The Club (2015)

The Arthouse Film Festival screened The Club (or “El Club” as its Chilean Title is) recently. The film is presented in its original Spanish, but with English subtitles. The movie revolves around a difficult subject.

In the small ocean town of Boca, Chile, there is a group of aging men. One of them has a trained Greyhound dog, who races it for cash on the side. We come to find that the men are ‘retired’ Catholic priests, but not by their direct admission. One day, another priest is brought to them, to stay in seclusion. A nun oversees the men, and is their caregiver. She instructs the newcomer that he’s welcome, and while they other priests introduce themselves, a homeless guy wanders up and makes it known he knows who the newcomer is. The man is drunkenly shouting that the new priest abused him as a child, and goes in graphic detail. The other priests are annoyed, and hands the newcomer a gun, telling him to fire some warning shots to scare him off. The mortified priest walks out, and instead of scaring the guy off, he shoots himself in the head. The look on his face confirms that he did all the things the man is shouting.

The Church sends an investigator, another priest, and he’s doing more than investigating the situation. It’s likely he’s come to evaluate the effectiveness of the group home, and starts making changes. It seems that all the men were sent there, for various reasons, not because of their ages, but more due to crimes committed. None of them will admit they did anything wrong and stonewall the investigator.

The homeless man, however, is not satisfied with the outcome. He stays in town, getting odd jobs where he can. He wants to confront the other priests, too, and repeats what was done to him. The subject matter of this movie is extremely unpleasant in and of itself.

The priests are trying to ignore their pasts, but cannot avoid their true nature. These men don’t want to attract any special attention, so they devise a plan to get rid of him. They will do anything to prevent the truth from coming out, and enact a plan to eliminate their problems. The horrific plan is discussed, and acted out, but the film cuts away before being “too graphic”. They try to pin the blame for what they have done on the man, wanting the townspeople to kill him, but it backfires. The fact is that these men have become old and bitter, and deny they ever did anything immoral or untoward. Their actions prove otherwise, showing that they are heartless and unrepentant, and will do anything to save their own asses.

I did not like this movie one bit. It was well constructed, but that’s all it has. It’s clear thatwWhoever made this movie has an axe to grind about Catholic priests and their abuses of power, but this movie’s conclusion was weak. They deserve a worse outcome than what the movie provides.

Macbeth (2015)

The Arthouse Film Festival has been busy lately. As part of Monday night’s screening, they showed us the latest production of Macbeth, aka ‘The Scottish Play’, one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a Scottish Feudal Lord, who’s leading King Duncan’s forces against a rebellion. Before he enters into the last battle of the war, he is told by three witches that he will one day become King. He is triumphant, and returns home to his wife (Marion Cotillard), and he informs her of the prophecy. King Duncan (David Thewlis) arrives to celebrate the victory. Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill the king and take the throne. He does so, but only after chasing off the King’s son, Malcolm (Jack Reynor) and implicating him in the assassination. Macbeth takes the throne, but his sanity starts disappearing.

Shakespeare can be rough to follow. Reading it is difficult, but hearing it spoken is generally the best way to experience it. In this case, the movie is very stylistic, with several scenes of slow motion, and whispers where monologues are supposed to take place. The movie uses Scottish accents, as well, making it hard to follow for this American. I personally have never seen Macbeth before, so I can’t comment on the nature of the portrayal. The set designers made prodigious use of lighting and fog, most of which was done well.

I liked the film, but I don’t know that I could recommend it, unless you’ve experienced Shakespeare before, and know what to expect.

James White (2015)

Yet another screening from The Arthouse Film Festival. James White‘s a rather small, independent film, with some rather poignant and intense situations.

James White (Christopher Abbott) is a twenty-something, who’s a layabout, doing nothing with his life. He arrives at the shiva that his mother Gail (Cynthia Nixon) has set up for her husband (not his father). He bumps into Ben (Ron Livingston), who is an editor for the magazine his step father worked for, and says he’ll interview James for a position. James is rather frustrated, so he chases everyone out, and argues with his mother. She’s trying to honor her husband, but James is annoyed, since they’re not Jewish. He storms out, but comes back, saying he needs some time away to get his act back together.

