Sunday, November 29, 2015

A DYING BREED: a review of "Spotlight"

Screenplay Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
Directed by Tom McCarthy
***1/2 (three and half stars)

The news has been cancelled.

That damning phrase has been uttered more times than I am able to count over the years and yet, with each passing year, the truth behind that statement could not be any truer, as far as I am concerned. The rise of the internet, the 24 hour cable news cycle, severe budget cuts, and the decimation of the nation's newspapers would be more than enough to place powerful nails in journalism's coffin. But I also feel that the status of what could be referenced as "opinion journalism" has done more to erase impartial objectivity as well as contributed more than its share to the building of larger and more impenetrable echo chambers that are nothing but self-serving to every individual reader/viewer, thus forcing our overall political/societal discourse to break down.

None of us are really immune and we are all complicit to varying degrees. While I do love Rachel Maddow for instance, as well as John Nichols' especially strong work for The Nation, I also know that their personal politics are a part of the package, inherently existing as part of the stories that they are reporting, an element that is wholly unnecessary. At its worst, we are armed with newspapers as well as a television network, which shall remain nameless upon my site, that clearly, obviously and unrepentantly function as arms of propaganda masquerading as news, and since those outlets have the largest microphones, and most of the print and electronic media plus the radio and television airwaves, alternatives are scant to be found unless one scours for them. But, with the speed of life and survival in the 21st century, how does the average citizen have time and energy to perform their own sense of investigative journalism, the type of which that should be occurring in all of our news sources in the first place.

Director Tom McCarthy speaks to this very issue that befalls the state of our journalism with his latest effort "Spotlight," a taut, perceptive, sobering drama which works as a simultaneous tribute and lament for the very investigative journalism that we deserve and are continuing to rapidly lose. While some critics have already anointed this film with superlatives as "extraordinary," "pulse-pounding" and one source even proclaimed that the film is the finest motion picture about journalism since Director Alan J. Pakula's "All The President's Men" (1976), my reaction was considerably more muted as I did find the film to be a tad more sedate and drier than it needed to be. That being said, "Spotlight" is yet another strong, smart, provocative adult drama currently playing in the multiplexes and art houses that demands your attention.

Set in 2001, "Spotlight" focuses upon the small, insular and titular investigative news team for The Boston Globe as they meticulously and methodically uncover a systemic pattern of sexual abuse of children by the Roman Catholic priests in Massachusetts as well as the historical cover up by the Boston Archdioceses.

Based upon the actual series of stories run by the paper, McCarthy presents his cinematic version of the news team which consists of Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James), Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slatterly), and Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who, during the course of this film, becomes the new Editor of The Boston Globe, the one who shifted the newspaper's international coverage to more locally based investigative journalism, and was the key figure who quietly suggested the Spotlight team explore the sexual abuse scandal. The combined efforts of these individuals earned The Boston Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

While I am a little bit softer on this film than what the bulk of the reviews have been expressing, I will say that "Spotlight" is a true return to form for Tom McCarthy who has indeed delivered his finest film since the outstanding drama "The Visitor" (2007), which presented a star making performance from legendary character actor Richard Jenkins. With "Spotlight," I was pleased to see how McCarthy never once injected unnecessary drama into his film, one that already possesses an enormous amount of inherent drama considering the subject matter. The entire cast is appropriately understated and firmly on point, working beautifully as an ensemble, although I have to make special mention for the especially sharp work from Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan and Billy Crudup, who all portray attorneys, representing either the Catholic church or the victims of abuse. And I have to say that Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber in particular continued to impress with their richly grounded work.

McCarthy treats "Spotlight" as a procedural, keeping his film running smoothly at a simmer, allowing any sense of outrage to arrive naturally and without hyperbole. But it is a film that is perhaps a tad emotionally sparser than it needs to be, possibly undercutting its sense of urgency. For my money, the likes of Writer/Director James L. Brooks' classic "Broadcast News" (1987) and Writer/Director Billy Ray's "Shattered Glass" (2003) for instance, spoke louder to me. Additionally, if I were able to change one element, it would have to be Composer Howard Shore's television movie of the week score, which I found to be intrusive to the point of interference. Frankly, and in keeping with no-nonsense spirit McCarthy is obviously attempting to conjure, perhaps having no film score at all would have been preferable.

Regardless, "Spotlight" is a film that speaks powerfully to the painstaking process of investigative journalism, the demanding slowness of its pace, the feverish drive to continuously dig deeper to unearth the grandest truths. Not for sales, or for journalistic glory but for the result of providing an essential public service. And despite any competitive nature between The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald for obtaining information and getting a story to print the fastest, "Spotlight" is an impassioned testament for a period when investigative journalism existed in order to get the story absolutely right, instead of first--a quality that feels exceedingly lost within the speed of our current ratings driven news cycles.

The action of "Spotlight," such as it is, is to regard these journalists in pursuit of a story that is of course, dogged, but one that even transforms them within the process of building and creating the piece over an extended period of time. Certainly writing and editing is paramount, but McCarthy gives those aspects a back seat to the extended, exhausting research process, which continuously informs the team of what precisely is the story they are attempting to tell. Is this a story about one pedophile priest or is this truly the story of a historical cycle of abuse?  Watching the team build trust with their interview subjects, while also sparring with members of the larger community, plus attorneys and representatives of the church is fascinating enough but in the spirit of these journalists, I believe that McCarthy also wishes to delve deeper to determine precisely what is the story of his film.

In a way, "Spotlight" does not necessarily have to be about this specific news team or even this specific story about church sanctioned child sexual abuse. As I previously stated, McCarthy allows us a window into the world of these journalists as we see how they are personally affected by the story they are collectively reporting. As all natives to Boston, the scandal carries a personal weight as McCarthy suggests a larger implication when dealing with social injustice. The more the news team discovers, the angrier Mark Rezendes grows while both Sacha Pfeiffer and Walter Robinson succumb to a grander sorrow. It is as if McCarthy is suggesting to us that if we are able to see it, then we are involved, for with our silence, we are therefore complicit, in even the worst aspects of human behavior. With that conceit, McCarthy ensures that "Spotlight" exists as more than a newspaper drama. It is a plea for our collective sense of humanity, especially when it comes to the safety and protection of our children combined with our collective sense of moral obligation.

