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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WRECK-IT RALPH

By D.E,Levine

A 3D animated film from Disney that pays homage to the classic video game culture, Wreck-It Ralph is delightful.

With Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) a so-called bad guy who wrecks buildings in an arcade game  called "Fix-It Felix Jr." a video game located in Mr. Litwak's  (Ed O'Neill) video arcade.

After 30 days, tired of always being the bad guy,  Ralph tells fellow attendees at a "Bad-Anon" meeting that he's a reluctant villain.  His job is to tear down apartment buildings inhabited by the Nicelanders who virtually worship Felix (Jack McBrayer) for his superior repair skills.

Peeping in the windows at the Nicelanders frequent cocktail parties, Ralph decides that if he can earn a medal he might also get some respect from the Nicelanders.  Ingeniously, using the power cords and surge protectors of the arcade to travel to Game Central Station, Ralph has now arrived at the gateway to all of the games in the store.

Once he learns that hi-def "Hero's Duty' awards a medal for bravery, Ralph decides that's the game for him and he joins Sergeant Calhoun's (Jane Lynch) platoon to battle the Cy-Bugs.  The Cy-Bugs are a nasty computer virus that take the form of cyber spiders.

Escaping "Hero's Duty" with his medal, Ralph is attacked on board one of Sergeant Calhoun's spaceships by an enormous Cy-Bug and crash lands the spaceship in "Sugar Rush", a race car game.

Ralph loses his medal to Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), who refuses to return it , Sugar Rush, King Candy, Vanbecause she intends to use it to stake her entry into one of the Sugar Rush races.  She's a real brat but Ralph is helpless as far as getting her to return the medal.

After meeting Sugar Rush dictator King Candy, Ralph decides to join forces with Vanellope to recover his medal and get Vanellope a spot in one of the races.  Before they can do that they must break into King Candy's specialized factory, build a competitive race car and teach Vanellope to drive the car.

In a radical turn of events we find that Felix has left the Wreck-It Ralph game and the Nicelanders in order to find his friend and return him to the game, and also to save the Sugar Rush game from invasive Cy-Bugs before they cause the game to flatline.

This is an original and interesting film and visually provides great color and action.  It should appeal to all ages.



Friday, December 21, 2012

SKYFALL

By D.E.Levine

In his third James Bond film, Daniel Craig returns looking fit and polished.  With Sam Mendes directing and Roger Deakins doing the cinematography, Skyfall turns out to be one of the most exciting of the 23-film compilation.

Viewers see an opening 10-minute sequence that takes place in the bazaars, streets and over the roofs of Istanbul, and then see M (Judi Dench) writing Bond's obituary.

Having been shown his own mortality, Bond remains in seclusion on a remote beach and notifies no one about his survival.  It's only when the new MI6 London headquarters are blown up by terrorists that Bond returns to active duty and to the introduction of Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) the intelligence and security committee chairman who is making M's life uncomfortable.

It turns out that all British agents embedded in terrorist organizations have been compromised and Bond himself looks somewhat antiquated.

With field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in tow, Bond goes globetrotting to uncover the individual who can lead him to the man who's behind all of the trouble.  In Shanghai Bond meets Severine (Bernice Lim Marlohe) who does indeed lead him to a deliciously wicked villain, Silva (Javier Bardem) who is definitely half lunatic with delusions of self-grandeur.  He's a riveting and entertaining figure and a worthy opponent for Bond.

To tell more of the story is to ruin it.  You have to see this film to follow the story of James Bond and MI6 in the 21st century.  Be advised, this film is chock-full of action and surprises and if you like action films and James Bond thrillers, you'll love this one.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TED

By D.E.Levine

Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame makes his directorial debut with Ted.  The central character Ted is a stuffed teddy bear who boozes, smokes pot, talks in foul language and may remind viewers of juvenile acting frat boys

Given to friendless John Bennett when he was a boy, Ted, the stuffed bear, fulfills John's wish of coming alive.

Becoming a celebrity in 1985, Ted appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but a quarter of century later Ted is abusing drugs and alcohol and mooching off of others.

Ted's lifelong friend John (Mark Wahlberg) is his chief enabler, still hanging out with him and overindulging in partying, booze and drugs.  Lori (Mila Kunis), John's girlfriend, is pretty accepting of Ted, but by their fourth anniversary she's getting fed up.

Although this is a film that was originally conceived of as an automated series, it works well as a light-hearted comedy with a pretty traditional story  ---  guy has a relationship with a girl and his best friend keeps interfering.  In this case the best friend happens to be a stuffed teddy bear,

Through CGI, Ted is believable as a bear who comes to life.  MacFarlane voices him with a heavy Boston accent and after a while it doesn't seem at all strange that we're watching a bear.

Singer Norah Jones makes a nice cameo as a friend of Ted's.  1980 Flash Gordon film star Sam Jones, looking very fit, turns out to be another friend and takes Ted and John on a wild party night.

John has obviously postponed growing up for as long as he can, a situation not unlike many other guy in their thirties.  Ted's a lot of fun but obviously a bad influence and Lori is the believable and patient girlfriend who straightens everything out.

Monday, December 17, 2012

QUARTET

By D.E.Levine

Actor Dustin Hoffman is no stranger to film but after 50 years in front of the camera, this is his first directorial attempt and he has excelled in the final result.  What a treat to watch and hear Quartet!

Quartet is a beautiful story told honestly and directly.  With a stellar cast that includes Dame Maggie Smith, comedian Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay, the cast, who may not be immediately recognizable to some audiences, delivers realistic and heartfelt performances.

Set in an assisted retirement living home for classical musicians, in the beautiful English countryside, the audience is treated not only to the character stories and intrigues, but also to performances by renown British musicians and vocalists, who, now actually retired, show their amazing talents are still very much alive.
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Of course, there is a class system in place at the retirement home.  An unwritten rule says that dining room tables with window views are reserved for vocalists.  Also, every year on October 10th, the residents put on a gala in honor of Giuseppe Verdi in order to raise money for the home.  When we join the story, the selection for the current year is Rigoletto.

The central story revolves around the arrival of a new resident at the home, a famed opera singer.  This arrival stirs up old memories and opens old wounds.  It also results in new friendships being formed and loyalties being established.  And in the end "the show must go on" proves to be very, very true and applicable to this story.

The film is based on the successful play Quartet by Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplay  and it doesn't rely on any special effects.    The key to Quartet is excellent acting and musical performances.

For those viewers in the habit of leaving before the screen credits roll  -- don't.  The credits for Quartet show pictures of the actors, musicians and vocalists in their younger days, with a summation of their background.

Friday, December 14, 2012

FRANKENWEENIE

Bu D.E,.Levine

Director Tim Burton has made a 3D black and white stop action film about a boy who brings his beloved deceased dog back to life.

An extended version of a 1984 short that he did for Disney in 1984, the film bears the signature creepiness that Burton is noted for in all his films.

After Victor Frankenstein loses his dog Sparky in an auto accident, Victor, after seeing a science class demonstration of how electricity makes a dead frog's legs kick, decides he will experiment with electricity and see whether he can bring Sparky back to life.

Working in the attic on a dark and stormy night, Victor does indeed restore Sparky to life.  However, when fellow students steal his secret and bring all their dead pets back to life, there is a real problem, especially when all the little monsters invade a festival on Main Street.

While this film is a bit scary for small children, it is a bit of a rehash of former Burton films and doesn't carry quite the same scare level as some of his others.



Monday, December 10, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED

By D.E.Levine

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, my first impulse is to say it's typical Tarantino.  However, actually, the writer/director has merged elements of traditional and spaghetti westerns to create a bloody feature which also has comedic elements and pushes the subject of slavery to the forefront.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter posing as an dentist,  steals the movie, but there are strong performances by Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel Jackson.  There are also some excellent  guest appearances by older actors like Don Johnson, Franco Nero (the original Django from Sergio Corbucci's European spaghetti western of 1966), Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn and other actors from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s..

This is a revenge saga.set in the deep south just before the Civil War.  Tarantino's writing and direction manages to make  fools of the Klu Klux Klan and some other organizations while justifying the pure vengeance of Django, who happens to be black and a former slave.

