Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I was not going to review director Ridley Scott’s new movie THE COUNSELOR, because of my aversion to Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy’s pretentious dialogue in this, his screenwriting debut. But I changed my mind because I yearned to write a “cautionary” review.  I listened to what was fumblingly coming out of the mouths of actors I respected in this “morality” tale and felt patronized. Short pithy philosophical thoughts were floating from their tongues, hovering in the air lifeless before falling ineffectively to the ground.

The film opens with the lovely Penelope Cruz under tousled white sheets making love to Michael Fassbender – the Counselor – who is never called by any other name. The erotically charged love scene quickly collapses under the weight of their asinine conversation, a forecast of what I will have to sit through for the next 2+ hours. Next the camera quickly cuts to the “dark” side of Mexico, where high-stakes drug deals are under way, and then we jump to Amsterdam, Columbia, Chicago, and continue hurtling back and forth to various sites on the Tex-Mex border.

Our Counselor – a avaricious newbie at the drug game - is about to do a deal with some “bad” boys –a strange Javier Bardem with an even more bizarre hairdo, and Brad Pitt, a mysterious man who is at ease with the under-world and seems to smoothly snake his way through it, unscathed and a step ahead of calamity. For me the star of this den of reptiles is Cameron Diaz who I found fascinating as the cold, shrewd, wildly evil and often mesmerizing mistress of Bardem, Diaz, is often guarded by two muscular and sleek Cheetahs (who are tamer than their master,) appreciatively observing them hunt innocent prey. She is the best part of this movie –a carnal and hard beauty with tattoos of Big Cats’ paw-prints adorning her body.

Suffice it to say the deal goes bad and the Counselor is in a dangerous dilemma. Having been apprised by his “partners” (part of the metaphysical drivel) as to the capriciousness of doing business where there are no guarantees – all of the warnings come to fruition. What I found most ineffectual about THE COUNSELOR was the attempt by Scott and McCarthy to make a weak character the archetype for greed and arrogance in a “game” against seasoned predators. I did not care about The Counselor at all – he was whiny, vain and as shallow and lightweight as the stream of conversations we the audience had to endure.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ENOUGH SAID 10/20/13

I watched ENOUGH SAID by director Nicole Holofcener with the knowledge that this was James Gandolfini’s last film…the credits at the end say FOR JIM casting a pall over this lighthearted love story between two divorced soon-to-be empty nesters and their unlikely union. Unfortunately I could not shake “real life” from intruding on the onscreen story. I was traveling from one world into another – make-believe vs. the tragic circumstances of June 19th, 2013 when we heard that this charismatic actor had suddenly died. I was annoyed with myself for being distracted by what I perceived as signs of impending doom within the movie.

Meandering between memory and the fictive romantic plot on the screen felt like nothing that I had experienced before. The mood of ENOUGH SAID had an intimacy, reinforced by the naturalness of dialogue that abetted this drifting frame of mind. I listened to Gandolfini’s labored breathing, and viewed the slow heaviness of his movements, part of his role as Albert - a sweet, decent man falling in love again after a bitter relationship with his ex-wife – all with the knowledge that this man’s imposing presence would soon be no more.

Julia Louis Dreyfus appears as Eva, a masseuse who goes to a party where she meets Albert, a man who against type, she is surprisingly attracted to. At the same event she also encounters a sophisticated and beautiful Catherine Keener as Marianne, a successful poet who becomes a client, friend, and confidante – continuously exhorting against her ex- husband - who unbeknownst to Eva is Albert. The plot gets circuitous, but suffice it to say Eva’s duplicity and lack of courage or conviction in her deepening relationship - despite an affinity that feels true and right - leads to heartbreak and remorse.

