Finest Hours

from Indy Week 

On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter crashed upon the New England coastline with colossal waves and gale-force winds. The storm was so powerful that not one buttwo massive oil tankers split in half off the coast of Cape Cod.

With four separate floating husks in the water—and four potential rescue situations—the local Coast Guard was stretched dangerously thin. The circumstances ultimately led four very brave men to pilot a ridiculously small boat into a ridiculously big storm.

That’s the set-up for Disney’s real-life seagoing drama, which delivers astounding visuals wrapped in unapologetic hokeyness. The Finest Hours isn’t just set in 1952, it also feels like it was made in 1952. It’s corny and square and actually quite fun.

Chris Pine headlines as Coast Guard greenhorn Bernie Webber, a man so passionate about following rules that he asks his commanding officer for permission to get married. Bernie’s fiancée is Miriam (Holliday Grainger), and the first twenty minutes of the movie are dedicated to establishing their romantic framing story. These are the kinds of scenes that fast-forward buttons were made for.

The real action begins when Bernie and three other Coast Guard rookies steer a very small lifeboat into the maw of the storm to investigate the fate of the oil tanker Pendleton. The massive sea swells threaten to swallow the little boat, and this is where the film’s digital effects artisans start delivering the goods.

Hours is one of the very rare films where 3-D works the way it’s supposed to. We’re put in the middle of that terrible storm, pitching and yawing and looking up to see mountainous waves crashing down. It’s such a pleasure when digital wizardry is properly deployed.

Meanwhile, on the half of the Pendleton that’s still floating, chief engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) leads a group of survivors who are desperately trying to patch up the ship until help arrives. Affleck gives a smart, understated performance. He’s the most interesting guy in the picture.

Director Craig Gillespie crosscuts between the two crews, with occasional glimpses back to shore, until the big rescue scene arrives. He never manages to create anything truly cinematic, which is a shame, because he’s got a hell of a story to work with. Instead, he relies on the film’s insistent musical score to generate emotional effects he can’t conjure otherwise. If you’re unsure what you’re supposed to be feeling in a given scene, don’t worry. The music will beat it into you.

Overall, The Finest Hours is a slight bit of moviemaking, but those immersive digital effects really do lend some weight. The money shots of rogue waves and listing ships trump similar scenes from the film’s most obvious predecessor, The Perfect Storm. It’s fun, family-friendly and utterly inoffensive—Disneyfied disaster porn, with all the sharp parts sanded down.

Dirty Grandpa

from Indy Week

Dirty Grandpa is easily the worst movie of the new year so far, and it will surely be a strong contender at the end of the year, too. In fact, in the dizzying moments after being bludgeoned by this miserable specimen, I was convinced it’s among the worst movies ever made. That’s a rare moment in a film lover’s life, and something to savor, in a weird way.

Zac Efron headlines, ostensibly, as uptight law-school graduate Jason Kelly, who’s preparing to wed his even more uptight fiancée (Julianne Hough, suffering through a standard-issue bridezilla role). Plans are interrupted, however, when Jason agrees to drive his recently widowed grandfather down to Florida.

That’s our dirty grandpa, played by Robert De Niro, who clearly does not, in the twilight of his career, give a single fuck anymore. The very first scene features the two-time Oscar winner fully nude, masturbating to cable-TV porn in his recliner. This sets the tone rather perfectly.

Things only get more embarrassing for De Niro. Director Dan Mazer obviously subscribes to the filthier-equals-funnier theory of comedy, but he has no actual jokes to work with in a script by first-timer John Phillips. Dirty Grandpa isn’t a story, it’s a premise—a decidedly lame one, at that. Jason and his dirty grandpa go to spring break in Florida. That’s it.

In lieu of any real situational or character-driven comedy, the filmmakers provide De Niro and Efron with an unrelenting torrent of gross dialogue and sight gags. Incapable of generating actual comedy, the filmmakers go for shock and revulsion, over and over and over. It’s the comedy equivalent of torture porn.

Poor Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) shows up as a hard-partying college girl with a geriatric fetish. You’d think that setup would pay off with a joke or two, but it doesn’t. In fact, there’s no payoff about 100 times in a row. Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) plays Jason’s love interest, to zero effect, but she at least has the dignity to look embarrassed by it all.

Traditionally, the upside of really bad movies is that they’re fun to make fun of. Not so much with this one. There’s an ugliness to Dirty Grandpa that runs deep, beneath the rape “jokes” and the swastika plot point and the creepy obsession with female anatomical specifics. The story feels like it was thought up by a gang of emotionally stunted sixth graders who heard a story once about spring break.

But hey, at least Robert De Niro picked up a paycheck. That’s something.


from Indy Week 

Remember the moment near the end of the original Star Wars when Luke Skywalker pilots his X-wing through a last-ditch run on the Death Star, turning off his targeting computer to rely on the Force instead?

That’s what director J.J. Abrams does with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the gargantuan commercial and artistic endeavor opening wide on Friday. He’s delivered a triumph in an unexpected fashion, flouting the usual reboot expectations and grooving with the Force to essentially make a disco remix of franchise mythology.

Dodging spoilers with this release is an especially tricky business, but I’ll be careful. Still, if you want to go in totally fresh, stop reading and go forth secure in the knowledge that you will have a blast.

Read the rest of this entry »


from Indy Week 

“Movies are the most powerful tool ever created, and they are infested with traitors!”

