Thursday, January 29, 2015

Black Sea

Underwater thrills and adventure
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenplay: Dennis Kelly
Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Bobby Schoenfeld, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Tobias Menzies, Michael Smiley

Occasionally a submarine thriller comes along and holds our interest with the intensity of the underwater thrills. Black Sea accomplishes that goal, and director Kevin Macdonald keeps the thrills at a heightened frenzy. This reviewer loves everything about the sea having been in the Navy, so any shipboard antics give out blood pressure rushes and thrills. So will the audience experience the same artery tightenings.

International star Jude Law stars as Captain Robinson, an unemployed submarine pilot whose job has been eliminated where he has worked for a good part of his life. Other jobs were also made redundant, and many “old salts’ with 30 years experience now find themselves out of date in today’s technological world. All the men get together and tell sea tales. One legend involves an alleged sunken German U-Boat that was filled with gold ingots from Stalin to Hitler in the 1940s. The gold was supposedly a pay-off to Adolph Hitler in hopes he would not invade Russia. Of course, the Nazis did invade Russia in the winter in one of the most disastrous campaigns of World War II for the Germans.

The submarine filled with the gold never made it to its destination and lay at the bottom of the Black Sea in fairly shallow waters. Robinson proposes to the rag-tag men that they try to rescue the gold on their own and thus eliminate all their financial worries and mortgages. Robinson finds a questionable financier to put up the cash for the expedition. They find and buy an old rusty Russian submarine that is ready for the scrap heap and paste it together so that it actually sails and submerges. The rough and tumble men show their nautical skills and get the boat into ship-shape as much as they can.

The “money men” insist they have a representative on board, so Scoot McNairy as Daniels fills the bill as the non-sailor passenger who has no faith in the venture.  He’s the fifth wheel in the episodes and fills the atmosphere with his negative views on the success of their pursuit. He’s of no help to the crew and is always in the way. But he serves as a spy for the investors and is a necesssary evil.

Robinson makes up his crew with grizzled old-timers who know their stuff and complements them with additional sailors who are Russian and are vitally needed to interpret as well as navigate the Russian-made sub. The British crew and the Russian crew are emotionally divided, but are somewhat united when Robinson offers all of them an equal share of the booty at the bottom of the sea. However, tempers flare when deep sea diver Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn) frequently blows his stack and irritates the other men.

Most sailors love to grouse and complain about everything, and these guys were no different. Soon, somebody realizes that there will be more to share of the gold if there are fewer crewmembers. A nasty thought at best. Some “accidents” occur, some heads are bloodied, and soon the passengers list shrinks.

A little humanity is injected into the tense scenes underwater with the addition of 18 year-old Tobin, played engagingly by Bobby Shoenfeld. He’s certainly wet behind the ears and the men tease him unmercifully because of his inexperience. Robinson takes him under his wing because he, too, has a young son and can relate to what Tobin is experiencing as a sailing novice. We get a sense of knowing Tobin’s character much more than any of the other men. There is little character development of the other men other than individual personalities being exposed through their actions. Law’s character is revealed in quick flashbacks with his wife and son, but Dennis Kelly’s screenplay never develops him fully as a man, husband or father. However, Law’s performance is exemplary and he comes across as a man in charge who knows how to skipper a sub.

Director Macdonald has paced the actions scenes well and has squeezed every ounce of excitement out of it that he can. Explosions on board are certainly terrifying, water gushing through the sides of the sub cause tense gripping of the theatre seats by audiences. The extreme claustrophobia inherent in a small sub is captured in cinematographer Christopher Ross’ lenses and heightens the cramped over-all look.

Overall, it’s a pretty exciting and terrifying look into the underwater world of submarines, grizzled sailors and the lust for riches. Black Sea is one of the better nautical yarns to be filmed in years.



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Saturday, January 17, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER

Director: Clint Eastwood

Screenplay: Jason Dean Hall, based on the book by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Max Charles, Luke Grimes, Sam Jaeger, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict

Review by James Colt Harrison

Every once in awhile an actor gets a great part in which he is on screen for nearly every scene. Such is the case for the excellent Bradley Cooper in this tour-de-force part of real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. It’s a terrific opportunity for Cooper to show off his dramatic acting chops, and he succeeds as have few actors this year.

As is often said, truth is stranger than fiction, and it is true about Kyle’s personal story. Kyle became the greatest sniper and marksman in military history. Eastwood has taken the short and sad life of the Navy hero and turned it into a poignant story of a man conflicted between loyalty to his mission and his sometimes fumbled attempts at being a loving father and husband.

Based on a book co-written by Kyle, we find his inner most thoughts are discussed more readily in the book than on the screen. However, Eastwood depicts the young man as one who loves his work, is loyal to the other men and to the cause and reason as to why they are engaged in the fighting. Kyle spent four grueling tours of duty in Iraq to eliminate the “evil” inherent in that country.

