Monday, April 15, 2013

Weekend Box Office: The Place Beyond the Pines, 42, Trance

Here is an interesting article from reviewing some of the movies that came out over the past weekend. This follows this post about some of the movies from last week and THIS POST about some movies that have been released over the past few years that you might have missed! This all follows this post about guidelines to chosing good movies to watch yourself!

Weekend Box Office: The Place Beyond the Pines, 42, Trance

By Debbie Schlussel

I actually liked all three new movies debuting at the box office, this week, with some caveats. One of them, “42,” for example seemed sort of like a re-run to me and even recycled the same actress as the significant other. “Scary Movie 5″ was not screened for critics. With Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen both in it, I wonder why.

* “The Place Beyond the Pines“: This was the best of the bunch, this week. It’s the best movie I’ve seen so far, this year. It’s superb, well acted, beautifully shot, and a great tale of fathers and sons woven into a thrilling movie that views like you are reading a tightly crafted novel. It is three stories–actually three movies–in one. At first, it seems as if the first story abruptly ends and a second one with only a very tangential connection to the first begins and you feel sort of let down, but it all ties together with the third and you appreciate the clever way it all comes together. The movie is many things at once: a thriller, a crime drama, a parable about fathers and sons, a miniseries, and much more.

There are two fathers who are the main characters in this movie. One wants desperately to be with his son and will do anything to be with him, despite limited means. He (Ryan Gosling) is a carny (or carnie)–a stunt motorcyclist who travels with a carnival or circus. He learns that a woman he met while the carnival was in Schenectady, New York had his son and didn’t tell him about it. She is now with someone else and is pushing him out of his own son’s life because he is a poorly-paid traveling stuntman with no way to support them. So, he quits his job and moves to town, yearning to be in his son’s life, going distances that he should–and, more important, shouldn’t–go to get there. He grew up without a father in his life, and he’ll do anything to prevent that from happening to his son.

Then, there is the young, relatively new cop (Bradley Cooper) who has a law degree and a father who is a prominent judge. To his father’s disappointment, he has little ambition beyond being a cop and raising his family. But it all changes when he is first involved in a tragedy in the course of his police work and then gets ensnared in corruption, which he tries to overcome. He, too, has a young son.

I can’t say much more because it will give this terrific movie away (and, in my opinion, the trailer gives away too much, so don’t watch it if you want to get the full experience of this movie). But we rarely see such a movie coming out of Hollywood, where fathers sometimes try to do the right thing, even sacrificing everything else. And sometimes they do not, and we see the consequences.

I had a few objections, such as that the only truly and completely good character and caring, loving father in the entire movie is the one Black character, and the rest are generally creeps, except for one–a police officer cum politician who is of mixed character (were the writers and casting agents trying to tell us something?). But don’t let this minor, tangential racial message or character distract you or keep you away, since that is not at all what this movie is about. Also, there was one evil character that definitely should have died by the end of the movie and, sadly, did not. You know that in ten years or twenty or more, this person will still be the same evil, horrible person.

The movie is two hours and twenty minutes long, but, remember that there are three movies in one in this. While it may seem long to some, I enjoyed watching the tales unfold and come together. I wasn’t bored for a second. The movie also co-stars Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta (in a novel role: corrupt Italian cop). Actor Dane DeHaan, who is relatively unknown outside of cable TV, is very good in his role in this film. The movie is, sadly, showing mostly in arthouse movie theaters and isn’t in wide release at mainstream movie theaters, though it should be.

Some of the stuff in the movie, you can guess and predict, but not most of it. There is some limited violence and blood in this movie, and it’s definitely not for kids. Not even close. But, for everyone else, it’s worth seeing. And it’s a great statement on why we have some of the problems we do in this country today. It’s all about having–or not having–a present dad in boys’ lives. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance did a great job with this.


* “42“: While I liked it, I had slightly mixed feelings about this movie, which is subtitled, “The Jackie Robinson Movie.” By most accounts, the late Jackie Robinson was a mensch even while under fire from racism and for the the rest of his life afterward until he died in 1972. And, by the way, he was a proud registered Republican, something this movie specifically omits–the second “Gee, I wonder why” of this week in movies.

While the movie is ultimately uplifting, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen this exact movie–or something very much like it before. I also felt I’d seen the actress who plays Robinson’s wife, Rachel, in the same role before. Sure enough, my memory was accurate. Actress Nicole Beharie was not only the wife in this movie, she played the girlfriend of Ernie Davis, the first Black man to win the Heisman Trophy,in the movie, “The Express” (read my review), the 2008 movie this one mirrors in almost its entirety–the movie just like this that I thought I’d seen before and, in fact, had. Like that movie, this one has the same slightly-cliched plotlines: the Black man fighting racism to break barriers and become one of the greats in his sport; the Black man who fights off an army of White racists calling him the “N” word and doing horrible things to him; and the Black man who finally succeeds and gains the respect of many. Yes, all of this happened in real-life, and nobody is expecting the story to be revised. Yes, racism happened and was a tremendous thing for Robinson to overcome. Davis, too. But, please, Hollywood, try to make the movie a little different . . . or at least vary the Black actresses who play the dutiful chick in the story. Isn’t it a subtle form of typical Tinseltown racism (Hollywood casting directors implying, “they all look alike”) not to do so? Just sayin’. And when will we see the movies about modern day Black racism against Whites?

