30-for-30: Angry Sky

30-for-30 Angry Sky movie poster

Release: Thursday, July 30, 2015

[Netflix]

Directed by: Jeff Tremaine

Tom Petty wrote a song once called “Learning to Fly.” One lyric in particular stands out: ‘Coming down is the hardest thing.’ The song’s harmless of course, but that part of the chorus seems hauntingly apt for the experiences of one Nick Piantanida, amateur parachute jumper and all-around daredevil in the 1960s.

Angry Sky features the New Jersey chutist’s three attempts to break the world record for highest sky dive, using a manned balloon that would achieve a height of 123, 500 feet (20+ miles) above the Earth. On each attempt something would go wrong and, tragically, the problems only became more complex and life-threatening with each effort.

Because of the malfunctions, Piantanida never technically accomplished his goal of becoming the first person to jump from the stratosphere. However he did set the standard for highest manned balloon flight, a record that stood until October 2012, when Austrian BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, backed by Red Bull in an event that has to be seen to be believed, successfully broke the sound barrier by falling 24 vertical miles.

Jeff Tremaine is once again on hand to deliver a story about sensational extreme sports enthusiasts, constructing an adrenaline-spiking piece that, while never revolutionary in its delivery, puts a very human spin on a story and subject matter that seems alien to anyone else not caught up in the culture and science of this kind of boundary-pushing thrill seeking. Tremaine interviews family, friends and colleagues who reflect back on the life of a man who could never be convinced not to do the thing he was trying to accomplish.

In some senses Piantanida could be viewed as a selfish individual. Attempting such a jump, not once but three times over the course of a year, necessarily carried with it the implication that he may be saying goodbye to his wife and three children on each occasion. The drama builds in such a way that it’s impossible to ignore a sense of egotism and impatience over becoming world famous.

Angry Sky has little interest in demonizing anyone. Its purpose doesn’t amount to calling someone crazy (even if he is). Like any documentary with its head in the right place, it aims to explore the things that make a person complex. You could make the argument he is a man of simple pleasures, always seeking the most powerful adrenaline rush possible.

But we’re also introduced to a guy who never quite grasped the concept of team sports. He could have been a great basketball player but he had to do things his own way. He joined the Armed Forces after high school and earned the rank of corporal. Afterwards he got into rock climbing, and with a friend established a route up the north side of the 3,000-foot Auyántepui, the mighty Venezuelan plateau over which Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, spills.

Tremaine manages to straddle the line between being specific with the information he chooses to keep and appealing to a broad audience. Skydiving is a rather obscure sport yet he knows it’s a pool well worth wading into. Piantanida’s story may be the first (and it may ever be the only) documentary on the sport in this film series, but that question, the one we’re all thinking — what makes a person want to put themselves at such a risk? — more than justifies the film’s existence. Why so high, Nick? Why so high?

Baumgartner also briefly features, and though he doesn’t say much, he offers some context for the ambitions of this young man. If his iconic free fall a mere two years ago was enough to take away the world’s collective breath — and it really was quite the incredible thing to watch — remember some guy had tried to do this with much less technology nearly a half century ago. Yeah, that was Nick Piantanida.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Nick Piantanida about to attempt a world-record skydiving jump

Recommendation: Obscure, but fascinating. Story may well appeal to more extreme sports junkies than any other group but it’s one of the more interesting stories detailing how a strong personality and danger-courting pursuits often go hand-in-hand. Well worth a watch if you’re into action sports. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 77 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.tribecafilm.com

Room

'Room' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Emma Donoghue

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

How does one begin to describe a film like Room? Do I write a poem? Do I send Lenny Abrahamson a letter saying ‘thanks?’ Do I wax lyrical about the emotional highs and lows only a film about a mother and son being isolated in a garden shed for years can provide?

Nah, not really. I’m not feeling any of that. What I do feel is that I’ve had the life force sucked out of me after watching this, the big screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel. If this is meant to be uplifting, it’s uplifting in the way One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was uplifting.

What I see in Room is an indictment of humanity; we are an unapologetically ugly species. I see relentless psychological torment, a young woman’s life pointlessly sent off the rails after she helped a man “and his dog” one fateful night. I see suffering not just in the moment but in the aftermath of a highly improbable escape from confinement.

Lenny Abrahamson devotes roughly half the running time inside a shed in the backyard of some nondescript home in suburban USA. This is where we first meet the characters, going about their day, interacting with each other and finding creative ways to pass the time. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) says hello to all of the inanimate objects he’s surrounded by upon awakening. Repressed anger be damned, ‘Ma’ (a never better Brie Larson) is going to make sure her son celebrates his fifth birthday properly.

Life is a certain way for these people. It doesn’t take much time or effort to realize it’s neither healthy nor normal. But after some psychological ingenuity on the part of Ma, life shall prove to be even more difficult on the outside. Indeed, there will be a transition, not just for the characters but for how we are able to invest in the performances. Given the novelist is also the screenwriter here, is it safe to assume the book is just as dull and arduous in the second half?

