‘Batman v. Superman’ Doesn’t Fly Well

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LOGO Greater than the fights between Rocky and Apollo! More powerful than the clash of the titans. Stronger than King Kong against Godzilla. Look, up on the big screen. It’s a battle! It’s a war! It’s “Barman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Yes, it’s “Batman vs. Superman,” potential blockbuster from Warner Brothers that can shatter box-office records, earn millions for its makers, and which, in paving the way for the next film in the series, carries on the movie tradition of bigger, louder, and the Hollywood way.

Yes, several weeks ago one of the most eagerly anticipated and highly hyped films of the summer smashed, crashed, battered, banged, detonated, and all other forms of exploded into theaters nationwide, and despite some undeniably spectacular special effects, the overly long, extremely dark, and sometimes tedious “Batman vs. Superman” disappointed me.

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The film begins 18 months after the battle with Gen. Zod at the end of “Man of Steel,” and some major changes have occurred in the life of mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent aka Superman (Henry Cavill). For starters he is now living with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who now knows his secret identity, and because he has been involved with some incidents (the conflict with Gen. Zod for one) causing collateral harm to many people, Superman is no longer held in universal high esteem.

While Superman is attempting to cope with his tarnished image in Metropolis, Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck), who reigns over Gotham City, has decided that Superman now poses a danger to people. Conversely Superman sees Batman as someone who doesn’t have the best interest of humanity at heart, and this sets up the inevitable conflict between the two.

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Now I’m not going to waste either my time or yours by going into any detail about the film’s complex plot. Instead let’s just say that it involves a rather silly Kryptonite spear, our old friend Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a behemoth Lex manufactured from Gen. Zod’s body, and enough explosions and pyrotechnics to last 10 lifetimes.

In the film’s production notes director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel”) explained the rationale behind the film’s rather unusual beginning and what Superman is coping with.

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“We felt an interesting way of beginning this story was to examine Superman from another perspective, Batman’s perspective. Bruce doesn’t know who Superman is; all he knows is what the public knows. He blames him for the lives lost in Metropolis, lives that he felt responsible for. His hatred has been building up inside, and now, all this time later, he’s finding reinforcement of those feelings in the media.

“When we find Superman, he’s been dealing with everyday life as a superhero, but there’s a distinct shift happening in how his heroic efforts are viewed, thanks to the unintended consequences of those acts. Every action has a reaction; one guy’s rescue leaves another in distress. We wanted to explore the reality of saving people and what intervening can really mean. The classic idea with Superman is that he’s a good guy trying to do the right thing and that he isn’t political, but in truth, in today’s world, it’s impossible not to be, no matter your intentions.”

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Of course as part of this film’s title implies, it paves the way for “The Justice League” in 2017, and thus we have Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) joining Batman and Superman in the film’s climactic battle against Doomsday, Luthor’s King Kong wannabe creation. Before the movie’s somewhat surprising conclusion, however, we do get to see Batman and Superman go head to head, which is the fight everyone wants to see.

Yes, they do fight. Is there a clear winner? Kind of. Does the fight live up to expectations? Maybe. Is the film’s ending satisfactory? Perhaps. Could I sit through it again? Never.

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Let’s begin with the positive aspects of the film. Both Affleck and Cavill are effective superheroes, and in the production notes each them offered interesting insight into their relationship and respective characters.

“I think the story really sets the stage nicely for understanding why Batman wants to fight Superman,” Affleck said. “It’s logical to assume that they’d be friends since they’re both good guys, but this film takes a more nuanced view of how these characters might exist in the real world and what sort of complications might come about as a result of their abilities and actions.”

“Superman is beginning to face the exact challenges Jonathan Kent was worried about,” said Cavill. “The world is filled with fear after being attacked by aliens and literally shaken to its very core. Despite having what they look to as a redeemer, the people need to direct their fear at something. In the meantime, Superman is still trying to do right by everyone and ignore the slings and arrows.”

