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“Ford to City: Drop Dead” New York in the 70s – at Film Forum (through 7/27/17)

taking of pelham

July 19, 2017.  “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” New York in the 70s is a movie series playing at Film Forum now through July 27. The 70s, considered to be the last golden age of American cinema, is filled with some of my favorite movies, many of which were shot in New York. The titles in this series include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” and many others.

On the one hand, this is a series tailor made for me. On the other hand, since I already own many of these movies on DVD, why should I pay to see them in a movie theatre? Still, as a practical matter, how often do I actually watch the movies that I have on DVD? I think it’s an existential issue. In other words, having lots of movies on DVD means that I have the possibility of watching them, even if the reality is that I rarely watch them. This is the dilemma presented to the movie aficionado in the digital age, in which almost everything is available at his, or her, fingertips. Had home video and all its variations – VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming – not been invented, then Film Forum’s series would be a “no brainer” for me. Of course I would go. So, saying I wont see a particular film when it plays in a theatre because I have it on a DVD that I almost never watch, means running the risk of not seeing the film at all! Read the rest of this entry

Flight

Denzel Washington in “Flight.”

“Flight” stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot with drug and alcohol addictions.  The film is insightful, honest and thoughtful with characters that are complex and who earn our empathy.  While, at points, the film, in lesser hands than those of director Robert Zemeckis, could have become heavy handed and preachy, it never does.

“Flight” has a very fine supporting cast which includes Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and Tamara Tunie.  I especially like Cheadle.  Whenever he is in a film I know that I am in good hands.  Read the rest of this entry

New to DVD – “Tower Heist,” “J. Edgar,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller in "Tower Heist"

Tower Heist

The real disappointment in “Tower Heist” is that this movie has sold out its audience.  Those who do not know better will think they are seeing a good heist film.  For the cost of some zinging dialogue and a CGI (computer graphics imaging) created set piece, director Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” movies) and his team of no less than five writers, have bought their audience cheap.  No less at fault is the cast, which includes Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick.

To begin with “Tower Heist” has next to no suspense.  The premise is that a group of former, and some current, employees of an exclusive high-rise security tower decide to burgle one of the building’s apartments.  What follows is a “paint by numbers,” shamelessly contrived, logic defying heist, which goes according to the story’s most extreme convenience.

Eddie Murphy, plays, well, Eddie Murphy in the form of a character named Slide.  Slide is the cool, loud, street smart, trash talking, experienced African American criminal who teaches the, largely white, “nebbishy” gang of would be criminals how to be crooks.  While Murphy is certainly perfect for the role, he does not break new ground.  Considering how infrequently this talented actor and comedian appears in films, it is a missed opportunity.

My advice.  Your “Tower Heist” transportation and ticket money will be better spent going to your Netflix account, or library, to see the following well done, heist movies:  “The Anderson Tapes” (1971), “The Taking of Pelham 123” (1974), “The Killing” (1956), and “Who’s Minding the Mint” (1967), for starters.

J. Edgar

Director Clint Eastwood’s “bio-pic” of famed FBI director J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, uses the past to comment on the present while presenting an interesting issue of truth in media.   In Hoover’s day, as now, terrorism was a concern.  While there was no 9/11, there were Bolshevik revolutionaries setting off bombs in America. The film depicts Hoover as an uptight, “spit and polish” martinet who pioneered criminal science at a time when it was not taken seriously.  Hoover felt that the average American feared for his safety and, according to this telling, went too far, trampling on civil liberties in the process. The issue is raised about due process of law verses neutralizing a threat to our country.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.

DiCaprio is quite good, playing Hoover as a young man, and also, under tons of make up, as an older man.  The film cuts back and forth between past and present. Granted the make up, at points, strains credibility, but I am hard pressed to think of a film where the age make up is completely successful.

“J. Edgar” depicts Hoover as a complex individual, who, while committed to doing good, fell victim to the old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Martha Marcy May Marlene

The new movie “Martha Marcy May Marlene” desperately wants indie street cred.  Everything, from its nearly impossible to remember title, to its rural settings and interminable long takes, makes the film play like a spoof of an independent film.  If only it was.

Martha, the titular character, has escaped from a cult in upstate New York.  Think Manson Family light, led by standard issue tall, skinny leader complete with tiny, devilish beard and bad skin.  Martha moves in with her, well off, sympathetic sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and unsympathetic brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their summer home on a lake in Connecticut. Not the greatest house guest, Martha proves herself to be alternately unbalanced and unsympathetic.

“M4” is slowly paced and features unlikable characters, about whom it is difficult to care.  Many of the film’s scenes play out in endless, single shots.  I had the impression that not enough coverage (alternate angles, close-ups, etc.) was shot for many of the scenes. Why else are so many of them long and lifeless?  My guess is that there was nothing else to cut to, to speed up the proceedings.  I can think of no greater proof than the fact that an audience member, at the showing I attended, fell asleep twice and began to snore each time.  The incident elicited knowing laughs from fellow audience members, clearly sympathetic to the man’s plight.

Tower Heist

Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and "Tower Heist" director Brett Ratner.

The audience with whom I saw “Tower Heist” this past Saturday clearly enjoyed the film.  They laughed at the one-upmanship in the film’s dialogue, as the characters verbally topped one another throughout.  They were captivated by the film’s climactic sequence involving the movement of a large, heavy object (not to be revealed here) down the side of the film’s fictional building, “The Tower,” actually “Trump Tower.”   Of course this event, occurring in broad daylight, in a well-trafficked part of upper Manhattan, during the Thanksgiving Day Parade no less, is seen by no one. Read the rest of this entry