The Film Gang

Whiplash

Play

Listen above to the review by Dennis Morton, and read it below.

Whiplash is a film that raises lots of questions but leaves many of them unanswered. And if, at times, we viewers feel that we’ve been lashed with a whip, well, rhetorically speaking – we have.

The story is rather simple. Andrew, a young guy in his first year at a prestigious music academy in New York City, wants to become the best jazz drummer in the world. Terence Fletcher, on the faculty of the academy, is the school’s best instructor. Andrew’s nascent talent comes to Fletcher’s attention.

The problem for Andrew, and all the students under Fletcher’s purview, is that Fletcher is a mean and nasty guy. He brooks no deviation from his expectations. He is preposterously demanding and to say that he is verbally abusive is a massive understatement. His rants range from sexist to homophobic. He’ll pretend, for a moment, to be interested in the personal life of a student, but it’s just a gathering of ammunition to be fired at an opportune time.

Because there are several moments when Fletcher is, or appears to be, human and vulnerable, we wonder how he came to be the ugly man he seems to be. Writer / director Damien Chazelle does not provide us with the answer. Like his students, we, the viewers, must accept Fletcher as he is. And it is J.K. Simmons brilliant performance that makes it possible for us to do that.

Whiplash is a two person show. Miles Teller, who plays Andrew, is equally brilliant in his role. The big question regarding Andrew is: how much abuse can he tolerate from Fletcher. Ultimately, director Chazelle does provide that answer.

We do get a few brief hints about the events that have shaped Andrew’s life. These are provided at a family dinner. Present are Andrew’s ubiquitous father, his two cousins and presumably, his aunt and uncle. The cousins arrive a bit late. Just prior to that, Andrew is answering a question about how things are going at music school. His response is interrupted when the cousins show up. Immediately, all attention if focused on them. One has just scored a 93 yard touchdown. The other has just learned that he’s being considered for a Rhodes Scholarship. So much for Andrew, it would appear. But not so. Unexpectedly, in a one-sided bout of verbal fisticuffs, Andrew demolishes his cousins’ achievements. And we are left to wonder if, somewhere under the skin, there’s a bit of Fletcher lurking in Andrew.

There are a few scenes in Whiplash that strain credulity. On the way to a big band competition, an unlikely series of automotive mishaps threatens Andrew’s timely arrival. But perseverance prevails and a bloodied Andrew arrives in the nick of time.

Notwithstanding who prevails or who loses, and when – it’s J. K. Simmons and Miles Teller that make Whiplash a worthy investment of your movie going time. Their performances are simply magnificent.

‘Rotten Tomatoes’, a website that gathers movie reviews, reports that Whiplash is a huge success, among critics and viewers. An astonishing 96% of critics and 96% of viewers have given it positive ratings. Don’t miss Whiplash.

Force Majeure

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above / read it below.

‘Force majeure’ is a phrase I’d never heard of. So, I looked it up. In general, it’s a legal term – in contract law. It refers to a major event, unforeseen by the parties to an agreement. A ‘force majeure’ can render a contract void should one of the parties successfully claim it as a reason for not being able to fulfill the terms of an agreement.
It turns out to be a perfect title for Swedish director, Ruben Ostlund’s latest film.

Force Majeure is a study of human behavior in the aftermath of a perceived mortal threat. The idea for the film came from an incident in the lives of friends of the director – a married couple who were vacationing in Latin America. One day, from seemingly nowhere, gunmen appeared and began shooting. The husband bolted for cover, leaving his wife unprotected. They both survived, but when they returned to Sweden, if the wife had consumed a glass or two of wine, she told the story over and over, simply couldn’t get it out of her mind.

In Ostlund’s film, we closely observe five days in the life of a Swedish family on a skiing vacation in the French Alps. Ostensibly, the purpose of the vacation is to provide the father, a successful businessman named Tomas, some down time to spend with his family. The locale is a bit upscale and the mountain-scape exceedingly gorgeous. Tomas, his wife Ebba, and their preteen children, Vera and Harry, are more than passable skiers. Watching the family zig zag down the slopes is a minor, but enjoyable part of the film.

Day One goes fine. The family skis. The food is good. And Ebba meets an unnamed woman, about her own age, who is vacationing solo – having left her hubby and kids back home. Ebba is astonished to learn that her new acquaintance is an eager practitioner of free love. And, she is eloquent in defense of her life-style.

Day Two begins just as fine as Day One. After a morning on the slopes, the family has lunch on the balcony of their hotel, overlooking the unspeakable majesty of the snow covered mountains. Lunch is momentarily interrupted by the sound of an explosion. Tomas tells Ebba not to be concerned. The purpose of the explosion, he explains, is to precipitate a ‘controlled avalanche’, one that will prevent a spontaneous, and potentially dangerous, real avalanche. What happens next is at the core of the film, and I shall remain mum about it.

But the aftermath of the event consumes the emotional lives of every member of the family for the duration of their vacation. We are treated to ruminations about the psychological consequences of society’s expectation of heroism. Significant and articulate ponderings of gender roles, cowardice, and the intuition of children are explored. And, perhaps the biggest subject that director Ostlund takes on is the torturous path to forgiveness.

For me, one of the things that makes Force Majeure such an intelligent and powerful film is that it doesn’t really end after the credits have rolled. I left the theater wondering how I might react if confronted with a ‘force majeure’. And, it’s not that I want to find out, but, I haven’t stopped wondering. This film ‘has legs’, and it’s following me. I highly recommend it.

