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Eagerly anticipating this week ... (45-17)

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (45-17)
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)

11/24/2017

Boardwalk Empire - season 2 (2011) - Winter's gritty show reaches towering heights



Several of the major characters are lumped together, all eying each other with caution on the Atlantic City boardwalk on this poster for the second season of TerenceWinter's Boardwalk Empire

The following episode summary will contain SPOILERS:

1. February 1921: Atlantic County's corrupt treasurer Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson's young protege Jimmy Darmody finds himself at a crossroad, as his father, the Commodore, the gambling and resort town's former leader, and Nucky's brother, the town's sheriff Eli Thompson are scheming to remove Nucky from power, which Jimmy could gain tremendously from. Prohibition agent Van Alden, who is targeting Nucky, enjoys a visit from his wife through 13 years, whom he impresses with a liquor raid on a restaurant. Nucky's stepson with his mistress Margaret Schroeder plays with matches at his school and is bribed to behave, before Nucky is arrested for election fraud. Nucky's liquor-making partner in the city, African-American Chalky White, has his headquarter violently attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.
2. White is for a short while imprisoned with Enoch before he is put in with fellow Negroes: One among them, who doesn't know White, makes the mistake of insulting him in a cool scene. Nucky is bailed out and learns of his brother's betrayal, as his wise, beautiful wife saves evidence and money from their suite, which is being ransacked. He donates some to the Irish nationalist cause. Jimmy is visiting New York, which goes awry: The metropolis' mob boss Philip Rothman doesn't believe his stories from Atlantic City, and he is assaulted by goons, whom he dexterously offs.
3. Margaret learns of her estranged relatives and diverts with her servants. Meanwhile problems go on for Nucky. New York wiseguys Lucky Luciano and his partner are forced by Rothstein to pay for a killing by Jimmy, when he was in the city. Back in Atlantic City, Jimmy is visited by his old pal Al Capone and is once again torn between his loyalties to Nucky and his ailing father. Nucky's former mistress Lucy is pregnant and miserable, and following an affair with Van Alden, she is locked inside by him.
4. The Commodore is indirectly disabled by Jimmy's mother Gillian, who later beats him up for his having raped her in the past. Jimmy's artist wife portrays Richard, the sad, one-eyed WWI veteran, Richard, who is their tormented friend. Jimmy strikes an important deal with Jewish butcher Manny, while Nucky makes a liquor distribution deal with Arnold Rothstein of New York. Margaret and Van Alden struggle with their respective marriages, and Chalky White is released back into the black community, who look up to him. But he is unable to give them the revenge that they seek and instead causes a scandal in his own home.
5. Jimmy gives an address to Memorial Day, introduced by Nucky, as knowledge of the Commodore's fatal disability spreads. Eli attempts to win back his brother's favor - but too late: They end up in a serious fight, which Margaret ends with a riffle. Eli goes on to murder a curious financier with a wrench in this bloody episode. Richard goes to the woods to commit suicide but meets people their, instead returns to help Jimmy get rid of a proud, old war profiteer in brutal, Indian style.
6. Margaret's son goes to his first confession, and Margaret herself confesses that she is attracted to Nucky's IRA-volunteer muscle Owen Sleater. Jimmy and Manny's criminal ties strengthen, and Lucy gives birth in pain and alone. Van Alden is upset after having seen his badly burned colleague, who seems to have understood Van Alden's own corruption, and in a lapse of character calls his wife, who arrives to find Lucy and her baby in her husband's apartment.
7. Margaret visits her brother, his daughters, and her little sister in New York, but it is a sad reunion. Sleater kills an old enemy and makes love to the returning lady of the house, Margaret. Van Alden cannot live up to his monetary promise to Lucy and receives an offer from Nucky, his sworn enemy, but instead sees the newly appointed federal investigator with his proofs. Meanwhile the atmosphere in Darmody's camp is boiling, as Luciano screws his mother, and he authorizes an attempt at Nucky's life but then regrets. It results only in a shot through Nucky's hand.
8. Pressed from all sides following the attempt on his life, Nucky has a new idea, which involves Ireland. He and Eli's father dies, and they quarrel bitterly at his deathbed. Nuck resigns as treasurer to keep his life, and Jimmy celebrates his seeming success - but with more than a drop of vinegar to it. His wife indulges in an affair with a female writer after having heard some truths about Darmody's work. Van Alden hires a Norwegian woman to care for Lucy's baby.
9. Margaret's daughter with her deceased husband takes ill with polio, as Nucky has left for Ireland in a bold move, smuggling Tommy guns in his "father's" coffin to the IRA. He meets resistance from Father MacGarrigle, who wants to "give peace a chance", - but his own kill him and make the deal: guns for whiskey. Jimmy wants to cover up his failed assassination and decides to off Manny, but it is easier said than done. Legendary boxing match 'Battle of the Century' (Jack Dempsey v. Georges Carpentier) takes place.
10. Margaret is in a turmoil due to her daughter's illness; filled with guilt due to her own infidelity, she donates a fortune to the Catholic church. Darmody's charge of Atlantic City comes to look toothless, as the town's blacks - on Nucky's request - start a riot that has violence breaking out in public. Sheriff Eli is jailed, and Manny returns to AC and takes revenge for Darmody's failed attempt on his life by shooting both his wife and her mistress.
11. Following the tragic double murder, Darmody's past at Princeton University is revealed, where his intense mother disrupted his studies and - horrifically - screwed him, - which made him enlist for the military. Margaret is beside herself, sees sin everywhere and refuses to face the possible outcome of Nucky's legal case, which sees him frying in the electric chair. Instead she threatens him with turning witness herself, - keeping her own untruthfulness a secret, - and is set straight. The case takes a new turn as Van Alden, after having signed his divorce, is accused of the murder of his colleague, which took place in season 1, shoots a new colleague and escapes! Darmody returns with a vengeance, throwing himself furiously at his mother but ending up instead killing his father. Gasp.
12. Darmody gives up running the perilous city on his own and comes back to Nucky, - against everyone's advice. He is put to work just before Nucky's case may end him for good, spoiling a key testimony with a 'suicide' in a phenomenal montage, as Margaret helps Nucky by marrying him, which means she cannot be forced to testify against him. Nucky even arranges a 1½ year sentence for his brother, who is drinking himself to an early grave, and the Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph, who is assigned to the electoral fraud and murder case is left with nothing. Nucky finds Manny and promises Jimmy revenge on a rainy, thunderous night, - but it turns out to be a trap, and Nucky shoots him as an unforgiving, Old-Testament God. Wrapping up the season, Nucky celebrates newly allocated funds for a new road to the city, as Margaret, unbeknownst to him, donates all the land away to her church.