Freed by Dr. Schultz, who takes on the owners of a chain gain of slaves, Django reveals that his black, German speaking wife Broomhilda,  was sold to another master.  Resolving to find and rescue Broomhilda, Django signs on as a bounty hunter with Schultz and after a successful winter of capturing men with bounties on their heads, they track Broomhilda to Candyland, the vast plantation owned by Calvin Cande, a smooth talking evil racist individual.

The soundtrack is eclectic and memorable, as it usually is with the soundtracks of Tarantino films.







ARGO

By D.E,.Levine

In his first directing effort, Ben Affleck has done an outstanding job.  Taken from a true incident that took place during the Iranian hostage drama of 1979 when fifty-two Americans were taken hostage in the American Embassy in Tehran,  six other Americans escaped and found refuge in the personal residence of the Canadian ambassador.

Since the Islamic revolutionaries were unaware of the six hiding with the Canadians, the CIA attempted to come up with a plan for rescuing them.

Unimpressed by the CIA plan, exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devises a slightly unbelievable scheme where he'll pose as a Hollywood producer, go to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations, claim the six Americans are part of his crew, and fly them out of the country.

The scheme is so far-fetched that nobody would believe it's a rescue plan, so with the consent of the CIA, Mendez activates his plan.

Unlike the current selection of thrillers where there's lots of action and things frequently get blown up, this is a thriller where the suspense is in the quiet deception.  With the probability of being discovered and arrested at any time, and with lots of close calls, this is gripping entertainment.

Among the stellar cast are John Goodman as a makeup artist and Alan Arkin as a Hollywood producer who Mendez bring in to pad his cover story.  With these two adding comic relief and a secondary story line,  Arkin's Lester Siegel agrees to lend his name to a sci-fi script called "Argos" that is set in the Middle East.  Declaring that if he's going to make a fake film it must be a fake hit, these two are hilarious.

Since the outcome is part of history and could be easily Googled, there would seem to be no need for this film.  But, this is a film that's so well done and so entertaining that it's more fun to watch played out on the big screen.




Friday, December 7, 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

By D.E.Levine

This film may well be a masterpiece.  It is certainly one of the most creative films to be done in which years.

Working with a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule, Director Benh Zeitlin used non-actors and made a totally believable story that borders on brilliant.  Along the way he discovered a talent that may well become a leading actress since Quvenzhane Wallis was only five when she auditioned for the part, seven when she actually made the movie, and at nine is the youngest Academy Award Best Actress Nominee ever.

The film is told from the point of view of six-year-old Huspuppy (Wallis) who lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area of a Louisiana bayou known as The Bathtub.

Hushpuppy faces a number of threats in The Bathtub which is under threat of flooding from storms.  Missing her deceased mother, Hushpuppy lives near her father who is ill and and keeps disappearing, leaving the little girl to fend for herself.

With a vivid imagination Hushpuppy fantasizes that global warming has unleashed ancient aurochs who are coming to get her.  In this sense the story takes on the feeling of a fairytale.

We see The Bathtub through Hushpuppy's eyes and we hear about it through her narration.  It is a child's simplistic view and it is interwoven with fairytale aspects.

This is a film that cannot be compared to other films because there are no others like it.

The difference has been noticed because the film has been plucked from obscurity and nominated for numerous major category awards with different guilds..




Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THE GATEKEEPERS

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

First time documentary maker Dror Moreh interviews six former heads of Israel's Shin Bet counter terrorism agency.

Recounting the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the six discuss their actions while each was the head of the agency and the consequences of those actions.

Some of the actions are ruthless but regardless the documentary shows that all state-sanctioned violence has extracted a crippling moral toll on the region.

Some of the responses definitely pass the buck and the speaker skirts taking responsibility for the actions and their result.  However, for the most part the former heads are extremely candid and there's very little regret expressed for their actions which sometimes resulted in high numbers of deaths.

We still don't know what the consequences are for these six speaking out about their activities when they were head of the agency.  The six are pretty forthcoming about things that went wrong when they took action, lives that were lost and how the escalation of violence hindered the possibility of peace.

The documentary doesn't solve anything but it casts light on a difficult and ongoing subject.  All the heads agree that listening to and cooperating with Palestinian intelligence is very important.  Ultimately, the film is compelling because of its moral ambiguity.  All the former heads acknowledge their sense of power when making decisions to take enemy lives but don't address the all too troubling implications of ongoing counter terrorism.





Thursday, November 15, 2012

HOLY MOTORS

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

This is an entertaining but very strange film.  It never adds up but by the time the film ends you're shaken, mesmerized and convinced there's no need for it to add up.

Leaving his wife and house full of children one morning, Monsieur Oscar is picked up by his faithful chauffeur Celine and driven all over Paris where he changes his identity, his costume and his behavior.

Oscar starts out as a captain of industry, transforms into a gypsy crone beggar.  Moving to a digital production facility he becomes a ninja warrior who technology transforms into a reptilian sex god.  His next incarnation is as a troll, spewing gibberish and kidnapping a fashion model from a photo-shoot in the renown Pere-Lachaise cemetery, taking her through the Paris sewers to his underground lair.  Another identity is the melancholy father of a teen-age girl who is stalked by an assassin who intends to kill his doppelganger.  He also becomes a dying man and finally a thwarted lover who revisits an old flame on the roof of a department store next to the Pont Neuf.

Written and directed by the talented Leos Carax,  all of the different identities are played by one actor --- the superbly talented Denis Lavant.  In each personality, Lavant changes not only his clothes and sometimes his sex, but his voice, his stature and his walk.

The film is bizarre and entrancing.  Nothing is ever explained or made clear, it's all up to the individual interpretation of the viewer.  Lavant's characters are sometimes resurrected from other films where he first created and introduced them.

This may not be totally understandable or the greatest film ever made, but it definitely is a film that leaves the viewer thinking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

GINGER AND ROSA

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Sally Potter's seventh feature is a melting pot of teenage angst and emotions amplified by the fear and politics surrounding the Cold War era.

Focusing on the friendship between Ginger (Elle Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), two girls born on the same day that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, we see the emotional trauma and internal anguish that the two teenagers experience while living in a society that fears mass destruction.

Despite the setting, the story that Potter has fashioned, is timeless.   Dealing with paternal disillusionment and sexual confusion, Ginger is a typical confused teenager trying to come to terms with her problems and emotions.

We see a mixture of passion and adolescent awkwardness with political activism.  In addition to Fanning and Englert, Timothy Spall and Christina Hendricks give strong performances.  However, the film never excites, and the story has been told before.

While an admirable effort, it's an entertaining but now great film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AMOUR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Austrian director Michael Hanake's Amour won the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it's a touching and rather harrowing look at what old age brings and what love costs.  It is definitely not an easy film to watch and no viewer will leave the theater happy.  However, it is realistic and many viewers will relate to incidents in their own lives with their elderly parents or other relatives.

The primary characters are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva).  The couple is in their eighties and long married, with one daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert.

Both Georges and Anne are retired music teachers living in a spacious and beautiful apartment in Paris.  We see them initially at a concert where one of Anne's former pupils is the guest pianist.  Once home we glimpse a look at the intimate side of their lives - their private jokes and rituals.

Life is good and they are enjoying their retirement until one morning at breakfast when Anne suffers a series of small strokes that result in paralysis down the right side of her body and both physical and mental decline, as dementia sets in.

Georges, her devoted husband, hires, private nurses to care for her but eventually he himself becomes her caregiver, changing her diaper, bathing and feeding her.  He also isolates her, locking her in her bedroom and sparring verbally with their visiting daughter to keep her out of the bedroom.

Georges' love for Anne and his devotion to her slowly but surely destroys him as she deteriorates.   Played by two acting great legends of the French cinema, the characters come alive and are totally believable as is their situation.

Trintignant excels, although we have come to expect extraordinary performances from him throughout his career.  However, it is Riva, who as Anne clings to her dignity as each setback robs her a little more, who delivers the most astonishing performance.  Not that well known on this side of the Atlantic, Riva, at 85, mesmerizes the viewer and delivers an Oscar worthy performance.