The opening scene is a tense thriller of emotions, and Eastwood has directed it so the audience can hold its breath over Kyle’s difficult choices. Should he fire or not on a woman and her small boy? If he’s mistaken, he could go up on charges of murder. It’s a stunner of a scene.

Kyle became so well-know to his buddies about his targeting skills that he soon took on the name “The Legend.” He was correctly able to spot and eliminate targets that were a danger to the troops. He got so good at it that he was enlisted to join the other men in making “sweeps” of local houses to find the notorious and despicable murderer called “The Butcher.”

Between his four harrowing tours of Iraq, Kyle returned home to his family. He becomes more and more estranged from his wife, played realistically by Sienna Miller. He doesn’t really know what’s wrong, but the war has affected him psychologically more than he realizes. In small increments, he is falling to pieces and succumbing to the horrors of war. Cooper shows this quietly and subtly at first, then in larger and more emotional gestures as he grows war-weary. It is certainly the best acting Cooper has done in films, and he should be handsomely rewarded by being cast in better and better films. It’s a star-making role for sure, and Cooper is up to commanding the screen throughout the long 134 minutes.

One aspect of Kyle’s legendary sniper expertise that must not be lost is that he saved thousands of American lives. By his pinpoint accuracy at taking out the enemy, he made it safer for the American military. Unfortunately for him, however, is that the enemy put a price on his head and made him a prime target of insurgents.

Warner Bros and Clint Eastwood are having American Sniper  released in the giant IMAX format for better enjoyment of audiences. “American Sniper is a tense and engaging drama, “ said Greg Foster, Senior Executive Vice President of IMAX Entertainment. “—one that will keep you on the edge of your seat, particularly when experiencing it in IMAX theatres.”


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Still Alice

Directed by: Richard Glatzer
Screenplay: Richard Glatzer
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parish, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Seth Gilliam

Review by James Colt Harrison 

Although there might be a tendency to label this film as a “disease of the week” TV movie, it goes beyond superficial medical analysis and gets to the heart of a very serious matter. Also, it is shot so simply and beautifully by cinematographer Denis Lenior you may think it is a television show, but he captures the Hamptons in a direct and no-nonsense way.

Director Richard Glatzer wrote the screenplay with Wash Westmoreland from the original novel by Lisa Genova. The book gripped readers with its straightforward story and a personal experience of the author. Glatzer and Westmoreland have continued that simplicity to the storytelling in the movie. Your heartstrings will be plucked like a harp being played in Heaven by angels. Yes, it’s a tear-jerking event of the highest order, but both men and women will embrace the story and the object of it as played so magnificently by Julianne Moore.

Miss Moore has the tricky job of playing a character (Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor) who is beautiful, intelligent and at the top of her career in such an engaging way it elicits our sympathy and admiration. At only age 50, she is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. She struggles with the disease and is fearful of forgetting all that she has accomplished as well as mentally losing her beloved family in the process. The subject is dealt in a tender way, and husband Dr. John Howland (Alec Baldwin) becomes the rock on which can lean for support and love. Baldwin leaves his usual brash and abrasive personality at home and does some of the best work he has done in years. He’s an actor of some depth and shows great loyalty to his wife Alice during a time of great crisis. As a prominent doctor himself, he must continue his own career path while at the same time understanding Alice’s need for recognition and continued validation as a person of intelligence.

Kristen Stewart (the Twilight series) plays Alice’s youngest daughter Lydia. For the first time she shows an ability to do some good acting. Stewart is a surprise with her repartee with her mother. She may at last shake off the “Miss Glum” nickname because of her inability to smile or show any emotion whatsoever. In this film she is cracking her eggshell protection and is showing some feelings.

Julianne Moore has struck gold by being cast in a tour-de-force acting role that any actress would give their left arm to play. Ms. Moore did not have to give up any arms because she caught the producer’s and director’s attention with her superb acting. She is the entire picture  and dominates all her scenes even against such superlative actors as Baldwin, Stewart, and Kate Bosworth (daughter Anna).

Rightfully so, it was recently announced Julianne Moore has been nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. She is up against some other actresses who delivered terrific performances as well. We shall see the results in February when the gold statuettes are handed out to the winners. Will Moore be one of them? We think it is possible. Our money is on Moore---unless Rosamund Pike comes out from behind for Gone Girl and snatches it away. 


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lets Meet: Adrian Holmes, Photographer

by Paola Hornbuckle

Adrian Holmes is a photographer from Toronto, Canada with extensive experience and a love for the female form which he portrays in various dramatic poses. His models are tall, slim and limber and seem to blend into the background. His photographs capture a serious tone replete with darkness and shadows, full of sensuality and depth that evoke strong emotion. In this interview he tries to gives us a glimpse into what motivates and inspires him.


ANF: Why do you love photography…why is it important to you?

AH: Great question. Hard to answer.  I guess it’s as a result of needing to create and express myself. For me, photography seems to be my way of doing so. I’m kind of shy so public speaking is a no go, I’m not great with paint and I’m a terrible dancer.
As far as what I love about photography as a medium for expression. I love the way light and shadow play on a subject. I love creating something that provokes an emotion in me and the viewer. It’s an incredible thing to create something that never existed before. 

