Sunday, February 21, 2016

eOne Film Review - Race

Jessie Owens (Stephan James) is the first member of his family to earn a college scholarship. As he is off to Ohio State he stops by the hairdresser where his girlfriend Ruth Solomon (Shaice Banton) the mother of his daughter works. Almost missing his bus he is off with is friend Dave Albritton (Eli Goree) to start school. At school he meets coach Synder (Jason Sudekis) who was a star athlete in his day and had qualified for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Synder has been looking for an athlete to raise the profile of the Ohio State track team and help to finally beat their rivals at USC.

Director Stephen Hopkins along with writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Watersouse craft a story that captures the tenor of the time and tensions on two sides of the Atlantic. At home Jessie has to make sure that he goes back to the colored seats when he boards the bus in Cleveland to head to Columbus. He and Dave Albritton have to wait for the all white football team to shower and are pushed out of the locker room by the same squad. At the same time the US Olympic committee are seriously considering a boycott Joseph Goebbels is heard of German athletics and Jewish homes in Berlin are being ransacked with the inhabitants driven off in trucks out of the city.

The costume and wardrobe department led by Juliana Stenzel need to be mentioned for their work. The clothing set the tone for the portrayal of the early 1930's. Clothing is key from the first scene when Jessie is first looking for his one good shirt as he prepares to depart for Columbus to the new Navy blazer that his mother buys for his trip away to school. The team do an excellent job reproducing the running athletic attire of the time along with the 1936 Olympic U.S.A team uniforms.

The other technical department that brings the picture to life is the CGI and visual effects crews. Two of the best visual spectacles in the production feature the majesty of the construction then first view inside the Berlin Olympic Stadium. U.S. Olympic committee executive Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) heads over during preparation for the games to move the Germans in a more sanitized direction before the Americans would consider attending the games. During the visit he is brought to the stadium that is still under construction. The enormity and scale of the engineering feat is jaw dropping.  Later when Jessie walks down the tunnel into the stadium director Hopkins employs a 360 degree shot showing the stands, the track and field facilities, the Hitler viewing box, the Hindenburg overhead then back to Jessie who is having a hard time breathing.

Stephan James is a standout a Jessie Owens. James follows up a strong supporting role in Selma with an even better performance as the central figure of the film. James is pulled in multiple directions with everyone wanting something from him. He chooses to focus on what he does best and is very successful. Jason Sudeikis shines as the multi layered coach Larry Synder. Legendary track start turned Ohio State coach who is haunted by the memory of the 24 games leading him to drive Jessie very hard to be sure that he does not miss his chance in Berlin. Jeremy Irons is memorable as Avery Brundage.  The leader of the faction that sans the US to go to Berlin but he is personally uncomfortable by the actions and policies of the 36 games hosts.

Race is an historical biopic that truly captures the time, politics and social issues of the early to mid 1930's Jessie Owens is a star in his country his Olympic association wants him to be free to run in a country whose polities they despise but he still has to give up his seat on a bus or go in through the side entrance of a posh New York hotel. The production balance these difficult elements well to produce a film that I can truly recommend

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Race | Stephen Hopkins | France/ Germany/Canada | 2016 | 134 Minutes.

Tags: XI Olympiad, Olympic Games, Berlin, 1930's,1936, Ohio State, Track and Field, Cleveland.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Film Review - Deadpool

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is an ex-special forces turned mercenary that is working with a group that settles personal scores for clients. Wilson tends to be friendly to his victims and targets. If he judges his targets not to be too bad a person he will threaten them instead of dishing out real physical harm to get his point across. Into his day to day existence walks cocktail waitress Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The pair click, plan to start their life together until a serious health issue arises. Wilson desperate to do all he can to be with Vanessa responds to an offer from a rouge facility that fixes his problem gives him super healing powers but the side effects are significant and steal much of his former self except for his twisted wit.

Director Tim Miller and writers Rob Liefeld, Fabien Niciea produce a film that close followers of the character agree touches all of the obligatory pressure points. Deadpool's main trait is his self awareness. He knows that he is a character in a comic book and breaks the fourth wall often to let the reader know.  In the film from the opening credits this theme is obvious.  Shots are taken at formulated scrips that feature the girl, the obligatory british villain and the writers who are the real stars of the production. Ryan Reynolds does not escape the wrath of the writing team.  There are several shots taken as his horrific turn as Green Lantern. Shots at Wolverine that gave birth to the character which leads to a running references to Hugh Jackman through ought the film.

