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Monday, August 12, 2013

Love Me Tender

Given his popularity at the time (1956) it seemed logical to take Elvis Presley from the world of rock and roll and transplant him into a Hollywood movie. This first effort, directed by Robert D Webb, highlights the highs and the lows that can be found in every movie Elvis did after this one. The highs are the musical numbers and any scenes where Elvis can relax and use his natural charm to carry the story from point A to point B. The lows are the moments in the movie when Elvis actually has to act. As for the plot, it’s the story of a band of brothers serving in the Confederate army who rob a Union payroll. When they find out the war is over, they decide to keep the loot to start their new lives now that they can go home. On their arrival, they discover that the brother they left behind (Elvis) has gone and married the girl they left behind (Debra Paget). They all try to get along, but the hurt runs deep and tears the brothers apart. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Niagara

Anybody who says they don’t “get it” when it comes to Marilyn Monroe being a cinematic icon needs to check out this tawdry little thriller from director Henry Hathaway. It’s the story of a young couple (Jean Peters and max Showalter) whose honeymoon at Niagara Falls turns deadly when they meet a troubled Korean War veteran (Joseph Cotton) and his sleazy bombshell wife, Rose (Monroe). The movie is well plotted, with a neat little twist halfway through, but it’s Monroe’s performance that keeps you riveted to the screen. When she comes out of her motel room to crash a teenage record party, wearing a skin-tight vibrant pink dress that is cut so low in front “that you can see her knees,” the electricity that comes off the screen will make your cinematic spine shiver. Her performance is raw enough to be believable, especially when she’s belittling the husband she’s trapped with until death do they part.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

Let’s face it. If DC put out a DVD that had just The Flash on the title, chances are you’d pass it by. He may be the fastest man alive, but he’s also a bit of a one trick pony whose trick gets very old, very fast, So it was a genius movie to disguise the Flash story under the bigger umbrella of the Justice League. And it wasn’t the only genius move the filmmakers made. The story is told in an alternate universe where Barry Allen isn’t The Flash, Batman is actually Bruce Wayne’s father, Superman is trapped in an Area 51-style prison for alien invaders and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are going toe-to-toe in a World War III level fight for control of the planet. It’s such a cool universe that you almost don’t want the big secret to be revealed at the end so things can go back to ‘normal’. Thankfully, the creators carry off the big ending with the same level of style.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State

They are the unsung heroes who battle big companies and even bigger government bureaucracy to make sure bad people pay for doing bad things…unsung, and often unappreciated, unrewarded and, in a lot of cases, swiftly unemployed. They are the whistleblowers, people who see something so wrong happening at their workplace that they risk just about everything they have to drag those responsible out into the light, or at least out under the harsh light of the media. This fascinating – and inspiring -- documentary from director Robert Greenwald (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price) takes the audience behind the headlines to meet the people and get a better sense of why they decided to drop the dime in the first place. It also gives viewers a clear picture of how the powerful use every means they have to not only squash the whistler before anyone hears the sound being blown, but the lengths they will go to to retaliate against anybody who dares accuse them in the first place. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Silence

A young girl is brutally raped and murdered in 1986. Twenty-three years later, another girl is killed in the same exact location and all the evidence points to the new crime having been committed by the same man. Although it is set up as a police procedural, this new film from writer/director Baran bo Odar is far more interested in exploring the psychology of the killer – and those investigating the crime or related to the victim -- than simply explaining who the murderer really is.  We witness the first crime in all its brutality and then we are transported to the world as it exists more than two decades later, a world where not all of the people involved in crime or the investigation have moved on. You may spend a lot of time trying to guess who the murderer really is, and you may just get it right in the end. When you find out why they did it, though, you will be blown away.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Joanna Lumley’s Nile

To those who only know her from her work as Patsy Stone on Absolutely Fabulous or as Purdey on The New Avengers, you may not think that Joanna Lumley has what it takes to do a travel show. Well, think again. In this 2010 UK TV series, Lumley makes the 4,000 mile journey from the mouth of the Nile River in Egypt to its source in Uganda. Along the way he not only has a series of engaging adventures, but manage to do the almost impossible feat of avoiding 99% of the travel documentary clich├ęs that make most travel specials like this so boring to watch. The key to the series’ success isn’t so much Lumley’s gung-ho attitude in attacking any challenge that comes her way, but her unique world view, honed by years growing up as an army brat, a fashion model and a celebrated actress. It’s fun to watch her laugh when a crewman aboard a dodgy night ferry recognizes her as a Bond girl, but it’s funnier to watch her react to the less than sanitary facilities for women aboard the ship.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Darwin’s Brave New World

Socratis Otto stars as Charles Darwin in this three-disc docudrama about how the young evolutionist came up with his theories and the struggle he went through to make the world understand that man as we know him today owes a lot to ancestors he may not be willing to admit are his. The first part of the series works the best as we see Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle traveling around the South Pacific discovering strange and wonderful creatures that virtually no man – and certainly no scientist – has seen before. The program falters a bit when it tries to show Darwin’s struggle to boil down everything he saw into a single comprehensive theory. Part of the problem is that the filmmakers can’t really decide how to show the inner turmoil in images the audience can understand; it all looks a bit too trippy. The way they present his case in a readably understandable way, once Darwin has figured it all out, works much better.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Trance

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art house auctioneer who helps organize the theft of a valuable painting from his place of employment. During the heist, Simon gets knocked out by a blow to the head and wakes up without any memory of where he stashed the priceless work of art, so the bad guys decide to send him to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to try and help him remember. Working from a script by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, director Danny Boyle creates a psychological thriller with more twists than a Slinky in a blender. And while the story may get a bit too complicated at times for some viewers, the cast does such a great job selling the story that it’s easy to let the more outrageous aspects of the film slide. Boyle’s borderline grandiose visual style keeps your eyes glued to the screen, too, which helps keep you on track.