Category Archives: Film and Television

The Secret Scripture: A Romantic Irish Tale

An elderly woman with an enigmatic past pines her days away in an asylum, until a doctor begins investigating her case and ultimately gives them both a second chance at life in The Secret Scripture (2016). It is a romantic tale filmed on location in Ireland and is one of those films audiences seemed to like but critics panned. Beautiful cinematography and emotional depth masks an otherwise a ridiculous plot.

The Secret Scripture is based on a novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, author of A Long Long Way (2005). It was released in Canada and the U.K. in 2016 but came to the U.S. in October of this year. It was adapted for the screen and directed by Jim Sheridan, who also directed My Left Foot (1989) and The Boxer (1997). Both Sebastian Barry and Jim Sheridan were born in Dublin and have focused their careers on highlighting the Irish experience.

The film centers on Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave), an elderly woman in a mental institution who allegedly murdered her child. Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana) comes to evaluate Rose to see if she is sane enough to live on her own, because the institution is being remodeled into a spa. Dr. Grene becomes fascinated with her life story after discovering a journal she’s kept, written on the pages of a Bible.

As a young woman, Rose (Rooney Mara) lives in Belfast with her sweetheart, Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor). He leaves to join the British air force during World War 2. She moves to the Irish countryside to escape the German bombing raids, only to run afoul of local conventions. After being exiled from her aunt’s cafe to an isolated cottage, Michael just so happens to be shot down in her backyard and she hides him from Irish partisans.

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My High School Years in Film: 1996

I thought it would be fun to do an overview of movies that came out while I was in high school. The first video covers August to December 1996, when I entered high school as a freshman at Maine West in Des Plaines, Illinois. Yeah, it’s blatant nostalgia, even though the ’90s was a lousy decade to be a teenager. What were your favorite films from the late ’90s?

Suburbicon: A Suburban Gothic Crime Drama

A disgruntled middle manager’s insurance scheme unravels in an idyllic 1950s suburb in Suburbicon (2017). Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is a middle-aged man with a disabled wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), and a young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). Their world is shattered when two thugs (Glenn Fleshler and Michael D. Cohen) seemingly break into their home and murder Rose with an overdose of chloroform.

In the wake of the tragedy, Rose’s sister, Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore), moves in with Gardner and Nicky, over the objections of her brother, Mitch (Gary Basaraba). Meanwhile, an African American family, Mr. and Mrs. Mayers (Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook) and their son Andy (Tony Espinosa), move into the all-white community. This ignites a controversy that forms the backdrop for the film.

Suburbicon was written by the Coen brothers and directed by George Clooney (who revised the screenplay). Joel and Ethan Coen originally wrote the script in 1986. Their effort at finding whatever was laying around for their next film payed off by finishing 9th at the box office on its opening weekend. Suburbicon is Matt Damon’s lowest performing film and it has a current rating of 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Suburbicon is modeled after Levittown, New York, a planned community built by William Levitt between 1947 and 1951 and the nation’s first modern suburb. Levitt, who was Jewish, believed whites would not want to live in Levittown alongside black neighbors, so the original rental agreement excluded non-Caucasians. Levittown remains 88.9 percent white.

In Suburbicon, white mobs subject the Mayers family to 24-hour harassment, culminating in torching their car and hanging a Confederate battle flag in their broken window. Nicky and Andy, however, form a bond, suggesting a more tolerant future.

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Is Hollywood Imploding?

The idea that Hollywood is a place where dirty old men lure young women (and sometimes boys) with promises of stardom has been around pretty much from its inception. It’s an open secret some call the “casting couch culture.” Harry Cohn, co-founder and president of Columbia Pictures until 1958, was rumored to have a private room next to his office for dalliances, and accusations against Harvey Weinstein go back decades.

Who, then, is surprised by rampant libertinism and degeneracy in the entertainment industry? It’s been on the cover of every tabloid magazine since the beginning of print media. So why have all these accusations of sexual improprieties suddenly bubbled to the surface, and does it have anything to do with declining ticket sales?

Forbes recently ran an article citing 2017’s summer movie season as the lowest grossing summer for the movie business in 25 years. While it mentioned fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it mainly blamed the rising cost of theater attendance and a generational preference for watching movies on mobile devices.

It’s true ticket and concession prices have become grossly over inflated, but these explanations hardly scratch the surface. Young people aren’t going to the theater because they’d rather watch movies on a phone? Ridiculous. I think it has much more to do with the poor quality of films coming out of Hollywood. Netflix has experienced tremendous growth partly because their original movies and series are compelling, funny, clever, and creative.

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Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

Christina Ricci stars in this made-for-TV dramatization of the 1893 trial of Lizzie Andrew Borden for the murder of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The highly-stylized production recounts events immediately surrounding the murders and subsequent trial. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) was later developed into a TV Mini-Series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015). It blends a modern soundtrack with historic events to create an oddly entertaining take on the controversial case.

At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden (Christina Ricci), 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan (Hannah Anderson), to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew (Stephen McHattie), slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby (Sara Botsford), Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.

Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma (Clea DuVall). Despite efforts to start a new life, Lizzy Borden was ostracized from Fall River society, since many people believed she was the murderer.

There are several alternative theories about “who done it,” but Lizzie Borden Took an Ax doesn’t entertain any of them. It openly implies Lizzie was the murderer, even going so far as to imagine Lizzie confessing the crime to her sister, causing her to flee their home in disgust. In fact, the two sisters split in an argument over a party in 1905, 12 years after the trial. We’ll never know what the sisters said to each other in private conversation, so this is creative license at work.

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The Staircase – A Horror Short

The Staircase (2017) was created and directed by Mario Flores, a photographer from Baja California, and stars Irauaddi Fuentes. Flores has appeared as an uncredited extra in Dirty Love (2005) and Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). The Staircase is a typical short suspense video punctuated by a jump scare.

We see a woman relaxing at home, answering text messages. Suddenly, a sound directs her attention to the second floor. A shadowy figure peers over the balcony, then a plastic ball comes tapping down the wooden stairs. She slowly ascends the staircase, until another noise sends her scurrying back down. She waits, then screams as–well, I won’t spoil the ending. But the short film ends there, at 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

The trailer on YouTube is actually more well-made and suspenseful than the movie. The “horror” element doesn’t work partially because of atmosphere (or lack thereof). It’s just way too bright. Second, the creature (or whatever it is) appears too early. There’s no way someone would go upstairs after seeing that thing looking over the balcony. It’s just not believable.

The Staircase is a decent first effort, but there’s nothing to capture your attention. It is available to rent on Amazon.com for $1.99.