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Showing posts from 2014

The Imitation Game

World War II has proven to be a great, perhaps THE great source for all manner of literature and film since 1945.  Death and destruction on a previously unimaginable scale, sure.  But a gold mine for writers and filmmakers.  Almost seven decades on, despite existing mountains of scholarship and art, new narratives or wrinkles seem to emerge yearly, while those stories long-established provide their ongoing variations.  So it is with one of history's great thrillers, the breaking of the Nazi's seemingly unbreakable Enigma code.

In the last dozen or so years alone, there have been several productions based on the long-secret effort.  Enigma (2001), written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Michael Winterbottom, is a highly-fictionalized story set in the actual English code-breaking center at Bletchley Park.  More recently, the English series Bletchley Park (2012-14) followed a group of women who worked at the Milton Keynes complex during the war, relegated to more traditional fem…

Low Down

There's a very telling fire escape exchange between Amy-Jo  (Elle Fanning) and Alain (Peter Dinklage), two of the many marginal characters who inhabit a Los Angeles hotel/apartment building in the film Low Down.  The young woman points out that the music heard is being played by her father.  "Is Joe your dad?" Alain asks.  "Yeah," responds Amy-Jo, beaming.  Alain says nothing, but the expression that appears on his already sad countenance is all too eloquent.  There's the brief suggestion of a smile, but the lingering cast is knowing, rueful.  "Poor thing," he might as well say.

The 1970's Los Angeles of Low Down is pretty well circumscribed by the film's title.  One half expects Charles Bukowski to wander into the frame or be sitting in one of the dives into which we're which we're occasionally taken.  In that basin of almost indomitable brightness, what sunlight we see is indirect, often refracted through dirty windows.  A low …

Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

It's a frustrated director's fantasy come true:  a light conveniently falls on a cast member's head during a play's rehearsal, putting an end to some excruciating line readings.  Putting to a merciful end, if only temporarily, the bad actor.  Suddenly, a chance to cast someone good in the hack's stead.  But whom?  Woody Harrelson?  No, Woody has already committed to the next Hunger Games sequel.  Michael Fassbender?  Nope - X-Men.   Jeremy Renner, perhaps? Sorry - he's busy with his Avengers pals.  So many super heroes, so few brave actors to be found. This is the dilemma, in more ways than one, for Riggan Thomson, adaptor, director and star of the play within the film which is Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Thomson himself knows something about superhero movie franchises.  The middle-aged actor played the fictional character Birdman in three films during more the more youthful and prosperous years of his career.  But he did turn down Birdm…

The Skeleton Twins

Even if you attend a screening of The Skeleton Twins with an awareness of the film's subject matter, you probably won't expect to see its main characters winding and kicking along a hillside at dusk, led by the embodiment of death, prior to the closing credits.  No, if America has a danse macabre, that's hardly it, even if we (like Bergman) were to pluck from history the inspiration and form of such a procession.  That's just not us.  One can report this with certainty, if not relief.  The problem, dear friends, the worrisome thing, is that our dance might be best performed to a Starship song.  So it goes, at least, in The Skeleton Twins.

Bill Heder and Kristen Wiig are Billy and Maggy, brother and sister, if not actually twins. They haven't talked in decade at the outset of The Skeleton Twins, though the siblings have arrived at similar psychic states a country apart.  Maggy, pills in hand, has her suicide attempt preempted by a call to announce that her older br…

The Drop

Apparently, he's a pitbull.  Usually gentle, cute in his way perhaps, but not to be crossed.  This Brookyn bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) as conceived by writer Dennis Lehane in The Drop.  Mr. Lehane sets up a rather simplistic case of nature versus nurture in a harsh, twilight Brooklyn where it's tough going for dog and man alike.
The Drop is notable as the final work of actor James Gandolfini.   He plays Bob's cousin Marv, which happens to be the name on the front of the bar he has long operated in a Brookyn neighborhood which shows no signs of gentrification.  But as The Drop begins, we find out that Cousin Marv's is Marv's in name only.  He was muscled out of ownership some eight years previous and is now beholden to Chechen gangsters.  At the outset, speaking in an adopted accent, Hardy as the soft-spoken Bob explains that many such bars are used as drops for bag men, all the city's dirty money funneling into slots and fake kegs, ultimately finding …


At a certain point, Frank, the man in the very large papier mache head, shows up at South By Southwest, the annual Austin, Texas festival of music, film and general hipness, as it seems he must. During the brief glances we get of Frank's band, Soronprfbs (don't try to pronounce it), milling amongst the other SXSW performers and attendees, there is a brief, amusing, two-person, street summit of bodies beneath large, fabricated noggins.  These big heads seem to tilt slightly in recognition, as if echoing souls from a distant, disproportionate realm who have found a fellow traveler.

While the fleeting, amusing encounter might seem to present but two characters adding flavor to the human stew about them, there's no reason to believe they're at all the same.  The square, crudely-rendered, television-like head staring back at Frank is probably little more than a band's temporary gimmick, perhaps a festival attendee's costuming lark.  For Frank, the oblate dome atop…