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Category Archives: Cinematic
Professor and Students Unite for a special project Designed to engage the viewer in the urban environment
The very definition of resistant is a sort of dichotomy.
The duality is worth mentioning – first there is the act or power to oppose and second, the ability or capacity to withstand something. With the developing project Resistant History, cinema studies professor Caitlin Horsmon expects both definitions to apply. She is facilitating the project in hopes to look at culture in all its forms. Part of the project is a local activity where students and she collect stories of progressive change in the Kansas City area and making them available via the web to educators, citizens and artists. Resistant History will map sites of change in the history of the region through the creation of a group of films, a collection of documentation, and a series of neighborhood “tours” that engage the viewer in the urban environment. Topics include Civil Rights, agriculture and food policy, water and waterways and neighborhoods.
Horsmon received a Rocket Grant that has helped with some funding. Rocket Grants help fund projects that “exist outside of established art venues, occur outside of traditional forms of support, challenge traditional methods of production or presentation, add energy and diversity to the field of arts activity in our area, and provide opportunities for the creative growth of those involved.” Funding comes from the Andy Warhol
Foundation for Visual Arts, and is implemented through a collaboration between the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art.
Her initial project combines working on her own documentary and aiding the documentary film students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She’s working on a documentary on activist teacher Corinthian Nutter, the Merriam Kansas Walker school boycott and the resulting integration of the Kansas schools in 1948, five years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (Supreme Court) case.
This change in the Merriam education system happened through the activism of a group of black parents and teachers in response to the local school district building a new elementary school for whites only. In protest, the parents of black students filed a lawsuit against the school district and organized a walkout, in collaboration with the teachers at the school who continued to instruct the students in local homes. The case resulting from the lawsuit eventually was heard by the Kansas Supreme Court. Teacher Corinthian Nutter testified before the court and later said: “I felt it was the right thing to do and that is what I did.” The final outcome was a ruling in favor of the students’ right to attend the new modern school. The boycott lasted an entire school year.
“It’s interesting to find these stories. They weren’t part of the national story, but definitely part of our metropolitan history,” she says. “The Call newspaper wrote about it, but for the most part, the stories are oral histories.” Horsmon is an artist with a wide range of interests – her research centers on non-commercial and world cinema, with a focus on the social history of experimental forms. Her animation, film and video works have been awarded widely nationally and internationally including a screening at the prestigious Cinémathèque Française.
Horsmon is essentially serving as a facilitator and collector. Her small documentary filmmaking class at UMKC is creating a series of short documentaries that tell the stories of how progressive change was, or is, accomplished locally. The website becomes a single gathering point as well. Horsmon and the students will also create a series of “video tours” of areas of the city with histories of activism, made for mobile devices so that they can be easily downloaded and immerse participants in the landscape of history.
Using Google Maps, they will create an interactive map of the city populated with links to the sites of activist history. “The impetus for the project started because many of my students felt dislocated from being able to make or bring about change. So often, we look at the news and see change happening in Washington, not here. Documentaries allow us all to tell our stories and map that history around here,” she says. “We are capturing how regular people exercise their own concerns and make changes in their own backyard.”
The website also includes a place where people can offer their stories. “We are seeking memories of the area. We know there should be people willing to talk about the riots that occurred here in the 1960s. We also want to find neighborhood organizations. We are hoping people might have some home movies.”
Horsmon says the Resistant History is one significant experiment. Originally from San Diego County, Calif., she says another bonus is her chance to learn about the area’s history. “Truly any place you go, you can find people doing amazing things. We are presenting how our schools work or what is changing in our environment. These are important stories. Not many people are in the know about the area’s involvement in race. There are people who are really courageous in these defining moments of ‘separate, but equal.’ We want to show the Midwestern stories.”
She’s been a professor at UMKC for seven years. Engaging her students is equally as important as collecting the stories to populate the website. “Students and local filmmakers will find a home for their documentaries with Resistant History website. It’s a gathering place to find interesting work. So often, documentaries don’t have large showings, but the site will provide that chance to have all stages of the production live. As an example, being a student filmmaker can be tough. Your docs may be seen at film festivals, but not many other places. The site will be a repository.”
Film is a powerful medium, she says. “Film allows us to tell complex stories. It’s an engaging medium.” Horsmon hopes to complete her film, The Right Thing to Do: The Walker School Boycott, in the spring. “Resistant History is an ongoing event. I suspect all of 2013 will be a chance to collect stories. However, as issues relate to the city, we will be taking cameras around, and finding out about its relationships. It’s simply thrilling.”