So says one of the government’s red-blooded commie hunters inTrumbo, the new biographical drama starring Bryan Cranston as the great Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Beginning in the 1940s and wrapping up in the 1970s, the film tells the story of the infamous Hollywood blacklist through the biography of its most interesting victim.

Trumbo, a successful studio scribe and card-carrying member of the American Communist Party, was convicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to give information to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. A cabal of studio executives, under pressure from the federal government, blacklisted Trumbo and nine others, who later became known as the Hollywood Ten.

Trumbo served a year in prison on the conviction and was unable to get meaningful work in the industry for more than a decade. He continued to write, though, passing scripts to acquaintances and publishing under pseudonyms. He even won an Oscar for The Brave One while blacklisted, which is a pretty neat trick and makes for a great story.

Read the rest of this entry »


from Indy Week 

Those expecting a proper period piece will be sorely disappointed by Suffragette, a restless and angry drama that sometimes plays out like a violent political thriller. The film is set in London, eight years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in the U.S., at the moment when the women’s suffrage movement was turning militant.

Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a desperately poor washerwoman eking out a miserable existence in London circa 1912. Maud is a wage slave in an era when the term is, for all practical purposes, nearly literal. The industrial laundry she’s been laboring at since age 7 is filthy and dangerous. She and the other young women in the laundry must also cope with the sexual predation of their boss.

Delivering a laundry package one evening, Maud stumbles into a guerrilla action by London suffrage activists, throwing rocks through display windows in the city’s posh retail district. It’s the first indication that, for these women, in this time and place, the struggle for freedom is no longer about polite dissent or even peaceful civil disobedience. “We break windows, we burn things,” Maud later says. “Because war is the only language men understand.”
Read the rest of this entry »


from Yahoo Tech 

The 007 franchise has traditionally been among Hollywood’s most gadget-happy and fetishistic series when it comes to technology. The estimable Mr. Bond is forever dispatching bad guys with high-tech goodies from his mad-scientist quartermaster Q: Laser-beam watches, amphibious cars, the occasional jet pack.

So it’s fascinating to see how the series’ latest installment Spectre, opening Friday, goes another way entirely. This is a movie that’s afraid of technology – very afraid – and with good reason.

The gist (minor spoilers ahead): In Spectre, James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself fighting enemies both at home and abroad. Chrisoph Waltz plays the main villain and exterior threat, and as usual he’s creepy on some kind of ambient cellular level. But back home, Bond has another problem. The incoming intelligence chief, code named C, wants to kill off the old-school 007 program and establish a new security strategy based on weaponized drones, armchair espionage and ubiquitous 24-7 surveillance.

In fact, if you tune into the film’s thematic sideband frequencies, Spectreis essentially a 148-minute cautionary tale about Britain’s metastatizing surveillance society.

This is a big issue across the pond. A recent study estimated that there are around six million closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the U.K. That works out to be about one camera for every 11 people in Her Majesty’s realm, depending on how you crunch the numbers. The situation is probably a lot worse, actually. That survey is a couple of years old, and with many CCTV systems now connected by vulnerable wireless networks, those “closed” circuits aren’t really closed at all.

Many Britons are understandably freaked out about this. What’s more, Britain’s intelligence agencies enjoy some rather frightening privilegesunder the law when it comes to collecting information on its own citizens. The United Nations’ recently appointed privacy chief has called the situation in Britain worse than anything George Orwell could have imagined. As you may be aware, things aren’t much better in the U.S.

Back to the movie, and stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers. The Big Threat in Spectre – the catastrophe our heroic spies are scrambling to prevent – isn’t a nuclear bomb or lunar death ray or weather-control machine. It’s a new all-powerful global surveillance system, poised to go online, complete with the requisite Red Digital Readout.

As it happens, Spectre is being released the same week that UK lawmakers proposed another alarming new policy. If the plan goes through, Britain’s communication service providers (CSPs) would be required to track and hold customers’ web browsing data for a year, and make it available to government officials. It would read like an itemized phone bill, officials say, with every web site you visited. Zoinks.

(And if you think that can’t happen here, think again. For the better part of the last decade, the FBI and other three-letter agencies have been trying to push ISPs to store all their subscriber data for at least one year and make it available to the Feds upon request.)

Of course, Spectre isn’t the first movie to address contemporary surveillance state concerns. It’s a genre onto itself, really. But the film elevates the issue into some new atmospheric stratum of pop culture concern. When a surveillance system is elevated to the level of doomsday device in a 007 movie, we should probably pay attention. We’re telling ourselves something.

And at any rate, I think we can all agree that we don’t want Christoph Waltz getting hold of our browser history.


As a specimen of pop culture entertainment, director Danny Boyle’s biopic Steve Jobs — opening nationally on Friday — is one of the finest films of the year. Michael Fassbender is incandescent in the title role, portraying the Apple co-founder as a high-voltage visionary whose spitting, sparking genius is matched only by his capacity for arrogant cruelty.

But be aware that the audacious script, densely packed with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, plays fast and very loose with the facts. Sorkin himself has asserted that the film isn’t designed to be a traditional biopic. It’s more like an impressionist portrait painted with bold, lurid colors. And it’s not a flattering portrait, either.

As he demonstrated in The Social Network, Sorkin is a pitiless engineer when it comes to streamlining his scripts for narrative torque. The Steve Jobs story is an engine built for drama: No genuine effort is made to present Jobs as a fully formed character, and actual history is rewritten when required. Here are five key moments to watch for in the film, and the real stories behind them. (Warning: Spoilers dead ahead.)

read more at Yahoo Tech 


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