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Get on Up

In the 1930’s in America’s deep south, James Joseph Brown (played by Chadwick Boseman) is born in Georgia. He’s raised in the forest by his battling parents, Susie (by Viola Davis) and Joe (by Lennie James) then when his abusive father joins the Army, James moves in with his brothel-keeper Aunt Honey (by Octavia Spencer). He starts to go to church and enjoys the gospel choir – his love of music is born. At 17 he steals a suit and ends up in prison where he makes friends with Bobby Byrd (by Nelsan Ellis). The Byrd family supports James after his release and he joins Bobby’s vocal group “The Avons” who become the “Famous Flames” with James as their lead singer.  His manager, Ben Bart (by Dan Aykroyd) persuades the band to take a gig in place of The Rolling Stones and his career starts to take off. He and his band perform in Vietnam to support the troops and their show is hugely popular. He marries Velma and has a son, Teddy, then he marries Dee Dee (by Jill Scott), but like most other things he attempts, due to his fiery temperament his relationships fail. He tries to manage the band, but this doesn’t work either. His life lurches from one self-destructive drama to another, often involving violence and usually ending in disaster. Somehow through it all though, he becomes an advocate for the African-American community and his music prevails. He becomes known as the “Godfather of Soul”.

I found this movie really hard going. I guess the story itself is interesting but I found it really hard to get my head around it because the production is so hap-hazard. The scenes jump from history to current and back again and this gets hard to watch. At over two and a half hours it’s a bit indulgent of the director too. Having said all that, though, there’s no doubt that the performances are good – Chadwick Boseman does a great job at his depiction of James Brown – the music and dancing are well done. Some of the re-telling of rock’n’roll history is good to see and overall it’s informative about James Brown’s life. However, it’s nowhere near in the same league as Tate Taylor’s previous movie “The Help”. Obviously, there are a lot of other people who don’t agree with me about this as the movie won the 2014 African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) award for Best Ensemble and Chadwick Boseman has been nominated in the 2015 Black Reel Awards for his performance as Outstanding Actor with Nelsan Ellis nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Also, in the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards the stunt team has been nominated for Outstanding Action Performance. Oh well .. I guess that’s part of the rich tapestry of life – we all have different views.

Made in 2014. Directed by Tate Taylor

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in Movies

 

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Prisoners

Detective Loki (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is really good at his job. He’s a homicide detective and he’s solved every case that’s come his way. He’s focussed and methodical, leaving no stone unturned. One Thanksgiving, two families in town – the Birches and the Dovers – are enjoying their holiday weekend together when their two young girls, Anna Dover (by Erin Gerasimovich) and her best friend Joy Birch (by Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing. Their parents are distraught. Anna’s father, Keller (by Hugh Jackman) tries hard to keep her mother Grace (by Maria Bello) calm, at the same time his utter despair at the disappearance of his daughter eats away at him. Joy’s parents, Franklin (by Terrence Howard) and Nancy (by Viola Davis), pray for the safe return of their child. The police seem to be taking a long time to solve the case and as time ticks by the likelihood that the girls will be found alive gets slimmer. When Anna’s brother, Ralph (by Dylan Minnette) tells the Police about an RV he saw nearby, their investigation leads them to Alex Jones (by Paul Dano) – an intellectually underdeveloped guy who drives the van, which becomes central to the case. In custody, Alex doesn’t give much information, so he’s released and Keller gets more desperate. At home, Alex’s aunt and carer, Holly (by Melissa Leo) tries to keep Alex calm and the police at bay.  To try to speed things along, Keller takes matters into his own hands and Loki struggles to fit the pieces together. Will this be the case that finally eludes him? How does he keep Keller and the families satisfied that everything’s being done, when they are desperate to have their girls home? … and where are those little girls? …

This movie is long, but very good. The mood is captured well with a darkness throughout the production, which creates a grainy sense for this middle America place that could be anywhere. That’s part of its appeal – it could just as easily be happening in my town. The tension is built very well indeed. Loki’s investigation is detailed and his intuition takes him down a meandering path. But the drama itself doesn’t wander – it’s very good indeed. The performances of both Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman are excellent. They are measured and very compelling – even though Loki’s manner is understated, he’s got a keen eye and a fast intellect, so you wouldn’t underestimate his smart work. Hugh Jackman’s performance is multi-faceted. He has a tenderness, but a very fiery edge which means he can be violent when he’s desperate. He does this very well indeed – it’s frightening. The support roles by Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are excellent also. I’m surprised and disappointed that the movie doesn’t feature in the 2014 Academy Award (Oscar) nominations.  It’s very very good.