‘Room,’ as Jack calls it, is compelling in a morbid kind of way. Maybe all I need to say about this is Sean Bridgers. Given so little to do, the man effects a thoroughly despicable human being, an archetypal abuser who probably blames the economy for his being such a shit-bag. However he’s in the frame so infrequently he can’t take all the credit. In fact he’s pretty incidental compared to the weight of Larson and Tremblay’s performances.

If you’ve heard the word already, it is true: these are some breathtaking performances. Were it not for the depth of Larson’s commitment to pretending to be Tremblay’s mother, Room would be unwatchable. It is such a thoroughly depressing film, tracing the trajectory of that commitment as the pair are faced with an entirely new set of challenges. The real world is both exciting and maddening. Jack is the ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark room. At nine years old, the Canadian youngster is a revelation.

He informs the film’s deeply introspective narrative, professing his interpretation of the world around him. His descriptions give the film a jolt of inspiration; it’s better when Tremblay talks to us. When he’s not we’re like the psychologist who finds their first major breakthrough with a patient who’s generally been unwilling to talk about a past trauma. Those breakthroughs happen all too infrequently though, and we’re left with the difficult task of telling the patient that everything is going to be okay. We promise.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.36.39 PM

Recommendation: Room proves an acting showcase for its young stars. And honestly, it is a credit to those efforts that I have reacted, perhaps to a great many’s surprise, somewhat unfavorably. That a film inspires an emotional reaction at all is one of the highest praises you can give a film. While recognizing Room‘s brilliance, it’s still ultimately not something I’d ever care to sit through again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “There’s so much of ‘place’ in the world. There’s less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter. So all the persons say ‘Hurry up! Let’s get going! Pick up the pace! Finish up now!’ Ma was in a hurry to go ‘boing’ up to Heaven, but she forgot me. Dumbo Ma! So the aliens threw her back down. CRASH! And broke her.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Because Oscar Said So: Best Supporting Actress Nominees

BOSS - supporting actress nominees

Because Oscar Said So (B.O.S.S. for short) is yet another first for this blog. In years past I haven’t spent much time going into detail about the major categories recognized at the Oscars ceremony, particularly the official selections as quite often I find myself at odds with the Academy’s choices. Longtime readers of the site know that I like to take matters into my own hands by putting together a mock awards ceremony, a post in which I break down overwhelm my poor readers with my ramblings on several different aspects of the year in film. If you’ve yet to come across The Digibread Awards, you can click here to find out what’s up with all of that.

I talked at some length (maybe rambled is the better term) about the Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role last time, so naturally the conversation  turns now to the Supporting Actress nominees. If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on the supporting roles instead of the leads, I refer you back to that post here.

The year 2015 marked some improvement in the availability of strong female characters, and thankfully these ran the gamut from mega-popular leads (Daisy Ridley, is she a lead or a supporter? Whatever she is, unfortunately one thing she is not is an Oscar contender anymore) to more subtle, less commercial-friendly bit parts (Alicia Vikander has been ridiculously busy this year but only one of her roles has garnered the Academy’s attention). Still, 2015 does have strength in numbers.

We already know Gal Gadot is about to become the year’s most fervently discussed heroine, stepping into the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in the upcoming mega-blockbuster Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice. (Have fun dealing with those press junkets!) Amy Adams will be right there with her, albeit probably not quite as prominently in the conversation, and likely will be still fielding questions as to whether she was the right fit for Lois Lane.

Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in 'The Danish Girl'

Looking ahead at the 2016 slate, opportunities once again abound for female leads and supporting performances. The Natalie Portman-starring western Jane Got a Gun (a by-now infamously troubled production), finally set to premier at the end of January, features Portman as one of two or three women in the entire film; contrast that with indie drama About Ray and the hotly contested remake of the Ivan Reitman classic Ghost Busters, a production attempting to further distinguish itself by pushing the words together to form Ghostbusters — how crafty.

Like them or not, these are some of the year’s most notable productions. The headstrong rebel fighting for survival in a dystopian world remains alive and well this year, with the final installment in the Divergent series set for a mid-March release. Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy continues to try to impress with her ability to carry an entire movie on her back in the form of The Boss. Kristen Bell, for some reason, found something to like about the story and she’ll offer support.

That’s of course just a small sample of what the year has on offer, but suffice it to say that’s already a pretty eclectic mix of things to look forward to. One could make the argument that last year still has the upper hand in terms of offering more prominent roles for female talent, and that’s a difficult argument to defend against. But 2016 won’t go down without a fight. Felicity Jones takes on perhaps a career-defining role in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, which is looking to be unleashed upon rabid audiences this coming  December. I think the only obvious question that should be asked is how will Jones compete against Daisy Ridley’s break-out performance as the orphan Rey, within whom the force apparently has awoken?

But enough about the lead performances. B.O.S.S. isn’t interested in those insanely high-profile characters (even though I know I am) — this is all about shining a light on the top-grade supporting performances we were treated to last year. With one major exception, I find myself once again nodding in agreement far more this time around than I have in years past. Maybe it’s just that I was able to see more award-contenders this year than I have before; or maybe I just got lucky. Whatever the case, the five actresses on display here are more than deserving of any and all accolades that have been coming their way.

Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in 'Carol'

Picking a truly dominant performance from this batch is nigh on impossible. Kate Winslet perhaps comes the closest to being a lock, what with her typically effortless grace and charm lending her Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive under the thumb of one Steve Jobs, a power that rivaled that of Michael Fassbender’s eminently watchable and simultaneously loathsome Apple co-founder. Joanna Hoffman is imbued with the kind of humanity that leaves viewers with little choice other than to empathize with her as Jobs’ petulant behavior reaches critical mass. Time after time she’s the one left picking up the pieces of a slowly crumbling man who would rather deny his responsibility to family than sacrifice a single opportunity to show off his new shiny toys.

The biggest surprise nomination has to be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s contribution to The Hateful Eight, the brand new chapter in Quentin Tarantino’s apparently very finite filmography. As Daisy Domergue, two-thirds of Leigh’s presence is rendered silent, and that’s by design. For most of the runtime, any time she speaks she is rewarded with violence at the hands of Kurt Russell’s hostile John “The Hangman” Ruth, who, as it turns out, makes for a rather lousy bounty hunter. (Perhaps he shouldn’t have kept his captives alive after all.)

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has exploded onto the scene this year with a trio of compelling performances — and, okay, a fourth that has been too easily forgotten (let’s just blame Burnt for being a disappointingly undercooked dish). Her work as an exceptionally intelligent machine in Alex Garland’s scintillating Ex Machina introduced her to a massive audience, blurring the line between human and robotic intelligence. She then moved into a slightly less demanding capacity playing a pseudo damsel-in-distress in Guy Ritchie’s throwback action-comedy The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Admittedly this role hewed much too close to stereotype, though Vikander still made it work).

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in 'Steve Jobs'

But it would ultimately be her emotionally hefty supporting part in The Danish Girl — the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, in which she played Gerda Wegener, wife of Einar/Lili — that would earn her serious attention from the Academy. Will her own emotional transformation — from quiet outrage to eventual acceptance — be enough to actually win her the coveted trophy though?

The most subtle of all the selections this year are almost certainly Rooney Mara’s interpretation of Therese Belivet, a young lesbian who falls for an older, more sophisticated and upper-class woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett, herself in the running for Best Leading Actress); and Rachel McAdams’ resilient and emotionally restrained Sacha Pfeiffer, a Boston Globe reporter who helped expose the decades-long cover up of the Catholic church’s involvement in child molestation at the hands of Boston area priests. Neither of these performances are the flashiest you’ll see this year but they’re certainly deserving of recognition, if for no other reason than they’re marks of exceptional maturity for both actresses.

All five of these nominees have epitomized why Hollywood should be populating the cinematic calendar with more female-driven productions. Each one of these unforgettable characters lend significant weight to their respective projects and I for one am delighted to see their hard work pay off. As easy as it is to criticize Hollywood sometimes, it is, slowly but surely, moving in the right direction.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in 'Spotlight'

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.popsugar.com; http://www.comingsoon.net; http://www.time.com; http://www.aroundmovies.com; http://www.servingcinema.com; http://www.variety.com; http://www.hypable.com; http://www.historyvshollywood.com 

Bound to Vengeance

'Bound to Vengeance' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 26, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Rock Shaink Jr.; Keith Kjornes

Directed by: José Manuel Cravioto

Bound to Vengeance is bound to suffer a short life of critical derision and audience dissatisfaction before falling completely into obscurity, and that’s kind of a shame. It’s never easy watching a film squander its potential and so quickly.

You’ve probably never heard of José Manuel Cravioto’s English language debut film, and perhaps it’s already too late. Horror movie bargain bins, make room for one more. (I think I just dated myself because of course there’s always Netflix.)

Let us not pack our bags and head to Negative Town quite so hastily though. Conceptually, the film has an advantage over many revenge thriller/horrors. A firecracker of an opening scene reveals a young woman is the captive of a middle-aged pervert, chained to a bed in a dingy basement in a house in the middle of nowhere. Rather than dragging the viewer through the backstory of how her life could have taken such a horrific turn, Rock Shaink Jr. (killer name, by the way) and Keith Kjornes opt to flip the switch on the action immediately.

Eve (Tina Ivlev) takes a stand for herself during what we’re led to believe is a daily feeding ritual, gaining the upper hand via a pretty awesome attack sequence. When she discovers there are more victims seemingly just like her locked away in other far-off locations, Eve demands her captor, Phil (Richard Tyson), help her set them free one-by-one.

An act of quasi-vigilantism soon turns into an eyebrow-raising quest for morality restoring and it’s not long before we begin to question why on earth Eve hasn’t just turned the bastard into the authorities. (The blood smeared on her face and the fact Phil now shows signs of serious wear and tear could be tricky to explain, I suppose.)

