Wednesday, April 24, 2013

42 (2013)

Written & Directed by Brian Helgeland

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  April 15, 2013  5:00PM

It would seem unimaginable that a person today would be allowed to loudly scream racial epithets at someone in public without no one even raising an eyebrow. The fact is that not so long ago, that type of behavior was widely accepted and most likely, others would begin to spit out their own additional ugly insults.

In the uplifting and inspirational film, "42", which tells the controversial story of an African-American, Jackie Robinson (portrayed in a star-making turn by Chadwick Boseman) and his difficult struggle to simply play professional baseball along side Caucasian men. This moment occurs when the Philadelphia Phillies manager (bravely played by Alan Tudyk) repeatedly shouts out every derogatory name he can think of at the player. The purpose is not so much to rattle Robinson but to remind him that he's not at all welcome in white baseball.

It all began when Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), a former ballplayer and now the GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers decided it was time to have a black player on the team. First, the ideal candidate had to be found who is not only a great player but has the inner strength to withstand and not react to the verbal abuse that will most certainly be directed at him. Jackie Robinson, a promising player in the Negro league, is selected. The plan is to first have Robinson join the Montreal Royals which was part of Brooklyn's International league in 1946. Living in Pasadena, California, Robinson heads out to spring training with his new bride, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) for support. Rickey also arranges for Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), an African-American sports writer to not only cover this ground-breaking moment but help keep a watchful eye over the player.

Motivated not only by monetary gain but a lifelong desire to do the right thing,  Rickey knew that the integration of baseball would be highly complicated nor easily accepted but still he underestimated the extreme hostility and resistance to the very idea. Even before Robinson had set foot in the locker room, many of his future teammates signed a petition against him joining the Dodgers but Rickey informs them that he would be more than willing to trade any unhappy player to another team.

Now a member of the famed ball team and given the number "42", Robinson was fully aware of what he was getting in to but failed to take in to account the personal toil it would take, leaving him feeling isolated and highly frustrated. But he manages to find the inner strength to endure as he realizes the hardships he faces are a means to an end.

"42" is set in the early stages before the civil rights movement when change was in the air as some began to seriously question the injustices placed upon minorities, regardless of whether society at large was ready or willing to adapt. The film doesn't shy away from the ugliness that comes from that fear and the desperation to hang on to convention . This point is driven home in a scene where a father and son are together to enjoy a baseball game. Shortly after Robinson enters the field, the father begins shouting the N-word as the young boy is shocked and slightly dismayed. However, as soon as the crowd begins to roar louder with additional disturbing taunts directed at the player, the child feels obligated to join the mob.

This isn't the first time Robinson's story has been told on film as the 1950, "The Jackie Robinson Story" has the ballplayer actually playing himself. That film was more of a rush-job to capitalize on the controversy but with "42", writer/director Brian Helgeland has crafted a film with a broader emotional scope and rich visual design. Mr. Helgeland has been best known for many years as a respected writer in Hollywood, responsible for such films as "Mystic River", "Man on Fire" and "L.A. Confidential" (which won him an Oscar in 1997), but this is only the third time he has directed (although technically his fourth as he kept the credit on his first, the 1999 Mel Gibson thriller, "Payback" but the studio did not release his cut of the film). Following the forgettable "A Knight's Tale" and "The Order", "42" is clearly his most impressive, filled with heartfelt performances, majestic camera-work by Don Burgess and, not surprisingly, a thoughtful, well-written screenplay although it doesn't venture far enough out of the traditional "based-on-a-true-story" format.

This may be the first high-profile role for Chadwick Boseman but clearly just the beginning of a long film career ahead. Much like what Daniel Day-Lewis had to do with his performance in "Lincoln", the actor had to dig deep to bring out the humanity of a heroic figure whose character has been shaped by folklore. While not completely successful, Boseman manages to make a compelling impression and displays a promising future. It has been a while since Harrison Ford has had a part where he hasn't coasted on his movie-star charisma but here he seems to relish the opportunity to play a character while delivering a richly nuanced performance

"42" suffers the same fate as many of the bio-pics that receives the blessing of the estate; you no longer have an accurate portrait of a flesh & blood individual but the glorified idea of who that person was. No matter. The film remains a powerful and moving tribute to one brave man who stood up to the difficult challenge of being the first, so that many would be given the opportunity to follow behind him.


Friday, April 19, 2013


Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward appear on the poster for this year's Cannes Film Festival. This photo of the beautiful couple was shot during the filming of 1963's " A New Kind of Love" and was selected to honor the late actor (who won the Best Actor award at the festival in 1958) and the well-respected actress (winning the Best Actress prize in 1972) and their amazing performances throughout their long career in Hollywood.

Baz Lurhmann's big and bold version of "The Great Gatsby" (which stars Leonardo diCaprio and Carey Mulligan) kicks open the international festival on May 15th with the event concluding on May 26th with the closing night film, "Zulu". This English-language crime-drama is headed by Forrest Whitaker, Orlando Bloom and directed by French filmmaker, Jérôme Salle.

