Diana Vacc sees “Titanic” Throwback Thursday Review

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—
Although This Film is 20 Years Old So is There Really Anything to Spoil?

With the popularity of “Throwback Thursday” on social media and the current lack of quality in both film and television as of late, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on some classic films. Titanic follows the story of star-crossed lovers Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) aboard the ill fated luxury liner.

THE GOOD

  • The chemistry of DiCaprio and Winslet is reminiscent of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone With The Wind and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.  These two actors have created an onscreen couple for the ages.  The audience can feel the love the characters have for one another.
  • Writer/Director/Editor James Cameron had his hand in everything. This is the true testament to a legendary director.  He even did the drawing of Rose (Winslet) featured in the film.  He brought a story to life that has moments of laughter and brings you to tears, especially the end.
  • Billy Zane’s portrayal of the villainous Cal Hockley was breathtaking.  There were moments when I hated him more than that boss I once had who – never mind. But there also were moments that filled me with empathy for the character.  An example is when he watched from afar Rose and Jack’s kiss when they were reunited.  In this small moment you I definitely felt his pain as he realized he had lost his fiance.
  • The costumes, the sets, the scenery, every little detail was carefully considered by the filmmakers and crew and led to an overall feeling of reality.

THE BAD:

  • Total spoiler alert just in case: I still wish that Jack didn’t die at the end of this film and instead he and Rose livee happily ever after.  But then, I’m a sucker for happy endings.


THE REST:

  • Since there isn’t much at the theaters these days I highly recommend you watch or re-watch this classic film, which can be found just about everywhere, online and off. I confidently predict you’ll be very glad you did.

Diana Vacc sees “The House”

Sorry, but this isn’t in the film. Not that even a scene like this could have saved THE HOUSE

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Last weekend, The House, starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, opened in theaters all around the U.S.  This film follows Ferrell and Poehler as Scott and Kate Johansen, who find out that their daughter Alex has lost the town scholarship that has made it possible for her to pay for her college tuition.

Since Will and Amy can’t afford said tuition, they get to work raising the money.  Hijinks ensue as they decide to open an underground casino.

 

THE GOOD:

  • The concept is relevant to today.  The struggle to pay a college tuition and the hardship it can bring into a family’s life are are part of our current middleclass crisis.  Millions of Americans can and, unfortunately do, relate to it.

THE BAD:

  • Writer/Director Andrew Jay Cohen script can’t seem to pull off the laughs that we are used to from his previously work on Neighbors and Neighbors 2.  As I entered the multiplex I was expecting to find myself rolling on the floor laughing when the film bagan. However, as you can tell reading this review – and from the fact that you probably haven’t found many other reviews of this, um, well, a disaster is what The House is – I never fell down laughing. Not once. In fact, I didn’t laugh at all.
  • Probably the worst part of the whole thing was when Ferrell character Scott transforms into a butcher and cuts someone’s finger off… and then promptly chops off the arm of another character. The blood shoots everywhere, and while I would like to believe that was an attempt to establish that this is comedy and therefore fake and acceptable, you know what? It wasn’t, and isn’t acceptable. Not one bit.
  • I’ll spare you more details because I don’t want The House to ruin your day as much as it ruined mine.

THE REST:

If you want to enjoy a new film, The House is not for you. In fact, it isn’t for anybody, for any reason whatsoever. To put in the simplest of terms, this film is a redefinition of the word “awful.”  I definitely do not recommend it.


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Going in Style ‘

Going in Style – The Over the Hill Gang strikes back!

by Lew Ritter

CAUTION: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

You probably haven’t seen or even heard of this film. That’s a situation we’re rectifying right now!

GOING IN STYLE is a remake of the 1979 heist film that starred comedy legends George Burns and Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, acting coach extraordinaire as a trio of retired gentlemen who plan a bank robbery. In the 2017 version, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman take over the roles of the three long- time friends.

THE STORY:

Set in the 1960s, GOING IN STYLE tells the tale of three men who, afraid of being screwed out of their pensions for, well, the usual reasons in this day and age, decide to rob the local bank that handles their pension accounts. The seniors plan the heist with the precision of the D-Day invasion and then off they go, off to get justice by – oh, you guessed it – getting even.

THE GOOD:

During the bank robbery, a little girl sees Morgan Freeman’s face by peering under his mask. When she’s called to identify the robbers in a lineup, she nevertheless refuses to identify him as one of the bank robbers.

After completing the heist, the protagonists honor their promise to take care of their friends. They leave a large stack of bills for Mitzi, the put-upon waitress, and the members of the “Knights of Hudson” lodge discover a thick layer of dollar bills hidden underneath a birthday cake at a lodge celebration.

