Movie Review

A scene from 'White Christmas'

Ring in the holiday season when Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas” returns to select cinemas nationwide for a two-day celebration on Dec. 9 and 12, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.

Originally released in 1954, the classic film stars Bing Crosby (Bob) and Danny Kaye (Phil). After Phil saves Bob’s life in the army, the two become a widely popular vaudeville musical act. They agree to see a sister act as a favor to an old army buddy. The sisters, Rosemary Clooney (Betty) and Vera-Ellen (Judy) are going to Vermont to perform at an inn and Phil, determined to play matchmaker, sneakily arranges for himself and Bob to go along. When they realize the owner of the failing inn is their former general, the duo decide to bring their entire musical act to Vermont in a secret attempt to bring in guests and give back to the man that meant so much to them. 

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen perform ‘Sisters’ in a scene from ‘White Christmas.’

Directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”), “White Christmas” includes such Berlin classics as “Sisters,” “Snow,” “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and the enduring title song.

Presented as the final film in the 2018 TCM Big Screen Classics series, the screenings include new commentary by TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook on Dec. 9 and 12 at 2 and 7 p.m.; Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Photos courtesy of Fathom Events

A scene from 'Mid90s' Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

The real question with films like “Mid90s” and other throwbacks to the days of the childhoods of those born in the ’80s and ’90s is really how far you can get with callbacks and brand recognition. 

It has worked well in some places, such as with the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things,” but a movie still needs a storyline to fill out the space left between brand name dropping and scenes of, “Oh, don’t you remember this? Wasn’t this fun?” Well, “Mid90s,” which opened in theaters Oct. 21, is an interesting take on nostalgia, one that shows the ugly sides of childhood without any kind of judgment.

Sunny Suljic in a scene from ‘Mid90s’

“Mid90s” takes place in Los Angeles during the titular 1990s as the California skating scene was at its peak. Young Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in a dysfunctional house with abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and his co-dependent mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston). While riding his bike Stevie sees a young group of skaters at a distance and decides to infiltrate that friend group, despite the fact he has never ever skated in his life. The skaters, made up of pro-skater hopeful Ray (Na-kel Smith), party-hopper F**** (Olan Prenatt), lonely Ruben (Gio Galicia) and the reserved filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), start taking a liking to the young kid, who they nickname Sunscreen.

Stevie, while learning to skate, also falls into the seedier elements of the scene, the ones involving drugs and alcohol. He picks up terrible habits, acting out against his family. His friends are tested even harder when it becomes evident Ray is coming closer and closer to becoming pro, potentially leaving all those who look up to him behind.

It’s a movie called “Mid90s,” so it’s obvious that first-time director Jonah Hill, most known for his roles in films like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is trying to make some kind of declaration of this time period. Unlike something like “Stranger Things,” the brands, music and albums so notorious from the era aren’t just set dressing but are integral to the theme. Stevie goes into his brother’s room and looks through his music, full of recognizable band names, just so he could give him a birthday gift in the next scene, which he then tosses on the table like he’s just received rotten fruit. The recognizable posters on Stevie’s wall are swapped out later once he starts to love the skating culture.

Sunny Suljic and Na-kel Smith in a scene from ‘Mid90s’

But what really drives the film’s forward momentum is the intense theme of skating as a relief from home life. Though it’s not so much an escape from problems, skating is shown as a way to connect with people on a deep spiritual level. It’s revealed relatively late in the film how each of the main characters has an imperfect home life, and that the friendship they have with each other is what keeps them all sane. 

Though it’s not a long movie, running at about the 90-minute mark, Hill doesn’t make this film overstay its welcome. That’s not to say there aren’t moments that makes one think this is a first-time directorial effort, small sequences that don’t add up, camerawork that pushes in a little too close to faces and a few other niggling details.

The film is also explicit in a number of ways, some of which involve the main character who is supposedly 13 years old, according to the film. Be sure to come at this flick without a sense of judgment for the characters, as the film itself makes it plain it doesn’t wish to judge them as well.

I was never a skater as a kid, but I knew those who were. Even if you have some sort of interest to dive into a time and place that few can honestly say they were a part of, then “Mid90s” should be a good run of some vicarious nostalgia.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use and violence, “Mid90s” is now playing in local theaters.

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John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Is there something to say about the fact that, even as so many Western genre movies have been released, covering every inch of America’s rugged past, that the genre still survives?

Though it’s one of film’s oldest and most tested settings, the entire concept of the Western has been deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied, satired, mocked and idolized so many times until today where we have different subgenres from the post-Western, the comedy Western and beyond.

