Archive for the Drama Category

Pawn Sacrifice

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on October 1, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Pawn Sacrifice photo starrating-3stars.jpgIt’s easy to see how a chess match between American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Russian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) became the ultimate Cold War showdown amongst two superpowers. Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union was the defending champion. The Soviet Chess School had long held a monopoly on the game at the highest level and Spassky was the latest in an uninterrupted chain beginning in 1948. The political rivalry separating the Soviet Union from the United States laid the foundation for a clash of mental dexterity that played out in a chess tournament on the world stage. It fascinated America and ignited a widespread chess fever at a height that has never been duplicated since.

Pawn Sacrifice is a handsomely mounted period piece – a fastidiously rendered production with shifting cinematography styles. Director Edward Zwick combines archival footage with shots made to look like the real thing. He uses cinematic tricks like digitally inserting Tobey Maguire into The Dick Cavett Show, as well as using real news reports from the era. When Fischer goes AWOL at the championship, a dozen different news anchors question Bobby’s whereabouts. These filmmaking techniques are showy but they’re never quite as satisfying as good old fashioned conversation between two people. Zwick has assembled an impressive supporting cast including Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard and Robin Weigert as his attorney, his coach, and his mom respectively. Liev Schreiber speaks Russian as Boris Spassky, though his performance is mostly emotive. Each extracts a component of Fischer’s intense intellect.

Ah but Bobby Fischer was one of those marvels tinged with madness. I’d fault the “tortured genius” narrative for endorsing a biopic cliché if it weren’t actually true. Pawn Sacrifice is undoubtedly a skillfully constructed docudrama. However for those hungry for a movie about chess and the intricacies of the game, they will be disappointed. This is a chronicle detailing paranoia, with chess as a backdrop. The filmmakers are more concerned with Fischer’s fragile psychological state than his brilliant mind. The child prodigy that became the youngest international grand master at the age of 15 is merely subtext. Many of the chess matches are kept off screen. Tobey Maguire plays Jewish Brooklyn born Bobby Fischer as a man haunted by demons. He’s a seething ball of neurosis. He tears apart his hotel rooms searching for wiretaps. He complains that his food has been poisoned. The script doesn’t explicitly say chess made him crazy, although the association seems to be that chess exacerbated his mental illness. Why chess became his obsession, and not another pursuit, remains unclear.

Pawn Sacrifice presents Bobby Fischer as a most unlikeable individual. He suffers from moods that fly into a rage at the drop of a hat. He avows the Soviets have been cheating by throwing games to create draws. His devotion to the Worldwide Church of God and its radio evangelism is presented as peculiar. He is anti-Semitic, even though he himself is Jewish. When Fischer finally gets to Reykjavik for the World Chess Championship, he makes everyone wait, taking the stage at the very last possible minute for his first game. Then forfeits the second game by not turning up at all. His prima donna behavior escalates with one outlandish demand after another. He complains that the audience and the TV video cameras are too noisy, refusing to continue unless the tournament is moved from a public hall to a private room. Save for a few coughs, the room appears quiet to us. When Fischer threatens to quit, Henry Kissinger calls to offer words of encouragement. The organizers relent anyway, giving into his demands. This doesn’t endear Bobby to us. Certainly it isn’t necessary to like the central character in order to appreciate a film. Yet we should feel something for this man. The movie entertains in parts but while showing how Bobby Fischer could be a jerk, it neglects to present his humanity. I was captivated during much of Pawn Sacrifice. I wanted to know more about this boy genius, particularly in his early life. It wasn’t until the climax that finally I realized that, after getting to know fellow American Bobby Fischer, I found myself rooting for Boris Spassky.



Posted in Adventure, Biography, Drama, History, Sports with tags on September 28, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Everest photo starrating-4stars.jpgLace up your boots, strap on your pack, and let’s hit the trails. Everest concerns an ill-fated climbing expedition in 1996 to summit the world’s tallest mountain. The account mainly focuses on a crew in the Himalayas headed by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a guide for Adventure Consultants.

Everest has an extended cast of famous names. Most don’t get more than a few lines of dialogue, but nevertheless their familiar presence aids in our affinity for their characters. Rob’s clients include Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a seasoned hiker, Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a former mailman pursuing his dream, and climbing veteran Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has scaled 6 of the 7 summits. Only Everest remains for her. Another excursion is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), the chief guide for Mountain Madness. These tourist treks highlight the commercialization of Everest, which is an underlying theme. Initially they happen to each meet at the base camp first, in preparation for their attempt to reach the apex. The two caravans communicate with Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), who manages the base camp compound. Everest is loosely inspired by the book Into Thin Air by Outside magazine journalist Jon Krakauer. He’s portrayed here by Michael Kelly.

