Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. You've heard that one right? But what if the deceit is only slightly shady and carried out for all the supposed right reasons. Who does that ultimately lead you to?
And the movie "Misconduct."
Our fickled love-hate affair with lawyers and the law is churned out once again in a well-done suspense thriller starring Josh Duhamel, playing a young ambitious lawyer determined to break a big case against an executive of a large pharmaceutical firm, portrayed by 'Sir' Anthony Hopkins, whose company drug trials have killed people, whose girlfriend is a young beautiful head-case playing head games with both of them.
A kidnapping and murder entwines the pair during the process of the lawsuit. The senior prosecuting attorney, played by acerbic Al Pacino, who has failed multiple times to bring the pharmaceutical exec down, becomes an odd cheerleading mentor to our naïve junior attorney.
Duhamel quietly renders the compelling roller coaster twister of a role, with a strained under-the-skin simmering of the mounting kind-of-lies one can't get out of, the stresses of achievement-marriage-sex, and the handling or mishandling of material evidence in many of his litigations.
Here is the synopsis of the film: It tells the true story of Alan Bennett's prickly friendship with Miss Mary Sheperd ( Maggie Smith), an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett begrudgingly befriended in the 1970's by allowing her to temporarily park her Bedford Van, for fifteen years, in the driveway of his Camden home after a street full of finicky Londoners kept shoo-ing her from their own curb fronts.
Bennett (Alex Jennings) offers up a comical tongue in cheek side commentary throughout the film through a split personality alter ego on screen twin watching everything from his perch a bit outside of the situation. he digests and gnaws on the deteriorating health of his mother, which is at the moment the inspiration for his one-man stage show, as well as the lady in the van who will become the inspiration of his future writing, as well as flushing out what's lacking in his own dull life.
The story takes a rich turn when Bennett finds out Miss Sheperd is really Margaret Fairchild, a former gifted pupil of pianist Alfred Cortot, whose fleeting glorious past included playing Chopin in prominent concerts and a stint as a novitiate where they tried to scrub the love of music out of her soul which ultimately led to her becoming unhinged enough to be committed to an institution by her brother. Once she escaped, she had an accident on a small country lane when her van was hit by a motorcyclist, who was killed, for which she believed herself to blame. Thereafter she lived in fear of arrest and was actually being blackmailed by the policeman who saw her drive away from the scene.
In that most magnanimous vein, "SPOTLIGHT" shines. It illuminates those tenacious reporters at the Boston Globe who made it their mission to focus their light on a painful issue; a cancer in the Catholic church that was left untreated, that had metastasized, and the bureaucracy that was covering the sins of the purveyors of religious faith who had caused it, the priests sexually praying on the most vulnerable of our society, children.
The reporters, with much angst, shoved a window open wide enough to allow fresh air to sweep in and clear away the crud that was covering up the knowledge of the abuse.
The film offers upfifteen pieces of a puzzle that only needed 13 pieces to complete.
Ahah. Until the End. When answers to all the unsettling questions become clear.
Screenwriters Simon Boyes and Adam Mason infused this visually driven film with minimal dialogue, very literary at that, which did not over shadow the dark subversive physical undertones of the film.
The swift under-current of mind games flowing throughout the film were enhanced by the richly peppered presence, as opposed to acting performance, of Anthony Hopkins, a haunting force without needing to utter a word.
Add in Al Pacino, the rusty off-the-rails rambling demon himself, who lapses into quoting Shakespeare, or rather a narcissistic lawyer's version of the grand English Bard's words he spent the early part of his career reciting. he pontificates like he's gargling out morality with lines like, "It isn't what is...It's what what is appears to be that matters," or the classic line, " You know there is no truth in the Law, son." His words are as deadly as a gun to the head.
The cinematography was well edited, saturated with dark moody lighting, shot at edgy angles, without being too self-conscious. The only jarring cut was the repeat of the whole Gallery-kidnapping-ransom drop sequence, shown again in it's entirety mid-movie, when all we needed was the final clue of who Denning ( Hopkins) had spotted coming through the front door.
