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JP on JB

Thanks to a personal connection with the Bourne series (as recapped in my previous post), I will always think fondly of it. But I knew from mixed publicity and a certain lack of interest among my peer group that Jason Bourne would most likely be a toss up, which probably accounts for my relative delay in seeing the film. While I had hoped to catch the film in an iconic and nostalgic Martha’s Vineyard single screen cinema, instead I ended up seeing it back in my Michigan hometown as a re-introduction to that twin cinema and starting my effort to enjoy my town more.

Perhaps inevitably due to the long gap between previous Matt Damon led Bourne adventures, the film seems to force itself to catch up to 2016 with a plot that mixes some “greatest hits” of previous stories in the series alongside some forced contemporary relevance. While the film enjoyed a few tight moments like the old times, overall I felt like it could have gone further in-depth with the story, but was held back by possible script changes, studio interference or pressure to have a certain story element in the film in place of another. The last point was most glaringly obvious in the inclusion of a rather strained “social media” plot angle, along with a wavering focus on Bourne himself, who came to feel more like a side character rather than the protagonist. It probably did not help that the film does not really explore Bourne’s perspective on the events, except for one sharp moment when he reacts to a character’s demise and later when he takes more control of the story and turns the tables on the agents who are pursuing him. But the latter moment was undone by a gratuitous and tacked-on car chase sequence that adds little to the story.

Casting of the newcomers in the film was serviceable if not outstanding. Joan Allen’s presence as the mature and committed agent Pamela Landy was sorely missed, and it’s a shame they couldn’t bring her back in some form after a thankless cameo in the “sidequel” The Bourne Legacy four years ago. Tommy Lee Jones phones it in, with a few brief exceptions, as the unsurprisingly malintentioned CIA director. Recent Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander is believable for the most part as a hotshot CIA agent, but the film made no explanation of her obvious Swedish origins (or if it did, I missed them) – and she did not project the nuances that I so enjoyed in her breakout film Ex Machina.

To its credit, the film makes me want to revisit the original trilogy, so I think I will spend some time doing just that…

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Revisiting Into the Wild

In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!

ABQ Movies

Revisiting the same cinema in Albuquerque, February, 2014

The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.

I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.

For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.

So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.

In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on  in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.

I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.

The Many Faces of Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore at Cannes 2014 - image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Julianne Moore at Cannes 2014 – image courtesy of Wikipedia.

This (last) year’s Best Actress winner, Julianne Moore, is a long-admired film actress. Moore has achieved a rare feat of working steadily since she came to greater public attention in the mid 1990’s (and regularly before that time as well), along with continuing to move easily between smaller and studio cinematic projects.

In 2014, Moore initially gained received renewed attention for a darkly comedic turn in Maps to the Stars, which I saw at my local Cinema Detroit last week, before her acclaimed dramatic role in Still Alice took the awards circuit by storm starting with its premiere at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival.

I had originally intended for this post to be a compare and contrast between Moore’s work in those two films, but I came to feel that Still Alice, while undoubtedly a noble and important project in my mind, has reached a point of the storyline becoming too well-known so that the viewing experience for me would be more about “so when is ____ going to happen” or “is ________ actor going to show up again soon?” as opposed to being led along by the dramatic twists and narrative of the story. So I opted not to venture out to see the film.

It’s unfortunate, but that does happen with films that become well-known, and on a general principle I prefer to go in “cold” to a viewing experience, as it often leads to a more satisfying engagement with the material and artistry.

So, back to Maps to the Stars.

An ensemble cast of moderately recognizable faces navigates a familiar (in the age of TMZ and constant supermarket tabloid-ism) tale of morality and extremism under the setting sun of the Hollywood Hills. We meet Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a new arrival to town, as she chats up a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) taking her around town. It becomes apparent that Agatha has some connection with an affluent family in town led by John Cusack, as a self-help guru, and Olivia Williams as his tense wife. Meanwhile, fading actress Havana Segrand (Moore) plots her comeback in the comforts of her large house, but she’s tormented by continued visions of her deceased mother, who was also a film star. A fun cameo from the inimitable Carrie Fisher, playing herself, helps to set the multiple storylines on a path to merging together.

