Denzel Washington Hits A New High With Fences

fences_teaser-posterWhen the discussion arises about the best actors who are working, nine times out of 10 the name Denzel Washington will be brought up. He has been loved ever since he came into American families homes on the series St. Elsewhere as Dr. Philip Chandler. His Star only continued to climb as he made the transition into films. St. Elsewhere ran from 1982-1988 and before the series ended Washington already had been nominated for his first Oscar and a year after the series ended he would have his first win. I could ramble on and on about Denzel and his place on the Mount Rushmore of acting, but I’m going to solely focus on his latest film in which he stars and directs.

Fences is adapted from the play which debuted in 1983 and won the7uoir0twclbi Pulitzer and Tony award in 1987. It is the story of time, place, and culture I have no experience or much knowledge about. Set in the 1950’s it is about a working class African American man and his life while raising a family and dealing with lost chances in his life. Denzel plays Troy Manson, a hard-working husband, and father who has only one mission in his life and that is to provide everything his family needs to survive and to make their way in the world. A former convict and Negro league baseball player, Troy has experienced first hand all that racial injustice can give to one man, and he is determined not to let that happen to his family, especially his son Cory. Cory is a high school student who has dreams of playing college football. Troy doesn’t want any part of Cory associated with sports because he feels his race will hold him back from being able to be successful. Because of this, he is afraid he will miss out on getting the education and skills he needs to get through and be a good man. Cory, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to feel some small sense of love from his father, and to make him proud. Showing love is something Troy doesn’t feel is necessary and that giving him what he needs physically is where his responsibility ends.

fences-f-01ne-galleryThere is a unique relationship between Troy and every character in the film from his wife to his disabled brother to his best friend Bono, wonderfully played by Stephen Henderson. Troy is a man who is slightly disgruntled at the world and wants it to be different but sees only the futility in trying to make that change even in himself.

There have been plans for years to adapt the play Fences into a feature film, in fact, the script for this project was written over ten years ago by the original author August Wilson even though he passed away in 2005. Fences is without question one of Denzel’s biggest passion projects he’s ever had, and it shows. From the perfect delivery of every line of dialogue to the feelings towards each character that the viewer feels. Each performance is pitch perfect on all fronts, and while Denzel is front and center on and off screen, it’s Viola Davis who breathes life into the picture. Viola has been an active force in film and now TV for quite some time now, but Fences is going to cement her place amongst Hollywoods elite. Look for Davis to receive her third Oscar nomination as well as collect her first win.

While it took so long for this film to get made, it needed Denzel Washington and this cast at this time to make it great. The complexity of the character needed Washington at 62 years old not 45; it was a perfect storm that brought this film out. While he may be more than worthy of a third Academy Award for his acting in Fences, it’s only because of the powerhouse performance of Casey Affleck that is keeping him from winning. Don’t count him out of the best director race either. Awards buzz aside this should be the film mentioned when talking about Washington and Davis deep into their careers.

Carrie Fisher Was So Much More Than Movies And A Gold Bikini

01-carrie-fisher-w529-h529When Carrie Fisher passed away on December, 27th the talk immediately turned to her career and memorable roles and the great kind of person and spirit she was, and rightfully so. As a massive Star Wars fan, I felt the enormity of the loss, but her acting career has not been what I admired most about this child of Hollywood royalty. What I think will be the most missed aspect of this woman was her ability to speak out about her faults and struggles in a way that erased any stigma associated with her addiction struggles and her constant battle with mental health. Carrie Fisher spoke fearlessly about issues that most people go to great lengths to avoid talking about, and she never needed to wait for a tragic incident to happen for her to unleash her thoughts on those matters.

Fisher never shied away from speaking about her intense battles with drug and alcohol addiction as well as her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder and was extremely open about her use of electroconvulsive therapy. As someone who is very familiar with both of these struggles both personally and with those close to me, I found this to be somewhat of a comfort in difficult times. She was never short of words on any subject, and her incredible wit and ability to put things in perspective were a comfort to those that had a hard time talking about their struggles.

For her great perspectives on her life, family and struggles one only needs to watch her one-woman show that aired on HBO, Wishful Drinking back in 2010. So while the whole galaxy continues to mourn its princess some of us will miss the things that made her an excellent and gorgeously flawed person. That is what makes her loss all the sadder and while the images of her cinnamon roll hairdo and sprawled out in the infamous gold bikini are what will always be remembered visually that’s only because what was in her mind, heart and strength could never be done justice visually.