James ends up in Mexico. He befriends a girl on vacation with her parents. Jayne (Makenzie Leigh) takes to him immediately, but while he’s there, his mother calls. James rushes home to find that Gail’s cancer, which was in remission, has returned. He devotes his time to taking care of her, but it’s a losing battle. What is he going to do – face this head on, or run away, like every other difficult thing he’s ever had to do?

I hated James, as a character. Yes, he’s young, and he acts like he’s owed something, but whatever it is, it’s something he will never get. Christopher Abbott’s performance is very good, as we see James go past the breaking point. Cynthia Nixon’s performance is superb. This film snuck up on me, as I drew some parallels with my own life, but fortunately I did not have to endure the severity of James’ suffering.

I strongly recommend this movie.

Mustang (2015)

Mustang is one of the latest films from The Arthouse Film Festival. It is a film shot in Turkey, but was a collaborative event with French and German backers. It is France’s submission for Best Foreign Language film for the Academy Awards for 2015.

In an oppressive society, 5 orphaned sisters live with their grandmother. An harmless incident playing with some boys after school leads their Uncle to remove them from society, to stay at home until they can be married off. They are taught cooking and cleaning, and all the necessary skills. They still manage to sneak out and have fun when they can. Lale, the youngest, is a fan of soccer, hears about a soccer match where the crowd is women-only, so she works out getting on a local bus to the game. Their grandmother spots them on TV, and their uncle realizes they escaped, and turns their grandmother’s home into a jail for them. They all dream of escape, but Lale starts making plans…

This was a ‘slice of life’ film. You get some insight on a culture you wouldn’t otherwise see. It was thrilling towards the climax, in a way you would hope for, but not actually expect. There are some very shocking turns in the film, so it’s not all fun and games.

Recommended.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is the final movie adaptation from The Hunger Games series. Originally written by Suzanne Collins, she contributed to the movie adaptation.

The revolution is in full swing. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is holed up in District 13, with many rebel forces, led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). The fight is going well, and they expect to be invading the capital within a few days. The movie starts with Katniss in the hospital, recovering after being injured when her team snuck in to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). President Snow had brainwashed Peeta into believing that Katniss and the people she represents are a danger to the entire country of Panem. President Snow manipulated Peeta into believing that the rebellion was there to destroy everything that the country represents, using Peeta as a pawn to turn popular opinion against the rebellion. Peeta, though recovered, still believes it all, and would kill Katniss if ever given the chance.

Katniss realizes that the only way to stop the fighting is to kill President Snow, but President Coin refuses to put her directly in harm’s way. Instead, she creates a small ‘strike force’, made up of former Hunger Games winners and specialists. They will be deployed behind the front lines, but pretending to be leading a part of the attacking forces. Her team, lead by Captain Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and Lieutenant Jackson (Michelle Forbes), are given a special device that knows of and can scan for all the booby traps that lie in the capital, so that they can be recorded avoiding them, for propaganda purposes. Katniss is definitely a ‘hero of the people’ and needs to be elevated as such. Coin sends Peeta up to go with the group, thinking he’s been deprogrammed enough to be an asset.

The fight goes on, and concludes. Most of the strike force is killed off, though a set of Rube-Goldbergian traps that have been set. The military tactics that the Panem forces use are terrible, and would never be used by a winning army. There is some gross stupidity on display that is probably glossed over for the sake of the story, so they could get to the end. There were several moments where the outcome was telegraphed, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.

This movie drags in several spots. The runtime is 2 hours, 17 minutes. Between the first and second parts, there was perhaps three+ hours of material that was stretched much further than it should have been, but perhaps the film studio only saw dollar signs. There are several ‘endings’, much along the lines the Lord of the Rings endings, but perhaps that was the point. Keep making a movie until they felt it was enough to pad, and then end. I don’t so much find fault with the end as much as I do with the time it took to get there.