To get back to the theme of this article, I found it interesting, but jarring, to see Moore and Wasikowska share several scenes together in a very different dynamic from when they starred as mother and daughter in the 2010 comedy-drama The Kids Are All Right. It’s a testament to the versatility of both actresses that they were able to pull off the different roles… but as an audience member I kept thinking back to that much warmer hearted and thoughtful film. I also sort of wanted Annette Bening and Josh Hutcherson to appear from a corner and pull them back into that other cinematic universe!

As befitting a film by David Cronenberg, the plot dabbles in a large amount of weirdness and surrealism. I think I enjoyed it more for uses of style than the actual narrative, which was less pleasing, particularly in a longer than it needed to be thread about a foul mouthed child star. I can see how Moore’s performance initially attracted attention, where she knowingly plays off the stereotype of someone really wanting to be in the spotlight… and does so without any hint of vanity, but… I’m sure she’s happier that Still Alice took over her dramatic momentum and accolades for 2014.

Film Rating: **

Sometimes the time is right for a trashy film, and that time is usually January

Last night, a planned excursion to see Brighton Beach Memoirs for the first time ever instead became a trip downtown to the RenCen4 cinema to catch new release The Boy Next Door. Because it was that kind of Friday night, where I had a late realization of needing to blow off steam and do something more mindless instead of being verbally and intellectually stimulated.

As I walked into the Renaissance Center, I suddenly realized that I was also paying homage to Boy Next Door star Jennifer Lopez’s best film role (IMO), Out of Sight, which I discussed in a blog entry a year or so ago and features a key sequence (visible on YouTube and slightly NSFW) set right at the top of the RenCen itself. As I said in that prior entry, I felt that Lopez showed more potential in that film than in any of her pre-music film roles and would be interested to see a parallel universe representation of a world where she only focused on film acting.

But this is 2015, and Lopez is, of course, a multi-hyphenate entertainer and now “celebrating 20 years in the business” (more than that, really) according to at least one promotional article I saw about this movie. I do wonder what today’s teenagers must think of her, and if they even consider that she’s had a movie career. In contrast, I first saw her on film when I was 11 in one of my first R-rated movie in-the-theatre viewings.

Lopez also served as a producer on The Boy Next Door, and spoke in the press of feeling resonance with the script. But I wondered how much she saw in it actually made it into the finished film.

The story immediately zeroes in on Lopez portraying Claire, a separated mother of one teenage son, Kevin, and a literature teacher at her son’s high school. Claire is navigating the feelings of being in her 40’s and wondering what comes next. Her husband, played by John Corbett, comes around occasionally to see their son, but the mood is uneasy (and hastily explained!) between the spouses after a recent cheating scandal by the husband. It’s the perfect situation for nice new neighbor Noah (Ryan Guzman) to make an entrance and assume the role of kindly neighbor, mentor to Kevin, and initial lust object for Claire. The film’s trailer (and nearly all of its marketing) is highly transparent about where things go from there, and so I’ll leave my synopsis at that, except to add that stage star Kristin Chenoweth makes a rare screen appearance in a supporting role as Lopez’s BFF and senior administrator at their high school.

Lopez brings a mostly bland presence to the central role, although she certainly still looks good, and seems to be having fun with a few moments in the story. The plot detail of her being a classics teacher allows the script to inject a few bits of thoughtful and winking intelligence, particularly around The Illiad. Chenoweth adds some sweet and tart character-filled spice to her scenes before getting pulled into a predictable closing arc. Guzman possesses the swagger of his character from the first scene onward, but adds little acting nuance. Veteran Corbett isn’t allowed to make much of an impression.

It seems clear that the film has a future as a camp classic, and that’s exactly the lens that I chose to view it through. There wasn’t really any other option, since plot twists fly in and out like the wind, characters disappear and reappear at random, and there were several examples of very abrupt jump-cutting from one scene to the next. One case in point: the film decides that it wants to have the three men in Claire’s life all hang out together. But they just get one short scene to do that. Director Rob Cohen, a veteran in the Hollywood industry, shows that he hasn’t lost his action movie skills in several random but well-staged car chase sequences. I particularly enjoyed the initial setup for the film’s finale, in which one character thinks they are tailing the other, but that is not the case, and Cohen reveals the truth with a taut panning shot worthy of a Hitchcock movie or more nuanced mystery. The film shows its modest budget at times in the staging of scenes with few extras and not using a huge variety of locations.

