Missing in action: The Finest Hours sails in the wrong direction

Less-than engaging. While this is based on a true story about the most outrageous coast-guard rescue in the 20th century, this adaptation did not deliver the kind of dramatic cinematic experience that should accompany an intense life-threatening story like this. It’s slow (rather methodical), and the dialogue at large is weak and seems to be missing in action. Squeaky clean and neat-to-a-flaw, the narrative is less-engaging. Sadly, A-list actors like Chris Pine, and Casey Affleck didn’t have much to work with, and the ending was nothing short of a cheat.

Admittedly, the film exhibits some true-to-life scenarios that were reflective of life in the early 1950’s:  Innocence in love Bernie Webber and Miriam (Chris Pine and Holiday Grainger), where Webber is so shy Miriam proposes. Both Webber, the captain of the small Coast Guard Vessel that is sent out to rescue the survivors of the the S.S. Pendelton and Pendelton’s chief engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) show very little expression (internalize), while making moment-by-moment crucial decisions.

“Bringing a wooden 36-foot motor lifeboat alongside a freighter in mountainous seas is near impossible without placing your crew in grave danger. Yet, that is exactly what Webber and his crew did. With the light from the small searchlight and timing the movement of the swells as they rolled through, Webber and his crew approached the stern of the floundering vessel more than 30 times to extract the survivors, one by one.” (60th Anniversary of the Pendelton Rescue)
According to the “actual” story, Webber had no idea what he was doing, nor did he really expect to live through the attempted rescue.  When the compass is lost, and the boat is tossed around in the violent ocean, Webber is left to instinctively find the ship that had split in two.  One of the biggest issues in the film is with Webber’s character.  He doesn’t ever change.  There is no apparent arch, nor does he display any sense of emotion during his journey — a journey that should reveal a fierce internal and external battle for survival in impossible circumstances.  However, Webber does not show this kind of raw emotion, but very methodically finds his way through a treacherous sandbar and out to a treacherous sea in search of survivors.
written by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Bernie Webber was the son of a preacher, who did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.  In fact, he just as he was about to run away from school, a childhood friend crashed his father’s car, and was looking for a place to hide. Webber helped him out by hiding him in his room, and stealing food from the cafeteria for him to eat. While the boys were caught, they didn’t ever suffer the consequences, because they returned back to Milton (their hometown).  According to the story, “The Reverend Bernard A. Webber struggled to understand the actions of his wayward son as young Bernie quit school and continued to drift.” Quite a different picture from the shy, reserved, obliging Coast Guard Captain, who seems intimidated by his superior.

Probably the best two things about this film are the tanker’s engineer, Casey Affleck, a character that was completely fictionalized,  and the insanely turbulent storm visuals created by cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe.  It’s man vs. the sea, and those moments are clearly defined visually on the screen with special effects, and a 3D option, that really isn’t necessary.  Indeed, the cinematography is well-played, for those “few” moments can leave you unnerved and holding onto your seat, in fact those moments somewhat carry the story, but that only lasts so long.

The ending is also problematic.  Once the men are successfully rescued, the trip home is a piece of cake.  While there are dozens of cars beaming their headlights toward the dark, stormy ocean, there is no real celebration of their arrival.  The men just methodically get off the boat and go home…men that also should exhibit some froze-bite and/or hypothermia.

According to history: “USCGC YAKUTAT’S MOTOR SURFBOAT RESCUES SURVIVORS FROM BOW OF SS FORT MERCER: Coast Guard rescuers in a motor surfboat carry blanket-wrapped master of tanker SS FORT MERCER, Captain Frederick C. Paetzal (far side), and purser, Edward Turner, Jr., to safety of the Coast Guard Cutter YAKUTAT.  The two survivors were plucked from the water after they jumped from the tanker’s bow section.  Captain Paetzel suffered from pneumonia and frost bitten hands and feet.”

In the final analysis, this film, though somewhat entertaining, is another adaptation that isn’t sailing in the right direction. When you use elements of nature being used as the sole catalyst to drive a story forward, it doesn’t work. Those elements are only a “part” of the action. The audience must connect to the lead characters, and that is an issue with this film, especially since the two lead characters are men that merely internalize their stress and decision-making process.  Perhaps, sticking more to the “real” story would have been a better option. Fictionalizing a “true” story can be risky.

https://i2.wp.com/www.uscg.mil/history/gifs/Pendleton_3.jpg
Official USCG Photo No. 5840; 2-18-52(2); Photographer unknown.

