Category: Film Society


Films with higher rates of diversity tend to have higher box office numbers and that analysts consistently underestimate black audiences

Source: Lack of diversity in film industry costs Hollywood big money, report finds | Film | The Guardian

Woody Grant has received a letter stating that he has won a million dollars and he doing everything he an to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. Of course, his son, David, tries to convince him that the letter is a scam to get people to buy maginizes. Woody is an alcoholic and is starting to present with dementia. To satisfy Woody and keep him safe, David decides to take him to claim his “prize.” Delays in the trip result in the guys stopping in Woody’s Nebraska hometown to stay the weekend with his brother. In Woody’s inebriated state, he tells everyone and anyone about his million dollars prize.  Now David has to contend with greedy relatives and the threats of Woody’s old business partner. During the course of the weekend, David learns more about his father in a short time and develops a greater respect.

Nebraska is very much a film that is carried by the supporting players instead of the leads. June Squibb who plays Woody’s wife Kate is an old curmudgeon that does not hesitate to speak her mind and colorfully at that. Her characterization felt like any random old lady you may pass on the street. Her comedic timing helps her to steal every scene that she is in. My favorite scene with Kate is during a visit to the local cemetery to pay respects and she encounters the grave of an old lover.  Stacy Keach brings his regular lovable bad guy who lobs threats with a smile on his face and through back-handed comments. While this was definitely not a full comedic role for Will Forte, I still felt that the sad sack of David Grant was very similar to the type of character that Will Forte usually embodies.  Although he has not received a lot of awards buzz for the role, I would like to see Will Forte in more indie-type roles. There was not much to the alcohol loving Woody Grant; he is definitely a man of few words. However, when he does speaks, Woody tries to enlighten his son David with a few words of wisdom.

Filming in black and white helped to add focus to the characters. The landscape has a raw beauty that would other wise be a little dull and taken for granted. Driving through the bleak, stark town that Woody up in, you can understand why the idea of winning million dollars is important to him.

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The Short Game  follows 9 young golfers who are vying for the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at the Pinehurst Golf course in North Carolina.  There are a variety of talented children who each has their own reasons for going to the competition.  We follow each child and their parents through the training period leading up to the competition. 

Some children are more focused than others; however, it is the behavior of the parents that is the most interesting aspect of the film.  Ranging from proud to cautious to demanding, only a few parents seem to grasp how to truly motivate and inspire their children’s performance without adding on too much pressure.  The father of Amari Avery does not add much support to her inability to control her temper especially when she does not perform well.  When Jed Dy, a high-functioning autistic, is penalized points that destroy his chances at a trophy, his mother struggles to help him bounce back.  Other parents, like Allan Kournikova’s family, can afford the best trainers and have a more hands-off approach.

The format of the documentary moves through each child’s experience at the tournament and the success and failure they experience.  The dramatic reveals of the tournament results will invoke the annoyance of American Idol but it is worth it.  It is a heart touching experience that I enjoyed and is a good film to watch with other children.

The film was recently released on Netflix Streaming: The Short Game.

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Fiercely protective of the portrayal of her characters, Pamela L. Travers must contend with the determined charms of Walt Disney as he tries to secure the movie rights to her beloved book, Mary PoppinsSaving Mr. Banks moves between the creative developments of the Mary Poppins film, flashing back to the events in Pamela’s childhood that led to the Mary Poppins novel, and how P. L. Travers eventually signed the rights over to Disney.  Emma Thompson’s portrayal of the stodgy and stiff Pamela Travers highlights her amazing talents as an actress.  Walt Disney is embodied by Tom Hanks.  While supposedly at odds during the course of the film, I did not get feelings of adversarial conflict from Travers and Disney.  Disney is shown as a man trying desperately to get the film rights by relenting to Pamela’s stubbornness.

The performances in the film are excellent.  However, while most of the film industry’s discussions are focused on a possible Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Tom Hanks and a definite Best Actress Oscar nomination for Emma Thompson, I think the truly marvelous performances came from the astounding supporting cast.  Paul Giamatti has a kindhearted performance as Ralph, the chauffeur who befriends Pamela during her stay in Los Angeles.  The composers of the music for the Mary Poppins film, the Sherman brothers, are depicted by Jason Schwartzman as Richard and B. J. Novak as Robert.  Schwartzman’s musical background aids in the musical pieces and Novak adds the comedic element with his responses to Travers’ stonewalling their ideas.  Colin Farrell gives a strong performance as Travers Robert Goff, Pamela’s loving yet troubled father.

