Category Archives: At the Movies

At the Moviesby David Prown
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Review – Jackie

david prown 120Coming at the tail end of the baby boomer era, I was only 4 when President Kennedy was assassinated and have zero memory of this historic tragedy. Yet the eras and players in the Kennedy family both before and after. There political prowess, the aura surrounding the family name and the seemingly endless stream of tragedy and misfortuneall are strong in my mind.

I’m really sure if there is any timing significance of the new movie “Jackie” starring uber talented Natalie Portman as the 1st lady died over 20 years ago.

But clearly Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in her 3 short years in the White House became one of the most famous 1st ladies of all time. Was it her youth, her elegant looks, her fashion style, her gentle manner that fueled this reputation… I just don’t know.

To me, again her time was before mine and her post assassination years were kept very private and professional. She simply deserved endless respect that inspired me to see the film quite unsure of the films angle.

Not sure where the thought came to capture the day of the assassination and the roughly 7 days after as we watched Jackie dealer with the horror and the prospect. But it was interesting enough.

Of course the horror of witnessing her husbands death; the prospect of raising her children fatherless, leaving her much loved White House home, watching new political players (specifically LBJ) move right into to carry on the work of the county and more was quite overwhelming.

She is of course very emotional during this period, smokes like a fiend seems lost in the White House and almost seems forgotten.

Mrs. Kennedy had only a staff of one back then (played well by Greta Gerwig) so she had to navigate this tragedy solo on instinct managing multiple things.

And I guess the genesis of the story was Jackie’s rather quick ability post assassination to manage the funeral/arrangements etc. specifically in the publics eye. She seemed to have very clear and strong ideas on how things would happen and how they would look to cement the final moments of the Kennedy White House. Movie was told to a national reporter about a week after the tragedy in an exclusive interview to capture the inside story.

It was interesting, surprisingly graphic (the assassination) and I love the sets/colors/clothes from that era (like the bulky yellow cabs) or the endless smoking by all. Back to colors for a second, in a world with lots of grays, whites, blacks and beiges, her introduction of color and style especially as 1st lady I’m sured reshaped the retail fashion world.

I enjoyed the film but think if the role wasn’t played by such a prime time actress like Natalie Portman and done so well, I’m afraid the film would have been less engaging.

What struck me most about this story and I’ll assume it was historically accurate, was Jackie’s seemingly lack of interest to 1st and foremost rush home to her children and spend as much time with them as possible in this time of utter horror. Not only reassure them but it was her closest, most beloved family….wouldn’t we all run home in time of tragedy to be surrounded by family? I just struck me odd and near business like her relationship with her children in this film.

I could well imagine Ms. Portman get some best actress nominations..but I don’t think the film will.

 

Review – La La Land

david prown 120LA LA LAND is one of those movies that has had a very strong buzz and lots of hints towards year end award love. This throwback “Song and Dance” movie stars strong actors “Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone” (with snippet roles by John Legend….yes singing & J.K. Simmons).

The story line of a solid musician/wannabe entrepreneur and a struggling actress who find each other and fall “old school” in love. No doubt, the romance is enhanced on screen with the perfect touch of song and dance.

There is really nothing “not” to like about this show as long you take it “as a show…to be entertained”. Tap your hand on your knee or nod your head or just sway to the music, just enjoy and embrace it for what it is..

Set mostly in Los Angeles with plenty of LA-esque shots/back-drops, this film sure to be a box office hit with the Greatest generation and most baby boomers…after that, hard to tell.

It is a beautiful assembled piece of entertainment that makes you warm and cozy (yes, I snoozed a bit) and love the simplicity of the films structure and design. It is a an nostalgic, romantic film takes nice small, forward moving steps and never goes astray. You want to “Go back” for $12 bucks, here you go.

Love that Stone & Gosling show their own very good, but not perfect chops singing, dancing and playing. Adds to the engagement of the audience to the big screen show.

Good stuff!

 

Review – Miss Sloane

david prown 120“Miss Sloane” was on my radar to see but not as a must. Stars very talented Jessica Chastain as team leader of a big lobbying firm leading the fight to pass anti-gun legislation at the national level.

Immensely smart ,talented and fearless there is no level that she won’t go to to  achieve the mission.  This seasonsed lobbyist knows especially going up against the most powerful gun lobby that there really is any line that can’t be crossed.

