoi), and to observe life.

Despite Hurricane Irma’s interference with the Florida box office, IT had a blockbuster weekend. Having gone to a pre-hurricane screening, IT fulfilled crowd expectations. People were talking to the screen telling the heroes/victims what they should or should not do. This horror film is a pure roller coaster ride between comedy and terror, with a touch of late 1980s nostalgia thrown in.

Based on Stephen King’s omnibus novel, the movie focuses on part of the book about the seven preteen friends who encounter the shape-shifting boogeyman of all of their individualized phobias. When the demon speaks, he adopts persona of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard – the son of Stellen Skarsgard, no stranger to playing villains).

Some of the author’s artistic controversial flourishes are eliminated and, in many ways, the film improves upon the book. The terrors of Carrie, Christine and The Dead Zone are still apparent. Director Andy Muschietti captures the vibe of the Rob Reiner/Stephen King Stand by Me.  

It and Polina are diverse movies on the big screen this weekend and both will appeal to their respective audiences.

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FLICKS: Wind River

Posted on 07 September 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

The motion picture box office recently broke a dubious record last weekend, the worst Labor Day Weekend ever. While college football and the U.S. Open Tennis provided fine entertainment distractions from hurricane phobias and nuclear war fears, there are actually some fine movies on the big screen at the moment.

Theater chains are holding over movies that have been critically acclaimed with positive audience reactions, namely Meghan Levy, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver, sleeper hits from the summer of 2017. With much hype and active word-of-mouth, It opens this weekend and is based in part on the Stephen King omnibus novel. If It is sold out this weekend, then Wind River is a fine substitute.

Wind River belongs in the same worlds of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, with a twist of the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Set in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, this film explores the wild west. As grizzled Sheriff Ben (Graham Greene) says to naive FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) during a tense standoff at a crack house cabin, “This is not the land of back-up. This is the land of … you’re on your own.”

Grieving father and independent tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) stumbles across the body of a teenaged Cherokee girl that used to play with his deceased daughter.Given drastic weather conditions, the FBI sends Jane Banner to investigate the apparent homicide.  At first, disgusted by Sheriff Ben’s lack of enthusiasm to continue the investigation, Jane recruits Cory.

While one expects the usual cliches from an action-adventure movie (innocent city girl meets grizzled rural survivalist), Wind River starts with mutual respect for the two protagonists that grows into mutual admiration. The film is filled with many surprises, both scary and darkly humorous.

Having earned criticalacclaim for Hell or High Water, director Taylor Sheridan has crafted a fine story on the big screen. Wind River is both a noir mystery and an expansive western that looks great on the big screen. The film is also filled with quiet moments and sparse dialogue. However, when words are spoken, the dialogue is full of adages and wisdom. Quentin Tarantino could learn some things from Sheridan’s screenplays.

If Hurricane Irma is does not take out our power this weekend, then the Miami Dolphins/Tampa Bay Buccaneers game will hold our interest this Sunday afternoon. However, go see Wind River some afternoon. You won’t be disappointed.

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FLICKS: The Trip to Spain

Posted on 30 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

In these Dog Days of August leading into Labor Day weekend, the major studios seem to release films that they have very little faith in.  With a frugal budget, a studio will take a chance on an experimental film and, if it provides a good return of investment, the studio is likely to “experiment” in August the following year. It was 39 years ago that Universal Pictures experimented with a low budget script from the writers of National Lampoon and supporting actor from Saturday Night Live, John Belushi. The Animal House influence has reigned over the Motion Picture Box Office ever since.

Though this is the third film of a series, The Trip to Spain feels like an experimental film for the August season. Following The Trip and The Trip to Italy, The Trip to Spain features two actors (Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon) portraying fictional versions of themselves eating gourmet foods and staying at a swanky hotel. While the cynical business side may chide the financial sponsorship of the production costs, there is no denying the comedic chemistry of Coogan and Brydon.