Alex Jennings does a compelling job of playing the dual roles of Alan Bennett and his ghosty twin, slogging through the muck of life and the deposits left in his driveway by the lady in the van, while venting it all with a keen wit, heavy doses of black humor and English quips.
Director Nicholas Hytner kept it close to the heart of that stage play feel that made it a hit, though it does become a bit disconcerting in its lack of the time passage queues we're used to in real life dramas.
The cast of nosey, doddery, well-meaning neighbors, compelled to be tolerantly compassionate, showcase some of the best of English character actors.
The subject matter probably works better and is easier to deal with as a stage play, where one can more easily deal with life's tragedies because we assume it's mostly made-up.
So this one is not for the faint of heart 'the sun will come out tomorrow' Americans, for it never does shine for "The Lady in the Van."
But you've got to admire the literary quality of this film, and the pungent doses of writer's therapy Bennett serves up.
"You don't put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there."
I'd say it's a bit of both.
One of the big drawback of the film is it only skims the surface . The larger scope of the epic story is much better represented in the book, a detailed crime manual worth a read before or after you see the film.
So if you are up for the violent double crossing fermenting abuse of power wrought by two black hearted old friends, and a lot of creepy hoods, who in turn strangle a city, you'll want to see "Black Mass."
The film ends with the classic scene we all hunger for of Rocky running up those famed Philadelphia steps, a climb millions of pwople have cockily mimicked over the last forty years. But this time he struggles, taking them reverently one by one.
The view from the top, though bittersweet in this one, is still powerful as Rocky pontificates, "I can see the whole of my life from here."
We hear yah Rock!
In the eyes of the Hollywood echelons and Film Critics, Stallone will never be included in the ranks of such stars as Richard Burton or Alec Guinness.
He is much bigger!
'Sly' is the biggest box office drawing star EVER.
He IS the street-kid who created a character that had the whole of America on it's feet cheering. His image is burned into the lexicon of the American psyche. Another words he is a piece of pure Americana.
So I do applaud the belated kudos he is his is receiving from the Academy Award elites on this one, nominated for his role in "CREED" for Best Supporting Actor.
What Stallone doesn't get enough credit for is his screenwriting. Close your eyes and just listen to the dialogue of his last film, "Rocky Balboa."
It's pure Street Poetry. Eloquent, charming and as touching as it gets with classic Stallone lines like:
"You think you outta stop tryin' things cause you've had a few too many birthdays?"
"What's crazy about standin' toe to toe and sayin' I AM!"
"The 33" is a pure celebration of the Corazon of the Chilean people!
In this 24 hour news cycle world, it's hard to have missed the headline breaking events of August 5th 2010 heralding the catastrophe at hand in Chile. The Copiapo gold and copper mine in the Atacama region of northern Chile collapsed, trapping 33 miners 1700 feet below the ground.
As usual, every network from CNN to FOX covered it nonstop, for a few days, but after a week the cameras were turned off, the reporting ceased, and it was assumed all hope was lost, the men were dead.
The international 24 hour coverage may have stopped, but the 24 hour vigil did continue outside the gates of the mine, back behind a barricade flush with the Chilean families and friends of the much beloved 33 souls entombed in the bladder of the earth.
At the gang's helm was Whitey Bulger, a dangerous delinquent with a Jimmy Cagney flair.
At a youngage he did a long stint on the Alcatraz rock, but managed to spend those years wisely in the prison library sharpening his instincts, turning his mind into an encyclopedia of law enforcement tactics and past mobster mistakes.
He came out like a chess master, ready to make controlled moves to shake down the city, smartly sticking to the shadows, managing to keep his hands clean while making the most of the Southie neighborhoods 'Code of Silence he had at his back.
It was that loyalty that helped Whitey(Johnny Depp) keep his nefarious stronghold on the city of Boston for two decades, loyalty that kept his political heavyweight brother, Massachusetts State Senate President Jimmy Bulger ( Benedict Cumberbatch), from being touched by any scandal, and loyalty that brought an ambitious FBI Agent John Connolly( Joel Edgerton) the glory he so sought in his career, though he only achieved it by wallowing in the filth of the underworld.