There’s nothing overly entertaining about the Holocaust. Dr. Fran Sternberg admits that the full-length cinematic features about the systematic and state-sponsored torture and murder of six million Jews don’t invite joyous adventures into the magic of film. However, the Midwest Center or Holocaust Education’s film series, Hollywood and the Holocaust, offers thoughts on the perceptions of this horrific period in history.
Sternberg, director of university programs and adult education at the MCHE, selected the films to demonstrate how the Holocaust in American cinema changed over five decades as the country began to internalize and digest these horrors. “It’s also our 20th anniversary,” she says. “We are looking at these films as a benefit. We have celebrated our oral histories that we collected from the metropolitan area, but I wanted the anniversary year to take a little different slant.” Sternberg also teaches Jewish history and history of the Holocaust at UMKC and KU.
The six-part series starts with the one documentary that provides the setting and context for the five narrative films. All the films start at 7 p.m. with the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, plays Jan. 15 in the White Theatre (Jewish Community Campus, 5801 West 115th Street, Overland Park, Kan.). The first feature film, playing Feb.12, is the 1942’s To Be or Not to Be, directed by German-born Ernst Lubitsch. The film stars Carole Lombard, Jack Benny and Robert Stack. A raggedy acting troupe in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland, gets embroiled in some of the resistance in Poland. “Jews were already being shipped to death camps in 1942,” Sternberg says. “While the film came out in March 1942, the United States had just entered the war. No one really knew the final outcomes.”
On March 12, Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement with Gregory Peck and John Garfield, plays. “The Holocaust had just happened. Americans saw many images as part of the weekly news reels. There were images of the camps,” Sternberg says. “While no one in the film mentions the Holocaust, the film deals with anti-Semitism as Peck’s character, a reporter, pretends to be Jewish. John Garfield plays Dave Goldman, who is Jewish, and has just returned from World War II. Anti-Semitism hangs like the elephant in the room.”
The April 23 film is The Pawnbroker, 1965, by Sidney Lumet and stars Rod Steiger as a survivor. Sternberg says the trial of war criminal Adolf Eichmann was on the television news from time to time during 1960 and 1961. “Survivors gave testimony and the public got to hear,” she says. “The Pawnbroker is reminiscent of Death of a Salesman for me. He is long suffering and lost all his faith.”
The May 23 film is the 1975 film, The Man in the Glass Booth. Actor Maximillian Schell plays Arthur Goldman, a rich Jewish industrialist, living in luxury in a Manhattan high-rise. However, he’s arrested by Israeli secret agents that burst in and arrest Goldman for being a Nazi war criminal. “This is more of an existential film,” she says.
The final film is Enemies: A Love Story, 1989, June 11. Sternberg came to the United States in 1949 as a young girl with her survivor parents and grew up in Brooklyn. Enemies is set in 1949 New York. “These survivors are human. They argue, laugh, love, bicker and cheat on each other. When we started looking at survivors, we need to see them as whole people.”
In 1933, the Jewish population in Europe was at least 9 million. At the end of World War II, the number was 3 million. Sternberg offers her thoughts as to context. “Statistically, your survival was not the normative condition. Two-thirds were killed. It was not living, but dying that was most familiar. A good day was a day above ground.” Sternberg acknowledges the other victims of the Holocaust as well – gays, gypsies, Catholics including many Jesuit priests and other undesirables. “These films have that redemptive quality while dealing with the issue of silence. Film, as an art form, tries and that’s why I appreciate these films.”•
Ellen Darling | Zimmer Real Estate Services
Ellen Darling joined Zimmer Real Estate Services in 1982 as marketing manager, and since that time has been involved in every aspect of the company including sales, property and asset management and corporate operations. Her volunteerism and charitable organizations include serving on the executive committee and board at Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault; board of directors for the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce; corporate work study program board member for Cristo Rey; East Fund Grant Committee for Shawnee Mission East High School; and UMKC Board of Trustees executive committee.
She served last year as vice chair for development and this year, leads finance. “The Board of Trustees for the University of Missouri-Kansas City is a worthwhile organization and I believe in what we do. Chancellor Leo Morton used to be the head of the trustees and he asked me to join. It was hard to say no.”
Darling, like many of her peers, believes Kansas City’s business community is intrinsically linked to the arts and leisure in town. “To make Kansas City strong, we need to be strong in all facets. We have to be welcoming and receptive. It’s a community that must be supportive to all where people can raise their families and find cultural activities to attend. We have to attract and grow businesses. We have to offer a well-rounded community that develops people to be good corporate stewards which includes a focus on philanthropy.”
