Monday, October 26, 2015

Room - Review

I went to see this film titled “Room” this past weekend. That’s it, that’s the title, not “The Room” or “A Room”, just “Room”, where it tells the story about a twenty something woman called affectionately by her son as “Ma” played by Brie Larson  and the child itself a 5-year-old boy with long flowing girl like hair who his mother has named “Jack” played by Jacob Tremblay. And so now you ask what else?

Well from the onset we discover and shockingly so “Ma” has been held captive for over 7 years by her stranger abductor who she refers to as “Old Nick” and who is also the biological father of 5 year old “Jack”. We also see that both Jack and Ma are living a subsistence existence inside a sound proof toolshed in Old Nick’s backyard that is approximately twelve by twelve with only the bare necessities of a tub, electricity, floor heater, running water, tiny refrigerator, a toaster oven and a high sky-light window for them see the sky.

Now, with this background imagine you being born a child in that environment as Jack was, waking up each day not knowing that there was a large and unique world just outside of those walls with other people, dogs, restaurants, buildings, trees, streets, cars and or anything that was not inside that “room”. For Ma it was important each day to make sure her son would live as much a normal life without having to try and explain the complexities of an entire world where Jack only knew it existed within those cold walls, along with his endless fantasies as small kids are naturally incline to develop to amuse themselves as entertainment. His only real external emotional escape was manifested in the film through Jacks’ minimum daily stimulation from their tiny cable-less TV in their room where Jack could not differentiate that cartoons and people on TV were both not reality, but at the same time where the cartoons and people are not one in the same as both being not real verse humans being real. Get it? Yeah, heavy stuff isn’t it?

In the end Jack’s TV world was just a part of a greater fantasy world that his mother Ma had always use to foster and nurture normalcy so as to keep both Jack and her amused and more importantly sane day after day after day after day for 7 years.

Then one day, Ma” devises a scheme to escape, but she realizes it will only work if she can now convince young Jack that all the things she has told him for the past 5 years that were not true (inside the room) are now true (outside the room) and where in fact was an actual whole new world with a new reality just outside those immediate walls. She patiently and lovingly has to convince young Jack to believe her in very short order so as to trust her in finding someone outside the wall to eventually escape.

PROS: “Room” is singularly one of the most powerful, moving and stirring films I have ever seen. My words alone will not do justice to this film which produced for me some of the rawest emotional feelings of anger, grace and joyous uplift I or probably you will ever experience.

The story’s power to take a claustrophobic plot that deliberately gets inside some unexpected place in your mind, your visceral DNA and your primal instinctive soul is nothing short of directing - screenplay genius and brilliance. And while I am a sentimental man, I am not weepy in the slightest, but there was a scene midway involving a red truck riding through a residential neighborhood that had my heart pounding and put a lump in my throat. I felt myself being filled with genuine heart felt emotion during this scene and I believe you will too.

This is impressive film making at the highest, highest order with an extraordinary performance by Brie Larson as Ma who I sure hope like hell gets an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. Also, if the Academy has any courage at all they sure as hell should nominate young Jacob Tremblay as Best Supporting Actor. I for one would vote if I could for him to won now.

I have seen thousands of movies in my life time and I here to tell you I have never; I will say it again, NEVER – EVER seen such a young child master a dark adolescent subject and character as his Jack, with all of the complexities of understanding and recreating the emotions of a child and mother devotion to one another under such assaulting and provocative conditions. Meaning?

Meaning where on one hand his Jack was to be a normal child prone to displays of unexpected silliness and wondrous imagination. Then with equally adroitness and skill to show genuine moments of anger and frustration as any child would display when he doesn’t understand something that is suddenly confusing by countering what he had previously learned. And finally to show authentic mistrust, doubt, confusion and shyness in a new world that has turned his life completely upside down becoming bigger than big in a sudden blink of an eye.

Young Jack Tremblay’s emotional acting senses and acting timing here are so creative by understanding the aura and atmosphere of total isolation verses the sensations of reality verse the sensation of fantasy and then to make all of these various emotional strata’s work on the big screen so effectively, I can only say this is some of the best acting I have seen in 40 years whether it be man, woman or child.

If you see this and implore all of my friends and film fans to really make the effort to see it in the theater you will discover that Jacob Tremblay was initially given an extraordinary very high hurdle to play this character who has enormous complicated layers to his persona that in the end he delivers on his task with such brilliance it’s bordering on perfection.

CONS: Zip.

CONCLUSIONS: The film runs about 2 hours with almost two distinct acts, with the first act delving into Jack and Ma exclusively being inside their insanity they call “Room” and the second act where they manage to escape to the outside world. It is also where again I really don’t want to say much more. However, I will say that it is important to know that while the subject is very dark, there is not one thing in the entire movie that is gratuitously violent or vulgar. Trust me there is so much more to this movie that I have not conveyed in my comments and review.