It is impossible to remain dry-eyed throughout this film.  The emotions tug at the heartstrings and jog the personal memories of the viewers and their relationships with elderly family members.

Opening with a powerful foreword, the audience already knows the outcome of the film, but that knowledge doesn't lessen the intensity.  The film itself is made up of a series of flashbacks during which we see Georges and Anne during better times, after the strokes occur, and what follows after that.

Hanake has captured the fear of death  and our own mortality in a sensitive and caring manner.  We see that aging is uncompromising, regardless of education, affluence or social standing.  , Without the use of special effects, elaborate costumes or a large cast, Amour gets its message across in a direct and understated way and it sticks with you when you leave the theater.






Monday, November 5, 2012

NOT FADE AWAY

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

David Chase, known for his hit TV show The Sopranos, has written and directed a debut film that has a wonderful choice of his favorite music from the 1960s and also tells the story of the formative influence of music on his generation.

The choice of the title comes from a song made popular by Buddy Holly and The Rolling Stones.  While the story centers on a group of friends in a comfortable New Jersey suburb to take their band out of their garages and into the mainstream music business, the main theme is really about youth coming of age in the 60s.

The film is also a commentary on the changing of society, where youth seeking creative outlets are questioning the stability and traditional existence lived by their parents.

The era of the 60s is so rich that a combination of pop culture, the quest for artistic freedom and politics all helped to shape society and the youth coming of age in that time.  And, all of those are  shown as influences in the film.

Douglas (John Magaro) plays drums in a Garden State band.  The experience is taken directly from Chase's time as a drummer in a similar band.  Douglas and friends Gene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) play covers of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bo Didley and a host of others at dances and parties.

Smitten with school beauty Grace (Bella Heathcote), Douglas is pretty much ignored by her until he steps in to do vocals when Gene has to skip a gig.  Proving himself to be a superior vocalist, Douglas also attracts Grace's attention and they start a romantic relationship.

Also an examination of the relationship between Douglas and his Italian-American family, the film shows their reaction to his curly hairdo, his pea coat and his adoption of Cuban heels as both poignant and hilarious.

When Douglas' father Pat (James Gandofini) is diagnosed with cancer, we see a sadness and wistfulness as Pat regrets his own sacrificed dreams while watching his son reach for his.  Perhaps the most moving scene is where Pat examines his regrets and lost opportunities while watching South Pacific on TV with the song Bali Ha'i playing.  With tears rolling down his cheeks, it may be this moment that defines his decision to let Douglas break from tradition and follow his dream.

Grace's unstable sister, in a conservative family, helps push and keep Grace and Douglas together and the overall story is told by Douglas' kid sister (Meg Guzulescu), who observes it all from the sidelines.

Although none of the three central characters were musicians when they auditioned, they trained together, learned to play their instruments and actually became the band that plays quite well in the movie.

Steven Van Zandt executive produced the film and acted as music curator.  He also wrote an original song called  The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" which Douglas and his band mates use as their first original songwriting attempt.

Not Fade Away is a very appealing film.  You don't have to be a baby boomer to enjoy the soundtrack and the story and it should provide a foundation for future films to come by David Chase.




Friday, November 2, 2012

SOMETHING IN THE AIR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Writer/Director Olivier Assayas creates a look and feel of Paris 1971 in this film.  Here, youthful revolutionaries (who appear to be mostly middle and upper class youth) are seeking meaning and hoping to make a difference through their own radicalism.

The central character appears to be Gilles (Clement Metayer), an aspiring painter and filmmaker who would appear to be an autobiographical character for Assayas.  Gilles sells underground newspapers outside of his school, attends meeting where he hotly debates challenging police policies, and prints and distributes flyers and posters that advocate anti-establishment causes.

When Gilles, Christine and friends conduct a graffiti attack on the school, it looks as though one of them will face serious legal problems.  Following that, when a Molotov cocktail attack on the security guard post leaves a man seriously injured, the group decides to disperse and leave town for the summer.

Gilles, Christine and Alain (Felix Arnard) head for Italy where they meet an American girl, Leslie (India Solvar Menuez),  They continue to participate in creative and revolutionary activities while indulging in drugs, marijuana and swapping sexual partners.

Gilles and Christine fall in with a group of filmmakers and eventually disillusioned, Gilles leaves Christine and the filmmakers to return to Paris and work in his father's traditional movie production business.

In the end, Gilles path may disappoint some viewers because it is something of a compromised of his revolutionary ideals.  However, it's only when he chooses this path that Gilles actually makes a decision instead of just meandering through "trendy" ideals.

While Assayas grew up during this era and is attentive to detail, combining those with a wonderful musical score, the characters are never are fully believable because while they claim to be idealistic militants the reality is that they are the privileged children of the upper class who spend a lot of time in drug induced hazes and appear to be wandering endlessly through life with their parents providing a steady stream of money with which to keep them clothed, sheltered and fed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

FLIGHT

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 World Premiere

Director Robert Zemeckis has left motion capture films to give us a big film with a big cast.  Centering around Whip Whitiker, a middle-aged pilot and veteran who heroically crash lands a jet, the viewer sees that the heroics are masking serious behavior and drinking problems.

Whip, played by Denzel Washington, works for a Southern regional airline and when the film opens he's in Orlando, Florida after a night of booze, sex and drugs.  With the help of a little more of the same he takes the controls for 9AM flight to Atlanta.  With a new co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) at the controls with him, Whip boldly takes off in terrible conditions and sleeps through a large part of the trip.

Hampered by a terrible storm of pelting rain and hail with severe lightening and intense wind, viewers encounter a 20-minute nail-biting sequence during which looks like the plane will go down killing all aboard, but Whip does some phenomenal flying and seemingly unaffected by the booze and drugs when the chips are down, and with the help of some great special effects, Whip lands the plane with only a small number of casualties, including his lover of the night before, a flight attendant (Nadine Valazquez) who was working the same flight and was killed while helping a child passenger.

While Whip is hospitalized with only minor injuries he's visited by both his old buddy Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) who is now a pilot's union rep and his drug dealer Harling Mays (John Goodman) whom he informs of his intention to stay away from alcohol.

At the hospital Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) an ex-addict hospitalized after an overdose.  Released and hoping to avoid the press, Whip seeks sanctuary on his grandfather's farm where the viewer sees him methodically pouring all of the beer and booze down the drain as he attempts to clean up his act.

Acting as sort of a "white knight", Whip rescues Nicole from eviction and takes her to the farm where they start a relationship.  But her intention to go to AA and achieve sobriety so she can rescue her life doesn't sit well with Whip for himself.  And while he rescues Nicole, Whip is totally unable to repair the relationship with his own family and remains alienated from his teenage son.

Sobriety doesn't last long, especially when Whip learns that toxicological tests reveal the alcohol and drugs in his bloodstream during the flight.  Such a revelation could result in serious jail time for Whip.

Whip is represented by Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), a strait-laced high-power attorney brought in by the pilot's union who has figured out how to get Whip exonerated if he behaves himself.  Unfortunately, ripe with self  denial, Whip is unhappy enough to hit the bottle again and turn to drugs in order to make it to his public hearing.

His public hearing and his inquisitor (Melissa Leo) bring about some unexpected turn of events and
prove the true mettle of the man.  The ending is completely surprising and definitely gives the viewer something to think about.

Zemeckis hasn't lost his touch.  This may not be action capture but he makes it totally believable with his direction and the excellent performances and special effects.


Monday, October 15, 2012

THE PAPERBOY

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

In a departure from expected casting, director Len Daniels has cast normally happily-ever-after Matthew MacConaughey as  hard drinking Miami Times investigative reporter Ward Jansen; John Cusack as a former swamp dweller, Hillary Van Wetter who's on death row for killing a corrupt local sherrif; Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bliss, a death row groupie who believes Van Wetter is innocent; and Zac Posen of Disney musical fame, as Jack, Ward's younger and directionless brother.

Jack is the paperboy who delivers the paper published by his and Ward's daddy, Scott Glenn.  Jack falls for Charlotte, an older woman who dresses lasiviously and exudes carnality on screen.

