House of Cards (Netflix): Season 6

DO NOT WATCH THIS SEASON… BUT if you already did (like me), you “wasted 6 hours of your life” (as my lil bro complained over Thanksgiving)! The writing is beyond bad, some plotlines go nowhere, and (new) characters are underdeveloped. Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill (Greg Kinnear) Shepherd are billionaire tycoon sibs hell bent on taking down Pres. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). As girls, Claire and Annette grew up together in rural Texas, so there is a natural rivalry; we also learn that Annette once had a fling w/ Frank. Some of you may wonder who could be the father of Annette’s 20-ish son? 

Spacey is out, so MUCH so that we don’t even hear his voice on recordings (which Doug Stamper discovered). Doug is back and in (potential) danger in the early eps from Claire; Michael Kelly (he liked one of my tweets- YAY!) does a fine job, as expected. I was esp. happy to see Janine (Constance Zimmer) back, BUT she doesn’t get much to do. Tom (Boris McGiver, now diminished in his job (formerly he was “The Hammer”) gets a few scenes; he laments the downfall and conglomeration of the news biz. Campbell Scott is back (he’s now VP) and so is Patricia Clarkson (an indie movie darling, BUT totally misplaced on this show). Claire wants the former spy around as a gal pal /confidante/roomie. A few characters return in brief scenes, incl. former VP Linda (Sakina Jaffrey). 

As for Robin Wright, she does what she can w/ the (bad) material. Of course, she looks incredibly fit and gorgeous (DUH!); this season her wardrobe is more militaristic in style and coloring. Claire projects coldness, resilience, cunning, and strength- even becoming more violent! But as I’ve noted before, strong actors (no matter how much they try), can’t save a series or movie that is poorly written and laughably implausible. 

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Reviews of Recently Viewed Films

Terminal Station (1953) starring Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift

Last week, I saw this rare little gem of a movie one afternoon (on TCM); the David O. Selznick cut is titled Indiscretion of an American Wife. Then, I decided to check out the slightly longer version from the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica(Amazon Prime); it contains a a few more (ambiguous) lines/scenes. De Sica’s films are known for romantic neo-realism. My parents (fans of Sophia Loren) really enjoyed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964) which both won Oscars. 

If my art seems pessimistic, it is a consequence of my continuing optimism and its disillusion. At least I have enthusiasm. It is necessary to all professions to have enthusiasm in order to have success. -Vittorio De Sica

Why did you come with me? -Giovanni asks Mary

You didn’t look very wicked. I’m not an imaginative woman. It was you. It was Rome! And I’m a housewife from Philadelphia. -Mary replies

A married American woman, Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has been involved for a month w/ a slightly younger Italian-American teacher, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift), in Rome while visiting relatives. One rainy morning, Mary suddenly decides to return home to her husband and young daughter, but w/o telling anyone (aside from her nephew, played by a young Richard Beymer). She goes to the (newly built) train terminal, realizes that she is not at all sure about leaving, and agonizes over her decision. Giovanni joins her at the station, very confused and hurt, as she had just told him “I love you” the previous night.  

[1] This is such a contained, focused film, and demands so much of its two actors, every little nuance matters in a kind of exciting dramatic way. The closest thing this compares to, as two lovers or would be lovers talk in a train station, is Brief Encounter (1945), and that’s a masterpiece of acting and cinema both. Here, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones, it comes close.

[2] Jennifer Jones, beyond radiant in her prime-of-life womanhood, exudes a sensuality that both contrasts strikingly with her 1950s-prim exterior and celebrates the troubled woman within…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

There is plenty of drama behind this film! Producer Selznick (then married to Jones), wanted to have a slick romance depicted; De Sica wanted to show a ruined romance (which was fully supported by Clift). De Sica favored realism, so wasn’t interested in Hollywood-style close-ups; Selznick eventually hired cinematographer Oswald Morris to film some of these. Each day on the set, Selznick had critical letters for De Sica (who didn’t know English). The script was altered several times, as the two men had such different visions. Two scenes were written by Truman Capote, who gets screenplay credit. 

The Violent Men (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson

Never meet the enemy on his terms. -John says to his ranch hands

I’ll fight for the privilege of being left alone. -John explains to Lee 

A former Union Army officer, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), fully recovered from his war wounds, plans to sell his ranch to the wealthy owner of Anchor Ranch, Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) and move east w/ his fiancee, Caroline (May Wynn). However, the low price offered by Wilkison, and his hired mens’ bullying tactics, make Parrish think again. When one of his young ranch hands is murdered, he decides to stay and fight, using his battle know-how. At Anchor Ranch, Lew’s shrewd wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), has been having an affair w/ his handsome younger brother, Cole (Brian Keith), who has a Mexican girlfriend, Elena (Lita Milan), that he supports in town. Lew and Martha’s 20-something daughter, Judith (Dianne Foster), has become distant and angry; she has suspected deception in her home.