'Little Creed' (Michael B. Jordan) is a scrappy delinquent growing up on the same mean streets of Philadelphia Rocky did. And he is heading for nothing but trouble, until Creed's wealthy widow becomes his savoir, benefactor, educator and life stabilizer.
Though he grows into a Wallstreet-er on the rise, he's still constantly sparring with the shadow of his father's legacy. There's a nagging wannabe-boxing-champion-dream
rumbling in his gut.
Pauly's words from "Rocky Balboa become the mantra for both 'Little Creed' and Rocky.
"You gotta get that thing out of your gut."
So Adonis aka "Little Creed" plans the exorcism by accepting the challenge to fight the current English boxing Champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), who has been accused of winning his titles by fighting so-called cream puffs.
Somehow Adonis manages to get Rocky into his corner as trainer and the girl next door too. She becomes his motivating "Adrian" of sorts, though as a young talented singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson)is preparing for her own fight against deafness.
So there is a strong music vibe in this one.
It is great to see oldman Rocky's boxing passions bubble back up in the Philadelphia slums which the Director (Richard Coogler) chose to show in a spirited montage including passing on his champion moves at the punching bag in the old gym and jogging down the battered streets.
The with some gut wrenching twists in the story, the tables are turned and 'Little Creed' becomes the inspiration for Rocky to take on the biggest fight of his life, and outside of the boxing ring.
A little disconcerting was the epilogue 'of sorts' played out live... by dead people. It felt as if the Producers did a test audience preview and realized no-one in the screening could figure out the connections between the characters, so they decided to resurrect them in a postmortem scene.
Other actors of note:
Stunning Swedish actress Malin Akerman steamed up the screen with her sophisticated black widow performance as wealthy Denning's (Hopkins) desperate girlfriend.
Alice Eye played Charlotte, Ben's - the young attorney-wife, with a stark mechanical emotionless-ness that felt forced, but was done surely at the behest of the Director Shintaro Shimosawa. To be fair, her character was under a cloud of mild depression over having lost a child, as well as assuming her husband was having an affair. A storm cloud that never lifted.
Julia Stiles pops off the screen standing up to Denning (Hopkins) as the ballsy undercover cop. Haven't seen a bad performance from this woman yet.
All in all "Misconduct" is a dark thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat while sorting out a web of legal and salacious misconducts that once entangled in one can never be fully free of.
Much Like the numerous unheralded Americans bearing casseroles and good wishes in their outstretched arms with an outpouring of love for their neighbors facing lifes tragedies, something I've witnessed throughout my life, the Chilean people stood together shoulder to shoulder in the barren desert next to the mouth of the mine sharing prayer, and song, and warm empanadas, while never losing hope for those trapped below their feet.
This film is as much their story as it is the doomed miners.
It celebrates, in the vein of a Steinbeck or Dickens, the rich lives of poor men, who with a 'Man of La Mancha' dignity and resolve toil to provide for their families.
The kind of theme that saturates most foreign films such as the celebrated Il Postino or Cinema Paradiso or The Shoes - a touching simple Iranian story about a boy who had to share his shoes each day with his sister in order for her to go to school and how both children cleverly made the swap each day in secret so as not to shame their father because he could not afford a new pair for the little girl.
It's those humble stories portraying the drip-drip of everyday life that cross the divide of cultures and economics, and can deliver a compassionate arrow right to the heart.
But Don't expect the full fledged 'Rocky' experience in "CREED." It is a different animal from the rest,Written and Directed by Richard Coogler. He gave it a more mainstream feel.
And it works.
My disappointments were; it never builds to the crescendo it deserves, it lacked that iconic soulful music and there wasn't enough Stallone time on screen.
From the get-go Stallone had me welling up. The guy is pure heart, like a loveable aging hound-dog who as he aptly says, " gets knocked down by life but keeps getting back up and moving forward."
ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY!
Don't stay away for too long...
***Strong performances by Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson
Slowly they picked at the fraying yarns of the blanket of the underworld until it began unraveling, one dirty rat at a time.