Ward, together with his black partner (David Oyelowo) investigate Van Wetter's case in an effort to dig up a sernsational story that might make their careers and win them a Pulitzer Prize.

While this film won't appeal to everyone, it is sexually and racially charged, taking viewers into the backwater swamps of Southern Florida.

Based on a best-selling novel by Peter Dexter, like an onion, Daniels peels back the layers of southern gentility to expose the evil that lurks beneath the surface in and around the town.



Friday, October 12, 2012

FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Premiere

Director Alan Berliner examines his cousin poet/translator Edwin Honig's struggle with Alzheimer Disease.  An HBO production, the film will make it's TV debut in 2013.  It has already won the top prize at Amsterdam's IDFA documentary festival.

Begun when  Honig was in his prime and enjoying international acclaim, we watch as his mind clouds and he becomes forgetful, his speech becomes jumbled and he fades into a non-verbal individual with only brief spells of lucidity.

Edwin's sister Lila speaks out in protest against her brother being shown in such a compromised state.  But,Edwin gave his consent before the later onset of the disease and Berliner approaches the subject without sentimentality.

The directness and objectiveness of his approach makes watching such a difficult subject bearable.



LINCOLN

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Sneak Preview

Although it deals only with the four months prior to President Lincoln's assassination, the emphasis of this fantastic film is on showing how our political system works.

Lincoln, who had to deal with people who resented his having been elected President, especially when he beat them for the office, is shown as knowing he has to work with these same people to get the 13th Amendment on the abolishment of slavery passed by the House of Representatives.  Having signed the amendment and gotten it passed easily by the Senate, it is the split House and the Civil War that are holding up the final passage.

Written by Tony Kushner and produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, Lincoln appears as the primary orchestrator who will get the amendment passed.  But he is also the individual who sets in motion a series of actions to cajole and use any other means possible to change the minds of Democratic holdouts.,

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who gives an amazing performance interpreting Lincoln, there is an outstanding cast of supporting actors such as Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, and Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, the founder of the Republican Party.  The cast is large and there are no bad performances.

Concentrating on the time frame between January 1865 and the end of the Civil War on April 9th, followed by Lincoln's assassination five days later, this is a look at history rather than at biography.

Interspersed are scenes of the Union (including black regiments) and Confederate soldiers on the battlefield.  Also, we see Mary Todd Lincoln, as the woman behind the man.  Although depressed over the death of one of her sons, she is presented not as a crazy woman but as a definite positive and supportive wife, playing an important part in counseling the President on his actions and advising him on how to achieve his goals.

Kusher does a remarkable job of juggling large numbers of players and subplots with ease and clarity.  An indicator of just how good the script and performances are is  that when the film is finished the viewer wants to research the political figures and learn more about them.

According to Spielberg, he got interested in doing the film a decade ago and it took ten years to put it together.  The wait was well worth it.  This is a brilliant and informative film about a very important President and a very important time in history.




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Ricky Jay is famous as a performer of  magic and incredible card-trick skill who participates in this somewhat autobiographical and charming film about how he got to be who he is today.

Following a chronological line, the story begins with Max Katz, Ricky's grandfather and an amateur magician of some renown.  Ricky, who is fascinated by the history of magic, introduces us to his grandfather through photos and newspaper clippings that show Max appeared with his 7-year-old grandson Ricky.

Taken under the wing of his grandfather's magician friends such as Cardini and Floso, Ricky learned their simpler tricks. It was their interest and mentoring that helped to make magic Ricky Jay's lifelong obsession.

When he moved to California, two famed magicians trained him intensely and Ricky includes generous amounts of archival footage of Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller, who mentored him during his early years,

There's interesting footage of Ricky's early career on variety shows such as Ed Sullivan,  Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore

Once his career gained momentum, Ricky gained fame through his numerous books, TV specials and one-man shows.  David Mamet, who directed several of his theatrical appearances, speaks warmly about his relationship with Ricky.

Besides being fascinating, this is definitely a feel-good film and well worth seeing when it comes to a theater near you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

LIFE OF PI

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Premiere

Director Ang Lee has given us another brilliant and extraordinary film.  Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, the film is focused on the Patel family who run a zoo in Pondicherry, India.

Having decided to leave India and emigrate to Canada, the family sets sail, along with selected animals from the zoo, to cross the ocean on a freighter..

After a shipwreck, the sole survivor, 16-year-old Pi is left adrift in a 26-foot lifeboat along with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

All of the lifeboat occupants are fighting for survival against the elements, starvation and each other.

Films that are adapted from novels frequently fall short of expectations but Ang Lee has managed to provide a film that is sensitive, surprising and beautifully photographed.

Ang Lee was modest about his accomplishments during interviews, but the main portion of the book takes place on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with only a boy and a tiger upon which to focus, and both the boy and the tiger must take direction.

Bringing the novel to the screen was not without problems.Several big name directors have been involved and bowed out.  Lee signed on in 2009 and began working with writer David Magee to adapt the novel into a screenplay. The seemingly effortless result was actually many years in the making.

Not to give the story away since it is a fantasy, the important thing to remember is that Lee is always in control of the story and the actors.  The film gives the impression that a confident director is actually enjoying himself rather than laboring to produce the end product.

The center of the story is belief, whether it be in religion or science.  Early on in the film Pi explains at dinner why he believes in all gods and all religions rather than one god and one religion.

The special effects are also amazing.  I'm still trying to figure out how Lee achieved some of the scenes because I know realistically they couldn't be done and yet they look perfectly natural.

Suraj Sharma who plays the teenage Pi is performing in his first acting role and gives a spectacular performance.  Not only is he new to acting but he had to play to green screen and to a live tiger - both of which are major accomplishments.  Yet, you can't tell that special effects were used because they all look so real.

I was unable to get Fox to tell me what the budget actually was, but judging by the technology that's up on the screen, this is a big budget film.  However, the fabulous look and story are throughout the film, not limited to just one or two scenes.  Lee keeps us on the edge of our seats with amazing happenings yet makes us believe they are real.

It's in 3D which enhances the film even more making everything look bigger, better and more vibrant.  Ang Lee has given us a classic which will become part of the not-to-be-missed films everyone must and will automatically see.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

FRANCES HA

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

This film is engaging and funny.  Co-written by director Noah Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig, Frances is a late twenties female whose life is currently a train wreck.

A klutz who lives surrounded by mess and chaos, Frances yearns to be a choregrapher.  If this sounds like it's an unrealistic dream, that's not the case.    It's simply that Frances is unfocused and is still in her "moth" stage although she's definitely aspiring and working toward becoming a butterfly.

Shot in Brooklyn in black and white, the visual effect is stunning.   The way its shot is suitable to the story and the action.

The film and characters are funny.  While there aren't any major plot turns, it's really the minutiae of daily life that draws us into the story.

With all her flaws, we don't find outselves adopting a condescending attitude toward Frances.  Instead, we're actually rooting for her.  We want to see her grow up and achieve.  She's taking tentative baby steps to reach her goal and we're on her side.

Frances herself isn't really sure of what she wants and the film doesn't tell us where it's going until it actually gets there.  Then we have "Ah-haa" moments.

Since she co-wrote the film, we have to assume that the part was tailor-made for Gerwig's abilities and she does give an admirable performance.

This is a film that leaves the viewer with a smile on their face when it's over.




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

LIV AND INGMAR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

U.K.-based director Dheeraj Akolkar has given us a first documentary that is a reminiscence of the love affair between actress Liv Ullmann and director Ingmar Bergman.

Ullmann reflects on her relationship and with her candid reminiscences and voice over readings from her book "Changing" interwoven with clips from Bergman's films, passages from his love letters, archival photos and footage, the film is fascinating and appealing.

Just 25 years old when she met the 46 year old Bergman on the set of his film "Persona", there was an immediate powerful attraction although both were married to other people at the time.

Leaving her husband and going to live with Bergman on Faro Island, Ullmann bore him a daughter.  Although passionately in love, the director spent his days working in solitude and refused to allow her to have friends visit their walled off property.   It must have been difficult to live with him and although Bergman is deceased, by quoting from his own memoirs and letters to Ullmann to demonstrate the awareness he had of his own shortcomings which would eventually drive Ullmann away.  Their affair lasted five years, but their collaborative efforts lasted until the end of his life, as did their friendship.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Comedian Bill Murray turns serious in his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the weekend visit  of King George VI (Samuel West)  and his wife Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to his mother's home at Hyde Park.