If not for Cohen’s steady grip on the lens, this film would likely be even more forgettable. It’s good to see Lopez back on the big screen and tackling an age-appropriate type of role. I can’t view the film strongly due to its cluttered narrative and cheesy plot. But ultimately it fits right in to that DVD discount bin of films that are kind of fun (if you don’t want to admit it and/or think too hard) and perfect for a particular moment when you want to sit back, relax and enjoy a new project from a familiar star.

MY RATING: **

Cinematic Looks at History

This week’s Oscar nominations have created much discussion in the blogsphere and social networking brigade. I’m not looking to add to that conversation with this post. But I am pleased that I have now seen all of the Best Picture nominees for 2014.

Selma has built up quick and impressive word of mouth since its wide release began last Friday, and that was why I went to see it last Tuesday night. The film takes a detailed look at events surrounding the mid-1960’s segment of the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership role in the saga of events in the Deep South, which eventually led to a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.

The film is exquisitely well-cast in its central ensemble of committed African-American actors portraying real people. Those that stood out for me included David Oyelwo as King, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and the extensive range of supporting actors around them; it was particularly cool to see former Bay Area actor Colman Domingo appear in a prominent role. I felt less agreeable about the Caucasian casting choices, such as Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson – surely there was a Texan or Southern actor who might have been more suitable? Or even someone like Bryan Cranston, expanding upon his recent stage success as the same person? Fellow British actor Tim Roth as George Wallace also seemed to be overemphasizing certain aspects of his portrayal.

Director Ava DuVernay uses a lyrical simplicity to convey the storyline of events, with many shots focusing just on the character in action, and little use of supporting objects and visual distractions. I would have preferred a few key dramatic moments to go without the musical accompaniment she chose, but I can understand why they are there. I’m undecided about her implied allegories towards recent national events, but I agree that there is more work to be done.

My Rating: ***


Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has smashed box office records this weekend, but I would not have gone to see it if it hadn’t received a Best Picture nomination.

The film tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Texan who became known as the most successful sniper ever for the US, with “more than 150 confirmed kills in his career” according to multiple sources. Sadly, four years after ending his Army career to be with his family in Texas, Kyle was killed in February 2013, allegedly by a fellow war veteran he was attempting to help cope with PTSD.

Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle and continues an impressive run of recent acclaimed performances. Much attention has been paid to his “bulking up” for the role, but I found his use of character subtleties to be much more interesting. As Kyle, he displays an easy comfort with the role of command and methodical attention to detail in his lethal missions. But when he comes back to the USA, home of his wife (played by Sienna Miller) and growing family, Kyle doesn’t know what to make of the calm setting, literally worlds away from his war-torn “workplace”, and becomes distractedly distant. Cooper conveys this unease especially adroitly in these home-based scenes, which run the range from poignant to troubling.

I would have liked the film much more if it paid sharper focus to that tension in Kyle’s life between his role as a war hero and role as a family man. As it is expressed in the finish film, there is too much attention paid to the mechanics of the war, and it feels like a war movie, not one that is adapted from Kyle’s actual memoir. Cooper is left to convey the psychological and physiological tension over the course of several effective but brief scenes, while long stretches of the film focus broadly on the war mechanics. That’s not to say that they aren’t well-made (they are, of course, with Eastwood at the helm) but it lends the movie a different aftertaste than what might have been. I have to wonder what the story would have been like if original director David O. Russell had stayed at the helm (Three Kings 2.0?) or in the eyes of a female director, as seen in Kimberly Peirce’s underrated Stop-Loss back in 2008.

Sienna Miller deserves special mention for reaching new dramatic ground with her performance. The actress, who was better known for being tabloid fodder 5-10 years ago, has matured into a confident and assured performer. I’m sure that a close personal connection with the real life Mrs. Kyle helped her to draw the emotional truth of the role. I also look forward to seeing what Miller does next with a broader role, whether on film or on stage.

My Rating: **

The Great Outdoors Welcomes the Cinema Lens

DFTI returned to the filmgoing life this past weekend with a pair of films set in the outdoors, and both showing very different aspects of what the surroundings can offer us.