Icelandic born director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, 2 Guns) ups the ante over his previous American films and produces something far more ambitious. Granted this isn’t intellectually deep or technically rich. Narratively it’s fairly straightforward. However there is grace in trusting that the genuine drama of the true story will captivate the viewer….and it does. Green screen technology is used sparingly. Everest was shot on location at Everest base camp. The Dolomite mountains in northern Italy stands in for higher elevations. At times, the chronicle has such a visceral quality, it almost feels like documentary. It does a nice job in depicting the physiological effects of the climb. At higher altitudes even breathing becomes a task because the percentage of oxygen in the air is lower. The conditions force the team to acclimate to the low atmospheric pressure first before continuing.

Everest is a rather simple tale about a quest that ended in tragedy. It’s an old fashioned rip roaring adventure ideally suited to the big screen. Early theater engagements were shown exclusively in IMAX 3D. The attributes of those formats serve this subject well. The visual splendor is beautifully conveyed. Sweeping vistas and aerial photography convey a sense of grandeur. One dizzy overhead shot above a high suspension bridge triggers feelings of acrophobia. This is a saga where nature is the enemy. A grueling storm, frostbite, blindless and the wind all threaten the safety of our courageous explorers. I am neither an experienced mountaineer nor was I present on the actual expedition. Therefore I am not here to vouch for the authenticity of facts of the sport or what really happened. What I am is a film critic, and I can say that Everest absolutely delivers thrilling entertainment.



Posted in Action, Crime, Drama with tags on September 26, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Sicario photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgWelcome to Juarez, a Mexican city along the U.S. border just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Juarez is a battleground for drug cartels and one of the most violent places in the world. This is the setting for director Denis Villeneuve’s latest production which details an ever escalating war on drugs.

Sicario relies on a trio of solid performances. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, a naive FBI agent enlisted to aid in the capture of a dangerous drug lord. She runs a kidnap rescue team, but soon her talents will be pushed far beyond what she normally does. Right from the beginning, Sicario opens with a nightmarish find. Hidden within the plasterboard walls of a harmless looking home are dozens of corpses sealed in plastic bags. It’s a prelude to the vicious methods of the criminal organizations they wish to stop. Josh Brolin is the task force official in charge of the clandestine U.S. operation. Is he DEA? CIA? Something else? His affiliations aren’t clear as is the mysterious “consultant” they hire played by Benicio Del Toro. This the film’s most juicy role and he clearly relishes the part. Kate Macer is by the book. The rest of this crew, seemingly less so.

If there’s an MVP, it’s Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Once again working with Villeneuve (Prisoners), he extracts the art out of a grim drama. There are comprehensive aerial shots of the desert, a stunning night-vision raid, emotive close-ups in a climatic dinner scene. A convoy stopped to a standstill in a traffic jam at the U.S.-Mexico border is a heart-pounding set piece. Car chases are so cliche. Headless figures hung as a warning from an overpass, is a chilling image that lingers long after the picture is over. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s spare music with it’s punchy tones, is rather effective as well.  This is the same guy responsible for the lush orchestrations of The Theory of Everything. Talk about contrasts. It’s more sound design than melody, but the score mines a truly suspenseful feeling.

Sicario is an experience. An air of hopelessness permeates the atmosphere. This isn’t a detailed investigation. It’s a bleak mood piece that gives the viewer a you-are-there perspective. Director Villeneuve showcases the corrupt measures utilized to combat drug trafficking. Sicario is slang for “hitman” in Mexico and the simple title fits. The drama is minimalist, both in the articulated tale as well as style. As Emily Blunt plunges deeper into this sinister world, she registers confusion and uncertainty. To be honest, I wish the script had allowed her to be a bit more shrewd. Although we the audience can easily identify with her bewilderment. Who is this top secret U.S. Agency that she’s working for now? What has she gotten herself into exactly? And is there even a solution to the horrors of the illegal drug trade? So much ambiguity. We don’t get many answers, but such is life I suppose.


