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Review: The Shape Of Water

Two and half years ago I wrote a post about how the creativity in the movie industry seems to be all but dead. I still wholeheartedly believe that but, like I said before there are some exceptions to this. Guillermo del Toro is maybe the leader of the original filmmakers in Hollywood. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most creative films to hit cinemas in quite some time. He then brought the futuristic sci-fi action movie, Pacific Rim to theaters. This year he gave us yet another truly original story to life with The Shape Of Water. With an all-star cast including a slew of Oscar nominees, Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer he brings his monsters back to life in beautiful style.

Set in the 1950s cold war in a highly secret government facility a mute cleaning woman who lives a small life who’s only friends are a fellow cleaning woman who looks out for her played by Octavia Spencer and her artist neighbor played by Richard Jenkins. When a secret project is brought into the facility by the nearly sadistic leader played by Michael Shannon. When Elisa (Hawkins) looks into the project too closely and discovers an amphibious creature which appears to be half man she finds herself unusually drawn to him and forms a friendship in secret. When the Russians begin trying to capture the creature she forms a plan with her friends to take him out of the facility and bring him home to keep him from being experimented on. They soon pull off an unlikely heist which brings the creature to her home and has the government on a search to bring him back to the facility and keep him out of Russian hands. Elisa soon forms an even deeper bond with the creature that leads them to attempt to flee from everyone they know.

The mind of del Toro is something of people like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Lucas (early Lucas) and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in our own time. It has been recognized by critics and award committees and fans worldwide. He has used the film medium to bring his creatures, or as he refers to them, monsters, to life. What makes it wonderful to experience is not just his creativity but the beauty in which he makes his worlds come to life. He is not just creative but he is a great filmmaker and has a unique vision. He has a great sense of character and emotion that all great filmmakers have, which is what makes them great. His mind and worlds can captivate every cinephile and bring them into a new place which is what movies are all about. The Shape Of Water is rightfully being recognized all over this year as one of the years best movies and rightfully so. While his style and worlds may not be for everyone, those with a desire for originality will find The Shape Of Water a refreshing new find. We can only wait for his next creation to be taken away to another fascinating world and time.

Lady Bird Is A Masterful Coming-Of-Age Film

For some time now Greta Gerwig has been slowly taking the title of “queen of independent films” away from its longtime holder, Parker Posey. Well, now she has once again gone behind the camera and released her second film, Lady Bird, which she also has written. Lady Bird also stars one of the industries best young actresses, two-time Academy Award nominee, Saoirse Ronan. Ronan blew everyone away when she stole the show in 2007’s Atonement as well as her beautiful performance in one of 2015’s best films, Brooklyn.

Lady Bird is the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a seventeen-year-old girl who is doing her best to exist in a city, school, and home that feels out of place in. These feelings are compounded by a contentious relationship with her overly critical mother, Marion played by Laurie Metcalf in the role of her career. As Lady Bird navigates her way through her senior year of high school she discovers heartbreak, superficial friendships and how these experiences can mold you into everything that makes you who you are. Hell-bent on attending an east coast college she consistently butts heads with her mother on her future while discovering the depths of her parents struggle with their own lives. Lady Bird at times goes to great lengths to hide her family’s meager means while attending a private school with much more well-to-do children.

The relationship and dynamic Lady Bird and her mother have is one that can easily be related to by most. Sympathy can easily be felt for both of them as it is well portrayed what each one’s deeper feelings and motivations truly are. Marion wants the best for her daughter but her blunt honesty and critical views of her daughter’s life and choices feel overbearing to Lady Bird. While on the other hand, Lady Bird also wants what she feels is best for herself while still not knowing what that is. She desperately wants the encouragement and support from her mother in her choices and wants but can’t seem to get that from her. It is in this aspect that the movie really settles your heart because we come to want what they BOTH want. We see Lady Bird grow significantly throughout her final year of school and she gets all the support and understanding from her loving father played by Tracy Letts. Her father is struggling in his life both outwardly and within himself all while doing all he can to give his daughter everything she needs to be a successful woman.