Coast Guardsmen from Station Chatham rescue 32 survivors from the SS Pendleton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

CG-36500 returns to the pier with  survivors of the tanker Pendleton after the rescue at sea. Photo by Richard C. Kelsey U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

 

How close is the film to history?  Check it out:

http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/finest-hours/

 

 

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“Gone Girl” is lost in a crosswalk

Sometimes, I have to separate my personal tastes when reviewing a film. The truth is, I don’t like thrillers. I’ve never been a fan. I have a hard enough time watching the news,       especially when it involves heinous crimes against humanity or animals. So, it stands to reason if I avoid it in the news, I’m not going to go pay $10 to see it in a theatre.

However, there are times that I have to put my personal opinion aside when analyzing why a film works. Such is the case with movie Gone Girl. It earned an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes; in fact, the rating is what sent me to the theatre to watch it.

Gone Girl will not get a 5-star rating from me, but I’ll admit that it’s hauntingly brilliant at times. It is a sick, twisted adaptation that defines “psychological thriller,” and yet…

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a failed writer and college professor, and Amy (Rosamund Pike), a famous children’s book writer seemingly have the “perfect” marriage, but that quickly shifts from the get go. It’s their fifth wedding anniversary, only Amy is nowhere to be found. She is “MISSING.” As the story unfolds, we learn that the marriage is a bust; Nick is having an affair with one of his college students, and Amy’s overly cool and distinctly faultless manner is nothing short of disconcerting.

It is then no surprise when the audience discovers that Amy is not dead (as we have been led to believe), but she has grimly, shrewdly plotted her own death while framing her husband as the murderer. Yes, she is fictionalizing a masterful revenge, but it’s very obvious to me that Nick will never do time.

In the meantime, Nick, who was planning to divorce her after their anniversary is in a quandary; the police suspect him of murder. As the police investigation continues and with the pressure of nation-wide media exposure, Nick is forced to “act” like he’s a caring, concerned husband who simply wants his “loving” wife back. In addition, while the police hold Nick as the main suspect for Amy’s supposed murder, he is on a scavenger hunt looking for “clues” that will lead him to his big “anniversary” surprise – a storage shed full of guy toys.

We learn about Amy’s antics through flashbacks as Amy reveals her masterful plan via her diary, which she reads in a voiceover. Amy has no plan to leave the country; she has logged a date on her calendar and confirms her intent to “kill self,” but she will make certain her husband is locked away on death row before she exits the planet.

Seems like a perfect plan, right? Wrong.

The story is about to switch gears; in fact, this story switches gears so many times you might feel like you’re on the ride of your life in the in German’s famed Nürburgring – each twist and turn moves you onto the next part of the course, as you look for a moment of reprieve from so many detours, but none are given. When Amy’s apparent suicide plot is suddenly thwarted and she is forced to immediately come up with an amendment, the audience is introduced to an entire new twist. The story (for whatever reason) seems dependent of these kinds of subplots. Truthfully, good old Aristotle, with his belief that there is one main plot might not have given Good Girl such a favorable review.

This “R” rated film is given the rating with good reason. It is loaded with explicit sex scenes, and one bloody (and I do mean bloody) act of violence after another. If you have the slightest sensitivity toward brutal violence and excessive, juggler-gushing bleeding, then Gone Girl is not the film for you. To be honest, I found the melodramatic blood scenes excessive and near unbelievable. Especially after dear, sweet Amy, the woman who has written so many wonderful children’s books, decides to change her game-plan and murder her ex-boyfriend (played by Neil Patrick Harris). This sorry, ultra rich, obsessively love-struck guy does not have a clue that his ex is nothing shy of a full-fledged sociopath. Each crazy scene somehow morphs into the next, while believability is basically tossed out the window.

One of the imitable things illuminating Hitchcock’s genius was his ability to weave suspense into a story. He was known as the “Master of suspense” for good reason. He had an amazing talent to use both suspense and tension to shock his audience. Some of this was done with camera positions (angles) movement and various shots. Music and lighting also played a big part of aiding in his desire to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. He thrived on startling his audiences with the unexpected, and this is part of my issue with Gone Girl. The audience is on information overload almost from the get go, and while the story seems bent on confusing the audience with so many twists and turns, I was never once surprised. The only thing that actually kept me un-nerved was the Amy’s vehemence and twisted evil undertakings. So, it seems that Gone Girl is reliant upon violence and bloodshed to create dramatic tension and push the plot forward, where Hitchcock used a variety of calculated techniques and strategies to fool the audience and create suspense. Time and time again, Hitchcock artfully lured an audience into a foreshadowing of suspense largely through the use of camera angles, shots, music and lighting.

