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Out in Theaters: ‘ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.’ 

Writer/director Dan Gilroy burned up the screen with his rocking debut Nightcrawler, a deeply unnerving study of a social alien, scumbag nightly news journalism and unchecked professional ambition featuring one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s very finest onscreen performances. After a few years of anticipation, Gilroy returns with Roman J. Israel, Esq. a character-study-cum-legal-noir with the ever-reliable Denzel Washington decked out in an outdated plum-colored suit and a frizzly afro. Obviously, I was as game as a Michael Douglas in a David Fincher movie to see what Gilroy would deliver next. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM’

A pleasant but slight distraction from the wickedness of 2016, J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them turns back the clocks on the Harry Potter Universe to 1928 where the pesky Newt Scamander and his suitcase full of fantastic beasts have just entered New York City. Beasts earns points distinguishing itself from its predecessor by taking on a new time period, centering on an older (if still largely charming) cast and moving the action to America where new rules, regulations and verbiage (“muggles” are no more, “no-maj” being the US equivalent) prevail.  There’s hints of magic peppered throughout – James Newton Howard’s electrifying score, sharp visual tricks up the sleeve, Eddie Redmayne’s recklessly crooked smile – but as a standalone installment, Fantastic Beasts certainly stops short living up to its titular adjective. Read More

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TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 5 “Other Lives”

As the first season dictates, crime predestines characters into its fold; their adopted second selves aren’t themselves, and the inevitability of the crime’s determinism has approached. In season one, after they ostensibly solved the crime, we saw Rust and Marty’s interlude draw out seemingly grounded as repaired people then pulled back into the crime’s undertow as they re-disintegrated. We only experienced a blip in this season, not even an episode, as this iteration re-awakens half way through.

And like the first season, the bad men seem amorphous, but there’s always one face formed of many like a mosaic from a distance, one singular expression–and it will reach for everything inside of them–at least, that’s what I’ve been hoping for. With three more episodes left, this dark experiment has a chance for redemption to have its potential culminate in entirety. To pull it off, every character needs to be at the end of themselves and turn back as they face new lengths in human amorality.

Post shoot-out mortem, a new stasis with new self has settled in. The investigation’s been shut down by State Attorney General Geldof, pinning Caspere’s murder on Amarilla from the Mexican outfit–and, strangely announcing his run for governor.

ep13-ss06-1920Thus, Velcoro evades his conscience by dropping the good-cop, bad-cop posture and fully commits to ambiguity by becoming a private investigator while still holding enforcer title with Frank in the midst of an ongoing custody battle; Bez is demoted to the sheriff’s office evidence lock up while pursuing Vera’s disappearance on her own timetable; Woodrugh is promoted to detective but withdrawn from the field to insurance fraud while facing extortion from Lindel; Jordan questions Franks recidivist business practices as the only way out.

But all of the character’s now independent lives and investigations evolve to one focal point of conspiracy. Frank orders Velcoro to snoop on Blake when he discovers him trafficking Frank’s prostitutes to his adversary Osip at a clinic with Pitlor and Tony present. The story takes a hard turn when Bez finds a political connection to Caspere’s hotsheet pawned blue diamonds. With plenty of evidence on the table, state investigator Davis reopens the investigation incognito. Davis wants evidence of collusion between Chessani’s political machine and the state attorney general’s chest full of campaign money–thus, no surprise to Velcoro that the state’s investigation was smoke and mirrors. Woodrugh and Bez match Caspere’s former movements to an a rural abandoned commune fitted with a bloodied sexual dungeon. Velcoro bitch slaps Pitlor around when he spits up old business between Caspere and Chessani involving escorts and real estate deals–all filmed and kept in Caspere’s pilfered hard drive to blackmail influential guests if threatened.

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While Frank has Velcoro by the strings, he attempts to leverage his former place into the corridor by blackmailing a business associate who now operates the development company that holds the land to be bought by the government. He was complicit with Frank and his former waste company in dumping contaminants on the farmland that Bez and Woodrugh discovered to lower its purchase value for the railway. But the person whom Frank then sold it to had his life tampered with involving a car that never ends well with a cliff. Frank is given a quid pro quo back into the corridor if he finds Caspere’s stolen hard drive inspired by cinema verite–this same associate that attended the escort parties Pitlor divulged to Velcoro.

As Velcoro confronts Davis about his grit, another self is revealed. Davis tells him his wife’s rapist was forensically affirmed a few weeks ago–a different lead than what Frank lured him into. As Frank holds Jordan after thinking about selling their stakes and starting over, he looks up at the ceiling and says, “No more water stains.” The dark eyes have closed for the moment.