Also on the positive side, Gadot is sensational as Wonder Woman (Eat your heart out, Lynda Carter.), and Adams is appealing as Lois Lane. Of course, as you would expect, the special effects are spectacular.

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In the negative corner, with a running time of almost 150 minutes, the movie was much too long for me, and I thought it actually dragged in places early on to the point that I actually dozed off a now and then. Although the CGI was impressive, it also was a bit excessive, and the explosions became tiresome after a while. Eisenberg’s portrayal of Luthor as a giddy buffoon was extremely irritating, and finally I much prefer the traditional cape and cowl for Batman instead of what appeared to be his iron armor in this movie.

The film undoubtedly will be huge at the box office, but it definitely did not live up to its hype for me. Therefore, it earns the final score of an unimpressive six. I’ll take Rocky versus Apollo any day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Heartland” Is Television At Its Finest

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LOGO Television has unquestionably bypassed the silver screen in providing quality viewing entertainment, but many of the best dramas are aimed at adults. What I have for your consideration today, however, is a TV series that provides topnotch, wholesome entertainment for the entire family, including children from the age of 6 and up. Too good to be true, you say? Nay, nay, I say. This program is not just great; it’s also quite simply one of the finest series I’ve ever watched, and I’ve seen a gazillion of them.

On Oct. 14, 2007, “Heartland” made its debut on Canadian television (CBC), and it ultimately became the longest-running scripted series in the history of Canadian TV. In fact, it recently has been renewed for a 10th season. Based upon Lauren Brooke’s “Heartland” books (25 novels), the series tells the story of Amy Fleming (Amber Marshall), who lives on ranch near the fictional town of Hudson in Alberta, Canada, situated at the edge of the picturesque Alberta Rockies.

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In the first show of the series we meet Amy, who is 15 years old, and her mother, Marion (Lisa Langlois), a legendary horse whisperer, as they are on their way home from rescuing a horse named Spartan from its abusive owner. Sadly they are involved in a terrible accident that kills Marion and seriously injures Amy and Spartan. This tragedy sets up the basic situation for the series: Amy and Spartan survive, and Amy, who has her mother’s gift for curing troubled horses, carries on the horse-whispering tradition.

After Amy fully recovers from the accident, she settles into life at Heartland with her grandfather Jackson “Jack” Bartlett (Shaun Johnston), who is the wonderfully sage voice of reason in the show and her older sister, Samantha Louise “Lou” (Michelle Morgan), who has just moved back to the ranch from New York City. She left behind a prestigious job and a boyfriend, but she realized Jack needed help managing Heartland.

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Before Amy’s mother died, she had made arrangements for a young man named Tyler “Ty” Borden (Graham Wardle) to work as a ranch hand at Heartland. When Ty was just a child, his stepfather abused him, and when Ty became older, he attacked the man while he was assaulting his mother. As a result Ty ended up in Juvenile Hall, and Amy’s mother offered him the job at Heartland to help him fulfill the obligations of his probation.

In addition to these main characters, the following also are regulars in the series: Chris Porter as Timothy “Tim” Fleming, Amy and Lou’s estranged father and a former rodeo champion who at one point deserted his wife and daughters; Kerry James as Caleb O’Dell, a wannabe rodeo star Jack hires as a ranch hand; Gabriel Hogan as Peter Walter Marshall, a young oil tycoon who ultimately vies for Lou’s affection; Nathaniel Arcand as Scott Cardinal, the local veterinarian; Jessica Steen as Elizabeth “Lisa” Stillman, the wealthy owner of a horse-racing business who has romantic designs on Jack; and Jessica Amlee as MalloryWells, a young and amusingly mouthy neighbor who spends more time at Heartland than she does at home.

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UNDATED — Shaun Johnston, left, and Amber Marshall in Heartland. HANDOUT: CBC

What makes the show so refreshing is it’s completely character driven, and thus we become totally wrapped up in the lives of Amy and her family. After Amy discovers that she has inherited her mother’s gift for working with troubled horses, she dedicates herself to helping people who have various problems with their horses. Hudson is a small town, and so word spreads rapidly about her gift.