This is Saoirse Ronan’s first major role since her Oscar-nominated performance in Brooklyn and she seamlessly transitions from a 1950’s Irish immigrant trying to make it in a new world, to an eccentric teenager battling her way through some of the most tumultuous times in her life. Her performance is so genuine and real that we feel every emotion and difficulty she has and her struggle to navigate her way through it. This is a character that could not have been played by any other actress out there because of how we feel about her. As much as this is due to Ronan’s unbelievable abilities it is equally attributed to the magnificent script that Gerwig has masterfully crafted.

Lady Bird is one of the most heartwarming yet raw coming of age stories that have been put out in years. Without question, Gerwig has established herself as a preeminent filmmaker working right now. In a time and industry that is in recent times been plagued with mistreatment of women and abuses of power that make everyone sick, Lady Bird is the glittering jewel that makes people want to make films and makes the viewer continue to enjoy them. All is not lost in the industry that seems to have had its legs knocked out from underneath it. Films can be built back into what it once was and it will be done with the strength of filmmakers like Gerwig. She will soon become a signal of hope for all the women fighting for equality in the industry.

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.

Jeff Bridges: Top 5 Underrated Films

jeff_bridgesWithout a doubt in the last 10-15 years one of the most reliable stars has been Jeff Bridges. In the last 6-7 years he’s enjoyed the height of his career without question. After winning his first Academy Award for Crazy Heart, he followed up with another nomination the next year for his remake of True Grit. He would do a Tron sequel and several other movies where he was the leading man, unlike he had ever been.

This has got me to thinking. The years leading up to his massive boom in success what were some of his truly under appreciated films. I went back as far as 1988, when he was a name but not the legend his now. He comes from Hollywood Royalty so it only makes sense that with the direction his career has gone he has become royalty himself. I was 8 years old in 1988 and it’s the first film I remember seeing this larger than life actor. We will touch on that film later, though it is the oldest in my list of underrated Jeff Bridges movies.

 

5.K-Pax (2001)

k-pax_2.4_resizedWhen Dr. Mark Powell (Bridges) first meets Prot he feels he just dealing with another mentally disturbed man who needs his help. Prot (Kevin Spacey) soon starts to have the doctor doubting his own advice and question his knowledge. Bridges plays a character unafraid of questioning himself and his world. The heart that Bridges gives to the character is not unfamiliar. He has a knack for doing that.

 

4. The Vanishing (1993)

The Vanishing may seem a little similar to another film on this list in the doubt it plants in the viewer’s mind, but it nonetheless is a top-notch thriller and some even classify it as a horror film. One thing is for sure, it is an intense ride. Barney Cousins is the boyfriend of a woman who gets TheVanishing1993-01_resized-1abducted and he never gives up the search for her no matter the opposition he runs into. Terrifying enough is that the abductor is watching his search the whole time. Bridges plays the role perfectly. I believe this is due to the fact that he is relatable and plays and Everyman so well.

 

3.Tucker (1988)

This is the film I first remember seeing Jeff Bridges, in. I was a mere 8 years old and became Jeff-Bridges_Tucker-movie_resizedfascinated with Tucker automobile and what he had invented. With no internet to do research, this film was all I had. Jeff Bridges wasn’t an actor to me at that point, he was Preston Tucker. You could feel Tucker’s passion for his car and innovations come through Bridges performance. Sadly is was such an underrated film and not really seen by many.

 

2. Arlington Road (1999)

These next two films I truly believe, in my heart, that no one could have played these parts and would have conveyed exactly the feelings they should. Michael Faraday is a widowed man with a 9-year-old son. He is a professor of terrorist acts at a Washington university who lost his FBI agent wife in an unexpected raid. He soon begins to suspect his new neighbors of suspicious activity. His paranoia almost takes over the shattered life he is arlington-road_l_resizedattempting to live until he has proof that his suspicions are real. Bridges runs the gamut of emotions and thoughts through the whole movie that you hang on every move he makes.