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For prior Silver Screen Riot True Detective coverage, find archive reviews below:

TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 1 Review “The Western Book of the Dead”
TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 2 Review “Night Finds You”
TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 3 Review “Maybe Tomorrow”
TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 4 Review “Down Will Come”

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TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 4 Review “Down Will Come”

Down Will Come is already here. DaVinci’s desecrated water table has waned Frank Semyon’s (Vince Vaughn) land as it tries for purity out of its poisoned seeds. We further wind down the dark spine into DaVinci’s ethos as the show’s symbology continues to open up like the liquid fingers of a black ink stain.

Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Bez (Rachel McAdams) make a blip to her father’s spiritual commune to flesh out Irving Pitlor’s (the slithery, creepo psychiatrist that succinctly analyzed Caspere’s sexual depravity) backstory. They discover Pitlor came from the Chessani lodge, the family’s branded spiritual sect that crossed paths with her father’s fledgling movement. After divulging Caspere’s picture and their investigation, her father completes the circle with a hippie flashback picture of the wicked trifecta–another bad avocado, but re-stated in quite a stark yin and yang way–revealing what was obscured but obscuring what will be revealed. Continuing with the drama’s unfolding, we’re now seeing the intertwining histories mainlined to the present and inevitable future.

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Velcoro and Bez track down Caspere’s former movements in vast tracts of land contaminated with various metal pollutants, as Velcoro hands Bez a determinism her state investigation won’t change–money and how the hand holds it. Bad land with the glint of a high-speed silver bullet cutting through it makes it badder, and they need a hangman as DaVinci’s dynasty follows through with its century old logical conclusion.

The dark pair of eyes grow darker as they follow Frank. The worse self is becoming his best self as he strongarms old associates to keep from bottoming out and continuing the series’ deep theme. We even watch Velcoro’s inner light tested under Frank’s shadow as Frank tries to lip him out of being a cop and into his fold. Frank’s recidivism is humming with current as he nails his fate to the retrofitted nightclub.

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Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) is accosted by journalists for his secret part in a black ops expose, but more so by his conscience for sleeping with his former combat lover. But his prost canvassing reveals a hooker that tried to pawn some of Caspere’s trinkets. Another pair of fingerprints is dusted off belonging to a Mexican cartel underling as they track down an infinite omen.

Bez speaks of memories like the figurines staring back at her. How her dead mother tried to buff them to a shine out of driftwood.

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For prior Silver Screen Riot True Detective coverage, find archive reviews below:

TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 1 Review “The Western Book of the Dead”
TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 2 Review “Night Finds You”
TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 3 Review “Maybe Tomorrow”

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TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 3 Review “Maybe Tomorrow”

The Conway Twitty impersonator lip syncing “The Rose” deified by the David Lynchian purple blue nebula, may superficially seem like a cheap dressed up redneck mind-fuck, Lone-Star laced with LSD, as season two intentionally commits a slow suicide into the oblivious junkyard of one-hit wonders; not to mention the trippy and densely codified dialog between Velcoro  (Colin Farrell) and his father. But it challenges the audience to lift its eyelids and contemplate a different and deeper sphere of influence. The ditty “The Rose” defines love as a flower, which grows with courage into spring with little sunlight through the bleak winter or, in other words, an endless trial–the song is about change. Read More

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TRUE DETECTIVE Season 2 Episode 2 Review “Night Finds You”

The town of DaVinci looks like it’s day, but it’s really night–in other words, it was born in the darkness as it tries for the light. The first scene’s cold tint hangs over like the pallor of a corpse–literally, as Semyon’s (Vince Vaughn) introspection match cuts to Caspere’s melted eyes. Semyon’s abuse story isn’t just significant as a character piece, it’s the unfolding of what’s to come. Read More

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Out in Theaters: SAVING MR. BANKS

“Saving Mr. Banks”
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, Rachel Griffiths
Biography, Comedy, Drama
125 Mins
PG-13
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Saving Mr. Banks may as well have been called How Walt Disney Saved The Day From The Curmudgeonly P.L Travers. It’s as whitewashed a narrative as can be, oozing Disney hallmarks to reinvent the notorious asshat that is Walt Disney into a salt of the earth type inspirationally adept at picking himself up by his bootstraps. He’s the American Dream personified and he circles Emma Thompson‘s P.L. “put the milk in the tea first” Travers with the predatory knack of a hawk.

 

Travers, whose opaque Britishness sticks out like Andre the Giant’s thumb if it’d been slammed in a car door, is a woman desperately struggling to maintain artistic control of a character she’s poured her very heart and soul into: Mary Poppins. Having either run dry in the ideas department or simply too stubborn to pen another Poppins adventure, Travers straddles the line of bankruptcy. Her only option lays in Walt Disney, who’s been hounding after the Poppins property for the past ten years.