Execution radically betrays the conception. What is intended to be a role-reversal wherein the victim gains strength through her travails while the villain has the life force sucked out of him devolves into a thoroughly unbelievable charade involving justified murder, amazing timing and . . . (sigh) . . . . jump scares. It doesn’t help the performances weaken by each passing scene, becoming particularly cringe-inducing in the moments where they matter most.

Bound to Vengeance also lacks the gut-punch the trappings of its dank environs demand. Kidnapping, rape and torture carry the kind of weight that needs no further explanation. But the suffering is almost all for naught. The ending can be sniffed out from half an hour in (more perceptive viewers will get it right away) and from there it’s a matter of what routes we take to get to that point. It’s utterly frustrating, and the film deserves better. But . . . at least it’s . . . bloody?

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.48.07 AM

Recommendation: Concept: 1; execution: 0. This isn’t a budgetary issue, nor is it really a matter of finding better actors. (Some coaching could have helped in that department, but for the most part Eve is a character you can really get behind.) I just can’t believe how disinterested I grew after about 45 minutes into this film. It gave the impression of a much, much longer viewing, and at 79 minutes that is some kind of accomplishment. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 79 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

People Places Things

People Places Things movie poster

Release: Friday, August 15, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: James C. Strouse

Directed by: James C. Strouse

Bittersweet comedy features Jemaine Clement calibrating his typical absurdist humor to bring warmth and tenderness to a story that both pleases and frustrates in almost equal measure.

People Places Things won’t be the next career-defining gig for the Kiwi but it’s such an affable film little doubt remains as to whether the Flight of the Conchords performer is multitalented as well as a genuinely good guy.

In it he plays Will Henry, a 30-something-year-old comic book creator and teacher who discovers his longtime girlfriend has cheated on him on the day of their twin daughters’ birthdays. He subsequently moves into a one-bedroom apartment and must learn to juggle the emotional turmoil with his daily responsibilities such as being a good father and inspiring his students to become better artists.

Will also finds himself having to put himself back out on the market, a proposition he isn’t so quick to embrace until he meets the mother of one of his students, a Columbia University professor who doesn’t initially share Will’s passion for comics, uncertain they are an integral part of American literature. Diane (Regina Hall) is a beautiful woman well-versed in heartbreak. Her daughter Kat (Jessica Williams) highly regards Will as an artist. But what about him as a person?

People Places Things doesn’t set out to rewrite the rules of romantic comedy. But then, it has no obligation to do so when it’s this damn enjoyable. Clement turns in a brilliantly understated performance that effects a fully realized portrait of a father whose love for his children never comes into question. That’s not to say he’s the perfect role model. He struggles with falling into routine, and that’s particularly problematic when he convinces the ex to let him spend more time with the kids.

Stephanie Allynne plays Charlie, the other half of the equation. Her life hasn’t turned out to be what she envisioned. Call the opening scene the manifestation of a midlife crisis from which the film may or may not ever recover. What was once presumably a stable relationship disintegrates in a single scene, although some backstory would have given the revelatory moment the oomph it clearly lacks.

Writer/director James C. Strouse compensates for the awkward cold open by developing the father-daughter relationship in the middle third. The majority of the film finds Will trying to adjust to a life in a new environment, where he tries to impress Clio and Colette (real life twin sisters Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) with his laid-back parenting, a strategy that soon breaks down and calls into question his ability to do all that is necessary to be a truly responsible parent. Meanwhile, Charlie claims she’s been doing that all along. It would have been nice to actually see her being the more matured adult rather than getting glimpses of her having a nervous breakdown.

Despite some hiccups, Strouse constructs a simple tale of mature relationships that certainly could benefit from some expansion but it’s the emotional depth that lifts the film several feet above forgettable.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.55.13 PM

Recommendation: Performances are key. Jemaine Clement is wonderful, as is his support. Most notable are Regina Hall and Jessica Williams as Will’s student whose mother he ends up seeing. Story is slight but heartwarming and incredibly re-watchable. Fans of Clement and ‘realistic’ romantic comedies need apply. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just having a bad life. It’ll be over eventually.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

World of Tomorrow

World of Tomorrow movie poster

Release: March 31, 2015 (Vimeo)

[Netflix]

Written by: Don Hertzfeldt

Directed by: Don Hertzfeldt


In memory of my mother.


Profundity runs rampant in Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow. While a departure from his painstakingly hand-drawn catalog, the science behind the science fiction is remarkable in ways that only Hertzfeldt can be remarkable. That is to say, the decision to go digital doesn’t mean he’s abandoning what has made him a unique talent.

World of Tomorrow, as has been the case for many of his works, particularly his penultimate musing on life and death, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, is dense and complex, and quite possibly his most ambitious effort yet, transporting viewers to a screwy little world where technology has afforded humans the ability to preserve their memories in digital reincarnations of themselves in the pretty-distant future, but on the condition they have the financial wherewithal to do so. (Discount time travel seems as dodgy as it sounds.)

Hertzfeldt once again employs a simple narrative vehicle to move across a complex terrain filled with conceptual and visual grandeur. The story features a young girl named Emily who is shown this new digital environment via another version of herself projected some 200 years into the future. The “older” Emily explains the complexities of advanced human technology while the “younger” Emily (or Emily Prime) babbles on about the typical stuff a young child finds fascinating. The relationship almost feels parental.