Made in 2013. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Movies

 

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Oskar Schell (played by Thomas Horn) has a very happy life in New York City. His best friend is his dad Thomas (by Tom Hanks) and they spend lots of time together on adventures and unravelling intriguing “play” mysteries, which Oskar loves to do. Thomas gives boundless time and attention to his special son, to build his confidence so he develops into smart and well-rounded person. Oskar’s mum, Linda (by Sandra Bullock) watches on with pride and adoration as her two favourite men share strong and deep love – her family is happy and complete. One day, Oskar’s class ends very early after a huge catastrophe in New York City. It is September 11th 2001, a terrorist attack stops the city and Oskar’s dad never comes home … Oskar’s world disintegrates. He and Linda face life without Thomas and do their best to keep going without him. By chance, Oskar finds a key amongst his father’s things and he is convinced it holds the one thing he needs most – a link to his father. He starts a quest to unravel this most important mystery of all ….

This is a good movie. Thomas Horn is marvellous as the traumatised Oskar and Tom Hanks is lovely in his portrayal of Thomas, the loving husband and father. I feel so deeply for Oskar – the scenes in the movie bring home the utter devastation and trauma suffered by people on that day and since. Max von Sydow’s character is great, as most of the supporting roles are. I liked Viola Davis’ character as Abby Black and John Goodman as Stan, the doorman, who is lovely. Some of the content is confronting and very difficult, but the story’s actually worthwhile. Oskar is an irritating and selfish child, but you do forgive him for this, given his personality traits and his circumstances. An adaptation from a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, in 2012 the movie was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Max von Sydow’s work was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. It’s a good movie with a nice positive ending

Made in 2011. Directed by Stephen Daldry

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Movies

 

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Eat Pray Love

Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) is a writer with a successful career. She is married to Stephen (by Billy Crudup) and she has a seemingly idyllic life – but she realises she’s not happy, she feels lost and confused and is searching for “something”. On a visit to Bali she meets a wise old man, Ketut Liyer (by Hadi Subiyanto) who starts her thinking about what’s real about her life – and what she really wants. So she takes it on – she leaves everything she knows and her best friend Delia (by Viola Davis) behind and starts her own journey. Along the way, she finds a short passionate romance with David (by James Franco), some wonderful locations, marvellous people including Richard from Texas (by Richard Jenkins) and much fruitful contemplation about her life, until she finally arrives at her point of calm awareness and her positive future opens up ahead of her. 

I am ambivalent about this movie. At first my expectations weren’t high – it had never really been a movie that interested me hugely, but I wanted to see it – so I did. As the story developed I wondered whether I had been wrong in my original presumption about it – perhaps there was more to this story that simply a heart-broken woman searching for “herself” through her next big love. I was pleased that Elizabeth Gilbert had shown strength and independence in her adventures in Italy, India and Indonesia and I have no wish to cast doubt on the self-discovery and enlightenment that the real Liz Gilbert did actually experience in her real life journey (upon which the memoir and this movie are based). But I had hoped that the key lessons and the life principles she was starting to develop would be more about inner strength, independence, self-belief, spirituality and the realisation that a relationship isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. I hoped that she discovered she could find peace, solace and happiness in things other than romance. However, this was not the case – in the end the story is just another banal tale about losing yourself, finding yourself and then finding love – ho hum … I think a much better title for this movie is “It’s all about me really” …..

Note – the supporting roles are all good – Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem are great and best is Viola Davis who, in 2011,  was actually nominated for a Black Reel Award as Best Supporting Actress for this work. Shame their great talents are wasted in this – it’s no more than a chick flick, not a great piece for women as Oprah or Ellen may have mislead you to believe.