Matt Dillon plays a plodding police detective who believes he is the reincarnation of TV’s Lt. Columbo and is confident that he is one step ahead of the seniors…until the end, when he discovers that he has been outplayed all the way around.

In addition to the leads, also in the cast is the still radiant Ann Margaret as an employee of the local supermarket who has a crush on Arkin. John Ortiz and Kenan Thompson from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE do fine jobs as well.

The movie never denies the aging heroes their dignity by indulging in cheap senior jokes. Arkin’s character is still an enthusiastic member of a jazz band, and Arkin and Ann-Margret have a delightful romance as old age lovebirds. Freeman is a sophisticated computer geek who skypes with his grandkids.

Zack Braff, (SCRUBS) brings an exuberant energy to the director’s chair. The screenplay was written by Theodore Melfi, who also co- wrote the screenplay for this year’s surprise hit HIDDEN FIGURES and last year’s sentimental hit ST. VINCENT starring Bill Murray.

THE BAD:

The movie descends into slapstick for the scene in which the seniors perform a dry run of the robbery, stuffing meats and fruit from the local supermarket down their pants and racing away from the scene of the crime on a mobile shopping scooter chased on foot by the store’s overweight security guard.

Although the heroes do escape being portrayed as old-age cliches, Christopher Lloyd, who has made a career out of playing wild-eyed eccentrics like BACK TO THE FUTURE’s Doc Brown and Reverend Jim in the classic TV comedy series TAXI seems to have been hired just to pick up the slack. In GOING IN STYLE, does what is now a tiresome shtick as an over the top senile stereotype.

CONCLUSION:

GOING IN STYLE is a feel-good entertainment that runs on the charm of its three main actors. It is entertainment with a heart that lets you sympathize with the trio, as they developed their plot. It seems geared to please the Baby Boomers who grew up watching each of the stars in their many film roles, producing the same thrill the World War Two generation felt watching Burns and Art Carney in what turned out to be their last film roles.

Overall, this is a diverting evening featuring an all- star cast, a pleasant movie that for me goes a long way toward making up for all the over-produced, over-long, over-promoted superhero movies that Hollywood has been inflicting on the audience in recent years.


Lew Ritter is a teacher, freelance writer, and  TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

Diana Vacc sees ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

Not sure about this pic. Maybe it’s Ms. Vacc holding on the gun this film?

by Diana Vaccarelli

No spoilers here because it’s already spoiled!

On February 10, 2017  Universal Pictures released the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, the not-so-cleverly-titled Fifty Shades Darker.  This film follows the continued relationship of Anna Steele and Christian Grey and their constant struggles to be completely honest with one another and how sex drives their relationship.      

THE GOOD:

  • After the battles behind the scenes of Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel were not asked to return for the sequel.  Instead the writing went to novelist and writer of the Fifty Shades trilogy E.L James’ husband Niall Leonard.  Leonard has written several television series and films such as Horatio Hornblower.  I mention this because this change from the first film to the sequel was a great success.  Leonard has shown that the characters have a relationship outside of intimacy. Better yet if you’re into this sort of thing, he also gives us some very real-seeming B &D. 
  • Director James Foley of House of Cards and Billions, brings the book more to life then Taylor Johnson did.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much Fifty Shades Darker film followed the book. Looks like sometimes it pays to leave control of a property in the hands of the creator.
  • The music continues in this franchise to be excellent.  It shows Christian Grey’s inner darkness and how his emotions change when he is around Anna.

THE BAD:

  • The main issue I continue to have with this series of films is the casting of Anna Steele. Dakota Johnson is, in a word,  drippy and doesn’t give the character one single ounce of personality.  On top of that, she speaks in the kind of monotone that would make anybody want to tie her up, preferably in another room…or city…or country.
  • It’s based on one of the most justifiably reviled novels of this century, which means that no matter how well made this film may be it still may make your skin crawl.

THE REST:

  • If you’re a fan of the books you will definitely appreciate the changes from the first film to the sequel.  If you’re a fan of films that have great music this film might make you smile…but a copy of the soundtrack would be a better choice. For my part, I give Fifty Shades Darker an overall two stars out of five, but my friends have always said that I’m generous to a fault.

    Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the best people we know. Find out more about her HERE

 

Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Hidden Figures’

HIDDEN FIGURES: Soaring into the history books

by Lew Ritter

CAUTION: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

In the late 1950‘s, America and Russia (then the U.S.S.R) were locked in a space race. Each nation was determined to place the first man into orbit around the Earth and eventually land a man on the moon. It culminated with Neil Armstrong being the first American to land on the Moon in 1969.