While beautifully costumed, set designed and photographed, the emphasis of the film is the relationship between FDR and his sixth cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.  Although she hadn't seen FDR in years, when summoned to Springfield, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, Daisy went and became a rather constant companion to the most powerful man in the nation.

By now we all know that FDR was no saint and had numerous affairs with his secretaries, cousins and various other females with whom he came into contact.  Developed from letters discovered after she passed away, the story shows Daisy as an individual who helped the President relax and forget about his worldly problems while his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) and her "she-men" friends were busy doing other things.

According to the story, Daisy has to learn to share FDR with his secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel) and some other possible paramours as well as the official visitors and statesmen.  It's a difficult thing for her to accept but according to the information on which the film is based, she eventually swallowed her pride and her jealousy and did so, becoming one of several sexual liaisons..

Director Robert Michell does an admirable job of directing this complex story with an outstanding group of actors. Especially appealing are the scenes between the King and the President, with war hovering in the wings, as they seek to form a friendship and an alliance. According to this story, it's the weekend of that which solidified the friendship between the two world leaders and led to agreement that the United States would support and fight with Great Britain in WWII.

With both FDR and Daisy deceased, the veracity of the affair cannot be verified.  Under those circumstances one has to wonder whether it's fair and tasteful to disparage a man as important as FDR.  So much has already been written about his philandering, is another film on the subject really necessary?

Additionally, since we know the Royals employ a staff that does advance research prior to their trips and supplies them with current information on where they are going and what the customs are there, it's somewhat hard to believe that the King and Queen as portrayed in this film would be so completely oblivious to basic American foods (i.e. hot dogs) and customs (i.e. picnics).

The film's positive side is that it shows a man who never wallows in self-pity despite his affliction from polio.  While he doesn't advertise his affliction, he doesn't hide away from public responsibilities either.  Never expecting to be treated differently, Murray's FDR appears to be at home in a world full of turmoil and trouble.  He adapts to his situation via some adjustments to his living and driving arrangements but otherwise acts just as you would except a non-handicapped individual to act.  In fact, his philandering is very much a "normal" non-handicapped endeavor.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at a small segment of FDR's life.  Focus Films appears to have a winner here in a film that is gaining popularity and a cast that gives outstanding portrayals.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BARBARA

By D.E.Levine

A NNFF50 SELECTION

Director Christian Petzold presents a remarkable story set in 1960 in Eastern Germany, still under communist rule, where a doctor from Berlin (Nina Hoss) has committed some transgression so severe that she is banished to the boonies.

Although she works in a hospital and seemingly does nothing revolutionary, she is harassed by the secret police, subjected to body and home searches, and she is silently waiting and burning.

Barbara is a dissident who pushes back against totalitarianism.  She's also somewhat paranoid, but with good reason since from the moment she arrives in her remote village she is being watched by another East German.

Her watcher is another young doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) who discusses her with Klaus Schutz (Rainer Bock), a very official and distant character who works for the Stasi or secret police.

Barbara is wary and cautious as she moves between Andre, who has a warm personality, and Klaus, who regularly searches her apartment and frightens her.

Drawn into the life of Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a runaway from a work camp who lands in the hospital, Barbara also goes to extreme measures to meet with her lover Jorg (Mark Wasche).  Somehow, despite the restraints of her bring banned to a rural area, the constant monitoring of her actions and phone calls, Barbara actually manages to lead her life and plan her escape.

It's only when we understand what actually makes Barbara tick that we can understand the unexpected ending to the film.







THE BAY

By D.E.Levine

A NNFF50 SELECTION

For much of The Bay the viewer is uncertain about whether the film is fiction or an actual documentary.

Set in Maryland at the height of the summer, the action takes place on July 4, 2009 in Claridge, a fictitious Chesapeake town where hundreds fall fatally hill from a hideous ailment whose cause is unknown.  As people become ill their bodies decay from inside and become quite gory.

Director Barry Levinson has created a "pseudo documentary" with much of the filming apparently done by handheld cameras that give a shaky effect that add to the overall tension and fear.

The story actually is exposed three years after that fateful July 4th, and after the government has done a massive cover-up of what actually happened when a ferocious aggressive parasite leaped from fish to humans.

A young reporter (Kristen Connolly) uncovers film footage that exposes the cover-up.  The footage is apparently captured on the mobile phones, security cameras and webcams of people who experienced the events but never lived to tell about them.

Levinson skillfully juggles this plot line with the video diaries of two marine biologists that reveal an infestation rapidly spreading in local waters and a doctor who, overburdened with patients showing signs of a highly contagious disease, Skype chats with the CDC in an effort to find a solution.
 uggling the plots and various video formats, the viewer sees a town plunged into chaos and experiences




Thursday, September 20, 2012

PASSION

By D.E.Levine

A NNYF50 SELECTION

Although it's a remake of a 2010 French thriller, Director Brian De Palma has added his own touch to make this twisty thriller.

Starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams, this thriller deals with professional and romantic jealousies at a Berlin ad-agency.

McAdams plays Christine, an icy blonde villainess who as an ad agency boss is frenemies with Isabelle, her very ambitious creative director. Christine soon starts taking credit for Isabelle's work in order to promote her own career.  Other players include Dani (Karoline Herfurth) who yearns for Isabelle, and Dirk (Paul Anderson), Christine's boyfriend and Isabelle's lover.

Although initially Isabelle lets Christine get away with stealing her thunder, eventually, at Dani's urging, she turns the tables.  While billed as an erotic thriller, overall the film isn't actually that erotic.  There are, however,  surprises throughout and a real twist at the end.

It's a good film and typical De Palma.  Although some say that his style is dated, Passion provides good entertainment and De Palma's devoted following is glad to see this latest endeavor..

Saturday, September 15, 2012

THE ROLLING STONES: CHARLIE IS MY DARLING

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 SELECTION

The Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th anniversary and they're still going strong.  This documentary is an accidental film that came about because 50 years ago someone put some film away and kept it all these years, without looking at it or discarding it.

In 1965 the Beatles and everyone else were making movies and being quite successful at it.  So, when The Rolling Stones released "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and went to Ireland to do four shows (two in Northern and two in Southern Ireland), their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, commissioned filmmaker Peter Whitehead to film the performances and their experiences on the road.  The idea behind the filming was to see if the Stones were ready to make a movie.

Understand that this all took place before The Rolling Stones became THE ROLLING STONES.  They'd had some success but they were also a cover band, performing songs made popular by other groups.

Director Mick Gochanour visited the Stones achival vault in London and discovered many hours of heretofore unseen footage of the live performances, the enthusiastic fans, and the off-stage c

Keith Richards comes across as the catalyst for musical collaboration and a 22-year old Mick Jagger comes across as particularly astute and aware, stating that the Stones onstage are theater - putting on a show for the audience, while the Stones off-stage lead pretty ordinary lives, mixing and mingling with the public.

It is truly amazing to see that in the performances from 50 years ago, the  physical movements,vocal phrasing and approach are exactly the same as the performances the Stones currently give.  This is where they honed their techniques and developed the show or "theater" that they currently perform.

Overall, this is a very entertaining film with significant historical value that will definitely be appreciated by Stones fans.

THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB & THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 SELECTION

This is a fascinating documentary about a musician who had an enormous impact on the Swing era of music and has gone unappreciated due to his short life.

Chick Webb was a peer of Duke Ellington who having broken his back as a child and contracted TB of the spine, lived a painful life as a hunchback.  The nickname Chick came from his unusual walking gait due to his illness and deformity.  Studying drumming to build upper body strength, Webb approached it with a vengeance and was initially noticed by Ellington himself, who helped created Webb's band.

Webb was a perfectionist who turned down lucrative gigs when they required musical compromises and was willing to pay for the best musical arrangements.

Jeff Kaufman has produced an interesting and entertaining documentary based on newspaper and magazine articles, vintage newsreels and first hand accounts from that time.  Webb became a well-known fixture in the Swing scene of Harlem, where there was segregation even in the black community.