Overall Saving Mr. Banks is a great movie and will surprise you with the inspirational nature of Pamela’s childhood.

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Breaking into the 1980s, Ron Burgundy and his wife, Veronica Corningstone, are working at the nation’s best news station in New York City.  However, the couple splits after Veronica is selected to anchor the nightly news program and Ron is called the worst anchor alive by his mentor, Mack Harken (Harrison Ford).  Burgundy returns to obscurity in San Diego, working as a host for a Sea World show.  With the opportunity to anchor a slot on the new 24-hour news station, Ron sets out to reassemble his news team and head to New York.  Trying to beat his rival, Jack Lime (James Marsden) in the ratings, Ron develops a combination of sensationalism reporting that dominates most news stations currently.

 Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues brings back all the zany antics that dominated the first film.  However, the plot is basically the same as the original in a few ways: Ron is at the height of popularity but faces a setback he has to overcome, Ron and Veronica break up due to conflicts with the job ambitions, etc.  However, it may be sticking to the original formula that makes the film funny.  Moving through various bits, there are many subplots within the film that touches on each character.  Brick Tamland is given a lost interest in Chani (Kristen Wiig) and we are treated to their strange courtship.   Meagan Good steps into the film as Linda Jackson, a fierce African-American woman who runs the network and opening the door for various race jokes.  Paul Rudd is given more to do as Brian Fantana becomes the voice of the group as Ron loses focus of the news with his new fame.  The film has so many surprise cameos that you will wonder how they were able to say in budget.

This sequel does not disappoint, but hopefully they will let Ron Burgundy retire.

last

Childhood friends, Sam, Archie, Paddy, and Billy, have become old men who face their own demons in Last Vegas.  Archie (Morgan Freeman) lives with his son and is being treated like a child.  Sam  (Kevin Kline) lives dejectedly with his wife in Florida at a retirement community.  Paddy (Robert DeNiro) has become a recluse in his apartment following the death of his childhood sweetheart and wife, Sophie.  Billy (Michael Douglas) feeling his mortality at a friend’s funeral makes a spur of the moment proposal to his very young girlfriend.  Needing an adventure, Sam and Archie convince Billy to have a bachelor party in Las Vegas and con Paddy in coming along.

Playing like a Hangover for the older generation, the group of friends faces all sorts of escapades while in Sin City.  Sam’s wife has given him a free pass to have a one night stand and he spends the movie ogling and propositioning very cute girl he meets.  Archie taps into his pension fund to go gambling with surprising results.  Paddy and Billy have unresolved issues involving their rivalry over Sophie.  With the addition of Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a lounge singer, the rivalry is renewed as each man fights for her attention.

Last Vegas is a good time movie that will have you laughing at the technology jokes and pokes fun at popular culture.

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Like a throwback to Hitchcock, Grand Piano is a white knuckled thriller about a pianist is being held hostage by a menacing unseen sniper.  Five years after a failed attempt to play his mentor’s masterpiece, Tom Selznick is reluctantly returning to the stage.  With his movie star wife and friends in the audience to help him to battle his stage fright, it should be an easy performance if Tom sticks to the material he knows well.  However, a sniper derails Tom’s night when he demands Tom perform a very difficult piece without flaw or he will be killed.

Grand Piano does not fall into the trap of the dreadful Phone Booth.  You get an amazing, frantic performance from Elijah Wood as Tom.  John Cusack, who the audience does not see until the end, does an outstanding job at creating a menacing villain with the sound of his voice.  Trying to determine why anyone would want to take a pianist hostage and force him to perform a specific piece of music takes over your mind.  Adding to the suspense is a great score and the furious movements of the pianist’s hands on the keys of the piano.  While some of the scenes are a little over-the-top, the cat and mouse play between Tom and the sniper will help to keep the movie enjoyable.

Grand Piano was directed by Eugenio Mira.  It will be release on VOD in January and in theaters in March.

Blue Highway is a road trip comedy-drama about Dillon and Kerry, a young couple traveling cross-country to California where Dillon has a new job.  Along the way,  the couple makes side stops at their favorite movie scene locations.  The audience is treated to some familiar and surprising movie locations.  I had not thought about Jim Varney in a while and they treat us to the Ernest Goes Camp site. 

Trips are never easy on relationships and now add the fact that  they are stuck in a car together.   The stars, Dillon Porter and Kerry Bishé, do good job balancing the high and lows that each character goes through. While you get the sense that Dillon has not considered this trip could be the end of their relationship, Kerry begins to slowly unravel.  The closer they get to Dillon’s final destination, the unspoken tension about the future of their relationship starts to bubble to the surface. 

