Saturday, May 25, 2013

MOVIE: Lore


Lore: a German 14 year old in the year 1945 surviving.  The movie opens with Lore’s parents destroying written records of their involvement with the Holocaust.  The movie is not clear as to the specific  S.S. position held by the father but it is clear he is not a mere soldier.  Lore is the oldest of five children with the youngest being a baby brother.  After the parents are arrested by the Allies, the five children, on their own, must find their way to grandmother’s house (honestly) in Hamburg.  The arrests of the parents occur off camera and the movie’s unusual storyline commences after their departure.  To reach their designation, the children have to travel through a forest and lands controlled by different allies (Russians, Americans, British).  In a war torn country, survival is difficult and food is always an issue.  The mother left Lore with cash, jewelry, silverware and trinkets to bargain for food.  Lore exchanges the items long before they leave the forest.  A young man named Thomas appears in the forest and for reasons not entirely clear, helps Lore, her younger sister, the twin boys and the baby.  Thomas is a Jewish survivor.  The movie presents the German perspective of the Holocaust as the war comes to an end.  Saskia Rosendahl, in her introductory role, is superb as Lore.  As Lore interacts with people who continue to believe in Hitler, she learns that what her parents taught her is a lie.  The film poses the question: what do you feel when you learn that your father was a murderer and your mother was complicit in the killing?  As Lore learns, hate spills from her mouth as she and her siblings become increasingly dependent on Thomas, played by Kai Malina.  The German citizenry believe the newspaper photos of concentration camps are merely portrayals by Hollywood actors.  The startling contrast between the background horror and the forest scenery is part of the film’s excellence.  The  director is Cate Shortland, an Australian.   Lines such as “Hitler loved his country too much” are hard to digest.  The story is based on actual events.  Source material is from a novel “The Dark Room” written by the daughter of the real life Lore.  The horror of the times is presented with surreal imagery.  This 108 minute German film (subtitled) does not have a Hollywood ending.  However, it is clear that by the end of this film Lore is no longer a na├»ve 14 year old with a racist belief system.  The movie attacks stereotypes, reminds you that horrors are perpetrated by individuals, and leaves you pondering the ability of humans to commit evil.   Showing the Holocaust aftermath from a German perspective makes for an unusual but brilliant film. 

Side note: the photos in Thomas’ wallet are from the director’s husband’s grandmother who left Berlin in 1937.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

MOVIE: The Sapphires


The Sapphires: an old story line with an interesting twist.  This movie, based upon real events, is about three sisters and a cousin who form a quartet.  The timeline for most of the story is 1968.  The place is Australia.  The twist lies not just with the fact that these are talented Aboriginal women but also in the presentation of blatant racism and the evil treatment of the Aborigine people within the context of an overall feel good movie about individuals overcoming Society’s plans for them.  The movie opens approximately ten years earlier with the girls performing for friends and family.  We later learn that at this performance the cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens), was separated from her family by agents of the government to be raised as “white” due to her light skin color.  After the opening sequence, the sisters are in an Australian outback town to perform at a singing contest.  Although the sisters are clearly the star performers, they are ignored and a white girl who barely can sing is pronounced the winner.   At the contest, they meet Dave, the emcee who has alcohol issues.  One of the sisters shows Dave a Variety-type announcement regarding a tryout for singers in Vietnam.  Of course, the sisters get the gig and most of the second half of the movie takes place in Vietnam with a terrific assortment of ‘60s songs.  Pre-Dave, the sisters sing Country.  Dave introduces them to Soul music with a great line about how Country music embraces misfortune while Soul defiantly insists on hope in the face of misery.  Prior to the audition, the sisters reconnect with Kay, who was living “white” but shamed by Gail (Deborah Mailman), the oldest of the sisters, to rejoin the group.  Chris O’Dowd is excellent as Dave and is the only actor I recognized.  Julie, played by Jessica Mauboy, has the best voice.  Miranda Tapsell plays the fourth sister.  Each of the four women is a distinct character and the interactions among them are quite real.  The contrast with what was happening in America on the race issue is presented with short historical videos (King’s march speech, Ali’s defiance, RFK announcing King’s death), which are integrated into the storyline.  Although the war and racism issues may make the film sound heavy, it is, as I noted in the beginning of this commentary, mostly a feel good movie with a lot of good sounds.  The movie is based upon a play written by the son of one of the sisters.  The director is Wayne Blair and he pulls off the difficult task of presenting serious social issues while entertaining us.   With great music, some funny scenes, primarily involving O’Dowd, and very credible performances, you will have a fun 98 minutes watching this movie.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie: The Great Gatsby