Prior to HIDDEN FIGURES, movies depicting the Space Race, such as THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13, focused on the exploits of the white astronauts, who were the pioneers of the space race. HIDDEN FIGURES is a historical drama about three hitherto unknown participants in the American space program. Most remarkable is that these unsung heroes were three African American women. Their contribution to the American space program went overlooked for half a century.

In the early 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. The African American women who worked for NASA were employed in a supporting role called “Computers.” It was essentially a data entry role, as the giant IBM mainframe computers were still in their infancy

The three women featured in the story are Katherine Goble (Tariji Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). Each of the women were ambitious and desired to advance in the program, but were denied advancement based on their skin color.

THE WOMEN

Mary Jackson ( Monae) was denied entrance into the engineering program. She was offered the excuse that she lacks the necessary credentials to qualify to be an engineer. Undaunted, she launches a lawsuit that would allow her to take the necessary night classes at the hitherto segregated high school in Norfolk. The judge resolved the lawsuit in Mary’s favor and she goes onto become an engineer..

Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) is denied the role of supervisor by the testy Mrs. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Undaunted, she borrows a book on FORTRAN, an ancient coding program for computers that used punch cards. Soon, she becomes the most capable Fortran programmer on the huge new mainframe IBM mainframe computer. She becomes the first African -American supervisor in NASA.

Katherine Gobel (Henson) moved from being an accessory “computer” into a vital member of the engineering team. Her ability to calculate precise coordinates and elliptical orbits astonished her white compatriots.

Act Three depicts the events of the John Glenn’s flight in the “Friendship Seven.” After orbiting the Earth several times, the heat shield begins to fail. The capsule heads for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. For a few dreaded moments, Glenn’s capsule disappears from the radar and they lose contact with the capsule.

The control room fears that the capsule burnt up upon reentry into orbit. Everyone holds their breath, fearing the worst. After agonizing minutes, Glenn’s voice booms over the radio and his capsule splashed down safely in the ocean.

THE GOOD:

The cast is uniformly excellent. Henson and Costner are the standouts. However, all of the other actors deliver terrific performances and deserve Oscars for their roles. The dialogue and action is an accurate depiction of the 1960’s. The space mission scenes are a mix of live action mixed with documentary footage featuring such real people as Jules Bergman, the ABC News Science correspondent.

The most entertaining bit of type casting was Jim Parsons (BIG BANG THEORY). He is perfectly cast as the stiff necked scientist, who views Katherine as not his rival, or even part of the same team. He refused to add her name to any of the research reports or let her attend the all – male staff briefings.

Kevin Costner is solid as Al Harrison, the head of the project. He seems more obsessed with the success of his mission than the skin color of his employees. At the beginning of the movie, the women are told not to speak to him. He is either too aloof or busy with the space program.

Slowly, he begins to notice that Katherine, his “computer” works faster than most of her co- workers and has a knack for utilizing the complex Analytic Geometry formulas needed to calculate accurate re-entry coordinates. By the end, he becomes dependent on Katherine’s abilities to project changes in trajectory and safe landings.

The best scene in the movie is when Harrison grows annoyed that Katherine seems to disappear for several times during the day. Outraged, she confesses that she is forced to run half a mile to the segregated ladies room across the campus. Harrison strides into the far-away building and takes a sledge hammer to the sign “Colored Ladies Room.” He has the best line of the movie. ”From now on, he intones, everyone in NASA pees the same color.”

The screenplay is well structured. All of the women get a large chunk of screen time to have their professional and personal stories told. Theodore Melfi has established himself as a major director following his admirable work on last year’s poignant movie ST. VINCENT starring Bill Murray.

THE BAD

I certainly haven’t found anything “bad” here!

CONCLUSION

The movie was released in January, when studios traditionally dump movies they lack confidence in to recoup their investment. HIDDEN FIGURES has emerged as a surprise hit. Unheralded, it has dominated the box office during it’s first weeks in theaters. The movie has become a crowd pleasuring sentimental hit with audiences clapping loudly at the final credits. It will go onto become an Oscar favorite and perhaps a classic of it’s genre in the future.


Lew Ritter is a teacher, freelance writer, and  TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

PASSENGERS – ADRIFT IN OUTER SPACE SEEKING A PLOT

Film Review by Lew Ritter

PASSENGERS is the mega-budget pairing of two A-List stars in what promised to be the must see Sci-Fi thriller of the Christmas Season. It is about the giant Starship Avalon, a giant spaceship /arc containing five thousand sleeping passengers. They are hibernating in pods on a one hundred twenty year journey to a green, undisturbed new planet.

