Archive for the Drama Category

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.

Straight Outta Compton

Posted in Biography, Drama, Music with tags on August 16, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Straight Outta Compton  photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe formation and eventual breakup of seminal rap group N.W.A (Niggaz with Attitude) is the subject of Straight Outta Compton. The biopic mainly charts the careers of 5 artists from Compton, California who greatly influenced hip hop in the 90’s and beyond. In 1988 N.W.A was dubbed “the worlds most dangerous group”. Much of this due to their explicit and profanity-filled lyrics about urban crime and the gangster lifestyle. The FBI even sent them a warning letter. In retrospect, they couldn’t have asked for better publicity. Their music, including songs like “F— tha Police,” received no airplay from mainstream radio. Yet publicity fueled the album’s success and their popularity grew with the masses.

Any memoir must edit facts in order to streamline a narrative. Straight Outta Compton is definitely a bit guilty of selective history. The lineup of N.W.A. began with Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. Although N.W.A formed in 1986, MC Ren actually didn’t join until 1988 just before the release of their first album Straight Outta Compton. Arabian Prince left shortly after but he did contribute to their debut. As a matter of fact, he appears on the album cover. So why doesn’t he rate a mention here? Even a bus driver gets a credit. Delving a little into this personnel shakeup would’ve been nice.

The film mainly centers on members Ice Cube (real life son O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) are key people too but remain somewhat in the background. All of the aforementioned three get ample screen time, but interestingly it’s Eazy-E’s story that is the most compelling. From drug dealer to last minute replacement rapper, his drama is never short on surprises. His solo debut single “Boyz-n-the-Hood” is presented as almost an afterthought. Short of stature with a voice pitched in a higher register, his characteristics belie an intriguing personality. The strength of his business partnership with manager/friend Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) was a development I wasn’t expecting.

Straight Outta Compton does a nice job of encapsulating a fairly dense plot that juggles a myriad cast of characters. The era leading up to N.W.A’s creation is dramatized but also the period following their breakup. Dr. Dre’s association with Suge Knight is detailed, as well as his split from Death Row records amid rising tensions, to form his own label Aftermath. At 2½ hours, it is a bit long but there is still a lot of interesting material here. The first half that focuses on N.W.A’s inception and transformation is best. Occasionally director F. Gary Gray falls victim to the standard rise and fall cliches of music biographies. The fable succeeds most when detailing the harsh realities of urban LA that inspired the song lyrics of their true-to-life tales. They were rallying against poverty and prejudice. We’re given news events that establish a timeline. The Rodney King trial is referenced for example. In light of current ongoing media investigation of police brutality, their social commentary rings even truer today. The details behind N.W.A is something of which I knew little. Yet the movie gave me a reason to care. The complex evolution of how influential artists popularized a burgeoning subgenre called gangsta rap, is frequently fascinating.


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Posted in Drama with tags on August 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Stanford Prison Experiment photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgUncomfortable, unsettling, unnerving, and any other unpleasant “un” you can think of – the Stanford prison experiment was a simulation conducted in 1971 at Stanford University under the supervision of Dr. Philip Zimbardo. 24 male college students were chosen. Participants received $15 per day (equivalent to $87 in 2015). A hyper-realistic environment was established in a nondescript hallway in the basement of Jordan Hall (Stanford’s psychology building). 9 plus 3 alternates were assigned the role of prisoner while 9 others plus 3 backups were designated as guards. The ascribed parts being determined by a coin toss. No one wanted to be a guard, many determining there was more work involved. Zimbardo monitored their roleplay from another room via surveillance cameras as the superintendent. An undergraduate research assistant assumed the character of the warden. It was to run between 7 to 14 days. Zimbardo pulled the plug on the whole exercise after only 6.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez directs a skilled cast. Billy Crudup is the very real, still living, psychologist Philip Zimbardo who led the notorious experiment which studied the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or guard. He heads up an impressive cast of up and coming future stars. The production is highlighted by a flawless ensemble that demonstrates the various intricacies of how the whole enterprise devolved. The largest parts going to Ezra Miller who plays the most defiant and Michael Angarano who emerges as the most brutal. Before the venture began Zimbardo instructed the guards not to physically harm the prisoners. However he did motivate them to be controlling, to take away their individuality and to create a sense of fear and powerlessness. The participants adapted to their roles way past Zimbardo’s expectations.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a frustrating watch. The guards negatively treat the detainees in ever increasing shocking and dehumanizing ways. Initially a few prisoners resist with acts of rebellion, but more often than not they start to concede to their situation. Their passive acceptance is no less disquieting. This conduct over the course of the drama is not easy viewing. What we see is personalties change. These are not prisoners/guards. These are privileged upper-middle-class college students attending Stanford. Guards grow sadistic while prisoners become submissive. They act out the roles expected of them in a way far beyond what anyone involved with the study could have expected. The undertaking is a bit exasperating. I had many questions and concerns about how the whole operation was handled and the validity of the results. However, as a document of a notorious experiment gone wrong (or right depending on what you wanted to prove) I found it to be an arresting study in human behavior. I can’t say I enjoyed The Stanford Prison Experiment, but I did respect the craft that when into making it.



Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Tangerine photo starrating-4stars.jpgA girl inadvertently reveals the philandering ways of her pal’s boyfriend during a casual conversation in an LA doughnut shop The news compels the deceived to get to the bottom of the situation. Sounds like a rather pedestrian plot, right? Now add that the parties are 2 transgender prostitutes working in a seedy part of Hollywood. Her beau earns a living as a pimp and the whole production was shot on an iPhone 5s. Are you still with me? OK well yes, Tangerine is gonna be a rough journey for some. This is LA, raw and uncensored, right in the heart of where N. Highland Ave. intersects Santa Monica Blvd. Yet deep down, heart is what this picture is all about.

A great story is highlighted by meaningful characters. This diverse ensemble is headlined by a plethora of memorable people including an Armenian taxicab driver (Karren Karagulian), his wife (Luiza Nersisyan) and her mother (Alla Tumanian). Tangerine stars Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez as Sin-Dee Rella and Mya Taylor as her BFF Alexandra. Both make their acting debut here. The two unite in gritty L.A. during Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee has recently gotten out of LA county jail and she’s looking for her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone). She has just been informed that he has been less than true. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That there is still space to present Alexandra and her dreams of becoming a singer, only adds to the depth of the narrative.  In keeping with the Christmas period, her rendition of the song “Toyland” from the Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland is moving.  The myriad of individuals ultimately descend at Donut Time for a confrontation at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Tangerine is an important film. Not simply because of content. Plenty of movies have dealt with challenging adult subject matter. What sets it apart is uplifting proof that cost is no longer a prohibitive factor when setting out to make an entertaining flick. The fact that the entire drama was photographed on an iPhone 5s is clearly the result of an autonomous mind. The idea that anyone with a unique point of view can make a movie is an exhilarating concept that lies beneath every frame of Tangerine that illuminates the screen.

Director Sean Baker is an American film and TV director and co-creator of Greg the Bunny, an American television sitcom that originally aired on Fox in 2002. Tangerine is actually his fifth feature but perhaps the first to achieve any modicum of fame. In it, he provides an insider’s view of the sordid and dangerous lives of streetwalkers in Los Angeles. Yet it’s not entirely doom and gloom. It’s marked by a light touch. Some of the most laugh-out-loud moments in all of 2015 occur in this production. The screenplay is accentuated by some flippant one liners that are sure to be oft quoted lines of dialogue as the movie undoubtedly makes its way into the pop culture mainstream in years to come.

Tangerine pulses with the unique voice of independent film. The narrative beats with a vitality rarely seen in contemporary cinema. An evocation of LA’s current essence, perfectly captured as any I’ve seen.  It’s vibrant and funny and yes at times pretty bleak.  The humorous touch sometimes undone by the grim truth in the ongoing predicament of the two protagonists. Perhaps that’s being authentic but it also shocks the viewer. One minute we’re laughing at an amusing aside, the next we’re slapped into harsh reality by dead seriousness. Along the way, the script straddles the line between dignifying the two leads and exploiting them. That’s no easy feat. Their fierce attitudes consistently at the fore as the chronicle emphasizes their sassy personalities.  Yet it never resorts to caricature. There’s an inherent sadness within these characters too.  The humanity on display is pretty heartbreaking. Tangerine encapsulates the atmosphere of LA 2015 and distills this into a poignant chronicle for the present generation. The sensibility is clearly the product of our modern time. Like Boyz n the Hood (1991), The Player (1992) & Mulholland Drive (2001), Tangerine is the quintessential LA movie for the current era.


Mr. Holmes

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on July 30, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Mr. Holmes photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgLet’s set the record straight. Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character that was featured in 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mr. Holmes then is a fabrication that envisions the imaginary sleuth as a 93-year-old reflecting back on how a case ended his career 30 years ago. The thing is, the picture is so meticulous, so deliberate and so…uh…well sluggish that you might be inclined to actually believe that this is the carefully studied profile of an authentic man. This is the latter day experiences of an erudite detective where entertaining embellishments are frowned upon in service of reverent restraint.

Writer-director Bill Condon and actor Ian McKellen have worked together before in Gods And Monsters. There the chronicle also centered on a life story. The difference is then it was director James Whale, an actual person. This time we’re detailing a make-believe guy. Mr. Holmes is a handsomely mounted production to be be sure, but one whose sole joy rests in watching a talented thespian act. Sir Ian McKellen, that English Academy Award nominated star of stage and screen, beautifully embodies the role of the agent in this dignified feature. He has a certain presence, but why so serious? This is a fantasy, not a biography where slavish attention to detail is a must. We could have used a little more fun perhaps. Accompanying McKellen are Laura Linney doing her best Emily Watson impression as his housekeeper and young Milo Parker who evokes Freddie Highmore as her son Roger. The allusions to other actors are in no way meant to negate their fine work here.

As a mater of fact, Ian’s McKellen’s scenes with budding star-in-the-making Milo Parker are the highlight of this production. The child has a precocious air that is quite endearing and never grating in the way some youngsters can be encouraged to act. Roger is the inspiration for Holmes to re-remember a mystery from his past: his last assignment. Roger is fascinated by the private investigator and his emotion captures the audience’s interest. Numerous flashbacks recall these details. There’s a lot of jumping around – first to a recent trip to Japan – then 35 years into the past. This for little apparent reason other than to utilize old age makeup on McKellen for the modern setting. Honestly the change isn’t all that dramatic. The real problem is, the case at hand isn’t very interesting. Mr. Holmes has its moments, but if I may quote another English literary character: “Please, sir, I want some more”. There just isn’t enough here to sustain a film. Ultimately it feels more like the studious artifact of bygone history than the fanciful re-imaging of a fictional super sleuth.



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