ANF: How do you go about choosing the locale or setting?

AH: I’m very interested in architecture and interior design. I find it interesting to combine artistic portraits with spaces. I make notes and take pics with my iPhone as I travel around the city etc... Later when I feel the urge to start a new project I refer back to my list. I go online to find images of the spaces then try to visit the spaces and do a site inspection then beg and plead with the owners to allow me to shoot. I select the location depending on the mood of the project.

ANF: Models seem to blend into the surroundings...

AH: In many cases, the environment is almost as important to me as the model. The surroundings are very much a part of the message I’m try to convey or the story I’m trying to tell. I try to light or at least control the light in such away as not make my subjects “pop” rather have them be a part of the environment. I have a much different approach to studio shoots. 

ANF: What are you looking for in a model?

AH: When I’m looking for a model for a particular project I pre-visualize the end result and try to find a model that fits that mental picture. I look through their portfolios and the thing I look for first is a sense of grace and fluidity in their movement or poses. I love to see candids or behind the scenes images because you get a glimpse of their personalities. I’m a very low key easy going guy and work well with people who don’t take themselves so seriously

ANF: Any advice for up and coming photographers?

 Yes…Just to qualify what I’m about to say…..a photographer to me is someone who has devoted their life to photography. If you have 10,000 posts on Instagram and have a million likes your’e not a photographer. Your’e a master of taking “snaps”….Is that harsh?

If you put anything before your art you are not an artist. You can be a practicing Doctor, Lawyer or work at Best Buy in the local mall and still be a great photographer if the art is your driving force, the thing you can’t do without….be honest with yourself ask yourself, “ Do I have to be a photographer?" If the answer is maybe and maybe I can do something else as well, or you’re not sure, then you’ll never realize your full potential as a photographer/artist. 

Being a great photographer is not about the equipment you have, it’s about what’s inside of you. You must have a passion for photography…. gear is something you can borrow, rent or buy. Technical knowhow is something you can take a course in or get from YouTube. Passion is something you must have in order to succeed.

Be humble, you’ll never know it all. It doesn't matter if you’ve just started or are a seasoned pro that teaches workshops, learn to accept critique and learn. The journey never ends.

Study images from the past and present in any medium. Dissect photographs and paintings; analyze the lighting, composition, textures and mood. Study light in the world around you. Study the light coming through your window in the morning, the light from that annoying florescent bulb in your buddy’s kitchen, study movies, documentaries and cinematography.  Be a student of light. The following lesson took a while for me to learn :(    Don’t chase money. Create, exhibit and network. The rest will come.

Lastly, a quote from Annie Liebovitz “ When you learn to trust your own point of view, that’s when you really start making pictures”

CLICK HERE to see more of Adrian's work!

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

SELMA

History in the making
Director: Ava Du Vernay
Studio: Harpo Films / Plan B/ Pathe
Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wiliknson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Niecy Nash, Dylan Baker, Common, Allessandro Nivola, Nigel Thatch, Henry G. Sanders

                      Review by James Colt Harrison

Many movie-goers today were not around during the hullabaloo taking place during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. So,Selma is a good history lesson for both blacks and whites to see. This excellent film from director Vernay should wake everybody up about how unfairly our very own citizens were treated.

Yes, the whole story has been shown on TV, been written about in hundreds of books, and principals in the movement have been interviewed countless times over the years. But until now, nobody has captured on film the struggle of Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) and his fellow activists to bring about justice for African-Americans in the South and in all of the United States.

King was a peaceful man, but he was determined to correct the injustices laid upon “his people” during a dark period of US history. He organized “sit-ins” and marches to draw attention to the cause. He was met with violence and vicious confrontations by the whites in power at the police departments and other government officials. Tim Roth, a terrific actor on any account, once again plays a vivid character who is allegedly Governor Wallace. He’ll not put up with any shenanigans by the marching black folk. Once again their rights have been taken away. When Oprah Winfrey’s character attempts to register to vote, she is  foiled by rules made up on the spot. This was just an example of the injustices that were an everyday occurrence.

King visits the Oval Office and pleads with President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The two have strong words for each other. At first Johnson is reluctant to back any voting-rights legislation because he has bigger fish to fry. Actor Tom Wilkinson, one of the best character-stars in films, becomes Johnson complete with a Texas accent, and we almost believe that it is the President. Wilkinson is so good at what he does that he actually becomes the person he is playing. In Johnson’s address to Congress, Wilkinson shows empathy for the cause and is sincere in his portrayal.

Although the surviving King family did not give the filmmakers permission to use any actual copyrighted King speeches, the film’s screenwriters have done a superb job in capturing King’s passion and nuances. Paul Webb’s script is so well-written that all of Oyelowo’s speeches sound as if King had written them.

The entire cast is superlative, especially Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. We must single out newcomer David Oyelowo for his grasp of the man King, his passions, and his weaknesses. We’ll be seeing a lot of Oyelowo in the future.

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