The Second Mother

Posted in Drama with tags on September 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Second Mother photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Second Mother is the story of Val (Regina Casé), a maid who works in São Paulo. She has been the live-in housekeeper/nanny for the same family for over a decade. They are father (Lourenço Mutarelli), mother (Karine Teles) and son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas).  Val has a daughter herself named Jessica (Camila Márdila), whom she hasn’t seen in 13 years. Left in the care of relatives back in their small village in Pernambuco, Val has been sending money all these years so her daughter can have a better life and education. Then one day, Jessica decides to come stay in São Paulo in order to take a university admissions exam. Living with Mom and her bosses creates problems.

The Second Mother is essentially a movie about relationships. Writer/director Anna Muylaert is particularly focused on the idea of motherhood. The Brazilian film was originally titled: Que Horas Ela Volta? which literally translates as “What time will she return?”  It’s a chronicle of this woman Val.  The affinity between the wealthy employer’s son who adores her is contradicted by her biological daughter Jessica who holds a grudge.  Their psychological divide is emphasized.  Val is a very humble woman who understands her “place”. Her newly arrived daughter however, does not. Sleeping arrangements, the swimming pool, and even some choice ice cream, all become a bone of contention. Jessica’s forceful, almost arrogant conduct sparks a mixed reaction from the various members of the household. They have always treated their housekeeper with respect, but unspoken class distinctions are brought to the fore as a result of Jessica’s behavior.

At the heart of The Second Mother is a warm, humorous, gently nuanced performance from Regina Casé, a veteran actress of the Brazilian stage and TV. Her daughter’s contemptuous attitude arises out of Jessica’s refusal to accept the social class disparity that separates her mother from her supervisors. Val’s exasperated protestations are amusing, but also quite reasonable. You sympathize with Val. There is a resilience and dignity to her within her deferential demeanor. Her strained relationship with her own daughter is contrasted with the beloved esteem to which her employers’ son, regards her.  And why shouldn’t he? Val raised him from a toddler to adolescence, while her biological offspring is but a stranger to her. Ironically Fabinho’s connection with his own mother is more distant. This slight, at times inconsequential drama, ambles along at a leisurely pace through a series of circumstances that underlie hierarchical social categories in South American life. The examination culminates more with a whimper than a bang, but the journey to get there is fairly interesting nonetheless.


Black Mass

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama on September 18, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Black Mass photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBlack Mass is the true story of Whitey Bulger, an organized crime boss of the Boston Irish mob faction known as the Winter Hill Gang. Indicted for 19 murders and sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years for his offenses on November 14, 2013, he is currently incarcerated. Prior to this, starting in 1975, Bulger served as an FBI informant. He reported on the inner workings of his rivals, the Italian American Patriarca crime family. In exchange, the bureau turned a blind eye to murder. His organization and their illegal doings went unchecked for years. Once Bulger’s relationship with the FBI was finally exposed by the local media, he went into hiding on December 23, 1994. For 12 of the 16 years he was on the lam, Bulger was #2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list, behind only Osama bin Laden.

The infamous Whitey Bulger has been the stuff of legend in popular culture. In 2006 actor Jack Nicholson portrayed Frank Costello, an individual loosely based on Bulger, in The Departed. The reference is especially apropos because Black Mass frequently calls Martin Scorsese to mind. Not just the Best Picture winner, but Goodfellas as well. Watch Johnny Depp rebuke an FBI agent for too readily revealing his “secret” family recipe for a marinade. The intensity with which he takes him to task for a seemingly honest remark, evokes Joe Pesci’s iconic “How am I funny?” scene in Goodfellas.

Black Mass is a well acted character piece. Joel Edgerton is important as John Connolly, the FBI agent who strikes up an alliance with Bulger, abetted by their childhood friendship. Also Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s more respectable brother who chose the political world instead. Billy Bulger was President of the Massachusetts Senate for 18 years. Also of note is is Julianne Nicholson as the wife of John Connolly, who wants nothing to do with her husband’s schemes, and Corey Stoll as no-nonsense prosecutor Fred Wyshak. The latter two take nothing parts and turn them into the kind of roles that justify Oscar campaigns.

The only one that comes up a bit short is its star. I’ll admit, this is the most captivating Johnny Depp has been since Finding Neverland. He’s engaging and fully committed to the portrayal. Bulger is a frightening figure, as mean as they come. He’ll choke a friend’s stepdaughter with his bare hands if he thinks she might know too much. Regrettably his performance must still rely on an elaborate Tim Burton-style makeup job to “age” Depp into the role. The thinning blonde hair, brushed back to reveal a bald scalp, the rotten teeth, the ghostly, icy blue eyes aided by contacts. His pale, angular appearance makes him somewhat unrecognizable, but the transformation is distracting. It’s exaggerated, unnatural. He preys upon the innocent like a seething vampire. I remember back in 2012, critics were comparing Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows to Nosferatu. Well it’s happening all over again.