The Great Gatsby: a combination of exquisite scenes and one dimensional characters.  It is a beautiful movie deserving of Oscar nominations for cinematography and costume.  The clothing, jewelry and autos offer much to behold.  If only the actors had a stronger script.  Leonardo DiCaprio is a credible Jay Gatsby.  Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway and he has more screen time than DiCarpio.  I think we are close to 30 minutes into the movie before we meet Gatsby.  This would not be a problem if Tobey had something to do besides observe and narrate.  There are too many scenes of Toby just observing.  The one dimensional characters are Daisy and Tom Buchannan, played by Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton.  Tobey is second cousin to Daisy and lives next door to Gatsby in the equivalent of servants’ quarters.  The Daisy character in the original F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is an idolized persona and is part of the reason none of the previous Gatsby movies worked, not including the lost silent movie version.  In this movie, Daisy is beautiful but without substance.  But the real weak link is Tom.  His performance would be apropos in a silent film but amidst all the spectacle in this movie, it is unfortunate.  Edgerton is at his best in the only traditionally filmed scene: a hotel room with all the major characters present.  The love both Gatsby and Tom have for Daisy is presented with Nick observing.  This is one of the few conventional movie scenes.  For me, there is enough glitter to sustain the movie.  The director, Baz Luhrmann, brings to life the times about which Fitzgerald wrote.  Using Jay-Z’s score works for most of the movie but, for this jazz age tale, not completely.  Most of you know the story: Gatsby lives in a mansion outside NYC and has virtually unlimited funds to throw elaborate parties.  In an earlier life, he met and fell in love with Daisy.  He recreated himself and became rich by being the public face for a Jewish mobster, all of which was done to reconnect with Daisy who during the intervening time had married Tom.  Gatsby befriends Nick to reconnect with Daisy.  The screenplay is jointly written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce and the anti-Semitism and racism of the times is presented.  But why cast an Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan, as the Jewish mobster?  It has been years since I read the novel but I think the movie is true to the underlying story, which arguably has some of the same faults.  However, Fitzgerald’s work is closer to a novella while the movie lasts 143 minutes.  With tighter editing, this movie could have been worth all the promotional dollars spent.  Still, it is worth seeing and the viewing should be in a big screen theater with a wall to wall audio system.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Movie: Iron Man 3


