On the Silver Screen

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: “WAKEFIELD” A DELICIOUS BIT OF ABSURDIST THEATER

 

“If the reader choose, let him do his own meditation; or if he prefer to ramble with me… I bid him welcome.”  

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Review by E.A. Barrera

June 21, 2017 (San Diego) -- What would it be like to become a ghost in your own life? To be a voyeur in your private world? In this film adaptation of E.L. Doctrow’s short story “Wakefield” we see Bryan Cranston in the role of Howard Wakefield, a man who wants a time-out on his life. He doesn’t want to change his life so much as put it on hold. This is not a story of  a mid-life crises as it is a tale of human breakdown from the daily pressures

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: ARMENIAN GENOCIDE FILM HAS POTENTIAL, BUT FALLS SHORT (THE PROMISE)

 

By Liz Alper, ECM film reviewer

Photo via Facebook

April 10, 2017 (San Diego) - The Armenian genocide was a horrific event in September of 1915 in which Turkish forces (then still under the control of the Ottoman Empire) slaughtered thousands of Armenian men, women and children.  Director Terry George attempted to put this tragedy on screen in The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: A DIFFERENT LOOK AT A SAN DIEGAN HERO (THE FOUNDER)

 

By Liz Alper

Photo:  Youtube screenshot

January 20, 2017 (San Diego) - One of San Diego’s most revered historical figures is Ray Kroc.  Kroc and his wife Joan donated billions of dollars to the Salvation Army and NPR.  The Kroc Center is practically a San Diego community landmark and where San Diego State men's hockey has their home games.  He's played by Michael Keaton in the film The Founder.  

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: INSTILLING PRIDE FOR CITY AND COUNTRY (PATRIOTS DAY)

 

By Liz Alper

Photo via patch.com

January 10, 2017 (San Diego) - As a New England native, I felt I had an obligation to see this film.  As someone whose mother’s friend was running in the Boston Marathon at the time of the bombings, I had to see this film.  As someone who has family in Massachusetts, I had to see this film.  

I still remember the watching first Boston Bruins game after the bombing.  During the anthems, the entire TD Garden was silent.  Rene Rancourt began to sing and after "were so gallantly streaming," he stopped.  The crowd took it from there.  They carried Boston Strong flags as the American flag danced on the ice and on the junbotron.  I'm from New Hampshire, but I've spent a lot of my life in Boston and I call it my city too and I've never been more proud of my city than I have in that moment.

To this day, four years later, my cousin, who lives in Merrimac, Massachusetts, says she’s afraid to go into Boston.  Not to take her son to a Red Sox game or anything.  Her story and so many others are why I feel it was an excellent idea for Mark Wahlberg (a Boston native) to put this event on film.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: FIND WHO YOU ARE ON A HAWAIIAN JOURNEY (MOANA)

 

By Liz Alper

November 21, 2016 (San Diego) - I, like most little girls in the 90s, ate, slept and breathed Disney movies.  I was never a princess for Halloween--I was too tomboyish for that--but Belle was my favorite Disney princess and Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie.  I watched it all the time.  That and Toy Story.  That honor eventually went to 101 Dalmatians (seriously, I was obsessed with that movie.  I played the computer game all the time too).  Tonight I had the privilege of reliving my childhood as an almost 25-year-old.  I attended a pre-screening of the new Disney film Moana, directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BRISTLING IN THE DARK (LIGHTS OUT)

By Brian Lafferty

July 22, 2016 (San Diego) -- Lights Out (David F. Sandberg, 2016) is for those who haven't seen Insidious (James Wan, 2011), Annabelle (John R. Leonetti, 2014), or any other horror movie James Wan produced or directed this decade. It isn't just a matter of "if you've seen one, you've seen them all." It is far too complacent in an era where the standards for these types of flicks are higher than ever.

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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: FOLLYWOOD (HAIL, CAESAR!)

 

By Brian Lafferty

February 5, 2016 (San Diego) – Hail, Caesar! (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2016) falls under a category I like to call a “Love Letter Movie.” Defining the term is hard. However, I can easily point to a classic example, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986), which was the beloved director’s love letter to Chicago. It showcased Wrigley Field, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Von Steuben Day parade, and Chicago’s other fine attractions with affection and pride. Hail, Caesar! is the Coens’ love letter to classic Hollywood in much the same way.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: LOST AT SEA (THE FINEST HOURS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

January 29, 2016 (San Diego) – Now that Hollywood has released all of its Oscar hopefuls, it’s time to sift through the leftovers. January is the month where you’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent movie. Even when you do, the chances are high that it’s not even worth a discounted ticket. It’s a truth that all film critics quickly learn.

The Finest Hours (Craig Gillespie, 2016) is bland and vanilla, made as if it was designed for a January dumping. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but this outlook may not be so unfounded when you see that Disney is the studio responsible for this movie. After all, Disney made, and continues to make, a box office killing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015), and could certainly afford to write this one off.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE (BLACK MASS)

By Brian Lafferty

September 27, 2015 (San Diego) – Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015) sounds like a video game title, but it’s definitely not fun and games. I went to bed a few hours after the screening unprepared for a restless night’s sleep. I endured a string of haunting dreams that was mercifully broken up by The Rascals’ A Beautiful Morning, the world’s best morning alarm.