She is well aware that her opponent will spend endlessly & cross the same lines to achieve their goal to maintain the existing gun laws (vs. allowing some mandated background checks).

This political thriller fight is highly complicated as it uses a good bit of industry vernacular that goes over probably most of the audiences’ head. However you can understand the gist and works pretty well. There were lots of actors on both sides of the issue and hard to visually differentiate (wish they wore colored uniforms, like in sports.)

The movie does not work you try to explain where she acquired all her skills, Instinct and training. They just let it be that she is a pro. She is one tough as Nails boss to work for and I think she had a team of about seven or eight Young vibrant workaholics. Her tough leadership style no doubt rubs both allies and opponents the wrong way.

“Miss Sloane” also stars long timers Sam Waterston and John Lithgow. I liked the film and moreso as it moved along and particularly the ending sequence of events.

 

Review – Nocturnal Animals

david prown 120The word of the street that the new film “Nocturnal Animals” co-starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhall was terrifically good yet terrifically scary.

“I don’t do scary movies” HOWEVER 2 astute movie fan pals shared it is an “implied” scary and it is all about the tension. So I got ready. Just in case, I removed by trademark baseball hat from my head and covered my face with the hat during the entire movie (viewing the film through the small holein the back of the hat).

No doubt, the scariest part of the movie was in the opening montage. A beige color image is on the screen and the camera starts fading back. The image is moving and you realize it is a body part..wait its a nude body part…wait, its a full nude person dancing…wait it is a montage of 4-5 full front nude ladies dancing… wait, they are all immensely, obesely overweight!! Yup, that was downright scary (and I’m really not sure what had to do with the film except they were part of the art gallery exhibition and Adams is the gallery owner).

Seriously, there are some very scary, intense, harrowing scenes and they really work. Most of the gruesomest stuff happens off camera.

This was an exceptional tight, well crafted, engaging film. Adams is now on her 2nd marriage and despite having all the desired affluence, things are not good. She blew off husband #1 many years prior (predicted by her Mom during her courtship”.

Years later, as marriage #2 is falling apart, out of nowhere, Edward (Gyllenhaal), sends her a copy of his 1st book titled “Nocturnal Animal” … his nickname for her (Adams).

Then the film goes from modern day, to the early days with Edward to the visual of the book. Folks this is a tense thriller that really works, isn’t to complicated and beautifully casted. As good as Adams and Gyllenhall are, the casting of Michael Shannon as a dying, non-rule following, West Texas law enforcement officer is the cherry on the cake.

Watch out the book impacts Adams as she reflects on her own life journey and her hope to make things right. A most intriguing psycho-thriller that keeps ones eyes wide open. Really enjoyed.

 

Review – Manchester By The Sea

david prown 120Previews for the new film “Manchester By The Sea” generated a large groundswell of interest…me included. I was seriously jonesing for a home run of a film that would grab me emotionally and dig deep inside. I was also excited To see Casey Afflect in a prime time role and a break out role for his nephew in the movie played by Lucas Hedges.

Simply the story of a lower middle class, eastern Massachusetts family who encounter a seemingly endless string of mis-fortune, bad luck, an array of illnesses and tragedy.

This film is another following the more and more common movie making flipping back and forth between the modern day and anearlier time (to explain an aspect or character in the film). Manchester By The Sea does a real good job of going backwards and forwards without disrupting the flow of the film.

Casey plays a divorced loner as a Quincy, Mass janitor of 4 buildings living in a shell of a basement, 1 room apartment.. He is extremely quiet and focused on his job. He puts his head down and solves problems all day long. At points, this slumbering volcano can explode with a riff of F-bombs and it actually works. We learn the core of sadness and anger is lodged in a horrid family tragedy and the role his vices may have played.

At the same time, his older brother is played by Kyle Chandler who has also led a similar rough and tumble life. Both brothers were significant impacted as men, fathers and husbands through the unfortunate role-modeling of their father. But as theolder brother who stays in their home town, Chandler has a stronger core.

Tragedy continues to impact their lives and puts Affleck back in a parenting shoes that he thought he would never be entitled to re-visit. Navigating unwanted parenting & guardian roles, despite many mistakes, has great heart and decent instincts performinghis new role.