World of Tomorrow is a gorgeously rendered short, one that incorporates many of Hertzfeldt’s signature designs: wobbly lines, eclectic color schemes, stick figure characters — each contributing to a greater, vastly complex whole. A number of heavy themes are touched upon such as reincarnation, socioeconomic status, the fragility of life and the inevitability and permanence of death — and it’s all captured within a 17-minute running time.

It’s a production that necessitates multiple viewings, if not for the sheer amount of heavy-hitting themes then for its ability to transport the viewer far away from the comfort of their living room and into an entirely new dimension.

World of Tomorrow

Recommendation: Suitably melancholic yet strangely uplifting. World of Tomorrow finds Hertzfeldt once again sculpting a profoundly emotional story out of simple drawings and bizarre visuals. An absolute must-see for anyone who has enjoyed his previous work, and for those who find themselves intrigued by the idea of time travel and whether or not it’s worth the risk(s). 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 17 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.thefilmexperience.net; http://www.bettycam.tumblr.com 

Deborah Karen Little – a Tribute to my mother

me and my mom 2012

I’m looking out my bedroom window right now and watching as the world is slowly consumed by white. Winter storm Jonas has gripped the eastern coast and particularly the north eastern states since late last night. I’m watching the bench in the front yard slowly drowning in snowdrift. The entire front yard looks like a pillow I could jump into from the second story, and maybe in a few hours’ time maybe it will be deep enough to do so. We’re already looking at 2+ feet of accumulation, and if the pace of the snowfall continues in this manner we’re likely to be snowed in under 4 foot drifts.

I know my mom would absolutely be loving this day. She was always fascinated with the way our backyard looked blanketed in the puffy white stuff, and though she never was a big fan of the cold there was something about the silence accompanying a blizzard that moved her. Maybe I’m assuming too much there, but I know snow storms have a calming effect on me, and my mom and I are more alike than either one of us ever admitted.

Unfortunately she wasn’t able to meet Jonas as she had lost her battle with cancer Friday, January 22, mere hours before the first snowflakes had begun to spiral downward from clouds pregnant with the stuff. She went in peace. She left us in the warmth of our home and she was as far away from being alone as you can imagine. She was comfortable. She was loved and she always will be.

There has been a storm ongoing inside me since yesterday, and it’s certainly not as peaceful as the winter weather outside. I feel so many things and while I’d rather not specifically say what those things are I can say that an overwhelming sense of relief has washed over me recently. I didn’t get to see my mom suffer and I didn’t see her taken away to a hospital where we’d only be able to visit and, theoretically — with the snow and the wind absolutely pelting the area in what could become a record-breaking storm — possibly not see her for days at a time at which point it might have become too late. No, given all of the possibilities, I’m actually pretty okay with the way things turned out.

At this point in my life I’m yet to find a reason to believe that there is a higher power looking over us and working us like puppets but I do believe in fate. I’m cringing because of the cliché but things absolutely happen for a reason. I don’t think it’s any coincidence my mom had passed and this weather swooped in on the same day, providing a welcomed distraction from the grieving. It could have been any old storm the northeast routinely finds itself caught in but there’s something special, something newsworthy about Jonas that has been cause for excitement and something akin to celebration. (Yay, it’s the first snowfall of the year!)

My mom and I didn’t have a particularly close relationship but I always have considered myself something of a ‘mama’s boy;’ I don’t really know how else to describe it. I think it’s all too easy when people pass on for those left behind to romanticize their relationships with that person, and that’s a phenomenon I completely get. It only makes sense as one is trying to process something as incomprehensible as death.  I don’t want to do my mom a disservice by lying about our relationship. We were less close in the years after I went to college in Tennessee and they moved to New Jersey. Separated by some 700 miles, it was all too easy (for me) to lose track of the time and that is one of my biggest regrets. I didn’t stay as in touch as I could have and should have. I won’t beat myself up over it but I can’t ignore it either.

What my mom was was a brilliant homemaker. She gave us everything me and my brother and sister needed. She was there for every major life event and she was there for most of the mundanities as well. She was just there. Always. Supportive, helpful, kind, interested. She has always supported my writing and I’m not sure how long this blog would have lasted if she never told me she was a regular reader. She was one of my biggest supporters and while I have an incredible following, losing that one really hurts. All of this is of course to say that DSB is going to continue. I was contemplating disembarking from this adventure but I find myself with a renewed purpose. And if not purpose, I need to maintain some sense of structure in my life right now. Never mind the fact that movies offer escapement.

With all of that in mind, I will be dedicating the next several reviews/posts to my mother. I don’t know if that is ever going to be adequate repayment for all  she has done for me, but it’s at least something. I love you so very much mom. Rest well.


And now — a Little galleria! 😀

IMG_3379

somewhere in Washington (I think)

IMG_3157

exploring the epic Cascade Mountain Range

IMG_3328

Very pretty.

IMG_4370

lounging in the snow.