I also so hope that some of you will not be intimidated in not seeing it because as its core it is about sexual abduction. What I can assure you though is that the ending will bring you genuine satisfaction for taking a chance in seeing this film that dramatically starts in a dark place and appropriately and believably moves to a light place.

Check your local listings. I do know it is currently playing at the Landmark Theater E Street in Washington, DC and the Landmark Theater Bethesda Row in Bethesda, MD.

For me the movie “Room” is one of the very, very best films for 2015. Its a must see film in any form whether it is in a theater or home rental as it will probably be on my short list of ten best films for this current decade.

4 Stars Plus

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Steve Jobs - Rewiew

Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender will undoubtedly be on the short list for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. BUT while it is well acted across the board (Kate Winslet and Seth Rogan) and has excellent writing that pops and is very smart, the overall film never really has a moment of build up to anything meaningfully for us to have examine Jobs any differently than we already know for better, for worse or for more.

The movie wants us to view Jobs as someone with Shakespearean nobility – virtue, as well as a real human anomaly with flaws of isolation, alienation, attacks, who was also shaped with self-inward tortured conceit.

But with such a larger than life subject as Jobs to tell a story about and his personal historical material to work with, the film never reaches any kind of crescendo. In the end "Steve Jobs" feels more like a mix of an actor studio workshop being filmed and 4 act play performance (i.e. last year's "Birdman" ) which I think can be entertaining, but is very hard to pull off cinematically when 99% of the films 2 hour running time is singularly focused on just one character.

Yeah Jobs was a jerk, I get it, but there seemed to be nothing else beyond that - no signs of a real human life beyond an obsessive focus of always being right about everything - all the time - with everyone - at any place - at any price.

Still for Michael Fassbender brilliant fueled performance and excellent supporting cast work and a story that will hold your attention.........................., it’s a solid rental.

3 - 1/2 Stars

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bridge of Spies - Review

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg has risen to highest upper echelons of his profession by making and producing some of the most memorable movies and feature films in history. So much so (for me) his name is done a disservice with the simple utterance of him being a” Director”. No, Spielberg is more than that; his name is a brand, it’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s a standard; it’s an expectation of the highest quality in cinematic story telling that seems to always go well beyond the norm or average.

Since his very first films “Duel” (1971), “Sugarland Express” (1974) and “Jaws”, Steven Spielberg has been on a consistent upward glide trajectory of cinematic, critical and box off success, amassing the sum of a lifetime world box office totals as a Director  $4,155,901,520B and $16,222,200,000B as a Producer. That’s a lot of money folks, but what is my point? Well, you don’t have that kind of longevity nor that kind of box office excellence by being simply good, you get it because you are great. So as for me, and probably like a lot of other film fans, I am on auto pilot when he releases a new film. Largely because of the high regard I have for him at making something potentially exceptional. Such is the case in his latest true story effort titled “Bridge of Spies”.

This story begins around 1957 at the height of the Cold War and where we find the FBI has adroitly captured a Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel and where in pretty much short order the communist Soviet Union has also captured a U.S. pilot named Francis Gary Powers who was shot down flying a reconnaissance mission in his seemingly advanced U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison Powers' only hope is for New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is secretly recruited by CIA operatives, to negotiate his release in an arena where both sides politically will not acknowledge the other in any official capacity. Donovan’s only hope (as he sees it) is to use his experiences at negotiations from the Nuremberg trials in winning the young pilot’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. That’s assuming he can negotiate any release by principally using spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), as the key bargaining chip who James Donovan also help defended during his federal court trial.

PROS: “Bridge of Spies” is an exceptional film and for me is Spielberg’s best work since “Saving Private Ryan” (aaaaaah I said “since” not “as”) and should be on that short list of 10 films nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It also should garner Tom Hanks an Oscar nomination, as once again he seems to channel so effortlessly and naturally the humanity of the “ordinary guy doing good things” that was always so indicative of actor Jimmy Stewart’s films. Hanks has never been better and never more ideally suited to play someone who historically is largely and mostly obscure by name recognition and yet exudes so much of American nobility, American decency and American respect for what is just.

In addition, it’s my hope that  British actor Mark Rylance who played Soviet Spy “Rudolf Abel” garners an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. He is splendid in his role here and quickly establishes a fresh perspective of what spies were really - probably like during that time in history. Without playing downward to some stereotypical angry indoctrinated zealot negatively filled with propaganda and anti-west vitriol, Rylance work here is superbly obvious from the first moments. He’s an avuncular quiet character who is unusually introspective in his thoughts, more respectful to his enemy, smart and seemingly rather matter of fact about his circumstances rather than someone you would ordinary think being quick to engage in rancor, hostility and malevolence. Rylance gives a performance that is quietly exceptional here.        