But “Heartland” is much more than a girl healing the wounded psyches of horses. Above all else it is the story of a family living on a ranch and trying to make the best of their lives. After just the first episode, I was completely drawn into this show, and after watching a number of programs, I felt as if I knew these people personally.

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Every single member of this terrific ensemble cast is so good that you never feel as if you are watching actors play a part. They are all so natural that it’s like observing a real family from somewhere they can’t see you. Of course because of the nature of the books much of the focus is on Amy, and Marshall was born to play this part. If you were to go to a dictionary and look up all-American girl, you would find her picture there. And she is such an accomplished rider that she actually becomes one with the horse in the scenes where she gallops across the breathtaking Canadian landscape.

Each episode advances the story line, and because it’s such an extended series, we have the chance to see the characters grow and mature. In an online interview Marshall explained how this factor sets “Heartland” apart from other shows.

“Something wonderful about ‘Heartland’ is that each character has room to grow and age. Development in a person in the real world happens daily as they learn new things, meet new people, and form new values. On some TV shows characters are restricted to a lot of growth due to the nature of the show. Take a look a show like ‘Degrassi’ or ‘Saved by the Bell.’ These characters are trapped in a high school realm and are unable to grow beyond.

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“Amy has covered a lot of ground. When you’re a teenager, time seems to go slower, and a whole lot can happen in four years. Amy has had to overcome the death of her mother, learn to live with her high-maintenance sister, reunite with her father, fall in love with her best friend, then lose him, then earn his trust all over, work and develop her passion for healing horses, and mend ties with her friends Soraya and Ashley. There has been an incredible journey that our audiences have followed us through.”

When you watch this show, it’s also obvious that the actors are really enjoying themselves and that the chemistry among them is perfect. In the same interview, Fleming mentioned the closeness of the cast members are.

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“It is funny how close you become to those you spend so much time with. I definitely feel like Michelle Morgan (Lou) is my sister and Shaun Johnston (Jack) is my grandfather. When all the Fleming/Bartlett characters have a dinner scene together, this becomes most prominent. We all laugh and joke and carry on just as a family would at the dinner table. Sometimes that makes it hard for the director when we are all giddy and happy right before a serious scene. I believe you have to have fun in order to make a great final product.”

Trust me when I tell you that this show has it all – drama, humor, love, loss, hope, despair, mystery, and anything else you can think of. And the cinematography defies adequate description. I have never been as completely captivated by a series as I am with this one, and it earns the final score of an irreversible 10+. Once you visit “Heartland,” you’ll never want to leave.

 

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New ‘Thriller’ Good Until It’s Pathetic

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LOGO After perusing the depressingly abysmal listings for the local theaters, I finally decided to check out “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the new thriller starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. I’ve always liked Goodman, and I enjoy a good chiller every now and again.

And so it was with eager anticipation that I took my seat to wait through countless ads for everything from cars to soft drinks and what seemed like 100 trailers, all of which contained massive explosions, for the main feature to begin. By the way, my faithful companion for watching scary movies is my daughter, Stephanie, and in case you’re interested, two drinks and a bag of popcorn cost me $21.50. But on to the show.

As the film begins, we find a distraught Michelle (Winstead), who has just had an argument with her fiancé. She leaves her engagement ring at home and gets into her car for a drive. We have no idea where she’s going, but it doesn’t really make any difference because before she gets very far, something hits her automobile. We see her car upside down, and the next thing we know, Michelle wakes up in a small room handcuffed to a bed.

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Naturally she’s frightened and tries desperately to free herself, but she’s unsuccessful. Finally she hears footsteps coming down the stairs from the other side of the steel door in the room, and then the door opens, and a huge man confronts her. He tells her that his name is Howard (Goodman) and that he found her alongside the road. He also says he saved her life because there has been an “attack,” and everyone else is dead.