Black Mass is a solid, well-structured crime drama. The production is handsomely mounted. The cinematography is well photographed. The account doesn’t hold back from what a horrible man Bulger truly was. He puts a bullet in the head of a contrite friend in mid apology. It’s got brutal events carefully detailed in a fascinating true life tale of corruption. So what’s the problem? It’s a well presented series of facts, but it’s not much more. The studied approach requires passion. The film’s deliberate pace is so stately, it’s almost lethargic. In short, it lacks momentum and depth. It’s entertaining enough, a gripping character study bolstered by a supporting cast of earnest performances. However Black Mass won’t join the ranks of the greatest crime dramas. Along the way it often recalls them, but it pales in comparison.


The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Posted in Drama with tags on September 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Diary of a Teenage Girl photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner. The chronicle details the troubled (and troubling) life of young Minnie Goetze, a 15 year old girl in 1976. She and her younger sister are raised by their single, bohemian mother Charlotte in San Francisco. Although the maternal association one has with the word “mother” might not properly convey this frequently dazed, free spirited hippie. Perhaps “roommate” is more apropos. When Minnie’s mother is too busy to go out with her boyfriend Monroe one day, Charlotte spontaneously suggests he take Minnie instead. Do you see where this is heading? If not, bless your pure heart. What starts out as an innocent outing develops into a flirtations exchange. Beside the fact that he is already dating her mother, that Monroe is 35 should cause considerable shock in any mentally sound human being.

Writer/director Marielle Heller has received a lot of credit for bringing Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical novel to life. There’s been plenty of praise for the indie coming-of-age story. The cognoscenti is fond of describing its frank depiction of sexuality as an “honest” meditation on adolescence. Some have invoked the name of J. D. Salinger. Given the title, much of the action is presented in voice over narration to communicate the thoughts and feelings of our title character. Minnie likes to draw and her style references cartoonist Robert Crumb as well as his future wife Aline Kominsky. In fact Minnie admires her so much that Aline occasionally appears in cartoon form to impart wisdom and life lessons. Minnie also confides in her best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters). All of this informs a deep portrait of a life. She is a young woman on the precipice of burgeoning desire. Shy and unsure, she doesn’t see herself as beautiful. Nevertheless she finds she attracts attention from the opposite sex, without even trying. This gives her the confidence to assert herself. She begins to understand how her sexuality influences people. This coming of age informs the dramatic thrust of the story.

The plot developments are indeed disconcerting. There’s no justification for a man of 35 and a girl of 15 to engage in this type of a relationship. Let’s be candid, we’re talking about statutory rape. But strangely, the affair is never presented as predatory or abnormal. Monroe is such a kind, supportive, almost uplifting presence in her life. Minnie seems to benefit from his guidance. She never comes across as a victim, but rather an uninhibited girl with an inquisitive mind…and body. Their interactions aren’t erotic, but they are empowering for her. Their connection deepens into something more than physical. Whether this lack of judgment or comeuppance is something to applaud is certainly questionable. As her life goes even more completely off the rails, the narrative ultimately finds a moral center within its worldview. An LSD trip is actually responsible for her moment of clarity. The account can be disturbing, but it’s so emotionally heartfelt that it never devolves into something exploitative. 23 year old actress Bel Powley believably portrays young Minnie. The gossamer nostalgia hearkens backs to tales of growing up like Summer of ’42. I’ll give it this: the production is an artistically filmed period piece. It recreates the sensibilities of a faction of people for a particular time and place with perfect authenticity.



Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on September 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Phoenix photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpare, naturalistic drama about a woman who makes it out of Auschwitz. The setting is Berlin. The time 1945, post World War II. Nelly is a German Jew and a Holocaust survivor. Injured and left for dead by the Nazis. Her face now wrapped in gauze as a result of a gunshot wound to the face. A disfigurement occurring even before the picture has even started. She is accompanied by her good friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf) who drives her back into Germany through an American checkpoint. Nelly wants to locate her husband Johannes (Ronald Zehrfeld) nicknamed ‘Johnny’, who happens to be a non-Jew. Lene would rather have both of them just leave the country without him, move to Palestine and help establish a Jewish state. However, Nelly is troubled by the past, not the future. To reunite with her erstwhile spouse is her main objective.