Much like the previous two trip films, Coogan is given a writing assignment from The Observer (not us!) to travel in Spain. The lonely Coogan invites his foil, Brydon, who needs a break from the domestic chores of a screaming baby. The one week adventure begins with a cruise in which Coogan gets seasick.

There are plenty of widescreen shots of the Spanish landscape with extreme close-ups of locally grown food being grilled. Both Coogan and Brydon provide an ongoing commentary on a variety of subjects. Should the grapes of a good wine be plucked or dropped? The answer becomes a comical metaphor about men facing a middle age crisis.

Since it is about a trip to Spain, there is ample opportunity to parallel with the first buddy road story: Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

While Coogan and Brydon debate who will be Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a photographer takes advantage of the situation to create some cheesy photographs of two actors who cannot ride a horse. 

It is the comedy of these two that prevents this film from becoming too academic. After discussing Cervantes work, they make a connection to the 1968 Pop soundtrack song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” which leads to an a capella duet. This charming scene is relatable to anybody on a long road trip with only AM radio to listen to.

The film ends with a bit of a cliffhanger in which one ponders the fate of Steve Coogan. Don’t worry kiddies, Mr. Coogan is fine and he just completed a biopic about the legendary comedy team of Laurel & Hardy (with John C. Reilly as Ollie) which is due to be released during awards season. As for Rob Brydon, I feel certain he is awaiting the next “Trip to ____” to get away from the wife and kids.

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FLICKS: Logan Lucky

Posted on 24 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

With very little surprise, the summer blockbuster season has been dominated by comic book adaptations: Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming. With less fan fare, there have been a few low-budgeted motion pictures that became sleeper hits that will likely rack up high DVD and online streaming numbers: Annabelle: Creation, Baby Driver and the newly released Logan Lucky.

Described as a “red neck heist movie,” Logan Lucky has much in common with urban heist movies like the Ocean’s 11 trilogy. One common denominator of these four movies is that they were directed by Steven Soderbergh. Reuniting with his Magic Mike costar Channing Tatum, Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky has created a hybrid motion picture that is part Smokey and the Bandit, Mr. Majestic and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Logan Lucky opens with a touching scene. Jimmy Logan (Tatum) is working on the engine of his Ford pick-up truck with his young daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). While he takes pride that his daughter knows the difference between a Phillips and a slot head screwdriver, Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) prefers Sadie to watch her diet since the little girl has a series of beauty pageants on the horizon.

After being laid off from a temporary construction job with the Charlotte Motor Speedway, he seeks solace with his bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a veteran who lost his left hand in the sands of Iraq. When the loudmouthed Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane) angers the Logan brothers, Jimmy hatches a plan to steal money from his former employer.

Like any good heist movie (The Ladykillers, Who’s Minding the Mint?), assembling the team is half the fun. Sister Mellie (Riley Keough — Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) is a hair dresser with exceptional driving skills and knowledge of rush hour traffic patterns.

Seeking a mastermind who understands explosives, the Logan brothers enlist the aid of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, who looks uncannily like Robert Shaw from an early James Bond movie, From Russia with Love). Despite a series of mental and physical challenges, the heist is launched during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Coca-Cola 600.

There is suspense to Logan Lucky, but the tone is filled with mischief and fun. A premeditated prison riot acknowledges racial stereotypes, but behind the scenes the prisoners are comrades in arms. The soundtrack features some fine rockabilly guitar playing with a touch of Bo Diddley and John Fogarty.

While not a box office success, Logan Lucky was a well-deserved critical success. For a Saturday matinee price only, this film will be a treat for Labor Day weekend.

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FLICKS: Automatonophobia spreads with Annabelle: Creation

Posted on 17 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

Automatonophobia is a morbid fear of ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, wax statues and any inanimate object that simulates a sentient being. Besides having a similar sounding name, the most profitable movie of last weekend, Annabelle: Creation shares this morbid fear of inanimate objects coming alive.