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While Travers flies over to LA to be courted by Mr. Disney himself, the earnest, creative folks at Disney are pouring themselves into turning Poppins into a product, equipped with sing-a-long numbers and dancing animated penguins. It’s a far cry from her original vision, and she battles tooth and nail to preserve the soul of these stories that mean so much to her but in the process only comes across as a mean old kook. I mean, this is the 60s, women have no place asserting themselves, amiright?

As audience members, we’re expected to cheer for this moustachioed monopoly man trying to ink out another deal with his enterprising smile. And after Saving Mr. Banks dresses Disney’s acquisition of Mary Poppins up as a promise to his children to one day turn their favorite storybook into a delightful family video, how can you not want him to succeed? Think of the children!

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I don’t think I have to tell you whether or not Disney got his grubby hands on the rights to Poppins. So with that, the moral of this Disney story reads something like: big business always triumphs over the solitary artist. How sweet.

For all the tomfoolery that tries to pass as morals here, Thompson is undeniably powerhousing it as Travers. She’s confounding, frustrating, pitiable, and, for a majority of her screen time, detestable. Her 50 shades of gray comes in two flavors: frowny and disappointment. With a no-nonsense attitude so caustic she makes Professor McGonagall look like a bonafide class clown, Travers is the stuff of fairytale stepmothers – strict, rude, and utterly indifferent. But Thompson plays her with understanding, lacking an ounce of judgement. This year’s Best Actress talks have been all about Cate Blanchett but, with a performance of this caliber, Thompson might just have what it takes to knock her off her horse. There is one big thing standing in the way of that though: Travers is entirely unlikeable.

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Typically, it requires a bit of mental gymnastics on behalf of the audience to acclimate to a character who is so legitimately awful and yet director John Lee Hancock makes no attempt to skirt around the dozen or so sticks up her butt. In fact, that seems the primary function of the first act – to reveal just how uptight Ms. Travers is. For most of the movie, she might as well be a plum. Says Hancock’s film, she’s a dried up old cooze more pleased by naysaying than any of this smiling nonsense. She wants for nothing save a paycheck so she may return to her flat in London and live out the rest of her days on trumpets, tea, and sighing. As she closes in on signing over that character which has come to define her and her career, she’s hardly a popular figure on the Disney campus. Making friends along the way is about as high a priority as stepping in a pile of dog shit. To her, they may as well be one in the same. With all her humbuging, she’s the Ms. Scrooge of the 2013 Christmas season.

But there’s no illusion that this pinecone of a woman won’t shed her crusty shell and reveal the little sweet girl inside, that flax-haired Aussie who we become well acquainted to through an unexpectedly prominent series of flashbacks. In his milking of the emotional teat, Hancock knows that you’ve got to show just how sour someone is to make their inescapable third act transformation all the more power. Most will likely fall victim to his ringing of the waterworks bell, but they’ll probably also be smart enough to see through the highly visibly emotional manipulation at work. So though you may cry, you’ll likely feel a sucker for it.

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On the sidelines, the film is stuffed full of cheery secondary characters who either have helped raise Travers into the woman she is or those unlucky dogs who have to deal with her now that she’s grown into a froofy-haired, red lipstick-wearing bulldog. B.J. NovakJason Schwartzman, and Bradley Whitford are a fine trio of slick-job comic relief and their many colored reactions to Travers’ totalitarian workmanship are amongst the best moments of the film.

In stark contrast, Paul Giamatti‘s thick take on a white version of Driving Mrs. Daisy‘s Hoke Colburn is a prime example of Saving Mr. Banks as a hokey tearjerker while Colin Farrell‘s bubbling but bumbling alcoholic father is shaded with true characterization. He’s far richer in depth than many of these hackneyed stereotypes but belongs in a whole other movie; one far darker and sadder. Then again, the wealth the flashback scenes do seem like another movie entirely. It’s not until the end that it all finally comes together and we see the pieces for a whole. Nonetheless, Hancock never really justifies the amount of division the film must carry and the emotionally stirring conclusion still isn’t enough to make up for the sluggingness that clouds the first hour.

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Saving Mr. Banks
is yet another Disney export of saccharine in the highest degree, an uplifting tale that also serves to reinforce the likeability of a dynasty that has swept up Pixar, Marvel, Stars Wars, and just recently Indiana Jones. But for those of us who’ve heard stories of Disney as a man who aligned himself with anti-Semitic organizations and would work his employees to the bone, attempts to make him seem like Saint Walt come across as disingenuous at best and full-blown falsification at worst. But it’s hard to look down your nose when Tom Hanks is playing the role with all his usual charm and gumption. Well played Disney, well played.

C+

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