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Insightful Perspectives on Upper East Side Movies
Updated: 5 min 38 sec ago

Magic in the Moonlight

Sat, 09/06/2014 - 17:09
           The latest film from writer/director Woody Allen is a light breezy romantic comedy set in the 1920's in the south of France. The scenery and costumes alone make it a worthwhile look.            After his last film, "Midnight in Paris",  it is clear that Mr. Allen is enjoying writing period pieces and that makes them refreshing to watch. The plot revolves around a supposedly fake psychic played by Emma Stone and a master magician, played by Colin Firth. Sophie, the psychic and her mother are staying with a rich family in the south of France and have totally beguiled the mother and younger son.When a magician named Howard can't figure out how she is tricking them, he asks Mr. Firth's help in exposing the woman.               The film co-stars Hamish Linklater as Brice, the son head over heels in love with Sophie, Jackie Weaver as his widowed mother, Simon McBurney as Howard and Eileen Atkins as Aunt Vanessa. Marcia Gay Harden plays Sophie's mother in what amounts to a cameo. Mr. Allen has assembled a terrific cast but clearly above the rest is Mr. Firth. He is wonderful in the film and his light comedy just shows another level of the depth and range of his acting. Ms. Stone does an admirable job but I was not overly impressed and felt her casting was the one misstep (She always seems like a girl trying to play an adult). Clearly Mr. Allen doesn't agree with me as his camera loves her.                The location shooting is breathtaking and everything about the period wardrobe and props is pure eye candy. The film never takes itself too seriously even when Mr. Allen becomes dialogue heavy with his own philosophies. A highlight in the script is a scene late in the film between Stanley (Mr. Firth) and his Aunt Vanessa that is sheer poetry in the writing.                Far from his best, "Moonlight" is still enjoyable and I hope Mr. Allen continues to find inspiration from his recent European settings for his inevitable next yearly film.
Categories: Blogs

Calvary

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 00:30
    The new film from writer/director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) stars Brendan Gleeson in a magnificent performance as a village priest facing his own mortality and the increasing loss of faith in his community.      During confessional at the start of the film, Father James is threatened to be killed in one week's time, for the sins of another priest.  He spends his last days tending to the secular flock of townsfolk in his small Irish village. His resolve to the church never waivers even as the threat becomes more ominous.  As the week progresses, we are introduced to the various members of the village ( Chris O'Dowd, Adian Gillen, and M. Emmett Walsh, among others) , many of whom are suspects, as well as his daughter, Fiona, back home after a failed suicidal attempt.     The film co-stars Kelly Reilly as Fiona and the relationship between Father James and his frail daughter is warm and tender. His relationship with the rest of the town is strained at best. While many people are friendly enough, Father James presence seems barely tolerated and his faith is constantly tested.      Philosophical and spiritual questions are raised throughout and the film is a serious drama.  There is a prevailing dark humor that helps lighten the mood but the overall tone is foreboding and grim as the story moves towards its inevitable conclusion.      The film is a microcosm of problems faced by the Catholic church in a world filled with an increasing loss of faith. Despite its dark and depressing tone, it's still a terrific film, both thoughtful and entertaining with beautiful scenes of the Irish coastline.
Categories: Blogs

Frank

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 00:30
        Inspired by Chris Sievey, a singer who's stage name was Frank Sidebottom and always wore a giant paper-mache head, "Frank" is the story of an eclectic rock band and the idealistic young musician who joins them. This quirky film is dramatic, musical, funny and lovingly odd. It's the very definition of an Indie film that will never find a broad audience. It's the kind of film you seek out due to word of mouth or a review you just happen upon.        Frank is the leader of a band with an unpronounceable name and he never removes his cartoonish giant head. Underneath, he is played by Michael Fassbender in a remarkable performance. His band is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (irresistibly unlikable) , Francois Civil, and Carla Azar. Their manager is played by Scoot McNairy (so good in AMC's "Halt & Catch Fire"). They are an eclectic group who play together for no apparent reason except to make noise.  While touring Ireland, their keyboard player is hospitalized and a young musician named Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, ends up in the band.         The film is really Jon's story and Mr. Gleeson is just terrific (He has good genes. His dad is Brendan Gleeson). Seizing the opportunity to be in a band, Jon jumps at the chance but soon finds himself part of a life he could never imagine.         If you are getting tired of the summer Hollywood machine and want something really unique and different, find this film. It will challenge and annoy you, make you laugh, make you sad, but ultimately entertain you.
Categories: Blogs