Creator Terence Winter's (Vinyl (2016), TV-series) Boardwalk Empire, based on Nelson Johnson's book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, goes on black as tar in its second season, which is even better and grander storytelling than the first one.
The series gains from several great characters and formidable performances: Steve Buscemi (The Chosen One (2010)) is still terrific in the role of a lifetime as Nucky Thompson, a character whose political turncoat ways are showcased in all their splendor in the very first episode, as he gives radically different speeches to his city's blacks and clansmen.
Kelly Macdonald (Anna Karenina (2012)) portrayal of her character's ups and downs, and especially the frightening predicament of her daughter, is outstanding. Michael Pitt's (The Dreamers (2003)) Jimmy Darmody is an anchor for the season, and his dramatic development, torn between different flawed role-models, has many highlights, and Pitt's performance is incredibly well-played.
But the most fascinating and complex character in the second season is prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden, whom Michael Shannon (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)) with intense sparkle. The series also has a long row of compelling smaller characters, and among those who deserve singling out are Michael Kenneth Williams (When We Rise (2017), TV-series) who is moving as Chalky White, Charlie Cox (Hello Carter (2013)) as Owen Sleater, Jack Huston (Hail, Caesar! (2016)) as disfigured war veteran Richard, Gretchen Mol (The Deli (1997)) as Jimmy's mother Gillian, Julianne Nicholson (Masters of Sex (2013-14)) as the Assistant DA and William Forsythe (Infected (2013)) as the statuesque butcher Manny.
Season two has several outstanding episodes and only one that feels a little stalling and lesser (episode 10: Georgia Peaches). It is brilliant craftsmanship and storytelling of the finest grain and rounds off with an ingenious cliffhanger.

