A little more than a week ago, one of my treasured beings, a man who aesthetically changed the way I view the world, passed away. Prince Rogers Nelson was a man like no other and I really can’t believe he is gone. Having taken some time off (and some time to dance), let us now raise a purple glass and salute the life of a legend…and get down to business as usual.
You can’t swing a mochila around your shoulder this year without hitting a Marvel or DC film OR some prequel, and for the umpteenth time in 2016, we have another one to talk about. Captain America: Civil War is not a stunner in any artistic sense, but it certainly is a looker. I admit that I was never one raised to read comics, so watching the movie also entailed a lot of research into remembering characters and what roles they played in the Marvel universe. Simply put, the film brings together one of the most impressive ensembles of actors and comic characters ever assembled for a film. Chris Evans leads the Avengers fray as the titular character, and Robert Downey Jr. reprises his ever-perfecting Anyman/Ironman Tony Stark. ScarJo brings back the sultry Black Widow, Anthony Mackie is Falcon, Paul Rudd is AntMan, Don Cheadle takes on War Machine, Liz Olsen, Jeremy Renner, William friggin’ Hurt and on and on. All of them have banded together in order to deal with the post-Ultron world where the UN governs using fear tactics, and where terrorism lies in many strange pockets and has lots of strange bedfellows. The film is actually quite entertaining, if a bit too much on the CGI effects. In one aspect, the forces of evil being battled are clearly representing current goings-on in the world, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that. On another level, what the Marvel studios (along with Disney…of course!) are craftily creating is a world that can evolve into more sequels, stories, spin-offs, TV series, graphic novels, cartoon series... you name it, it’s endless! So get in line—current and future generations—because Stan Lee (bless him!) and Disney own your ass! ###-1/2
Next up today is the historical/political/bio tale of Dalton Trumbo. Firstly, a look into the Hollywood Blacklisting of the Fifties has been done before, and what writer John McNamara and director Jay Roach have undertaken is a clear-cut and liberal viewpoint on the Communism craze of that time. Now, there are some discrepancies I have with the film on a historical level, because I know for a fact that Edward G. Robinson never really outed any supposed Commies, but it is interesting to see how a democratic society can quickly run into mob mentality. Bryan Cranston as Trumbo is absolutely fantastic, and he was nominated for an Oscar, but I must say he is undoubtedly being paid a gift by the gods at this stellar age for having played that long-suffering father on Malcolm in the Middle back in the day. He is so damn good in this film, but then again so is the exquisite Helen Mirren and beautiful Diane Lane…and then you have John Goodman absolutely slaying it in his role AND Elle Fanning, as well. This week is certainly one for strong ensemble casts. What the film lacks in historical accuracy it certainly makes up for in storytelling and acting. What is more, it also highlights how the reality of the fact is the following: what was happening throughout the Fifties and Sixties in regards to rule of mob and fear tactics is still happening today, but on a fully global scale. A simple story that is well worth watching. ####
There is very little that Tilda Swinton has been in since her breakout role over two decades ago in Orlando (1992) that I have not liked. She is an absolutely stunning creature to gaze at. She is the essence of milky white-skinned beauty, a thespian angel and an alien all-at-once. She is also a total star of an actress and, at age 55, it inspires me that she is on such a career roll. In her latest film A Bigger Splash, she portrays the ageing but still top-of-her-game rockstar Marianne Lane who has run away to the Italian coast with her younger boyfriend, played by Matthias Schoenaerts of The Danish Girl (2015) and Far from the Madding Crowd (2015). However, the love affair is later rocked, so to speak, by the arrival of her dear beloved friend/ex-manager/ex-lover Harry, played to absolute perfection (as always?!) by Ralph Fiennes, who has shown up with his daughter with whom he has recently been reunited, played to creepy enticement by Dakota Johnson. Director Luca Guadagnino has crafted yet another (watch 2009 drama I Am Love) tale of character breakdown using psychological vulnerability. This remake of the French thriller La Piscine (1969) shows that the youngish director may not have much in his filmography yet, but he is a skilled artisan. What is woven in the film becomes a test of patience and will, and the actors at the helm are so well-placed, you find it impossible not to want more from them, even despite some silly subplot that feels a tad forced. The real meat-and-potatoes elements more than make up for sophomore jitters and, while it might not be for everyone, this is a tale you want to tell. ####
Oh Christians…how I love thee. My parents have some MAD respect for the American bishop T.D. Jakes, and his position as a producer on this film immediately informedme what I was in for. What I did not realise was that director Patricia Riggen was a Mexican-born, now NYC resident making her first major box office hit, Miracles from Heaven, after having previously made a string of other faith-based films. I was also unaware that the film was based on apparently true events that occurred just five years ago near Dallas in Burleson, TX. At the helm of the actors’ circuit here is Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson, who play the loving parents of three daughters, one of whom falls extremely ill and, despite all manner of trials and doctor visits and curing attempts, no one seems to know how to correct the child’s motility disorder. One day, this young girl Anna falls three storeys into the hollowed-out shell of an old tree, surviving with only minor scrapes. When she is rushed and examined at the hospital, no more traces of the chronic illness can be found. This mysterious occurrance sets the rest of the movie in action. Now then, about the performances, it is very hard to have my background and not feel the fullness of these parents’ struggle. Garner’s voice may be grating at times, but she sure knows how to play the mum role to perfection, and it is hard not to love her in this film. She had to play this role…full stop! Queen Latifah also stars in the film, playing a token role as a kind waitress who befriends mum and daughter while in Boston. Here’s the issue, though…this film might have some draw outside the US, but not much. Faith-based films are very much designed with a built-in audience, and a huge, Puritan-based country like the USA is ripe for the picking. The film cost a paltry $13 million to make and has already grossed nearly $70 million…i.e. a hit movie! Still, you get what you expect with this one, so expect some cheese, some suspension of disbelief and a whole lot of tissues. ###
When a movie is released in Europe a year after its English-speaking counterparts, I sometimes take issue. When that film is an Aussie ghost-thriller starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody, I pay attention. In Backtrack, Brody employs a very effective Australian accent and plays a psychologist named Peter Bowers, who can apparently see dead people. Many of his patients are clearly from another time, and a hooded young girl turns up claiming that her name is Elizabeth Valentine. However, when he notices that her initials eerily correspond to Evie, Bowers' late daughter who was run over by a car, he really takes note. But when his fellow shrink and mentor Duncan (Sam Neill) suggests that Elizabeth is merely a figment of his tormented imagination, Bowers seeks to get to the roots of his unnerving experiences by returning to his hometown, where he's reunited with his father, an alcoholic ex-cop from whom he's clearly estranged. We eventually learn that, as a teenager, Bowers and a friend accidentally caused the derailment of a train that resulted in 47 deaths, Elizabeth Valentine having been among them. And then flashbacks and realisations cause the breakthrough moment. Brody plays his character like most of his dramatic ones, overacted yet appealing, but when one looks at the incredible mystery/thrillers and horror movies that come out of Australia, no manner of Oscar-winning panache can make a mediocre film a stellar one. ##-1/2
It’s May and that means Hollywood is about to unleash a fury of pre-summer fun over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, enjoy this spring weather and take yourself out for a nice saunter before catching a flick. Talk soon!