IMG_3365

Christmas 2012, right before I left for Knoxville again

871

Mom and my brother

IMG_3286

my mom always had a passion for art

IMG_2238

mom, dad and dog Casey

IMG_4559

with my nieces and her grandchildren, Chloe (on the left) and Tessa

IMG_1883

The Trip to Italy 😉

IMG_1886

. . . and yes, yes she was sitting right in front of Dennis Quaid.

new 009

with my sister as she started school at Arizona State University

the Littles

one of my favorites

Because Oscar Said So: Best Supporting Actor Nominees

BOSS - best actor nominees feature image

Because Oscar Said So (B.O.S.S. for short) is yet another first for this blog. In years past I haven’t spent much time going into detail about the major categories recognized at the Oscars ceremony, particularly the official selections as quite often I find myself at odds with the Academy’s choices. Longtime readers of the site know that I like to take matters into my own hands by putting together a mock awards ceremony, a post in which I overwhelm my poor readers with my ramblings on break down several different aspects of the year in film. If you’ve yet to come across The Digibread Awards, you can click here to find out what’s up with all of that.

When it comes to my reaction to the official recognition of achievement in the acting categories, this year has been a little different as I’ve found myself agreeing with an unusually high percentage of the names that have made the Oscar’s shortlist, and now I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject; hence, B.O.S.S. This two-part post shall manifest as Thomas J’s coverage of outstanding achievements in a supporting role for the year 2015. Why the supporting roles, you ask? Great question.

While I made a concerted effort to see as many films as I could where the odds of making an appearance at the Oscars in February were very much in their favor, I wasn’t entirely successful and therefore I can’t comment on every lead performance that’s been nominated. (Missing from my list is Charlotte Rampling’s Kate Mercer in 45 Years, and Brie Larson’s “Ma” in Room.) That’s a major motivation to look to other categories.Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in 'Creed'

Secondly, I find the supporting role category needs a stronger cheering section. There’s almost no comparison between the amount of recognition headlining names get versus those of supporting players. And yet, when it comes right down to it, preparation for each type of role is far more comparable — particularly when supporting parts become so substantial that the line between ‘lead’ and ‘support’ begins to truly blur. However, with prestigious lists like the ones we have this year, perhaps the tide is slowly changing. Names like Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Sylvester Stallone are so large you’d be forgiven for assuming these are the film’s major stars . . but in these cases, they are indeed taking a backseat to other talent, or at the very least they’re willing to share the spotlight. The relative humility is refreshing.

Basic (read: compulsory or less memorable) supporting roles offer, if nothing else, structure to a given story. Strong support affords emotional balance (or occasionally the lack thereof) and perspective; superior actors know how to interact with more prominent characters, while lending both depth to the environment (be it fictitious or real) and credibility to the story being told. Fulfilling a supporting role doesn’t necessarily mean one has an easier task ahead of them than a lead, though. Often it can be a thankless proposition, with a variety of factors playing host to challenges both large and small, including, but certainly not limited to significant physical, emotional and psychological transformations. Actors take on these assignments and the research necessary to bring the characters to life, all while knowing they’re not going to be receiving the level of attention some of their colleagues undoubtedly will.

Rare are the productions that don’t require supporting parts to occupy screen space in some way, shape or form; only two films come to mind in the past several years (that I’ve reviewed, anyway) in which a single actor was called upon to carry the entire film. Those films, Locke and All is Lost, are rare exceptions — low budget but ultimately high risk productions. But if done well, these can be incredibly effective.

When it comes to this crop of nominees, there seems to be a movement towards bigger, stronger, more popular casting and films like Adam McKay’s The Big Short and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant — the former a dramatic comedy centered around the collapse of the housing and credit bubble of 2008, the latter a brooding take on life on the frontier in 19th century America — epitomize star-studded casts.

Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in 'Spotlight'

Christian Bale has been selected for his contributions to the energetic but awkward financial flick, playing hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who is one of the first to point out the instability of subprime mortgage loans circa 2005. The role is a completely different beast for Bale who has spent a lifetime putting on dramatic disguises and turning in powerful performance after powerful performance. He’s nearly unrecognizable in  a role this casual; the portrayal of a man who prefers to listen to death metal while at work, and parading around the office without shoes on.

Tom Hardy (who happens to be the star of that one-man road show Locke), on the other hand, cranks up the intensity with his portrayal of 19th Century fur trapper John Fitzgerald. He manifests as The Revenant‘s primary antagonist and conveys open hostility from the word ‘go.’ The man is ferocious in a film that demands a lot from its actors. In fact he’s so good the Academy likely is going to find a way to deny Leo once more, stripping him of the Best Leading Actor trophy and bestowing it upon the native Londoner. It would be a move that would surprise very few.

Sylvester Stallone makes a triumphant return to glory, reinvesting in his iconic Rocky Balboa but this time with an entirely different energy and sense of purpose. Here’s a supporting role that has already garnered a Golden Globe and a global standing ovation for the Rocky we have come to know and love has matured into his latter years with uncommon grace, providing a mentor figure that most sports films require, only this one is far more believable than any other that have come before. I suppose it helps that Stallone has lost none of his imposing physique. Sure, he’s older but the guy is still a massive screen presence and the material surrounding him elevates a performance with gravitas already built in.