Michelle ultimately learns that she is in a bunker Howard built in anticipation of just such an attack. The place is equipped with all the comforts of home, and when Howard lets Michelle out of her room, she discovers there is one other person in the bunker. He’s a young man named Emmett (Gallagher Jr.), and he tells Michelle that he is there voluntarily because he didn’t want to die in the attack.

After Michelle finally gets it through her head that Howard didn’t kidnap her, she relaxes a bit, but she soon learns that Howard has a very short fuse and a violent temper. He’s fine as long as she and Emmett do what he tells them, but if either of them says or does anything he doesn’t like, he loses it. Much of the suspense in the film involves trying to figure out whether Howard is a good guy or a complete wacko.

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As the story progresses, the three people kind of settle in and begin to get along, but the aura of mystery about Howard hovers over everything. He talks about his daughter, but he offers no real proof that has one except for a picture that is questionable. And despite his insistence that the air outside is deadly, Michelle still has trouble believing this and continues to search for a way out.

Without going into specific details, let’s say that this film succeeds in delivering a number of very effective tense and suspenseful moments. It keeps us constantly guessing, and this adds to the overall mystery because it raises so many unanswered questions. Is Howard crazy, or isn’t he? Was there really an attack? Does Howard really have a daughter?

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Goodman turns in a most impressive performance as the enigmatic Howard. We are never quite sure how he is going to react from one moment to the next. I usually think of him as a comedic actor, but he shows a real flair for the dramatic in this film.

I had never seen either Gallagher Jr., or Winstead in a film, but both of them were quite believable in their respective parts, and Winstead is the one who really carries the movie because she is the victim. She convincingly runs the whole gamut of emotions throughout the picture, and she succeeds in making us care about her character.

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As I watched this film, I was trying to decide what kind of a final score to give it. Here’s the way the process unfolded. After the accident when Michelle awakens to find herself a possible abduction victim, it was looking like a seven because it did grab my attention.

But the score jumped up to an eight when Howard appears and explains why he has brought Michelle to his bunker. Now some serious suspense came into play. Is Howard really a good Samaritan, or is he a perverted mass murderer? How did he just happen to find Michelle?

As the story continued to develop, the film boasts some genuine edge-of-your seat moments involving Howard and Michelle, but I’ll say no more about them other than that at this point the score of the film hovered between eight and nine.

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AND THEN IT HAPPENED! The denouement arrived and completely destroyed everything. The final minutes of this film are so ridiculous, hokey, preposterous, silly, absurd, inferior, and all other forms of totally disappointing that all they elicit is a gigantic WTF!

So here’s the final word on “10 Cloverfield Lane.” It earns a final score of eight until the conclusion when the score plummets to a zero. Add them together, divide by two, and the movie’s final score is a terribly disappointing four. And I wish I could get back both the time I wasted in the theater and the $21.50 I spent on refreshments.

 

 

 

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The 10 File: “The Day The Earth Stood Still”

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LOGO I’ve never been a huge fan of science-fiction films, and thus I didn’t really get into “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” but in 1951, a science-fiction thriller hit the silver screen, and to this day I consider it the best film the genre has ever produced. Of course today’s younger generation probably would find it laughable because it doesn’t have the advantage of all the advanced technology available to modern filmmakers and because it was filmed in black and white. Nevertheless, it represents the epitome of filmmaking back then and remains a classic today.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” begins with the tracking of a UFO headed W toward Washington, D.C., traveling at the rate of 4,000 mph, and as soon as the spacecraft sets down on a ball field, the Army dispatches men, tanks, and guns to surround it. And of course a corps of reporters is there as well. The saucer (Yes, it’s a real saucer.) sits idle for more than two hours before reporter Drew Pearson (Yes, it’s the real one.), announces, “Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, I think something is happening.”

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Slowly, ever so slowly a ramp slides out from an invisible place in the ship, and then a portal opens to let a figure clad in a space suit emerge. After announcing that he has come visit in peace, he walks down the ramp, reaches into his spacesuit, and pulls out a contraption that causes one of the trigger-happy infantrymen to shoot and wound him.