Joel and Ethan Coen of “Fargo”, Blood Simple”, “Raising Arizona” and “No Country for Old Men” fame wrote an outstanding script that in the first half of the film is a cerebral legal thriller and in the second half of the film is a cerebral espionage thriller. They manage to create a polished dialog that seemed real, relevant to the times and above all very coherent without getting too bogged down into minutia and burdensome details. It would not shock me that they too get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Finally, Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Who? I won’t bore you with his background other than to say Spielberg has not made a movie without this man since “Schindler’s List” 1993. Why? He is simply the best ever, as the look and feel of this film offers the visual feel in “Mad Men-eque” detail the sensation of what people, streets, dark alleys, buildings, clothing and etc. look like with soft lights and lush rich vibrancy. And once again as well (in my mind) should get him an Oscar nomination in Cinematography.

CONS: There was one scene where we see James Donovan has his first visit at the  Soviet Embassy in East Germany that involved him meeting Abel’s family that I guess was supposed to be either serious or a moment of levity. In my opinion it was neither as it came off a bit stiff and odd, but this did not detract from the film’s overall excellence.

Also, sometimes the music overlay that was sparingly used here, still seemed to be more of a nuisance than a help in establishing and or re-enforcing a certain mood. Such was a scene involving Hank where his Donovan was petitioning for an appeal to the Supreme Court. The dialog here was already very well honed and refined but was almost over shadowed with some needless violin music that was clearly an effort to enhance further what already was a passionate moment in the spoken word alone. Look, this is minor stuff that only I obsess over, most viewers won’t never notice these issues.

CONCLUSION: Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” is overall an exceptional film of historical events in a dangerous and tumultuous time. But it is also about how patriotism sometimes manifests itself, not with guns and talks of war, but in the form of those quiet patriotic efforts that feel more like watching and listening to poetry rather than the legalese terminology jargon within the nuts and bolts of diplomacy. It is respectful to a time; to a specific kind of nostalgia where people, even when dealing with their enemies; even while being commitment to their political beliefs, spoke honestly and spoke fairly to one another and above all were always respectful and decent to one another. And they did their work quietly and always dressed properly in suit and tie - no flip flop détente here.

I deliberately repeated a word in my comments in this review and I will do so again and that is Spielberg has made an “exceptional” film here. It’s “exceptional” because it is exactly that – not great but exceptional. And in every moment it was directed with an absolute precision where there is not one wasted scene or needless melodramatic moment; I believed what happened every step of the way. But in the end, this is Tom Hank’s fine work here we will remember, as once again he proves that even with middle age clearly on his face now he is still one of the finest actors ever.

There is a scene towards the very end where Hank’s Donovan is staring out of train with a faint smile. I swear it took me back to another faint smile of Hank’s in Forrest Gump where he is sitting on that bench as his son goes to school on the school bus for the first time in the final scene. I say this only to make a personal point about Hanks as an actor. No matter if his character dies in the arms of a solider in “Saving Private Ryan”, is standing in the rain getting wet in “Castaway”, is on his death bed from the ravages of AIDS in “Philadelphia”, stoically stuck in a dead space craft in “Apollo 13”, or is the voice of the animated Woody in “Toy Story”, he always makes us smile and I for one adore this quality in his work - this effortless genuine commitment by him to be sincere and decent on the big screen without trying to be (act) that way.

The fact is in ‘Bridge Of Spies” Spielberg and Hanks don’t just direct and act here, they both make us smile; they both give us poetry to our viewing souls and with that I highly recommend you all should see this “exceptional” film.

4 Stars

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian - Review

The Martian – Review
Those who know me well, know when it comes to movies a film Director can carry as much weight and credibility for me as any particular actor that I may enjoy. And while some of my favorite Directors can be easily recognizable by the simple pronunciation of their last names such as Spielberg and Scorsese, i.e. others have more generic sounding names like Mann and Scott. In this case I am speaking of Sir Ridley Scott, an English film director and producer, who in only his second film achieved commercial and critical breakthrough success with the landmark science-fiction horror film “Alien” (1979) starring Sigourney Weaver.

