Archive | September, 2016

Deepwater Horizon

29 Sep

If you’re still pissed at British Petroleum for the 2010 spill in the Louisiana Bay that notched the worst ecological disaster in history, get ready to have your ire stoked by Peter Berg’s harrowing real-life rewind. You won’t get many of those indelible images of oil-matted pelicans and mounds of dead fish piled along the coastline because, much like“Snowden” and “Sully,” other recent docudramas depicting barely faded news flashpoints, “Deepwater Horizon” steers clear of what we already know and lays out the events and lives leading up to the unthinkable – which it does with meticulous care.

092916i-deepwater-horizonAt its core “Deepwater” is a disaster flick, and a nail-biter to boot, but much of what propels it are the human stories, the selfless actions of those caught in the way of harm and the shocking arrogance unfurled by British Petroleum higher-ups wanting to turn a fast buck. The film hangs on two caught at the epicenter of the ordeal: Kurt Russell’s rig commander, Jimmy Harrell, and Mark Wahlberg’s second-in-command, Mike Williams. These are two actors who in recent outings – “The Hateful Eight” and “Lone Survivor” – were left bloodied and beaten, and worse, which in hindsight must have been preparation for what would come: asphyxiation by gushing oil, shrapnel whizzing at every turn and a few ungainly forays into parkour as one incinerating part of the rig lists and crashes downward; and if you think the sea a good exit, it’s nothing but a pool of fire for as far as one can see. Continue reading

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The Magnificent Seven

28 Sep
The all-star lineup fails to shine through in Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven

Courtesy Sony Pictures

The all-star lineup fails to shine through in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven

Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and Yul Brynner — that’s a pretty tough trio to beat in any context and just one half of the star-studded cast of the original Magnificent Seven. That Western classic directed by John Sturges was itself a rebranding of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) and while the cross-genre translation made sense back in 1960, the current redux by Antoine Fuqua (Shooter and Training Day) doesn’t offer much of a spin besides boasting a diverse crew (an African American, Asian, Native American, and Mexican among the mix). Even then, with the exception of one “his kind” comment in reference to Byong-hun Lee’s blade-wielding character of Chinese descent, there’s not one drop of racial tension. Had the septet been hot pink fuchsia, the bad guy’s wouldn’t take notice. It certainly wouldn’t flavor their dull backlot dialog, but it might improve their ability to shoot and hit anything, because as the movie has it, their blazing guns — sans a lone Gatling gun mounted outside the cow-poke town — couldn’t strike the broadside of Kim Kardashian’s famous posterior.

Fuqua’s posse, which features Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke, is a pretty well-armed lot, but as they team up and ride out it becomes clear that something’s off with thisSeven. Sure, the scenery’s panoramic and lovely, but after a long, bouncy canter across the prairie, saddle soreness sets in well before the first bullet’s chambered. What’s missing are personality and philosophical idealism let alone brooding, macho conflict — all requisite when telling a tale of morally ambiguous men walking in a lawless land. It’s as if Fuqua took Sturges’ blueprint, connected the dots, then forgot to bring his palette to the set. Continue reading

Demon

21 Sep
Don't tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Courtesy of Telewizja Polska, The Orchard

Don’t tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Marcin Wrona’s soft-horror thinker Demon unfurls a competent and moody bit of filmmaking, which much like Robert Eggers’s Puritan period piece The Witch, becomes just as much about the dynamics of the society it’s set against as it is about a supernatural incursion. In this case a Polish man, about to be wed, gets possessed by a dybbuk (a demon of Jewish lore). The real eerie air swirling about, however, comes in the sad side note that Wrona, having had this, his third film, play the Toronto International Film Festival last year, committed suicide on the eve the film was to be shown at the Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s annual film fest. There remains as much mystery in his tragic parting as there is in his protagonist’s slow consumption by the soul of another.

Much of the action takes place against bawdy wedding proceedings. There’s plenty of drinking and merriment, even as the spiritual affliction begins to break down the couple at the center of the celebration. Adapted from Piotr Rowicki’s 2008 playAdhere ce, the film begins on a somber, hopeful chord as Piotr (Itay Tiran), who like Jeremy Iron’s work-seeking Pol in Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting (1982), labors for a living wage in London, returns to Poland to marry the lovely Zaneta (a radiant Agnieszka Zulewska). The pairing is something of an arranged marriage. After the two are wed, they will be gifted Zaneta’s grandparents’ old farmhouse in the country, which is also the site of the wedding. Continue reading

Lo and Behold

21 Sep
In Lo and Behold, famed director Werner Herzog takes a look at the digital world's effect on our own reality

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In Lo and Behold, famed director Werner Herzog takes a look at the digital world’s effect on our own reality

In 10 micro chapters, Werner Herzog, the director of the classic odysseys Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Aquirre, the Wrath of God(1972), tackles the internet, its rise, and the perils and promise of a connected world. The scope and the questions are nothing new — “Who is going to be liable if a computer makes a mistake?” Herzog asks about self-driving cars — but the filmmaker’s laid-back yet probing style and quest for getting at the human condition is nothing short of infectious, viral, if you will.