The main story revolves around Wilson goal to get back at the people that experimented on him and finding their leader Francis (Ed Skerin) to try to reverse the side effects that he is suffering. Feeling that once he is normal he can win back Vanessa. The plot is straightforward but the story is told non linear starting with an intense shootout on a bridge with Deadpool hot on the heals of his main target.

Ryan Reynolds finds the anti-hero he is meant to play as Deadpool. His razor wit shines and the cracks come so fast that as the viewer is absorbing one three more rush by. Ty Miller is strong as Weasel the bartender at the mercenaries hideout filling the sidekick role. Karan Soni (Dopinger) steals his two scenes as the designated Deadpool' taxi driver equipped with a back story and two running gags that I don't want to spoil here.

Deadpool is a pseudo super hero film that really earns its hard US restricted rating.  The film is fast paced full of action featuring jagged crisp dialogue. Fans who know the character well will find the creators hit all of the expected highlights.

*** Out of 4

Deadpool | Tim Miller | U.S.A. / Canada | 2016 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: Special Forces, Mercenary, Mutant, Taxi, Revenge, Healing Powers, Marvel Comics, Self awareness.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Film Review - Pride Prejudice and Zombies

Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) is a very serious fellow. He is determined to keep the late 18th century  countryside free of vampires. At the films opening Mr. Darcy visits a country estate where he immediately notices lax security.   He enters the main room where the guests are playing cards. the lady of the house assures that no one present is infected. Darcy releases his carrion files that have a knack of finding dead flesh. The guests are annoyed by their buzzing but as Darcy rightfully points out the time to worry is when the buzzing stops.

Director Burr Steers crafts a delightful mix of old world prose and modern staking in Pride Prejudice and Zombies. The dialogue, country estates and characters live up to the Jane Austen tradition but the female leads mix their leggings with knives, their white gloves with swords and bustiers with the finest Chinese martial arts.

The setting is England in the later years of the 18th century. The military has had many battles with the zombie horde. They have left only one passable bridge into London for in the event that the Zombies gain strength the bridge can be blown trapping the Zombies in the city. Meanwhile out in the countryside reside our heroines. Jane (Bella Heathcourt) , the fairest of the four, Lizzy (Lily James) the feistiest who pledges that she would never give up her sword for a mate. Charlotte (Alising Luftus) and the youngest Lydia (Ellie Bamber) follow along in line.  The Bennet girls are all accomplished in the Chinese fight arts at the insistence of their dad (Charles Dance) while their mother (Sally Phillips) looks to marry them off.

Into the region strides Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) a very eligible bachelor and close friend of Mr. Darcy. He immediately locks onto Jane while Darcy and Lizzie spar emotionally and physically. Darcy's childhood friend turned rival Lieutenant George Wickham (Jack Hudson) appears complicating the relationship between Lizzie and Ms. Darcy. The zombies resurge soon after leading to a battle to save the city of London and England itself.

Lilly James shines as the main Bennet girl. She can play the lady when needed but refuses to be all smiles and courtesies.  She wields a ruthless blade when threading vampires appears but is intuitive enough to know when one poses no immediate threat and could be a source of information. Her foil is Sam Riley's Darcy a heavy sledgehammer that sees everything in black and white , good and evil, living and undead. Charles Dance turns in another in a series of strong performance as the Bennet Patriarch.  Look for Matt Smith in a strong comedic performs as Bennet cousin and would be suitor Parson Collins.

Pride, Prejudice and Zombies is a strong mix of a Jane Austen period piece and a modern zombie flick. The performances are strong, the sword work and fighting slick and the story sticks more or less to a traditional tale. If you are looking for women in serious hand to hand gory combat then this film will fill that urge.The cast and crew do a credible job that will have Jane Austen applauding instead of rolling over in her grave.

*** Out of 4.

Pride, Prejudice and Zombies | Burr Steers | U.S.A. | 2016 | 107 Minutes.

tags: Zombies, Jane Austen, Period Piece, England, 19th Century, Courting, Presentation.