Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Predator

The first time I saw Predator my parents were out for the evening and I was watching it in the basement family room with my two younger sisters.  We were so scared that we thought there was an alien in our house so we barricaded ourselves downstairs until my parents got home.  To this day it remains one of the most frightening movies I've ever seen!  I've not seen any of the other movies in the franchise but my Dad has and he loves them.  When he heard about The Predator he asked me to take him to see it.  We've been planning this outing for at least a month and finally got to go last night.  The filmmakers took one of the scariest movies ever and turned it into an action/adventure thriller.  This is not necessarily a bad thing because my Dad and I had so much fun watching it (which was not what I was expecting at all).  Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a covert operative, and all of his team are on a hostage retrieval mission when an alien ship crash lands.  His entire team is killed but McKenna is able to stun the predator and takes its helmet and armor as proof of what happened before the army comes in and takes charge.  Before he is captured and found incompetent, he mails the alien technology home where his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) finds it and activates it.  Soon another alien ship comes to Earth to retrieve the stolen technology.  Hunting both predators are an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), McKenna and a group of ragtag government prisoners (who contribute much comic relief), and some government agents.  Of course there is an epic showdown and the possibility of another sequel.  The story is a bit of a convoluted mess but it hardly matters.  I found Holbrook to be an appealing action hero and I really enjoyed the action sequences which were thrilling rather than scary.  The best sequences were when the entire team was hunting one of the predators in the woods (it reminded me of the first movie).  I thought the prisoners recruited by McKenna were funny (for the most part) but I eventually found the constant profanity and crude humor to be tiresome after a while.  It is entertaining and I had a lot of fun watching it with my Dad who called it an awesome B-movie.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Silver Screen Classics: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

My Mom and and I went to see She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, the next selection in the Silver Screen Classics series.  This John Ford western starring John Wayne is one of the films in this series that I have never seen before.  Shortly after the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn tensions are high between the Indian tribes and the U.S. Cavalry stationed throughout the west.  At Fort Starke, Captain Nathan Brittles (Wayne), an officer on the verge of retirement, is ordered by his commanding officer to take his wife Abby Allshard (Mildred Natwick) and niece Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru) on his next patrol so they can catch the stagecoach east.  Olivia wears a yellow ribbon in her hair which means that she has a sweetheart in the cavalry.  Two of the soldiers, Lieutenant Cohill (John Agar) and Lieutenant Pennell (Harry Carey Jr.), think that the ribbon is for him and that causes mayhem on the patrol until they are attacked by the Cheyenne and forced to return to the fort.  On the day that he is supposed to retire, Brittles finds his former company and, disobeying orders, they ambush the Cheyenne forcing them to return to their reservation.  He wins an appointment as a scout for the army and we finally find out who has won the affections of Miss Dandridge.  Even though this film has the thinnest of plots (it is really just an excuse to get the cavalry to fight the Indians), I found it to be very entertaining.  The chase sequences are incredibly exciting, especially when one of the scouts (Ben Johnson) is surrounded by a tribe of Cheyenne.  I liked Wayne's performance in this film much more than I did in The Searchers and I found the scenes where he talks to his wife's grave to be very affecting.  I'm glad that I got to see this on the big screen because the visuals are simply glorious (it was filmed in Utah!), especially all of those sunsets!  As always, I had a lot of fun watching this with my Mom because she enjoyed it so much!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Wife

