Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Movie: The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour:  not much happens but a lot is said.  David Foster Wallace, the author of “Infinite Jest”, is nearing the end of his book tour when Rolling Stone gives the green light to David Lipsky to do a story.  For the most part, the film focuses on the interactions between Wallace and Lipsky during the final week of the 1996 tour.  It opens, however, in 2008 with Lipsky getting a call about Wallace’s suicide, then pulling out a shoebox containing tapes from the 1996 interview.  This 106 minute film revolves around the conversations that took place between Wallace and Lipsky.  The source material is Lipsky’s memoir titled “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.”  If you’re a Wallace fan, this is a must see movie.  The conversations occur at Wallace’s home in Illinois, while driving to the Minnesota bookstore, and during interactions while in Minnesota.  Jason Segel is very likely to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance as Wallace – it is brilliant.  Jesse Eisenberg is also excellent as Lipsky, however, this movies revolves around the complexity of who Wallace was.  For those of us who are aware of Wallace but not a particularly devoted fan, or for those who’d never heard of Wallace, it was an unfortunate decision to open the film with the telling of Wallace’s suicide.   Donald Margulies’ script is all about the dialogue, and the fact that I’m told of the suicide before having had the chance to hear Wallace speak and tell his story was distracting.  There is also the interesting decision to show, after the story telling is over, a scene of Wallace dancing at a church social with a joy you never see during the movie itself.  There is also a scene after the credits start rolling which shows that Wallace had a sense of humor.  The movie is directed by James Ponsoldt.  He allows space for the two authors, one already famous and the other, published but as yet without media attention, to interact.  The conversations in the film actually occurred and there was a seriousness to them.  This film, like My Dinner with Andre, is one you could watch over and over and, each time, learn a little more about human interaction.  P.S. - There is the memoir but no Rolling Stone article; I checked.  P.P.S. -  There are other actors, including Anna Chlumsky, who have amusing lines but this is really a two actor film. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Movie: Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton:  the rap group NWA’s story.  You don’t have to be a rap music fan to enjoy this film.  The movie opens in 1986 with a drug house.  We are introduced first to Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and soon meet Dr. Dre (Cory Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.).  Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E’s widow are the film’s co-producers and the story is told with realism from their perspective.  Compton, particularly in the mid-80’s, was a violent place.  The film’s story provides a basis for understanding the gangster rap lyrics that made NWA famous.  By March 1987, the group had recorded its first single, “Boyz-N-The Hood”.  The first hour of this 142 minute film focuses on how the group and the music got together.  The balance of the film tells of how the group performed and how it eventually broke apart.  The dialogue is street language throughout.  While MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), the other two NWA members, are present and though other people float in and out, this film’s focus is primarily about the clash that developed between Eazy-Z and Ice Cube, both of whom recognized the importance of Dr. Dre to NWA.  The bad guy is NWA’s manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who is white and Jewish.   Heller is presented as the person responsible for NWA’s split up.  The film portrays Heller as ripping off NWA while still acknowledging his ability to get the group before an audience.  The film does not ignore the anti-Semitic comments, many of which are made by Ice Cube.  Giamatti may have earned himself another Oscar nomination.  O’Shea Jackson, Ice Cube’s son, did an excellent job.   The director, F. Gary Gray, deserves a lot of the credit for keeping the film honest and connected to its historical roots.  There are numerous party scenes during the second half of the film, a significant number of which include scantily clad females.  There are also disturbing scenes of violence, particularly those associated with Suge Knight.  Knight is currently under arrest for murder.  I think any potential juror who has seen this film is automatically disqualified from serving on the jury.  This is a film worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Movie: Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash:  Meryl Streep in another successful performance.  Streep is Ricki, a rock ‘n’ roll performer with The Flash.  No surprise that Streep can sing; news is she can also play the guitar.  The movie opens with Ricki and her band playing at a bar in Tarzana, California and singing a Tom Petty song.  The Flash includes Rick Springfield as the lead guitarist.  The keyboard player is Bernie Worrell from Parliament/Funkadelic.  The other two members are Joe Vitale and the recently deceased Rick Rosas.  The band performs a total of 10 songs, which is reason enough to see this film.  But there is much more.  The script is penned by Diablo Cody, who also wrote Juno, and the director is Jonathan Demme.  There is real talent connected with this film.  The storyline is that many years ago, Ricki left the Midwest and her family to pursue her musical dreams.  Left behind were Pete, the husband, played by Kevin Kline, 2 sons and a daughter, Julie, played by Mamie Grummer, who is Streep’s real life daughter.  Although Ricki has produced 1 album, she pays her bills by working as a cashier at a Whole Foods type of store.  In the meantime, Pete has done extremely well financially.  He has remarried (Audra McDonald) and the kids have grown up.  Then Julie has a marital crises and becomes suicidal.  This prompts Pete to call Ricki, who immediately departs California for Indianapolis.  In light of the long estrangement, the call for help is not realistic, however, if you accept it, the rest of the story falls into place.  The acting is uniformly first rate.  The dialogue is realistic as are the personal dynamics.  The use of music to emphasize the drama works and the song selection is superb.  Springfield is particularly good and delivers the best line in the movie as to what it means to be a parent.  A lot happens throughout the 101 minute playing time, most of which is entertaining while presenting multiple life dramas.  And did I mention that I enjoyed the music? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Movie: Mr. Holmes

Mr. Holmes:  the year is 1947 and Sherlock is retired.  In this very enjoyable film, Sherlock is 93 and living in an unspecified location on the English coast.  Ian McKellen, who is 76, gives a superb performance of a Sherlock whose memories are fading.  Dr. Watson and Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, are deceased and Sherlock has been retired for 30 years.  He has a housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), who has a young son named Roger (Milo Parker); the husband/father perished in WWII.  Mrs. Munro is protective and provincial, but not so the son.  Roger has read the stories of Sherlock Holmes, as penned by Dr. Watson, and talks with Sherlock about the memoir Sherlock is writing concerning his last client.  It seems Dr. Watson didn’t get this story quite right.  Much of this 104 minute movie deals with Sherlock slowly remembering what had occurred 30 years ago.  The case involved a married woman (Hattie Morhan) whose husband saw her as overly brooding about her two miscarriages.  I don’t want to say much more as the plot line regarding the woman is not obvious.  There is also a flashback sequence involving Holmes traveling to Japan shortly after WWII to meet with an herbalist (Hiroyuki Sanada) who lives near Hiroshima.  Holmes makes the long trip because he believes the herbalist may have discovered a plant that will stop memory loss.  Fundamentally, the story deals with aging and longevity, and one’s unwillingness to admit to and accept its consequences.  Interspersed among the storylines is the friendship that grows between Sherlock and Roger.  It is their relationship that imbues the film its special flair.  The movie, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, is directed by Bill Condon.  On the 70th anniversary of the devastation of Hiroshima, there is a touching scene where Holmes, while in Japan, watches a group of Hiroshima survivors create a ring of stones, which serve as a place to recall loved ones.  The film ends with Holmes creating his own ring of stones.