So where does “The Sisters Brothers,” a film directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, sit in this framework? The film was marketed as a comedy Western, and while the film is certainly funny at points, it really is so much more.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This is the jazz version of the Western, something recognizable yet off-kilter enough to be fresh in all the right ways. Adapted from a 2011 novel by the Canadian author Patrick deWitt, the story follows the brothers Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) as two hit-men gunslingers employed by the enigmatic figure of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer).

The Sisters brothers are tasked with finding Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a gentleman and a chemist, knowing that, most likely, they will have to kill him. When they finally find him, Warm and the man who was supposed to confine him, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) have a much more interesting offer to give the two murderous brothers.

The opening shot is one so cleanly reminiscent of Westerns but given a subtle twist of shot and lighting. It starts large, a black field with the hint of a purple horizon, but the silence is cut short with sparks and flashes of light as the Sisters brothers engage men fortified in a house. The film is violent without languishing in it, and, instead, Audiard likes to spend more time in finding comedic moments in the exhausting work of traveling across the West, from trying to ride when hung over or from a  random spider bite (one that crawled inside his mouth), or force a man near-comatose for several days while a bear attack nearly kills his horse. 

Westerns have long drawn their themes of the line between right and wrong, good and evil, society and the wilderness. “The Sisters Brothers” doesn’t so much run away from those themes as it does show just how deflated they are. The fact that the film ends not with so much of a bang but with a calm, pastoral scene of home and family goes to say something about the entire idea of the Western genre.

Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from ‘Sisters Brothers’

All actors involved do a great job with their performances, and both Ahmed and Gyllenhaal are particularly interesting to watch as they develop a respect for the other over the course of the film. Phoenix is terrific in his role, playing the slightly unhinged gunslinger with just the right amount of anger while leaving room for introspection.

“You do realize that our father was stark raving mad and we got his foul blood in our veins?,” Charlie Sisters says. “That was his gift to us. That blood is why we’re good at what we do.”

While it was Reilly’s own production company that financed the film, it’s good to note that the man who is most known for his comedies, often co-starring with Will Farrell, takes a far more interesting and nuanced turn as the older Sisters brother, killing people in the name of defending his brother, who does not believe he needs saving. He comes into his own especially at the end of the film, as he tries to make up for the past by protecting his brother as they run across the West pursued by men who would kill them.

“The Sisters Brothers” is one of those films that you’ll either love or fully question what all the fuss is about. As a general fan of Westerns and all its spin-offs, this reviewer says it’s a much-needed spin on many overdone film tropes of the Western genre.

Rated R for violence, disturbing images and language, “The Sisters Brothers” is now playing in local theaters.

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By Kyle Barr

Us youngins can still remember when the first “Harry Potter” movie jumped so gracefully from book to the big screen. Those novels, written by J.K Rowling, were already a sensation before the whole thing exploded in popularity with a near decade of new movies.

 

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro and Jack Black in a scene from the film.

It’s not strange then that Hollywood has since been pushing out more and more films based off young adult literature, from “The Hunger Games,” to “Maze Runner,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and on and on. It seems we’re at the point that Hollywood is looking back in time to “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” a book by John Bellairs written in 1973. This book is a precursor to all the Harry Potters and Hunger Games that line kids’ bookcases to this day. It must have seemed a cinch to bring it to theaters.

Sad to say it doesn’t work, and not so much because the material is rotten but because the tropes have become stale.

Our movie opens with young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) taking the Greyhound bus to a new town after his mother and father have died in a car accident. He goes to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black), an eccentric and near-recluse who lives in a house that contains any number of secrets. The elder Barnavelt spends most of his time with fellow eccentric Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) who quips regularly with Jonathan, though barely concealing a deep friendship.

Of course, not all is as it seems, and Lewis quickly learns that both Jonathan and Zimmerman are Warlock and Witch. Though reluctant, Jonathan agrees to teach young Lewis magic, all the while a clock ticks constantly behind the house’s walls, counting down to something, and both Jonathan and Zimmerman know it can’t be anything good.

Owen Vaccaro in a scene from the film.

Vaccaro does a fine, if standard job as the young kid trying to fit in to the conformities of a new town. Young actors have always had the hardest job, and its rare you’ll find a real exceptional performance, (If you’re curious for one, watch Hailee Steinfeld performance as Mattie Ross in the 2010 remake of “True Grit”.) The big problem is he and other leading kids such as Sunny Suljic, playing the young, athletic Tarby Corrigan, don’t have a good script to work from. Suljic also gets a raw deal as his character flips so suddenly from nice guy to bully right in the middle of the second act. It’s both jarring and confusing.