I have expressed upon this site more times than I can count that we are living in very dark times. Angry, divisive times during which our sense of discourse has grown increasingly volatile and vicious. I really believe that the nature of our news has quite a part to play within this breakdown, something else "Spotlight" speaks to. Yes, politics are personal but isn't it necessary for our society to have our news delivered to us impartially instead of existing as an extended op-ed piece (at best) designed to speak to specific groups of people, while excluding all others who do not exist within a certain bubble?

The beleaguered HBO drama "The Newsroom" from Aaron Sorkin, while flawed, tried its very best to provide a lament for how our news information was gathered, presented and consumed in the past as we are bombarded by news that is not news in the present. But Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight" achieves the same goal at a higher level and completely without any proselytizing. McCarthy, like his characters and the real world journalists they represent, has mined deeply, unearthing the larger truth that we are all complicit in the news that we receive. And if we continue to remain silent, we will only receive the news that we deserve.

Friday, November 27, 2015

ENTER THE VOID: a review of "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus"

Based upon the film "Ganga And Hess" Written and Directed by Bill Gunn
Screenplay Written by Bill Gunn and Spike Lee
Directed by Spike Lee
*** (three stars)

In a bizarre way, I am wondering if everything that Spike Lee has been up to during the last several years is actually coming together.

During the entire filmography of Writer/Producer/Director Spike Lee, at least as far as his narrative features are concerned, he has consistently delivered a ferocious and unrepentant vision of social justice and injustice yet filtered through an artistic vision that presents a worldview through a heightened sense of reality. Through his innovative visual aesthetics, musical backdrops, all the way down to the names of his characters ("Buggin' Out," "Radio Raheem," "Flipper Purify," " Bleek Gillam" etc...), Lee has cultivated a cinematic universe unlike any of his contemporaries for nearly 30 years and counting, and I still contend that he remains one of the finest, and sadly, most misunderstood American filmmakers working today.

That being said, and as I have mentioned often upon this site, this past decade and a taste more has not been terribly kind to Spike Lee and his self-professed cinematic Joints. While he has remained uniformly in peak performance as a documentarian, most notably with his searing, compulsively watchable New Orleans pre and post Hurricane Katrina lament "When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts" (2006) and his up close and completely immersive document of the final performances of the Broadway smash "Passing Strange" (2008), his narrative features, save for the slick heist thriller "Inside Man" (2006), have found his intent and execution not coalescing as tightly as with the bulk of his uncompromising output.

His well intentioned World War II drama "Miracle At St. Anna" (2008) was undone by a surprising sluggishness. But it was within the satires, cultural commentaries and tone poems of the widely underseen "She Hate Me" (2004) and "Red Hook Summer" (2012) as well as the morally repugnant, career worst "Oldboy" (2013), which Lee himself has seemed to disown due to the never before seen on-screen credit of "A Spike Lee Film" instead of his trademark "A Spike Lee Joint," where I wondered if Lee had perhaps creatively gone off of the rails. I have always contended, and vehemently against the standard criticism of Lee's oeuvre, that his films are definitely not muddled. Spike Lee's films are defiantly multi-layered and demand more than one viewing to possibly unearth everything that has been weaved into his singular and idiosyncratic cinematic fabrics. Even so, I have been so unsure as to how to enthusiastically defend these more recent films, for they have just confounded me so tremendously as I just do not know what the creative impetus happens to be.

Now, we arrive with "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus," the latest effort and credited as "An OFFICIAL Spike Lee Joint." While this Kickstarter funded feature (I contributed) may not convince his detractors or even fully convince his supporters that he has returned to top narrative form, I do think that the film does indeed find Lee on more solid cinematic ground even as he extends his palate even further. Granted, "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" is a strange, weird film. But it is also undeniably elegant, often hypnotic, and its deliberate pacing does indeed weave a dark spell that has haunted me since watching it. Even further, it quite possibly has shed some light over Lee's most recent narrative features, possibly encapsulating what may have been an intentional creative phase or undertaking.

Spike Lee's "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" is in fact a remake of the late Writer/Director Bill Gunn's experimental horror film "Ganja And Hess" (1973). As with that film, "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" stars a strongly malevolent Stephen Tyrone Williams as Dr. Hess Green, a highly affluent anthropologist and African art collector who obtains a large dagger which originated from the Ashanti empire, an advanced culture who supposedly became addicted to blood transfusions.

When Hess Green is later attacked, stabbed and seemingly killed with the dagger at his Martha's Vineyard abode by Lafayatte Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), an increasingly unstable colleague who soon commits suicide, Green is apparently "resurrected" the following morning, now unable to eat or digest foods and beverages and shockingly housed with an insatiable thirst for human blood.

As Hess Green begins his pursuit of human blood, first through the theft of blood bags from medical facilities and soon through his nocturnal vampiric hunts during which he seduces and murders his victims in order to consume their blood, he is ultimately confronted by Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), who arrives at Martha's Vineyard searching for her missing, estranged husband. Hess Green falls immediately and completely in love with the brittle, British Ganja and the twosome quickly become lovers. Yet, Hess Green still possesses his uncontrollable urges, not only placing Ganja within mortal danger, but also risks whatever remains of Green's humanity and soul.      

Spike Lee's "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" is a chilly mood piece, a slow motion nightmare of unsettling erotica, and a grim thriller that merges elements of horror and dreamscapes, which all serve to illustrate an uncommonly striking ode to isolation, alienation and spiritual decay. In many ways, the film is a testament to the fact that Spike Lee is indeed a natural born filmmaker who certainly knows how to stretch a dollar to its breaking point all to ensure that, at least upon a visual level, his work stands as tall as the highest mega-budgeted feature. "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" is of no exception, especially as the film was shot entirely in a mere 16 days! Lee, working alongside Cinematographer Daniel Patterson, have created a luscious palate that subtly alternates between warm and cold colors, fully augmenting the film's storyline and characters.

Another most notable element of the film is undoubtedly the music. Spike Lee has historically existed as one of our finest cinematic DJ's as he is truly one of the few filmmakers who intuitively knows how to merge sound and vision to masterful effect. "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" possesses ax excellent musical bedrock that perfectly captures the hypnotic and tragic elements of the story and characters. In keeping with the film's more independent spirit, Lee handpicked a collection of songs from entirely unsigned artists (out of 800 entries) and all of them serve the sonic world of the film brilliantly. Even better is the work of Composer/Pianist Bruce Hornsby, who remains an audacious choice as the figure to supply the film score (instead of frequent Lee collaborator Composer Terence Blanchard), which alternates between jazz and classical textures, which enormously assists the chamber piece like nature of the film as a whole.