The Savoy Ballroom was where Webb became a fixture and it's described as a virtual haven of integration where black and white alike, celebrity and common man, co-mingled, danced and enjoyed the swing music.

He also had an eye for talent and developed young performers, among them a very young Ella Fitzgerald, who lived with Chick and his wife.

Kaufman has gotten a host of well known actors to do readings of reminiscences by both Webb and his followers.

His life was cut short too soon, at the age of 30, and ten thousand fans lined then streets of Harlem when he was buried.

While this documentary may not have wide distribution, it is educational, interesting and leaves the viewer wanting more information on both Chick Webb and the Swing era.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

360

By D.E.Levine

This is a small film from director Fernando Mereilles that contains a mix  well-known and lesser-known actors in a series of separate story lines that intertwine and cover a combination of  sex, adultery, capitalism and addiction.  With a script written by Peter Morgan, it holds promise but falls short of what the viewer expects.

Initially, we meet Michael (Jude Law), a businessman from London who books the services of a Slovakian prostitute (Lucia Siposova) and is then diverted from the meeting by business associates.  Nervous over his less than usual actions, he leaves his hotel for a walk, which has later repercussions.

The prostitute, an aspiring model from Bratislava, Slovakia, is lured into her profession by the photographer who claims he can get her modeling jobs.  She commutes to Vienna on a trans-country bus, accompanied by her younger sister, who appears unaware of her true occupation.

Michael's wife Rose (Rachel Weisz), is a London magazine editor who's involved  in her own adulterous affair with a young Brazilian photographer (Juliano Cazerre), who encounters problems when his live-in girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) leaves him to return to Brazil.

Laura's flight is delayed due to snow in Denver, Colarado, where after a significant amount of alcohol, Laura befriends her seatmate (Anthony Hopkins) and a sex offender (Ben Forster).  Hopkins, of course, despite the shallowness of the role, makes it work and winds up having the most developed character.

While the various stories are interesting, and the manner of their intersection is believable,  the film never fully reaches the level of intense emotions we are expecting.  There are side stories of lesser characters, such as the prostitute's sister, and unusual twists and turns to each story, but overall most of the characters remain flt and two-dimensional.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PARANORMAN

By D.E.Levine

ParaNorman is an animated feature about an 11-year old boy, Norman Babcock (Kodi  Smit-Phee) who lives in Blithe Hollow and can communicate with the dead and the undead.

Offered by the makers of Coraline and based on stop-motion automation, the film is co-directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler.

Norman's habit of conversing with the undead and watching TV with the ghost of his Grandmother (Elaine Stritch) has made him the local freak among his peers and the other residents of Blithe Hollow.  This view is shared by his father (Jeff Garlin) and sister (Anna Kendrick).

However, his uncle Pendergast (John Goodman) sees Norman as a kindred spirit and decides that the boy is the only one who can prevent a stubborn witches' curse that includes all types of hellish things, including the zombie-like resurrection of the town's founding fathers.

ParaNorman has a fascinating combination of stop-motion and zombie like features, with an underlying story line about bullying by peers and adults.  It's engaging and technically demonstrates the fluidity of Laika Studios' stop-motion animation techniques, enhanced with 3D.

Mixing Tim Burton and Maurice Selick concepts together, the film may be rather scary for very young children but has a definite appeal for older youths and adults.  It's well worth a visit to the movies to see the technically advanced stop motion animation techniques.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

By D.E.Levine

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION 2012

He was supposed to be the next Bob Dylan.  At least that's what Clarance Avant, the head of Motown thought when he signed the  Detroit-based musician-composer-performer Sixto Rodriguez in the 1960s.

Known simply as Rodriguez, he made two albums in the early 1970s but they didn't sell well and he never achieved the fame and wealth that was forecast.  Painfully shy, Rodriguez frequently performed with his back to the audience.

In fact, people thought he was dead.  There were various stories about how he died and he was pretty much written off and faded into oblivion.

Except that wasn't the case in South Africa.  The protest songs Rodriguez had written and recorded struck a deep cord in a society that was struggling with apartheid and his bootlegged albums sold millions of copies without his knowledge or any royalties for him.

This amazing documentary, that unfolds like a mystery story, is the result of the Swedish director Malik Benjelloul's quest to fill in the blanks and find out what actually happened to the son of Mexican immigrants who never rose to the prominence anticipated but conquered and entire African nation.

The sound track of original music is stunning and resonates with the audience.  But, it is the story of Rodriguez himself that carries the emotional impact that makes this film great.

Now 70 and having remained in relative obscurity for 40 years, Rodriguez is achieving fame through this riverting documentary which enjoyed great success at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and has begun to give a limited number of performances.

He has been, in a sense, reborn, after raising a family in Detroit, supporting them as a day laborer, and dabbling in political activism.  As a man he never strayed from his beliefs.  As a performer, he was never accepted and raised to the heights anticipated.

Now, in large part due to this documentary that began because a small group of ardent fans sought to know how Rodriguez died, Rodriguez is enjoying the long overdue notoriety and acceptance that previously was only found in South Africa.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TOTAL RECALL (2012)

By D.E.Levine

A remake of the original science fiction action film that starred Arnold Schwarenegger, this is an exciting film with lots of action and special effects.  But viewers agree the original was better.

Updated to encompass a slightly different story line with top name actors, the film provides excitement and some confusion throughout.  Unfortunately, unlike the original, the characters are not fully developed and this version lacks the humor found in the original.

Frustrated with his life, colony factory worker Douglas Quaid  (Colin Farrell) goes to Total Rekall to have a more exciting memory implanted.

Somehow, the procedure goes horribly wrong and Quaid, unsure of whether he's functioning on the implanted memory or is actually a spy, becomes a hunted man on the run.  With the police controlled byThe United Federation of Britain's Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) pursuing him, Quaid teams up with a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) to find the leader of the resistance (Bill Nighy).

Since his beautiful wife Lori (Katte Beckinsale) is working for Cohaagen's police force and pursuing him, and a factory co-worker tries to convince him he's imagining everything as a result of the Totall Rekall experience, Quaid doesn't know who he can trust, especially after discovering he's really an agent working for the Chancellor.

Without the substance of the original film, this Total Recall depends primarily on stunning special effects in the hand-to-hand combat and the mass battle attack scenes.  The colony where Quaid lives and where the major battles take place resemble the environment in Blade Runner proving that some of the older films had originality that survives.

While not a great film, for a hot summer evening Total Recall can provide some release and the special effects seem destined for awards.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

By D.E.Levine

The third in the Batman franchise by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises is a thoughtful and though-provoking commentary on modern morality as well as being an adventure thriller and disaster epic.

Filled with dazzling adventure sequences and breathtaking special effects, the film attempts to do so much that it fails to achieve its rather lofty goals.

Set in a post-911 Gotham where there are encompassing fears of terrorism and economic collapse, the film addresses the real world fears of terrorism and economic collapse that currently exist.

Taking place eight years after the last one (The Dark Knight) ended, when Batman (Christian Bale) took the blame for crimes committed by DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Dent has been memorialized as an almost saint and all around good guy.

As a result, the reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne remains in seclusion, looked after by trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine).

With peace and prosperity in Gotham, and the disappearance of organized crime, the city is now threatened by a terrorist called Bane (Tom Hardy) and a cat burglar Selina Kaye (Anne Hathaway) who seem to be in cahoots.

Wayne has some allies - the business manager and inventor Lucius Fox,  police chief Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman),Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilar the d) and an idealistic rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Many of the scenes evoke memories of real life scenarios such as Occupy Wall Street and Nolan covers admirable themes, however, he lingers too long on the action scenes of car chases, fistfights and car chases.

Also, while some people have commented that it's bold for Nolan to show a comic book super hero with real life melancholy, to the true Batman follower, their hero was trained by masters in Tibet, survived imprisonment and many adversities and frankly, the Batman here seems wimpy and not the type of character you'd want to follow or align yourself with in the future.