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Suddenly we look back up at the ship to see the ominous presence of a gigantic silver robot whose facial visor rises slowly to emit a deadly ray that immediately reduces everything it touches to rubble. After the robot has demonstrated its massive power by destroying a number of guns and tanks, the spaceman utters a command, and the robot closes its visor.

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The wounded spaceman, whose name is Klaatu (Michael Rennie), is taken to the hospital where he is interviewed and proves that he doesn’t need any medical help. He ultimately leaves the hospital and takes room at a boarding house under the name of Mr. Carpenter so that he can maintain his anonymity. (In case you’re wondering, he looks just like us.)

As the story progresses, Klaatu is befriended by Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who also live at the boarding house. In order to get his message across to the people of earth, Klaatu wants all the greatest minds on earth to assemble and hear him. To this end, he asks Bobby who the smartest man in the world is. Bobby replies that it probably is professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who just happens to live in the area.

Through an interesting trick, Klaatu manages to set up a meeting with the professor, but when he tells the famous scientist what he wants, the professor has no idea how to get the attention of the greatest minds in the world. At this point Klaatu suggests arranging a demonstration that will range worldwide, and let’s just say that it certainly gets everyone’s attention.

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I first saw this film when I was 10 years old, and although I have seen it countless times since then, I never tire of watching it. Of course the special effects cannot come close to matching what we see in films today, but when you consider what they were back then, they were pretty spectacular. Watching that saucer approach Washington, D.C., and land on that baseball field still gives me chills.

Rennie was perfectly cast as Klaatu. He’s tall, lean, handsome, and his resonant voice commands immediate attention. During the story he forms a close friendship with Neal’s character, and she ends up helping him out of several tight spots when she finally learns his real identity. In fact, one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema occurs when Helen must get a message to Gort, the massive robot guarding the spaceship. During this scene Neal utters four of the most memorable words in movie lore: “Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikkto.”

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Ah yes, Gort! What a magnificent robot he is in his simplicity! No, he doesn’t look like the robots we see in modern science fiction films, but he’s more imposing than any of them. In addition to his size what makes him so frightening is the incredible music that accompanies his actions. The musical score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, and he really outdid himself because the eerie strains of the soundtrack are perfect for a science-fiction film.

Another thing this masterpiece has going for is that four-time Oscar winner Robert Wise (“West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music”) directed it, and with him behind the camera, we wouldn’t think of anything less than perfection.

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Now whenever a truly great film comes along, it always seems as if a group of morons gets together and tries to remake it. Thus, in 2008 such a group turned out an upgraded version that predictably was a complete and utter debacle. It was so bad in fact that it was laughable. And all I have to do to make that point is tell you who played Klaaru. Yes, it was none other than our old friend Keanu “I-Can’t-Act” Reeves. What a joke! Casting Reeves in that part is tantamount to having Pee-Wee Herman play Superman or George Clooney portray Rocky Balboa.

If somehow you have never seen the original version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” you owe to yourself to check it out on Netflix. And if you have seen it, you know that it’s worth watching again and again. They simply don’t make films like this anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Family” Is A Promising New Series

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LOGO Well the 88th Academy Awards are history, and that means not a whole lot will be happening on the movie front for a while, but fortunately television programming is better than it has ever been. And it’s interesting how many major movies stars are jumping to the small screen.

The most recent star to make the switch is three-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen, whose new TV series titled “The Family” made its debut last Thursday, and from what I’ve seen so far, it looks as if it’s going to be very good indeed. The show was created by Jenna Bans, who served as a writer for “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” so you know the writing will be outstanding.

Allen plays Claire Warren, who is the Republican mayor of Red Pines, a fictional town in Maine, Where she lives with her husband, John (Rupert Graves), and their three children, Danny (Zach Gilford), Willa (Alison Pill), and Adam (Liam James). The story begins 10 years in the past with the abduction of Adam, who suddenly disappears into thin air.