The film's opening credit sequence is also a first class gem. Clearly serving as an echo to the brilliant edited and performed Rosie Perez dance sequence over the opening credits to "Do The Right Thing" (1989), "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" features the graceful and sophisticated moves of dancer Charles "Lil Buck" Riley over the opening credits and just as brilliantly edited as Lee's earlier masterpiece. Yet, where Perez's sequence was righteous and combative, Riley's dance is one of mournfulness and somberness, again perfectly setting up the viewer for everything we are about to witness over the course of the film.

Further still, I also love the connective tissue Lee places within his films, linking one Joint to another effortlessly. Essentially, and despite the fact that the majority of the film takes place on Martha's Vineyard, "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" could possibly stand as another entry into Lee's self-described "Chronicles Of Brooklyn" series, which houses "Crookyln" (1994), "Clockers" (1995) and "Red Hook Summer" among others, as the Li'l Piece Of Heaven church sequences within this new film are set at the exact same church depicted within "Red Hook Summer" and the fate of that film's primary character is also addressed. It is just yet another touch that makes Lee's output stand as a full body of work while also presenting an experience that flies into considerably more sinister territory.

And yet, I still had problems with "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" overall. To begin, I just felt that Lee rushed the action and the primary act that sets the story in motion without firmly establishing precisely who Dr. Hess Green actually is. Within moments of meeting him, as well as Lafayatte Hightower, Green is stabbed and killed, Hightower has committed suicide and I haven't grown that accustomed to who each of those men happened to be. Another sequence set later in the film and featuring Ganja and Green's former lover Tangier (Nate Bova), begins a bit awkwardly and almost becomes the sort of prurient, male based fantasy sequence that Lee has been criticized for in the past (and rightfully so regarding "She Hate Me" for certain), yet, considering the nature of vampiric seduction, I felt he ultimately pulled it out of the fire.

What I felt most troublesome as I watched the film was that I was unsure as to what the point of this whole escapade even was. I mean, aside from Spike Lee obviously honoring Bill Gunn, what else was there to this experience to justify its existence? For much of the running time, I was reminded of Lee's phone sex fantasia "Girl 6" (1996), a film that was visually enthralling, deeply immersive and captivating but also seemingly empty. It was the first time during that stage of Spike Lee's career where I found myself disappointed because it seemed as if the material got away from him, or possibly he never really knew what he wanted to do or say about this excursion in the first place. This very feeling revisited me with "She Hate Me" for certain and to varying degrees with "Red Hood Summer" and "Oldboy" and for quite some time of "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" but then Spike Lee took me to church...

There is an outstanding sequence near the end of "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" where everything quite possibly began to click together. Not just for this film for for what Lee may have been devising and exploring for several years now. Set back within the Li'l Piece Of Heaven church, a choir band, featuring no less than Raphael Saadiq on vocals and guitar and Valerie Simpson on piano and vocals, performs a selection that consists of only four lines:

"You've got to learn
To let it go
You've got to know when it's all over
It's over"

As the congregation is swept away with emotion, Dr. Hess Green sit silently and emotionless in the back of the church, contemplating his existence after having already committed several murders in order to obtain blood. He soon begins to slowly approach the altar but is ultimately unable to reach the destination before turning and leaving the church altogether.

With that sequence, which Lee filmed beautifully and richly, I felt that perhaps Hess Green, realizing that his actions have violated the natural law and/or God's law regarding life and death, thus making him live a soulless existence. Having tainted the "sweet blood of Jesus" through his murderous actions, Hess Green is trapped within an existential crisis, where his needs of immortality have outweighed any sense of higher morality, thus making "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" exist not as a story of vampires necessarily but as a tale that possibly speaks to our societal moral and spiritual decay regarding our soullessness to our fellow citizens of Earth.

As I have previously stated, Spike Lee has always presented a heightened sense of reality within his films. But with "She Hate Me," "Red Hook Summer," "Oldboy" and now with "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus," it seems as if he has traded a heightened yet recognizable outlook with one that exists on a grander surreal landscape, as if he is looking at America through a fun house mirror. "She Hate Me" dealt with whistle blowing and an addiction to money yet filtered through a squadron of lipstick lesbians, animated sperm, allusions to Watergate and the slavery auction block. "Red Hook Summer" told a simple tale of a Southern teenager's summer visit to Brooklyn but weaved in the story of the fall of a beloved, respected preacher in a dying Black church located in a re-gentrified section of New York. The less said about "Oldboy" the better but with "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus," the addiction to blood by any means necessary did eventually strike a chord, especially when dealing with the uber wealthy African American characters who are already isolated within both White and Black cultures.

I wonder if Lee was making a commentary about the uber wealthy Black people who do not attempt to do more to uplift the race but ultimately, cultivate a singular existence for themselves. With Dr. Hess Green, his wealth was amassed through his parents and then singularly for himself. He has surrounded himself with priceless works of African art and historical antiques, not to share and use to educate other, but for his own possession. And once, he does become a vampire, he preys upon the ones who have attained less than himself, in one instance a hooker (played by Felicia Pearson from "The Wire") and in another, a resident of the housing projects, two figure who are meaningless in Green's world. Only Ganja is seen to be an equal in Hess Green's eyes and even then, the twosome share a dance that proves deadly for both of them--like a snake eating its own tail. And I guess it is that very mournfulness that is sitting at the center of Spike Lee's recent output and I cannot help but to wonder if that was indeed the primary focus at hand.

Is that what "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus" is necessarily about? Who knows. Was this surrealistic approach in this film and others the full intention of Spike Lee? Again, who knows. With Lee's upcoming "Chi-Raq" appearing as if we are returning to the Spike Lee cinematic blitzkrieg of old, only then may we discover any creative similarities and differences within his next chapter of motion picture cultural critiques. But for now, with "Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus," we are given a flawed yet wholly intriguing film that certainly kept me involved, guessing and scratching my head.

And I still cannot shake its grasp.