 

1.  White Squall (1996)

The role of Captain Sheldon was nothing short of difficult. He played a hard disciplinarian, teacher, and captain in 1960. When he takes aboard 8 teenage male students with various shortcomings, they discover hardship, camaraderie, and brotherhood. Various final1_resizedevents test the limits of all their loyalty. Captain Sheldon never abandons the boys and his responsibility, even in the face of the worst storm he’s witnessed and the loss of much of the crew including his wife. He still strives to teach the boys in his actions far after the tragedy. No one could play this role and emit the feelings and emotion of Captain Sheldon and his crew and life and his loss. It was a top-notch performance and film that never got it’s just due.

The James Bond Franchise Comes Full Circle 

IMG_4040For the last nine years, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have been on a mission to restore the James Bond franchise to the heights it knew When Barbara’s father and Wilson’s stepfather, Albert R. ‘Cubby” Broccoli, was the man in charge of bringing James Bond off the pages and onto the big screen. After some disappointing numbers and subpar films with Pierce Brosnan they decided to make a change. The new Bond would be entrusted with the responsibility of breathing life back into the world’s most famous spy. In step Daniel Craig, a blonde haired, blue eyed actor not enormously famous and not what every other Bond had looked like or been described like in the books. Needless to say the fan base was not happy. Jump to present day and it’s not out of reach by any means to give Daniel Craig the title of the best Bond ever. Rebooting the franchise with Casino Royale, the first of the books, fans would quickly be sold on their new Bond and the new look of the films. Casino Royale would be followed up by another franchise first, a direct sequel with Quantum Of Solace. Again fans were up in arms just with the title. Though not as strong as Royale, Quantum did successfully finish what Royale started.

Then came the crown jewel for Craig, Skyfall. Its massive success and incredible reviews, it was no question that Broccoli and Wilson were accomplishing their goal. Bond had a new look not only physically, but esthetically on film. With Oscar winners like Paul Haggis and Sam Mendes lending their talents to the franchise, there was no question Bond was back and better than ever.

On December 4th, 2014 when the title of the newest Bond film and its cast would be announced, it was the first time there didn’t seem to be any backlash from the faithful Bond enthusiasts. SPECTRE let everyone know that everything they loved about Bond was on its way back and in a big way. With two time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz as the villain and Sam Mendes returning to direct the anticipation was at a fever pitch.

Eleven months later the time has arrived. Would it deliver? Would it bomb? Or would it be exactly what it should be? The trouble is that Bond fans are almost always split one way or another when it comes to the films on first release. In the end, though, they love them all in their own way. This will be true even with SPECTRE.

SPECTRE is the culmination of the vision Barbara and Michael set out to deliver. Where it appeared that Quantum was the end of Casino Royale and Skyfall was a new stand alone Bond like all the others, SPECTRE would prove otherwise. The re-boot truly is complete now.

In the new film Bond is on a private mission that is unsanctioned by MI6 and it couldn’t come at a worse time as the 00 division is under fire and being accused of being outdated and unnecessary. While making headlines in all the wrong places, Bond is grounded by M, played excellently by Ralph Finnes, and forbidden from leaving London. However Bond is ultimately fulfilling one last mission for M’s predecessor. With the help of Q and Moneypenny, he ventures out all over Europe to fulfill his mission without any idea what he will find. What Bond slowly uncovers is an organization unlike any he has seen before and a look into his past he never expected to find.

The return of the criminal organization SPECTRE makes true Bond enthusiasts more excited than can be described. As the filmIMG_4037 goes on, the things fans were wondering and predicting begin to unfold. I don’t consider this a spoiler because no Bond film has ever had many surprises because that’s not their goal.