 Made in 2010. Directed by Ryan Murphy

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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Solaris

Far into the future, Earth is the home base of a corporate enterprise that stretches far beyond the stratosphere. A branch of this organisation is being established to determine its feasibility on a space station that orbits Earth, the enterprise is called Solaris. On Earth, Chris Kelvin (played by George Clooney) is a psychologist with a busy and successful practice. His client list spans both Earth-bound and space-resident people in need of counselling and guidance. One day, Chris gets a strange and worrying video message from his friend Gibarian (by Ulrich Tukur) who is working on Solaris. Gibarian is clearly traumatised and terrified, but doesn’t explain why. He begs Chris to come to Solaris and help.  Chris travels to Solaris to find out what’s happening there and to make sure his friend is safe.  What he finds when he gets there changes his life forever ……  

Although science fiction is not my genre of choice, in fact I usually purposely shy away from it, this movie is excellent.  It teeters on the boundary between plausibility and fantasy so that someone like me can get enjoyment out of it.  As Chris Kelvin, George Clooney exhibits his marvellous acting ability once again.  He is intense, every emotion is clearly shown and he is very good in this wide ranging role.  Steven Soderberg has made a unique movie with a moody, dark setting to match the suspense.  His scene construction develops very well and the scarcity of music and often vast silences are enough to set each scene very well indeed. The cinematography is exquisite, the blur between real-life and hallucination is very well done and the audience is in this every step of the way.  Clooney is very well supported by a small but very strong cast of Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies – these performances are all unique and totally marvellous.  It’s a great movie.

This is a remake of the 1972 movie of the same name by Andrey Tarkovskiy that won the FIPRESCI Prize and Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

Made in 2002.  Directed by Steven Soderberg

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Movies

 

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Doubt

In 1964 at St. Nicholas in the Bronx, Father Brendan Flynn (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the parish priest who sees the need to change the strict practices of his school. These have been the realm of the School Principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (by Meryl Streep) who runs her school with an iron fist. Sister Aloysius believes that fear and discipline are the two key ingredients to successfully educating children. However, her fellow teacher, Sister James (by Amy Adams), is far more kind hearted and she exudes love for teaching and for the students in her charge. 

These are changing political times and the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller (by Joseph Foster). One day, Donald is called to see Father Flynn and when he returns to his class Sister James feels there is something unusual about his behaviour – and perhaps Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald. As a result, Sister Aloysius decides that Father Flynn has behaved inappropriately towards the boy – particularly as his explanation is unsatisfactory. Although there is no evidence of impropriety, Sister Aloysius mounts a crusade against him, which involves Donald’s mother and the broader community. Sister Aloysius is determined to pursue Father Flynn and ensure that justice is done. 

This movie is brave – it explores the difficult and controversial issues of religion, racial equality, child abuse, community culture, suspicion and presumption of innocence. I am not familiar with the detail of the political isses relating to the Catholic Church at this time, but the movie evidences a lot of change and upheaval between “old school” and “new wave” practicing Catholics. The performances of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are all very good indeed. Viola Davis is marvellous and very realistic as the anguished Mrs Miller.

This is a good movie – but it doesn’t go where I expected it to.  Well done.

Made: 2008. Directed by John Patrick Shanley

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Movies

 

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The Help

“The Help” deals with some very important issues. It explores the lives of African American maids in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960’s – an important time during the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) is a fledgling writer/reporter who, although raised with the standard “white” culture and ideologies of the time, does not align herself with these ideas and she is an isolate in her peer group. Her fellow young women are all married, aspiring well-to-do women about town who hire maids, “do lunch”, produce children and attend charity functions, whereas Skeeter has a job and chats with the “coloured people”. Skeeter wants to fix the wrongs of her society, so she decides to tell the individual stories of the maids’ treatment by their white employers. But this means she will need to persuade the maids to talk openly with her. Aibileen (by Viola Davis) is the first one she approaches, but at first she declines as she doesn’t want to make trouble but then she decides that she does want to talk so she secretly starts to tell Skeeter her stories. Soon her friend and fellow domestic, Minny (by Octavia Spencer) also decides to talk, so together they tell Skeeter of their experiences. The women gradually produce a book which is successfully published using pseudonyms to save identification and the risk of trouble.

The drama of the time, the fear the maids held for their lives, livelihoods and wellbeing with regard to the reactions of their employers, the bigotry and the violence of the changing times are all dramatised well. However, the characters in the peer group of the developing “southern belle” women are not explored well.

Unfortunately, the movie plays more like a soap opera television mini-series, than a dramatic movie and this dilutes its impact to the point of trivializing the experiences of the maids and creating a farce. The characters are really caricatures and this turns the personal experiences into almost comedy. Also, the movie is very long – over 2.5 hours – I recommend you get the DVD and watch it over a couple of sessions. The life experiences are worth seeing (I am not sure whether this is based on a true story) and the story of peer group ostracision tugs your emotions, but the way the movie is made does not serve the important key issues in the best way it could have.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Movies

 

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