I know what you’re thinking- whoa, there are a lot of ladies in this Western! I was watching this at my dad’s; even he noticed this fact. Well, not all of these women are well-developed. Caroline seems like she’d marry any guy to get out of her hometown. Elena loves Cole desperately, but we don’t know much about her; her sudden/violent action at the end is quite unexpected (bordering on soap opera). Judith, who’s very much a “daddy’s girl,” is intrigued by Parrish, yet also abhors the violence that ensues during the stampede. Some viewers commented that in order to get a big star like Stanwyck, the role of Martha must’ve been bulked up by the writers. Who doesn’t like Stanwyck!? But I was expecting this film to be more about Parrish. 

[1] The Fifties was the age of the adult western, themes were entering into horse operas that hadn’t been explored before. There’s enough traditional western stuff …and plenty for those who are addicted to soap operas as well.

[2] …the actors in question deserved a better story from which to work from, it is, when all is said and done, a plot that has been milked for all it’s worth, and then some. …still a very rewarding film regardless of the missed opportunities evident with the production.

I learned that this film was shot partly in Old Tucson; my dad noticed this before I did! The cinematography is well done, which is a must for a Western. The best action scene is the one between the unapologetic/violent cowboy, Matlock (one of Lew’s men), and Parrish in the saloon. Ford plays it so cool; he can handle himself w/ a gun man-to-man. This isn’t quite a hit, but worth a look.

The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford

…one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). 

A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics 

It’s fair to say that many Americans are fed up w/ politics these days- LOL! It’s refreshing to take a day (or even a few hours) avoiding the news, even if you’re a news junkie (like me). This film was recently shown on TCM; I’d heard much about it, but never watched it. Also, who doesn’t love Redford!? Peter Boyle plays the political expert who convinces Redford to run for Senate (Democratic side, of course). Look out for cameos from journo Mike Barnicle (currently seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) and Redford’s real-life pal, Natalie Wood (playing herself).   

 

 

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018) starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, & Topher Grace

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in theaters).

It’s relevant. It’s not a relic of the past. This is happening today. -Spike Lee re: the racism shown in his latest film

No film has channeled the hateful pulse of our moment… -Variety magazine (@Variety)

I thought it was one of Spike Lee’s most cogent films. I also thought it was the film with the most white gaze ever, and that’s not a complaint. -Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet)

There’s a moment… where Ron Stallworth, the protagonist, says we could never have a President like David Duke. It hits you like a ton of bricks because we now have something even worse: a President who thinks like Duke, only he camouflages it more effectively. -Adam Best (@adamcbest)

I’m a pretty big fan of Spike Lee; he has made some of my favorite (and also arguably, most socially relevant) films of the past three decades. As fans/critics have noted, his films ignore or minimize the “white gaze,” meaning characters behave as themselves, not responding only to “mainstream” American society. Since this is a based-on-real-events movie, his style is more subdued (though there are interesting touches that we’ve come to expect). The music (composed by Terence Blanchard) is very well-suited to the events and tone of the film. It deals w/ quite serious topics, yet has pops of (dark) humor that my audience really enjoyed. 

“We have to support Denzel’s son,” I emailed to my gal pal (a few days before we went to see this movie on opening weekend). John David (who plays Ron Stallworth, the first black policeman in Colorado Springs) speaks and moves like Denzel, yet has the face of  his mother, Pauletta. J.D. (as he is known) is 33 y.o. and a former NFL player who appeared on HBO’s Ballers. There is something fresh, wide-eyed (naive), yet also confident in his performance. He gets some really cool outfits as his “street clothes;” it’s the late ’70s after all. 

Adam Driver (now 35 y.o.) can be a polarizing figure, but after this role- I’m a fan! The lanky former Marine gives a very strong, yet subtle performance as Flip (Ron’s more experienced/skeptical undercover partner). In time, Flip comes to terms w/ his identity. I need to watch more of Driver’s indie films on Netflix. No offense to Star Wars fans, BUT franchises don’t give actors much room to stretch.

Topher Grace, who plays a young David Duke, wasn’t my favorite part of the film. He said that he had a tough time getting into the mindset of such a hateful man. The important thing to remember re: Duke is that he sought to change the image of the KKK- make it more mainstream. He was polite, well-spoken, usually wore suits and- eventually- reached a high level of politics. The other members of “The Organization” were a mixed bag, ranging from a low IQ hillbilly to gun nut, and a relaxed/friendly guy (who wants to grow local membership). One man’s wife yearns to play a bigger role to support the cause, so white women aren’t solely victims in this movie.

Corey Hawkins, an up and coming actor from this (DC) area, has a great speech near the start of the film. I’m excited also to see what he does next! Ron’s love interest, President of the Black Student Union at a local university, Patrice (Laura Harrier), also did a fine job. Some critics of Lee have (rightly) commented on his not-so-fully developed women characters in the past. He has addressed the (touchy, yet serious) topic, explaining how having matured (nearly 30 yrs in film-making)  and becoming a husband and father have helped w/ this issue. 