Black doesn’t seem to be taking the job too seriously either. He can be a fun actor, and he has done some fun jobs in kids flicks before, (just check out 2015’s “Goosebumps.”) It’s a mild performance at best without even Black’s usual blend of expressional and physical comedy.

Jack Black in a scene from the movie.

The jokes are so incredibly flat, and it doesn’t help they keep getting repeated. There is one particular joke about a hedge shaped like a lion, *ahem* expelling rotten leaves and twigs from its rear. Yeah, its crass, but it’s also repeated another three times during the runtime, and another time after the credits are rolling. 

Director Eli Roth is known mostly for his shock horror films like the “Hostel” movies. I think people were more curious than they were interested in seeing what chops Roth might have had for children’s movies. Sure, there are a few creepy scenes, such as with a number of puppets and jack-o-lanterns, but those scenes are marred with some really horrible CG. They’re made all the more apparent because set design, especially of the house, was quite good. The whole place had an off-kilter but intriguing vibe, from the stained-glass window that can change shape to the massive number of clocks that Jonathan uses to drown out the sound of the other clock hidden in the walls. 

Cate Blanchett in a scene from the film.

Blanchett seems to be the only one really trying, and it’s sad, borderline painful, to see her really excel in the role of the straight-backed aging spinster maintaining that edge of deviousness. I would honestly rather see her in the role of Mary Poppins in the upcoming sequel to that beloved Disney musical, but that’s really for a different’ review.

Have we exhausted the young adult fiction gold rush? No, we haven’t, as long as people continue to try. Even as one generation grows out of the right age for these types of stories, it’s a human inevitability that another will grow to take their place. 

Honestly, if you go rewatch the first “Harry Potter,” you realize most of the acting was subpar, and the plot, even when it was taken directly from the book, was really contrived. But that movie remains fondly remembered because it was new, different, and it captured the imagination of a young audience with sweeping shots of a huge castle, of a dining room filled with floating candles and a promise of a much wider world to explore. “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” is missing the wonder, and keeping the cliché.

Rated PG, running time is 1 hour 45 min.

Photos courtesy of Amblin Entertainment

‘Love, Gilda’ will be screened on Sept. 17 at Theatre Three

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh off its special summer screening of the blockbuster documentary “RBG” to a sold-out crowd at Theatre Three, the award-winning Port Jefferson Documentary Series kicks off its fall 2018 season on Monday, Sept. 17. Seven notable and acclaimed documentary films will be showcased, exploring everything from science fairs, ovarian cancer, poaching, disco, baseball and more.

‘Love Gilda’

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, the first six films will be screened at Theatre Three while the final documentary will be presented in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s auditorium. Both venues are located in the Village of Port Jefferson. Each screening will be followed by a Q-&-A session with guest speakers.

The documentaries are chosen by a seven-member film board, affectionately known as “the film ladies,” who each choose one film to present to the audience. This fall’s picks were selected after the members attended screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival, DOC NYC and the Hamptons Film Festival.

The board members,  including co-directors Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg along with Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein, along with volunteers Suzanne Velasquez, Elaine Friedman and Denise Livrieri, are celebrating the festival’s 13th year this month.

Lyn Boland is excited about sharing this new crop of films with audiences this season. “It’s a very interesting lineup,” she mused during a recent phone interview.

According to Boland, one of the more touching films this fall is “Love, Gilda,” an intimate portrait of the comedian, writer and actress Gilda Radner using personal recordings and journal entries along with interviews of her friends and family, including her husband, Gene Wilder. Radner died in 1989 from ovarian cancer at the age of 42. “For me, it was a revelation about who she was because … a lot of comedians have a dark side … but she was seemingly funny and charming and loved by everyone in her family and friend circle from the time she was a little girl,” explained Boland. “[Radner] was very endearing, very bright, very creative — it is a tragic story that she died so young.”

A scene from ‘When Lambs Become Lions’

Another film that will tug at the heart strings, especially for animal lovers, is “When Lambs Become Lions,” which documents the lives of a poacher and a park ranger in Kenya over the course of three years. “I’m very anxious to ask the director how he got this kind of cooperation. It’s just remarkable to see this story from both sides and it has a very intriguing ending,” said Boland.