Phoenix concerns people picking up the pieces of their lives after the war. German director Christian Petzold has worked in this realm with Nina Hoss previously. This is his 6th movie with her as his muse. In the story, her physical and emotional identity has been obliterated. Her surgeon wishes to “re-create” her, to give her a new face and hence a new identity. Despite his recommendation, she wants to looks exactly as she did. The drastic reconstructive surgery is an unbelievable success. Save for a few minor facial scars, Nina is remarkably beautiful. She looks like herself, but then again she doesn’t. She appears different enough that her own husband doesn’t recognize her. Yet there are still enough similarities to her previous physical appearance to suggest a resemblence. The whole conceit strains credibility, so don’t think about it too hard.

There’s a lot of ambiguity here. Pale and thin, she has returned like a ghost in search of her past. She visits the bombed out rubble of her bygone home like a specter floating over the ruins. Nina was a singer before the war. Her husband, a pianist. As a Holocaust survivor, Nelly has risen from the ashes of the past. Phoenix symbolically describes her progress, but it’s also the name of the club at which she finds her husband working. Kurt Weill’s melody, “Speak Low” is a recurring score that pops up here and there. The tone of the drama is pensive and atmospherically haunting, but it’s very vague. The way these two souls interact is a long drawn out game of deception and remembrance. You’ll have lots of questions as the narrative unfolds. What exactly are these people thinking? Their tentative relationship is based on cryptic intentions. Director Christian Petzold keeps all of these questions unanswered on purpose as Nina goes in search of her former self and for truth. Just simmer for awhile in the pensive mood. The mystery ultimately builds to a perfectly constructed moment of clarity.


Mistress America

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Mistress America photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNoah Baumbach’s latest character drama is a slender abstraction in search of a meaningful narrative. This isn’t a story but a series of witticisms strung together as entertainment. Actress Lola Kirke is Tracy Fishko, a drab artsy college student. She is starting her freshman year at Barnard, that oh-so-selective liberal arts college for women in Manhattan. She has no friends, flirts unsuccessfully with Tony, a potential boyfriend turned buddy, and is rejected by the school’s elite literary society. Then her life takes a turn for the better when she calls her soon-to-be step-sister. Brooke Cardenas is a bubbly Times Square resident who “does everything and nothing”. That’s according to Tracy’s assessment. She wavers between spin-class instructor, math tutor, freelance interior designer and whatever else strikes her fancy. Brooke is larger than life, a gal about town. Our tale centers around their night of unbridled whimsy. Tracy seems to idolize her. Or does she?

These individuals don’t talk to each other, but rather at each other knowing full well we the audience are eavesdropping on their affected conversation. These aren’t people as we know them, but models of pseudo-intellectual posturing. A chum photographs Brooke in a club and she loudly proclaims “Must we document ourselves all the time? Must we?” The sheer volume at which she makes this declaration ostensibly so that everyone within earshot can applaud her specious display of modesty. She never stops, constantly in motion, incessantly talking. On several occasions I was compelled to simply shake this woman free from her all-encompassing fog of self-interest. It’s inexhaustible. “Could you please just shut up for 2 seconds?! Seriously, please.” Brooke never stops to take a breath for fear that she might actually hear something other than the sound of her own voice.

Good grief, Brooke Cardenas is incredibly self-absorbed. You’ll snicker. You’ll smile occasionally, but the sum total adds precious little value. Noah Baumbach has been making movies for 2 decades now. Mistress America is his 9th directorial effort and his 3rd collaboration with Greta Gerwig. They’re a couple in real life and I will admit the relationship has actually made his characters more pleasant. Brooke has a sunny disposition at least, but she’s too self-indulgent to truly embrace. The whole shebang climaxes (a most charitably chosen verb) over an act of betrayal. The acrimonious finale takes place in the upscale home of Brooke’s ex-fiance (Michael Chernus) and his wife, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind). She was once Brooke’s best friend, now mortal enemy. A coterie of supporting players present weigh in on Brooke and Tracy’s friendship. The mixed message of the piece leaves the viewer in a state of flux. Is Brooke life-affirming? Is Brooke a disorganized mess? She’s got moxie, sure, but inherently flawed as well. So what’s the point? To worship at the altar of an individual who is shamelessly narcissistic apparently.