Zimmer Real Estate Services will receive the Best New Campaign Honoree at the 2013 Arts KC Fund Award recipient. The Arts Council recognizes businesses and their employees for their extraordinary leadership in workplace giving campaigns. Darling says the company identifies a cause or organization each year and the Arts Council was the selected this year. “We build employee morale and camaraderie.”
Darling says she extols the trustee scholar program at UMKC. Her father, Hugh Zimmer, was instrumental in creating the marquee program. “We really are trying to attract the best and brightest. These young people can find mentors, internships and potential employment. We want to show high-caliber students that a good education can be found in their own backyard.”
The commitment of the Board of Trustees humbles her. “These stewards commit their time, talents and financial support. You like to be associated with such leaders.” As far as the future of the university, Darling wants the best for the students and the university faculty and staff.
A film review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by Alexander Morales
The main thing you need to know about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is long. I mean real long. Like 15 minutes shy of 3 hours long. Like, make sure you go to the bathroom before you find your seat and then make sure you go again right before the last preview ends kind of long. That’s how long it is. And that’s a bit of a shame considering the source material is not as bloated as this film seems to make it.
But let’s back up a bit.
Returning to the land of Middle-Earth, visionary director and producer Peter Jackson has once again taken the helm and worked his film magic to bring us another chapter in the J.R.R. Tolkien library of legend. Almost 10 years have past – yet seems less with the expanded DVDs, Bluray and return to theaters that the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned – and luckily (and near immediately) audiences will be swept right back into the nostalgia those films created. Which is great for the success of the film, but bad because it may have turned the overall focus of the tale in the wrong direction.
Acted extremely well, shot just as beautifully as almost every film Jackson has developed and with an extremely high production-value, The Hobbit’s only two downfalls is its choice to fatten up the source material into three films and it’s sometimes too familiar choices in storytelling.
Beginning with the wealth of the great Dwarf kingdom Erebor, through the destruction that the dragon Smaug brings and the journey of one Hobbit and his strange band of forgettable dwarfs, The Hobbit is the first in a set of three films (yet one book … one 276 + or -) that will tell Bilbo Baggins’ (played by an always fantastic Martin Freeman) amazing story of how he, an insignificant creature, would change the balance of his world.
Bringing back some of the original cast and reengaging the audience with familiarity, The Hobbit succeeds in making the audience feel like this is the same Middle-Earth that we have experienced before. The highly emotional music, rousing sword fights and gruesome monsters of the land are all there and honestly, I loved it.
It wasn’t until after the film was over that I realized, “wait a minute?!”
Pulling the source material like a rubber band that has lost its elasticity, The Hobbit begins to fall short in that it loses its main purpose. Instead of focusing on Bilbo and his personal, introverted journey against a cast of extroverted adventurers (?), we are given the grand Fellowship-type saga that shows off the huge landscape of the world more than the personal, small story that the Hobbit represents. It’s Bilbo’s lack of confidence and his personal sense of insignificance versus his later blossoming that is inspiring. Like layers of an onion, the world opens up to Bilbo during this journey and yet, since we’ve been here already, we lose that sense of discovery.
Along with that, we are told, time and time again, that he is small, the world is large and, like an echo from Lord of the Rings, how he as a Hobbit can’t do this or that because they (Hobbits) are cowardly creatures. It becomes a wasted argument in the end, because, less we forget, these dwarfs and Gandalf showed up at Bilbo’s door and told him they needed him … not the other way around.
At the same time, while clearly a fan favorite and nearly the most popular of all the Lord of the Rings characters, the film at times feels more like Gandalf’s (played once again by the excellent Ian McKellen) story or, in contrast, more about Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage.) It’s a difficult balance to find, but none-the-less, this is called The Hobbit.
Of course that is until we get to meet our old friend Gollum.
Short of giving any details away, this scene between Bilbo and Gollum is truly epic and honestly the linchpin that keeps this film together. Luckily, it is acted, shot and edited so well, that fans will be mesmerized.
Overall, I think fans will eat this up and ask for seconds. The Hobbit has everything that audiences will expect. Fantastic sets, smart dialogue and truly invested actors make this feel and interact with the previous films with ease. Expanding the giant world and bringing us back to known places help in keeping fans engaged even against the just as monstrous running time. Those not as familiar with the book will have no problem with the additions/changes and probably find those critiques from overly familiar nerds a bit irritating, however, there is no denying that the upcoming films need to be tightened up quite a bit. Even with its downfalls, it is still as high quality a film as we would expect from Jackson and company, but after some inspection, a notch down from the standard that Return of the King set.