The co-director’s personal favorite is the highly acclaimed “Roll Red Roll” where amateur blogger Alex Goddard uncovers evidence on social media about the sexual assault of an intoxicated teenage girl by football players at a preseason party in Steubenville, Ohio, in 2012. 

“The real crux of the story is that this blogger found these pictures online because the team was tweeting them and if it hadn’t been for her having the courage to follow up on it, this would’ve gone completely under the radar. It wasn’t reported to the police — just bragged about online,” explained Boland. “It’s one of those tales of personal courage and points out that small town ‘football team is everything’ way of thinking. It’s very well done and very suspenseful and winning a lot of awards.”

A scene from ‘Science Fair’

Perhaps the documentary that has received the most buzz in the news lately is “Science Fair,” which shadows nine teenagers working to win top honors at the acclaimed International Science and Engineering Fair. According to Boland, this is one of those films the entire family can enjoy. “It’s really one of those great stories of terrific talented kids doing their best and the different things that come into play when you are a teenager” no matter how smart you are.

For Boland, being a part of this committee for the last 13 years has been a true labor of love and one she is very proud of. It has also been the perfect outlet to share her love of documentaries to the community. “I really feel that documentaries are a very powerful way of communicating. When you finish watching a really good documentary, you sit there and say “Oh my god, what if I hadn’t seen this? What if I didn’t know? Because in 90 minutes you get a very well fleshed out description of a situation and it’s something that we all need to know more about.” The co-director encourages everyone to stay after the screenings for the Q&A, which can get quite lively.

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night from Sept. 17 to Oct. 22 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson and at Earl Vandermeulen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson on Oct. 29. Tickets, sold at the door, are $8 per person. (No credit cards please.) If you would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5200. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule:

The fall season will kick off with “Love, Gilda” at Theatre Three on Sept. 17. Lisa D’Apolito’s exuberant and moving documentary portrait of Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on the comedian’s life and career. Weaving together recently discovered audiotapes, interviews with her friends, rare home movies and diaries read by modern-day comedians, the film offers a unique window into the honest and whimsical world of a beloved performer whose greatest role was sharing her story. Presented in collaboration with the Long Island Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the event will be moderated by Tom Needham, host of “Sounds of Film” on Stony Brook University’s WUSB. Guest speakers will include producer Bronwyn Berry and executive producer Carolyn Hepburn.

■ “When Lambs Become Lions” heads to Theatre Three on Sept. 24. Exploring the violative African poaching trade, the film profiles an ivory dealer from Kenya and his cousin, a wildlife ranger who is tasked with hunting down poachers. Who are these hunters who will risk death, arrest and the moral outrage of the world? Guest speaker, director Jon Kasbe, followed the film’s subjects over a three-year period, gaining an extraordinary level of access and trust as he became part of their everyday lives.

The season continues on Oct. 1 at Theatre Three with “Roll Red Roll,” which examines the cover up of the infamous 2012 rape of a teenage girl by the star players of a Steubenville, Ohio, football team. As amateur crime blogger Alex Goddard uncovers disturbing evidence on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, questions arise around the collusion of teen and adult bystanders. The film documents the case in such a powerful fashion that your feelings of outrage will persist long after the movie is over. Guest speaker will be director Nancy Schwartzman.

■ “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” to be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 8, is a stirring story of sports, patriotism and personal growth which charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national baseball team competing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic. Director Daniel A. Miller will be the guest speaker. The film is sponsored by The Preserve at Indian Hills and Temple Isaiah. Enjoy a donut from Duck Donuts and take part in a raffle to win a Long Island Ducks gift basket.

A scene from ‘Skid Row Marathon’

The series continues at Theatre Three with “Skid Row Marathon” on Oct. 15. The inspiring and uplifting documentary follows Superior Judge Craig Mitchell over a period of four years as he starts a running club on L.A.’s infamous Skid Row. If club members stay clean, off the streets and out of jail, the judge will take them around the world to run marathons. The runners fight the pull of addiction and homelessness at every turn. Not everyone crosses the finish line yet second chances do exist.  Sponsored by The Law office of Michael S. Ross PC, guest speakers will include director Mark Hayes and producer Gabrielle Hayes.