The Gift

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Gift photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgSimon is a highly competitive, status-conscious go-getter. His wife Robyn is interested in restarting her successful architect business. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are the Callums, a well-to-do couple who have recently moved from Chicago to suburban Los Angeles. They’ve bought a sleek glass-walled home in the hills near where Simon grew up. They seemingly have the perfect life. However a recent miscarriage hangs over them. Then one day while out shopping for furniture for their new home, a man approaches Simon and claims to know him from high school. Simon doesn’t recognize him until he says his name is Gordon Mosely, or Gordo.

Their exchange is pleasant, but soon after, he begins dropping by their home unannounced, usually when Simon is at work. Then there’s the series of escalating presents that Gordo bestows on the pair: a bottle of wine, koi fish for their outdoor pond. His presence starts to make them uncomfortable. Dismantling the peaceful tranquility of the wealthy suburban upper-class is a genre unto itself. Call it the “home-invasion” thriller. Fatal Attraction, Pacific Heights, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female and Unlawful Entry have all done the broad category justice. The Gift is an impressive addition.

The cast is uniformly excellent. I generally consider Jason Bateman to be a comedic actor, but he plays against type occasionally.  Once again, he is outstanding in a serious role. Rebecca Hall is his equal as yes, his sympathetic wife. But she’s a complex individual in her own right. They don’t always see eye to eye. Together they must contend with this intruder in their lives. Joel Edgerton (WarriorThe Great Gatsby) strikes the perfect balance between menacing and amiable as Simon’s classmate from the past. Edgerton is also the writer and director. He delivers an extremely self assured directorial debut with this finely crafted feature.

The Gift is a suspense thriller that hews close to the grand tradition of Alfred Hitchcock. The chronicle commences with a predicable frame, but it doesn’t end that way. What energizes the story is how Edgerton’s screenplay extracts tension from the unknown. That queasy feeling you get when things are a bit off kilter but you’re not really quite sure why. That lack of privacy is at the heart of the horror exploited here. Their personal refuge is being infringed to the point that it becomes unsettling. What makes Gordo tick is a question you’ll immediately have once he becomes part of the narrative. The script takes it’s time not to answer this question immediately. The drama allows the audience to simmer for awhile in this sinister stew. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy being on edge. By the shocking climax, The Gift pushes you to the absolute brink.


Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Posted in Animation, Drama with tags on August 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgKahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a cartoon, yes. However before you rush out to see this movie with the kids in tow, you really should read this review first. It’s not that there’s anything here that young minds shouldn’t see. On the contrary, it’s filled with inspirational life lessons that are perfectly acceptable. It’s just that it is not something a child would find particularly entertaining nor, dare I say it, most adults.

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the Ottoman Empire on January 6, 1883, he immigrated with his family to the United States as a young man. He is best known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet which is an English collection of 26 prose essays. It was wildly successful and has been translated into over 40 different languages. In the Arab world, political leaders considered Gibran a literary rebel. In Lebanon, he is a literary hero to this day.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet doesn’t have a strong narrative per se. Rather it’s a succession of animated poems, each one taken from his seminal work. The subjects are freedom, children, marriage, work, eating & drinking, love, good & evil, and death, with different animators for each. Segment directors include Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea), Bill Plympton (Guard Dog, Cheatin’), Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Firebird Suite” in Fantasia 2000), Michal Socha (Simpson’s couch gag from “What To Expect When Bart’s Expecting”) and Mohammed Harib (Freej). The displays are loosely strung together by the tale of an imprisoned poet named Mustafa (Liam Neeson), who has just been released. He’s on his way to board a ship that will take him home. Along the way, he gives the advice that forms the foundation of the various segments.

The obvious audience for this are devotees of Kahlil Gibran. He is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu, so he obviously has his admirers. If an array of animated shorts depicting his words sounds captivating, then I’d surely recommend this to you. The series of 8 videos presented here are all of noble quality – pretty images with spoken word narration. A couple have music to accompany them. My favorite was Nina Paley’s “On Children”. The shadow puppets of Indonesia inspire a mesmerizing visual tableau accompanied by a song by Damien Rice. It presents a pregnant female archer who shoots an arrow into the belly of another pregnant woman, thus giving birth to another human being. It’s utterly hypnotic. The entire movie was produced by actress Salma Hayek, who also gives voice to one of the characters, and supervised by director Roger Allers (The Lion King). The talent behind the camera is considerable and the intentions are clearly heartfelt. It’s a pleasant diversion, but far from necessary viewing. For die-hard fans of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry, however, it should prove enchanting.


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