Recommended, but for die-hard Hunger Games fans only.

The Intern (2015)

The Intern is a film with modern undertones, touching upon a couple of issues facing both the elderly and the young.

Ben (Robert DeNiro) is a retiree, whose wife has passed away. It’s been several years since then. He’s taken all the trips, and visited his children enough, and he feels there is something more to be done. He stumbles across an ad for active seniors looking for work as interns. One of his neighbors, Patty (Linda Lavin), tells him it’s a waste of time, but she’d rather spend that time with him, instead. Rather than sit by and fade away, he lands a job at an online fashion retailer.

That company is run by Jules (Anne Hathaway). She started the company with the goal of being service-minded. Anyone, she says, can have an online business, but hers would be better than anyone at customer service. She sells clothing that just fits as you would expect, but is involved in all aspects. Her partner Cameron (Andrew Rannells) reminds her of the company’s elderly intern program, and recommends that she take one of the retirees as a direct subordinate, to set the example for the rest of the company. Naturally, she’s reluctant to use Ben, but that transpires, he spends time learning about the company, and assisting people as needed. He is very observant, and is able to guide people into doing what’s right and necessary, both in work, and their outside lives.

Through a series of inconsequential circumstances, she comes to rely on him more than she ever thought she would. Ben becomes Jules’ driver, and manages to insinuate himself into her family. Jules’ husband is a stay-at-home dad, raising their daughter while she runs the company. She’s so irritated by Ben’s attentiveness that she reassigns him, but we come to find he’s more valuable to her than she wants to admit. There’s external pressure from her backers to hire a CEO, who can help shape the company better and take some of the load off of her so she falls apart from the pressure. Jules is putting on a brave face, because she’s baring the success of company on her shoulders alone.

There are comedic elements to this film that play well, but this is first and foremost a drama. The story could have gone in a different direction along those lines, but thanks to a well-written script and good direction, it does not stumble. There are a couple of turning points, and there were scenes that did not play out on screen, and that was the right decision. This is a character driven story, and the focus remains on the characters that matter. The resolution was very satisfying, and well worth the time.

Recommended.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is an anime film, which serves as a prequel to the previous Ghost in the Shell movies and the well known TV series. In the world of anime, that is. The setting is the future, in a post World War III world (without nuclear weapons, fortunately). Many people have cybernetic implants and body prosthesis to enhance their bodies, as well as communication skills. Some even have full body replacement. The ‘Ghost’ essentially refers to someone’s mind, spirit, or soul, if you will, and the Shell implies the artificial body that a Ghost will occupy. There’s a significant amount of hacking done in the background, where the right people can hack into peoples’ brains, if there is a need. The series and movies have taken place in Japan.

The film starts with a hostage situation. The government is intent on disbanding the military, and focusing instead on privatizing that function. The hostage takers are from the 501st division, and they do not want this to happen. The film starts with the prime minister authorizing the funding of a special antiterrorist unit to take care of the situation. This team is led by Major Motoko Kusanangi (dubbed by Elizabeth Maxwell), who has hand-picked her team. As they go on the offensive, the Public Security Section 9, let by Aramaki (voiced by John Swasey) sits by, guarding the facility for any external action. He wants the major’s team to work with him, but they eye him as a rival competing for funding. The major’s team is mostly successful, capturing all but one of the soldiers alive. The other one gets away. Before they can be questioned, someone hacks into some of the hostages’ minds, who are then coerced into killing the soldiers. After the fight is over, the prime minister is assassinated with a bomb while meeting with advisors. Spurred on by the prime minister’s son, the Major and her team try to find out who’s behind it all.