The toxic waste of Bulger's world oozed out until t drowned high flying FBI Agent Connolly, but not before he tipped off Whitey Bulger one last time. Amazingly Bulger managed to stay on the lam for nearly twenty years, until his arrest in 2011 in Santa Monica.
Johnny Depp once again puts in a strong, bordering on creepy, performance transmuting himself into the slithering greasy snake that was and still is Whitey Bulger.
Benedict Cumberbatch, the new young Sherlock Holmes on BBC, measures up to the high bar of character acting the English carry off as if by birth rite.
But the award should go to Joel Edgerton as John Connolly. he is a powerful screen presence as the magnetic ballsy Southie FBI Agent whose fancy footwork and blowhard street charm allowed him to get away with his gutsy power game for nearly two decades. You really do feel bad when he eventually has to take the fall.
Thus the FBI became an intoxicated passenger on the Bulger train.
Throw into the kabal; a brutal hitman named Steve Flemmi, an FBI agent by the name of Morris who got too seduced and too entangled to get un-entangled, a slew of prominent judges, police chiefs and politicians and you've got a 'Black Mass' in Boston crime.
"Black Mass" is a good old fashioned mob movie where everyone is bad.
Beware, it's awash with violence and vulgarity, but that's to be expected when the main players are engaging in extortion, loan sharking, gambling, drug trafficking and lots of murders.
The screenplay was based on the best-selling book, "Black Mass," written by two Pulitzer prize winning reporters hailing from the famed Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe Newspaper, dick lehr and Gerard O'Neill.
.They spent years piecing together the underworld web choking their city beat.
The synopsis: In 1952, two oil tankers, hastily constructed leftovers from WWII, sailing off the shores of Massachusetts, waters second only to the English channel in shipping traffic, also considered the largest graveyard of wooden ribs and planks of boats wrecked by the roaring waters off Chatham bay, were ripped in half by five story waves, but were still rolling about in the seas with dozens of sailors trapped aboard fighting for their lives on the rapidly sinking Pendleton and Mercy.
"the Finest Hours" focuses on Bernie Webber and his two-man crew, ordered out in a small lifeboat directly into the eye of the storm to face biting 60 knot winds, and snow, and frigid temperatures that rendered their bodies and crippled boat near useless, who somehow drove through that maelstrom on the wings of their courage, and brought back to the docks of cape Cod, to the cheers of the hundreds of townspeople who turned out to greet them ( and rimmed the harbor with the guiding beacons of their car lights) some 32 sailors who had managed to stay alive in the battered mangled mess of the Pendleton's stern half, listing on the edge of being swallowed up by the sea.
The Finest Hours
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriters: Scott Silver Paul Tamasy Eric Johnson
Starring: Chris Pine Casey Affleck Holliday Granger
While portraying the garden of life, English dramas tend to wallow in a thicket of weeds.
So I'm not surprised the English film "The Lady in the Van" lasted less than a week on Directv pay-per-view in America. For it is quintessentially English, through and through: intellectually challenging, bordering on depressing, serving up a queerly comical witty dose of what happens when the wheels come off one person's life while another within range teeters on the edge.
But as always the English manage to drub-up a bit of nobility in it all, to find a bouquet of purple Thistle and Queen's Anne's lace among the weeds.
Of course American audiences would rather experience the problems of some wealthy Dallas housewife, or in the least the foibles of the English Aristocracy of Downton Abbey, over the trials of a homeless woman in a van.
And who better to carry off the portrayal of a tortured biting soul than Dame Maggie Smith, best known as the tragically compelling 'Miss Jean Brody' to those of us who've loved her from her younger days. She is the only reason I wanted to watch this film.
True to her reputation, she carries off the dark co-starring role with the dignity of female Don Quixote living in squalor curbside in a London suburban gutter.
the other thing "The Lady in the Van" has going for it is its screenplay, written by English Playwright Alan Bennett, a man used to packaging life into neat acts with literary prowess.
Here he's re=packaged his own life with phrases as rich and sticky as candy nougat, like, "There's no marking time...Time marks you."