If your curiosity has been piqued, how can you see this film? It is now available on both DVD and Blu-Ray formats and it is also running on premium cable channels as well. Since this is a 2015 release, it should not be that difficult to seek out at this time.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

THE WORLD: a review of "Room"

Screenplay Written by Emma Donoghue, based upon her original novel
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
**** (four stars)

This film left me sitting silently in my theater seat for several minutes after the end credit scroll, final fade out and the theater house lights going back up, for its quiet power packed that tremendous of a punch.

Director Lenny Abrahamson's "Room," his adaptation of the best selling novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the film's screenplay), is a compulsively watchable and superbly wrenching film that I feel will disturb and haunt unlike most films released in 2015, especially if you have not read the novel (like myself). In fact, what is even more surprising about the experience of this film, is how empathetic and life affirming it actually is considering the excessive horror that fuels the story. In some ways, I am finding it difficult to figure out how to review this film without revealing too terribly much about the plot but I will try as I do think that "Room," while not only being compelling, poetic, as well as being an intelligently emotional and cerebral steam roller, it is also one of the very best films of 2015.

I'll try to keep it brief...

"Room" stars the sensationally naturalistic Jacob Tremblay as 5 year old Jack, who lives within a tiny room with his young Mother played beautifully by Brie Larson. The crowded room in question contains a bathtub, equally small yet functioning kitchen, a closet, television, and bed, which Jack shares with his Ma. Yet, there are no windows other than a skylight...and no means of leaving.

For Jack, the entirety of the world is this very room, as if it existed as its own planet, where Jack and Ma are the only people, animals and plant life don't exist and even the images on television are invented approximations of human beings. Only through a seismic event does Jack begin to view and experience the world as it truly exists through his own eyes and growing perceptions of what constitutes reality, with its complete horrors and wonders.

Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" is a remarkable, multi-layered film that richly merges aspects of a thriller, psychological drama, survival story and a family drama, with the bonds of a Mother and child at its core. I will strongly warn those of you reading who happen to be parents that this film just may be too agonizing to sit through. Frankly, for myself, I found the film's first half to be intense to the point of excruciating. But that being said, there is nothing presented within the film that is gratuitous in any fashion. All violence is suggested and for a film that does indeed contains vibrant themes of abuse, imprisonment, and rape, and unflinchingly so, Abrahamson handles every moment with as much restraint and unquestionable truth to the story he is attempting to tell.

For "Room," with all of its nightmarish qualities, is a story of survival, healing, the protection and cultivation of innocence and the resiliency of the human spirit, especially the spirit contained within a child. Often as I watched the film, memories of Director Peter Jackson's unfairly maligned, undeniably weird yet deeply effective "The Lovely Bones" (2009) as well as those from Director Terry Gilliam's repugnant, career worst "Tideland" (2005) entered my brain, as each of those films covered similar thematic territories that deal with searing trauma told from a child's perspective.

Perhaps, it is that very perception, as Abrahamson elegantly visualizes, that keeps the terror and pain of the film's story simultaneously upfront but is never presented tastelessly. As I have previously stated, there is no on-screen violence whatsoever as Abrahamson stages the film as viewing the world through Jack's eyes. Even during one climactic moment, we are given the untainted purity of Jack's perception of the world while also sitting on the edges of our seats, with nerves completely frayed and fried.

Jacob Tremblay, with his piercing eyes and androgynous appearance due to his lengthy, uncut hair, is enormously riveting as Jack. While never cloying or treacly for even a second, Tremblay possesses the talent to carry the superior load that "Room" has placed upon his tiny shoulders, much like when I viewed Quvenzhane Wallis' powerhouse and unforced performance in Director Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" (2012). Just as unforced, Tremblay conveys an enormous depth of simultaneous wonder and pathos as he not only is forced to navigate a world that is ever changing and growing but also one who is able to carry an inner strength and resolve weighty enough to sustain himself and his family, especially his Mother. I am hoping this young actor receives some attention during awards season for he deserves it greatly.

Speaking of awards season attention, get ready for heaps of accolades to be bestowed upon Brie Larson, who takes what could have existed as nothing more than Lifetime television histrionics and transformed it into a subtly devastating psychological portrait of a woman undergoing an unfathomable experience while also attempting to provide strength and inconceivable normalcy for her son.

To that end, both Tremblay and Larson are aided heroically by the great Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers and even William H. Macy, who makes mountains out of his two or three scant scenes. All of these participants congeal masterfully to create a feverishly dark and demonstrably hopeful ode to the prevalence of the human spirit even when life presents itself at its bleakest and hopeless. Never for one moment did I feel the wheels of manipulation creaking along as Abrahamson clearly mined the material for every kernel of truth, most distinctly from this child's eye of the world and his specific place within it, be it a room, life outside of it and the world that encases himself and his family.

Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" is a deeply effective drama that will indeed come just this close to shattering you. But, even greater, it also engages us in a distinctly philosophical fashion, forcing us to take note of the even the most seemingly mundane aspects of the world(s) that surround us.

For how much would we miss even the slightest elements if they were to be taken away.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR: a review of "Bridge Of Spies"

Screenplay Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Directed by Steven Spielberg
*** (three stars)

What a violent period of time the 21st century has turned out to be.

It seems fitting that I have seen Director Steven Spielberg's political drama "Bridge Of Spies," his first new film in three years, just a mere two days after the massacre in Paris and three days after the bombings in Beirut. Beyond those massive horrific events, we are indeed caught in a time where gun violence and acts of terrorism are functioning at crisis points. Additionally, we are also dealing with the constant barrage of racial, sexual and verbal violence inflicted upon each other through the landscapes of the streets, social media to the so-called debate stages for the legion of Presidential candidates all jockeying for power, making me question if there really is anyone who is truly altruistic in their quest.

What have we become? Certainly, we are all afraid to varying degrees but when that state of fear is compounded by the relentless images and stories depicted through the media and the rancorous political discourse of our leaders, I cannot help but to harbor the even greater fear that we are closely reaching a point of no return, where compassion is rejected in favor of vengeance, recrimination and self-righteous. To quote the iconic Stevie Wonder, "love's in need of love today."

I suppose these sentiments are what permeated my thoughts as I viewed Spielberg's latest film as he presented a world from our recent past that was truly the definition of "precarious" due to political and of course, nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia and yet filtered that world through this individualistic story fully depicting what could actually be accomplished is we did just listen to each other. Yes, there are times were we need to fight. But, possibly, Spielberg may be suggesting, the times for understanding are more prevalent than we just may realize.