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Because Adam is the son of the mayor, his disappearance naturally generates both a massive search and a media circus. Despite the efforts of Sgt. Nina Meyer of the Red Pines Police Department, Adam is never found and ultimately is presumed to be dead. A guy named Hank (Andrew McCarthy), who lives next door to the Warrens and who has a history of questionable behavior toward young boys, is tried and convicted of Adam’s murder.

Now here’s the kicker that’s sucks you into this show. After 10 years pass, Adam suddenly reappears and comes home! Of course this unexpected event throws the Warren household into a turmoil, and each family member has a somewhat different reaction to Adam’s sudden and completely unexpected return home.

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After just one episode I am so wrapped up in the lives of these people that I can’t wait to see what happens next. As you would expect, with an actress as good as Joan Allen heading the cast, the acting in the series is superb. Allen is one of those actresses who have and amazingly expressive face that enables her to convey myriad emotions without speaking. But she also is capable of delivering astoundingly powerful dialogue, and this role provides her with plenty of opportunity for doing so. She is perfectly cast in this part because Claire there’s a very strong woman who is attempting to balance being a mother and wife at the same time as she is actively pursuing a career in politics. In an online interview with Entertainment Weekly, Allen opened up about her character’s politics and about various other aspects of the series.

“I think it is going to be an interesting year for Claire’s political leanings, especially with everything that is going on right now. My take on her, which has been really fun for me to play, is that she shoots more from the hip in an emotional kind of way. I think she is definitely more conservative than I am by nature, and that’s fun to play. Jenna did say in the beginning, ‘Should she be a Republican or a Democrat?’ and I said, ‘I think a Republican could be more fun and interesting to play.’ I’ve looked at a lot of different footage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, and I’ve looked at other footage of other women mayors across the country to see how they behave and how they act. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, and I think it should be interesting to see how people respond — particularly this year.”

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All of the characters in this drama are affected in different ways by Adam’s unexpected return. In her interview, Allen offered some interesting insight into their reactions.

“I think all of the characters, if they seem manipulative, are really from their own point of view trying to do the best thing they think they can do. I think intentions for most of the characters come from a good, protective, loving place, but the best intentions sometimes can fall flat. Another character can go, ‘What? You thought you were saving me? You’re killing me!’, you know? I think all the characters are trying in their own way and are damaged in their own way.

“The trauma of this boy being taken really shook this family to its roots and changed it forever, and people responded in [survivalist] ways, [trying] to not cave in and die as a result. There are not many things that can happen much worse to a family than having a member taken and not knowing what happened to them. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person and to a family, and seeing how all of these characters have responded to that, the gulfs it’s created between them, and the moments where they’re back together amounts to a lot of the complexity and layering that Jenna was able to put into the story.”

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Those of you who read this blog regularly or listen to me on AM 1600 WKKX know that I often have said that television has surpassed the movies as far as offering quality entertainment is concerned. And that’s why so many movie stars are making the transition from the big screen to the small one. Here’s what Allen had to say about that.

“The movie industry, I think, has really taken a turn and a hit since the recession. There’s more interesting material in television these days, even for men, but really for women. I think the types of stories that are being told on television now are layered and complex, and what I’m getting to do on this TV show I would not get to do in a movie; I’m reveling in that, and I’m grateful for it. “The Family” asks more of me as an actor to create and develop, and I feel more engaged and part of it; it’s adult and it’s layered, and a lot of the films coming out now are these huge, big action films only. There just aren’t as many stories being told in more dynamic ways on the big screen. There are a lot more interesting, complex things happening in television right now.”

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In addition to Allen, “The Family” boasts an incredibly strong ensemble cast, and every single character intrigues me. It will be fascinating to follow their development as this riveting series continues. In addition to being an addictive mystery, this show also is a fascinating political drama and an intricate character study of a family struggling with an incredible shock.