I liked this movie much better than “The Express” for a number of reasons. In this one, not everyone is portrayed as a cartoonish caricature of a racist. There are plenty of White people who are shown supporting Robinson in his admission to Major League Baseball, including Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who had the goal to bring Blacks into pro baseball and, ultimately, to his Dodgers team. And there are White folks on the street and on the team who also wish Robinson well. That’s something Hollywood rarely shows us in this type of movie, and so I appreciated this fairer portrayal to balance out the tremendous number of racists that Robinson–in the movie and in real life–had to face. We know that, in real life, there were some Whites aside from Rickey who wanted Robinson to get a fair shot to succeed in baseball.

Another reason I liked this movie: as with one of the fathers in “The Place Beyond the Pines” (see review above), Robinson is portrayed as a great father who will do what it takes to be in his son’s life. He is upset to miss the delivery of his baby boy and it pains him to stay away from his son when he is on the road in baseball’s minor leagues. He mentions that his father abandoned him and his mother, and he vows not to let that happen to his son. It’s a great message that would be best heeded by the many Black American men who will see this movie and whose communities are plagued by sons born out of wedlock with no fathers in their lives (a growing, harmful reality in White America, too).

I also liked that Jackie Robinson’s service in World War II is mentioned and recognized. Chadwick Boseman, who plays Robinson, is a good actor. He plays the part with dignity and class, which history says is the way Robinson handled his breakthrough career. An interesting part of the movie is when a sportscaster tells another, “Negroes are gonna run the White men out of baseball,” because, today, Hispanics/Latinos have run the Black man out of (Major League) baseball, and fewer and fewer Black kids play baseball today as this movie comes out.

There was an odd comedic scene in which a White teammate asks Jackie Robinson to shower with the rest of the team and in which there are implied gay jokes. I didn’t find it all that funny and felt it did a disservice to Robinson. I’ll bet the discussion and the scene never happened in real life. Come on, Hollywood, you shove gay marriage and gays in the military down our throats (no pun intended), and yet you do gay shower jokes at Jackie Robinson’s expense? Another case of LaLaLand “Do as I say, not as I do” BS.

There is nothing or original here. “42″ has the typical arc of a sports movie: the protagonist overcomes tremendous odds and obstacles to achieve greatness. I could have done without the music typical of these movies, which seems a little overwrought and too much in this latest iteration (and other recent non-racial iterations) of that story. Still, the movie is enjoyable and entertaining and the muted earthtone-washed colors, sets, and other period details are beautiful and well done.

And I believe, based on my own knowledge, that it captures the Jackie Robinson story well. The only way they could have done it better would be to have Robinson play himself, as he did in his own version, 1950′s “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Still, if I had young kids, I’m not sure I’d take them to see this. There are so many utterances of the N-word, they might come out of it echoing that dialogue.

Don’t let the annoying rap music in the trailers for this movie scare you. There is none of that in this positive, traditional sports movie.


* “Trance“: The first thing you need to know about this movie: it’s the first non-porn movie in which the lead actress must get a Brazilian wax. Yes, that’s the sad part about this really cool movie, which would have been cooler without the unnecessary addition of dialogue about women without genital body hair and scenes of Rosario Dawson in full frontal “Brazilianed” nudity. Never thought I’d be writing about this in a mainstream, non-X-rated movie review. Hope it doesn’t happen again, but, unfortunately, that’s the trend now, not the aberration. Upping the ick factor is the knowledge that, in real life, Dawson “dated” (euphemism) the movie’s director Danny Boyle (who looks like he could be her grandpa, has a daughter not much younger than her, and who never married the mother of his two kids, with whom he was together for two decades). More creepy: Dawson bragged that she took her brother, parents, and grandparents to see her in all the Brazilianed “glory.” Other than that, I enjoyed this movie and found it very entertaining (despite my not being a Dawson fan at all).

This movie was very different, interesting, and thrilling. It’s a novel story that reminds you, sort of, of the movie, “Inception” (read my review). There are various levels of story and you have to pay attention to know what’s real and what isn’t. And like Inception–although this one is much better–there is some degree of pretentiousness.

An employee/art dealer (James McAvoy) at a prestigious London auction house is involved in a heist of a valuable painting, which he was supposed to steal for gangsters led by Vincent Cassel. But he’s been hit on the head and has amnesia. He cannot remember what he did with the painting, and the gangsters can’t find it. Violence against him doesn’t make the art dealer remember. So, the gangsters force him to go to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson), who is hired to try to coax the location of the painting through hypnosis. But it’s not that easy. And soon the hypnotherapist is the one who is the central character. She takes control of the situation for her own purposes.

I don’t want to say more, or it will give away the movie. Some reservations: I didn’t like the ultimately feminist revenge bent of the movie. And some of the coincidences as explained in the movie’s last scenes seem unlikely, trumped up, and too clever by half. Still, I enjoyed it and found it different and intriguing, and it’s well done. This is somewhat violent and has sexual situations and the aforementioned frontal nudity. And it’s definitely not for kids.

It’s a great thriller and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Definitely kept me engrossed.


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