■ “Studio 54” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 22. Studio 54 was the epicenter of ‘70s hedonism — a place that not only redefined the nightclub but also came to symbolize an entire era. Located at West 54th Street, a then-seedy part of town, the nightclub was the brainchild of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, two college buddy entrepreneurs from Brooklyn who, over the course of 33 months, became the kings of New York — and then lost it all due to greed. Now, 39 years after the velvet rope was first slung across the club’s hallowed threshold, we hear the whole unvarnished story for the first time, with a treasure trove of rare footage and celebrity interviews, the real story behind the greatest club of all time. Guest speakers include Myra Scheer, executive assistant to Rubell and Schrager; Marc Benecke, doorman; Gerard Renny, VIP doorman; Scottie Taylor, bartender; and Chuck Garelick, head of security.

The series concludes on a high note with “Science Fair” at Earl Vandermuelen High School on Oct. 29. Directed by Christina Costantini and Darren Foster, “Science Fair” won the first ever Festival Favorite Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, beating out 123 other films. The film follows nine students and one mentor from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and hormones, on their journey to compete against 1,700 students from 75 countries at the Intel Science Fair. Though all are participating for the love of science, we also learn there are underlying influences motivating them to pursue their dreams. With guest speaker Dr. Marnie Kula, director InStar Science Research/Science Chair at Ward Melville High School, Three Village school district.

Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in a scene from ‘Operation Finale’. Photo courtesy of MGM Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

“Operation Finale” depicts the Israeli secret agents who extracted notorious S.S. Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires. Directed by Chris Weitz, with a screenplay by Matthew Orton, this is a taut historical thriller using Mossad agent Peter Malkin’s book, “Eichmann in My Hands,” for its source.

Eichmann was considered the architect of the Final Solution. It was he who masterminded the transportation logistics that brought millions of innocent Jews to their deaths in concentration camps across Europe. In writing of Eichmann, Hannah Arendt referred to “the banality of evil” — an “ordinary” man who expressed neither remorse nor responsibility for his hideous actions, the epitome of “just following orders.” He has been represented in books, plays and films throughout the latter half of the twentieth and well into the twenty-first century.

Mossad agent Isser Harel’s The House on Girabaldi Street(1975) was turned into a television movie in 1979.  The Man Who Captured Eichmann(also using Eichmann in My Hands) explores much of the same territory.  Robert Shaw’s playThe Man in the Glass Booth(and subsequent film) were inspired by Eichmann’s trial.  Eichmann has been portrayed by Robert Duvall, Stanley Tucci, Donald Pleasance, Maximillian Schell, Werner Klemperer, and Alfred Burke.

Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in a scene from ‘Operation Finale’. Photo courtesy of MGM Pictures

In “Operation Finale” the year is 1960 and the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is given information that points to Eichmann having escaped to Buenos Aires where he now lives under the alias Ricardo Klement. The film follows the covert mission of a small band of agents as they confirm, capture and finally transport Eichmann to Jerusalem to stand trial.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (in a strong cameo by Simon Russel Beale) imparts the importance of the mission: “Our memory reaches back through recorded history. The book of memory still lies open. And you here now are the hand that holds the pen. If you succeed, for the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner. And we will warn off any who wishes to follow his example. If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you. Do not fail.”

It is a delicate balance to blend a Holocaust drama with a thriller. It is a fine and often dangerous line when representing anything that touches on this topic. While the movie does not take place during the Holocaust, it is clearly part of its aftermath and therefore must be approached as carefully and as honestly as possible. For the most part, the film succeeds, working best when the two leads engage.

Oscar Isaac plays Mossad agent Peter Malkin, while Ben Kingsley is Eichmann, his emotionally manipulative arch-nemesis. These are two masterful actors delivering powerful, understated performances. It is their scenes that resonate most strongly.

Isaac displays the conflict of the character’s desire for revenge (his sister and her children, murdered in Lublin, are represented in visions that haunt him throughout) weighed against the need to bring Eichmann to justice on the world stage. His struggle is both painful and vivid.  Kingsley — who has portrayed Holocaust survivors Itzhak Stern in “Schindler’s List” and Otto Frank in “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” — delivers a disturbingly subtle and emotionally complicated Eichmann in an unnervingly nuanced performance.

There are moments that are chilling in their simplicity: watching Eichmann counting train cars with his very young son as the agents spy on them; Malkin shaving Eichmann with a straight razor; Eichmann’s casual question, “Who did we take from you, Peter? Who did you lose?”; a sleeve revealing a blue tattoo.  

The tension and conflict among the captors themselves, who each bring varied points of view, highlights their humanity, and lends further texture to the film. In addition, this is a dangerous Argentina, with a harrowing scene depicting a gathering of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. There is a clear sense that the government is more than complicit in its protection of these murderers. These elements enrich the world in which it is set.