Of course, I also have to quickly address the choice to film this movie at 48 frames per second versus the regular 24 – something that most movie goers will care nothing about. It doesn’t matter. Like it or not, it makes this film the clearest 3D I have every seen and while, yes, it does reveal a few flaws in production, it’s like watching real life on a screen. Is it odd? Yes. At times does it remind you of old BBC or soap opera television … possibly. But as a first step in delivering a new technology to movie screens, I think it worked fine and could, like everything use some improvement.
Extremely expected and a bit too long for a film about people walking, I still enjoyed it so far.
4 out of 5 Riddles in the Dark
Hitchcock … The Story Behind the Story.
Reviewed by Jason Gregg
Ed Gien, do you know who he is? Serial killer, cross dresser, psychopath. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know who he was either. His actions were the inspiration for the book Psycho which was in turn developed into the screenplay for the 1960 thriller of the same title. How did I find this out? The reincarnation of Alfred Hitchcock told me. Well not really, but a spot on portrayal by Anthony Hopkins began the movie Hitchcock by telling me this story. And, in classic Hitchcock form he delivered it with the driest of British wit and charm.
For the casual movie viewer not much is known about the inspiration and work that went into that black and white film from more than 50 years ago. What most people on the street could tell you is that it involved a slasher shower scene by a man with mother issues. What Hitchcock (directed by Sacha Gervasi Anvil, The Terminal) does is takes the viewer further into the how and why of this movie not only by Alfred Hitchcock but also by his determined wife Alma (played by Helen Mirren).
It is true that Ed Gien’s actions started the Psycho ball rolling; however it was Hitchcock’s desire to make it into a film after it had been passed upon by many other directors. But why? He just completed North by Northwest, a spy movie. Why change gears and focus on a dark subject like this? He knew that with inside of all of us that we couldn’t look away when presented with the dark and demented. He knew the human psyche all too well and was able to be the man in the corner with a 35mm camera capturing it all.
As the audience we follow Hitch’s (that’s what everyone called him, even his wife) determination to live again by making films that he wanted to make, not films that he had to make for contractual obligations with the studios. He admits that in his last 30 years he has made some poor film decisions and this was his chance to redeem himself; he was 60 years old and by Hollywood’s standards past his prime. He needed Psycho to prove himself once again.
Alma chooses, as always, to support her husband. However, there is another man, Whitfield Cook (played by Danny Huston) who is after Alma for her script writing skills. Alma wasn’t some quiet house wife always agreeing with her famous husband. For her time she was a very domineering woman who was once Hitch’s boss.
While Alma is being pursued, Hitch is pursuing a blond bombshell, Janet Leigh (played by Scarlett Johansen) to play his leading lady. It turns out that Hitch has a thing for blond actress and once he gets them under his wing, he wants to control their every move. He also casts a mild manner (possibly gay) Anthony Perkins (played by James D’Arcy) who has mother issues of his own. Lastly he casts Vera Miles (played by Jessica Biel), who was within inches of being made a star by Hitch but she chose motherhood instead.
While production is in full swing, Hitch is also having fantasy escapist moments where he is conversing with Ed Gien (played by Michael Wincott) while Ed is performing some of the murders that made him infamous. To top it off Hitch is battling the studio and the censor board not only on the shower scene but also on the toilet in the bathroom. Here’s a bit of trivia - Psycho was the first American film to show a flushing toilet.
All of this starts to spiral out of control when Hitch convinces himself that Alma is cheating on him and his film becomes still born. It’s flat and he doesn’t know why, not until he pleads Alma for help to bring his film to life. Once that happens film history is made. Well, not quite. Hitch also has to do his own marketing where he sends specific instructions to theater owners to hire armed guards keeping patrons from entering Psycho late. How’s that for adding an extra touch of suspense?
Should you see this movie? Yes, but please see Psycho first. This is not a film that will ignite one’s interest in Psycho. There has to be some engagement on the viewer’s behalf to be vested in the film in the first place. This is not a film for a 17-year-old boy to take his best girl to in hopes of understanding Hitchcock. This film was intended for a mature audience who has most likely grown up watching his movies or TV series. This is for the fans who want to see one of the monumental directors reincarnated by an actor who has taken his role seriously.
Silver Linings Playbook Takes a Ride on the Bi-Polar Express
Reviewed by Jason Gregg
I am going to try to coin a new term and see if it catches on in the Internet world – “RomComDram.” I might have to hash tag it to see what happens. It might take some getting used to but it is the only word that I can think of to describe David O. Russell’s latest movie Silver Linings Playbook. It’s a little funny, a little romantic and a little dramatic.