Best episodes:

3: A Dangerous Maid: written by Winter and Itamar Moses (Men of a Certain Age (2010-11)) with staff writer Bathsheba Doran (Bruiser (2000), TV-series), directed by Susanna White (Masters of Sex (2015), TV-series)
Nucky's Irish muscle Owen steps to the plate. Van Alden is hiding his pregnant mistress. Jimmy's loyalties are torn. With a magnificent dinner scene.

9. Battle of the Century: written by Winter and Steve Kornacki (Bates Motel (2015-17)) with Moses and Doran contributing, directed by Brad Anderson (Stonehearst Asylum (2014))
Margaret's daughter takes seriously ill with polio, as Nucky has left for a daring mission to Ireland. Legendary boxing match Battle of the Century takes place.

Related posts:

Terence Winter: Boardwalk Empire - season 1 (2010) - Luxurious 1920's ensemble gangster treats







Watch a preview for the Battle of the Century episode of Boardwalk Empire's season 2 here

Cost: Reportedly 5 mil. $ per episode, which comes to 60 mil. $
Box office: None - TV-series
= Unknown - but probably a solid hit
[Boardwalk Empire - season 2 was first broadcast 25 September - 11 December 2011 on HBO. It runs 12 episodes of approximately 55 minutes each, totaling around 660 minutes. The season takes place between February and August 1921. Shooting took place in New York. The ratings were generally a bit under the first season's, with the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot ranking high above every following episode with nearly 5 mil. viewers. Season 2 averaged between 2.5-3 mil. viewers on its first showing. It was nominated for 12 Emmys and won 4. IMDb's users have made Boardwalk Empire the #145 best TV-series ever on their Top 250 list, sitting between The Newsroom (2012-14) and the reiteration of Twin Peaks (2017). Together with its season 3, season 2 is the series' lowest-rated in its 5-season history on Rotten Tomatoes: It is still certified fresh at 88 % with an 8.26/10 critical average there.]

What do you think of Boardwalk Empire - season 2?

11/21/2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) - Waititi injects franchise with a colorful, 1980s-infatuated, fun-filled blast



One of the colorful and quite simply amazing-looking posters for Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok

The god of thunder learns that he has a sister, that she is the goddess of death, - and that she is on her way to Asgard to wreak the mythic havoc called Ragnarok, before beginning her conquest of more planets.