The film is brisk and focused and the performances are uniformly strong. In supporting roles, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov and Mélanie Laurent (all part of the Mossad team) are particularly noteworthy. While occasionally exchanging depth for dramatic tension, overall, “Operation Finale” is an engaging and often disquieting account of a very important historical event.

From left, Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in a scene from ‘Papillon’. Photo courtesy of Bleeker Street

By Kyle Barr

Here’s a question when it comes to remakes: Should a film stand on its own two feet or should we as an audience come down harder on its mistakes than we would an original film?

“Papillon,” the 1973 movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, is based on Henri Charrière’s autobiography of the same name. I’ve never read the book, and I’ve never seen the original movie. Hell, it might be a great movie, but too often people would rather compare films to each other than consider them on their own merits.

A film is a film before it is a remake, and it should be taken as such. If so, then there is a problem when a remake such as “Papillon” is missing key pieces of character motivation that makes one wonder if it was assumed from the original movie.

“Papillon” starts in early 1930s France, as the titular Papillon (Charlie Hunnam), a safecracker working for the local mob, gets framed for a murder he didn’t commit by a local mob boss for whom he worked. He is sentenced to life in prison at Devil’s Island in French Guiana, a place known for its abject brutality and harsh conditions. Anyone sentenced to Devil’s Island is exiled, never able to return to France. On the way there Papillon meets Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a convicted counterfeiter to whom he offers protection in exchange for money, all the while thinking of escape.

Though Papillon and Dega initially dislike each other, it is their commitment to their friendship that drives the plot of the movie, and both actors play across each other very well. This friendship is despite attempts by Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen) to break Papillon’s spirit through a long stay in solitary.

Director Michael Noer does a pretty good job at really setting the tone of the film. Everything at the prison colony is dirty, bloody and hard. Every actor involved is well tuned to his role. Malek does well as a stoic man seemingly numb to other people’s problems, that is until he starts to form a bond with Papillon. 

Hunnam has never really had a problem falling into character, and here he plays the hard-bitten man with a heart of gold as well as he has for nearly every film and show since “Sons of Anarchy.”

Yet there is a clear lifelessness to the whole affair. We start the film in France, end up in French Guiana, and yet we never hear a single person try to affect even an attempt at a French accent. It takes the occasional sight of the tricolor French flag to remind us that, yes, these people are French, with French guards and French prisoners. It’s enough to question whether Hollywood still thinks Americans will laugh at anything French as if every line is a nasal-sounding comic’s routine. 

What’s worse is Papillon, the character, never makes you care enough about his plight. He is a rough man, willing to beat any man into roadkill just to get enough money to escape, but he stops just short of killing anybody. It seems the film is trying to tell us that is something to admire. He spends enough time in solitary confinement and suffers so that we may admire him in a Christ-like sort of way, but much like the real prison system, it seems we are supposed to root for someone’s morality just because they will do anything to attain some form of “justice” just short of the original sin. 

Perhaps it would be different if I saw the original film; then perhaps I would understand what character Papillon is trying to be. Perhaps in that film they comment about his violent nature, but there’s not enough here for any kind of real understanding.

The movie is good enough, but it’s still sad to see so much effort go into the set and costume design as well as the character’s portrayals only to see it wasted on what Hollywood must be thinking is just another remake.

Rated R for language, violence, nudity and some sexual material,“Papillon” is now playing in local theaters.

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Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’. Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

There’s something inherently unrealistic in movies about young kids. Everyone remembers “Stand By Me,” where young but intelligent kids with hard home lives take an important step in becoming an adult, or the recent Netflix hit show “Stranger Things,” which plays more as a standing ovation to the media of the ’80s through children who use their pop culture knowledge as a weapon against evil. 

Perhaps what’s so unrealistic about them is that they’re made by adults far and away from their youth, looking back on it all with at least some form of fond nostalgia. Those movies centered around kids in the grade school age always seem to say life swings around a single turning point, where kids, who often speak much more eloquently for a person their age, at some point switch from the naiveté of childhood to the outlook of adulthood. It’s a nice thought, if unrealistic. 

Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

“Eighth Grade,” written and directed by Bo Burnham, remembers school like most of us do. It was an awkward age where young people are not only trying to learn how to exist as a teenager, but also start becoming an adult. Unlike your usual stock of movies centered around kids, nobody is really learning how to keep it all together, nobody talks like an adult, and everything is in transition.

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (played with such exactitude by Elsie Fisher) is just about to finish up her last week of eighth grade, which means soon she will enter the strange and complicated world of high school. Kayla is shy and quiet, but she doesn’t want to be. The teenager makes YouTube videos giving advice in often uncertain terms on how to be brave and outgoing while she herself was voted “the most quiet” of her grade.