FOLLOWING MICHAEL HALPERIN'S GUIDANCE TO A SUCCESSFUL SCREENPLAY

 

Writing The Killer Treatment: Selling Your Story Without A Script, by Michael Halperin, (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA, 2002, 171 pages).

Book Review by Dennis Moore

May 8, 2015 (San Diego's East County) - Who better to write a book about screenwriting and the movie and television industry, than Michael Halperin? He has been called “the foremost authority on screenwriting in America.” Halperin has written for television, screen, and stage, and has published both fiction and non-fiction books. Halperin’s Writing the Killer Treatment: Selling your Story without a Script, sets the standard for advice and instruction in modern storytelling for those aspiring to be screenwriters.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: TANKS FOR THE MEMORY (FURY)

 

"The first casualty of war is innocence."

- Tagline, Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)

By Brian Lafferty

November 18, 2014 (San Diego) – In the 28 years since Platoon's release, its tagline quoted above has become more and more relevant in light of the world events that followed it. This includes, but is not limited to, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and Russia's invasion of the Ukraine. With the way things are going, it looks at this point like those are just for starters.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: COLD AS ICE (WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD)

 

By Brian Lafferty

October 31, 2014 (San Diego) – For a film directed by Gregg Araki – well-known for anarchic, usually erotically charged films like The Living End (1992), The Doom Generation (1995), and Mysterious Skin (2004) – White Bird in a Blizzard is unusually peaceful. While small traces of his trademarks – teenage angst, sex, and homosexuality – appear, his latest film is his most accessible by far. Whether that's refreshing or disappointing will depend on how much you're willing to readjust your expectations.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: ASHES TO ASHES (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR)

 

By Brian Lafferty

October 27, 2014 (San Diego) -- Only death could stop prolific French director Alain Resnais from making movies. Resnais passed away on March 1 this year, having directed 50 features, shorts, and TV series. Even at 87 years young, when he helmed Wild Grass (released in the United States to deserved critical acclaim in 2010), he was as much a master of cinema as he was at 37, when he directed the film that quickly established him as one of France's preeminent filmmakers: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HELL-O DOLLY! (ANNABELLE)

 

By Brian Lafferty

October 10, 2014 (San Diego) – When I wasn't covering my eyes, holding my breath, and jumping in my seat, I laughed inside and thought sarcastically, "I know Uncle John would just love Annabelle." My Uncle John lives with my 99 year-old grandmother, who has collected many things over the years, including a doll that gives him and most of my family the creeps. It's an old-school baby doll that looks, feels, and weighs the same as a real baby. When you walk past it, you get the feeling it's watching you. And my grandmother insists on having it in her living room.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLOOD MONEY IN, BLOOD MONEY OUT (THE DROP)

 

By Brian Lafferty

September 24, 2014 (San Diego) -- I don't know if Michaël Roskam is a man of few words, but his films certainly are. He burst onto the international film scene with the Oscar-nominated Bullhead (2012), which took its sweet time (about halfway in) to fully reveal the tortured past of its protagonist (Matthias Schoenaerts). The Drop, only his second feature film and his first in the English language, further cements his reputation as a cagey storyteller.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: LOVE MEANS HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY (A LETTER TO MOMO)

 

By Brian Lafferty

September 10, 2014 (San Diego) – Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement has left a void in the realm of anime. His monopoly on the genre was such that it’s difficult to divorce his films from those of other anime filmmakers. Hiroyuki Okiura’s A Letter to Momo is a serviceable piece of anime filmmaking that pushes the right emotional buttons. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled with such Miyazaki masterpieces as Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Princess Mononoke (1997), but at Momo’s finish, I felt like it should have been something more.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SPACE ODDITIES (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY)

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 3, 2014 (San Diego) – Guardians of the Galaxy leaves no time to rest and little time to breathe.  I didn’t know what was happening half the time, but I didn’t care.  Guardians of the Galaxy sacrifices much of its plot development for relentless cacophonic action.  However, unlike most films directed by Michael Bay, it respects its audience.   

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SIMIAN KIND OF WONDERFUL (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

July 12, 2014 – I highly doubt the makers of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes read my less-than-enthusiastic review of the first film three years ago.  Although the screenplay was chillingly effective as a cautionary tale, Rise of the Planet if the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) could have used a lot more polished effects work considering the high human-to-ape ratio. 

Nevertheless, I looked forward to this sequel.  The director is Matt Reeves, who is best known for making Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010).  Of his small directorial output, I’ve only seen the latter, but this must be said: any director who can remake a seemingly "untouchable" film like Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008), retain the key ingredients that made the original successful - namely the haunting performances of the child actors, the icy dark photography, and unnerving violence – and at the same time make it his own, is one I will watch with little hesitation.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: GREED - FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD - IS CRUDE (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 25, 2013 (San Diego) – Marin Scorsese’s few forays into comedy thus far have been The King of Comedy (1983) and After Hours (1985).  Both are delightful dark comedies.  The former starred Robert De Niro as a delusional fan and stalker of a TV talk show host (Jerry Lewis).  The latter was written by then-Columbia University student Joseph Minion for his thesis.  It was a simple, yet uncommonly clever, a word processor’s (Griffin Dunne) crazy night.