I made a point to not read any critics reviews until after I experienced the film for myself. I was and yet I wasn’t surprised to see it get panned by most of the “major” or “expert” critics. They seemed to pick it apart bit by bit. Skyfall was repeatedly mentioned and one critic even mentioned Orson Welles. This is simply unfair to the film. To pick apart a Bond movie and analyze it so deeply like a piece of art is unrealistic. Bond films are not pieces of art, not to say they aren’t great, but they also aren’t Citizen Kane.

When reviewing a Bond film you need to look at the details as well as the ridiculous. SPECTRE really does deliver on all fronts. From the opening sequence, which has always been a staple of the franchise, is eye popping with every bit of action one could hope for. It will ultimately be as memorable as Goldeneye’s bungee dive off the damn and subsequent airplane dive.

The one truly great thing about SPECTRE are the very subtle and very slight recreations of moments from almost every Bond film ever. For example, a train ride is abruptly interrupted by a hand to hand combat battle with the muscle end of the villainous side. This is very much an homage to the classic battle between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love. Hardcore Bond fans will recognize many of these references.

If there is anything negative about SPECTRE it would be two things I noticed. The length of the film could have easily been cut down by half an hour. It is the longest running Bond film at 2 hours 28 minutes. The second disappointment would be the theme song which is only slightly saved by one of the most beautiful opening title sequences in Bond history. In fairness to the theme song, it did have very large shoes to fill following Adele’s theme for Skyfall which earned her the Academy Award (which had never been done before despite some memorable theme songs).

SPECTRE is one hell of a good ride and if you go into the film with an open mind and not the idea that it should trump Skyfall or Goldfinger, you will be engrossed and leave the movie feeling more than satisfied. Enjoy James Bond because he is… James Bond. He is not Hamlet and never will be.

Chris Mulkey Shares His Passion For Acting And His Latest Film, The Surface

Chris+Mulkey+Captain+Phillips+Premieres+Beverly+iVasd1H1y1jlPassion and depth of films often times come from the people on the screen with less time than those with top billing. We often refer to them as “character actors” which is a term I have come to learn that they don’t find all that flattering because they feel it diminishes the depth of what they do. I agree, to label these actors is unfair because they are exactly everything that acting should be about. They take risks and multitudes of different roles in the experience and the challenges that it brings them.  Character actors on occasion hit the heights they never dreamed. Just look at last years Oscar winner for best supporting actor, J.K. Simmons. Simmons is a classic example of a long time great actor who always worked for the love of it and the experience of working with people and roles that inspired him. Much like Bryan Cranston, who worked tirelessly for years before landing the role of a lifetime on Breaking Bad. But that hasn’t kept Cranston from challenging himself. He played former president Lyndon Johnson on stage and is set to re-create the role in an HBO adaptation as well as his very much anticipated role as Dalton Trumbo which is already generating Oscar buzz.

An actor with a very similar passion, skills and courage is veteran actor Chris Mulkey. His credits go back to 1977 when he appeared on the show Baretta. He has been working very consistently ever since. With over 200 film and TV credits to his name, he has worked with everyone from Buddy Ebsen to the afore mentioned J.K. Simmons (in his Oscar winning film).

Mulkey still seeks out roles that challenge him and connect with him, as should any good actor who is always looking to hone his craft. I recently had a chance to speak with Mulkey about one such upcoming film as well as his very solid career.