The first film, Force Majeure, seen at the luminous Detroit Film Theatre, took a sharp look at how a seemingly minor event can perhaps irreversibly alter an interpersonal dynamic. This type of storyline is often seen with significant dramatic heft, such as The Impossible from a few years back, but rarely in subtlety, and that made it all the more intriguing.

We’re introduced to a Swedish family of four as they settle in to their long-awaited holiday in the French Alps. Dad’s a workaholic, Mom is career-oriented but staying aware of the family, and the kids are tuned in to the electronic generation, but happy to be there. A veranda mountaintop lunch near the start of their trip initially seems scenic and pleasant, until a loud crack is heard and an avalanche starts heading directly at them. Only problem is, Dad freaks out and leaves the other three out in the chill. It’s not a spoiler to say that everything is fine, physically, after that, but everything is not cool, mentally, following that development. The story dabbles in gender politics as the man and woman initially demonstrate differing opinions and memories of the incident, and they struggle to determine how they can best move on as a family from the situation.

The director, Ruben Östlund, adds numerous subtle artful touches throughout the story, such as a recurring piece of classical music, artistic framing with the characters in one corner of the image, and a careful control of performances range, as in one scene an action or objective may be implied but the next may be quite differently stated. He’s aided by capable and committed performers, particularly Lisa Loven Kongsli in the central role of the mother. I also appreciated how the film built to a surprisingly ambiguous conclusion, with two last-act surprises testing the will of the family as they prepare to make their way back to their Real Lives.

My Rating – new for 2015! – ***1/2 stars

The next night (last Saturday the 10th) I returned to The Maple Theater, perhaps this area’s second – most classiest film venue after the Detroit Film Theatre. I’m sure that the Friday DFT visit put me in the mood to go there again, and where there were several options on where to see Wild, the film of the night, this choice added to the experience.

maple theatreWith a movie at the Maple, it isn’t so much about the screening rooms themselves, which are clearly 70’s-80’s style slightly bigger than shoebox auditoriums – and very reminiscent of my hometown movie theatre – it’s the initial experience of going to the venue, which was refreshingly evident that night as a jazz concert (pictured at right) took place in the coffee/wine bar section of the building. It may be seen by some as a snobby touch, but for me, something like that is very important to set the tone of the evening and make it into more of an experience, especially in this day and age with so many forms of media and personal entertainment devices competing with each other (and us, as audience members) for time and attention.

The movie itself, Wild, was a great choice to begin my Hollywood film year, where I began my 2015 with several days back in the Northwest, where the majority of the film takes place, and had been in California prior to that. The film is quite obviously meant as a return to dramatic form for actress Reese Witherspoon, who also produced the project and has noticeably struggled with audience expectations of her film performances since winning an Oscar for Walk the Line back in 2005. Having followed Witherspoon’s career slightly since her earlier films in the mid-90’s, it seemed to me that this movie was her attempt to channel several of those earlier roles as well, such as doing nudity on screen for the first time since Twilight (no, not that Twilight), adding vampy looks and excessive makeup as she did in Freeway, and showing a mix of cunning, sweetness and resourcefulness as she did in Cruel Intentions. Needless to say, Witherspoon has just been rewarded for her efforts with an unsurprising Oscar nomination for Best Actress… but I think it will be more interesting to observe where she goes from here with her regained dramatic momentum.

I was not familiar with the story of Cheryl Strayed and her 1995 trek up the Pacific Crest Trail prior to seeing this film. I’m sure that it is a case of the book being better than the movie, but the movie version, while ultimately unfocused, did have some redeeming qualities. Director Jean-Marc Vallée creates an intriguing dream-like atmosphere by focusing on Cheryl (Witherspoon) and her immediate experiences hiking the trail, but often cutting away to memories from her past, many of which involve her late mother (Laura Dern) as a way of filling in her backstory. The frequent cutting away reached a point of being distracting for me as the story went on, and I would have preferred that it stop after a certain point. When it did get less frequent, about two-thirds of the way through the story, I found that added much more dramatic intensity to the immediate story. The film does an excellent job of evoking period detail from 1995, including spontaneous celebrations of Jerry Garcia’s life, now-anachronistic reliance on payphones, and a reminder of a very annoying pop song that was popular towards the end of that summer that I can’t find the title of.