I’ve read that the series has undergone a reboot in recent years called Ghost in the Shell: Arise. I was not aware of that until after I’d some research before I started composing this review. This movie is a continuation of that effort, and is essentially retconning what has come before. In my opinion, it falls very flat. It’s an ‘origin story’ of a sorts, replacing what had been covered in the series. It retells a bit of the original concept, but not in an interesting way.

I was fairly disappointed by this movie. The original movie, the multiple sequels, and the TV series were all very innovative for what they were doing. The first movie went into a discussion of what it means to be a person, and the animation behind it was unbelievably photorealistic at times. The followup films were interesting, as well, and exceptionally stunning for their beauty. The seasons of the TV series delved into filling out the world, and presented some eclectic and appealing music. These stories from the franchise’s universe were unlike anything I’d seen before, and kept me wondering where it would go. However, in this film, the visuals are pedestrian, the music is a bit dull and completely forgettable, and the story is a little confusing. Perhaps this is due to my lack of awareness of the reboot beforehand. Even the film’s title is boring and nondescript. Perhaps now I will go back to the rebooted movies in this franchise, and it may change my opinion of this film, but I doubt it.

I also found it irritating that some of the franchise’s original American voice cast have been replaced. I found it disconcerting that the original voice actress for the Major, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, was is doing a different character in this film. I guess that’s the way it will be for this franchise, now.

Love the Coopers

Love the Coopers was tonight’s selection at the ArtHouse Film Festival. It’s a holiday film, and could potentially replace Love, Actually as the modern go-to Christmas movie. It’s a chaotic character stew that works, in its own way.

The film opens with a narrator (Steve Martin), who sets the scene. Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) have been married for 40 years. As usual, they are hosting dinner on Christmas Eve and all the family’s coming. What the rest of the family doesn’t know is that they are getting a divorce, but don’t want to ruin Christmas for everyone else, so they’ve put on their brave faces and will pretend nothing’s wrong. Their son, Hank (Ed Helms), is divorced, and living locally, and they pick up his youngest, while he goes on a job interview and his two sons do some last minute shopping. Meanwhile, their daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) hangs out at the airport, wasting many hours until dinner, so she doesn’t receive the annual look of pity from her parents. She bumps into Joe (Jake Lacy) at an airport bar. He’s stuck at the airport because all flights are grounded.

Furthermore, though I’m probably rearranging the sequence of events, Sam’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin) visits the diner he goes to regularly, because his favorite waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) is there. She informs him that she’s moving away to start a new life, and they argue. Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei) is arrested for shoplifting at the mall that Hank’s two sons are at. Charlie (Timothée Chalamet) and Bo (Maxwell Simkins) are oblivious to Emma’s plight because Charlie is fawning all over Kendra (Michelle Veintimilla) who works at the mall, and Bo is looking for that “perfect gift” for his brother. Oh, Sam and Charlotte have a large, sweet dog, and they’ve brought home Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) for dinner, too. The narrator fills in missing details throughout.

Got all that? Good, because every one of them has their part to play in this movie. There are some brief flashes of previous events that are touched upon, much like in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (predating Family Guy and Dream On by decades), but are not comedic. Some of the film is comical, some of it sad, and some bits rely on standard holiday tropes, which, for the most part, are not as stale as one would expect. Other tropes play out to their unavoidable and predictable conclusion. Diane Keaton and Marisa Tomei do not really seem like sisters, separately, but together, they do mesh well and you get ‘it’. The ending does seem a bit drawn out, but it does come together in the end.

That said, I still liked this movie. If you’re looking for holiday schmaltz, this is it.

Spectre

Spectre is the latest film in the James Bond series. This story continues with elements of the plot of Skyfall. In the previous movie, M (Judi Dench) was killed, and was replaced by the new M (Ralph Fiennes), who has decided that James Bond (Daniel Craig) needs to be reassessed.

The film begins with James in Mexico City, where they are celebrating the Day of the Dead. He mingles with the crowd, tailing someone of importance. They break off of the main celebration, where Bond observes his mark negotiating a deal to set off a bomb in a local stadium during the festivities. He manages to dispatch several of the people involved, but his mark manages to escape back into the crowds. Bond chases him and sets off a thrilling chase and fight sequence.