La La Land Dances Its Way Into Award Season

rs_634x634-160713082755-600-lalaland-cm-71316Hollywood has a long history with nostalgia; you could even make a case that the whole film industry is based on nostalgia. We love to be taken back to different times and places; we watch certain movies so they can bring back old feelings we want. Some filmmakers passion projects are rooted deep in nostalgia; Woody Allen has made an entire career on his love of the past.

Young rising writer/director Damien Chazelle has released his newest film, and it is full of his love of old Hollywood and more. Chazelle shows his love for the lavish classic musical that were staples every year during the golden age of movies. Of course, this is not the first time that a film has drawn in an era of movies that is long since the past. In 2011 everyone swept away with The Artist, a modern day silent film like those of the days before recorded sound on film. In hindsight, The Artist feels more like a gimmick film now than a genuinely great movie, and many of its awards were doled out because it tugged at the nostalgia muscle of many in tinsel town.

La La Land is the story of Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian la-la-land-2-800x480played by Ryan Gosling, who are two young people trying to make it in the cutthroat world of L.A. and show business. They meet and soon find each other irresistible and try making their dreams come true while at the same time falling in love. Mia is desperate to be an actress and fulfill her childhood dreams While Sebastian wants nothing more than to own a jazz nightclub and preserve the feelings he feels towards the classic and traditional jazz music he loves. As Mia and Sebastian work towards their goals, they feel themselves begin to separate from each other and soon difficult choices need to be made. Their love is undeniable but is it as strong as it needs to be for them to breakthrough?

La La Land begins with a well choreographed lavish dance number on the freeways of Los Angeles with everyone leaving their vehicles dancing in the middle of gridlocked traffic. The vast number that makes the opening of the film left me a little uncertain as to what style and flow the movie would have because the previews of the film were more set up to show the visual beauty rather than the way any story would be told. Mia is then introduced first, and a small glimpse into her life is shown before we are shown Sebastian’s world. I have to say it took me a good 30 minutes before the story started to flow, but once it did, it pulled you in so deeply and yet gently that you are 100% immersed in their lives.

The film does not follow the typical musical blueprints of the old Gene Kelly or Danny Kaye style films from 70 or 80 years ago, but it is a love letter to that way of storytelling none the less. While music is the life force flowing through the film, it helps move the story along as well as the lives of Mia and Sebastian as opposed to being the only purpose of the film. We become enthralled with the relationship they both share and where it will lead. Sebastian is in love with the jazz music of the 1920’s and 30’s and is afraid the whole style of jazz is dying, and when he is united with an old musician friend, he isn’t a fan of his new style of jazz. His friend tells him that while he is afraid that jazz will die out, he refuses to change with the times and advance it so that people of a newer younger generation can appreciate it as a whole. This reflects the film itself and the state that musical films are in right now. When musicals are made they do seem to be old love letters to the musicals of old, there doesn’t appear to be anything new that would bring old and new together. Chazelle has made his attempt at bringing that out with his version of a new musical in films. He has in essence challenged others to make musicals more prevalent again, but at the same time to give them a new look and feel that will draw everyone back.

La La Land is one of the heavy favorites going into award season and it is for a good reason. Part of the reason that it is garnering so much attention is that it is a return to musicals, and it stirs up the nostalgia of all the awards committees, but in this turn of the musical, Chazelle has made it new and given it a life of its own. Chazelle has established himself as a new and exciting voice in filmmaking in a very short amount of time and gave movie fans quite a bit to be excited about.

 

Manchester By The Sea Will Affect Every Emotion You Can Imagine

manchester-by-the-sea-quad-posterNow and then a film comes along that lingers in the mind of the viewer long after it is over leaving a feeling or impression that just can’t be easily lost. In the case of movies like this, rarely is it a happy, feel-good movie. The stories that leave such lasting impressions touch us in an uncomfortable way and shake us deep down. It has been quite some time since I have had these feelings and emotions after leaving a theater but, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea has left me with feelings and emotions that won’t soon be shaken.