Since that initial effort Scott has successfully gone on to pad his directing resume with other well-known works such as the future science fiction story Blade Runner (1982), the woman - buddy road trip effort Thelma & Louise (1991), the historical drama Gladiator (2000) which won a Best Picture Oscar, the war film Black Hawk Down (2001), the crime thriller Hannibal (2001), the black comedy Matchstick Men (2003),the biographical crime film American Gangster (2007), the adventure film Robin Hood (2010) and the science fiction film Prometheus (2012). I enjoyed them all immensely.
Now, I listed some of his films only to set the table for an irrefutable fact about me; when Sir Ridley Scott makes a film no matter collectively if the reviews are great (Alien) or bad (The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings), I will still go see his films to judge for myself. So, when I heard Scott was directing another science fiction film titled “The Martian” my entertainment antennas went up with much anticipation.
“The Martian”, starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover, tells essentially a contemporary in the not too distant future story of a 4 year (round trip) manned space mission to Mars, where a crew of 6 astronauts who have landed on Mars at an established working station. Un-expectantly they have to leave Mars quickly after a wind storm incident occurs and where also it is presumed during the storm Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is killed. Thinking the worse his crew leaves him behind. But Watney was not killed and manages to survive the storm, but finds himself completely stranded, alone, without any food or readily accessible water (well until this week’s news) on a hostile planet where Watney states “nothing ever grows”.
So, with only very limited supplies to last a few days, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Meanwhile, millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "The Martian" home, while his space crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission against extraordinary odds.
PROS: First watching “The Martian” in 3-D was amazing, largely because since none of us have been to Mars nor will we ever, everything in the film captures your “mind’s eye” attention with a great deal more of wonder, authenticity and mystery to your subconscious where you may find yourself asking, “So this is what it’s like to be on Mars”
But the larger question you may ask is, was the movie any good? Yes, it’s very good, probably Scott's best work in a while. However, what may surprise you is how un-Scott science fiction this film is. His previous works always had a rather dreary and slightly unhinged view of the future and space where monsters are always lurking just around the corner. Here in “The Martian”, there is no such creepiness, in fact for its 2 hours 14 minute running time it is very funny, self-deprecating, whimsical and “cheeky” (a British expression to describe being impudent or irreverent in an endearing or amusing way).
The most noticeable aspects of this film for me were the themes of how cool science is and can be, as well as the theme of the human spirit to survive. Just like Tom Hanks in “Castaway”, as a species, some of us may not vote in every election, some of us may not pay our taxes on time, some of us are prone to cheat in our relationships and some of us find humor in the oddest things, but the one quality that we all share; that exist in all of us is the innate will to survive, which would include mixing up water and mud to eat if it meant easing out desire for food and hunger.
CONS: Just a few moments of mawkishly sentimentality and corniness with the cast at NASA, but nothing to detract from the overall quality of the film.
CONCLUSION: So let’s be real here now folks. Do you really actually think they would spend a $108 million budget to make this movie for you to go see a story where in the end Matt Damon’s character would be left on Mars to die a horrible agonizing emaciated excruciating death? Come oooooooon now, this is not a spoiler, but you know he does not die going into the theater. Therefore, the only operative and pertinent questions that remain are how much clever “touch and go” perilous hell will Astronaut Watney have to go through does the film’s story, directing, acting and screenplay genuinely offer up to us? Will it be effective overall as a believable drama with appetizing thrills to get you to its obvious hopeful joyous conclusion? 
With a little something for everyone to chew on from the science fiction geeks, the adventurer fan and the Matt Damon fan, “The Martian” takes you on this space journey with inviting fun, wonderment and surprising excitement. It also offers along the way some very smart discussions involving the applications of math, smart user friendly conversations on physics, smart discussions about agriculture and botany, smart dialog about space exploration and overall just plain smart old fashion human ingenuity and hands on know-how. 

“The Martian” is a bit of a throwback old fashion classic Saturday “popcorn film” where just like Captain Kirk who “never liked to lose” while saving the universe, John Wayne always “saved the west” and earlier James Bond films where he always got out of deadly predicaments while “saving the world” too. Like all of these movie characters, you don’t go in worrying if this is the day John Wayne gets shot off his horse. Noooooooooooo. You go to be entertained in what you hope is a good story with good intrigue. Director Scott delivers on both points of a really good movie, where everyone in “The Martian” is likeable, have some light hearted fun with each other, and have genuine team comradery and unity. But the star of the film is Matt Damon and as usual he delivers terrifically a character that is equal parts very smart, occasionally corny and in the end someone you never tire of simply rooting for.

“The Martian” is something definitely worth seeing on the big screen (3-D), worth telling friends to see and maybe even seeing twice. But the films strength is weaving a solid enough adventure story for all of us day dreaming want-a be fearless “Captain Kirk-ers”, minus the faster than light space ship and all of us ingenious want-a be “MacGyver-ers”, minus turning a carrot into a communication device. It is visually stunningly to see and experience where the movie goer gets the rare close encounter satisfaction of having the experience of “boldly going where none of us will ever have the chance to go”…………..

3 – 3/4 Stars