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Upper East Side Theater

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Insightful Perspectives on Upper East Side Movies
Updated: 21 min 48 sec ago

Whiplash

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 18:33
    Truly exhilarating and easily one of the best films of the year, "Whiplash" takes familiar territory and  gives it a new and exciting twist.  We've all seen the war or sports movie where the insanely tough coach or drill Sargent turns the underachiever into a winner.  Set in the world of music, "Whiplash" is a war of wills between a percussion professor "from hell" versus a talented young drummer.     Andy, played by Miles Teller is a freshman at a Julliard type music academy learning to master the drums. Fletcher, play by J.K. Simmons is his perfectionist tormentor of a professor. One, an obsessive drummer striving to be the best at all costs, and the other pushing him past his limits with verbal and even physical abuse. Make no mistake, this is a literally bloody war played out in a rehearsal space and eventually on stage.       Miles Teller must have practiced non-stop to become the drummer he plays in the film. He is astounding and his acting is as every bit as good as his music. J.K. Simmons is channeling his "Shillinger" character from the HBO series, "OZ", every bit as scary but without the tattoos. One minute he is telling his band to "have fun out there" and the next second, he is abusing them without mercy. Paul Reiser co-stars as Andy's father who can't understand his son's obsession but loves him just the same. Their scenes together are tender and genuine.         Writer and director Damian Chazelle knows exactly when to pull his punches and when to let things fly. He creates a tension between Andy and Fletcher that becomes unbearable. During the musical sequences, his camera whirls around the musicians with a variety of closeups on their faces and their instruments creating a vortex that takes the music to another level.         "Whiplash" will leave you breathless.
Categories: Blogs

The Judge

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 19:29
        We've seen this story countless times . A dysfunctional family drama focusing on parent/sibling conflict only to be resolved at the end through some mutual crisis. There is some saving grace however in this predictable new film watching the sparks fly between it's two stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.        Mr. Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a high powered attorney who returns to his Indiana home for his mother's funeral. Mr. Duvall is his father, Judge Palmer and of course the two hate each other and haven't spoken in years. Both actors can play these roles in their sleep and really don't bring anything new to an already worn down theme. It is fun to watch them verbally sparring but that too gets old in a film that runs well over two hours.        Vera Farmiga co-stars as the "girl he left behind" and the rest of the cast includes Vincent D'Onofrio and Jeremy Strong as the other Palmer sons (both with their own issues), Billy Bob Thorton as a prosecutor, Dax Shepard as an inept lawyer and Emma Tremblay as Mr. Downey Jr's daughter.         It's no spoiler when I tell you Hank finds himself defending his father when he is accused of murder (it's the central plot of the film). Subplots include a quick tornado scare, a question of paternity, guilt over a family tragedy, and a secret illness. Screenwriter Bill Dubuque piles on the drama in an attempt to hide the fact we've seen this all before.          The outcome is inevitable and my verdict is disappointing but don't take my word for it, judge for yourself.
Categories: Blogs

The Equalizer

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 09:01
             "The Equalizer" was a TV show in the late '80's about a retired secret agent, Robert McCall, who helped people in trouble. McCall was played by a older British actor who used his gun sparingly and relied on a small group of associates to help him vanquish the bad guys. The film is very loosely based on the T.V. show.              Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall and we first meet him working in Home Mart (Home Depot wisely choose to not to be involved). We know nothing of his past and he seems to live a quiet life. Having trouble sleeping, he spends his late nights at a diner reading and eventually befriends a young prostitute that comes into the dinner every night. When the girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, is beaten by her Russian pimp, Mr. Washington goes after those responsible for putting her in the hospital.                This is a plot we have seen many times before. "Retired" agent living a quiet life is drawn back into his old ways for a variety of reasons. Mr. Washington plays McCall with very little emotion and when the killing starts, he turns into a terminator type killing machine. He easily over-matches his adversaries and even when the Russian mob send a very capable opponent, played by Marton Czonkas, their climatic fight is disappointing as it's staged giving Mr. Washington all the advantage.               The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who made "Training Day" with Mr. Washington. That was a terrific first film. Here, he gets lazy, depicting much of the violence off screen and using techniques we have seen before used to better effect. The scenes that are violent, are very violent, done to appease the obvious audience for an action film but they are far and few between. The movie is really fairly boring between the bloodshed.                 The end sets up what looks like the start of a franchise character. I can only hope the eventual sequels are more exciting and interesting.
Categories: Blogs