Annabelle: Creation features the formation of the title character in the wood shop of Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Sam’s daughter Bee teases her father by playing a game of hide-and- seek. After going to church with his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), the future looks bright for the Mullins doll maker. Abruptly, Bee dies.

Twelve years later, a small orphanage moves into the Mullins house in the country. Sam is a bit gruff with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the girls. The grieving man is generous enough to let the orphans loose in his home. However, Sam warns the orphans to not visit Bee’s old bedroom.

Being curious, Janice (Talitha Bateman), a polio survivor, sneaks into Bee’s room. Seeing a sealed closet door, Janice opens the door to find the Annabelle doll. Afterward, things go bump in the night and Janice gets involved with a supernatural game of hide-and- seek.

Winning strong mass critical acclaim with a good box office, Annabelle: Creation will be remembered as a classic scary movie. With links to the original Annabelle and the two Conjuring movies, this film features a dark standalone story.

Directed by David F. Sandberg, this film takes full advantage of rural stillness. Given that the title character is an immovable object, tension builds to a terrorizing level.  A crescendo is achieved with a soft, but disturbing denouement. Stay past the closing credits for a teaser featuring The Nun, the next movie of this original horror series created by James Wan. 

If you haven’t gotten enough of puppets, The Cult of Chuckie is penciled for a Halloween release, featuring the serial-killer possessed doll.

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FLICKS: The Dark Tower & meeting the original Godzilla

Posted on 10 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

Twenty nine years ago, Stephen King published a trade paperback titled The Gunslinger, which was promoted and sold by the old Walden bookstores. With a mixture of science fiction, horror and cowboy ethos, I envisioned myself portraying the Gunslinger, Roland, who sought the Man in Black.

The Gunslinger was revealed to be a small part of a much larger epic. In the appendix, King wondered if he would live long enough to complete this cycle of stories, which concluded in 2004 with the seventh book, The Dark Tower.  It is ironic that the first movie of a proposed long-term series would be the title of the last book.

This movie opens with an ominous tone. A Dark Tower separates our world from alternative worlds with different time periods. (Confused?  Yeah, I know I lost some readers already). Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having apocalyptic nightmares about the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) kidnapping children, blindfolding them and sucking out their brain waves. The brain waves are used to bombard the Dark Tower so that it will fall and the universe will be covered in darkness. The Man in Black has also picked a fight with Roland, the last Gunslinger (Idris Elba) from a golden age of law & order. Having killed Roland’s father (Dennis Haysbert), the Man in Black continuously taunts the gunslinger.

During an inner city earthquake in Manhattan, Jake discovers a portal machine that takes him into another world. Jake meets Roland, discusses mutual interests and decides to protect the Dark Tower. These actions set in motion a showdown between the Man in Black and the Gunslinger.

What was novel 29 years ago has become routine in the last 28 years of the summer blockbuster, movie experience. 

We see a series of action-set pieces that have no emotional involvement. By the time the hero and the villain have their showdown, the action feels repetitive.

With less than a two-hour running time, The Dark Tower feels longer in a dull way.   

I was saddened to learn about the passing of Haruo Nakajima this week.  While not a household name, Nakajima was an international superstar, best known for portraying the original Godzilla for nearly 20 years. A purely physical performance in a giant lizard suit, Nakajima managed to create a character that has endured for over six decades. Through a translator, Nakajima expressed a fondness for Godzilla and believed the monster was a tragic figure when I met him at a Spooky Empire convention three years ago.

I had arrived early at the DoubleTree Hotel and went into the gym. I watched this 85-year-old little man enter the gym and do many of the exercises that I did. Nakajima did not speak English, but, throughout the weekend, we shared a lot of smiles and a few laughs. R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima, a true class act.

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FLICKS: Dunkirk

Posted on 02 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

Don’t rush to go see Dunkirk. Make plans to go see Christopher Nolan’s latest action movie. Sure Dunkirk fulfills the requisites for a typical summer blockbuster, but this film contains much depth of detail. This film is about loss and retreat, yet is filled with triumph.

