Short Takes: In Theaters Now

THE DANISH GIRL

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Alicia Vikander gives a stunning performance as Gerta, a woman who as she reaches her artistic peak finds herself losing her husband in an unexpected way. Through it all she remains loyal, faithful and in love with a man who is no longer there. I know most will disagree with me, however, I felt Eddie Redmayne’s performance was too controlled and he never reached deep enough within himself to give any depth to his character. The film itself is photographically stunning.

YOUTH

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A look back ot life’s highs and disappointments through the eyes of two long times friends as performed by two legendary actors. Beautifully and poetically filmed.

DADDY’S HOME

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Will Ferrell use to be funny. Now he seems to think taking off his shirt (again) and revealing his flabby body is all that is needed.   In Daddy’s Home, he’s just plain predictable and perversely dull, and he needed Mark Wahlberg to help him out with it. One of the worst films of 2015.

JOY

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There’s a good story in the tale of Joy Mangano, unfortunately the film David O. Russell made is not it. I have liked most of Russell’s films, but other than some of the performances, Jennifer Lawrence, who may be the best young actress working in Hollywood today, and Robert De Niro this is disappointment.

THE BIG SHORT

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Scathingly funny look at what led up to the 2008 financial collapse as warned by four outsiders. The director and screenwriters manage to break down and present the complicated tale in a way the layman could understand. Steve Carrell gives a powerful performance. One of the best of the year.

Short Takes: In Theaters Now

Spotlight

Spotlight

   Spotlight may just be the best film of the year, or it at least comes damn close. It’s certainly the best film on investigative journalism since, though not quite as good, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. The film draws you in early on and keeps you locked in while managing not to exploit sensitive subject matter. SPOTLIGHT is intelligent filmmaking and a superb look at heroic journalism against powerful forces. Continue reading

Short Takes: New Films and Old

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie)

uncleAn atrocity of one of the great TV shows from the 1960’s. Where to start? Well, the two leads, Henry Clavill and Arnie Hammer, have zero chemistry together as a team. Throughout the movie they just seemed uncomfortable in each other’s presence. Then there is the story which never feels menacing enough, though it involves the threat of a nuclear bomb being stolen. There are some good lines and droll humor here and there, but unfortunately, our two “heroes” cannot deliver the lines with any sense of ironic humor. The film is based on the 1960’s hit TV show, but the resemblance between the show and this film in non-existent. There is no T.H.R.U.S.H., no U.N.C.L.E. organizations and barely any camaraderie between our two spies who seem to hate each other for most of the film. The film is a complete bastardized version of the show. It desperately wants to seem hip and cool, of course it does, it has Guy Ritchie directing, It’s not. It’s just painful. The ending  clearly sets you up for a sequel which I suspect will never be made. Continue reading

Short Takes: Recent Viewings

Here are five short reviews of some recent viewings that are all over the genre map.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

gunfightGunfight at the O.K. Corral is a beautifully shot big Hollywood version of the famed Tombstone shootout as the Earp Brothers face down the Clantons. Burt Lancaster makes for a stoic Wyatt Earp, a hard ass who totes the line. Kirk Douglas does his best impersonation of himself as the alcoholic, tuberculosis ridden, Doc Holliday. The story itself is pretty fictionalized.  Johnny Ringo, for example, died before the shootout, and the real life shootout only lasted only about 30 seconds. Then there is Jo Van Fleet, who only two years earlier played James Dean’s  mother in East of Eden, as Kate Fisher, Doc Holliday’s female companion. In real Earp lore, Kate was known as “Big Nose” Kate. But then who cares about all that. Watching the two stars interact makes this a fun watch. Continue reading

Short Takes: Catching Up With Louis Malle

louie-malle-essentialsTCM’s recent one night festival of five Louis Malle films gave me the opportunity to revisit two favorites and catch up with a few that I somehow missed in the past. Malle was a director who never liked to repeat himself. Once he explored a subject, he moved on. His work covered drama, suspense, comedy, documentaries and just about every other potential category. One of the original French New Wave, you never knew what he would do next. Malle never shied away from controversial subjects: French collaboration with the Nazi’s during World War II (Lacombe Lucien), child prostitution (Pretty Baby) and Incest (Murmur of the Heart) were all subject matter. What they all had in common was Malle’s artistry for handling these delicate subjects with taste and sensitivity. Continue reading

Short Takes: Portraits of the Artist on Film

Douglas Van GoghThere was a second cousin of mine, my mother’s first cousin, who always fascinated me. She was different from the rest of the family and was sometimes referred to by other members as ‘the Beatnik.’  Now, you have to realize my parents and family were primarily first generation Italian-Americans born here. They did not do Beatniks. I was in my very early teens, or maybe even slightly younger, when I got to meet her. She had just moved from Greenwich Village and back to Brooklyn where she went to live with her father ( I believe he was very sick and I know she was a severe diabetic). I remember the first time we visited, many of her paintings were scattered all over the apartment. I was in awe.

Everyone would say she was a bit odd, if no other reason than she always wore black and had lived in the Village, living a different lifestyle from the little world I knew. I never really got to know her, but the fact she had the talent to paint was somewhat mysterious and fascinating to me even at that young age. I only mention this because it was my first introduction to art. Other than these few times I saw her, art in my life was not something that came into the family equation. Continue reading

Short Takes: Cagney, Dodsworth and Scream of Fear

Each DawnEach Dawn I Die (***1/2) It is Cagney versus Raft in this classic 1939 Warner Brothers prison drama. Directed by William Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published, Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building. He’s knocked out, soused with alcohol and tossed into a speeding car resulting in a car accident which kills three innocent people. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears. The two become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him. Continue reading