The film doesn’t even start with opening credits, we start with Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) talking to himself in a mental institution. He is reciting lines aloud on how he is going to win his ex-wife back. We jump around to random events at the institution and out of nowhere his mother, Dolores (played wonderfully by Jacki Weaver) whisks him away, well along with his mental institution buddy Danny (played by Chris “Where has he been for the last 10 years?” Tucker), who is constantly trying to escape from the institution.
Once at home we discover that Pat Sr. (played by Robert De Niro) has lost his job and is now a bookie. We also discover that Pat Sr. has a bit of OCD; in fact, everyone in the whole darn cast has some kind of mental issue. Pat probably has it the worst with his bi-polar disorder and violent tendencies. He is on a mission to win his ex-wife back, who has a restraining order against him. This proves his mission a little more impossible. It also makes the movie a lot more dramatic. He refuses to take his meds and believes that she will take him back if he shows her that he can improve on his own while keeping physically fit. Without his meds, he becomes more and more violent.
Pat takes up running to keep fit and runs into an old friend who invites Pat to dinner. His friend isn’t necessarily crazy, but he works a job he hates to please his wife and buys her nice things even though he feels the weight of the world is suffocating him (which on a side note could be considered a bit crazy). At the dinner party, Pat is introduced to the foul mouthed sister-in-law Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who is just as crazy as Pat. They get into a quick discussion about all the different meds they have been put on over the years.
Pat and Tiffany do not hit it off right away; he is still convinced that he is married to his ex-wife. Tiffany, a recent widow, wants to sleep with him, but the lights have to be off. Sounds like the making of a romantic movie. They could have gone their separate ways but of course being a “romcomdram”” (copyright pending), they are drawn back together when Pat’s psychiatrist helps him realize that Tiffany can get a message to his ex. As with most “romcoms” (“romantic comedy,” that one was already established years ago) to bring the two potential lovers together, there has to be a pushing off point where they need to work on something uncomfortable together. And that something is, wait for it….a dance competition. Yep, in this pop cultural world of “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” TV shows, Russell gives us an unoriginal story about dance competitions.
While Pat is preparing for the big dance, Pat Sr. wants to spend time with him because he has good juju for the Philadelphia Eagles. He even goes out a limb and bets his life’s savings on one game where Pat blows up at a game and the Eagles lose. Now Pat Sr. is in trouble, so he goes double or nothing plus a parlay where Pat and Tiffany need to get a score of 5 at the competition. Being a “romcom” I am sure you can guess how this all ends.
Should you see this movie? Ehh…maybe. If you have someone in your life that has a mental illness this might speak to you on some level. It’s pretty predictable on the romantic endeavor front considering what will happen between the two co-stars who hate each other at first but fall for one another after working on their dance moves.
Russell tried very hard with camera techniques to zoom in and out and make quick shots that turned most of the film into just that - a film with lots of quick, unnecessary zooms in and out. But, similar to his last film The Fighter he does have a great ear for solid music to set the scenes, using Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash/ Bob Dylan, The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin to the film’s advantage.
Well, there really is no way to say this without sounding rude so I’m just going to say it … Red Dawn is not good. To be exact … it’s a silly, poorly written, badly acted, easily dismissed mess, that honestly, should have stayed on the shelf that it’s been sitting on. Originally scheduled to be released in 2010, it’s clear, after watching, why the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s company had so many financial issues several years ago.
A remake of the 1984 (some say) classic that brought together a who’s who of young actors and actresses such as Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey, the 2012 version of Red Dawn is just more a who’s who of young actors and actresses that nobody really cares about. Well, except for Chris Hemsworth, but I’ll get to him in a minute.
Basically, the film focuses on a band of teens that fight back when a foreign military force enters and takes over United States soil. In 1984, it was the Soviet Union … in 2012, it’s North Koreans … with some leftover Soviet Union officers. Who knew that Spokane, Washington was so integral to outside forces. Anyway, the enemy invades, half the town is imprisoned in concentration camps while the rest are able to come and go as they please with the opportunity to still eat at a Subway (yeah … apparently North Koreans love to eat fresh) while, not so secretly, our rebel band of teenagers reek havoc in the name of their beloved high school’s mascot – The Wolverines!
Loud, lame and ludicrous, Red Dawn falls short in nearly every category that makes a film worth watching. Nearly. Chris Hemsworth (come on … you know … Thor) as Jed, the older of the two rebel leaders and main characters, is, as always, fantastic to watch. This will be the second film of his that’s been brought back to life after being shelved and his charisma is nearly enough to make the film worth watching. Unfortunately, he’s paired with a younger brother character named Matt, played by Josh Peck who is so irritatingly unwatchable, that he can only be described as a female Kristen Stewart. Completely lacking any other emotion than confusion, Peck mouth-breathes through all his scenes and you can’t help but hope that he gets captured.