It’s really difficult to assign a score to a series after just one episode because it could vary significantly in the weeks to come. However, the pilot for this series really drew me in, and so I’m going to assign it the score of a preliminary eight. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC, and I highly recommend that you get involved with this family.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘11.22.63.’ Is Worth The Trip To 1960s

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LOGO A girl who uses her telekinetic powers for revenge. A town overrun by vampires. An isolated, haunted hotel. A car with a mind of its own. A cemetery that brings dead pets back to life. A young girl capable igniting fires with her mind

These are just a few of the unforgettable things you will encounter in the novels of Stephen King, the master of horror. I’ve been a King fan since the publication of “Carrie” all the way back in 1974, and subsequently King has written 57 novels, five nonfiction books, and a plethora of short stories. I’ve read a majority of King’s work, and although I still believe that his very early novels are better than some of his later ones, I consider the book he published in 2011 to be his masterpiece. And now that book is the basis of a new miniseries of the same name on Hulu.

In “11/22/63” we meet Jake Epping (James Franco), who teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, in 2011, and who has just endured a divorce. In fact Jake signed his divorce papers in a diner owned by his friend Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), and shortly afterward Jake notices that Al has developed a very bad cough. When Jake questions him about it, Al tells him to come back the next day, and he will explain everything.

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Jake dutifully returns to the diner on the following day, and his life changes forever. First, Al confesses that he has contracted cancer, but what he really wants to tell Jake is an amazing secret about a closet in the diner. Without any preamble, Al asks Jake to go into a closet and go and walk around in it. Jake has no idea what’s going on, but he does Al’s bidding, and suddenly finds himself in another world.

When he comes back out of the closet he says, “What the fuck was that?”

And Al replies, “That was 1960!”

“Why did you show that to me?” Jake asks.

And then Al drops the bomb by answering, “I want you to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy!”

Thus begins the saga of a man who can travel back to 1960 and begin making preparations to change history by killing Lee Harvey Oswald before he has the chance to pull the trigger from the window of the School Book Depository on that fate÷ful day in Dallas. And in the novel we followed Jake every step of the way until the breathtaking conclusion. Despite its foreboding size of more than 800 pages, the book is so good that you become completely lost in it, and the pages fly by.

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And after just two episodes the miniseries promises to be just about as riveting as the book. Franco is excellent as Jake, who is quite naturally incredulous about the portal in Al’s diner, and his reactions to the sights, sounds, and lifestyles of the 1960s are wonderful. In an interview with Lisa Weidenfeld of The Hollywood Reporter, Franco spoke about his character and the whole idea of traveling back in time.

“That concept was one of my favorite things about the book and the scripts, was that Jake isn’t from this time. As an actor, I’ve done period pieces before, and in those conventional period pieces, you, as an actor, try to act like a character who’s from that period. You don’t see the seams of how the filmmakers create that period. You just want the audience to feel like, ‘OK, we’re back in time.’ But in this case, the character is not of that time. He becomes this really interesting figure who can point out things to the audience about what was great about the past. Like, the food tastes different, the milk tastes better, the pie is so good. And then he can point out things that were horrible or worse than they are now, like Jim Crow laws and things like that.

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“It’s a unique storytelling device where the main character really becomes an ambassador for the audience to highlight different things about the past and what he’s looking at. But then, in addition to that, what the character Jake has to do is, he has to fit into the past. He’s not of that time. People did things differently back then. He is essentially doing what I do as an actor when I play a role. He is taking on different colloquialisms or different sayings of a period. He is dressing in a different way. He is behaving in a different way because he is trying to fit into the past. And so as an actor, playing somebody who essentially is being an actor himself, I don’t know; it was just fun.”

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Franco also explained why agreed to take on the mission Al has for him.

“Jake’s life in 2016 isn’t really going the way that he had always dreamed that it would. I guess when he was younger, he probably dreamed of getting married and starting a family and becoming a novelist, and none of those things have worked out. We find him, he’s divorced, his novel never went anywhere, his high school English students don’t seem that interested in what he’s trying to teach. And so he doesn’t really have that much going on in the present.”

Cooper also is outstanding as Al, who desperately wants to see history changed before he dies. Cooper has a great range as an actor, and that certainly evident in this show.