Much like Hitchcock, the film addresses relevant fears such as: abandonment and rejection, failure, loss, sexism, masculinity and femininity, but it never addresses them in a real way. With so many variables in the plot and melodramatic psychological shifts, it becomes impossible to suspend belief.  We have been fed a smorgasbord of plot twists causing a nasty heartburn and a gassy aftermath, and wondering “why” we decided to dine out at all. This “villainous” twist of a film is one crazy roller coaster ride, but instead of feeling that infamous rush of adrenaline at the end of the ride, we are left with a mishmash of perspectives – perspectives sold to us in the narrative – none of which are earmarked by anything true or reliable. One thing is certain though; Amy is a “shrew” that couldn’t be tamed. “Gone” is the understatement. This girl is lost in a crosswalk.

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Hungry?

I was finally able to go see the current running comedy, Chef the other night, and let me warn you now…don’t go to the theater hungry! It’s a real palate-teaser! You’ll be salivating over the food Chef Carl Casper (Jon Vavreau) serves up – that is if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian. We don’t get to just view the food; we see how it’s prepared! From the speed slicing to watching Casper butcher a pig, it’s all about cuisine, even though a Los Angeles Times food critic (Oliver Platt) is less-than impressed.

Serving up a star-studded cast: Chef star writer/director, Jon Favreau, the ever-sexy Scarlett Johansson, stunning Sophia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, sous chef buddy, John Leguizamo, adorable Emjay Anthony, Casper’s 10-year-old son, who frequently steals the show, Oliver Platt and a fleeting encounter with Robert Downey Jr., whose character is offbeat and probably unnecessary.

Chef Casper is an outstanding chef, or at least he used to cook from the heart, but things have been going downhill for the robust cook. Newly divorced, he tries to juggle fatherhood while working as the head chef at a thriving restaurant in Los Angeles.

His claim to fame quickly comes to a halt when his boss forces him to stick to the “traditional, boring” menu, and he’s given an insulting review in the Times. In an effort to reclaim his honor, Casper gets his son to help him set up a Twitter account and publicly confronts the reporter on Twitter, setting off a widespread cyber war. As a result, the angry chef gets fired and finds himself in a pickle!

Casper’s ex-wife, the lovely Vergara makes him an offer he can’t refuse: She gets him to accompany her and their son to Miami, where she arranges a meeting between her wealthy first ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr), and Casper. Casper is given a dilapidated food truck so he can get back to basics and cook the way he wants.

If you haven’t salivated yet, I assure you it will happen once the food truck is cleaned and remodeled. Aye carumba! Joined by his cooking buddy Martin (John Leguizamo), who shows up out of nowhere, Casper taps into his creative side and creates a Cuban sandwich menu sensation. Casper, his son Percy and Martin cook their way back to L.A. – road trip style. Midpoint, the film becomes ridiculously predictable. There are no surprises, but there’s some good Latin music, great looking food, and moments of sentimentality as the chef enjoys much needed “quality” time father-son moments while on the road, blogging and tweeting as they go!

By the time “El Jef Cabanos” makes it back to L.A., Chef Casper’s fame has spread through the land! He’s back, cooking his own food and all’s well that ends well. Not only does Chef Casper get his creative juices flowing, his relationship with his ex-wife and Percy are fully restored, and the journalist who gave Chef a bad rap is now singing his praises after downing one of his Cuban sandwiches. So much so, that he backs him and Chef Casper opens his own restaurant! Although the film is ridiculously predictable, and the plot resolutions are somewhat contrived and unrealistic, it has some endearing moments, and the food looks pretty amazing.

Guaranteed… you’ll walk away hungry!

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What happened?

I have been sitting at my desk working on writing for 2 straight days.  Of course, I slept and ate, but you get the idea.

Anyway… I actually started writing this post when the movie Noah came out, which was back in March.  I haven’t had a minute to work on this blog, or any other blog.  Life can get very busy.

So, back in March (the week Noah came out), I decided to see the latest and greatest version — you know, Noah, take two!