The entire film is supported by a very different, diverse and outstanding soundtrack. Put that together with the timeless backgrounds of cold New England weather encapsulatinglandscapes, water scenes and architecture and we are generally “all in”.

The bonding between Afflect and his nephew (Hedges) is not forced and comes across very real as the the former takes mostly baby steps forward to put their lives back together. When he takes big steps, he later reflects and steps back to undue theerrors of the initial big measure.

I liked the movie alot (and no doubt the film and the actors are going to get plenty of year end award love) but it didn’t get deep inside me. I adored the characters and the casting and the script. I could feel the seemingly endless pain, heart ache and missteps. It just got tiring. I didn’t need 2 hours and 17 minutes to drink the kool aid and by in. The film had me early on. But on and on it went and it lost me a bit to become a very good film but not an iconic one or even one that I reflected the next day.

 

Review – Loving

david prown 120I remember catching a snippet of the 2012 HBO news story on the interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving in Virginia. I remember being shocked by the story that in the late 50’s and 60’s, it was illegal to have a mixed race marriage here in the US. I was well aware of racial issues, unrest, rights violations and so much more. But clearly I had my head in the sand to think that interracial marriage was outlawed also.(I since learned in VA and 19 other states at that time).

So in the film “Loving”, Richard and Mildred (fantastically wellacted by the restrained Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) get married in 1958 and are soon arrested and sent to live in Washington, D.C. for where they both lived with parents and in the houses they were born and raised.

However, when they cross the legal lines of getting interracially married (in Washington DC where it was legal) and having a child, all the legal hiccups surface in draconian Virginia.

These kind, caring and amazingly “Loving” folk raised their 3 kids in a much more urban DC and yearned endlessly for the open space and green grass of their hometown in VA.

A letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy and subsequent referral to the ACLU got them the powerful and free legal help they needed to fight this fight.

Their calmness, singular vision to be a loving family raising their kids in their hometown allowed the focus of their journey and the film to be quite singular. Without sensational speeches or acts of violence, Richard and Mildred quietly and steadily move forward to their goal while making the true story carry the day.

This is a heck of an important film…really sticks with you. Again, sort of like the recent “Hacksaw Ridge”, the bringing of these true, off the grid stories that aren’t that far old in our history to the big screen smacks the crap out of the viewer. Both these stories will stick with me for many, many years.

Review – The Edge of Seventeen

david prown 120Was really hoping that the other day, since it was my birthday, that the stars would align and there would be a slam dunk new movie to see Alas, couldn’t make the obscure film that I wanted to see fill the time slot.

The other new movie was called ”The Edge of Seventeen” which I had never heard about & presumed was some sort of teeny bopper coming-of-age film. Did a quick check of the ratings to get a pulse and the 70-90+% rating raised my eyebrows and inspired me to check it out

I must say that this movie”The Edge of Seventeen” will not well in the box office because it decent have a an A-List actor and the story line is more “independent theatre” thinking and not so original.

It is a slowly evolving film showcasing teen “Hailee Steinfeld” (from True Grit and Perfect Pitch 2) who plays the lead Nadine and does so exceptionally well. You could really feel her teenage angst growing up with the pain of a just deceased (and major supporter Dad), a stressed widow Mom in Kyra Sedgwick and hunky, Mr. Popular older brother in the same high school. Nadine is ackward, independent, wandering and has low self esteem.

She never connected with Mom (who always gushed over her son) and had nothing in common with her brother. Around age 5 she found a best friend and really her lone friend who once in high school hooks up with her brother and friendship falls apart.

Nadine now is fully along and feels more pain & loneliness etc. which flows right thru to the audience. She has a quirky relationship with “cashing the paycheck” English teacher played by “Woody Harrelson” in a really different and interesting role.

I thought the movie was very well done and I enjoyed it. it’s just not what I expected (which was good) and a little slow developing and predictable. But boy an Miss Steinfeld act. Won’t be in theaters for long.

Review – Queen of Katwe

david prown 120The new film “Queen of Katwe” is one of those feel good, underdog, previously unknown, true “sports story” movies that would normally blow me away.

Easily this film could have been shorten and romanced to only the “glass half full” details of this storied rise by a young lady (in very recent history) from the slums of Uganda.