Manchester By The Sea is the story of Lee Chandler who is a quiet 58544f3aae63a-imagehandyman in the Quincy area of Boston who appears to be more or less just existing on a daily basis. Lee is informed that his brother Joe has died and Lee has to come back home to Manchester and settle things for his brother and be with his 16-year-old nephew. While making all the arraignments and settling the estate, Lee is informed that he is now the legal guardian of his nephew, Pat. Lee is completely unprepared to handle this responsibility and the more time Lee spends in Manchester, the more he is reminded of why he is ill equipped handle this responsibility. Lee is constantly haunted by past mistakes and a life he has tried so hard to forget and erase from his mind.

As I sit here trying to express my thoughts and views of Manchester, I find the right words incredibly hard to find. It is hard to put the depth of emotions that the film brings out, into words. Lonergan manages to capture humanity at its most difficult while proving that not everyone gains closure no matter how desperately they want and need it. His brilliant and articulate script are matched only by his visual way of telling Lee’s tragic and intense story. The mixture of flashbacks is used so expertly, that with every new scene we are made to understand Lee more and more. Casey Affleck’s performance is moving and captivating on a level that most actors only wish they had the ability to reach. With every word and glance and the gaze of his eyes, you can almost feel what he does in the pit of his stomach.

1122_manchester-hedgesThere is no doubt why this film is going to be on the tips of everyone’s tongue during the upcoming awards season. As for the film’s star, Casey Affleck, he has cemented himself amongst the greatest working actors and is poised to walk away with just about every award possible for him. This is the role that will define him as an actor, and he should be proud to have this as the feather in his cap.

This picture is not one of a tragedy that turns into hopefulness leaving us crying with joy and relief for the characters. This story is one that is real and raw and may make you look at someone and see things differently. Not everyone gets over tragedy. Not everyone heals and moves on; sometimes people just exist, and they are damaged and broken.

Manchester By The Sea may have you leave the theater asking why manchester-by-the-sea-1someone would choose to tell such a depressing and sad story. This would be a valid thought, but sometimes we need to experience sad and tragic art so that those producing the art and those viewing it can expunge the feelings we all have deep inside us.

Don’t look for Manchester By The Sea to give you a boost but don’t think that experiencing the depths of emotions not often tapped into can’t also make you feel alive.

Rogue One Is The New Addition To The Star Wars Galaxy

rogueonestandeebar640In October of 2012, Walt Disney shocked everyone when they bought Lucasfilm for a whopping $4.06 BILLION. Disney now had complete control of the Star Wars universe and everything that happened with it from there forward. They immediately satisfied the Star Wars faithful by announcing the release of a new trilogy to conclude the saga that would take place some time after the events of Return Of The Jedi. Just over three years after the buyout, we were treated to the release of Episode VII The Force Awakens and the foul taste in our mouths that remained from the prequel films, was quickly washed away. Episode VII had everything fans had wanted from the look to the characters, and it appeared this was a good move for everyone involved, including and especially the fans.

Along with the release of three new films in the classic saga, it has been made known that there would also be independent anthology films that took place in the same universe. One of the big movies is going to be a Han Solo origin story which is set to begin filming in February 2017 and has a release set for sometime late 2018. Disney has plans to unveil a new Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future.

That brings us up to date, and it brings us to the first independent rogue-one-cast-photo-d23-1536x864-521514304075-1anthology story from Disney Studios, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We found out that Rogue One would be the story of the team that stole the plans of the Death Star for the rebel alliance that is used as the first big blow against the empire in the original 1977 masterpiece. Speculation was flying around from day one as to what characters would appear, how would they connect, etc. we will speculate no more because Rogue One has landed.

The basis of this story could not have been much better for a first time venture in this direction with the Star Wars movies. Rogue One had all the pieces to be able to draw everyone in, the timing in the universe is the most familiar to fans, it had the ability to have the style that made everyone fall in love with the original films in the first place. This movie also didn’t have to create something that wasn’t there and make a world and story around it. The very basic plot was something all fans knew about, but the details were all that were needed. This left much room for new creations while grounded in enough established characters to not lose anyone right off the bat.

rogue-oneThe first most noticeable difference in Rogue One, as opposed to the seven films in the original saga, is that it does not adhere to the mold that has formed all the others. There is no scrolling prolog setting up the story; it jumps right in. You will also notice markers that label the planets and systems that are visited much like when different cities are identified on screen in spy films. The overall tone of Rogue One is heavier and darker than any previous Star Wars movie; this film does not cater to the children of today. This story is for all the children that have grown up Star Wars fans and are well into adulthood. That is not to say that it will not be enjoyed by all, but this is the movie for the longtime fans of the original trilogy.