The rest of the cast is OK, with Connor Cruise getting some buzz because of his mommy and daddy while Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) still proves that if he and Quagmire from Family Guy had a “Whose Jaw is More Impressive Contest,” he would still win. But, for the most part, the rest of the cast is as minimal as they come. It’s pretty clear right away who’s going to make it and who is not so … you know. I will say, my secret crush on Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) is still as strong as ever, so for me, she can do no wrong and I’m a little biased.
In terms of the rest of the film, while it looks quality, I find it incredibly dumb. Extremely poor dialogue and character choices make it predictable and hypocritical. I have very specific thoughts about the terrorism these teens start to represent but this is seriously not the place to get into it. Feel free to comment if you would like to hear more.
After that, there’s really nothing left to say. I mean … I saw it. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that’s all the rest of the viewing audiences will be left with as well. Rather than having details to share or any real moment to tell friends about, audiences will leave with a sense of emptiness and a barrage of scenes that never really move you to think one way or the other. The movie will end, the lights will come up and they’ll think … man, I should have seen something else.
Never being able to find its focus and being lead astray by a half of the leading duo, Red Dawn is a disappointment in execution and another lesson in why some movies should stay shelved. Sorry Wolverines … you just lost.
2 out 5 School buses randomly driving prisoners around town only to take them right back to the concentration camp where they were being held, making it seem like part of the bad guys scheme to uproot the rebels but doesn’t make sense because the main baddie doesn’t know the importance of one specific prisoner on the bus so why would a main character jeopardize the team if he knew it would probably be easier and safer for everyone to break into the prison instead of waging all out war in the streets where obviously he is outgunned, out-manned and out-flanked at all positions … I mean come on … has he not played any of the Call of Duty games?
Review by Joseph Hagen
In a nation divided by war, our 16th President pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery in his tumultuous final months in office. This is the stage for the film Lincoln. This movie is more than just an exploration of pro-America propaganda; instead, this film reaches beyond the known stereotypes of Abraham Lincoln and delivers a complete view of this slice of American history.
Daniel Day-Lewis. DANIEL Day-Lewis. Daniel DAY-LEWIS. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS! Honestly, I could end this review with that much said, and I say that with ZERO sarcasm. Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest actor of our time (and possibly ever) has blessed us with yet another transformative and spellbinding performance in Lincoln. The genius of Day-Lewis brings the legend, the history and most importantly, the humanity to an American icon. Through this performance, Day-Lewis will likely win his third Academy Award for Best Actor. From the first moment that Day-Lewis appears on screen as Lincoln, it’s like going back in time. His performance is absolutely uncanny: it’s as if Lincoln himself is on the screen in front of you. It’s that good.
An all-star supporting cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, David Strathairn and Hal Holbrook make Lincoln a who’s who of actors. Not simply filling space, these performers were almost necessary to balance the genius of Day-Lewis. Anything less than quality, professional actors would seem out of place in comparison.
Steven Spielberg’s straightforward and surprisingly non-frilly directing allows the story to be told without distraction from strange camera angles and special effects. With long, sweeping shots, soft-focus, and a wonderful usage of lighting, Spielberg does not rely on his old tricks in Lincoln. With a blueprint on war footage shots, he could have relied on the Saving Private Ryan playbook, but refrains from using his standard tools, instead showing his wisdom and experience with the art of storytelling.
Riveting from beginning to end, Lincoln is a fantastic film sure to not only be a new stable in American history classes across the country, but also be revisited during Oscar nomination time early next year.
Look, if you read my stuff, you know I’m a nerd. A geek. I’m a pop cultural junkie who has already downloaded Angry Birds Star Wars, watched the previews for World War Z and Warm Bodies 20 times over and make my children watch, quite regularly, She-Ra, Jem, Fraggle Rock and a variety of other shows that filled my youth with pleasure. My DVR is packed with American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. My daughter was Princess Leia for Halloween a few years ago and she thinks her younger brother would make a great Yoda (or Yogurt as she likes to refer to him in a new attempt to irritate me.) What the hell does this have to do with James Bond you ask …? Well, there should be no shock when I say that I have seen every Bond film several times over and openly wanted to be a secret agent as a young boy (and maybe I still do) – even going so far as to try and make a Swiss Army shoe and professional business cards.
So with that being said … I love James Bond. And yes … before one of my friends decides to make a snappy comment at my expense – it’s in an unhealthy, stalker and sometimes a little lusty kind of love.
Don’t judge me.
