Saturday, October 29, 2016

Movie: Denial

Denial: a British film about an individual who denied the Holocaust and sued for liable in an English court an American academic who published a book calling him a Holocaust denier.   The individual is Daniel Irving, played marvelously by Timothy Spall.  The American is Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz).  The film is based on her book: History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.  This true story was more entertaining than the subject matter would lead you to believe.   Partly, this is due to how much you will loath the Irving character.   It is not just that he is publicizing a hideous lie but is doing so with a smugness that is incredible to watch.    A second reason is the performance by the British barrister employed to defend Lipstadt.   Tom Wilkinson, who has given many fine performances, is at his best and basically carries the final third of this 110 minute movie.  The third factor is that if you ever wondered about the importance of who has the obligation to prove a fact in a courtroom, this is your film.   While the legal technicalities get a little muddied, the key to why Irving sued Lipstadt in England and not America is that in England, Lipstadt had to prove that Irving knew he was a liar as opposed to the American rule which would require Irving to prove that Lipstadt was knowingly making false comments about him.   This results in this being a film about how you prove the existence of the Holocaust without the testimony of Holocaust victims.  The lawyers did not want to give Irving the opportunity to cross-examine Holocaust survivors.   A fourth reason to see the film is the sequence when Lipstadt and her attorneys, including Wilkinson, visit Auschwitz.   The pre-dawn presentation of the grounds with a blanket of snow and fog is a beautifully shot scene and makes the point as to why the falsity of a big lie propaganda by someone like Irving needed to be proven to be false in a court of law.  The film was directed by Mick Jackson from a screenplay by David Hare.   The cinematographer was Haris Zambarloukos.     While I knew the outcome without seeing the film, the movie held my attention due to the skill of the two actors. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Movie: The Accountant

The Accountant:  I’m looking forward to seeing The Accountant II.  Despite some goofiness in the story line, this movie is entertaining.  Ben Affleck plays this very unusual accountant, Christian Wolff.  We later learn that Wolff is not the character’s real name and it’s unclear whether we’re ever told his true moniker.  When we first meet the Accountant, he is doing what accountants do –helping a couple resolve a tax problem.  He displays no personality and no emotion, which somewhat fits the stereotypic image of an accountant.  This benign segment occurs after the opening shot in which we watch a person entering a crime scene littered with multiple dead bodies.  We then regress to a scene from childhood.  There are individuals and an autistic child.  The child is the Accountant, and Seth Lee does an excellent job playing the child.  This movie is comprised of two intertwined stories.  There is a junior accountant, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) who has discovered irregularities in a company’s books and the Accountant is hired by the company to find out who’s been messing with its finances.   John Lithgow gives a quality performance as the head of the company.  In the concurrent story, Raymond King (J. K. Simmons), head of the Treasury Department’s financial crimes division, is trying to learn the identity of a guy who keeps appearing in photos with various criminal heavyweights and terrorists.   King brings in Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him.   As the movie progresses, we meet Braxton (Jon Bernthal).  This is the character whose role in the story led to my comment about goofiness, but to say anything more would spoil the telling of this tale.  With uniformly strong performances by all the main characters and the odd quirkiness of the Accountant, I was entertained throughout this 128 minute film.  The director is Gavin O’Connor.  Bill Dubuque wrote the screenplay.  Escapism and the draw of physical action successfully drives this movie to its conclusion.  But if one dwells on the underlying tale, you cannot ignore its story of a depressing and violent childhood.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie: Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe:  a feel good movie that takes place in Uganda.  Katwe is a slum area in the city of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and is where the principal characters of this film reside.  Queen of Katwe is based on a true story.  At the end of the film, as the credits are rolling, the actual individuals are introduced next to the actors who played them.  The lead character is Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl who watches people playing chess and eventually becomes Uganda’s champion player.  We meet Mutesi when she is 10 years old.  The movie takes her through most of her teenage years.  This story is not confined to chess playing.  It also tells the tale of someone coming from poverty, and the physical and mental obstacles she must overcome as she reaches for her dreams.  The film focuses on Mutesi and her entire family.  The mother is played by Lupita Nyong’o who gives another Oscar caliber performance.  The only other named star is David Oyelowo, who plays Robert Katende, the individual who teaches the children chess.  In the telling of Katende’s story, we learn why a country such as Uganda struggles despite its many talented individuals.  There are a number of subplots running through this 124 minute film, which is directed by Mira Nar.  The screenplay, written by William Wheeler, is based upon the book by Tim Crothers.  This film shows Uganda’s poverty and its wealth and the myriad problems society and its individuals must overcome.  I highly recommend this film.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Movie: The Magnificant Seven

The Magnificent Seven: a Western based on a 1960 film of the same name.  Both are based on the Akira Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai.  All three versions share a common storyline: a town is under siege by evil individuals; seven men with no connection to the town rally together to save the town and its people; and there is violence.  The 2016 version is directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, whose counterpart in the 1960 film was Yul Brynner.  Chisolm is the character who brings together the Magnificent Seven and his introduction into the story may be the best part of the film.   Although Denzel may be reason enough to see this film, like the 1960 version, the 2016 remake has a strong supporting cast.  The basic plot is unchanged, but the current version has two significant differences.  First, the 2016 Chisolm has a specific, personal reason for becoming involved whereas in the 1960 film, the motivating cause was simply righteousness.  Second, the 2016 tale includes as a significant character a gun-toting female villager, Emma (Haley Bennett).  The bad guy is played by Peter Sarsgaard, whose character is evil incarnate even if one dimensional.  The big shoot-up scene could have been better edited as I thought it ran long and reminded me why some of you do not like Westerns.  But the bottom line is that if you like westerns, you’ll enjoy this 132 minute film.