Back at home, M is furious. The loss of the previous M has forced a merger between Mi-5 and the 00 program. Bond meets the leader of Mi-5 and dubs him ‘C’. Bond’s supposed to be on lockdown, and is told to stay in England, but this is the thing that usually forces 007 to step into action, and he goes for it. We find out that the previous M has made a final request. Some evidence from Mexico City leads him to a gathering in Rome, which gets him right in the midst of a worldwide conspiracy that he has to untangle and resolve. That conspiracy has some direct relevance to how Bond’s been handling himself in the recent past.

As with any Bond movie, there are exotic locales that lead him to the heart of the situation. It’s all connected, and there are more direct links between each of the destinations involved. While previous Bond movies have run by a sense of absurd situations and ludicrous stunts, the ones with Daniel Craig have been more down-to-Earth and plausible, if we ignore the action of the last film’s scenes involving the London Underground. Here, everything is thrilling, but also believable in a way not found in previous films. Just remember that this is a James Bond movie, and go with it. The writing is reasonably decent, and women are not the props they’ve been in the past, for the most part. For example, Moneypenny’s role is not restricted to fawning over James, and it’s a welcome change.

I recommend Spectre. It’s thrilling without insulting your intelligence. The climax has a certain finality to it, but not an absolute one. The runtime of the film itself is 148 minutes by itself, so be prepared for a long stay…

Friends and Romans

Friends and Romans was another film screened for the Arthouse Film Festival. It’s a hilarious farce that’s meant to explode a few stereotypes, and it works.

Nick DeMaio (Michael Rispoli) lives on Staten Island. He sells and delivers fruits and vegetables, but his passion is for acting. Unfortunately for him, he’s been typecast, and his whole film and TV career revolves around being an extra, usually playing mobsters, but rarely in a speaking role. He auditions for a Broadway play, but manages to offend the director. His best friend, Dennis, also an extra, gets him a gig in a car commercial, but manages to mess that up, too.

At home, his daughter Gina (Katie Stevens) is distraught. She wants to be in her high school’s rendition of Guys and Dolls, but feels overshadowed by another girl who is a true drama queen. Nick’s wife, Angela (Annabella Sciorra) is trying to make Gina feel better, but Nick isn’t helping, given that his career is crumbling, too.

Nick comes to realize that the only way he’s going to realize his dream is if he puts on his own play. He walks into a theater in Staten Island, managed by Bobby (Tony Sirico), and rents it for the play. He wants to follow in Marlon Brando’s footsteps, and Angela says the way to do it is to go to Shakespeare, and since Brando played Mark Antony in Julius Ceasar, that’s the play he’s going to do. Unbeknownst to him, the theater is actually owned by Joey ‘Bananas’ Bonano (Anthony DeSando), who’s hiding out after killing someone. The FBI has the place staked out, and are listening in, but they don’t know who Bananas actually is. They decide they should send someone in to audition for the play, and while he may look Italian, he really isn’t. Joey Bananas is, at first, against the play, but we find that he’s quite an accomplished actor, himself, and gets a starring role in it.

This movie is a farce. Much of the acting is totally over the top, and most of the cast is lamenting their status as stereotypes, while playing up to them. Gina gets a part in the high school play because of it. The FBI thinks that Nick might be the murderer, but isn’t sure. Everyone’s struggling to overcome what they are, and it’s all a big mess. I will say that the must go on, but how it unfolds is left for you to discover.

I rather enjoyed this movie and I definitely recommend it. It was hilarious, while at the same time, was on the mark about the stereotypes. Angela could have easily been a confrontational, annoying wife, but she actually encourages Nick and Gina. She’s also an English teacher, so she properly understands Shakespeare and is able to pass that along to Nick, who then teaches his cast. It’s a very entertaining movie, and will begin a limited release this weekend.

Recommended.