Thor returns in his third movie, which is written by Eric Pearson (Agent Carter (2015-16)), Craig Kyle (Planet Hulk (2010, video)) and Christopher Yost (Thor: The Dark World (2013)), based on Marvel comics by Stan Lee (Silver Surfer (1982)), Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby (Super Powers (1984)) and directed by Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)). It marks a radical shift for the Marvel character, as the media giant has gone with a new director, unproven in the mega-movie business; Waititi is a Maori New-Zealander known for some fairly low-budgeted comedies, especially his break-through vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (2014).
The wedding is blessed in this instance, as Thor: Ragnarok leaves the murky nonsense of the terrible Thor: The Dark World (2013) behind and gushes forth with a new-found purpose. The Ragnarok title could have indicated another dark, probing chapter, - but the film (thankfully) is anything but. The franchise seems to have taken obvious note of the popular and critical enthusiasm for James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and its colorful, fun-filled space escapism and takes Thor in a similar direction that's almost entirely set in space, full of adventure, a buddy-comedy element and a nostalgic throwback style that is light-years away from the gloomy, mostly Earth-set previous Thor movies. The uninteresting Natalie Portman romance is also thrown out the window without an explanation.
The style is one that embraces the campier, brightly colored looks of Flash Gordon (1980), which Waititi made his department heads watch for the development of Thor: Ragnarok. It is fun to look at, and the film's first class effects are often also somehow enlivened with a quality that makes the well-versed movie buff think of lively 1980s genre fare. The film is definitely worth watching in 3D, if you can.
The story is set up solidly: Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters (2016)) is again impressively buff (there's a bare chest scene to prove it) and much more engaging and likable here than in the previous films in my opinion. Cate Blanchett (Little Fish (2005)) gives an electric, forceful performance as Hela, the film's villain. The film's fun factor really thrives as Thor arrives at the planet Sakaar, where Jeff Goldblum (The Switch (2010)) is the Grand Master, an eccentric, capricious, sexually ambiguous ruler in hilarious garbs and hair and makeup. Goldblum, who himself was something of an 1980s icon, especially due to his incredible starring turn in David Cronenberg's great The Fly (1986), seems just perfect in the film's arguably funniest part. Thor here also reunites with his Avengers colleague, the Hulk/Bruce Banner, and more fun ensues. Tessa Thompson (Selma (2014)) is good as another new character, the capable Valkyrie.
My only real qualm with Thor: Ragnarok is that it unfortunately gets a bit overlong. There's many characters, and the Sakaar section, though fun, maybe is just a bit too long. Karl Urban's (Star Trek Beyond (2016)) part as Blanchett's uneasy henchman isn't that important yet fills quite a bit. Just before the final battle, the film had already filled me up, and that isn't supposed to happen. Idris Elba's (The Take (2016)) Heimdall character pops up a few times but doesn't really have much to do here. On the other hand Tom Hiddleston's (Exhibition (2013)) Loki gets plenty of screen time, - and perhaps his and Thor's dynamic has about run its course now, I'm thinking.
A few more great things about Thor: Ragnarok needs highlighting yet:
Mark Mothersbaugh's (The Lego Movie (2014)) score is infused with the same 1980s vigor that the visual side reflects, and it's a joy to listen to. The film (wisely) doesn't copy the Guardians of the Galaxy recipe of a huge, hit-filled soundtrack, which makes Mothersbaugh's job so much more vital. - One song does play a few times in the film, though, - as well as in its trailer, - and it's the one Waititi infused his original video pitch with, to strike the film's tone; it is Led Zeppelin's great 1970 Immigrant Song.
The film also has a really funny cameo scene with Matt Damon (The Martian (2015)), Sam Neill (In Her Skin (2009)) and Luke Hemsworth (Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms (2012), TV-series), - Chris Hemsworth's lesser known brother. An finally you can look forward to director Waititi's motion-capture and voice performance as Korg, - a huge stone creature that the playful filmmaker gives lends a very funny voice performance.

Related post:

Taika WaititiEagle vs Shark (2007) - Waititi's witty if flawed debut 
Mentioned franchise: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) - Gunn returns Marvel's top franchise in fine shape
 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - Get giddy with this pretty awesome, the silliest summer blockbuster of the 2014 





Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 180 mil. $
Box office: 739.2 mil. $ and counting
= Still uncertain - but already a big hit
[Thor: Ragnarok premiered 10 October (Los Angeles) and runs 130 minutes. Alan Taylor, the director of the previous Thor movie, slammed the door to Marvel in his exit, stating that his film was turned into a different film in post production by the company. Star Hemsworth requested Marvel that shooting for Ragnarok take place in his native Australia, and with the choice of Waititi, the shot was planned there: Shooting took place in Australia and Atlanta, Georgia from July - October 2016 with additional scenes shot in July 2017. The film opened #1 to a huge 122.7 mil. $ first weekend in North America, where it has so far grossed a hefty 247.2 mil. $. The film's 2nd and 3rd biggest markets are China with 107.9 mil. $ so far and the UK with 34 mil. $ so far. The film's gross already far exceeds the Thor (2011, 449.3 mil. $) and Thor: The Dark World (2013, 644.6 mil. $) grosses. Audiences love the film; it has already entered IMDb's Top 250 at #189, between The Wages of Fear (1953) and Hotel Rwanda (2004). Waititi is not yet engaged for another Thor movie. Thor: Ragnarok is certified fresh at 92 % with a 7.5/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Thor: Ragnarok?

11/20/2017

Blue Ruin (2013) - Gun madness and circular violence fuels Saulnier's dark indie thriller



A strikingly designed, chilling poster for Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin

When a convicted double murderer is released from jail, our protagonist decides to leave his life as a drifter with a steely determination: To kill the man he is convinced killed his own parents.