I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Wife since I saw the trailer a few weeks ago and I had the opportunity to see it yesterday afternoon.  I found it to be very compelling.  Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) travel to Stockholm for the award ceremony where he is showered with adulation while she holds his coat, hands him his reading glasses, reminds him to take his pills, and overlooks his flirting with a beautiful photographer.  As the events surrounding the presentation ceremony transpire over a few days, Joan begins to reflect on her role of supporting wife with flashbacks to her days as an aspiring writer at Smith College and conversations with Castelman's would-be biographer (Christian Slater).  Glenn Close gives an absolutely brilliant performance, one of the best of her career.  Joan is quietly self-contained until thirty years of being taken for granted become unbearable during Castleman's acceptance speech.  This scene is amazing because it is like watching a gathering storm and, when she lets loose, it is a category 5 hurricane.  She shares some positively explosive scenes with Pryce and it is heartbreaking when she realizes how much she loves him.  I did feel that the flashback scenes to the characters' younger selves (Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd) are poorly executed and completely unnecessary as they take away the momentum of the story being told in Stockholm.  Also, the narrative is a very slow exploration of the disintegration of a tumultuous marriage without a lot of action so it might not be for everyone.  However, Close elevates this fairly ordinary movie into something extraordinary and I highly recommend it for her performance.

Note:  In many ways this film reminds me of 45 Years.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

White Boy Rick

I was on the fence about seeing White Boy Rick but I didn't have any plans last night so I decided to check it out.  I ended up liking this cautionary tale based on a true story much more than I thought I would.  As a fifteen year old, Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) can see that his life is going nowhere.  He lives in an economically depressed Detroit in the 1980s with a gun running father (Matthew McConaughey) who has big plans for opening a video store which never come to fruition and a sister (Bel Powley) who is a junkie.  He has dropped out of school and runs with one of the many black gangs who rule the city where he acquires the nickname "White Boy Rick."  Two FBI agents (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) blackmail him into becoming an informant by threatening to arrest his father for selling guns that were involved in a crime.  They have Rick do controlled buys of crack cocaine to build cases against the dealers.  He eventually sends the members of his former gang to prison and gets shot in the stomach for his trouble.  When his girlfriend has a baby and his sister almost overdoses, he decides that selling crack for himself will be the best way to help his family.  This leads to his arrest, a betrayal by the FBI, and a mandatory life sentence at the age of 17.  The brilliant performances are what makes this movie better than I expected.  Merritt, in his first ever role, is incredibly sympathetic as a teenager bereft of hope and he gives Rick a certain vulnerability along with the swagger.  McConaughey is charismatic (and a little bit sleazy) as a father who means well but can't do anything to improve his family's situation.  Powley is riveting as a strung out junkie and the scene where she is found in a flophouse is absolutely visceral.  I also really enjoyed the 1980s verisimilitude, especially the scenes at the roller rink.  My problem with this movie is that it is sometimes really unfocused and confusing with a lot of vignettes that don't add up to a cohesive whole.  I was left with a lot of unanswered questions which prompted an online search for information that should have been included.  I'm glad that I saw it, though, and I recommend it for the touching family drama and the great performances.

Note:  It goes without saying that a movie like this is full of violence and profanity, although I didn't find it to be gratuitous.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bernstein on Broadway

Last night, in honor of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday, the Utah Symphony performed a concert featuring the music of Bernstein with guest conductor Teddy Abrams and Broadway star Morgan James.  Bernstein's music is so evocative and exuberant and James has such a powerful voice that she seemed capable of blowing the roof off Abravanel Hall so, as you can imagine, this concert was absolutely wonderful.  The orchestra began with the Overture to West Side Story and then James gave a lovely performance of "Tonight" from the same show.  She continued with several selections from On the Town including "I Can Cook Too," "Some Other Time," and "Ain't Got No Tears Left" while the orchestra played "Times Square 1944" which was a lot of fun.  Then she sang "A Simple Song" from Bernstein's Mass which I really loved.  After the intermission, the orchestra played the Overture to Bernstein's operetta Candide (the orchestra will play this in its entirety in November).  James, then, sang several songs from Peter Pan, a piece I was unfamiliar with, including "Dream with Me" and "My House" which were lovely.  The concert concluded with a rousing rendition of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide which brought the audience to its feet!  For the encore, she performed an incredible version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story.  I enjoyed this performance so much!  My favorite moment was when James sang "Some Other Time" because it was so plaintive and nostalgic.  If you are a fan of Leonard Bernstein I highly recommend getting a ticket (go here) to this concert which will be performed again tonight!
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