But no!… this film is extended to be slightly over 2 hours that no doubt slowed the film and increased the delving into the socio-economic hurdles of this improbable story. Not your typical Disney film of tight, fun, happy stories.

Digging deep into the socio-economic issues could hurt the box office as the film doesn’t zip and hence grab a larger audience. So Kudos to the director etc. who made sure the audience got a flavor of the odds against the meteoric success of 10 year old Phiona, her single mom, raising 3 kids in the slums of Katwe (Uganda).

Her journey and that of many others continues today under the heroic teachings of “coach” Robert Katende who is nearly the work of mythical portions for what he has done under the radar for 1000’s of Ugandan boys and girls (stay for the credits).

The casting is perfect as well as the sounds (music) and dress (colors). The poverty blows you away as kids lose their youthful innocence so early as they are introduced very early to adult responsibilities (child care of siblings) and making $ (selling products, food etc.) on the street. And forget about the idea of going to school past age 10 (all private… a.k.a. costs $)

Uber Alicia Keys song “Back to Life” in the film is dang powerful stuff and quite haunting.

 

Review – Arrival

david prown 120I have shared previously of my phobia of 2 word movie titles starting with the word THE.   There has been many excellent “The ______” films by even more dogs.

I have a similar phobia when I see excellent movie previews yet the movie doesn’t make it to the big screen till several months later.

Any film with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker gets my full attention.  So when I saw the preview of “Arrival” several months backed, I was very intrigued.  Time passed, the hype disappears and then “boom” the film turns up in theaters this past weekend.

However, my hesitancy was countered by a terrific Rotten Tomatoes review rating (96%) so I thought it had to be good.

Folks, it was just okay.  Okay, so these UFO ships come down to earth (12 locations) and settle in different places on our planet. Nations go on high alert and the world starts falling apart though not a single shot is fired or nary a negative step (by the guests).

Iconic Linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) is called into play to decipher the codes/words being sent from the space ships (along with scientist Renner).  Whitaker is a military Colonel and runs interfere for Adams & Renner.

Interspersed in this film are Adams flashbacks to the painful death of her daughter to cancer.  Somehow, this experience is somehow supposed to influence her ability to process and communicate with these aliens. Simply went right around and right over my head.  The language of the aliens is highly complicated combination of unique sounds and written graphics.

Adams spends endless hours thru technology and her own high level mind trying to solve this communication chasm so the world won’t explode with military violence towards these visitors.  She solves it (not sure when or how) and I think she saves the day in a unique way.

Maybe I fell a asleep or maybe this movie was what it was.  Just seemed to drawn out and dots just didn’t connect.  You check it out and let me know your thoughts.

Review – The Handmaiden

david prown 120It is a great day when I can make it to The Showroom theatre in Asbury Park to see a film. There stuff is just special, obscure, off the grid and generally very well made.

I had the opportunity the other day to journey down to see “The Handmaiden”. I was juiced by its VERY HIGH Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94% but definitely bummed about its length of 2hr and 47 minutes. I don’t mind epics at all but they are rare. Knowing this film was going to be subtitled, made sure I was rested so no snoozing.

Switching back in forth between Korean and Japanese language was no biggie but occasionally the filmed jumped forward and back which was confusing.

Essentially the story of a Korean male petty thief/con man who enlists the help of a very poor also devious young korean woman to devise a plan to steal the inheritance of a rich Japanese heiress (living in Japanese occupied Korea).

Somehow he finds a way to get her a job as the rich woman’s “Handmaiden” (essentially personal aide, servant, assistant everything) while his angle is to become the rich woman’s suitor for marriage.

The woman is very controlled by her Dad (I guess) who never lets her leave the house, pounds with with endless academics, arts etc while the restrictions leave her highly innocent.

The man becomes a clumsy suitor and the “handmaiden” and the Lady start a relationship of sort. It is set in the 30’s, it is both a beautiful but complicated (not good complicated) film. This film with all its relationships, erotic scenes along with aspects that make this maybe a thriller, maybe a love story etc just don’t connect for me.

Something tells me that this puzzle of a story was very well done, but I just couldn’t put it together. But I didn’t fall asleep so clearly it intrigued me…just couldn’t make it work. However, I bet others like it