From this basic premise, Blue Ruin weaves a messy situation, and the title seems to point to the collective hole of hatred, thirst for vengeance and bitterness that draws many of the characters here into its abyss, - while also being a reference to the Pontiac that serves as the home for the protagonist.
The film is written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room (2015)). It is fascinatingly simple and well shot (also by Saulnier), so that landscapes at first seem to have been pressed flat just to later attain a certain depth.
SPOILER The story seems like it may have been inspired by a real story of a family massacre. Just as in Saulnier's following film Green Room, guns and talk of them takes up significant space, while character information and sympathetic insights into the egotistical, bloodthirsty protagonist remain scarce. This inhibits Blue Ruin from becoming truly suspenseful, and despite its admirable qualities, it ultimately becomes forgettable to me because I feel like an intruder in its universe.

Related post:

Jeremy SaulnierGreen Room (2015) or, I Was a Punk Band Nazi Killer!




Saulnier and Blair give an interview about the film at the Locarno Film Festival in 2013 here

Cost: 420k $ - 1 mil. $ (different reports)
Box office: 0.9 mil. $
= Somwhere between minor flop and huge flop
[Blue Ruin premiered 17 May (Cannes) and runs 90 minutes. Saulnier and producer-star-composer Macon Blair (The Florida Projects (2017)) were getting disillusioned with their possible futures as filmmakers and wanted to make Blue Ruin as a last film together. Funding came together partly through a crowdfunding campaign asking for 35k $ and Saulnier's savings. The film was inspired by revenge movies and current, upsetting violent crimes that Saulnier has stated "made me miserable." Shooting took place in Virginia and Delaware. The film opened #52 in 7 cinemas in North America, where it peaked at #37 and in 61 cinemas different weeks) and grossed 258k $ (26 % of the total gross). The biggest market was the UK with 527k $ (53.1 %). North America was the 2nd biggest market, and France was the 3rd biggest with 169k $ (17 %). The different budget accounts leave the film's theatrical performance difficult to ascertain: At best a minor flop, - at worst a huge flop. Roger Ebert gave the filma 3.5/4 star review, translating to two notches higher than this one. The film won a prize in Cannes, was nominated for an award at the AFI Fest, a British Independent Film Award and an Independent Spirit Award; it also won a National Board of Review award and was on many critics' top 10 lists of the year. Saulnier returned with Green Ruin (2015). Blue Ruin is certified fresh at 96 % with a 8/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Blue Ruin?

11/19/2017

Bullhead/Rundskop (2011) - Roskam's tragic macho crime drama debut



Matthias Schoenaerts resembles a bull himself, bared on the poster for Michaël R. Roskam's Bullhead

When a policeman is killed, who was investigating the hormone mafia of Belgium, it has a snowballing effect for an unhealthy muscle-beast of a man, who was disabled since childhood.

Bullhead is written and directed by feature-debuting Michaël R. Roskam (The Drop (2014)) based on the actual 1995 murder of livestock inspector Karel Van Noppen. The film thematically wrestles with the essence of masculinity in a macho world and does so with technically impressive consistence.
Matthias Schoenaerts (Girl/Meisje (2002)) creeps completely into his self-destructive, traumatized character here. Luckily the film has humor and a lively pace, because the story is very dark and oppressive.
I think Bullhead may be a bit overrated, or perhaps it is just that I can't identify with its blunted protagonist and the film therefore seems somewhat distant for me. Still this is a strong and different kind of film that's recommendable for anyone up for such a treat.



Matthias Schoenaerts talks about the film here

Cost: Estimated 2 mil. €, or approximately 2.36 mil. $
Box office: Reportedly approximately 5.4 mil. $
= Some uncertainty, but likely a minor flop
[Bullhead premiered 2 February (Berlin International Film Festival) and runs 128 minutes. Shooting took place in Belgium. The film opened #60 to a 32k $ in 7 theaters in North America, where it peaked in 34 theaters and grossed 151k $ (2.8 % of the total gross). The film made almost all of its money in its native Belgium, reportedly 4.3 mil. € or approximately 5.07 mil. $ (93.9 %) in rentals. Roger Ebert gave the film a 3/4 star review, translating to the same level as this review. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, which it lost to Asghar Farhadi's great A Separation. It won 2 AFI Fest Awards, was nominated for a César Award (France's Oscar), won 4 out of 9 Magritte Awards (Belgium's Oscar) and several other awards and honors. Roskam returned with American crime drama The Drop (2014). Bullhead is certified fresh at 86 % with a 7/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Bullhead?