Fans of TV cop dramas will be in for an extra treat. Robert John Burke (Law & Order: SVU) plays the head of the Intelligence Division. Frederick Weller (In Plain Sight) plays a patrolman. Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue) has a brief, yet crucial role; his older brother (John) is a mainstay in many Spike Lee films. There are more surprises in this film- don’t want to give too much away.

Spoiler-free Reviews: Black Panther & A Quiet Place

Black Panther

I was a BIT late to see this film (went about two weeks ago), BUT (luckily) was NOT spoiled on everything. Whew, what a relief- some twists and relationships weren’t discussed in my movie podcasts!  Fans of This is Us and Get Out will get pleasant surprises. I really enjoyed this comic book movie (rare for me); the chemistry between the actors was great. I’d never seen much of the actor who played Tchalla (Chadwick Boseman) who’s almost 40 (WOW)! Michael B. Jordan is his baddie foil (yet NOT an unsympathetic character). My friend esp. liked Letitia Wright (who is a Brit) who played Shuri, Tchalla’s spunky scientist sister.  How rare is it to see a young black woman as a scientist in a mainstream Hollywood film! There are other great female supporting characters: Tchalla’s former gf, Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), his mother Ramonda (the timeless/regal Angela Bassett), and captain of the royal guard- Okoye (Danai Gurira, also a celebrated playwright). Everyone is in incredible shape; even Martin Freeman looks better (trimmer and w/ a stylish haircut). Check this movie for yourself ASAP!

A Quiet Place

Whoa, who knew John Krasinski (most known for The Office) would be such a good director! He takes on the lead also in this sci-fi/thriller style movie (which my friend though was genre-defying). Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt (a Brit who I always enjoy watching), plays his wife here. They have a family (a teen daughter and two younger sons) and live in a rural, perhaps post-apocalyptic, world. The key to their survival- being as quiet as they can be while going on about their daily lives. Why is this so crucial? You must see the film to find out! It’s NOT going to be everyone’s cup of tea, BUT I found it quite compelling. It has received many positive reviews and the box office results are (unexpectedly) good. One media critic described this movie by saying: “It’s what I would’ve expected if M. Night Shamylan hadn’t gone downhill.” 

 

 

Darkest Hour (2017) starring Gary Oldman, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, & Kristin Scott-Thomas

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

Within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.Synopsis from Focus Features

… we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’
–Excerpt from two of Churchill’s speech (before the Battle of Britain)

I saw this historical drama on SAT; it is part of Regal’s Oscar movie showcase (FEB 23-MAR 4). Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright) is very well-made w/ (I assume) great attention to period details. I esp. enjoyed the music (composed by Dario Marinelli). Gary Oldman is completely transformed; his Churchill is both intimidating, yet (somewhat) relatable in the quiet moments. It’s not just about the cigars, whiskey (champagne for lunch- FYI), and a quick temper. Churchill has doubts, many ideas (some that are unpalatable to his own party), a sense of humor, and- most of all- thinks that victory over the Nazis is possible. We know Oldman is capable of delving deep into each role; however, this takes him to another level!

Kristin Scott-Thomas (who has been working in France for many years) plays Clemmie, Churchill’s supportive (yet NOT a pushover) wife. It was nice to see her on the big screen after a long time. Another woman in this tale is a young typist, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James from Downton Abbey), who works closely w/ Churchill, though quite upset by their first meeting. Was this character based on a real woman? Or did the screenwriter create an (accessible) character to draw the viewer into the world of WWII-era British politics? I suspect it was a bit of both. Miss Layton is able to adjust to the (eccentric, sometimes insensitive) ways of her employer, who becomes Prime Minister (May 1940) at the start of the film. James does a fine job, able to keep a stiff-upper lip (as was expected in that world), yet also expressing strong (yet controlled) emotion in few key scenes.

Churchill keeps his “enemies” in his cabinet, including former PM Neville Chamberlain (considered a coward by many) and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane from Game of Thrones). Halifax, who turned down the PM job before Churchill was chosen, wants to negotiate some sort of peace w/ the Germans (if possible). Of course, Churchill can’t stomach that idea; he has trouble even saying the name “Hitler” when required. The PM’s speeches and radio broadcasts helped inspire British resistance, especially during the difficult days of 1940–1941.

I was very impressed by Ben Mendelsohn (who plays King George V); he hails from Australia and has been receiving critical acclaim after breaking into Hollywood in middle-age. Check him out in S1 of Bloodline (Netflix) or in Rogue One (a prequel to Star Wars), if you haven’t already. Not only does Mendelsohn get the unlikely king’s (subtle) stutter right, his mannerisms and expressions seem pitch-perfect for a man deeply concerned about his nation (yet unable to express his feelings). At first, he is “a bit scared” of Churchill (FYI: He supported Edward’s marriage to Wallis Simpson), though the men become allies in time. Any man whose name frightens Hitler is worth his support, King George explains to Churchill.