There are ancillary characters in ENOUGH SAID – a strong supporting ensemble of actors including Toni Collette and Ben Falcone, as well as Eva and Alfred’s adored daughters (Tracey Fairaway and Eve Hewson) who are leaving home for college to “brave” the world on their own - a plot catalyst revealing the neediness and anxiety of the protagonists. What makes this film more affecting than others with similar story lines is the honesty of the communication between two middle-aged individuals who are willing to “risk” another try at romance despite the bitterness of the past. The story is written with delicate affection towards the performers, and keen insights into our vulnerabilities when we let down our defenses and allow another individual to penetrate who we are. Trust not only in the other, but also oneself - that is the key.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Paul Greengrass is a director who in his 2006 movie UNITED 93 made my heart pound and my arms tingle to the point that I imagined I was having a heart attack or stroke, and began agitatedly searching my pocketbook in the dark of the theater for a quick aspirin– even though I knew the plot outcome. Coming from a documentary background this British director, screenwriter and former journalist did not disappoint with his newest thriller, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS based on the 2009 true story of the hi-jacking of the US container ship, Maersk Alabama by a group of Somali pirates – the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. What makes this movie more than just your routine anxiety-provoking suspense drama is the beauty of Barry Ackroyd’s camera work, slowly alternating between clear, chromatic aerial shots of the sea, the sky, the ships to chaotic, frenzied close ups of confusing claustrophobic moments  - placing us, the audience in the center of the action and at times making me literally seasick.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is also a David and Goliath tale – the desperation of the Somali fisherman-turned pirates in small skiffs attacking a huge cargo ship; they who have nothing to lose as their meager livelihoods have been usurped by wealthy global conglomerates gobbling up their natural resources. They are beholden in these kidnapping ventures to their ruthless Somali “warlords”, and risk their lives preying on vulnerable targets in international waters in order to sustain themselves economically, to the point of taking on the full force of the US Navy and Merchant Marine. The contrast in physiognomy between a robust Tom Hanks as the Captain and the bone-thin, almost skeletal appearance of the pirates makes the distinction between “haves” and "have-nots” frighteningly apparent.

The movie opens up in a small town in Vermont supposedly giving us some insight into Captain Richard Phillips’ (a stoic and vulnerable  performance by Tom Hanks) life and family. But this short introduction is a weak, commonplace beginning to a film, which thank goodness, grew more “uncommon” as I continued watching. The Somali actors were excellent, particularly Barkhad Abdi as Muse the fiercely determined, burning cavernous-eyed leader of the group, and a nuanced, sensitive performance by Mahat Ml Ali as a 16 year old young man whose innocence had not yet been patinaed by the harsh reality of hostage-taking.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS left me feeling conflicted  - relieved that Captain Phillips was rescued, and dispirited by the nature of the wide gulf that separates humankind. This chasm was accentuated cinematically, and metaphorically by the vast expanse of the open seas as opposed to the brutal confining architectural space of Phillips captivity.  By the end of the film, I did not know whether to weep from joy or cry out in anguish for the abjection of lives lived in hopelessness.

Monday, October 7, 2013

GRAVITY 10/6/13

GRAVITY directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron from a script by Cuaron in collaboration with his son Jonas Cuaron, is a luminous film with fine performances by Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a Bio-Medical Engineer on her first outing into outer space, accompanied by George Clooney as the veteran, wisecracking Astronaut, Matt Kowalski who is her guide on this mission working outside the shuttle Explorer trying to fix the Hubble Telescope. Soon the idyllic beauty and silence of the deep blackness, which was only punctuated by soft far-off sounds of the other crew members is threatened by debris rushing at them from a Russian Satellite test gone awry. Suddenly the “heavenly” environment has changed from peaceful quietude to thundering menace.

What happens to these two protagonists when they are stranded – two specks in the vast universe, separated from any contact with Mission Control, contributes to the intensity and apprehension that we feel witnessing their dilemma. Cuaron’s spectacular visuals heighten our awareness of the isolation of Stone and Kowalksi drifting in the infinite sublimity and mystery of outer space, tethering it to the existential detachment and solitariness that we experience as mortals.

Through the breathtaking cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki we view images of the Earth as seen from a Space station, the rising of the sun, the topography of lands and water masses that become abstract faraway places of light and texture. The special effects in this movie are astonishing. From the balletic, slow spinning dance of the two actors, choreographed so that the weightless movement of objects float around them in continuous motion, dizzying, but slowed down enough so we can observe without getting dizzy ourselves, to the interior of the intricate space modules with gadgetry that is continually buzzing and flashing incomprehensible flickering flares reinforcing our sense of dread.

I loved the cinematic moments when there was an absence of sound, periodically interspersed with Steven Price’s music. I wished there had been less dialogue, which was often inane and flippant, piercing the delicacy of the mood. Dr. Ryan Stone loves the “silence” but regrettably we do get the talky, joking Matt Kowalski - the “regular guy” with a sacrificial heart of gold - chattering away bringing us out of our reverie and back down to earth. Perhaps that was the intent of Alfonso Cuaron – as life both in the cosmos and on terra firma are a mix of the transcendent and the commonplace.