11/18/2017

The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear/Den Utrolige Historie om den Kæmpestore Pære (2017) - A high-spirited, charming, family-friendly animation adaptation



A light-hearted, wild adventure is promised by this colorful poster for Amalie Næsby Fick, Jørgen Lerdam and Philip Einstein Lipski's The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear

In Sun Town, popular mayor J.B. disappears inexplicably one evening. When friends Mitcho and Sebastian receive a message in a bottle from him containing a seed, an adventure to a mysterious island for his rescue soon begins!

The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear is a family-friendly adventure comedy animation written by Bo Hr. Hansen (Speed Walking/Kapgang (2014)), based on the same-titled 2012 children's book by Jakob Martin Strid (Vi Hader Alting!! (1997)), and directed by Amalie Næsby Fick, Jørgen Lerdam (Hugo the Movie Star/Jungledyret 2 - Den Store Filmhelt (1996)) and Philip Einstein Lipski (Ronal the Barbarian/Ronal Barbaren (2011)).
The adventure is a classic Strid creation of untamed imagination and a healthy dose of humor, featuring pathetic pirates, a bureaucratic, power-hungry vice-mayor villain, a strange, lonely dragon-ship captain, ghosts and giant pears. It is never too dramatic for little children and still has the ability to entertain and make bigger children and adults laugh as well.
The original Danish voice cast do very well, and Peter Frödin (Motello (1998)) as the absentminded professor is especially funny. The animation of Sun Town is cute and fun, and the storm portion, ghost section and mysterious island also have well-made looks. The characters, including leads Mitcho and Sebastian, who are a kiddie cat and an elephant without it ever raising eyebrows, are sweet and well-defined, and the film's showing the insides of vessels as cut open in the middle may be inspired from Wes Anderson films like The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and probably especially his oceanic adventure The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).
The 'camera' is mostly fixed low near the leads' perspective and don't move around much, even when it would have been exciting. Budget and custom may have had a say in this. There's just one small song in the movie, (by the pirates), and it could have been a real kicker, but isn't really, unfortunately.
SPOILER In the film's most dramatic moment, of course towards the very end, Mitcho and Sebastian are caught far underwater, and Mitcho helps swim her friend to the surface. They are clearly really in danger, but the scene as the surface strangely doesn't reflect this, perhaps with the youngest audiences in mind, - but it is a bit of a strange conclusion.
These minor drawbacks don't change that The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear is a delight and enormously recommendable cinema fare for the whole family.







Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: Unknown
Box office: Unknown
= Unknown
[The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear premiered 12 October (Denmark) and runs minutes. The film has received support from the Danish Film Institute. It opened #1 in Denmark, its only market to date, where it sold 138k tickets in the 12-22 October Autumn break period, more than 60k more tickets than the #2 film, The Snowman. The film only has one foreign release scheduled yet, in Hungary in on 8 February 2018. The film's budget has not been made public. 61 IMDb users have given the film a 7.3/10 average rating.]

What do you think of The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear?

11/14/2017

The Butler/Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) - Whitaker and Winfrey shine in Dainels' cathartic, insightful historic drama



A refined butler shows a protesting world a brave face from a window in the White House on this powerful poster for Lee Daniels' The Butler

A black boy, whose father is murdered on the cotton farm in the South where he grows up, is later in life accepted as a butler in the White House under president Eisenhower, continuing to serve under the leadership of the seven subsequent presidents, as the country goes through great changes.