The running time is less than two hours, but Dunkirk feels longer in a good, epic way. Given his previous work with Memento, Inception and Interstellar, it helps to understand Christopher Nolan’s conception of time. Dunkirk tells three stories that take place in one week, (The Mole), one day (The Sea) and one hour (The Air). 

Dunkirk opens on The Mole, in which British soldiers walk abandoned streets in Dunkirk, France. Paper propaganda from the Nazis tells the residents that Germany is in control of the city.  As Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) reads the propaganda, his mates are gun downed by an unseen enemy. Tommy escapes to the pier where a Red Cross ship awaits departure.

Volunteer civilian boaters are the focus of The Sea, which features Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son. Rather than waiting for the British bureaucracy to figure out the proper procedure to rescue stranded soldiers, Mr. Dawson, his son and his special needs deckhand George impulsively join the rescue operation. Their first rescue involves a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose behavior could create disastrous repercussions.

The Air ties up the entire narrative of Dunkirk. Three Spitfire airplanes (with Mercedes engines) are sent out to provide air support to the rescue operation. With limited fuel supply, the Spitfires are outnumbered by the Nazi airforce. When the team leader is downed, it is up to Farrier (Tom Hardy) to protect the British ships at sea.

Understanding the concepts of time and location in advance will enhance one’s viewing pleasure of this movie. As the timelines converge, we witness multiple perspectives of the same situation (i.e. the bombing of a minesweeper) and we see how it affects all the protagonists.

With limited dialogue, Dunkirk is a visual treat. With the exception of Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk features a cast of young faces with potentially strong careers in the future, most notably Fionn Whitehead as Tommy. Dunkirk will be an Oscar-worthy contender that is best seen on the big screen this summer. Go see it!

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FLICKS: Remembering Skip Sheffield, The Midwife

Posted on 26 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

After 18 years of writing this column, I take pride that I am the longest film columnist in Broward County. Yet, across the Broward/Palm Beach County line, columnist Skip Sheffield bested me by a dozen years. A veteran of the old Boca Raton News, Skip had been a freelance columnist and, like me, had his own blog. As rival columnists, we crossed paths — but never swords. We shared joined interviews with Neale Donald Walsch and James Cromwell. We were not competitive and, afterward, we enjoyed conversations and swapped stories about other celebrity interviews that we had.

Skip died in his sleep last Thursday night. (pg. 12)

The last time I saw Skip was at a critic’s screening of The Last Word, starring Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried.  Typical of Skip, he arrived on his motorcycle shortly before the screening began and he left when the final credits began to roll. While I liked The Last Word more than Skip did, we both shared an appreciation for Shirley Maclaine’s performance. With Skip’s passing, my profession has suffered a major loss of a colleague who understood cinematic legends and community history.

The Midwife — a French film with cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve, opens tomorrow in area theaters. Though Deneuve is more of a supporting character, Catherine Frot portrays the title character, the Midwife. This drama starts off with serious heartbreak, but leads to comedic redemption by the final reel.

Besides being a midwife, Claire (Frot) is a single mother who has empty nest issues. Claire’s adult son is entering medical school. After a successful day of birthing babies, Claire is contacted by Beatrice (Denevue), a woman with a past. Beatrice had broken Claire’s father’s heart.

Claire and Beatrice are an odd couple. Whereas Claire is serious and focused, Beatrice is flaky with a tendency for melodrama. The two form a unique partnership because Claire is a caregiver and Beatrice is a hypochondriac. Clocking in at 116 minutes, The Midwife is a breezy movie that features good performances and many unique child births.

Steven Spielberg released Saving Private Ryan toward the end of the summer blockbuster season 19 years ago. Despite being a serious R-rated motion picture, that film dominated the box office during the summer of 1998. It looks like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will be repeating the cinematic history this summer. Grossing over $55 million in its opening weekend, this PG-13 rated war movie has generated much word of mouth on the street. Expect The Observer to review this future classic that has already created Oscar buzz.

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