It's a summer release and provides entertainment and a cool afternoon or evening, but misses the mark the film is going for in its deeper issues.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HYSTERIA

By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival Selection

Hysteria is a film based on the invention and refinement of the electric vibrator.


A period piece, the film addresses the plight of the sexually unsatisfied female in the 19th Century and the fictional Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) who has a successful medical practice for treatment of what is known as hysteria.

Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), who apprentices with Dr. Dalrymple, proves to be an astute student, and with the help of a wealthy inventor friend develops, an electric device that relieves the doctors from having to manually manipulate society women to sexual climaxes.

Romantically involved with Dr. Dalrymples younger daughter (Felicity Jones), Dr. Granville falls in love with the older sister, an outspoken activist who works with the poor.

This is a fun film - not a great one, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

BOOKER'S PLACE: A MISSISSIPPI STORY

By D.E.Levine


A Tribeca Film Festival Selection

This is a must-see documentary made by Raymond De Felitta.  In 1966 Frank De Felitta made an NBC documentary about race relations in Greenwood, Mississippi.  An illiterate black waiter, Booker Wright, appeared for 2 minutes summing up his Greenwood existence.  Little did anyone know that the 2 minutes of Booker Wright would have far-reaching repercussions for everyone involved.

In the context of 2012, what Booker Wright said on-screen doesn't seem terrible.  But in 1966 his comments caused the loss of his job, his own restaurant and he was pistol-whipped by a local cop.  His murder several years later raised many unanswered questions.

Traveling to Greenwood with Wright's grand-daughter, Yvette Johnson, De Felitta and Johnson screen the 1966 documentary for the towns-people.

With inter-cutting of old black-and-white footage with current black-and-white footage it's fascinating to see the changes between the segregated south and fear of the Klan and police in 1966 with what exists in the south today.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE

By D.E.Levine


A TribeByca Film Festival Selection

Producer/director Dori Bernstein has done it again - choosing a fascinating subject and then doing a brilliant documentary.

At 91, Channing permits an in-depth look at her life and talks candidly about her having discovered her love for the stage when she first stepped onto one at age 7.  Never troubled by stage jitters, she considers center stage to be "the safest place on the face of the earth."

Having originated memorable roles on Broadway, like that of Dolly Levy in "Hello Dolly", she is forever linked to those roles although she has gone on to play other memorable roles both on stage and in film.

Raised as a Christian Scientist in San Francisco, after attending Bennington College, Channing became a star as Lorelei in 1949 in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes."

Appearing in the film with her is her fourth husband Harry Kullijan, a childhood friend with whom she reconnected after a 70-year hiatus, following an unhappy 42-year marriage to publicist and manager Charles Lowe.

A host of well-known actors, journalists, composers, designers and other arts-related individuals pay homage to Channing in this amazing documentary.

Thoroughly enjoyable throughout, we have rare insight into the life of Carol Channing, who still performs on request and is actively involved in a campaign to get the arts back into schools

Friday, April 20, 2012

THE BANG BANG CLUB

By D.E.Levine


A Tribeca Film Festival Selection

 Based on the true story of a quartet of combat photographers who documented the South African civil war in the 1990s that pit Naleson Mandela and his African National Congress against the existing government and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.


The four photographers - Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek - were bonded by their desire to tell the truth and the fast friendship what formed as they continually risked their lives to get photos.

Their photos told the truth about the brutality and violence associated with the first free elections in post Apartheid South Africa.  During this time the four did what was probably their best work, including two winning Pulitzer Prizes.

But the life and the sacrifices took a heavy toll, including some actual deaths.  Their story was recounted in a book of the same name written by Marinovich and Silva.  The film,written and directed by Steven Silver, an award winning writer/director, explores the moral questions as well as the thrill and danger of exposing the truth.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

DARLING COMPANION

By D.E.Levine

This is Lawrence Kasdan's first feature film in nine years. Co-written with his wife Meg, the story is about a family that has grown apart and the dog that alters their life in unforeseen ways.

Facing empty nest syndrome, Beth Winter (Diane Keaton), a Denver lady married to a self absorbed surgeon (Kevin Kline) who is increasingly distant, finds an injured dog with her daughter Grace (Elizabeth Moss) and adopts it, names it Freeway and nurses it back to health.

Following Grace's wedding at their vacation home, Freeway goes missing and during the ensuing search, the excellent ensemble cast consisting of Joseph's sister (Dianne Wiest), her boyfriend (Richard Jenkins) and Joseph's nephew (Mark Duplass) are paired up into couples who wind up airing their long-held resentments with each other and publicly.

Although their housekeeper/caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) of gypsy stock offers numerous psychic leads, none pan out.

The scenery is breathtaking and the cinematography wonderful. While the cast is outstanding the story has been told many times before.

There are some arguments and incidents, some twists and turns and delays that the audience can relate to and some even bring them to laughter, but the pace is slow and sometimes tedious.

The film is enjoyable, if not great, and will probably appeal to an older group of viewers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

This film is creepy and strange, handling the annihilation of the world in a totally different manner than most end-of-the-world films. There are definitely mixed feelings on the part of the viewer as the film progresses and draws to its inevitable conclusion.

Set on the lower east side, Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) prepare for their last day on earth, their last moments alive, together.

Initially, in their very techie lower east-side loft, they Skype friends and family, even allowing the Asian delivery boy to speak with his family overseas.

Throughout, there seems to be a disbelief among characters that the end of the world is really coming - perhaps because mankind has been talking about it for so long.

Shown at the 2011 New York Film Festival, director Abie Ferrara did a lot with a low budget, but in interviews said he shot for realism, not to save money.

While shooting on the lower East Side is probably less expensive, the gentrification of the Bowery and its absorption into a variety of universities, created a multitude of problems.

The NYFF had several end-of-the-world films but this one is definitely more low-key and less hysterical than the others.

Every viewer from the audience walks out having to assess a multitude of feelings. In other words, this isn't pure entertainment. It causes the viewer to think.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

HEADHUNTERS

By D.E.Levine

It's the adaption of a Norwegian thriller, but it's filled with humor due to some unexpected and somewhat ridiculous twists.

Roger (Aksel Hennie) is a good-looking but totally obnoxious middle executive headhunter. He buys his wife expensive and continuous gifts because he fears losing her. While he loves her, Roger betrays his wife by cheating on her. It's also very costly to keep buying her expensive gifts so he also betrays his employer by using his job to find out information about wealthy executive applicant.

His wife runs an art gallery where Roger meets Clas and learns about a rare Reubens painting that Clas has just inherited. Setting Clas up with an interview, Roger calls his wife in the middle of stealing the Reubens and it's then that he learns his wife is cheating on him with Clas.

When Clas decides to eliminate Roger bu killing him, the plot thickens and the twists begin. Civilian Roger is up against the military expert Clas and if he wants to stay alive he has to outmaneuver him. It's especially difficult, when Clas brings in his tracking dog and even more difficult when Roger discovers tracking devices were physically planted on him.

He may not be military but he's clever and devious, and because of that Roger manages to elude Clas and lead him on a long and tortuous chase. But Roger suffers some terrible perils while leading the chase and Clas is always close behind.

As the action grows more gruesome, the comedy grows more absurd As much as the audience dislikes Roger, they are rooting for his survival because of Clas' malevolence. Roger may be arrogant and self-centered, but Clas is pure evil.

As the story plays out there are unexpected twists and turns and the comedy grows in proportion to the violence.

All in all this is a truly enjoyable film. Fortunately, the subtitles are done well so that the proper emotion and action are conveyed in each scene.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JOHN CARTER

By D.E.Levine
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This Walt Disney film is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel "A Princess of Mars" and supposedly cost $250 million. I had no idea what to expect since the story deals with a young Civil War veteran who winds up on Mars. It's obvious that Burroughs, in the tradition of Jules Verne, was well ahead of the rest of society with his imagination when he penned the story over 100 years ago..

As the film begins, a young Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) is summoned to the home of his uncle, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Unfortunately, Burroughs arrives after his uncle has died and been entombed on his property in a tomb that only opens from the inside.