The Butler is a distinguished film written by Danny Strong (Game Change (2012, TV movie), based on the Washington Post article A Butler Well Served by This Election by Wil Haygood (Two on the River (1986)), which concerned White House butler Eugene Allen, and directed as the 4th feature by great Pennsylvanian filmmaker Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer (2005)). Although the film is only very loosely based on Eugene Allen's life, which was different in many ways from the film's butler, Daniels' film comes off as a soberly and thoroughly professionally handled historical biopic drama.
It is led by Oscar-worthy performances from Forest Whitaker (Repo Men (2010)) and Oprah Winfrey (Selma (2014)), who are truly moving as the titular butler and his wife. The Butler is eminent storytelling that should heal wounds and contribute to a deeper understanding of the different experiences and circumstances of especially whites and blacks during the 20th century, - in America as in many other parts of the world.
The Butler is emotionally charged without ever becoming too much. Among its fine supporting actors David Oyelowo (Nightingale (2014)) as Whitaker's rebellious son, Cuba Gooding Jr. (Life of a King (2013)) as his work-pal, Robin Williams (August Rush (2007)) as Pres. Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber (Defiance (2008)) as Pres. Johnson and Alan Rickman (David Harbor (1998)) as Pres. Reagan all give commendable, strong performances.

Related post:

Lee DanielsThe Paperboy (2012) - Daniels' off-putting and interesting Florida-yarn huffs and puffs






Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 30 mil. $
Box office: 176.5 mil. $
= Huge hit
[The Butler premiered 5 August (New York) and runs 132 minutes. Funding for the independent production began coming together in 2011 as something of a puzzle. The title was changed to Lee Daniels' The Butler in North America, because Warner Bros. made a claim of the title due to a now-lost 1916 short of the same title. Filming took place in Louisiana, including New Orleans, from June - October 2012, delayed from a scheduled August end due to Hurricane Isaac. Among the things in the film that were different in Allen's real life is that he wasn't from Georgia, didn't experience the trauma concerning his parents that's in the film, and that his son wasn't a radical. The film's portrayal of Pres. Reagan's stance towards South-Africa's apartheid is also contested. The film opened #1 to a 24.6 mil. $ first weekend in North America, where it stayed #1 for another 2 weeks before spending a week as #2 and one as #4 and then leaving the top 5, grossing 116.6 mil. $ (66.1 % of the total gross). The 2nd and 3rd biggest markets were France with 16.9 mil. $ (9.6 %) and Italy with 7 mil. $ (4 %). Roger Ebert gave the film 3/4 stars, translating to a notch less than this review. The film was nominated for 2 BAFTAs and many other awards and honors, - but not a single Oscar. Daniels went on to work on TV-series Empire (2015-17) and Star (2016-17) as director-writer-producer. He is slated to direct a remake of the 1983 drama Terms of Endearment starring Winfrey. The Butler is fresh at 72 % with a 6.6/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of The Butler?

11/10/2017

Bad Teacher (2011) - Diaz and fine co-stars make Kasdan's weak-premised romcom float



Cameron Diaz's naughty school teacher sex appeal is a major selling point for Jake Kasdan's Bad Teacher

A morally questionable woman is forced to continue her life as a teacher in a middle school, when her whose relationship to a rich jerk breaks up, so she can afford the breast operation she wants.

The premise's drive (getting breast implants) unsurprisingly doesn't result in comedy gold, as it is simply too arbitrary. But Bad Teacher is saved primarily by Cameron Diaz (The Holiday (2006)), who is wonderful in the lead and just as endearing as Jason Segel (Sex Tape (2014)), although their romance here doesn't make one's heart race out of control.
Justin Timberlake (Runner Runner (2013)) is convincing as a preppy fool/substitute teacher, and several wacky comedic actors amuse in side parts: Lucy Punch (Someone Marry Barry (2014)) is energetic; Phyllis Smith (The Office (2005-13)) is delightful; Thomas Lennon (Bob's Burgers (2012-16)) is funny, and John Michael Higgins (Tween Fest (2016), TV-series) as the dolphin-obsessed school leader is fantastic. They all help make Bad Teacher go down much better than it might have.
The film is written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Hello Ladies (2013-14), both) and directed by great Michigander filmmaker Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)).