The film is called The Surface in which Mulkey plays Kelly, a man fallen on hard times and turns to risky and illegal moves to provide for the family he holds so dear. When his plane crashes in Lake Michigan, he is rescued by Mitch, played by Sean Astin whose life is very much in dire straits as well. The two begin to reveal themselves to one another and discover themselves along the way.
What drew you to the story and made you say this is something I really need to be a part of?
What drew me to the story was the obvious adventure that was presented to an actor in a movie on water about surviving. The subtext for me, and I really haven’t said this before. I had a niece who passed away and she DIDN’T find anyone in the water to save her. She took her life in the river. So when I watch the movie, it’s really hard for me not to think of Anna.
The chemistry between you and Sean really comes across and you mention such a personal connection to your character and the characters in the film, it really makes sense as to why things worked in the film.
Kelly gets angry at himself and wants to kill himself in the film and for a while I was angry at my niece for doing that and in an odd way she was the third person in the boat for sure.
Looking over your career, which is vast! There is no way you haven’t developed a palette for good writing and good storytelling.
Yeah, I do the seven page thing. If I open a script and if I’m thinking about lunch or something by page seven I say, ” aww I can’t not do this movie”. And when I read The Surface it was like one breath, I was just straight through.
Looking back on your career, is there one role where you think, I hope that’s the one at the end of time where they say, “That was him”?
Well, this movie might be somewhere in there in the mix.
I don’t doubt it with the personal connection, this would definitely be one to put on the mantle.
I did a movie that I wrote with my wife, Karen Landry called Patti Rocks, we won the Sundance grand prize and it played all over the world. That was about a guy acting fervently on bad information. I’m always kind of drawn to those kind of people. How the misinformed can dedicate themselves.
Is there one character that you think everyone identifies you with?
I’ve done so many, but the ones that keep coming up are Billy Regis from Patti Rocks, and Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks.

The genuine love of his profession that comes across can’t help but be admired and infectious. Chris Mulkey still has many projects pouring out and based on his love for the great work they, without a doubt will be worth checking out.
Look for The Surface coming soon.

The Surface Trailer

Love & Mercy Shows The Beauty And Struggle Of Brian Wilson In A Masterful Way

There’s a term that has a tendency to be overused, and that’s “tortured genius”. It may never be more accurately used than when it comes to Brian Wilson, the man behind the success and great sound of The Beach Boys. The story of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys has been told many times before, in multiple books and even two different TV movies. The many stories of everything from their domineering father to the drugs and even Wilson’s bizarre behavior, have been well documented. With Love & Mercy, long time and well known producer Bill Pohlad goes behind the lens to Direct one of the most unique biopics in recent years. Pohlad simultaneously tells the story of the two most pivotal times of Wilson’s life. For these two stories, which are separated by twenty years, he chose two actors with very different styles and brought the best they have to offer.

For the 1986 version of Wilson, the choice of Hollywood veteran John Cusack may on the service, appear  an odd choice but clearly Pohlad saw something and struck gold. Cusack is much loved and respected throughout the industry. His movies are usually solid and entertaining, but his acting, while never bad, has never been praised… until now. Cusack turns in the greatest performance of his career. Playing Wilson and possibly the most downtrodden point in his life, was no easy task. Pohlad, Cusack and Paul Giamatti, who plays his psychiatrist, caretaker and guardian, re-create this time in his life that even Wilson himself felt overwhelmed when he saw the film, feeling that he was right back in that period himself.

  Paul Dano was tasked with the responsibility of showing Wilson during his most ingenious and creative period as he wrote the groundbreaking album, Pet Sounds. Dano is without a doubt one of the best young actors out there. He might not be the biggest name out there, but his quality and body of work speaks for itself. Love & Mercy will also go down as one of his greatest performances of his career.

Without question, Love & Mercy will be a feather in the cap for Cusack, Dano and Pohlad. It is a movie  that showcases the brilliance and struggles of Brian Wilson and how he reached through all of that and forged the second half of his life, career and brilliance. To see the creative process of a genius like Wilson is mesmerizing to watch and impossible to understand. It is the result of all of that we have had the privilege of enjoying and never growing tired of for over the last 50 years. The music he has left behind will never grow old and will be around and admired right along side all the other musical geniuses in history from Beethoven and Mozart to Lennon and McCartney. And hopefully this film will be remembered as the definitive telling of a tortured genius who is beloved.