Witherspoon expectedly performs well in the demanding lead role, but at times seems to be trying too hard to show and use range, perhaps going back to the idea that this was a pet project for her. Laura Dern creates a warm presence as the mother, but is not given much time to develop the part due to the constant back and forth of the story. Still, it was refreshing to see Dern appear in the film, as she often seems like an actress who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the Hollywood character actress and thus may not be seen onscreen as much as she could or should. Indie darling Gaby Hoffmann appears in a few scenes as a friend of Cheryl’s, and I would have liked to have seen more of her. The nature of the story doesn’t allow for a much more substantial supporting cast beyond that.

My Rating – **1/2

Cinematic Wrap on 2014

My mission to chronicle all the films I saw during 2014 was a success!

60 films total for the year. At times I felt like I was running parallel to – but not competing with! – my friends Gabe and Roy, although I ultimately staked out a distinct independent film orientation, with occasional exceptions.

Will I do it again this year? Probably.

But my final entertainment experience of 2014 was, fittingly, back at a theatre that I know well in Berkeley, California, and the immediacy and satisfaction and poignancy of being in that audience made me want to re-focus on theatregoing here in Michigan – not just making it, but seeing it – so I hope that the new year will bring a renewed commentary on live theatre, as was once more common in this blog.

However, it wouldn’t be fair to 2014 to leave it without a top ten list, so here’s mine with a few brief comments taken from the individual write-ups.

1. BOYHOOD
This was easily the most humane movie I’ve seen since Toy Story 3, with its tear-jerker of an ending, back in 2010. And this film touches the heart in a similar and different way, showing that life is relatable in its small, poignant, important moments, and drawing emotional truth, recognition and reflection from those same narrative themes.

2. THE ONE I LOVE
the film… cleverly does not spell everything out for the viewer and leaves several elements up to discernment and imagination — something I always appreciate and often prefer in published or written works. Duplass and Moss rise to the challenge of the material and are tasked with carrying nearly the entire film only on their shoulders.

3. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
The two actresses rise to the challenge of working together and carrying the film almost completely on their shoulders. Binoche, accustomed to the lead role both in fiction and real life, commands with an increasingly dislocated sense of reality and heightened awareness of the passage of time for someone in the acting industry… The film deserves to be seen as a return to form or start of a new chapter for Stewart… easily one of the most unique films I have seen this year.

4. CHEF
The story… is told in such a warm – hearted and also exuberant style, including an emphasis on colors in the frame, tantalizing shots of food onscreen, and the family relationships of the characters pushed to the front of the story, that this became one of the most appealing and satisfying films I have seen in some time.

5. BLUE RUIN
(features) one of the most “normal” protagonists I have ever seen in such a film, and although the movie eventually leads itself to a somewhat familiar and inevitable climax, it maintains the minimalism and character uncertainty to make it seem refreshing and unusual to the viewer.

6. UNDER THE SKIN
I don’t know what this film means (who can, really?) but I feel appreciative of its willingness to challenge and provoke the audience in a subtle way, along with a willingness to let actions speak louder than words complimented by an atypical story.

7. NIGHTCRAWLER
Nightcrawler is constructed coldly yet beautifully for the audience, with sleek cinematography by Robert Elswit and several fitting themes composed by James Newton Howard. Writer and director Dan Gilroy, making a later career debut behind the camera, shines a light on an unsettling angle of contemporary culture… the topicality of the subject matter ensures that the viewers might continue to think about their own role in taking in current media, and the pros and cons of continued life engulfed in the digital age.

8. A MASTER BUILDER
The film unsurprisingly holds the story’s dramatic intensity through the entire length of the film without betraying its stage roots. Shawn seems to have achieved a timeless quality with the text…

9. BEYOND THE LIGHTS
The film puts a pragmatic and realistic spin on a familiar story, and is really a showcase for a dynamic and revelatory performance by Mbatha-Raw…

10. SNOWPIERCER
The greater plot element of a class system on a contained environment is notable, and continues to find relevance in the present era…

Stay tuned! (image taken in December, 2014, near Martha's Vineyard, MA)

Stay tuned! (image taken in December, 2014, near Martha’s Vineyard, MA)

Multiple forms of Whiplash at the movies

So apparently I lied about being done with my moviegoing for the year, and this morning I ended up at the recently opened MJR cinema in Troy for a screening of Whiplash, a film I had tried to see a few times over the past month.