There are quieter, more humbled performances lying in wait this year as well. Mark Ruffalo and Mark Rylance turn in tremendous work with their respective contributions to fact-based stories Spotlight and Bridge of Spies. Whereas the former focused on the troubling investigation into the molestation of children at the hands of Boston-area priests, the latter finds Steven Spielberg once more tapping into the history books as a source of inspiration. Spies revolves around the tensions between American and Russian diplomacy, when a suspected Communist spy is arrested in New York only to be represented by insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks); meanwhile, an American pilot is downed over Russian soil, leading to a protracted set of negations and creating a drama that resembles a high-stakes chess match.

Of all the nominees this year it’s Ruffalo who is most likely to go home empty-handed this year as in my opinion his work isn’t all that distinguishable from his co-stars — and that’s a very, very good thing. His Michael Rezendes, a contributing reporter to the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, epitomizes actors sharing in the burden of absorbing an information-dense and conceptually rich script. The work from the others (Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James) is just as outstanding, and it seems odd to single out any of the actors if the entire cast can’t take the stage in February. (Of course, I realize the fantasy of that argument. The Academy isn’t exactly fair.)

Rylance is subtle and graceful as the suspected Communist, casting a shadow that’s nearly as long as that of the legendary Tom Hanks. He’s not too shabby for an actor who has worked most of his life in theater, and this relative break-out performance is one not to be missed by anyone who has typically got along well with the Spielbergian brand. Never mind the fact political movies always seem to curry favor with critics, it’s quite possible we have a  dark horse in our midst with his restrained, brilliantly nuanced performance. Sweating over whether he’s a lock seems to be both a waste of time and energy, though. Would it help?

Ultimately the call isn’t mine to make. It isn’t up to any of us to decide; it’s up to whoever happens to be announcing the winner on stage in the Dolby Theater. And for anyone watching on, we just have to trust that the name that echoes throughout that auditorium, is the same name that’s written on the index card. Sure, the popular vote counts for a lot, but if it has taken Leo this long to get to a place where he seems like a shoe-in for Best Actor in a Leading Role, I’m prepared for all kinds of surprises. The argument that the Oscars are rigged is a bit overblown but there’s no doubt the politicization of the whole thing is very much a reality we have to deal with. Who really ought to go home with the trophy? That’s another great question, to which I can only respond: it’s whoever’s name gets called on that fateful night.

Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel in 'Bridge of Spies'

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.variety.com; http://www.cinemablend.com; http://www.ew.com; http://www.ftw.usatoday.com; http://www.moviescopemag.com; http://www.tvguide.com; http://www.zimbio.com; http://www.dailymail.co.uk; http://www.cineplex.com

Ride Along 2

Ride Along 2 movie poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Phil Hay; Matt Manfredi

Directed by: Tim Story

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are black in action in Ride Along 2, the sequel that very few people asked for but ended up getting anyway.

The fact that Tim Story (the guy behind the Fantastic Four movies — no, not the re- re- re- re- re-make that pissed everyone off) bothered to follow-up from his 2014 buddy-cop comedy doesn’t exactly advertise him as the most original of directors we have at our disposal right now. Considering how many of the trailers — I’d say at least half of them — that preceded the feature tonight were about Kevin Hart shopping for a new comedic partner (Dwayne Johnson is probably the most compelling), Ride Along 2 seems even more superfluous.

The film finds wannabe cop Ben Barber (Hart) begging to travel to Miami with his “partner” James to prove himself worthy of becoming a detective, despite the fact everyone on the Atlanta police force assumes he just got lucky last time cracking the case. Ben is soon going to be marrying James’ sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) and he believes putting himself once more in harm’s way will be the key to impressing his future in-law.

Ride Along 2‘s premise is as generic as generic gets. Seriously. I’ve seen store-brand boxes of Corn Flakes that were more inspiring. And the formula hasn’t changed from the last time we saw the pair galavanting around on screen. It almost doesn’t require any breaking down, but if I must: James has been trying to penetrate a notorious drug-ring based out of Miami, one headed up by a man named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) who maintains a good relationship with the public making all kinds of gracious donations to causes not worth mentioning here.

James needs to put together a team in order to track him down and bring him to justice. That’s when they come across a no-nonsense homicide investigator named Maya (Olivia Munn). They also acquire a valuable asset in the form of Ken Jeong’s computer hacker A.J., who was witness to a nasty little murder Pope committed in Miami over a dispute about some misplaced cash. Despite having extra help this time, it’s still going to take significant lobbying on James’ part to convince his higher-ups they should stay on the case, even after they partly botch the mission.