Regardless, every time a new Bond films come out, I have to see it. Thankfully, Bond’s newest addition to the canon, Skyfall, celebrates everything that has made Bond magnificent over the past 50 years. Boldness, bravery and babes!
The base story, this time around, is a little blah for me. Not because it’s poorly constructed or anything. Just because I’ve seen it before. Mission Impossible parts 1 and 4, Alias, etc. Luckily, some strong characterization, bad-ass action and a solid pace make up for it.
A list … always a list … has gotten into the wrong hands and of course, all hell will break loose if the good guys don’t get it back. Immediately thrown into the action, Bond and his newbie sidekick agent Eve (Naomie Harris) weave their way through a foreign landscape only to lose the package … and a whole lot more. Months later, M (the always posh and snarky Dame Judi Dench) and her team of MI:6ers get a lead on the list, only to get infiltrated and terrorized by a hidden enemy. Ooooohhhh. The plot is thickening.
Thankfully, for everything that Quantum of Solace got wrong, Skyfall gets right. Less the overbearing, high-society shadow network of rich badness, Skyfall chooses a more personal, tight look into the lives of Bond and M and keeps the overall structure nice and simple. Much more a personal matter than business.
As the primary antagonist, Javier Bardem’s Silva is a perfect reflection of the Bond character. It’s exactly what was attempted with the Alec Trevelyan character (played by the always exceptional Sean Bean) in the 1995 Golden Eye, only way better. Not because Sean Bean did a bad job or anything, but because Bardem’s take is so nuanced and special, that it blows most of the stereotypical roster of Bond baddies away. Directly connected to M’s past, Silva represents everything that Bond is – only in the negative. Oozing with confidence and driven by a perceived betrayal, Bardem’s mission is not only to murder, but to humiliate, discredit and destroy everything that M stands and works for.
Of course, Daniel Craig in the title character’s role is fantastic once again. Cool as ice and hard-edged when needed, Craig devours every scene and gives some much needed humanity to a role that has always been larger than life. At the same time, viewers are given a look into Bond’s past adding even more layers of realism to a person that has been shrouded in mystery throughout his long career.
Adding to the goodness, I can’t say enough about Dench’s take on M. Strong willed decisive, intelligent, professional … the positive adjectives just keep coming and while flawed as any person is, Dench commands her agency with a power that I wish all politicians could demand. Dench’s scenes with Craig are so good and smart that you can’t help but smile as snipe each other with the dialogue.
Yet, as strong as these three actors/characters are, you can’t deny that their accompanying cast is just as kick ass. Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, the before mentioned Harris and newest Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe all add such strong performances that this film is overflowing with excellence.
At the same time, the direction is exceptionally solid. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) has grabbed a hold of the reigns and proven that Bond is just as relevant today as he was fifty years ago. It’s clear that Mendes and the writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan (two of which also wrote Quantum of Solace) took their time to craft a Bond film that would be worth making and proving that Bond is a franchise that can continue for another half century.
Along with that, the rest of the behind the scenes team needs some solid recognition. From the gorgeous cinematography to the art direction, this film is one layer on top of another layer of sweetness. Nothing seems half-assed in this film and along with the work the actors are putting in, every environment adds to the overall accomplishment.
On the flip side of this lovefest, it is a bit long. With a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes, better not have to go pee. At the same time, as with most films, a big section of the film is based on a master plan and it’s a little hard to believe that every little piece could fall perfectly into place in order to for it to happen. Similar to the Joker getting arrested in The Dark Knight. Yeah is all works in the script, but after some dissection, it gets even more far fetched than it already is.
But you know, whatever. Realism isn’t something Bond is known for.
Fifty years of anything in this day and age is pretty impressive. This is especially true if it can stay relevant the entire time. Skyfall is a highly entertaining explosion of excellence that near perfectly brings Bond back to pure excellence. With Easter Eggs and nods to his past, Skyfall reaches to the future and proves that Daniel Craig is the right man for Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
4.5 out 5 miles of hidden tunnels under the city of London
Skyfall – This Time It’s Personal
Reviewed by Jason Gregg
After 22 previous Bond feature films, how much more can be said about the Double O agent? The man has saved the world countless times from super villains, slept with numerous women and probably has drunk enough martinis to intoxicate a Blue Whale several times over. So, what is left to tell? With the release of Skyfall we find that James Bond is still a complex character after 50 years of storytelling.