He does proud the tradition of the great English writers who see in every twitch of movement a barrage of intentions and emotions or 'life's elements of ones geography and anectdote' to semi-quote fellow Brit Henry James.
There is power and nobility in the written word. A reflection of the soul of man. Chains of letters that reflect our joys, our humor, our pain and our humanity.
Doubly spirituous are those words inked on thin newsprint, in the wee hours of the morning, a mirrored reflection of society's triumphs and ills we're forced to face in our daily chroniclers, newspapers.
And with that power comes responsibility; to get it right, present the facts, shine a light in a dark corner that some fear to peer into, for they feel they have to, for the collective good.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone Michael B. Jordan
Rodrigo Santoro's soulful performance filled out the big shoes of Laurence- the minister of mining, bravely bucking the President of Chile and the Mine owner by continuing to try every angle, literally every drilling angle, by coring down multiple rescue shafts no matter what the cost, even after months of failure at the task.
"The 33" is simply a wonderful small film telling a grand human story that's well worth seeing!
THE LADY IN THE VAN
Starring: Maggie Smith Alex Jennings
Host of Wonderfully English Character Actors
Starring: Johnny Depp Joel Edgerton
From his perch overlooking the city, Agent Connolly was looking to be the one to bring down the head of the Boston Mafia by bagging a top tier informant to help him shine. And Whitey Bulger, his boyhood friend, was willing to play that role, loyalty for a price. Bulger would help Connolly bring down the Mafiaso Anguilo family in exchange for being left alone to go about his malfeasant businesses as he pleased.
It was a deal that became so out of whack, leaving Connolly wallowing in the White Hill gang's filth, that any good that came the FBI's way was offset by the unbridled license Bulger exercised to commit crimes. And it went a step farther, the invisible ink addendum in their pact left the FBI Agents committing multiple crimes to protect Bulger and that included tip-offs to Bulger when any other branch of law enforcement was getting to close.
But Connolly, the 'Elmer gantry' of the Boston FBI office, justified it by selling Bulger as a five star informant that was worth his weight in gold to the bureau. He used the power of his charismatic words to cover Bulger's crime wave tracks and to win over converts to his own way of handling things while keeping up a blizzard of false paperwork that made Bulger appear to be invaluable to the higher ups.
It's a repugnant issue that both screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy handled with a delicate hand, supported by a strong cast that delivered moving performances.
Bravo to mark Ruffalo, Rachel MacAdams and Brian d'Arcy James as the respective reporters.
All the Oscars "SPOTLIGHT" covets are well-earned and warranted.
We never tire of hearing a heroic story, where some ordinary guy's fortitude springs forth in the midst of a disaster, propelling him to perform perilous acts of valor that save lives, thus catapulting his staus status to that of hero ( think 'Sullie' who made the emergency landing of a packed jet on the frigid Hudson River after a flock of birds jammed the the engine), though those brave souls usually proclaim, " it's just what they had to do."
In this case, one of the worst nor'easters to ever strike new England set the stage for one of the most daring rescue attempts made by some 'Coasties' (or members of the 'Hooligans Navy' as they were chided by military men) in a 36 foot Coast Guard lifeboat, in seas reaching 70 feet , and when it was all said and done, they were forever cast as the 'Gold medal crew' of heroes.
No-one hated the Italian mafia more than Robert Kennedy, the famed Attorney General of the 1960's, who set out legally to destroy the brutal mobsters choke-hold on his beloved Boston.
But it took a nefarious mobster named Whitey Bulger toiling in illegal activities, to finally bring them down, or more accurately, to get the FBI to do the dirty work of getting rid of one of his biggest rivals for him.
"Faddah I ain't no dirty rat." Remember those famous words Mickey Rooney sputtered in "Boys Town"?
Well in "Black Mass" there's as strong a code of conduct among the Southie Boys, the lifelong oath of the poor street kids to protect one another no matter what the cost. That's what's at the heart of Director Scott Cooper's film.
The only difference is it's uttered with that uniquely Boston twang, "Like it aw nawt, you give and get lawlty."