Kayla spends time scrolling through social media liking or commenting on other people’s Instagram posts. When she makes YouTube videos, she rarely gets any views. At the dinner table she stares down at her phone, mindlessly shuffling through social media despite her dad, Mark Day (sincerely played by Josh Hamilton), attempting to interact with her. At school, she is just one of hundreds of students with their nose in their phones as she stares longingly at her crush Aiden (Luke Prael.) One day, after being invited to the popular Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) birthday party, Kayla tries to transform herself into the girl she portrays on her YouTube videos, often with results that are both sincere, cringe-worthy and glorious all at once.

A scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

What makes the film so compelling and so realistic is the way it portrays Kayla. There is no “Mean Girls” level of commentary. Nobody is looking down on her; instead the audience looks straight at her. She talks like many young girls do, with constant breaks for “umms,” and “likes.” As she stares out the door to Kennedy’s party, the audience is bombarded with kids being kids, of them turning their eyelids inside out, of a girl walking backward on a bridge, all the while the music plays something like out of a dark carnival. Scenes like that strike a very real cord with anybody who grew up around the time of burgeoning social media. Nothing really feels real.

Burnham’s comedy always includes a musical element, and that sense of musical timing is used to full effect in his breakout movie. Every time Kayla sees Aiden, the ambient sound is drowned out by a heavy bass. The musical choices, often listened to by Kayla diegetically through her omnipresent earbuds, are very appropriate for each scene.

Burnham’s final stand-up comedy special “Make Happy” slowly became a commentary about comedy itself. The now-former comedian asked questions of the point of comedy, whether it’s right to make people laugh to forget their problems, even if he himself might not be happy. He baited the audience, often making them laugh before directly insulting them. Really, the show was an expression of how Burnham did not see the performance as “real.” It was his criticism of the entire entertainment industry that goes for glitz and easily digestible media rather than substance. 

“Eighth Grade” is Burnham’s answer to those criticisms. I’m glad to say it is a pretty good response, and it will be exciting to see just where all those involved will take their careers in the future. 

Rated R for language and some sexual material, “Eighth Grade” is now playing in local theaters.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh get reaquainted.

The long-awaited “Christopher Robin” finally hit movie theaters last weekend and, at least at the end of Saturday’s matinee at Movieland Cinemas in Coram, was rewarded with loud applause. Not to be confused with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which was released last September, it tells the story of a boy and his silly old teddy bear and what happens when we grow up and stop dreaming. While it will appeal to children, its target audience is clearly their parents.

Directed by Marc Foster, the Disney film opens like a chapter book, with chapter one describing a farewell tea party in the hundred-acre wood for a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) who is leaving for boarding school. All the endearing storybook characters sprung from the vivid imagination of A.A. Milne are here — the wise Owl (Toby Jones), the stubborn Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), the meek and timid Piglet (Nick Mohammed), the ever depressed Eeyore (Brad Garrett), the kangaroo joey Roo (Sara Sheen), his mother Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and, of course, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh (both voiced by the incomparable Jim Cummings).

Christopher Robin is given a bag of acorns by Piglet to remember them by. In return, he promises to never forget his friends.

But, “as with all children,” as the chapters unfold and Christopher grows up, he does forget. He falls in love, gets married, has a child, serves in the British army during World War II and then lands a job at Winslow Luggage Company. His priorities are skewed and he spends much of his day at work, coming home late, working weekends and we see the toll it takes on his family. When his daughter finds the bag of acorns and drawings of Winnie the Pooh in an old box, Christopher Robin dismisses them as “nothing of great importance.”

Thirty years have passed since Christopher (now played by Ewan McGregor) has visited the hundred-acre wood, which is now a dark and gloomy place filled with fog and overgrown vines. We meet Pooh Bear again, a little more worn and tired, waking up from his nap with a grumbling in his tummy. When the silly old bear realizes every one of his honey pots is empty, he heads off to borrow some from his friends. When he can’t find any of them, he fears they may have been taken by the ferocious heffalumps and woozles. As he is “a bear with little brains,” Pooh decides to seek the help of his old friend, Christopher Robin.

The movie itself is a work of art and the attention to detail is award winning, from the scenery to the music to the wonderful animation. Much of the filming of the Hundred-Acre Wood scenes took place among the hills of purple heather in Ashdown Forest in Sussex County, England, and the iconic songs parents and children know so well — “Winnie the Pooh,” “Up, Down and Touch the Ground” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers,” — are sprinkled throughout.