"Bridge Of Spies," set at the height of the Cold War in 1957, stars Tom Hanks as Brooklyn insurance settlement attorney Jim Donovan, a man as devoted to the justice and fairness inherent within the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution as he is to his wife Mary McKenna Donovan (Amy Ryan) and their three children.

Inexplicably, Donovan is asked by his partners to represent suspected Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance in a performance of sharp subtlety and shading), to ensure he receives a fair trial solely for the purpose of the Soviet Union to not be able to utilize Abel's incarceration as propaganda. While Donovan takes his assignment with the utmost seriousness and sincerity, even all the way to seeking an appeal for Abel through the United States Supreme Court, his partners, his firm and even his family grow increasingly disgruntled with Donovan's actions. Even the court of public opinion turns upon Donovan, who soon begins to receive hate mail and death threats for treating Abel with the same dignity as he would an American citizen.

Meanwhile, pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), embarked upon a U-2 spy plane mission over the Soviet Union, is shot down, captured, interrogated and convicted. In Germany, as the Berlin Wall is being erected, American Economics  graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is arrested as a spy as he attempts to bring his girlfriend back into West Berlin.

Utilizing a backchannel message, the U.S.S.R. contacts Donovan and proposes an exchange; Powers for Abel. Donovan then goes one further and suggests a 2 for 1 exchange, both Powers and Pryor for Abel. And thus, family man and insurance attorney Jim Donovan is thrust into the middle of negotiations between the CIA, the U.S.S.R. and the East German government, all the while attempting to ensure success through diplomacy over destruction.

Steven Spielberg's "Bridge Of Spies," while functioning an an espionage thriller and containing some of the hallmarks and visual aesthetics of film noir (as beautifully lensed by longtime collaborator Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski), has delivered a sobering and more deliberately paced cerebral affair, much in line with some of his past films including "Amistad" (1997), aspects of "Munich" (2005) and most definitely, "Lincoln" (2012).

Just as how Spielberg provided the historical and thematic links to both Presidents Lincoln and Obama at the dawn of their respective second terms in office, "Bridge Of Spies" certainly utilizes the concepts of diplomatic discourse and overall human dignity as they function within intense political situations, all the while holding a mirror of the past up to ourselves in the present. Tom Hanks, purposefully operating in full Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart mode, has made for a perfect conduit of Spielberg's vision. Hanks delivers a commanding performance of deep, steadfast integrity. While for some, he may be a bit of a Boy Scout due to his unshakable idealism, I found his performance and this representation of this real world figure to be endearing and undeniably refreshing, especially as I am bombarded by the endless morass of vitriol that has encapsulated our present day political dialogue.

I found it fascinating how Donovan was able to maintain his sense of resolve with preserving the human dignity of every individual he came in contact with, regardless of the obstacles. Yet, what impressed me most was his ability to ultimately ingratiate himself in essentially any situation and emerge unscathed simply though the act of listening and displaying a non-judgmental stance, regardless of whom he was speaking and communicating with, whether dignitaries, agents, underlings or even a band of threatening East German youths who accost Donovan during one tense sequence.

In many ways, "Bridge Of Spies" fits perfectly within one of Spielberg's ever present themes: the tales of an ordinary individual placed within an extraordinary situation. Even so, I wish to stress that "Bridge Of Spies" and Hanks' role in the film, do not serve as some sort of reprisal of Robert Zemeckis' "Forrest Gump" (1994), for this film is never presented as fable or fantasy. Quite the contrary, it is a film, while celebrating a certain idealism and platitudes about our common humanity which should be upheld and defended, that serves as a pointed lament for all that we have forgotten in our trigger happy-bombs away rhetoric.

Yes, in several scenes Donovan receives much retaliation from members within his own community for committing the so-called audacity of treating Abel respectfully and fighting for his day in court as he would perform for any of them. Certainly, the film is designed for us to find the connections inside of those scenes with the same and even uglier language that is currently being hurled against the entirety of the Muslim community since September 11, 2001, the increased racist language and violence against African-Americans ever since President Obama's election as well as the horrific language launched again the Hispanic community repeatedly spoken by a certain reality television star now as a Presidential front runner. Could any of you, dear readers, just imagine if a similar situation occurred, what would happen and how it would be handled if a figure from today's world were at the helm? Terrifying isn't it? When one does not profess to have any sense of dignity towards those different then themselves, how can there possibly be any sense of understanding, especially upon the world's political stage? "Bridge Of Spies" provides a much needed alternative to the vitriolic energies on display in 2015.      

"Every person matters," proclaims Donovan at one point during "Bridge Of Spies," and I think if there was any moment that has lingered for me, during the remainder of the film and even afterwards, it is that one because I fear that we, as a human race, have forgotten that conceit. There is an inherent dignity to us all, regardless of which part of the world we may reside or what ethnicity we happen to be. "Bridge Of Spies," is a good not great but definitely thought provoking film that illustrates just how much can be attained when even one person just takes the opportunity to place himself/herself aside in favor of a higher sense of authority, the kind of which that can hopefully alleviate another's struggles and baggage and benefit society as a whole.

Yet, if we close our ears and hearts to each other, our collective downfall is imminent. The choice is ours.

Monday, November 9, 2015

DOWNFALL: a review of "Spectre"

Based upon characters and situations created by Ian Fleming
Story by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Screenplay Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth
Directed by Sam Mendes
*1/2 (one and a half stars)

The higher you fly, the harder the fall. And this one was definitely a crash landing.

Three years ago, I was supremely elated by a cinematic sight that I really thought that I would never really see: an unquestionably GREAT James Bond movie. For a bit of background, throughout my life, I have seen every single James Bond motion picture adventure from the Roger Moore years onwards. While there have been some that I enjoyed very much, including "Live And Let Die" (1973), "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), "GoldenEye" (1995) and "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), several of the films (perhaps too many of them) were ones that I felt either indifferent towards or even found to be terrible, the worst offenders including "A View To A Kill" (1985), "The Living Daylights" (1987) and "The World Is Not Enough" (1999). 

Essentially, and as I have expressed on this site in the past, I think I liked the idea of James Bond more than as an actual character. And yet, I continued to see the next adventure, possibly because it was just time to see another one...and truth be told, it felt to me, to an increasing degree, that new James Bond films were being made for no other reason than it was time to make one.

