Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie Review: A Place Beyond the Pines

At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a tale of fathers and sons. It’s about how the actions of the father affect the son and ultimately how he son eventually comes full circle incorporating a lot of who the father was into who he is. With award-worthy performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, this two hour and twenty minute film sometimes meanders but redeems itself in the end. It’s a movie that stays with you.

In the beginning, Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a carnival worker whose act involves motorcycling in a circular cube. As he travels from city to city, he has his share of hook-ups with the local ladies. One such connection comes in the form of Romina (Eva Mendes). When he returns to her town the following year, he’s surprised to find that she’s had a baby, his baby. This is a game-changer for Luke and he vows to be the father he never had. Immediately he quits the circus. Yet he doesn’t make the money to support himself, not to mention a child.

When his friend and landlord, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) suggests they rob a bank, Luke initially balks. However, he realizes that he isn’t much good at anything else and the pair set off to make some fast cash. All goes well until Luke gets a little too cocky. After a botched robbery and a high speed chase, he ends up trapped in a house. Enter patrolman and father of his own one-year old, Avery (Bradley Cooper). The two have a showdown that ends up making Avery’s career.

Soon, the privileged son of a judge and law school graduate is making a name for himself as an assistant district attorney. Years pass and as his career climbs, both boys get older. The film’s final act show the boys as teens on the cusp of manhood.

Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance paces his movie slowly and takes time to let it evolve. This is both a good and a bad thing. We have the time to see the characters develop – which is awesome given the caliber of the performances. Gosling especially embodies the intensity and the desperation of a man who wants to be better but doesn’t know how to go about it. For his part, Cooper’s character doesn’t have the same intensity but he has the thoughtfulness and ambition that a man like his character would require. While not as flashy, he gives a very solid performance.

Both Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, who play the teenage sons of Luke and Avery also give genuine performances.

However, there are lulls and moments when the pace seems too slow. The film is long, but in retrospect, it isn’t a case where I could see where it was indulgent. It is long because it has to be to tell the story it’s telling fully. The film has a lot to say and none of it can be said quickly.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Movie Review: 42

My grandfather was a huge baseball fan. In fact, I can’t think of baseball without thinking of him. He was a fan, a Cleveland Indians fan, for life. He was an adult in 1947 and rooted for Jackie Robinson as he made history (and later Larry Dobie as the first black man on the Cleveland Indians). As I walked into the theater to see 42, Grandpa weighed heavy on my mind. When I left the theater two hours later, he was still there and he would have been proud.

42 chronicle the decision by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to bring the first African-American to professional sports. At the time, Jim Crow and segregation were the law …. But that didn’t mean blacks weren’t playing baseball. It just meant that they were relegated to playing in their own league where players like Satchel Page were making names for themselves. Rickey chooses Jackie Robinson (newcomer Chadwick Boseman). In their first meeting, he asks Robinson, if he is strong enough to fight back by not fighting back. Throughout the film, Robinson proves that turning the other cheek took a lot more strength than giving into the quick and understandable response of fighting back.

And fight he must. He fights against teammates, fans, members of the opposing teams and his own desire to fend for himself. In his corner the entire time is his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie). Hailing from California, the missus hadn’t encountered Jim Crow segregation until she traveled with her husband. She too, had to restrain her urges to fight back (although she does walk into a Whites Only bathroom to prove a point).

42, wisely chooses to focus on the decision to make Robinson a Brooklyn Dodger and his first year on the team. The movie does lag at times, but by focusing on this targeted and critical time period, it moves along without being mired in years of a long life well-lived. I also liked the fact that writer/director Brian Hegleand chose not to go with a basic black and white portrayal (pun intended). Of course, blacks rooted for him. However, not all white people were against him. A lot of them were but not all of them. I also appreciated the fact that many of his teammates eventually came around (but it took time) and others never did (and in several instances were traded).

When I looked up Chadwick Boseman, I found that he had a number of guest roles on a variety of shows (Law & Order, Castle, Justified, Fringe, etc.) and roles in several series, Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown. However, 42 is his first lead role. I want to see him in more. He was great. He carried his rage with restraint and dignity. Quite a performance! Hats off to Beharie as his wife. I was introduced to her in 2008 with her debut American Violet. She played a single mother facing serious prison time for trumped up drug charges. I’ve wanted to see more of her as well. Hopefully, we all will now. Finally, Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey got to act. He’s getting a little long in the tooth for all of those action roles and it is good to know that he can still act.

My least favorite sport (sorry Grandpa!), 42 even made baseball look interesting.  And that’s saying something. Like any bio-pic, there is more to this story than meets the eye, but 42 is a solid effort chronicling an important moment in American History.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Movie Review: Tyler Perry's Temptation

I know what I am about to write is tantamount to heresy in some circles but I have never been a huge Tyler Perry fans. Sure Madea is funny and he has gotten some solid performances from his actors. However, his tendency to sermonize, his  kitchen sink approach to storytelling (let’s throw about four or five stories into the plot and see what happens) and his tendency to cast himself into a number of his films often leave me wanting more … a lot more. So I was surprised that I liked Temptation as much as I did.