There’s no denying that Darren Aronofsky’s Bible epic was well-acted.  How do you write a bad review about Russell Crowe.  It doesn’t happen too often. He’s a great actor, and he played the part of Noah well.  That doesn’t mean that I agree with the way Noah’s character was written, because I found it oddly interpreted, but Crowe performed well. He, which is not surprising, really takes on the roll. Most all of the other characters were underdeveloped, and that is another issue in my estimation. Noah himself definitely gets top billing, and somewhat holds the film together.  He is in a constant state of revision, flitting between hero to anti-hero almost overnight, when he becomes quite obsessed with the idea that “all humanity,” including his family have entirely missed the mark, will be punished and completely destroyed.  Guess he figures he’ll just continue where God leaves off.  He will stop at nothing to see that end accomplished too, even if it means destroying one of his kids, and much like Moses, sacrificing one of his own (his sons newborn twins).  His poor wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), is beside herself, and rightly so. Even more interesting is the antagonist that was added to the story.  Tubal-Cain, Noah’s macho-macho man rival defines the word narcissist. It actually becomes almost comical when he manages to break through the middle of the arch and camp out with the animals as a stowaway, and then winning Noah’s son over for a time.  I suppose Aronofsky felt the storyline needed some spicing up with the addition of this character and crazy sub-plot, but in no way does this deliver or even make sense.

It’s certainly easy to understand why the Christian community didn’t respond favorably to Noah.  It was not even close to accurate — at least, according to the bible.  It should be noted, that Noah is a “lose” adaptation, and often times adaptations are changed.  However, because Aronofsky makes so many changes, and ads so much fantasy, it’s past the point of believable, and moves into being just plain weird. From the mystical, expanding earth that moves through the audience through time in an instant, to the “Watchers,” the dark, sci-fi creatures that sound like Darth Vader remnants, it leaves one with the feeling that they are on an exhausting adventure ride at Disneyland. Even popcorn didn’t appease.

No doubt, the ark is impressive, and watching every creature surge toward the arch two by two, is fairly entertaining. Aronofsky doesn’t just use biblical text as his source; there is quite a potpourri from various religions, which includes: pre-Christian paganism, the Quran, Greek mythology, the Big Bang theory, and other literary works.  Also, I don’t think Noah and his famiglia were sporting English accents either, and most all of the main characters seemed to miss out on the fact that this takes place pre Great Britain (haha, actually pre-much of anything!).

In addition to the screenplay having poorly developed characters, Aronofsky taking near-laughable creative liberties, and a conglomeration of elements (as if pulled out of a hat), this action, sci-fi, epic adventure was grossly over-written.  By the end of this big screen fiasco, I found myself sitting in the darkened theater shaking my head and asking myself, “What happened?”

Russell Crowe as Noah

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Lord of the Rings?  Star Wars?  There was certainly the hint of Yoda.

 

August Osage County: Film vs. the play

Sometimes theatrical plays don’t translate well onto the screen.  I suspect, based on my reading of the play (I have not seen the production), that this might be the case with Tracy Letts Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County, vs. his movie adaptation.

In the play, the first line of the prologue is revelatory. “Life is very long…” (10) This intensely dark comedy epitomizes the term “baggage” with the unfolding of every single character within the play, and Letts uses their dysfunctional personal and interpersonal dynamics to set the tone in the storyline, which drives the plot forward.  This is certainly the case in the film as well.  The audience is told that life is long against a backdrop of miles flat Oklahoma fields–fields that seem to go on forever.

There is no doubt that Meryl Streep lives up to her reputation, and executes a brilliant performance playing Violet, the cancer-laden, vicious, pill-popping, abusive, bitter Weston family matriarch. This untamed shrew is at the helm of her entire family’s extreme dysfunction.  Despite the amazing performances by Streep, and even with the all-star cast in this adaptation, the film has some issues.  Let’s start with the fact that the trailer sets this film up as a comedy, but in no way is this storyline comedic, in fact, it is epitomizes that worst kind of individual and family dysfunction.  It’s brutal.

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Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer, spews venomous words in rapid fire against every member of her family–to include her daughters, following her husbands suicide.  Violet is toxic and overbearing; she is nothing short of a monster. Her “truth-telling” takes sharing and disclosure to a new level. Julia Roberts plays her eldest daughter Barbara, who is the acorn that didn’t fall too far from the tree.  Roberts also delivers a stunning performance, but having two characters that are this “large,” seems to take away from the  intensity of the other.  Even though I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing August Osage County on stage, I can’t help but believe these two characters, in particular, would be better slated for the stage than the screen.

Some of the themes so present in the play are muddied when adapted over into a film.  Such as the disconnect present in a family who are aimlessly going through the motions of life, and none of them are on the same page. At times, it felt contrived.  Also, the dinner-table scene goes on and on, and is somewhat stifling.