My feelings towards this series changed dramatically once Daniel Craig took over the iconic role and emerged in Director Martin Campbell's thrilling and terrific "Casino Royale" (2006). Where Campbell and Craig delivered the requisite Bond action set pieces with a newfound vitality and two-fisted, white knuckle energy,  it was a film where, for the very first time, I truly cared about the proceedings as Bond transcended his own archetype and became a compelling character with a backstory, a psychological outlook that demanded exploration and a welcome sense of pathos, especially concerning the most effective love story shared with Eva Green.

The success continued with the slightly abbreviated yet feverishly paced "Quantum Of Solace" (2008) from Director Marc Forster. But it was with the outstanding, towering "Skyfall" (2012) where Director Sam Mendes delivered what I thought would have been impossible after all of these years, the finest James Bond film that I had ever seen. Everything, and I truly mean absolutely everything, from the performances, writing, action sequences, cinematography and even Adele's theme song, came together superbly within "Skyfall," as James Bond's journey was undeniably emotional and psychological as well as sensationally exciting and placed him against a most formidable and frightening adversary in Javier Bardem. "Skyfall" reached a level of greatness that, in my mind, informed me that the series had reached a new level; a level that needed to be equally matched in future installments because, as far as I was concerned, there was no reason whatsoever to return to those lackluster, assembly line level Bond films of the past ever again.

Now, we arrive with "Spectre," and what a tremendous fall from grace this is.

Sam Mendes, who returns to the director's chair for this 24th official James Bond film, has unfortunately delivered a bomb. Believe me, I am as stunned to write those words as I am certain that you are with reading them, but even so, "Spectre" is awful. It is a lifeless, uninspired experience just as the series should be flying over the top. But, there I sat in my theater seat, shifting uncomfortably and often, even yawning several times throughout for as uninterested I was in the proceedings which were so elongated, I wondered if this 2 1/2 hour film had even undergone an editing process. While "Spectre" has already earned a box office fortune and will continue to rake in more dollars, for those of you who have not yet seen the film, trust  me, use your hard earned dollars and go see something different for "Spectre" is a time waster so tremendous even 007 himself would declare it as "rubbish."

For all intents and purposes, Sam Mendes' "Spectre" essentially serves as the culminating installment after the previous three Bond films, as agent 007 James Bond (again played by Daniel Craig) encounters the titular sinister global criminal organization for the first time. Again aided by new MI6 head M (Ralph Finnes), M's assistant Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and computer expert/gadget inventor Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond embarks upon his globe-trotting escapade which leads him to his ultimate confrontation with SPECTRE mastermind Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a figure who has not only served as the puppeteer of Bond's most recent excursions, but a man with whom Bond shares a dark secret as well as one who possesses an identity familiar to Bond iconography.

As much of a surprise as the greatness of "Skyfall" was to me, so much so that it made everything so familiar about the James Bond universe feel striking and refreshingly new, "Spectre" presented a James Bond experience at its most mundane and tired to the point of exhausted. Now truth be told, the film certainly did not begin at such a sub-par level. Quite the contrary, the pre-opening credit sequence, set during a Day Of The Dead festival in Mexico, is sensational. Beginning with a virtuoso unbroken and beautifully choreographed long take to a dizzying set of fisticuffs inside of a helicopter, dangerously spiraling over the heads of the crowd down below was so razor sharp, so spectacular an opening, I was already feeling that we would have another Bond success upon our hands. But, after that opening, and Sam Smith's theme song, "Spectre" settles and nearly solidifies itself in the cement of cinematic time and space.

Aside from some strong moments here and there (a fist fight aboard a moving train, a sequence late in the film where Bond is nearly lobotomized), "Spectre" ultimately becomes a film that possesses no momentum, a complete lack of urgency, potency and even purpose. All told, it is the anti-thesis of everything "Skyfall" happened to be.

Granted, it would not be unfair if any of you out there are wondering if perhaps I had set my expectations too high and am being overly harsh upon "Spectre." But, do trust me and the words I write. I entered "Spectre" considerably less with high expectations and moreso with an anticipation I typically do not carry towards new James Bond movies. The high bar set by "Skyfall" simply made me excited to see a new installment and as I watched "Spectre," I just sat open-mouthed wondering just how what I was watching had gone so terribly wrong.

First of all, the molasses ensconced pacing made the film drag on to its interminable length. It was as if Mendes, his cast and crew, expended all that they were able to muster in the film's opening sequence and just refused to become invested in much of anything else afterwards. In fact, it felt as if there had been several films made in between "Skyfall " and "Spectre," and the audience just happened to be witnessing the long-in-the-tooth episode in the series where the cast and crew are along for the ride purely out of obligation (and certainly more than a little bit of money) rather than any vested interest. Daniel Craig in particular just appeared as if he could not wait to be rid of 007 once and for all. Yes, he demonstrated a powerful physicality and he does look smashing in those tailored suits. But even so, he just looked as if he would rather have been anywhere else and if Bond doesn't want to be involved within his own adventure, then why should we sit there and watch it?

Furthermore, whatever sexual tension and chemistry that needed to exist between James Bond and his latest love interest, Dr. Madeleine Swann (played by Lea Seydoux) was negligible. Not only did the relationship feel more arbitrary than authentic (especially after what we witnessed between Craig and Eva Green in "Casino Royale"), this was the first time where the age differences between the actors (Craig has a good seventeen years on Seydoux), looked uncomfortably awkward, as if James Bond was romancing his niece rather than any sort of femme fatale.

And then, there is Christoph Waltz, whose measured line readings can make nearly any dialogue sing thrillingly, but let's face it, he doesn't ave anything approaching Quentin Tarantino dialogue to work with this time around. Yes, he makes for a most shadowy and sinister figure and there are some good moments, but in many sequences, he felt to be almost a parody of the classic Bond villain, you know, the one who just talks and talks about his plans to take over the world ad nauseum. Within "Spectre," there were quite a number of moments where Waltz's dialogue was so voluminous that Bond could have escaped his clutches ten times over and shot him just as many times while he kept blabbering on and on and on.