Based on his play, The Marriage Counselor, the story is told by a counselor speaking with a client. She tells the cautionary tale of her sister Judith (Jurness Smollett-Bell) who was married to her childhood sweetheart Brice (Lance Gross). After college, they leave the country and head to the big city, Washington D.C. He is a pharmacist in a small pharmacy and she takes a job as a counselor in a matchmaking firm run by the very French Janice (Vanessa Williams) and her designer label-conscious co-worker Ava (Kim Kardashian). Judith desperately wants to run her own marriage counseling practice while her practical (and absolutely delectable husband) sees her dream as coming to fruition in about 10 years.

Complicating matters is Harley (Robbie Jones), an ambitious young Internet billionaire, who isn’t a client at the matchmaking firm but is considering taking their company and Judith’s compatibility test to the Internet. The two work together very closely and before long he’s giving her the attention her husband has often overlooked. He also stokes the fires of her ambition and before long he’s stokes some other fires as well. Judith’s mother, the Reverend (Ella Joyce) sees exactly what’s going one while poor Brice takes longer to realize what’s really going on.

This is still a Tyler Perry morality play. The people who behave badly (sinfully) will pay the price for their actions and the ones who stay the course will eventually get the pay-off they deserve. However, what I liked were the performances … especially by Smollet-Bell and Gross. I liked the fact that there was a main plot and a sub-plot, involving Brice’s new pharmacist’s assistant (Brandy Norwood). There weren’t a ton of distracting sub-plots. And, Perry didn’t play one of the leads. While he is coming into his own as a director, his acting leaves a lot to be desired, especially if the role requires sexiness. Lance Gross had it in spades, Robbie Jones not so much but he was the rich guy who paid attention to her and I guess that was what mattered most with his character (he did bring some shirtless sexy but Gross outsexied him by a mile).

I do think that this movie is a bit of a risk for Perry. It is sexier that any of his previous films and I think that will alienate a sizable portion of his Christian audience. Yes, there is a strong moral and Joyce plays the Voice of Religious Reason well (a bit too over the top at times) but there are several sex scenes as well. Tame sex scenes but sex scenes none the less.

This was a pleasant surprise. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lose the 'Tude!!!

If you just looked at these pictures, you'd
think the Idol judges were the ones having
all the fun. You'd be wrong!
The Voice started last week. Because I’m obsessed with The Following on Mondays and I don’t get home til late on Tuesdays, I caught the encore episodes on NBC last night. Almost immediately, I realized why The Voice was the #1 music competition show. It was fun. The judges seemed to be having fun. The contestants seemed to be having fun. I was having fun watching it.

Now move over to FOX and take a look at American Idol. It becomes painfully clear why Idol is experiencing the lowest ratings in the shows history. Yes, they got several ‘big names’ but they also have a ton of unnecessary drama.

On The Voice, the single-monikered newbies, Shakira and Usher, fit in nicely with Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. Yes, it’s a competition, but it’s an enjoyable competition and the chemistry between the four of them is pleasant to watch. In fact, I am liking Shakira, as the resident girl much better than I ever liked Christina Aguilera (especially in her last season when she really let the bitch out of her cage).

On Idol, the only judge I like now is Keith Urban. He’s engaged and enthusiastic. Randy, Nicki and Mariah look like they don’t want to be there. Nicki showed up late for one of the live shows, since then she’s managed to show up promptly but is it any better? Not really. Her crazy, rambling, bitchy commentary is unnecessary (The one she gave about fixing pancakes with syrup and butter on a Saturday morning was the most ridulous thing I've heard in a while). Plus, she has already stated repeatedly that she wants to see all five girls in the top five. Biased much? Great quality in a judge!

Mariah is a joke. She’s literally phoning it in … yes, she’s been caught several times texting during performances. Really? The live shows are an hour-long. She’s being paid a shitload of money (sources say $18 million for one season) for Idol. Crazy idea but maybe just showing up isn’t enough. Try earning the money. Dare I say, work for it? It’s not really a hard job.

Then there is the two of them together. I guess not all train wrecks are that worthy of watching. These two ‘divas’ can’t even stand or sit next to each other. One cringes every time the other one speaks.  Well, I guess no one said topping the charts required maturity.

With the low ratings (which are still pretty damn good), it’s clear that Nicki is not bringing in the younger audience and Mariah doesn’t have the pull everyone thought she would. Neither one of them need to be back next season. In fact, throw Randy out too!

Finally, there is the talent. The Idol formula is no longer working. Effeminate black men, obligatory country girls, a couple of cute white guys, someone who appeals to an ethnic audience (Filipino or Hispanic…)Yawn! The Voice has better talent and it’s not nearly as cookie cutter.

Whether we are talking the not-so-dearly departed (from The Voice) Christina or Ms. Minaj or Queen Carey, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to television ratings or just making good TV show that diva attitude that serves them so well on stage and in the recording studio doesn’t translate to television. If these divas want to do reality TV, they should ditch the competitions and go the way of the Kardashians and The Real Housewives of Whatever. They can build an entire show around diva-tude, bitchiness and grown women acting immaturely. There is definitely a market for that kind of bad behavior, it just isn’t the Idol/Voice market.