These guys were a different breed of mobster, the White Hill gang, most of whom came out of the gutter projects of the fifties. They shared a singular state of mind, that of the Irish immigrant against the world.
In "The 33" those powerful moments pile up as the soot covered miners try to sustain themselves on a small footlocker full of food meant to last for ten days and a large amount of 'esperanza' that those above ground have not given up on getting them out.
It is impossible for anyone who has not been in a like condition to conceive the consternation or 'transport of the soul' of men in such dire circumstances.
And thankfully in this case the Screenwriters as well as Director Patricia Riggen manage to bring us gently into that 'ennegecido' pit with those expecting death. We bear witness to the miners survivalist grasp of fellowship, as well as rare moments of humor that helped to stoke the dimming flickers of life.
Antonio Banderas is charming and powerful as their unspoken leader, the rare one- as Aristotle designated, that rises up to take charge 'for the good' of all the rest, even at the cost of their stinging barbs.
Lou Diamond Philips and Juliette Binoche, well known faces, put in vibrant performances, along with what felt like a corral of the earthy, charming, passionate and very real people of Chile.
Starring: Antonio Banderas Lou Diamond Phillips
Juliette Binoche Rodrigo Santoro
What makes this movie so powerful is the fact the above synopsis is a true story.
And even though screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, picked out slivers of the juiciest details, poignant moments, and wild actions from the factual book (by Michael J. Tougas and Casey Sherman) the film was based on, the bulk of the film is their and Director Craig Gillespie's pure creation.
But they did put extra meat on the bones of this amazing human drama. their version beats passionately with tenacity and heart, guts and guile; from the dance of young love between Bernie (Chris Pine) and shy gal Miriam (Holliday Grainger) who had enough gumption to ask Bernie to marry her even though she knew their life together could always be one step away from widowhood, to the caring old salt mentoring a young despondent sailor onboard the sinking tanker who dies while urging the boy to jump to safety, to the recluse engineer ( Casey Affleck) with his wild schemes of seamanship that kept the half-of-a-tanker afloat longer than was humanly possible - who became an unlikely lion-heart to the frightened crew.
Chris Pine (Bernie Webber) puts in an ardent puissant performance, rising to the highest class of actor with his portrayal of the timorous, duty bound, born-to-the-sea young man.
Casey Affleck (Ray Sybert) created his own unique brand of misanthrope character, in the brooding loner engineer who rises up during the catastrophe to be a leader of men.
Holliday Grainger (Miriam Webber) warmed up to the screen with her girlish fieriness fighting for her man.
"the Finest Hours" takes you on a hair-raising ride on the monster seas of a turbulent ocean that while offering up its bounty can collect it's debt by devastating men's lives, and the miracle of the little lifeboat that cheated the hellion out of devouring three dozen more.
Academy Award Winner
Director: Tom McCarthy
YO ROCKY....WE'RE GLAD YOU'RE BACK!
Just when it feels like the rags to riches American dream is on life-support, the movie
"CREED" comes along and delivers a defibrillator jolt to the heart.
Sure Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is forty years older, shuffling along instead of bobbing and weaving, but so are all of us who cheered him on and mimicked his moves in our youth, some forty years ago, to that soul igniting music dah Dah Dah dadadah Da Dah Dah Dah..., by composer Bill Conti, considered by many to be America's second National Anthem.
Sure Rocky's demeanor is more subdued and soulful, the guy's been put out to pasture, his past glories are just that - in the past. He's resigned to spending his waning years reliving those triumphs through stories he colorfully recounts to patrons of his restaurant over vino and Italian food - ah - made by Mexicans in his kitchen.
And putting in visits to Adrian and Pauly at their gravestones.
But it's not all dim. Thankfully in this newest twilight installment of the Rocky balboa saga, Rocky's pilot light for boxing, and life, is ignited once again by an unlikely source, the illegitimate troubled son of his old nemesis Apollo Creed.
Starring: Jos Duhamel Anthony Hopkins Al Pacino Julia Stiles
Director: Shintaro Shimosawa