Basically, I spent much of "Spectre" remembering the feelings I had when I saw Director Christopher McQuarrie's spectacular "Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation" earlier this year, as I did think to myself about how much James Bond would have to live up to once "Spectre" arrived. Come to think of it, both films happen to share somewhat similar plots, but somehow, McQuarrie and Tom Cruise deftly figured out ways to enliven the long running franchise, making a fifth film in the series that is possibly the best film to date. Through smart, sharp dialogue, a strong attention to the characters and their relationships with each other, plus one eye popping set piece after another and most importantly, displaying a sense of unadulterated fun, McQuarrie and Cruise made a film that I am anxious to see again as well as excited for a sixth installment (long past the time most film series should advance). With "Spectre," nobody, seemed to be having any fun! It was so ponderous, so torpid, so bloated with stagnant just was not enjoyable at all, truly a cardinal sin for a James Bond movie. .

"It's not over," James Bond announces to Dr. Swann late in the film and after yet another cataclysmic explosion. To that line, I let out a long, exhausted sigh (which I hope wasn't terribly audible to the audience members around me), to which I could not hep myself. Sam Mendes' "Spectre" finds James Bond practically crawling to a finish line and dragging us along with him. I realize that it truly is a miracle when films get made, and even moreso of a miracle when the film in question turns out to be a great one. Sometimes the stars just are not in alignment, for whatever the reasons. But, once James Bond returns, as promised at the conclusion of the end credit scrawl as always, I seriously hope that he finds himself properly rejuvenated or else the time to just make another cinematic 007 adventure may come to pass.

Monday, November 2, 2015

CITIZEN DICK: a review of "Steve Jobs"

Based upon Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Screenplay Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Danny Boyle
**** (four stars)

We are really living within a precarious time for adult dramatic films.

Last week, Director Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs," a film that has already received its share of superlative reviews, opened to very meager box office returns, so meager that industry trade magazine already deemed the film to be a financial flop...even though it had only been in theaters for three days. Post-mortem articles were being written and then published by last Monday, wondering if the failure to catch monetary fire was due to the fact that this film marks the third feature film in two years (including a documentary and a narrative feature starring Ashton Kutcher in the titular role) concerning the late pioneer of the technological sea change that delivered computers into everyday life.

Herein lies the problem...

First of all, we are now living within a time when films just do not have a chance whatsoever to find and build an audience as box office expectations are now seemingly designed to be met and exceeded, breaking all manner of records within the first 24-48 hours of release. The general population simply does not go out to the movies, albeit all movies that quickly and some, especially more adult themed films, do need time to catch some fire and gather the necessary word of mouth. Nowadays, movies are truly not considered to be works of art (or at least artful entertainment) meant to be cherished, discussed and debated. Movies are designed to be consumed and forgotten before you even return home from the multiplex.

Secondly, to the argument that audiences were overwhelmed with he presence of three Steve Jobs themed film within a two year period, I vehemently disagree, especially as the previous two did not receive nearly the large media push that Danny Boyle's film has received. Furthermore, please don't speak to me about any sense of over-saturation concerning the topic of Steve Jobs when how many superhero movies have been released just this year?! Honestly, when we live in a world where there have been five "Spider-Man" movies within a 13 year period and is also about to be re-booted for the second time, I think we can handle another film about Jobs.

To that end, Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" is an electrifying film, a riveting, verbally rancorous adult drama that not only paints a brutally impressionistic portrait of this inscrutable figure but also transcends it primary subject to speak again about the nature of genius and to our increasing lack of humanity when filtered through the very technology that was intended to elevate our humanity. It is a dramatic triumph featuring an unforgiving powerhouse, award season worthy performance by Michael Fassbender and it also serves as a complete return to form for Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin whose focus and dialogue is sharpened to the point of a knife's edge with a script that is also unquestionably awards season worthy. If word of mouth truly is the key, then let me provide that voice to you, imploring all of you to head out and see this superior, intelligent, artful, and often infuriating drama before it finds itself lost in the cracks.

Completely and boldly eschewing any biopic trappings and cliches, Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" is divided into three designated acts, each spending time within the years of 1984, 1988 and 1998 and all behind the scenes of three project launch events, all hosted by Jobs, played with intense ferocity by Fassbender.

Whether struggling to find ways to make the Apple Macintosh's voice demo say "Hello" to the audience in 1984, preparing for the NeXT computer launch in 1988 or awaiting the premiere of the iMac in 1998, Jobs is relentlessly confronted by several primary figures within his life.

Steve Wozniak (an excellent Seth Rogen), Jobs' former creative partner, co-founder of Apple and creator of the Apple II, simply wants Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II team's role in Jobs' success, a request that Jobs constantly refuses to Wozniak's increased fury. Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), essentially Jobs' Father figure, possesses a tenuous, and at times, raging personal and professional relationship that builds, explodes, and restructures itself to a most strained degree. Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), a beleaguered member of the original Mac team is constantly on the receiving end of Jobs' wrath. And finally, we have Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), Jobs' former girlfriend and Mother to their daughter Lisa (played at the ages of 5,9, and 19 by Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine, respectively), a daughter whom Jobs repeatedly denies is his.

Serving as Jobs's conscience, as well as the film's moral core, is Joanna Hoffman (the great Kate Winslet), marketing executive for Apple and NeXT, plus Jobs' confidant and self-described "work wife." Hoffman is the sole figure able to not only stand up to Jobs' unrepentant turbulence, she is the sole figure able to break through his otherwise impenetrable walls, much to her own depleting patience and tolerance for Jobs' truly ugly behavior towards seemingly everyone in his life on his unstoppable personal quest for greatness and the legacy branding of "visionary genius."

Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" is an interior backstage drama that is as bracing as it is incendiary, with its unforgiving exploration of the titular figure. Boyle smartly tempers his typical visual extravagances, as seen within the likes of "Trainspotting" (1996), "28 Days Later" (2002), his finest film to date "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) and the wrenching "127 Hours" (2010), to create a visual palate that is more theatrical than cinematic, wisely allowing all of the actors and especially, the writing of Aaron Sorkin to take the center stage.

The entire cast of "Steve Jobs" is uniformly excellent, with a real surprise arriving in Seth Rogen, who truly raises his game and is completely able to go toe-to-toe with the extraordinary Michael Fassbender but also with Sorkin's trademark mountainous, difficult dialogue which is exquisitely constructed and again contains a velocity that forces the actors and the audience to keep pace or find themselves lost in the dust. "Steve Jobs" is indeed a film without a traditional plot structure and it is indeed all dialogue, the the words, emotions, motivations and performances are entirely in lockstep, making for a film that is furiously bracing, exciting viewing.

