Dearly beloved…It’s been nearly seven weeks since we spoke. How the hell are you? Me? Pues, we’ll talk in a bit. Now then, the rest of the summer movie season brought with it a slew of winners and losers and surefire misses that then made a somewhat killing at the box office despite bad reviews…I’m looking at you Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman and Bad Moms too. I’ll stay clear of The Ghostbusters drama, as I dug it. Now, at this end of summer leading into the first touches of autumn, as the playing field starts to level after film fest highlights and the Oscar season starts, the fare at the box office also changes. Thank Gawd.
I scribe this while finishing the longest vacation of my life. As a US-American no longer in school or uni, and coming from a workaholic NYC background, leaves little to no room for long holidays. It simply does not exist. I had a whirlwind seven weeks in NYC, Austin and the RGV and things in the US are not the same, let me say. The energy is palpable and the comfort of the city still hides in workaholic tendencies…the kind I too often gravitate towards. This ushers in our first review.
The Little Prince works its magic very slowly. Updating the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece could not have been easy but somehow director Mark Osborne and his team of master crafters, writers and voice team have brought an exquisite film to life for the screen. I dare you to not shed a tear or at least get teary-eyed while viewing the film. I was impressed mostly because after seeing the Kung Fu Panda series, of which he directed the first, Osborne’s abilities for a book-turned-film of this calibre seemed fair to middling at best. He and his screenwriters, however, came up against the daunting task of re-crafting Saint-Exupéry’s classic by adding in the elements of a single mother-daughter duo that resonate right with the age in which we live. The workaholic, helicopter parent character known as Mother (Rachel McAdams/Florence Foresti; note: there are 2 versions of the film released as original version, an English and a French version) is such a mandate-mum that she micro-manages every second of her daughter The Little Girl’s (Mackenzie Foy) spare time outside of her prep academy. We get a very modernised (read: US-American) version of a side story that then introduces us to the actual tale and characters we know and love. Perhaps, if I had one complaint, it’s that the Little Prince is more of a side story and the creators, in my opinion, slightly failed in capturing the very poetic, very soft and very French touch of the book. It wouldn’t hurt to have held on to more of that element…they even managed to have a daunting, thrilling, Spielbergian near-ending scene that frankly was more cinematic eye candy than anything. The thing is…they also kept the essence and message of the book, and its themes of unity, surrender and magic. While there is a lot of extra fluff, it’s sometimes nice to get cushy with it and see where a new generation can take a classic. I was not mad at all and most likely, neither will you be! ####
I actually was reluctant to watch this next film because, as someone who feels strongly in regards to feminism and social rights and also has Jewish blood in his veins, Mel Gibson is part of the mindset of the deplorable, to annoyingly catchphrase Billary. Apparently, his father (a staunch Catholic) raised him believing that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by the Jews for sympathy used to gain world control. Sigh. Iran, I’m looking at you too. When his personal issues and drinking demons came to a fore over the last decade, I saw a man, whom I’d much admired as a lad in the Nineties, whittled down to a narcissistic, alcoholic and racist bully. For me, it is often difficult to separate the person from their work, but over the last three years as a critic for Metropolitan, I’ve been able to rectify that somewhat. Gibson’s newest thriller is called Blood Father and I liked it…a lot! It’s a total grind house extravaganza for the family with teens. Ok, maybe not quite, but with a script by the author of the novel on which this film is based, and under the direction of Jean-Francois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13), this not too-long film (about 80 minutes without the credits) comes at you with so much gusto, it could be the new king of B-Movies! Telling the story of John Link, who is a washed-out alcoholic/ex-con tattoo artist living in a trailer, we watch a worn-skinned Gibson give life to his family again when his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) phones him after accidentally killing her Mexican mafioso boyfriend, played to slimy perfection by Diego Luna. We then watch the duo bond and fight fate when revenge gangs show up. Set against the dry, brown desert region of California outside Los Angeles, you feel the intensity of the heat from the background and the action. It’s hard not to get into the swing of this film because it easily portrays a believable father-daughter relationship that makes sense for the themes it deals with. Plus, we have those impeccable action sequences. SO tight! ###-1/2
And then, there was War Dogs. Now, when you watch recent history on the big screen these days, it has a certain odd nostalgia that often hearkens back to the current war…and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The film is, on its own merit, quite within the context of well-done storytelling and it suffers only when director Todd Phillips (of the Hangover trilogy) delves too much into the annoying, white/Jewish privilege of two Miami boys played by Miles Teller (playing massage therapist David Packouz) and Jonah Hill (playing David’s childhood bud Efraim Diveroli). It feels like annoying leftovers from his crappy comedy trilogy, and they do nothing but add montage sequences that feel lifeless and dim. That said, from the starkly intense beginning to the usage of flashbacks (which are employed a lot throughout the film, please note), it’s hard to deny that while a stronger director might have added more to its aesthetic, the film takes its plot and runs with it. These two mates find themselves embroiled in the subject of supplying arms for US troops, slowly and dangerously working their way up to supplying government contracts worth hundreds of millions. The fact that these events, despite the fictionalised elements, actually occurred is unbelievable and only serves to add a few more guffaws to the viewing. Miles Teller absolutely shines in the film and his eyes scream realism when he’s acting, especially emotional with his wife (played by Ana de Armas) because they facilitate our pull to these characters. Jonah Hill, on the other hand, seems to be playing another caricature of his role in The Wolf of Wall Street. He’s good and he brings some laughs with him, as usual, but he also brings in the badass and the asshole with him, and often you just want to knock his block off. You can’t walk away from the film without really getting a peek into the underbelly of the beast of war. The handling and selling of arms is (to use the word again) deplorable and the fact that these young guys could get away with all of this without ever really having any training or true funding is crazy. Kevin Pollack and Bradley Cooper make extended cameos in the film, no need to divulge why here, as do a lot of oddly-placed music numbers that, again, play apart in those damn montages. This film will have you leaving the cinema more informed and, quite likely, more upset with the state of the world these days. ###-1/2