Rogue One begins in the early years of the development of the 371780_042Empire’s greatest weapon, the Death Star. The Empires lead scientist and designer; Galen Erso has fled the project because of his disbelief in the Empire and his love of the rebellion. Now on a remote planet living the life of a farmer, Galen, and his family are soon discovered. Erso is soon taken back to finish his work by Orson Krennic, his former friend. Galen’s wife and daughter flee until his wife returns only to be killed by Krennic. Their daughter is soon rescued by Saw Gerrera who is an extreme believer of the rebellion.

Many years pass and Galen’s daughter, Jyn is grown and is imprisoned but is soon rescued by the Alliance. Jyn is now reluctantly joined with the rebellion and soon finds out that they need her help to find her father so they can obtain the data plans of the newly finished Death Star. While Jyn is skeptical about helping them and her ability to do so, she quickly realizes she can do something significant and meaningful. After an initial rejection from the Alliance Council, Jyn and everyone she has met on her journey, decide to forge ahead with the mission to stealing the plans.

mon-mothma-star-wars-rogue-one-disneyThe legendary quest that was only briefly spoken about and never detailed comes to life in a way that I did not think would be as captivating. The mixture of original aspects and the new elements brought to the film is exactly what Star Wars fans have been hoping to see. Where The Force Awakens had everything the fans wanted from the prequels, Rogue One is everything we could have asked for in an entirely new story…and more.

My expectations were high going into Rogue One (as they are with all new Star Wars films) but I can honestly say I did not expect what I saw. It was the first time I did not feel they pandered to me. Rogue One is raw and gritty and doesn’t try to please every demographic. Some will love it like me; some will hate because someone always has to hate it. However, this film is ideal for the entire franchise and has me extremely excited for what more Disney has in the works for this beloved galaxy we love.

50 Years Of Woody Allen 1980-1989

woody-allenContinuing my look at 50 years of Woody Allen making films puts us in the decade of the 1980’s. The decade of money and power and a desperate need to distance itself from the 70’s. Woody looked to build off the success he achieved in the decade previously. The 80’s did not start off so kind to him though with his release of Stardust Memories which many fans and critics took as a slight towards them. It turned out to be the first time one his films would receive heavy scrutiny on that scale. It would take several years to pass before Stardust Memories would get appreciated for what it was. Despite starting the decade rather harshly, he would soon find his stride once again.

5.  Radio Days (1987)img_0769

Radio Days is as close to an autobiographical film as Woody Allen has ever made. Set in the early 1940’s a tight-knit family in Brooklyn all live in one small home where each of their lives revolves around their favorite radio stars. Using all his old stories of the stars of the time, he at the same time tells the story of each member of his family. Radio Days features some of the classic Woody humor and portrays this family in a way that most everyone can see pieces of their family in them. Check out my retrospective here

4.  The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985)img_0770

In the 1930′ a young woman named Cecilia who is very dissatisfied with her life and stuck in an abusive relationship, finds solace and escape in the movies. She sees one particular film over and over until the movie’s star, perfectly played by Jeff Daniels, steps off the screen into the theater right into her life. The fourth collaboration between Allen and Mia Farrow in what would prove to be one of the best teams in movie history, until it all went wrong. A beautiful, heartfelt romantic fantasy film that is so enjoyable it leaves you with a smile.

3.  Broadway Danny Rose (1984)img_0771

A comedic series of events lands a low-level talent agent to be mistaken by a gangster as the lover of a woman he is trying to help. One of the most eccentric characters Farrow played in her series of films with Allen, she pulls it off beautifully. Semi narrated by a group of nightclub entertainers who sit around reminiscing about Danny Rose and his hilarious antics that made him so memorable.

2.  Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)img_0773

Two stories simultaneously told even though they never overlap. One is comical in nature, and the other is dramatic and even rather sinister. Martin Landau plays a doctor whose mistress is threatening to expose their affair to his wife if he doesn’t leave with her. He begins to think there is only one way to make the situation go away and that is to kill her. In the other story, a documentary filmmaker reluctantly agrees to make a film about his wife’s brother whom he doesn’t particularly like or respect. While making the film, he meets a producer whom he begins developing deep feelings for while he and his wife navigate through their loveless marriage.