Where Sorkin's work on his now defunct HBO series "The Newsroom" was sometimes brilliant, sometimes infuriating and often completely tonally erratic, his work with "Steve Jobs" reminds us of why he has been so revered in the first place. Conceptually, Sorkin has written what serves a as stellar companion piece to his writing within Director David Fincher's "The Social Network" (2010), another technological/interpersonal drama that painted a grim picture of another computer based and so-called "visionary" Mark Zuckerberg (played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg) and mirrored it with our increased societal alienation from each other as our reliance upon the technology has grown.

But, as remorseless, arrogant, jealous and embittered Zuckerberg was portrayed, he does not even come close to the seemingly bottomless cauldron of rage that boiled within this version of Steve Jobs. Michael Fassbender's performance is nothing less than relentless, as we can easily witness the wheels spinning within his mind, always seeing his deeply desired goal post in sight, often to a most cunning, unscrupulous degree and fueled by recrimination, a sense of superiority to exists as a God complex, and a desire to be thought of as a singular visionary, despite the influence and the work of countless individuals, most notably, the endlessly short-shrifted Steve Wozniak.

Boyle and Sorkin, with Fassbender as a tremendous conduit, have utilized "Steve Jobs" to create a portrait of self-aggrandizement that borders on the delusional, and the level of his cruelty is indeed unbelievable as well as unbearable, especially as he consistently denies his daughter Lisa and only tends to display any stitch of humanity after being either one-upped by others (for instance, a sequence where Andy Hertzfeld takes it upon himself to pay Lisa's college semester tuition and even suggests the possibility of therapy), or coaxed and coached by Joanna Hoffman.

And yet, what was housed inside the core of Steve Jobs on his feverish pursuit of genius? Certainly, with the film's structure and conceits, Boyle and Sorkin are essentially modeling "Steve Jobs" upon nothing less than Orson Welles "Citizen Kane" (1941), as it attempts to find what precisely drove a person, and better yet a persona, that is so unknowable, frustrating and impossible. Yes, the film does incude some internal pathos about Jobs forever dealing with his individual pain with being adopted, a process in which he supposedly felt rejected instead of accepted. But even so, I don't believe that Boyle is offering this route as any sort of an easy answer.

I think what is at the center of "Steve Jobs" is Boyle and Sorkin's ruminations over the process of self-mythologizing, a process that exists for every single one of us in the real world and now, even moreso in the 21st century, the virtual world. Just take a moment and think about how we all choose to present ourselves as we navigate our daily lives. How the figures we envision ourselves as, or aspire to become, fuels our personalities as we engage with the larger world.

What is the persona we wish to present when making that all-important first impression? What is the persona we deliver to the world within our daily lives at school, at work, with acquaintances, with friends, with romantic partners and so on. Never do we reveal every single fabric of our being, do we? We show what we wish to show, doing all we can to push what we feel as undesirable aspects out of view. Certainly, within social media, this aspect of our humanity has exploded for we can truly become even more selective with the personality traits and successes and attributes we wish to present to the world at large. Within the gaming community, we can even re-design ourselves, functioning as avatars that may not even remotely resemble who we are in the real world, and armed with talents and skills we do not possess.

We are all in the process of creating our own mythologies, our own legends to such unprecedented degrees that we do indeed run the risk of completely living within fantasy rather than reality. And in the case of Steve Jobs, as presented within this film, we witness an individual who has mythologized himself to such a titanic level, justified or not. In his mind and through how he presents himself outwardly, Steve Jobs is one who can stand on equal footing as Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Bob Dylan and Miles Davis (whose portraits, at one point, surround his stage--which just may function as a physical representation of his own head space), and therefore, has given himself the right to not suffer anyone he deems to be lesser than himself, regardless of the damage he leaves behind on his road to glory. In Jobs' mind, genius cannot co-exist with simple human decency. Why? It would seem that Jobs barely ever slowed down to ponder the reasons.

Who are we, how do we envision ourselves, what do we desire and what are we becoming all sit at the heart of Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" a character study that also functions as a stern warning about our increased reliance/addiction to technology and social media. And in addition to "The  Social Network," it is a film that sits smartly alongside recent features like Spike Jonze's "Her" (2013) and even Kevin Smith's "Tusk" (2014), other films that also delivered impassioned pleas for us to not lose ourselves within the rabbit holes of the internet, our dreams and even our own psyches.

This is indeed the gift of an exceedingly well presented adult drama, the kind of which that has become more difficult to get made within the Hollywood studio system and definitely more difficult to not find itself lost among other and bigger films. It's amazing to me that Robert Zemeckis' wonderful "The Walk" has already come and gone and with the rapid arrivals of James Bond, Katniss Everdeen, the Peanuts gang and the latest Pixar offering in the coming weeks, this powerfully excellent film will undoubtedly suffer the same unfortunate fate.

Of course, not every film can be a hit. But, something this engrossing, this compelling, this worthy of examination and debate and something of this high quality more than deserves a fair chance.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I have to play some catch up.

When new film releases arrive each week, I try my best to get myself to the theaters each Sunday afternoon to check out the latest offering that I may happen to be interested in. Last month, as I so happily attended the Garbage concert, that did indeed take one weekend out of my movie going and then, the floodgates opened.

Today, I am planning on taking in Director Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" but then, the latest James Bond adventure "Spectre," again directed by Sam Mendes, arrives next week and I still haven't had the chance to see Steven Spielberg's "Bridge Of Spies." 

And even then...

1. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2," the final installment in the series arrives and I am hoping that this chapter returns the series to the glories of the first two episodes.

2. On the indie film front, I am especially looking forward to Director Tom McCarthy's journalism drama "Spotlight" starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo.

3. "Creed," the "Rocky" spin-off film from Writer/Director Ryan Coogler who last delivered "Fruitvale Station," does have me somewhat intrigued.

4. And then, Pixar will release "The Good Dinosaur," their second film this year after their creative rebirth and triumph of "Inside Out."

That is more than enough to try and somehow find a way to see and experience for the month. But, as always, I can only ask for you to wish me well...

...and I'll see you when the house lights go down!