Archive | March, 2014

Cesar Chavez

28 Mar

‘Cesar Chavez’: This biopic doesn’t quite do justice to a paragon of social justice

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Longtime actor Diego Luna (“Elysium” and “Y Tu Mamá También”) steps behind the lens for this biopic about the titular labor legend of the ’60s and ’70s who helped organize Californian farm workers being exploited by their employers, working long hours and living in poverty and fear of retaliation for resistance.

032814i Cesar ChavezNo, it’s not the first time Luna has been in the director seat, but it somewhat feels so. Biopics in general are stilted; there is little element of surprise. That’s not to say they can’t be lit up with the right director or actor – take “Norma Rae” or “Erin Brockovich,” but those films were directed by master filmmakers (Martin Ritt and Stephen Soderbergh) and actresses who took home Oscars (Sally Field and Julia Roberts), but the key to such a film is conflict and how the hero or heroine navigates adversity and perseveres.  Continue reading

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Nymphomaniac

22 Mar

‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1′: Graphic but not groundbreaking, and so far little meaning

By Tom Meek
March 20, 2014

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Danish director Lars von Trier has always been a puckish provocateur and enfant terrible – and to some, worse, considering his Nazi-sympathizer comments at Cannes 2011 (for which he later offered apologies before defiantly taking it back). As a filmmaker, however, his genius has always been right up on the screen in the minimalistic, stagelike lo-fi style he encapsulated with the Dogme 95 manifesto. It’s not for everybody, and it can be trying, but for those willing, a von Trier film is an experience that boils down the human condition into provocative and uncomfortable pokes in the eye while forcing you to confront yourself.

032014i Nymphomaniac- Vol. 1The most emblematic of von Trier’s vast filmography might be one of his lesser-known works: the 2003 curio “The Five Obstructions,” in which von Trier challenges mentor Jørgen Leth to remake his 1967 short film “The Perfect Human” five times, each with a new restricting specification. One obstruction has Leth make the film in the worst place on earth (the slums of Mumbai) and another has him do it as animation (a form both directors detest); and with each new needling hurdle he lays down, von Trier grins with impish glee while shoveling mounds of caviar into his face.  Continue reading

Better Living Through Chemistry

15 Mar

<i>Better Living Through Chemistry</i> Review

A pharmacologist who pilfers from his own stash doesn’t make for much of a story. It’s over-the-counter, flat, hypocritical and none-too-interesting. Love & Other Drugs tried to walk that (similar) line by throwing in a satirical skewering of the pharmaceutical biz with a heavy dose of amour while Better Living Through Chemistry tacks into it with a whacky rom-com skew, and as with the launch of any new panacea, the results are mixed, and some even concerning. The diagnosis of which leads directly to the writing/directing team of Geoff Moore and David Posamentier, who treat their cinematic go as an alchemy experiment, crushing in aBody Heat-styled femme fatale element along with pill-popping madness, dysfunctional youth mania and alpha female hen-pecking all blended together under a quirky Wes Anderson-like sheen.  Continue reading

The Grand Budapest Hotel

15 Mar

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’: Ambitious structure overwhelms Anderson’s quirk

By Tom Meek
March 14, 2014

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Wes Anderson’s latest is a series of stories within stories. It begins in 1985 with a middle-aged writer (Tom Wilkinson) taping a testimonial about the inspiration for his cherished book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (the script is based on the writings and life of Stefan Zweig, who did write such a titled book) and jumps back to 1968, with the writer now played by Jude Law cooling his heels in the hotel on the Austrian border in a fictional country. It is there that he meets the hotel’s reclusive owner, a Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), and is invited to dinner in the grand ballroom – which isn’t so grand anymore, but a tired reminder of more resplendent times. The rest of the hotel is similarly worn, and there are few guests. The author and the owner happen to be the only two eating in the vast hall.

031414i The Grand Budapest HotelFrom there Moustafa tells how he became the owner, as there lingers some mystery and controversy how he took ownership and who the owner was before him, and so we zip back to a prosperous time between the two Great Wars when the mountain-perched hotel was a destination for Europe’s rich and famous. Moustafa is then just a bellhop named Zero (Tony Revolori) and the hotel is ornate and thriving under the management of a very fastidious and fickle concierge named H. Gustave M. (Ralph Fiennes), who goes to no end to please his guests, which includes sleeping with and carrying on with many elderly women – even though his predilection is more for those of his own sex. One such pampered guest (Tilda Swinton) dies and in her will bequeaths Gustave a priceless painting (“Boy with Apple”), which doesn’t sit well with her avaricious progeny (Adrien Brody) who accuses Gustave of murder to get what he feels is rightfully his. This serves as Anderson’s jumping-off point, as Gustave gets relegated to an impregnable prison and the Second World War begins to break, sending ripples of chaos throughout the small, in-the-way country. Through it all, the patient, resourceful Zero continues to serve his master.  Continue reading

300: Rise of an Empire

9 Mar

<i>300: Rise of an Empire</i>

Probably the greatest thing about Zach Snyder’s 300 besides hearing Leonidas (Gerard Butler, with his CGI enhanced six-pack abs) vociferously proclaim, “This … is … Sparta!” and kick one of Xerxes’s emissaries down a bottomless well, was the hip, infectious trailer of half-naked Spartan warriors assailing the vast Persian army to the manic techno beat of Nine Inch Nails’s “Just as You Imagined.” The movie itself was overload, more of the same, slowed by plot, reason and redundancy. Plus it’s history, so it’s not like you’re going to have a “I didn’t see that coming” moment, even with Frank Miller’s graphic novel, Xerxes, driving the game.  Continue reading