Spoiler alert: This movie is a raw, emotional, heart-wrenching tale that will remind you of your childhood and the importance of family and friends. When Christopher Robin tells Pooh he hadn’t thought of him for 30 years, Pooh answers, “I think of you every day.” Bounce into theaters like Tigger and see this lovely film today, Pooh’s favorite day, and bring along a box of tissues. Now we just have to wait for the remake of “Mary Poppins” to hit area theaters for the holidays. Oh, bother.

Rated PG, “Christopher Robin” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is one hour and 44 minutes. 

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Sabrina Petroski

My, my, how could you resist seeing “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”? After a 10-year hiatus, the original cast returns to the Greek island of Kalokairi for the grand opening of the Hotel Belladonna. The sequel again showcases the upbeat and fun-filled music of the 1970s pop group, ABBA. With similar themes to the first (love, family, adventure), this movie is sure to be a huge summer hit. 

Written and directed by Ol Parker, the PG-13 movie, which is loosely based on a lesser-known 1968 Italian film, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” opens on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) getting ready for the opening party for the Hotel Belladonna, named after her late mother Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep), with help from her stepfather Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and hotel manager Fernando Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia). Sophie gave up her life of traveling to manage the hotel, in hopes of making her mother proud. Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), childhood best friends of Donna, arrive to help Sophie with preparations and begin telling her stories of Donna’s wild past.

Tanya (Christine Baranski), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Rosie (Julie Waters) in a scene from the movie.

The flashbacks begin with a young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) walking in late to her college graduation, her floor-length graduation gown failing to hide her gold go-go boots. The headmistress of the college calls her up on stage to give her valedictorian speech, but instead, in true dynamo fashion, she breaks into song and invites her backup girls, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies), to perform ABBA’s hit song “When I Kissed the Teacher.” 

The film constantly flip flops between past and present, following Donna on the adventure of her lifetime and Sophie in the most stressful time in hers. In present time, a huge storm destroys the decorations and flowers, devastating Sophie and all those involved with the party. The storm also stops the ferries from running, keeping Sophie’s dads, Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), from being able to reach the island. 

Going back in time, Donna is traveling the world to find herself, and along the way we see how she met Harry Bright (Hugh Skinner), Bill Anderson (Josh Dylan) and Sam Carmichael (Jeremy Irvine).

If you’ve seen the original “Mamma Mia!” then you know what comes next. Donna gets pregnant while in Kalokairi, is given the old farmhouse to live in and fix up, and decides to stay on the island to raise her baby despite having no one. She doesn’t know who the father is, but doesn’t care. In parallel, Sophie finds out she is pregnant at the same age and in the same place as her mother was. 

Young Tanya, young Donna and young Rosie in a scene from the movie.

Sophie begins to lose hope of being able to open the hotel successfully but is saved by Sky, Bill and Harry, who convince a group of fishermen to bring their friends and family to Kalokairi. Three boats pull into the docks, full of people ready to enjoy the Hotel Belladonna’s opening night.

Toward the end of the movie there is a twist that no one sees coming, including Sophie’s grandmother (Cher) arriving in a private helicopter and crashing the party. She announces she is ready to take on the role of being a grandmother, and now great-grandmother. 

As the party ends, the film jumps ahead in time, following Sophie up the path leading to the church where her child will be baptized. At the same time, young Donna is doing the same walk on her way to baptize Sophie. When they both reach the front of the church, young Donna transforms into her older self and sings a haunting duet with her daughter. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater as Sophie held her mother’s hands for the last time.

Throughout the film, the audience is drawn in by the dramatic themes laced with comedic moments and the romances blooming between the characters. There is passion and fun, as well as somber moments of heartbreak. Each character is well developed and well received, and the younger versions of the main characters shine with the same awkward, funny and sweet personalities of their older counterparts. 

There are some scenes where Lily James mimics the mannerisms of Meryl Streep’s Donna so well you would think it was Streep in disguise. Young Tanya and Rosie capture the aspects of the friendship so well you would think they had known each other for decades.

Of course, it is the exciting musical numbers featuring many well-known ABBA hits from the original movie including “Waterloo,” “The Name of the Game” and “Dancing Queen” along with more obscure songs (“Kisses of Fire”) from the Swedish pop group that tie it all together for two hours of good fun.

With spot on casting, along with the great costumes and beautiful filming locations, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is a must see for this summer.

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