Thursday, August 18, 2016

Movie: Indignation

Indignation:  a coming of age movie based upon a Philip Roth novel.  It is 1951 and the protagonist, Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), is graduating from a Newark high school.  He has been accepted at the fictitious Winesburg College in Ohio.  Roth also graduated from a Newark high school in 1950 but went to college at Bucknell in nearby Pennsylvania.  Marcus and his father (Danny Burstein), a kosher butcher, have a close relationship.  As Marcus’ departure date gets closer, the father becomes obsessively worried about the fate of his only child.  Later in the film, we learn from the mother (Linda Emond) that during Marcus’ college attendance, the father has become increasingly unhinged.  If Marcus hadn’t gone to college, he would have been drafted and most probably sent to Korea.  Early in the film there is a Korean war sequence followed by a Temple burial scene of a young Jewish man killed in action.  As a college student, Marcus is protected by deferment.  The empathy evoked in those of us who were Vietnam War candidates is quite real.  At college, Marcus is assigned to room with the only two Jewish upperclassmen at the college who are not members of a fraternity.  Among its other mandates, Winesburg requires attendance at Christian chapel services regardless of a student’s religious belief.  Things were different in 1951, including blatant anti-Semitism.  Marcus, a virgin, meets beautiful blond named Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and becomes smitten.  Their relationship  becomes the central focus of the film.  Olivia, who is not Jewish, also feels out of place and her history is critical to the story.  Running throughout this 110 minute tale is the adversarial relationship between Marcus and the college’s Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts), including a heated discussion about Bertrand Russell.  This film marks the directorial debut of James Schamus.  It contains a good amount of intelligent dialogue; I understand the film closely tracks Roth’s novel.  The acting, particularly Linda Emond’s performance, is first rate.  The characters are believable: Roth should be pleased with the film.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Movie: Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne:  a disappointment.  With the return of Matt Damon and with Paul Greengrass at the directorial helm, I was looking forward to seeing this movie.  Two of the prior Bourne films which I enjoyed, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, were directed by Greengrass.  I believe this installment is the first time I’ve used the word “disappointing” in connection with a Greengrass movie.  The problem does not lie with Damon - he does his part.  The problem rests with the script, co-written by Greenglass and Christopher Rouse, and Rouse’s editing.  The basic storyline is that Bourne learns there is more to the death of his father than he had been lead to believe, and his search for the truth moves the plot along.  But there are three big issues that detract from the film.  First: if you’re not already familiar with the Bourne character, the film’s opening will not make much sense.  The last Bourne film with Damon was released in 2007, and it’s been four years since the non-Damon Bourne Legacy came out.  The timeline of the novels upon which the series is based goes back to the 1980”s and ‘90’s.  Second: the bad guy (Tommy Lee Jones), while central to the story, is just not believable.  For those of you familiar with my commentaries, you know that I’m a big Jones fan, but having a CIA leader directing the assassination of CIA people?  Also, there is nothing at all appealing about the other bad guy (Vincent Cassel), who is referenced only as The Asset.  Third: the Vegas car chase scene is way too long.  I could go on.  The only true Bourne moment occurs during the concluding sequence of this 123 minute movie.  The scene is strong enough that if a 6th Bourne film is made and it includes the Alicia Vikander character, I’ll be in the audience.  After all, I still have pleasant memories of the first three Bourne films and the Jason Bourne character remains a person of interest.  This installment, however, can be skipped.   

Friday, August 12, 2016

Movie: Cafe Society

CafĂ© Society:  a Woody Allen comedy.  Allen is the narrator as well as writer and director of this film, which is the best comedy he’s done in years.  There are some brilliant lines that will have you laughing out loud.  The events take place “in the 1930’s”.  We are never given a precise year, and though the story appears to stretch over more than 10 years, the film never leaves the 30’s.  The fact that America was in the midst of The Depression is never referenced.  Rather, the focus is on Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), the younger son of a New York City jeweler.  The film opens with Bobby moving to Hollywood where his uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a successful talent agent.  We then meet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), Phil’s secretary, and various stereotype Hollywood personalities.  As the story unfolds, we meet Bobby’s immediate family, which includes his sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick), a school teacher, and older brother Ben (Corey Stroll), a gangster.  The first half of the film takes place in Hollywood with various party scenes.  The second half has us back in New York, primarily in the nightclub owned by Ben and managed by Bobby, who’s returned to the Big Apple.  The players in the film appear to have a 20’s attitude but all the Hollywood references are from the 1930’s.  One could riff on the inconsistency between the life styles shown in the film and what was actually occurring in America at the time, but Allen clearly just wants to amuse his audience.  This 96 minute movie addresses relationships in a style that viewers of Allen’s films have come to expect.  Eisenberg gives an excellent performance.  Also, as expected in an Allen movie, the musical score is superb.  If you have ever enjoyed a Woody Allen movie, you should see this film.  You will leave the theatre with a smile.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Movie: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond:  Entertaining but . . .   The challenge inherent in franchise films is that it’s impossible not to compare the current episode with past tellings of the tale.  This is especially true for “Star Trek”, which has television roots going back fifty years to 1966.  This latest installment begins with Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Starship Enterprise departing on a rescue mission beyond the known territories.  The Enterprise crashes on a planet where most of the crew is captured.  The core group: Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban) and Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-authored the script with Doug Jung), who of course are not captured, join Kirk in an effort to rescue the captured crew.  They then depart the planet on a quest to save the innocents living on a space station which is under attack by Krall (Idris Elba), the villain who caused the Enterprise to crash in the first place.  The only new, interesting character is Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a crew member from a previous ship that had been brought down by Krall.  The two other “Star Trek” core group, Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov ( the late Anton Yelchin), play their roles with accents a bit too thick.  One nice touch to this story is that Spock and Uhuru fall into a relationship and, although their on screen chemistry works, the chemistry between Kirk and Spock is unfortunately missing.  Director Justin Lin keeps the story moving forward, however, if I hadn’t already established an emotional attachment with the main characters of this episode, the only character I would have cared about is Jaylah.  Krall is evil but, perhaps due to his costume, too bland.  Jaylah had her own science wonders but they are presented with no explanation as to how they worked.  If you enjoy the “Star Trek” stories, you will be entertained.  However, if you don’t already have a bit of the Trekky spirit in you, this 120 minute film will not awaken the Force.