The segments, with pointed titles like “The Internet of Me,” “The Glory of the ‘Net,” and, of course, “The Future,” each delve into a different facet of the internet, be it historical or conjecture. Herzog buffers most of the blips with the Dickian question, “Does the internet dream of itself?” The segments that provoke the most are the segments that tackle the downside of being connected. One woman tags the Net as a “manifestation of the Anti-Christ.” The underscoring of that is a family who lost their daughter in a car accident, and the pain that the graphically snapped photos from the scene inflicted on them during their grieving as they were unleashed out onto the web, ever proliferating, unretrievable and unstoppable.

That tale of tragedy becomes the sad underbelly to hypertext inventor Ted Nelson’s optimistic allusion to water as a metaphor for flow of connectivity. Other notable talking heads in the documentary include convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick, and Pay Pal and Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk. Continue reading

Snowden

18 Sep

‘Snowden’: Political Oliver Stone returns with whistle-blower’s uncloaking of spies

Oliver Stone’s become something of a softie, wrapping “World Trade Center” (2006), his 9/11 tale of heroism, in red, white and blue sentimentality, and making “W” (2008) a strange, off-the-mark lob with the surreal puffiness of “Being There” without the biting social undertones. His most recent effort, “Savages” (2012) showed signs of the lean, mean Stone who tapped out “U Turn” and “Natural Born Killers,” but it buckled under to contrivance and a weak storyline. So for the Stoned faithful, there’s good news: “Snowden” marks something of a comeback, a return to the realm of political and historical dramatization that powered “JFK” (1991) and “Nixon” (1995), in which controversial subjects provide a foundation for the filmmaker’s strong political leanings to seep in. It’s also a bit schmaltzy at turns, but so was Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” which was a rock-solid piece of filmmaking. (If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s to let the old cutting-edge guys engage their inner sentimentality; they’ve earned it, and they inject it into films without torpedoing them.)

091516i-snowdenIt’s been only a few years since the disclosures by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden and subsequent firestorm ripped opened a debate on privacy and security. During it all, documentarian Laura Poitras captured the real-life Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel as he readied exposure of the CIA and NSA for spying on U.S. citizens without cause, hacking and mining private Facebook posts – even accessing computer cameras to look in on citizens of interest, should they care. Her film, “Citizenfour,” went on to win an Academy Award. Poitras makes her way into Stone’s “Snowden” as a character, played by the ever-graceful Melissa Leo, sitting in a room shooting Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Guardian” journalist Glenn Greenwald (Spock player Zachary Quinto). Stone wisely doesn’t retrace much of Poitras’ steps, but makes the story about Snowden the man, his roots in the military, his nerdy proclivities, his cut-above skill set and capabilities and his on-again, off-again relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (a vivacious Shailene Woodley) – for the two, it’s love at first IP trace. Continue reading

Sully

15 Sep

In his career as a filmmaker, Clint Eastwood has done it all – taken on the war epic (“Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”), rebranded his Western roots (“Unforgiven” and “Pale Rider”), roiled in the tough cop genre (“Sudden Impact” and “The Gauntlet”) and even dipped his toe in chick-flick territory (“The Bridges of Madison County”). For the 86-year-old, who thankfully did not speak to an empty chair at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer, not all of these amazingly broad endeavors have panned out (“J. Edgar” and “The Changeling,” to name two), but at such a late stage it’s remarkable how measurably Eastwood has grown in his craft, illustrating a greater appreciation for time, space and setting, and most affectingly so when the sense of character is deeply felt and intimate.

090916i-sully“Million Dollar Baby” and “Invictus” were two such inwardly wound gems, and Eastwood’s latest, “Sully,” marks another fully palpable portrait of human determination that’s more interested in the human condition and compassion than heroics. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of heroics in “Sully.” After all, the film is branded after the man who executed the “Miracle on the Hudson”; if you were asleep in 2009 in the wake of the economic meltdown, when good news was hard to come by, that was when Sully (aka Chesley Sullenberger) gave the nation something to cheer about, putting down a badly damaged jet on the Hudson River, saving the 155 lives aboard and avoiding incalculable collateral damage should a return to LaGuardia fail.  Continue reading

Almost up a creek while paddling the waters of Disney

15 Sep

Published in the Boston Globe

 

Signs warn of alligators and snakes near Seven Seas Lagoon.

Signs warn of alligators and snakes near Seven Seas Lagoon.

By Tom Meek GLOBE CORRESPONDENT SEPTEMBER 09, 2016
Vacation resorts — those destinations you leverage your life savings for so the family can relax and have fun without sweating the pressures of daily life — include safety and security as part of the package, right? Such was the likely expectation of the family from Nebraska whose 2-year-old son was killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort earlier this summer. The attack, which took place on an idyllic swath of beach on the manmade Seven Seas Lagoon, occurred as the family took in one of the resort’s family movie night offerings. For me the news was extra chilling, as just weeks earlier, my wife and 6-year-old daughter sat on that very beach watching “The Force Awakens.” Eerier still was the realization that a misadventure of mine two years earlier had given me a glimmer into the dangers that lurked in Walt’s waters.

I’ll be the first to testify to the structural beauty of the stately Grand Floridian and its limitless amenities, but those foreboding “no swimming” signs along the beaches gave me pause the very first time I passed them by. There was no footnote or qualification, just a red slash through a silhouetted swimmer. I assumed the water was polluted. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Continue reading