The film currently does not have a release date but hopefully it will be released in 2014. 

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In The Immigrant, the love triangle between a prostitute, her pimp, and his brother unfolds in the early 1900s.  Eva Cybulski  (Marion Cotillard) arrives at Ellis Island with her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) from Poland.  They are separated due to Magda’s illness and Eva is identified as a woman of low morals, which means she will be deported.  However, Eva has caught the eye of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) who claims to be an immigrant lawyer who can help her and her sister.  Desperate to retrieve her sister, Eva naively enters the world of prostitution with Bruno’s guidance.  Bruno is fixated with Eva and their fragile “relationship” is threatened with the arrival of Emile (Jeremy Renner), a magician and also Bruno’s brother.

This period film moves through the underworld of New York in a related fashion as Boardwalk Empire.  Eva was raped on the voyage to America, however,  her rapists have now shamed her in the eyes of her relatives.   The unfortunate reality for women, especially immigrants, is highlighted here as Eva in now forced to have sex as a way to survive.  Her choices are limited choosing between dangerously unstable Bruno and the unreliable Emile.  Both claim to love her and want to help with freeing her sister, however, they keep her dangling, knowing that Eva would leave once she has what she wants.  You get another tragic figure performance from Joaquin Phoenix that is comparable to his performance in The Master.  I do not think this is one of his better performances.  Jeremy Renner plays a playboy who charms his way into Eva’s heart.  He does keep you guessing on what his true intensions with Eva will be.  Eva has to quickly learn to assert herself within Bruno’s collection of women and become business-savvy in order to earn money to buy Magda’s freedom.  Marion Cotillard gives a good performance that is far better than her role as Billie Frechette in Public Enemies.

 The film was directed by James Gray and will be distributed in the US by The Weinstein Company.

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History is littered with tragic figures, and apparently the best of the tragedies come from the women who born trapped into royalty.  Mary, Queen of Scots has a background full with failed romances and power grabs that captures the attentions of audiences currently.  In the same vein as A Royal Affair, we get a glimpse into Mary’s life as she is shuttled off to France to marry the young man who would be become King Francis II.  Mary’s time as Queen ends quickly and she is shuttled back to Scotland.  During her voyage, she meets the Earl of Bothwell, who becomes a trusted confident, ally, and lover.  Scotland was run by regents while Mary was in France.  Mary struggles to find her place in Scottish politics that was already divided over religion and especially with her half- brother, the Earl of Moray conspiring with the regents to overthrow her.  Accustomed to the lavish life in a France, Mary has to get use to the simplicity of Scottish life.  She is criticized for her style of dress in addition to her religious beliefs.

We see Mary’s firm stance that she is Queen of England and her attempts to solidify her power and end the religious tensions in Scotland.  However, the issue of her cousin Elizabeth’s claim to the Scottish throne are always primary in Mary’s mind.  Mary often thinks about Elizabeth and how she will be received in the English Court.  Mary’s narration throughout the film are conversations and questions Mary poses to the absent Elizabeth.  The lack of characters gives the feeling of isolation in the film.  Mary is only surrounded by the same few characters: her ladies in waiting, her lover of the moment, her brother, and the regents.  She is confined to the castle and surrounding areas.  Her failed attempts at relationships point to her downfall in the film as she loses the loyalty of the Scottish people.  First her romance with advisor Rizzo and rumors he leads through Mary leads to a rash decision to marry Lord Darnely.  Rumors quickly swirl when Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, is mysteriously killed in an explosion and Mary marries the Earl of Bothwell too soon after Darnley’s death.

Camille Rutherford was a beautiful Mary but I did not feel her performance was special.  You did see the desperation in her character and the futility of her marriage to both Darnley and Bothwell.  I thought Edward Hogg was good as Moray; he glide into a scene speaking of ill thoughts coming from the Scottish people with menacing looks.  I remembered Sean Biggerstaff (The Earl of Bothwell) the moment I saw him.  It is nice to know that he is getting work since Harry Potter.  Aneurin Barnard was an effective weak-willed Lord Darnely who becomes the puppet of Mary and Moray.  Overall this is a historical period film that is a long two hours and offers an accurate, yet uninspired depiction of the Mary, Queen of Scots.  If you would rather wait, an US adaption of Mary’s life will be out in 2014 and with Saoirse Ronan rumored to star.

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