I think it’s very cool that MJR has their own theme song, a great nod to movie theatre traditions of the past. Here it is on YouTube:

The song reminds me greatly of the Loews Theatres jingle I grew up with, also viewable on YouTube:

Back to Whiplash

The film is much darker than what I had expected, focusing right in on promising music student Andrew Naiman (Miles Teller) and his struggle to fit in at a prestigious music conservatory in New York City. Soon after his arrival, Andrew encounters a teacher (JK Simmons) who notices his talent, and recruits him to be part of an upper-level band. But Andrew soon learns that the teacher excels at pushing his students to the brink, in order to get the most out of them, and Andrew finds himself making changes in his life and becoming increasingly, fanatically, focused on the music.

The film evokes a complicated line of thought recalling mentors and teachers one might have had, and how much they pushed you/their students to be successful. A more subtle thread in the story looks at trust and forgiveness – if we are bothered by some thing or action that a person caused, can we even speak with or trust them again? And finally, how much do you/I/we want to achieve for a lifelong dream? I know I have felt all of those sensations at different times in my life.

Native Detroiter Simmons (recently interviewed by the Free Press about the film and his hometown connections) captivates in a demanding multifaceted role. Perhaps most impressively, just when I thought the film had closed up his character, and the storyline, a third act appears that turns his character around and fills in the shadings, while also setting up a provocative finale.

I wasn’t familiar with Teller prior to this film, although I see from IMDB that he’s become quite well known thanks to several big hits aimed at audiences slightly younger than me. He scores a 10 on the music scenes, thanks to his existing musical background and a similar ferocious intensity, but I felt that he didn’t fully inhabit some of the dramatic scenes of the film. Admittedly, that may have been part of the point, where the character was getting so consumed by his work as to neglect other parts of his life.

The supporting cast includes few well – known names, save for veteran actor Paul Reiser as Andrew’s dad. Reiser hasn’t changed from his affable presence as seen on 1990’s television and several films in that decade, and I felt that touch was just what the role needed, where his son faces such high personal stakes.

The film’s story is conducted in a broadly familiar way, and so I could tell where the narrative was going, with a few exceptions. However the intensity of the story is such a surprise, with a powerful punch, that I often still was on the edge of my seat. Hope that the film continues to stay in the awards season conversation.

Film Flashback: Insurrection

Continuing my series of posts focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation adventures on the big screen, the 16th anniversary of the crew’s third cinematic foray, Insurrection, is coming up next Thursday.

Once again I was excited to see my favorite space crew on the big screen, and proceeded to see their latest voyage three times during its original cinematic release. First up was an opening day screening at the then – new Showcase Cinemas Lowell, which was just coming up to its first anniversary of opening. I remember it was a winter concert night at my high school (which I was performing in) a few towns away from Lowell, so my dad picked me up and we rushed to the cinema and then hurried right back so I could make it to the evening event. Unfortunately, that rushed state led to me leaving my first point and shoot camera there in the movie theatre, and I was unable to recover it, which disappointed me and my parents as it contained a few photos that could not be replicated. (why did I even take it into the theatre? probably to take a picture of the poster… interesting how those things stand out in the memory…)

A week later, my dad and I caught the film a second time on Opening Night of the new and long – awaited Loews Theatres Liberty Tree Mall. I remember feeling disappointed that Insurrection was shoehorned into one of the complex’s smallest screening rooms, even though it was just in its second week of release. We would get to know the rest of the complex very well over the next several years.

This film serves as half of the answer to a regional trivia question in that it was one of the two final films to screen at the Loews Liberty Tree Mall twin cinema, which closed down after screenings on December 17, 1998, to make way for the new 20-plex.

Finally, I saw the film a third time in St. Johnsbury, VT, near the end of that month, with my mom and several other friends. I highly doubt that St. J’s Star Theater has changed much since that screening!