A journal left behind for young Edgar explains why John Carter spent most of his brief years between the Civil War and his death exploring all over the world. In the journal, Carter explains what he was searching for, how he became fabulously wealthy and eccentric, and why the fabulous and outrageous stories he told his nephew when he was younger, were actually true.

This is an unusual film in that it begins as a 19th century period piece with an eerie, mysterious feel and many unanswered questions surrounding John Carter's death. It moves on to become a Western and then morphs into a science fiction film set in a Western Dune-like environment.

After entering a cave on earth and encountering a strange creature, Carter wakes up on a totally different planet. He was transported by some unexplained means that is vaguely reminiscent of the transporter in Star Trek, but is tied to an amulet rather than a transporter station.

Of course, the environment is the exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars) where despite his reluctance, Carter becomes embroiled in the conflict raging on the planet which threatens the very existence of the planet and all its peoples.

Due to some strange bone density anomaly, Carter can defy gravity and jump great distances and hit hard, two attributes that attract the Tharks, 8-foot-tall, green, four-armed tribesmen. They capture Carter, take him back to their village tied up, and from them he learns about the warring factions on the planet.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, of Pixar and Finding Nemo fame, who was also a writer on the screenplay, the movie's special effects are breathtaking, especially in 3D, and obviously used a large part of the budget. The warriors are all dressed in armor that strangely resembles that of the ancient Romans.

While this is a movie of epic proportions, it is also 2 1/2 hours long and not all of the characters are well defined. In fact, visually, many of them resemble each other so closely that it's hard to differentiate the characters. There is of course, also, the obligatory romance between Carter and a Martian princess played by Lynn Collins.

Overall, John Carter is pure entertainment, thrilling to watch, with an impressive musical score. Whether or not it will be the blockbuster that Disney is hoping for remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SOUND OF NOISE

By D.E.Levine

A film from Sweden that is delightfully funny as well as beautifully done. Lately we've been innundated with murder/mysterys/dramas from Sweden so this story about six anarchist percussionists who decide to use their original piece of "Music for One City and Six Drummers" to thwart the establishment is a definite change of pace.

The skullduggery takes place in four movements and includes invading a hospital and playing on a patient's resonant belly, playing on money shredders at a bank, using forklifts at a concert hall and playing on live wires of the city's electrical system.

All the movements are creative and original, at least I've never seen them in a film before.

Adding to the humor is Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), a senior detective assigned to track the anarchist/percussionists down.

Born into a prominent family of musicians and named for that other Amadeus (Mozart), Warenbring is tone deaf. Besides the continuing angst of his name, there's the added angst of his talented, famous, arrogant conductor brother, Oscar (Sven Ahlstrom).

With the discovery of a metronome at one scene, Warnebring knows the case is destined for him.

We tend to think of Swedes as being serious. They certainly take a serious approach in the film to investigating and apprehending the culprits, and the result is hilarious.

Since this did come direct from Sweden viewers have to read English subtitles but it's well worth the effort.

Friday, February 10, 2012

SEEKING JUSTICE

By D.E.Levine

Nicholas Cage stars in this revenge-based thriller which turns out to be quite good. Cage has made a lot of bad choices in film roles, but this time he's chosen well.

Will Gerard (Cage) is a low-key high school teacher whose cellist wife Laura (January Jones) is assaulted on the way home from rehearsal.

Seething with anger and concern, Gerard is ripe for the plucking when a stranger (Guy Pearce) approaches him and asks whether, in exchange for a future favor, he wants the protagonist dead. Shades of Faust indeed. This age old theme has a new twist.

The rapist is indeed killed by the New Orleans vigilante organization that has approached Gerard. And, in return the favor he's asked for is to kill a total stranger who is labeled an unpunished criminal.

Mild-mannered Gerard doesn't like the idea of killing anyone, much less a stranger, but he's forced by the vigilantes into taking action.

Directed by Roger Donaldson, this thriller is well-paced and believable, even if the theme is a bit old. This is a film that's pure escapism and entertainment with some unexpected twists that heighten the tension.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

THE LADY

By D.E.Levine

This is a beautifully shot film directed by Luc Besson, chronicling the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winning Burmese activist who for years has challenged the military regime that holds Burma in a dictatorship.

Having been to Burma, now known as Myramar, and found that people would not openly discuss Suu Kyi, I found the film fascinating in describing her childhood, family heritage of public and military service, and the many hardships and sacrifices she and her family made in publicly standing against the military dictatorship that now rules the country.

As interesting as it is, at 2 1/2 hours the film is too long. The prologue is interesting, explaining how Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San was instrumental in liberating Burma from British rule and became a hero to the Burmese people.

When he was assassinated in 1947, along with the rest of the government, the country was taken over by a military junta.

The film leaps to 1968 where Suu Kyi is living in the United Kingdom with her husband Michael Aris (David Thewles) and their two sons Kim (Jonathan Raggett) and Alex (Jonathan Woodhouse).

Called home to care for her mother who becomes ill, Suu Kyi is shocked at the violence and civil unrest she finds in Rangoon.

When asked to remain in Burma and head the National League for Democracy, because her friends and associates realize what a powerful presence the daughter of General Suu Kyi will make, she decides to remain.

However, to keep her from assuming her role the military government places Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years, with no access to newspapers, telephones, television and very infrequent approved visits from family members.

Unfortunately, as fascinating as the film is the characters are never fully developed and the intensity of the political upheaval never comes across.

Yeoh looks beautiful, but her role is placid and full of platitudes. Thewlis, Raggett and Woodhouse shine in their roles but because Suu Kyi and her family were basically separated for 10 years, their roles are small, although the loss, in real life, is great.

Filmed primarily in Thailand, the scenery is beautiful but most scenes center either around the supposed Aung San estate in Burma or the Aris residence in Oxford, England.

The reality is that although long, the film barely skims the surface of the ordeal, suffering and sacrifices that Aung San and her family made and are still making.

DRIVE

By D.E.Levine

Be prepared for plenty of violence in this beautifully directed film by Nicolas Winding Refn.

Ryan Gosling stars as a movie stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. Throughout the film he remains unnamed, known only as The Driver.

The Driver becomes close to his apartment house neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). When her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) is released from prison he becomes enough of a friend to agree to help him satisfy a debt to gangsters.

Things go wrong and we see a different side of the calm, mild-mannered Driver. As the violence grows the audience sees surprising and previously unrevealed relationships.

Brooks, long known for both his stand-up comedy and comedic acting roles, steps out of character to become a commanding presence as money-lender Bernie. Bryan Cranston is good and unrecognizable as mechanic Shannon.

The film is intriguing with low lighting, a 1980s sound track, exciting car chases and lots of gore.

I didn't think I'd enjoy this film but I really did, and audience reaction proved I wasn't alone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BEGINNERS

By D.E.Levine

The cast of this small movie shines and the movie grows bigger because of their acting.

Writer/director Mike Mills based this story about different types of love and the people seeking and finding it on his own life experience as a straight son watching the dying process of a beloved gay father.

At the start of the film we meet Oliver (Ewan McGregor) who is mourning the passing of his adored father Hal (Christopher Plummer).

Hal, though departed, is very much alive in his son's thoughts, often pushing his thoughts aside as Oliver remembers his father.

Although set mainly in 2003, in a voiceover Oliver speaks about the 1955 marriage of his parents and the decades that they were together, remembered as a series of kisses and a marriage without depth.

Six months after his mother Georgia (Mary Kay Page) dies, the 75-year-old Hal announces he's gay, amasses a new group of friends and takes a much younger lover (Goran Visnjic).

All of this is witnessed by Oliver, adoring but somewhat confused at his father's new lifestyle.

A second love story has Oliver in the lead when, at a costume party, he meets French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). Anna has problems and issues of her own. She is a wounded individual.

But, as their relationship progresses through handholding, roller skating, walking Cosmo (Hal's dog) kisses, tears and all that love entails, Mills skillfully intertwines the Oliver's memories of Hal's cancer and last days with the new love relationship beginning.

The stories lag in places and are sometimes less believable than Mills aimed for, but the cast gives stellar performances making the characters charming, if not totally believable.

At 83, Plummer still has phenomenal screen presence and gives an outstanding performance that makes up for any existing weaknesses in the script of other performances.