Gone Girl

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 00:20
          Meticulously directed by David Fincher and adapted for the screen by author Gillian Flynn, this is a very faithful version of the best-selling novel and will surely satisfy fans of the book. Having read the book and hated the ending, I found the film's end much more tolerable. It's still not to my liking but it does have a certain logic that works better on screen.           The film, for those few who never read the book, examines the marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne and starts out when Amy vanishes on their fifth anniversary. We learn through Nick's behavior, flashbacks and Amy's voice-overs, how they met and how their love for each other is repeatedly tested. There are multiple twists and turns (the same ones that made the book so much fun) and the film unfolds as "Scenes From A Marriage" as if it was written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.           The casting could not be any better. Ben Affleck and Roseamund Pike make the perfect Nick and Amy. Both of them possess a cool detachment that works brilliantly in their favor. Their co-stars,  Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are both terrific and Tyler Perry is surprisingly good as Nick's lawyer. Even Neal Patrick Harris in a small but pivotal role is very well cast.           David Fincher's  style is perfect for this story. His direction enhances the same icy atmosphere created by his stars. The overall mood is hard, cold, and slick as ice. While the setting is completely different, you can almost imagine these characters inhabiting the world of Mr. Fincher's version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  The story line is meticulously straight which make the plot twists that much more jarring.             "Gone Girl" is a nasty piece of business that actually makes a great date night movie. It's a story that can be debated long after it ends.
Categories: Blogs

Frontera

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 00:12
     Ed Harris, Eva Longoria, and Michael Pena star in this modern "western" that tackles the issues of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. It's a worthy topic deserving of our attention but the script becomes a little too neat and manipulative.     Mr. Harris is a retired sheriff who's land borders Mexico. Amy Madigan, his real wife, plays his wife in the film. Mr. Pena is a Mexican illegal who crosses the border looking for work to support his wife, Ms. Longoria, and his family.  A tragic event sets things in motion that brings all the characters together.      Trusting their lives to "coyotes", who smuggle them across the border, these people are just hoping for a better life in the United States. More often than not, they are robbed, sexually assaulted, and left to fend for themselves. The film pulls no punches in some of the harsher scenes in the sub-plot.        It is refreshing to see Ms. Longoria in a serious, un-glamorous role as she falls prey to one of these "coyotes". Her situation along with Mr. Pena's misfortune, is heartbreaking to watch.  Luckily Mr. Harris is doing his best Gary Cooper impression as he takes matters into his own hands to make things right. It is here that the script and the film score combine to really heighten our emotions and even though it feels manipulative, the final moments are very tense.        I don't expect this film to last very long in theaters so look for it on video or cable if the subject matter interests you or you are a fan of Mr. Harris. He easily elevates any film he's in and "Frontera" falls into that category.
Categories: Blogs

The Drop

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 20:46
      Based on a short story by crime novelist Dennis  Lahane, this new drama feels like a short story and never takes on the heft of a full fledged film. It's a gritty story with a good twist that builds plenty of tension but the final payoff fizzles rather than explodes.       The film stars James Gandolfini, in his last film, as Marv and Tom Hardy as his cousin Bob. Marv runs a bar he once owned that has been taken over by Chechin criminals. Bob is his bartender. The bar is sometimes used as a "drop" for dirty money and a robbery sets the plot in motion.  Noomi Rapace is Nadia, a woman Bob meets when he rescues a puppy that has been tossed into a garbage can. John Ortiz co-stars as the detective looking into the robbery.        Mr. Gandolfini returns to the type of crime character he plays so well but Marv is no "Tony Soprano". He's a has been hoping for one more shot but of course, things get complicated.  Even though the character is washed up, Mr. Gandolfini is still a commanding screen presence. Mr. Hardy struggles with his Brooklyn accent but does a good job as Bob, a man smarter than he appears, doing a slow burn for the majority of the film.           The film was held to be released in September when the "serious" fall films begin to appear. It's the first of many to come in award season but don't expect much. It's probably worth your time as a rental or pay per view if you are a fan of Mr. Gandolfini.
Categories: Blogs

This is Where I Leave You

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 20:09
   Based on the best selling novel by Jonathan Trooper, this new comedy/drama has a screenplay by Mr. Trooper and remains pretty faithful to the novel. It is the story of the Altman family who gather together when the father dies.  The adult children are played by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoller, and Adam Driver. Their mother is played by Jane Fonda.      Co-starring are Timothy Olyphant as Horry, the brain injured ex-boyfriend of Ms. Fey, Kathryn Hahn as Mr. Stoll's wife, Rose Bryne as a girl from Mr. Bateman's past, Connie Britton as Mr. Driver's girlfriend,  Ben Schwartz as the family rabbi and Debra Monk as Ms. Fonda's best friend. It's a very large ensemble film and everyone is well cast but play mostly to type. Standouts are Mr. Olyphant as Horry and Ms. Fonda  as the strong willed matriarch.      There is the usual amount of sibling rivalry and infighting and this family has enough dysfunction that if Peter Jackson was directing, it would have been stretched to a trilogy. Secrets are kept and revealed, romances are rekindled and lost, and along the way there is humor and pathos. What worked in the novel begins to get tedious in the film as Mr. Trooper tries to jam all his ideas into a two hour film. It's also hard to share the wealth of the material when you have such a strong cast but director Shawn Levy does his best to give everyone a fair amount of screen time. The bulk of the heavy lifting falls to Mr. Bateman, who might as well be in an episode of "Arrested Development".
Categories: Blogs