Pride

Play

Listen to a review of this film by Dennis Morton above, or read or below.

 

Any movie that opens with Pete Seeger’s version of Solidarity Forever would have my immediate attention, and I’m very happy to say that throughout the new British release, Pride, my attention never flagged. In fact, I grew ever more rapt as the movie rolled on.

The film opens in the summer of 1984, in London. A gay pride parade is about to commence. One of the leaders of the march, Mark, a young fellow in his twenties, has just coldly flipped off an importunate lover. Mark’s attention is focused, instead, on a news show on the telly. He, and we, learn that a national coal miners’ strike is now in its fourth month, and that 20,000 jobs are in limbo for the interim. Margaret Thatcher defends her government’s reactionary stance to the strike and tells the country the following: I can’t change my style. I’m here to be a good firm leader.

(more…)

The Skeleton Twins

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton, above.

Land Ho!

Play

Listen to the review above, by Dennis Morton.

Boyhood

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and watch the trailer below.

Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, was a very risky venture. You’ve likely heard that it took over twelve years to make, and that he used the same cast throughout. That, in itself, was daring  – taking the chance that each of the cast members would be available for a twelve year shoot.

But, I think there was an even greater risk. Generally, movies succeed on the basis of disguising themselves as reality. We don’t want to enter the theatre and be reminded, over and over, that what we are watching is an assemblage of hundreds of hours of preparation and execution designed to fool us into believing that we’re witnessing a few seamless hours in the lives of the characters.

Linklater must have known that if he succeeded in getting to the finish line, the reality that he’d have created something never attempted in the annals of film history would likely ensure that most folks would be very aware that they were watching a movie. Which is to say – the desired outcome of ‘getting lost’ in the film might well be diminished.

Fortunately, sometimes great risks produce great outcomes, and I am happy to report that Boyhood is among them.

So, what is Boyhood about? Ostensibly, it’s about the childhood, pubescence,  adolescence, and early adulthood of a bright guy named Mason, and about the lives of his closest family members. But I think it’s also a film about time – about how humans negotiate it, use it, abuse it, and, especially, about its velocity.

That Boyhood is about time and its manifestations is no surprise. Prior to Boyhood, my favorite Linklater films were the ‘Before’ trio: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Obviously, Linklater is artfully obsessed with time.

The film opens with six year old Mason lying on his back on a schoolyard lawn,

gazing pensively into the sky. His mom, Olivia, arrives to take him home. In the car, she asks him several questions generated by his teacher’s concerns. Mason’s simple answers establish immediately that he is a bright and unpretentious kid – a magnet for our attention and affections.

Next we are introduced to Mason’s precocious sister, Samantha. Samantha is played beautifully by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei. And we fall in love with her, too.

We now are beginning to know three of the four major characters – sister, brother, and mom. And soon we will meet the estranged father of the family, Mason Sr., played with characteristic excellence by Ethan Hawke.

We discover that mother Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, has a penchant for choosing partners with unhealthy habits. Mason Sr. is an inveterate smoker. He is followed in Olivia’s chain of love interests by an abusive alcoholic, who, in turn, is followed by a guy with an incipient drinking problem.

Boyhood is a powerful portrait of the all too familiar problems faced by many single parent families – divorces, frequent moves, financial difficulties, a disarming rootlessness. Linklater, the endearing Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason Jr., and the entire cast have made a memorable, perhaps even, a great film. Don’t miss it.

 

Ida

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

 

Ida, as we say in English, (the name is pronounced eeda in Polish) is a film that could as well be called Ida & Wanda, or so it seems to me.

I’ve watched Ida four times and each time I’ve been more touched, more moved. But I’m also convinced that it’s as much a portrait of Ida’s aunt, Wanda, as it is of Ida.

(more…)

Belle

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.

Race, bigotry, class, slavery, miscegenation, women as property …. these are a handful of the issues that the film Belle grapples with while disguised as what some are calling ‘a costume drama’.

The film opens in 1769 as John Lindsay, an officer in the British Royal Navy, arrives at an unnamed site to claim his daughter. Her mother, a former West Indian slave, and Lindsay’s lover, has recently died.

Lindsay’s intention is to convince his uncle, Lord Mansfield, who also happens to be the Chief Justice of Britain’s highest court, to care for his daughter while he, Lindsay, is away at sea.

(more…)

13 Sins

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read transcript below.


In a recent conversation with a friend, I mentioned that I’d just watched 13 Sins. I gave him a rundown of the movie, and he said – sounds a lot like The Magic Christian.
So, I looked up a précis of The Magic Christian, which was released in 1969, and sure enough, the over arching theme seems to be similar.

(more…)

See 10 Oscar Nominated Films in About 3 1/2 Hours

Play

KUSP Film Reviewers David Anthony and Dennis Morton

The short films up for Oscars show all the artistry and craft of the feature films  and you can view them in 30 minutes or less usually. KUSP’s film reviewers gave a couple looks at the animated and live action short film categories. Above, hear David Anthony’s review of Oscar nominated short animation films. And here is Dennis Morton’s review of the live action shorts.

Or read on:

Oscar Nominated Short Animation – Review by David Anthony
In the run-up to the 86th 2014 Academy Awards, the category of short film subjects includes two subdivisions, live action and animation. Last week my colleague Dennis Morton discussed the live action nominees. Today I will focus on animated offerings.

(more…)