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Posted 5/15/13 at 12:25 PM | Denny Wayman
When F. Scott Fitzgerald experienced the decadence of life on Long Island during the Roaring 20’s, he wrote a novel exposing its excesses. Critically acclaimed, the story of Jay Gatsby as The Great Gatsby has not only become required classic literature read by high school students for decades, but the story has also been put on film five times. This latest version directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, Romeo and Juliet) is the most extravagant and creative yet and catches the spirit of the age on film just as Fitzgerald caught it in his writing.
The casting of this film is excellent. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a troubled Jay Gatsby who allows us to experience both the passion and the pathos of this driven man. Also perfectly cast is the love of his life, Daisy, played by Carey Mulligan in a demure and yet engagingly spoiled way. Also well cast is the narrator of our tale and the supposed author of the story and cousin to Daisy, Nick Caraway, played by Tobey Maguire. As a Yale man who would like to be a writer but has been drawn to the boom of Wall Street and the sale of bonds, Maguire presents the naïve and insecure Caraway in a way that allows us to accept his willingness to be guided if not manipulated by others.
Posted 5/9/13 at 10:09 AM | Denny Wayman
The lighthearted interaction of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 with the previous Iron Man and Avenger films is well played. Recognizing that Marvel’s franchise is based on a comic character with viewers who have come to see a fantasy tale, Black’s skill as a storyteller showcases this genre. Understanding how to create tension as he did in the Lethal Weapon trilogy, Black has us sitting on the edge of our seats as he also weaves together human motivations and fears with insanity and love. Clearly another chapter in the ongoing story, we look forward to what will happen next.
Working together with Drew Pearce to write the screenplay, Black shows skill as a director. Although this is only his second film in the director’s role, the choices he makes in allowing us to understand the humanity within the action reveals his understanding of the importance of character development even in a comic action tale. But having said that, the visual action is still overwhelming.
Recognizing that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a superhero only because he is a technical genius, we see Stark experiencing an anxiety attack from a post traumatic reaction caused by the alien invasion experienced in New York, which was shown in The Avengers. The awareness that there is a thin line between genius and insanity is further portrayed in the villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Having sought Stark’s help to fund research for restoring human flesh to assist his own handicap, he is not only denied assistance but he is also played the fool. This experience unlocks an anger that becomes sociopathic as he uses the same research to create a deadly evil. It is both this megalomania and personal hatred that blend together in such a way that Killian wants to conquer the world and destroy Stark.
Posted 5/6/13 at 12:41 PM | Denny Wayman
A story of life on the Mississippi is well known in American literature. As we traveled with Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and the runaway slave Jim, we experienced both the danger and the excitement of an adventure few young men could have experienced. This is also true of Jeff Nicholas’ tale Mud. Telling the story of two young teens whose families live off the fish and clams of the river’s waters, they come upon a fugitive living on a forbidden island in a forsaken boat. And as in the earlier adventure, the danger is real as these two boys are forever changed.
With Nicholas as both director and screenwriter, the cinematic journey is told with visual artistry that weaves together the river’s currents with the muddy shore and fearful superstitions with romantic myth. The two boys are Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Having an unusual amount of freedom which takes them beyond their young teen experience, both boys are fascinated when a cabin cruiser is discovered lodged in the trees of an island Ellis’ father has forbidden him to visit. This rule is for his own protection, not only from the currents of the river but also from the venom of the cottonmouths that slither in the island’s stagnant pools.
This is only the beginning of the adventure. They discover that the boat they want to make their own already FULL POST
Posted 5/6/13 at 12:38 PM | Denny Wayman
2 Stars – Entertaining
Imagining a teenager who is coming of age in a cave-dwelling family during the stone age is a creative leap. Using modern understandings of family dynamics with a protective father whose daughter wants to live beyond his fears, a mother who understands both, and a world that is in the midst of change, Kirk De Micco and Chris Sander‘s The Croods is an animated film that both celebrates and stereotypes family life.
Setting the stage for our adventure we are told the story in cave picture style that the Croods are the remaining family of what was once a small collection of families. Humorously portraying the others’ demise by the dangers of their primitive world, it is clear that Grug (voice by Nicolas Cage) is worried. Deciding that life outside the cave is too dangerous, the family only ventures out from its darkened safety to secure food.
But one night after being securely placed behind the rock door of their cave, Eep (voice by Emma Stone) notices a light in the darkness. Having never seen such a harnessing of the sun, Eep risks FULL POST
Posted 4/22/13 at 3:01 PM | Denny Wayman
Oblivion brings together many common themes into one well-told tale. Like Terminator and Matrix, the basic storyline is a battle between humans and machines. Like The Island and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is a complementary love story of cloned humans with wiped memories who nevertheless remember one another and are providentially brought together. And like Independence Day and the Death Star of Star Wars, there is an impenetrable fortress that must nevertheless be infiltrated and destroyed. Though these themes are familiar, they are brought together in a compelling science fiction love story by director Joseph Kosinski.
The central character is Jack Parker (Tom Cruise). Explaining in his voice-over that a war with alien invaders was won by humanity but in so doing, the planet was destroyed such that the human population moved to a moon of Saturn. Jack is part of a remnant crew cleaning up the planet. However, Jack is having memories that do not fit this narrative.