Neither film, however, is as pitch black as The Wolf of Wall Street, not only the funniest film of the year, but the best period.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: A SPOONFUL OF TREACLE (SAVING MR. BANKS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 20, 2013 (San Diego) – What in the world were screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith thinking as they wrote Saving Mr. Banks, a colossal misfire in tone?  And director John Lee Hanchock (The Blind Side), who thought the script was good enough to film?  The upbeat, sunshiny trailers constitute fraud as far as I’m concerned.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO NOWHERE (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS)

 

By Brian Lafferty

December 20, 2013 (San Diego) – The year is 1961, and the setting is Greenwich Village in New York City.  Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is an aspiring folk singer – and a darn good one – just trying to earn a living.  As gifted as he is, it’s too bad nobody wants to hire him.  The film takes place during one week in which he finds his career – and himself – going nowhere at every turn.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DUELING AVENGERS (OLDBOY)

 

November 27, 2013 (San Diego) – Justice is relative in Oldboy.  The latest film from director Spike Lee is complex in many areas.  Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) and Adrian Pryce (Sharlto Copley) would feel right at home in an Anthony Mann western; Joe is a good guy who is hard to root for while Adrian is a villain who is hard to root against.  Writer Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend, Thor), adapting from both the manga and the 2003 Park Chan-wook film starring Choi Min-sik (I Saw the Devil), puts together a maddeningly tantalizing script that protects its secrets to the last few minutes the same way Cerberus guards the gates of Hades.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE LYING GAME (THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 22, 2013 (San Diego) – A few months ago I watched for the first time the infamous episode of the 1950s quiz show Twenty-One in which contestant Charles Van Doren “defeated” Herb Stempel.  A few years later it was revealed that many of the prime time network quiz shows were rigged at the behest of the sponsors.  What millions of viewers thought was actual suspenseful game playing was really a series of scripted performances for the sake of “good television” and high ratings.  (If you watch that episode of Twenty-One, it’s so obvious Van Doren is acting, and doing a bad job of it.)

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: A FINE SHADE (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 14, 2013 (San Diego) – Every time a stream of adjectives flows into my mind when describing Blue Is the Warmest Color, “unique” invariably pops up.  That assessment, however, is wrong.  It’s unique only in the sense that the lovers are of the same sex.  Nobody would say so if the characters were a boy and a girl.  Adèle and Emma love each other, make love to each other, live with each other, and eventually break up with each other.  Just as a normal heterosexual couple would.  In that sense, and as a result of over a century of movie conditioning, it would be viewed as a “normal” relationship.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THUNDERSTRUCK (THOR: THE DARK WORLD)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 8, 2013 (San Diego) – For all the gripes I hear about Hollywood’s glut of sequels – particularly about its apparent unwilling to try something new – there exists an upside that frequently gets lost in all the grousing: whereas the first film acts the set-up, the second can just get right down to business.  Such is the case with Thor: The Dark World.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SOUTHERN INHOSPITALITY (12 YEARS A SLAVE)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- If there are any contemporary filmmakers more daring than Steve McQueen, I'm hard pressed to name one.  His first film, Hunger (2008), starred Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army Volunteer who led a hunger strike in a British prison and died in 1981.  He followed it up with Shame (2011), which also starred Fassbender, this time as a yuppie with a grossly unhealthy sex addiction.  The MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for its frank and explicit depiction of sexual acts, and rightfully so, but Fox Searchlight left it as is.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: AFTER COMMAND SCHOOL SPECIAL (ENDER'S GAME)

 

By Brian Lafferty

November 1, 2013 (San Diego) – Ender’s Game views warfare, military training, and combat from a unique perspective: a child’s.  The air is filled with an aura of childhood innocence.  The very real threat of humanity’s annihilation is hard for these young recruits to completely comprehend because they haven’t experienced life and the world as much as grown-ups have.

"THE ROOM" CELEBRATES TEN YEARS AT THE KEN CINEMA AT MIDNIGHT OCT. 11 AND 12

 

 

October 10, 2013 (Kensington) – The Ken Cinema in Kensington, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is one of only two regularly operating single-screen theaters in San Diego (the other being the new Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, which opened up in April this year).  The Ken is known for two things, the first being San Diego’s home to unique, niche films (as I’ve written about before). 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DRUNKS VS. ROBOTS (THE WORLD'S END)

 

 

By Brian Lafferty

August 23, 2013 (San Diego) – Up until The World’s End, Edgar Wright had only three feature films to his directorial credit:  Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).  However small his output, those films – Shaun of the Dead in particular – have spawned a huge cult following like few I’ve encountered in recent years.  To those outside this circle, he’s an acquired taste.  Shaun of the Dead, for example, was a dry take on the zombie apocalypse in fine British fashion.  It’s laugh out loud funny if you get the sophisticated humor.

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