At the core, this story is about abuse, and generational abuse shared between all the women in this family, and all of the many skeletons that are in their closets.

When a story comes together in a film… well, it’s

MAGICAL!!!

For those of you who haven’t yet seen Saving Mr. Banks, I highly recommend it.  Based on the true story of P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins children’s books, Saving Mr. Banks promises to entertain, prod emotion, and warm the heart.

The story is about the making of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, and how Disney wooed author P.L. Travers to allow him to make a film about her “magical” nanny.  As expected, Emma Thompson (P.L.Travers) and Tom Hanks (Walt Disney) give absolutely wonderful performances.  The author juxtaposes the unbending, surly personality of P.L.Travers’ character, against warm-hearted, passionate and determined Walt Disney, and it works well in the storyline.  Of course, while the film’s final scene between Disney and Traver’s is endearing and heart-warming, it is completely embellished.  The real story portrays a very unhappy Travers over the final outcome of the film, and it appears Disney and Travers end things on a very sour note.

However, the film keeps the moment magical, and it works. Our hearts are lifted, and we (the audience) are contented.

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Saving Mr. Banks manages to weave together two separate stories: the story of Ginty, an eight-year-old Australian girl and her relationship with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).  Ginty and her father have a unique, close-knit, loving relationship that is dramatically affected by his love for the bottle.  When his life is cut short, and he dies, Ginty’s life is forever affected. The bulk of the narrative is Disney’s pursuit of the story, and the things that transpire once Travers is flown to Los Angeles to meet the writers (screenwriting and songwriting) who hope to take the Mary Poppins’ stories and adapt them for the screen.

Travers is not easy won, which really adds to the complex scope of her character.  She is cold, indifferent, calloused, and clearly flawed.  Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith did a great job of jarring the audiences emotions with this character, and Thompson gives a rave performance.

From the time Travers arrives in Los Angeles, she is uncomfortable and unyielding, in fact, the only one who is really able to crack through her hard-hearted shell, is the friendly limo driver (Paul Giamatti) provided by Disney.  He touches the heart of Travers; something that Disney is really never able to do.  She is taken off-guard, as he gives her the grand tour of L.A. and takes her to Disneyland.  Her relationship with the driver is sincere and gives us a sense of “who” Travers “really” is, when she is normally complex, irritable, and very difficult to deal with.  Giamatti’s relationship with Travers is endearing and uplifting.

One of the biggest issues with the script, is the continual flashbacks from the present (life in the 60’s) to Ginty’s troubled childhood in Australia. These flashbacks are used to slowly unveil the complexities that surround Travers and her icy personality.   Flashbacks are tricky and can often be risky, but somehow, they work in Saving Mr. Banks.  Eventually, the audience is made aware of “why” Travers is so protective over her work; it is related to her need to protect her father.  Knowing this history gives the audience a greater understanding and appreciation for Travers.  We become engaged, and we care about this character. It’s powerful when the audience cares about the protagonist.

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The film is actually more about struggle than anything else.  While we “think” it’s about how Mary Poppins was made, it’s really much more than that.  Both Travers and Disney had troubled childhoods.  Disney choose fantasy as a way to ease his own past and conquer his demons, where Travers plummeted herself into her books about a magical nanny–a nanny that would simple whisk heartache and care away.  Travers looks at the world through hardness and disappointment, and Disney creates a new world–a happy place to shield himself from pain.  It’s a compelling comparison.

No doubt, Saving Mr. Banks is well-worth seeing.  It encapsulates the word, “entertainment,” and makes the heart glad.  ❤

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I love incredible movie moments

I’ve been reading Solomon Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, and it’s been quite a revealing narrative — a 12- year nightmare, truthfully.

I’ve been eager to see the film adaptation, and I went last night.  It did not disappoint. It  is incredibly sobering.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly acted, but unsparing and gut-wrenching. John Ridley did an amazing job with this script, and Steve McQueen’s directing is equally good.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96% rating, and it’s no wonder. “It’s far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave’s unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant — and quite possibly essential — cinema.” — Rotten Tomatoes

I couldn’t agree more with the review posted on Rotten Tomatoes.  The fact that this is written from Solomon Northup’s perspective only makes the intensity of the story that much greater.  This has top billing in my book, but beware, it’s graphic and boldly honest, so if you have a weak stomach, you might want to re-think viewing this.

Brilliant writing, brilliant acting, brilliant directing = incredible movie moments.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIqodUJ-UfM