Ride Along 2 is a real underachiever, making no effort to provide a compelling crime story or one that’s even vaguely believable. It’s a problem solved far too easily and the only real thing that’s ever at stake is Ben’s impending nuptials. And yet, for everything that it is and everything that it’s not this is an entertaining escape. Ice Cube and Hart still have great chemistry, and Munn and Jeong are welcomed additions. Especially effective is Munn, who isn’t just eye candy; she employs a wry sense of humor to counter Hart’s spastic energy. Jeong dials back the inanity of his schtick and the movie is all the better for it.

Recycled material, overly familiar antics and excessive silliness aside, Ride Along 2 is a predictable experience but it’s not a product totally devoid of value. Bring the pizza and the beer, maybe even to the theater.

. . .as if I wasn't going to use this photo. (and hey, I'm being consistent, too)

. . .as if I wasn’t going to use this photo. (and hey, I’m being consistent, too)

Recommendation: As far as comedy sequels go, Ride Along 2 is in good company: it’s uninspired and unoriginal but for those who latched onto the comedic duo in the first installment, this will get the job done well enough. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I wouldn’t balk if and when Ride Along 3 is announced.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “My nerves is bad, man! OOOOOOH my God! Here, zombie!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.dailymotion.com

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours movie poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chuck Hogan

Directed by: Michael Bay

Michael Bay visits the Middle East in only his second non-Transformers extravaganza in nearly a decade. Following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and Peter Berg (Lone Survivor), Bay seems to have had an epiphany of his very own: I too can profit enormously from releasing a war film capable of melting America’s heart in the throes of winter. I’ll call it . . . 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Here’s the thing, though: the movie isn’t terrible. It’s not great, but I’ve been waiting for years for Bay to step away from the CGI orgies he’s been participating in obsessed with, because his box office behemoths betray a true talent for staging sequences of almost unbearable tension. 13 Hours may be a far cry from memorable, but here comes a patriotic little package that’s almost worth cheering for, if for no other reason than it doesn’t feature Megan Fox or any number of Bay’s usual female muses. (Is muse the right word?)

Mitchell Zuckoff’s novel, ’13 Hours,’ is awarded the big screen treatment in this relentlessly intense and at times graphic account of six security contractors and their courageous efforts to protect an American diplomatic compound and Ambassador Chris Stevens from waves of heavily-armed Islamic terrorists. It’s important the distinction of a compound be made because much of the farce stems from the fact that had it been an Embassy, greater security measures would almost certainly have been taken.

That the attacks, which took the lives of the Ambassador (Matt Letscher), Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith (Christopher Dingli), Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale) and Glen “Bub” Doherty (Toby Stephens), occurred on the 11-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks serves to heighten the drama. Making matters worse was the lack of support, both aerial and on the ground, provided for the small crew of literal guns-for-hire. (Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has since acknowledged the government did in fact mishandle this operation, but if you’re expecting any kind of condemnation on that front you’re in the wrong movie.)

Curiously absent from proceedings is any sort of political commentary in both Bay’s direction and Chuck Hogan’s screenplay. It could be argued that the ostensible neutrality actually shields 13 Hours from becoming the next hotly-contested political drama, a fate Eastwood’s chronicling of the deadliest sniper in American history fell victim to last year — though shots of a topless (and completely ripped) John Krasinski, who plays experienced military man Jack Silva and the montages of substantially muscly men doing substantially muscly-man things like flipping over massive tires and knocking out pull-ups like it ain’t no thang, does nothing but prop America up on a pedestal that the innocent Libyans pictured herein have nary a prayer of mounting themselves.

Bay tries to do the right thing and account for some semblance of goodness in a city renowned for its hostility (Benghazi, along with Tripoli, has long been atop the list of most dangerous cities in the world). Two-thirds of the film centers on the desperate defensive stand the various ex-Navy SEALs and Marines attempt to mount as forces overrun the compound before setting their sights on the CIA annex a mile down the road. Amidst the chaos — the most coherent action set piece Bay has constructed in some time — he attempts to convey the mounting distrust between locals who sympathize with the Americans and those who are clearly anti-western civilization (read: the guys in the background who have a sullen look on their face).

In the end the freneticism, the emphasis on explosions and melodrama simply overwhelms and we, the visually-assaulted paying customers, cannot be held accountable for missing certain details such as who may be aligning with whom. But that’s what all but the most ardent of Bay supporters come to expect out of a film baring his name. Drowning in a sea of action is kind of part of the deal (and hey, at least Bay offers quite a lot of opportunities for stunt men). 13 Hours doesn’t offer particularly incisive commentary; it’s more observation and opportunistic than eye-opening. The performances aren’t worth much either. The best thing I can say about it is that it is Michael Bay-lite.

John Krasinski in '13 Hours - The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi'

Recommendation: Come for the explosions, stay for the headache. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi manifests as arguably Michael Bay’s best film in years, but does that mean it’s any good? For this reviewer, no, not really. As much as I like the guys from The Office (Krasinski is reunited with David Denman here), they have absolutely no screen presence and the long stand-off gets old fairly quickly. The bravery on display can’t be discounted however, and for that Bay and his crew deserve at least some credit.  

Rated: R

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted: “I haven’t thought of my family once tonight. I’m thinking about them now.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.youtube.com