Insurrection DVDIt’s been awhile since I’ve actually watched Insurrection, and I’m aware that it has a bit of a “meh” reputation among fans. The film’s location photography in the Mammoth Lakes region of California stood out to me on those early viewings, with lush greenery and icy blues serving as fitting evocations of an alien planet. Veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith again delivered an expert tapestry of musical images to drum the story along and serve as a backdrop for the crew’s continuing mission. But I agree with a sentiment that I once saw somewhere indicating that this film shows the Next Generation crew at their most natural. They don’t have to ramp up the violence to show they can kick some ass and bring in box office, they don’t have to compare themselves to other Star Trek crews, and they don’t have to do a victory lap on their way out of the spotlight, they can simply be present in the story, and relate to each other with humanity and consideration. (The last point is something that the actors continue to do well in real life, as seen in writeups of their convention appearances over the last several years, and I saw for myself when I met Marina Sirtis here in Michigan a year and a half ago.)

I likely did not realize on first viewing that the “guest stars” for this installment drew heavily from the theatre world, where most of the regular cast members also have roots. It would be interesting to see some alternate universe mashup where Donna Murphy and F. Murray Abraham suddenly launched into dramatic monologue faceoffs with Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner and the rest of the cast.

Film Flashback: First Contact

Why not continue with what is clearly a theme for this week?

First ContactStar Trek: First Contact celebrates the 18th anniversary of its release tomorrow. Something about seeing that movie on the big screen must have been a formative experience for me (the first time I ever rushed out to see a movie on opening night, perhaps?) as I have continued to recall its anniversary on this day of the year. Last year, of course, it shared the date with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

I thought I had written an earlier LiveJournal flashback entry about seeing First Contact on the big screen, but I can’t find it. So I will attempt to recount the experience here.

I was very eager to discuss the movie throughout that Friday of 7th grade, and various Trek fans sites of the time – probably message boards and magazines – had been counting down to the release for a while. Once evening rolled around, my dad, a close friend and I traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, intending to catch First Contact. But (in this pre online and mobile ticketing era) it was SOLD OUT for the night! I was pleased that all signs seemed to indicate it would be a hit, but it wasn’t feasible for us to stay for the late show. Since we were there… we ended up at the premiere screening of the weekend’s other new release, Jingle All The Way, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing dueling fathers in the holiday shopping season. We drove back home to the North Shore with a slight sense of disappointment.

The next day, my dad and I traveled along with some family friends to the General CInema in Burlington to again attempt to catch First Contact. Unfortunately my friend who had come along the previous evening was not able to join us.. We succeeded in catching a matinee of the film along with a sold-out crowd at Burlington’s largest screen, cinema 5, right in the middle of the complex. I remember appreciating the synchronicity of seeing it there, as we’d seen the first trailer for First Contact when catching Independence Day at that same cinema during the summer of 1996.

My dad and I enjoyed the film so much we saw it again just a week later back at Woburn, and for a third time at the General Cinema in Framingham on a snowy night in early January 1997. In fact, I realize that “threepeat” viewing set a pattern that I followed for the subsequent two Next Generation films in 1998 and 2002… perhaps those can be “film flashbacks” in a few weeks.

The film was the perfect adrenaline rush for a die – hard Next Generation fan like myself. Its PG-13 rating signified that Trek had embraced a new edge, where all previous films had been rated PG, except the first one with an odd G rating. The Next Generation crew were solidly on their own in this adventure, and weren’t afraid to kick some ass with their longtime Borg arch-nemeses. My favorite character, Data, got a whole story arc of his own as a captive of the Borg Queen, and also got to assert himself as the film reached a climax. The music score showed veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith returning to the series with gusto, contributing a refreshed rendition of his title theme and many additional atmospheric and memorable cues. The special effects was very much au currant for 1996, most notably seen in an extended sequence on the new Enterprise’s deflector dish. Perhaps most importantly, each member of the Enterprise crew was given at least one moment to shine or show off a particular character trait, with results showing their range from devastating drama (Picard: “the line must be drawn HERE!”) to broad comedy (Troi: : “I don’t have the time… what was I saying?”) and with the sure hand of cast member Jonathan Frakes guiding them in his cinematic directorial debut, the sky was the limit and anything was possible in Star Trek’s 30th anniversary year.