Related post:

Jake Kasdan, with Diaz and SegelSex Tape (2014) - Sex comedy fun with beloved stars Diaz & Segel





Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 20 mil. $
Box office: 216.1 mil. $
= Mega-hit
[Bad Teacher premiered 17 June (the UK and Ireland) and runs 97 minutes. Columbia Pictures bought Stupnitsky and Eisenberg's spec script in 2008. Filming took place in California, including Los Angeles, and in Illinois around March 2010. The film opened #2, behind fellow new release Cars 2, to a solid 31.6 mil. $ first weekend in North America, where it remained in the top 5 for two more weeks (#3, #5) and grossed 100.2 mil. $ (46.4 % of the total gross). The 2nd and 3rd biggest markets were Germany with 18.7 mil. $ (8.7 %) and Russia with 13.4 mil. $ (6.2 %). Roger Ebert gave the film a 2 star review, translating to a notch harder than this review. Kasdan directed for TV-series Ben and Kate (2012) and New Girl (2011-13) before returning with the less successful but slightly better next pairing of Diaz and Segel, Sex Tape (2014). Bad Teacher is rotten at 44 % with a 5.3/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Bad Teacher?

11/08/2017

Brooklyn (2015) - Ronan captivates in Crowley's exquisite, soaring period romance drama masterpiece



Saoirse Ronan encapsulates the formidable power of John Crowley's Brooklyn in her look on this poster

In 1951, a young Irishwoman takes the big decision of moving to the US, where she makes a life for herself and falls in love, as an event forces her back home.

Don't judge Brooklyn out based on the possible a bit unassuming quality of its poster and trailer; the film is pure gold!
Saoirse Ronan (Death Defying Acts (2007)) breaks out as a true star here, and she (and her incredible eyes with her) simply becomes the moving Eilis Lacey. She and Emory Cohen (Afterschool (2008)) suit each other and the silver screen magnificently and seem destined to be the year's best movie pairing. Jim Broadbent (Another Year (2010)) also deserves singling out; here he is great as a priest.
Brooklyn has elegant, simple production design (by François Séguin (The Karate Kid (2010)) and photography by Yves Bélanger (Demolition (2015)) and a beautiful, Irish-inspired score by Michael Brook (The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)), which seems to play right into our souls.
Brooklyn is a true winner that moves, inspires, causes recognition and joy, - and makes your heart into a lump of melting butter. It is written by Nick Hornby (Wild (2014)), based on the same-titled 2009 novel by Colm Tóibín (The Empty Family (2010)), and is the 5th feature directed by Irish master filmmaker John Crowley (Intermission (2003)).






Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 11 mil. $
Box office: 62 mil. $
= Huge hit
[Brooklyn premiered 26 January (Sundance) and runs 112 minutes. Shooting took place from March - April 2014 in Ireland, including Dublin, New York and in Montreal, Canada, which doubled for Brooklyn. Funding came together as a puzzle from no less than 20 companies and governmental bodies. The film opened #30 to a 187k $ first weekend in 5 theaters (a solid 37k $ average) in North America, where it spread to peak at #9 and in 947 theaters (different weeks) and grossed 38.3 mil. $ (61.8 % of the total gross). The 2nd and 3rd biggest markets were the UK with 8.5 mil. $ (13.7 %) and Australia with 4.5 mil. $ (7.3 %). The film was nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Film, lost to great Spotlight, Best Actress (Ronan), lost to Brie Larson in masterpiece Room, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Hornby), lost to Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for The Big Short. The film was also nominated for a Golden Globe, won 1 out of 6 BAFTA nominations, 1 out of 5 British Independent Film Awards, 2 out of 7 Irish Film and TV Awards and many other awards and honors. In Canada, which was one of the countries behind the film, it was the highest-grossing Canadian or part-Canadian film of 2015, topping 4 mil. C$. In Ireland, it had the biggest opening (650k $) for an Irish or part-Irish film since 1996's Michael Collins. The film ranked on more than 120 film critics' Top 10 lists of the year. Crowley followed up his success with directing two episodes of True Detective's 2015 S2. His next feature is the much bigger (40 mil. $) budgeted drama The Goldfinch, starring Ansel Elgort and Aneurin Barnard, which is in pre-production. Brooklyn is certified fresh at 96 % with an 8.4/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Brooklyn?

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (44-17)

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (44-17)
Stephen Chbosky's Wonder (2017)