Iron Man 3: the latest Robert Downey, Jr. installment.  My one sentence review: installment 3 is better than installment 2 but substantially short of installment 1.  This installment involves a character named The Mandarin.  For those of you who read the Marvel comics, you will remember The Mandarin as a racist character invoking a Fu Manchu image.  With Ben Kingsley playing the part, this is a very different character from the Marvel presentation, and Kingsley’s performance is one of the highlights of this film.  The introduction of The Mandarin character presents an Osama bin Laden-like bomber who has the technological ability to take over the television airwaves and broadcast a mass bombing live.  With Boston events still lingering in our memory banks, certain early scenes provoked an uneasy feeling.   After Downey’s character, Tony Stark, issues a mano a mano challenge to The Mandarin, Stark’s Pacific Ocean mansion is destroyed.  Of course, Stark survives and the rest of the film is his comeback victory.  When Downey is on the screen without the mask, the film is entertaining.  A fun interlude is an interaction that occurs after the house bombing when Stark finds himself in Tennessee and meets up with a fatherless kid played by Ty Simpkins.  As in certain scenes with Kingsley, the elements not going boom work.  Unfortunately , we have too much time spent with things blowing up and the ending sequence is way too long.  Also, the truly evil character is a mad scientist named Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, and he is not credible.  Aldrich’s evilness is partly Stark’s fault because he stood him up a few years earlier by failing to keep an appointment.  Aldrich is out for revenge.  Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts, and is given some macho scenes in the drawn out ending to this 129 minute movie.  The director is Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon”) and he is given credit as co-scriptwriter.  Whoever is responsible for the Simpkins character and the remake of The Mandarin deserves praise.  Bottom line is that if you are a fan of watching comic book characters turned into movie heroes, there is enough good stuff in this movie to make it an enjoyable experience.  Downey makes the Stark character likeable and that is a key component.  Editing down the quantity of the boom-boom scenes would have made for a better movie.  With the huge gross revenue for this film, there will be an Iron Man 4.  As long as Downey is playing Stark, I will continue to watch the Iron Man films.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

MOVIE: Mud


Mud: a well told coming of age movie focusing on a 14 year old named Ellis and his best friend Neckbone.  Movie takes place in Arkansas.  Ellis lives on a riverboat with his parents.  For you Arkansas people, the entire film takes place in the Arkansas Delta near the confluence of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers.  The year is 2011 – only know this because of a wall calendar.  Story begins with Bone showing Ellis a boat that got lodged in a tree on an overgrown island in the Delta during a flood.  As they are rummaging through the boat, Ellis realizes that someone is living on the boat.  This is when we meet the Matthew McConaughey character, Mud.  We are never told his real name.  Mud had grown up in the area but left to follow his true love, Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon.  As the movie unfolds, we learn that Mud and Juniper met when Mud was 10 years old.  Mud is hiding out on the island because he killed Juniper’s husband after the husband had seriously beaten Juniper.  The backstory is told as current events unfold.  For most of this 140 minute film, the focus is on the two kids and Ellis learning about becoming a man.  I usually don’t read movie reviews prior to seeing the film however, in this case, I made an exception because the preview – let alone the title – offered very little sense of what this film was about, let alone its superb quality.  The reviewer drew an analogy to Mark Twain and, yes, this film is a modern Huck Finn tale.  The movie is written and directed by Jeff Nichols.  Way too early to invoke Oscar but, at a minimum, Nichols should receive a nomination for best original movie script.  Nichols hits all the right buttons as to life learning experiences while keeping you guessing as to how he will wrap up his story.  McConaughey is  excellent.  The Juniper character strikes me as not a particularly challenging role for Witherspoon.  Sam Shepard is excellent as the man who raised Mud and who also happens to be a neighbor of Ellis, although they’d never spoken prior to Mud’s appearance.  Ray McKinnon’s character, Ellis’ father and a man trying to survive as a fisherman, is also excellent.  The family’s economic status and the emotional consequences are presented as a dying reality.  But the focus and the star is Tye Sheridan as Ellis.  He is the central character and his reactions to events is consistently believable.  Ellis is drawn to Mud and their relationship is credible; Bone’s skepticism is equally credible.  I should note that Bone (Jacob Lofland) has some of the best lines in the movie.  Even the minor roles, such as Michael Shannon as the adult raising Neckbone, are well played.  During his short time before the camera your impression of Uncle Galen will change – for the better.  Joe Don Baker also has a small but critical role.  I loved Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as a kid (I still own copies of the Twain novels).  Ellis and Bone are similar characters in a similar environment placed in the 21st century.  The only physical  violence is near the end of the film and it is short and stylized.  Do you get the idea I really liked this movie?   Go see Mud.