Posted 4/18/13 at 12:41 PM | Denny Wayman
4 Stars - Inspiring
Racism has been horribly destructive in this “land of the free and home of the brave.” Although not unique to the United States, the very principles on which our nation is based makes racial and gender barriers all the more offensive. But though we believe that all of us are created equal, the implementation of that belief has been and continues to be a struggle. One of those struggles was on the field of Major League Baseball. This struggle has been powerfully brought to the screen by one of the best screenwriters in recent times, Brian Helgeland. With the same sensitivity he brought to Mystic River, Man on Fire, LA Confidential and A Knight’s Tale, Helgeland both writes and directs an inspiring film of vital importance to healing the racism once rampant in the U.S.
Guided by their Christian beliefs and Methodist principles, the two leaders in the integration of the Major League were Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Wesley Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and the first African-American to play at that level, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Explaining to his disbelieving staff when he chose to draft Robinson, Rickey said, “He’s a Methodist, I’m a Methodist, God’s a Methodist!” As Free Methodists whose very name stands for our historic identification with the abolitionist movement of the 1860s, Hal and I both resonate with the tongue-in-cheek truth that Rickey proclaimed. The very nature of our Methodist faith is to put into action our convictions that every person is worthy of love and respect – and that opportunity to show one’s self as capable by using one’s gifts is as much a part of baseball as it is of the church.
Posted 4/16/13 at 2:42 PM | Denny Wayman
In the last years of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s life, his second son Jean came home from World War I to convalesce. It was then that the injured lieutenant met Andree Heuschling, the beautiful model who was posing for his father. Fascinated by the female form, Pierre-Auguste had developed an impressionist mastery in which he created a color-saturated world of sensual sights. But in these final days of his pain-ridden hands and body, wheelchair-bound as much by choice as by pain so he could conserve his energy for painting, Pierre-Auguste was inspired by Andree in a way that brought life not only to himself but to his son Jean as well. It was Andree who placed the desire within Jean to become a creator of films, a calling that brought him the acclaim that painting had brought to his father. It is this moment in these three artists’ lives that director Gilles Bourdos catches on film.
Honoring the impressionist as much by style as by story, Bourdos’ French-language film is itself a work of art. From the convergence of color to the catching of the wind’s effects on the leaves and grass to the posing of Andree, Bourdos appreciates the sensual nature of Pierre-Auguste’s work. Adapting the novel by the great grandson of Pierre-Auguste, Jacques Renoir, Bourdos catches the transitional moment before Jean married Andree and created his first nine silent films with her as his star. Eventually divorcing her, Jean goes on to become an acclaimed director and writer of over forty films.
The ensemble cast focuses primarily on Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste, Christa Theret as Andree and Vincent Rotiers as Jean. Also FULL POST
Posted 4/16/13 at 2:36 PM | Denny Wayman
The two themes of Paul Weitz’s film Admission weave together an unusual tapestry. The first thread is the competitive world of college admissions where the top schools are supposedly measured by how many candidates they deny. The second is the private struggle for family that many experience when they have had a difficult parent or a disastrous first love relationship. Although seemingly disparate, these two threads do in fact weave together an unexpected and entertaining tale about finding love and life in ways we did not expect.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and adapted for the screen by Karen Croner (One True Thing), the story focuses on Princeton Admissions Counselor Portia Nathan (Tina Fey). Driven such that her job has been her life for sixteen years, Portia is in competition for the director position with Corinne (Gloria Reuben). Slightly neurotic and overtly snobbish, Portia and the other admissions counselors are ashamed when their director Clarence (Wallace Shawn) tells them that Princeton has fallen to number 2 in the U.S. News magazine’s college rankings. The solution, they are told, is to get even more candidates to apply and then deny.
Posted 4/10/13 at 11:51 AM | Denny Wayman
G.I. JOE RETALIATION
2 Stars – Shallow
The inherent pride in the U.S.A. present in the G.I. Joe comic books is continued in this visual form of these tales directed by Jon M. Chu. Based on the Hasbro toys and comic books, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a sequel to G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra which was released in 2009. Written by Rhette Reese and Paul Wernick who joined together to create such films as Zombieland, their story feels not only formulaic but also lacking in novelty.
Not only are the good and bad guys predictable in their valor and vindictiveness, but their visual images and characteristics are also reruns of other fictional characters. This is seen most obviously in the archvillain, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), whose mask includes the life-support and amplified sound made famous by Darth Vader of Star Wars. But it is also seen in the introduction of Ninja warriors whose training and swords add variety to the hand-to-hand combat and fire-fights of the G.I. Joes with the Cobra warriors. One of the Ninja warriors, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) has a similar troubled past as we saw in Bruce Wayne of the new Batman films.
The central plot focuses on a megalomaniacal commander whose nanotechnology has joined with a new form of weapon with which he has conspired to take over the world. As the Commander of the Cobra Rebels, he FULL POST
Posted 3/27/13 at 9:35 PM | Denny Wayman
When the world witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, it took everyone, including the President of the United States, a long time to fully grasp the magnitude of the danger for our country. We all tend to face major events in our lives with a sense of disbelief.
Such is the case within the White House when an unexpected eminent attack on Washington DC begins. “Olympus Has Fallen” dramatizes a significant assault on the seat of western global power by a disgruntled former North Korean who pieces together an assault army bigger than most countries could muster. With full military aircraft, NATO grade missiles, and high tech assault rifles that would make any gun-lover proud, an air and ground attack is executed on the White House in a way not seen since the British invasion of 1812.
Within minutes the defenses of Washington DC are obliterated and the President of the United States, his Secretary of State and chief military advisors retreat to a subterranean bunker capable of withstanding a nuclear attack deep beneath the White House. When the attack began, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) was meeting with the South Korean Ambassador and his staff, along with the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Vice President, to discuss the potential dangers that were present from the actions of North Korea. All of these high-level guests are rushed to the subterranean bunker and locked down with the President. FULL POST