Steven Spielberg will head this year's jury and actress, Audrey Tautou will host the opening and closing ceremonies. In between will be films competing for grand prizes including works by Roman Polanski ("Venus in Fur"), The Coen Brothers ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), François Ozon ("Jeune and Jolie"), Alexander Payne ("Nebraska"), Nicolas Winding Refn ("Only God Forgives") and Steven Soderbergh ("Behind The Candelabra" which is airing in the U.S. as a television movie).

Films selected for Un Certain Regard will feature the latest by Sofia Coppola ("The Bling Ring"), Claire Denis ("Les Salauds"),  James Franco ("As I Lay Dying") and the Grand Jury prize winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Fruitvale Station", directed by Ryan Coogler.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Written & Directed by Tyler Perry

Where & When: MJR Theaters, Westland, MI  April 3, 2013  9:35 PM

I don't know why I keep allowing myself to be lured in to seeing yet another Tyler Perry movie but there I was, groaning through every torturous minute of his latest drama, "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor". Perhaps it's in the hope that I may finally be able to scream from the rooftops that Mr. Perry has finally crafted a superior film but alas, that still has not come to pass. The writer/director has once again failed to impress as the film suffers from the usual infuriatingly, unimaginative dialogue, underdeveloped characters, unrestrained emotions, and overly simplistic plot conventions. Yet, Mr. Perry feels no strong need to alter a single moment as the audience for his brand of spiritually uplifting cinema turn out religiously to savor every new comedy or drama making him one of the most financially successful independent filmmakers of all-time. I absolutely understand the desire to support the rare African-American film maker out there but it feels like he's been virtually making the same film, using the same exact formula since his cinematic writing debut of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" back in 2005. Mr. Perry, I feel certain, has the potential to stretch as an artist as well as challenge himself (and his audience) with a deeper and richer experience.

In "Temptation", Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross) have been in love since they were children and knew their future would always be together. As soon as they are able, the young couple are married and while Judith's devout mother (Ella Joyce) doesn't approve, she's well aware that she can't stand in the way of such passionate devotion.

Moving to Atlanta, Brice fulfills his dream of working as a pharmacist but Judith isn't nearly as fortunate. Although she wants to be a marriage counselor, she has to settle by working for a highly successful match-matching business run by the colorfully flamboyant, Janice (played by Vanessa Williams, speaking in a ridiculous, unrecognizable accent). Judith makes no attempt to disguise the contempt she has for her new position, much to the annoyance of her co-worker, Ava (Kim Kardashian) who is supposed to show Judith the ropes.

Harley (Robbie Jones), a handsome and very wealthy businessman is not only interested in investing in the company but also in the lovely, Judith. They wind up working closely together with Harley coming on hot and heavy, trying to seduce the happily married woman. You would think Judith would be able to easily resist the mogul's charming but aggressive advances however, she becomes seriously tempted by the sexy millionaire. Soon, Judith finds herself torn as she loves her simple but devoted husband but is very attracted to the high-rolling lifestyle that Harley has to offer.

Many of the director's films began life as a theatrical work and "Temptation" is no exception. But there was no attempt to broaden the stage play as it heads down a highly predictable path where you know what's going to happen long before it ever hits the characters. Mr. Perry has no concept of what "subtly" means and seems to have based his ideas of drama from soap operas where melodramatic story-telling, overwrought acting and over-the-top plot twists are the norm.

Ms Smollett-Bell, who you might recall as a child performer that was very impressive in her first leading role in the Southern drama, "Eve's Bayou", has grown-up quite nicely and still quite an impressive talent. She is clearly the best thing here as the actress helps make all this silliness appear engaging despite being called on to behave wildly out of character at times. That is a problem that occurs throughout as people respond or conduct themselves in ways that come without warning or explanation, serving only to push the underwritten plot forward.

With "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor", Tyler Perry continues to add to his string of heavy-handed but highly popular films. The director may produce much needed films that looks in to the lives of African-Americans who tend to be largely ignored by Hollywood yet seems to believe that his faithful audience doesn't deserve much better than mediocrity.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

ROGER EBERT (1942 - 2013)

Roger Ebert, the highly influential film critic for the Chicago Sun Times and the man, along with the late critic, Gene Siskel , who introduced the terms, "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to television audiences on the film review program, "At The Movies" has passed away today after a long battle with cancer.

I may not have always agreed with Mr. Ebert on some of his reviews but what always came through, regardless of what he thought about a film, was his true love and deep passion of the cinematic experience. He certainly contributed to helping make film criticism a respected form of journalism and even won the Pulitzer Prize for his work. But it was his television show that made him a famous and recognizable personality that even earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Roger Ebert helped me understand cinema better and completely changed the way I watch a film. For this, I will be eternally grateful. His great talent will truly be missed.

Here is Siskel & Ebert's original review of "Jurrasic Park" which just happens to be out in theaters right now in a new 3D version: