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Upper East Side Theater

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Insightful Perspectives on Upper East Side Movies
Updated: 4 min 15 sec ago

The Imitation Game

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 20:58
       Based on a true story but taking cinematic license with some of the facts, "The Imitation Game" is still an absorbing untold story of World War Two. And while it is wartime, the story takes place entirely in England and is the story of Alan Turing, the man credited with breaking the German "Enigma" code.        Enigma was the secret code used by Germany for all radio transmissions and was deemed unbreakable by all the allied forces. The British Secret Service recruited a small team of code breakers including Turing, who eventually did manage to break the code and turn the tide of war against Germany. How they break the code is the central plot but what really holds the audience enthralled is Turing himself. He was a brilliant mathematician with no social skills and a secret of his own. Bringing him to life is the remarkable performance of Benedict Cumberbatch.         Mr. Cumberbatch's acting is flawless and easily the best role of his career to date. He is surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Kiera Knightly, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong. Allen Leetch and Rory Kinnear also co-star in small but significant roles.           Screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum keep things interesting by moving around in multiple timelines, starting in the '50's when there is a break-in at Turing's house. When the detective in charge begins to probe deeper into Turning's life, things begin to unravel. We also see Turing at school as a awkward young man, on a path that will change his life forever. At the center is the team racing the clock to solve the Enigma puzzle.               The film is smart, exciting, dramatic, clever and heartbreaking as well. It may well be about breaking Enigma, but it's heart and soul is the story of a complicated man that deserved to be called a hero and instead ended up vilified by the very nation he helped save.
Categories: Blogs

Wild

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 19:32
  Based on the best selling true story of Cheryl Strayed, the film stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl, a self destructive woman who takes a 1000 mile walk of self discovery.   The film moves back and forth between Cheryl's walk along the Pacific Coast Trail and flashbacks of her life and the events that led to her decision. Ms. Witherspoon is also the producer of the film and you can tell it's a labor of love. She easily does some of her best acting here as she painstakingly recreates Ms. Strayed's original walk.     Seen in flashbacks, Laura Dern plays her mother, Gabby Hoffman, her best friend and Thomas Sadoski, her ex-husband. These scenes are very emotional and effective since they have a direct link to Cheryl's self destructive path. Once on the trail, Ms. Witherspoon is alone for most of the time but does have a variety of interactions with people both friendly and threatening.      The cinematography beautifully captures the natural landscapes of California and Oregon. While an interesting story and well acted, it does tend to get repetitive at times. Credit Ms. Witherspoon's strong acting in driving the story forward, keeping the audience rooting for her to complete her journey, both physically and spiritually.
Categories: Blogs

The Babadook

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:33
      Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent has made one of the best films of the year that you probably won't want to see. It is an old fashioned horror thriller that will scare the daylights out of you without excessive blood and gore. In fact, there is very little blood at all but the suspense factor is first rate.      Amelia is a widow trying to raise her troubled young son on her own. The boy is fearful of almost everything and clings to his mother obsessively. While she loves her son dearly, Samuel often drives her close to a breaking point by his actions. At night she reads to him before bed to calm him down and on one particular night, he pulls "Mister Babadook" off the bookshelf.       The book is a pop up book filled with progressively horrible images and Amelia quickly closes it and finds something else to read. However, the boy becomes obsessed with the Babadook and thinks its coming to kill them both. It is here that the slow build of terror starts to snowball.         Essie Davis stars as Amelia and it is a powerhouse performance. Is the Babadook real and has he possessed her or is she just losing her mind? Ms. Kent tosses us small tasty morsels of dread that get bigger and scarier as the film goes on. The horror of the Babadook starts slow with only a glimpse of what's to come.  As Samuel loses control, so does Amelia but the smart script never makes it clear if the Babadook is real or imagined. Either way, the danger is real and the audience is filled with unease and panic at every dark turn.          The camerawork, music and the wonderful acting by both mother and son (Noah Wiseman is fantastic and I only hope the film has not scarred him for life) all combine to completely unnerve us by the film's climax. The ending is a little too neat but what leads up to it is a brilliantly scary thriller.
Categories: Blogs

Foxcatcher

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 13:09
   The disturbing story of John E. DuPont's relationship with the wrestlers Mark and David Schultz is played out with precision acting by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo.         With the help of a terrific makeup job, Mr. Carell physically transforms himself into Mr. DuPont, capturing his speech patterns and body language perfectly. It is unlike anything he has done before and he is mesmerizing. Not to be overlooked is Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, the Olympic wrestler who comes to train with Mr. DuPont. While he may seem a simple jock, Mr. Tatum is actually doing the finest acting of his career, capturing all the emotions hidden beneath his musclebound exterior. Initially he sees Mr. DuPont as the father figure he never had but the nature of their relationship takes a drastic turn as the story progresses.           Mr. Ruffalo, as older brother David Schultz, may not have as much screen time as his co-stars but he makes the most of it. David is crucial to the story and Mr. Ruffalo plays him brilliantly. Sienna Miller has a small supporting role as David's wife as does Vanessa Redgrave as DuPont's elderly mother. The film itself is fascinating in a tabloid sense. It grows darker and more disturbing as goes and since it is based on the true story, you may already know the outcome.             The music is sparse but there is a haunting theme played repeatedly  and the cinematography is outstanding with beautiful Pennsylvania landscapes. The entertainment value here is not in the plot but rather watching three actors at the top of their game. They are the reason to see this film. There will be nominations all around during awards season.
Categories: Blogs

Force Majeure

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 00:05
            This new foreign drama is an absorbing look a family fractured by one quick decision while on a ski vacation. Tomas and Ebba are staying at a beautiful ski resort high in the Alps with their two small children Vera and Harry. The film is divided into the days of the family vacation and when an unexpected turn of events occurs on the second day, everything changes.             The acting is excellent as gender and family roles are examined by both Tomas and Ebba as well as their friends who come to visit. The film is very dramatic but their are moments of comic relief that break the growing tension.                Impressive cinematography both in the exteriors and inside the resort make for a beautiful backdrop for this very human drama that will easily lend itself to post viewing discussions.
Categories: Blogs

The Theory of Everything

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 20:41
            The story of the physicist Stephen Hawking has "Oscar" written all over it. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both wonderful as Professor Hawking and his first love, Jane. The screenplay focuses solely on their relationship and "sells" the film as a remarkable love story.             When they first meet in college, Hawking shows no signs of the the disease that will end up crippling him for life. He is a brilliant student with a sharp wit and Jane falls rather easily in love. When he is diagnosed with ALS, Jane's love is so strong, she stands by her man, marries him and promises to fight the disease together.               While the love story is touching and very emotional, the film itself is very episodic and doesn't go into great detail about Hawking's medical condition or his work. The fact that when he is first diagnosed in his twenties, given two years to live, and yet is still with us in his seventies is remarkable. The film would have you believe it is Jane's love alone that keeps him alive. There is no mention of anything medical except for a hospital stay when he develops pneumonia.               Mr. Redmayne physical transformation as Hawking's body continues to fail him is amazing. He captures every nuance in the loss of his limbs and speech and yet still conveys the brilliance and wit of the man trapped in a deteriorating body. It's a performance so good, it hides the deficiencies in the screenplay. After such an emotional story, the turn of events in the last act are a betrayal to the audience as well as to the characters. Unfortunately its a true story so the events are real but we can only speculate on the reasons behind them. A coda at the end softens the blow but for film about "everything", too much was left out.
Categories: Blogs