Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

I had not even applied to film school when Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was first released in 1982. Yes, by 1983 my friend Rebeka had told me it’s a “must see” and without a doubt those early film projects of mine would have been much improved had I listened to her. 34 years later I am reminded that some films are timeless, beautiful, and can capture simply and perfectly who we are in our often flawed human eloquence.

Robert Altman’s (M*A*S*H, Nashville) period piece ushers us back to the 80’s, 70’s, 50’s. Slow-moving as compared to recent films, bereft of CGI, digital sound and the scatter gun film editing of modern days, Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is by far one of the most beautiful 1 hour and 49 minutes of recent memory.

In fairness, the film’s success is in part due to Ed Graczyk’s playwriting skills that sets the wistful stage of the ageing 5 & Dime Woolworth’s in Texas, on the 20 year anniversary of the Disciples of James Dean Fan Club.

As decades later each member returns, they bring with them the pain of the past coupled with the angst of the present. Who have they become over the past 20 years? How will they been seen by their one time peers? How will they see themselves? Perhaps the lesson here is looking the other way doesn’t necessarily relieve the pain. At least not all of it. Sissy (Cher) is awaiting her husband’s return while Mona (Sandy Dennis), continues to look after her son, a painful reminder, perhaps penance for teenage love of 20 years ago.

Yes, Mona was chosen as the one among many teenage girls to continue Dean’s lineage. There is Edna (Marta Heflin) who is simply dumb, but doesn’t mind, in her own way perhaps the happiest of everyone there. Other characters (portrayed by Kathy Bates, Karen Black, Sudie Bond) take part in the reunion as they share their stories, but if I reveal much more it would rob the viewer of allowing the characters to speak their own truths. But do listen to these women, as their words are both poetic and poignant, their lives wonderfully flawed yet redemptive. Cell phones and laptops off. Listen carefully, it will remind you of someone you know.

The Decline of the Marvel Empire

Yes, once upon a time Marvel films were popular for bringing our comic book heroes to life. It began with Iron Man, Captain America and then the rest was history with the surge of Marvel’s well-crafted, tightly scripted tales of extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Often these people seemed to inspire the hero in all of us (Iron Man) or sometimes it was simply a reminder that we are stronger together (The Avengers). Even Ant-Man reminded us that heroes can be everyday people in all different sizes.

Doctor Strange, strangely enough, breaks from the pattern. So, who is Doctor Strange, really?

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) portrays Dr. Stephen Strange, a top-notch neurosurgeon who performs complex surgical procedures while playing “Name that Tune”. Who only reaches for his scalpel for high paying, high profile clients worthy of his extraordinary surgical talents. His short but illustrious career comes to an end early in the film when he suffers a debilitating accident that damages his hands making it impossible for him to continue his life as, that self-centered egotistical other guy.

Searching for a way to rehabilitate his damaged hands and ultimately his life, Doctor Strange travels to Nepal intent on finding the cure for what ails him. Unfortunately, at this point Strange and the audience encounter an impenetrable wall of clichés where Shaolin Temple intersects with the Matrix, and every other trite film where a westerner has sought Enlightenment. Fortune cookie philosophy for the masses, that come off at simply silly and ostentatious.

The issue is this, Strange finds clichés but not enlightenment, without which the film simply has no soul. No depth. So what does Doctor Strange have? Good sorcerer turned evil who must be stopped, and our newbie hero as the only one who stands a chance of triumphing over the darkness. Still nothing new under the sun or any other place.

Special effects bend and contort things, flying sequences thrill us, fights are gratuitous and lengthy, but no scenes where we actually care about what happens next, let alone the hero. As often stated, special effects alone cannot make a film great. Most of the time I felt I was watching the Matrix mashed up with Inception, impatiently waiting for Neo to materialize.

Strange conjures, gets knocked down and gets back up again, gets sucked into alternate dimensions, multi-verses, without us ever really understanding why this is important to the plot or why we should even care.

I rarely fall asleep during films but Doctor Strange simply did not have the wit, charm or the spirit of previous Marvel films. Yes, I have no doubt that Stephen Strange will return, but I wonder what will be left of Marvel if and when he does.

Chaplin Talks: a film essay on Monsieur Verdoux

 

thefilmreviewpagemonsieur verdoux**** Director: Charles Chaplin

When one thinks of Charles Chaplin, one usually thinks of silent, black and white classics such as The Kid (1921), and Gold Rush (1925)—made popular by Chaplin’s loveable and mischievous tramp character.  Yet, as the film industry continued to evolve with sound and colour, Chaplin’s films also began to take on a new level of complexity.  Chaplin’s 1947 Monsieur Verdoux is such a film, a black comedy “talkie” which illustrates Chaplin’s full range of talent as actor, director and scriptwriter.

Chaplin plays the film’s title character, Henri Verdoux, a father, a husband and polygamist, first marrying wealthy women, exploiting them financially, then doing away with them.  Literally. Continue reading

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (3D)

hansel_and_gretel_small

**1/2
Director: Tommy Workola

Hansel and Gretel though originally a Grimm’s fairy tale, turns out to be a cautionary tale of sorts.  Lesson here?  Don’t go out into the woods alone and don’t spend 60 million dollars thinking you can turn a fairy tale into 192 minutes of good entertainment (without really working at it!)

We all know the story— young Hansel and Gretel are ditched in the woods by their parents.  The two young kids find a candy cane house, they find a witch inside who wants to end their existence.  They depose of  the witch, find their way home and live happily ever after. Continue reading

Attack The Block


****1/2
Director: Joe Cornish
DVD Release

Alien invasion or coming of age film?   Regardless, the British film, Attack the Block, stands heads above many of the Hollywood releases in the last few years. Director/writer Joe Cornish takes us on an action-filled romp through a South London Social Housing neighbourhood.  Seedy, violent yet in the end redemptive as a gang of young black hoodlums defend their homes from alien invasion.  Sounds silly?  Maybe, but this film works. Continue reading

Premium Rush

****1/2  Director: David Koepp
Release Date: August 24, 2012

Can a film with a super contrived plot, no nudity, and cardboard characters still be entertaining?  Well, if you love films, bikes and summer matinees the answer is an overwhelming yes!

Writer/Director David Koepp (writer/War of the Worlds) plays it at street level with this tale of  Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), New York City’s number one bike courier who, on his brakeless fixed gear bicycle, careens through the streets of Manhattan with nothing more than guts, a handheld GPS and speed.  A lot of speed.  So much speed that his cycling prowess carries most of the movie even when things pass the point of ridiculous, but  you’re never bored.

The story is a simple one.  Our roadrunner friend, in spite of disregard for traffic rules, and authority in general, does maintain a semblance of integrity when after accepting an envelope for delivery says to the bad guy, (Michael Shannon) who wants the envelope back- “ Once the envelope goes into the bag, it’s gotta stay in the bag”.  As it turns out this bad guy is a New York City detective who needs the contents of the envelope to settle his gambling debts in Chinatown.  And dude’s not taking “no” for an answer.  So begins our tale of cat, mouse and bikes. Continue reading