  1.  Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)img_0774

Critically his most successful film of the decade, Hannah And Her Sisters won 3 Academy Awards for the screenplay, supporting actress for Diane Weist (her first of two she won with Woody) and best supporting actor for Michael Caine. Hannah And Her Sisters is the story of three very different sisters and how they navigate their lives and how they are each affected differently by the same people. Expertly acted and wonderfully written, Hannah is one of Woody’s finest films in his whole catalog. It is the perfect blend of comedy and drama yet still full of heart and depth; it was truly his highlight of the decade

The Magnificent Seven Ride Once Again

the-magnificent-sevenI have not been vague or unclear in my opinions of remaking films, let alone highly regarded and classic films. There is a very fine line that one walks when filming a remake. You leave the audience satisfied, or you risk making a complete joke of the entire final product.

Remakes and reboots have become all too familiar in recent years and, in my opinion, have too often left a bitter aftertaste. I do not get particularly excited when I see the retelling of a movie is in production and I usually have adamant opinions before ever even seeing the film. This year has been no different. Two Hollywood classics received the makeover treatment and views were flying about both before they were even released. The first was the Cecil B. DeMille epic, Ben-Hur which I have not seen and have no immediate plans to see for reasons of which I could never stop listing. The second remake is a remake of a remake, The Magnificent Seven.

62 years ago Akira Kurosawa released his masterpiece, Seven Samurai, the story of an eclectic bunch of samurai in 1586 who are hired to help save a village which is under attack. Seven Samurai is considered the blueprint for all action movies that have followed since. It changed the way classic hero/villain stories are told, filmed and presented. You have to figure that making an Americanized version would prove to be a relatively tall order. Six years after Seven Samurai was the release of the now western classic, The Magnificent Seven starring some of the biggest stars in movies with names like Yul Brenner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen.

Fast forward 56 years later, and Antoine Fuqua takes on the magnificent-seven-2016-reviewsdaunting task of remaking a classic western which is a retelling of a masterpiece film. If Fuqua was looking to challenge himself, he chose the right project. He called upon two stars that he had worked with in the past with success. Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke team up again for the second time. They previously starred in Fuqua’s Training Day in which they both were nominated for an Academy Award and Washington won.

the-magnificent-seven-bartholomewThe town of Rose Creek is under the thumb of a wealthy and sinister industrialist, Bartholomew Bogue, with a small army of enforcers on his payroll. The residents of the town unable to make a living and have lost control of their city. Bogue flexes his muscle to try and force the town to sell their land. When they hold a meeting inside the town church to seek to see what can be done to stop him, Bogue then burns the church and kills the man who stands up to him, Matthew Cullen. Cullen’s widow heads out of town to look for help to force Bogue out. She stumbles across a skilled gunman named Sam Chisolm whom she witnesses take out a series of men, single-handedly. When she makes her case to Chisolm, he quickly turns her down. The widow Cullen continues to plead, and once Chisolm hears the name of Bogue, he then agrees to help her out. Chisolm travels the territory to put together the right team of outlaws, gunfighters, bounty hunters and other rag tags, that are just crazy enough to pull off such a challenge.

The crew arrive in town and begin helping the citizens to prepare for the fight of their life. Knowing casualties will occur, they are ready for the fight, knowing that the result will be worth the sacrifice. Before long, Bogue and his men arrive back in town prepared to push the residents of Rose Creek out and take their land. Soon a bloody battle of survival ensues that Bogue and his men thought they were ready for but soon realize that it will not be as easy as they anticipated.

The best way to look at this version of The Magnificent Seven is not the-magnificent-seven-18to take it too seriously and just enjoy it on its own. It is a well-made action western with all the elements that make it enjoyable. There is plenty of humor provided by Chris Pratt and a strong lead that Denzel Washington is well known. Ethan Hawke as the mysterious and troubled gunslinger provides depth to the characters.

If you cannot help but hold it up against the original Magnificent Seven or even worse hold it up against Seven Samurai, then you will no doubt be left severely disappointed. I choose to look at the fact that it took a good base of a story and told it in its way and a greater sense. It was able to do visually that the others just didn’t have the ability to. The gun shots are louder; the explosions are bigger, and the landscape is wider than in the previous films. All this said it does not compare to the first two films in its lineage and it would be unfair to do so. Just enjoy it as a fun blockbuster with all the right pieces.

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