The first half of Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes American Beauty, Road to Perdition) begins like any other Bond film that you might have seen before. James (played by Daniel Craig) is in Turkey chasing after a bad guy who has just killed several other agents and has stolen a hard drive. This hard drive contains information on several MI6 operatives who are currently infiltrating terrorist cells around the world. It is imperative that Bond receives this data. There is a car chase that leads into a motorcycle chase that leads into a train chase, all within the first few minutes. While fighting the bad guy atop a moving train, Bond’s back up agent, Eve (played by Naomie Harris) is forced to take a long range sniper shot. The orders are given directly by the MI6 Director - M (played by Judi Dench). The agent misses and after Bond falls to his supposed death, we are given the traditional Bond opening credits.
Three months later M is in danger of being forced into retirement due to the loss of the hard drive. All along everyone thinks Bond is dead, while he is drinking himself into oblivion in a coastal village. On her way back to the office there is an attack on MI6 where six agents die. Bond sees this on the news. He comes back to save the day, but it is not so easy. In his three month hiatus, he lost his aim and strength. The agency reluctantly reinstates him to follow the trail of the hard drive. He is introduced to a new Q (played by Ben Whishaw) for new high tech goodies. But being 2012 the exploding pen is no longer needed; he receives a high tech hand gun and a radio transmitter. How is he supposed to save the world with that?
Bond makes his way to Macau (I had Google Map it too) where he gets closer to his final target through a beautiful woman (typical Bond right?). Of course, only after a few hours of the two meeting, Bond is in a steamy shower on a yacht with his new found female companion. She leads him right to the villain, soft spoken Silva (played by a blonde Javier Bardem). Bond knows of Silva; he used to be a MI6 agent who turned into a bad guy.
So that’s it for me telling you how this is a typical Bond film, now it gets dark.
During the interrogation we discover that Bond’s nemesis might or might not be gay. We also discover that Bond might have had or not had a homosexual encounter in his past. That’s new. We also see Bond capture his arch nemesis half way through the movie. So, all is good, right? Bond got the girl and the bad guy, what is left? Quite a bit.
It turns out that this was all an elaborate plan for Silva to get caught and be brought face to face with M. We start questioning the stern M and her motives for MI6. Can she be trusted, is she really for Queen and Country? From this point forward, this is Silva’s personal vendetta for M. She sold him out years ago and now it is time for revenge.
In the escape, Bond goes old school with us. He pulls his famed Aston Martin from the days of old and we go low tech. Fans of the older films will catch onto the subtle jokes. Ending up at Bond’s childhood farmstead there is a last fight for Bond and M. There are no fancy gadgets to help him this time, not even a high power arsenal. He has no choice but to rely on a hunting shotgun and whatever he can scrounge together around the farm. Silva on the other hand has a small army. Bond is beaten down to his last hope to save himself and M.
Should you see this movie? Yes, it has given a new story to a 50 year old character. You don’t have to watch all 22 movies to enjoy this one. It will keep most audiences engaged as he globe trots to find his enemy. With Silva though we don’t see a villain who wants to take over the world or make millions of dollars. All he wants is his final revenge on the person who betrayed him.
The Sessions is based upon the autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien confined to an iron lung who is determined – at age 38 – to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality with a sex surrogate in 6 sessions. The cast includes Helen Hunt as Cheryl the surrogate, William H. Macy as the Catholic priest, Adam Arkin as Cheryl’s husband and most notably, John Hawkes as Mark O’Brien.
How can a movie about a man stricken with polio since age 6 move the audience from laughter to tears? Well, it does. If committed to an institution following his childhood diagnosis, Mark O’Brien’s life expectancy would have been 18 months, but his devout Catholic parents decided to care for him at home and he lived decades beyond the average age. O’Brien attends UC Berkley on a rolling flatbed and graduates along with his peers. O’Brien wrote this well before modern day computers by pecking, letter-by-letter using a stick in his mouth from the confines of his iron lung, his safety net between life and death, as he ponders his quest to be “de-flowered.”
O’Brien’s wicked sense of humor effused a love of this very special person while his handicap became secondary. Women in his life found themselves falling head over heels with his je ne sais quoi charm. O’Brien’s spirit created a very special bond with his priest that he visited often to discuss his de-flowering desires, something the Catholic Church frowns upon out of wedlock. But as O’Brien says, “My penis speaks to me and I’m getting close to my ‘use by’ expiration date.” “Go for it, O’Brien” is the quintessential endorsement from his priest, along with his blessing!
The Sessions is an amazing film, a study of human perseverance, of humor, of love, of acceptance and sex. Mark O’Brien reminds each of us the importance of expressing one’s self and to not be frightened by taking a leap of faith to communicate our deepest desires with love and kindness. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Why is it so difficult for many to express? That’s what makes this film special … A+++ for this must-see testament to strength and doing our best with the cards we are dealt.
By Heidi Nast