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In addition to the fine acting, this series is sensational at capturing the feel of the 1960s. The sets from the storefronts to the interiors of the buildings are absolutely magnificent, and the hairstyles and clothing are impeccable. And then there are those cars. Oh those beautiful, beautiful old cars!

I cannot recommend “11.22.63” highly enough, and even though I’ve seen only two episodes, I still am giving the series an enthusiastic 10. Don’t miss this one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 88th Annual Academy Awards

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LOGO During the past few years television has far surpassed the motion picture industry when it comes to offering quality visual entertainment. In addition to providing a number of quality network programs, many of the miniseries on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Showtime, and HBO have been truly outstanding. Therefore because the small screen has been so good to us recently, we can forgive the medium for what it’s going to do to us this coming weekend.

And what its going to subject us to on Sunday is something that has become one of the longest, most overrated, most overhyped, most pretentious, most pompous, and most boring programs of the year. That’s right. It’s the 88th version of the annual Academy Awards, the yearly endurance test for film fans to see whether they can last until the final Oscar for best picture is announced.

This year may be a bit more interesting, however, because of the controversy involving the fact that not one African-American actor has received a nomination in any category. As a result Will Smith (He should have been nominated for “Concussion.) and his wife, Jada, Spike Lee, and Michael Moore plan to boycott the ceremony, and I’m sure there will be others. To make things even more intriguing, however, this year’s host is Chris Rock, and I can’t wait to hear his opening monologue.

But the show must go on, and so let’s take a look at the nominees and projected winners in the major categories.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The nominees are Sylvester Stallone sly for “Creed,” Mark Ruffalo ruffalo for “Spotlight,” Mark Rylance rylance for “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hardy hardy for “The Revenant,” and Christian BaleChristian Balefor “The Big Short.” The favorite in this category seems to be Stallone for bringing an aged Rocky Balboa back to the big screen. I don’t know about you, but I would never bet against Rocky.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The nominees are AlicianVikander alicia for “The Danish Girl,” Kate Winslet wins for “Steve Jobs,” Rooney Mara mara for “Carol,” “Jennifer Jason Leigh leigh for “The Hateful Eight,” and “Rachel McAdams rachel for “Spotlight.” Your guess is as good as mine in this category, but the smart money seems to be going with Vikander

BEST ACTOR

The nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant,” “Michael Fassbender Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs,” Matt Damon Matt Damon for “The Martian,” Eddie Redmayne Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl,” and Bryan Cranston Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo.” This one should be a no brainer. DiCaprio has won for best actor at all the other film-award shows, and this one should be no different.

 

BEST ACTRESS 

The nominees are Brie Larson Brie Larson for “Room,” Saoirse Ronan Saoirse Ronan                                                                    for “Brooklyn,” Cate Blanchett Cate Blanchett for “Carol,” Jennifer Lawrence Jenifer Lawrence for “Joy,” and Charlotte Rampling Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years.” Larson, who already has picked up some awards for her work in “Room,” is the big favorite in this category.

BEST DIRECTOR

The nominees are Alejandro G. Inarritu alejandr for “The Revenant,” George Miller millerfor “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Adam McKay makay for “The Big Short,” Tom McCarthy tom for “Spotlight,” and Lenny Abrahamson lenny for “Room.” It would be no surprise to see Inarritu take home the Oscar in this category.

BEST PICTURE 

The nominees are the following:

“BROOKLYN”

 

“BRIDGE OF SPIES”

 

“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD”

 

“THE MARTIAN”

 

“THE BIG SHORT”

 

“THE REVENANT”

 

“ROOM”

 

“SPOTLIGHT”

 

Because it already has been showered with awards, “The Revenant” is a fairly safe bet here, but some critics are picking “The Big Short” to win the big prize of the night. Frankly, I wouldn’t vote for either of them; instead my choice would be “Room” because it is so different.

All the questions will be answered during what will undoubtedly be a marathon telecast on Sunday. The DVR is a wonderful thing for shows like this, but be very careful because last year I wore out my fast-forward button.

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