Love is Strange

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 15:37
 John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star in this new drama from writer/director Ira Sachs. Ben (Mr. Lithgow) and George (Mr. Molina) have been together nearly 40 years and after New York  passes the law allowing gay marriage, they decide to tie the knot. Things take a turn once they make it legal and the story grows from their new, unexpected situation.    This is a compassionate, honest portrait of love that is tested between the two men and the friends and family that support them. Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Molina are wonderful together. They are so natural in their performance that you are fully engaged in their characters and and feel welcome in their world.      Co-starring are Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows as Ben's niece and nephew. Ms Tomei gives a subtle yet strong performance and it's wonderful to see Mr. Burrows acting again (He was so good many years ago on the TV show, Northern Exposure). The film also co-stars Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez and Charlie Tahan in a pivotal role of Joey, Ben's great nephew.      Besides the great cast, the other major character is Manhattan itself. Much like Woody Allen, Mr. Sach loves the city and there are great shots where the camera lingers just long enough at the end of a scene to appreciate the background of the city. The soundtrack too plays an important role. It is mostly Chopin and works beautifully to enhance the story.     There are many themes at work here and Mr. Sachs balances them all but it is the strength of Ben and George's love that binds everything together. The end is bittersweet but Mr. Sachs leaves us in good place as we leave the theater.
Categories: Blogs

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 16:40
    Writer Frank Miller teams up once again with director Robert Rodriguez to bring us more tales of Sin City. If you enjoyed the original, you will be happy to return to this world of highly stylized art, violence and comic book film noir.      Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis (a cameo since he died in the original), Powers Boothe and Rosario Dawson all return and this time out are joined by Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green in the major roles.  Mr. Rouke is a standout bringing a heartfelt performance under tons of makeup to the unique character, Marv. Ms. Green brings the sexiness as the "femme fatale" Eva. Co-stars in minor roles include Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert and Ray Liotta. There is also a quick cameo from Lady Gaga.     Much like the first, this is a living breathing comic book that delivers what you would expect, bullets, bondage gear, blood, sex and mayhem. The film is all about the visual. With the exception of Mr. Rouke and Ms. Green, every other character is a comic book stereotype devoid of any real emotion or depth. The three interwoven stories don't carry any weight or importance. They are basic stories of greed, lust, and revenge that justify the sex and violence.        The real star of the film is the artwork that melds with the cinematography. This unusual technique is even more striking than the original film and looks fantastic in 3D.
Categories: Blogs

Get On Up

Sun, 08/10/2014 - 20:58
    Chadwick Boseman stars as the "Godfather of Soul", James Brown in this new drama. Mr. Boseman is creating quite the career for himself portraying iconic figures in history. He was terrific in "42" as Jackie Robinson and shines here as James Brown, which is clearly not an easy task. He has all the moves down perfectly and embodies the man as well as the legend.     The film co- stars Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, his long time friend and band member, Dan Ackroyd as his manager, Viola Davis as his mother who abandons him early in his life, and Octavia Spencer, who raises him when his father joins the army. The cast is excellent and all the acting in the film never feels false. Jamarion Scott plays Mr. Brown as a boy and he is a natural.     While the acting and all the music are first rate, I can't say the same for the screenplay. The story is disjointed and all over the place, jumping around in time.  The film is broken down into significant periods in Mr. Brown's life but never sticks to a particular time frame. Plot lines are introduced and then left dangling, unresolved. The story would have been better served with a linear plot and maybe an occasional flashback but here the technique is misused and doesn't add anything to the story exception confusion.      We are treated to important moments in Mr. Brown's life as well as in our own history. It's an honest portrait as it also doesn't shy away from Mr. Brown's drug use and abusive nature. He was a genius and a musical icon but as he says in the film, " you pay the cost to be the boss".
Categories: Blogs

Lucy

Sun, 08/10/2014 - 02:59
      The new film from writer/director Luc Besson is his personal thesis on the potential of the human brain.   Mr. Besson is in the enviable position of having the clout to share his thoughts and ideas with the world through financing of this action drama. What happens when we unlock 100% of our brain's potential?       Known for some pretty outrageous films (The Fifth Element), Mr. Besson also has a proven reputation of getting the most out of his female leads (Natalie Portman in "The Professional", Milla Jovovich in "The Fifth Element") and he proves it here again with the casting of Scarlett Johansson.Ms. Johansson elevates what is a pretty far fetched "b-movie" into an action packed film with theories that you may actually start considering since she plays it so seriously. And of course, having Morgan Freeman co-star as a professor contemplating the same theories also adds a degree of "take this seriously" to the proceedings.         The action sequences are a visual treat (I'd expect no less from Mr. Besson) and while the story tries hard to be convincing, it all becomes rather silly by the end. There are obvious illogical holes in the plot but Mr. Besson sacrifices logic to make his point. My own conspiracy theory or just a strange coincidence but this film may help to explain Ms. Johansson's character in the film "Her".
Categories: Blogs