Along the way, the spaceship suffers a meteorite strike, and one of the pods malfunctions. It belongs to JIM PRESTON (Chris Pratt) an engineer looking for a new life. He had spent most of his life savings starting a new life on the new world. Jim awakens from hibernation. To his dismay, he awakened ninety years before the ship would reach its final destination.

Jim becomes the modern Robinson Crusoe of outer space. He is alone on a giant technological marvel of a space ship with all the amenities except company. ARTHUR (Michael Sheen) is Jim’s Friday, a chatty, robot bartender. After a year of solitude, the joys of the technology have worn thin and his thoughts turned to suicide. He steps out of the ship’s airlock and for a moment, contemplates plunging into the dark void of space.

After more than a year of aching grief and loneliness and growing a grizzly beard, Jim glances into one of the pods and sees a gorgeous young blonde. He is rescued by the discovery of a sleeping capsule containing AURORA LANE (Jennifer Lawrence). Enamored with his “sleeping beauty”, he examines her life story and database. She is a gorgeous young writer from Manhattan, who sought to explore and write about the new world.

Driven by his loneliness, he suffers pangs of guilt about whether to release Aurora from her hibernation. At the end of Act One, he caused Aurora’s pod to malfunction. At last, he has company, but at a great price.

Act Two is devoted to the charming, budding romance between the lost lovers. However, drifting below the surface is the dreaded truth about Jim’s actions.

Arthur accidently reveals the truth and Aurora flies into a rage. She struggles to deal with her situation, as Jim vainly attempts to make amends.

The Third Act jumps into high gear as Jim and Aurora race to stop the ship’s computer systems from malfunctioning and destroying the ship. It features some extraordinary visuals as the pair risk a dangerous spacewalk to prevent the ship from exploding.

Aurora risks everything to rescue Jim who has floated away from the spaceship. This is high octane excitement, but too little too late to fight off the snooze factor.

THE GOOD:

In the last few years, it has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition to see Jennifer Lawrence star in a movie.

She is a talented actress whose name has become a guaranteed box office draw. In the past several years, her Xmas contribution to movie pleasure have been AMERICAN HUSTLE and JOY.

Chris Pratt became a star after appearing in the whimsical, sleeper hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and solidified it with his heroic turn as a scientist/adventurer in JURASSIC WORLD. His performance pumped up the action and fun of JURASSIC WORLD and turned it into one of the most popular movies in the Jurassic Park series.

Pratt and Lawrence are effortlessly charming and would make a fantastic cast for a great romantic comedy. Pratt brings a naïve working class charm to his role of Jim. Lawrence is elegant and brings a soulfulness to her role of Aurora.

Despite the charm of the two stars, however, there is no one else to play off except for Arthur, the bartender. Sheen plays Arthur with a perpetual smile and an amount of congeniality and earns some of the best lines of the movie.

THE BAD:

The plot or lack of it. We are asked to believe that a giant spacecraft with 5,000 people aboard has no provision whatsoever for getting struck by an asteroid or dealing with any disaster.

The crew is unavailable to help in the event of an asteroid or other disaster. They are hibernating behind impregnable doors. Despite being a technological marvel, there is no way for our two main characters to return to blissful hibernation. The corporation that launched the ship is light years away on planet Earth, unable to being contacted in case of an emergency.

Lawrence Fishburne appears briefly as GUS, a crewmember released from his hibernation, when a passing meteorite strikes the ship. His role appears to be more of a plot device than a full scale character.

He informs Jim and Aurora that their ship is facing destruction with the malfunction of the computer systems. He gives them instructions on how to save the ship from pending disaster before conveniently dying of a heart attack.

CONCLUSION:

This script supposedly ranked high on the BLACKLIST website. It was directed by the highly regarded director of THE IMITATION GAME. Surprisingly, this script did not receive a Pass from the many executives or their readers during its journey to the big screen Notes should have included lack of action, lack of secondary characters for the main characters to interact, and meaningful character development. This should have sent it back for a major rewrite.

The biggest mystery of all is how two A-List talents were convinced to star in this movie. The final voiceover sends the movie off on an optimistic note, but it is not enough to save it from tepid word of mouth reviews and sinking at the box office.


Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

Diana Vacc sees “Snowden”

jgl

by Diana Vaccarelli

              *If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned this review may contain spoilers!*

As another step in our march through the Awards Season, I went and saw Snowden.  This film follows a story some of us are quite familiar with: NSA analyst Edward Snowden and how he leaked the NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques.

THE GOOD:

  • The performance of Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edward Snowden is Oscar worthy as he not only got the voice and speaking rhythm right but physically changed into this man. 3rd Rock from the Sun is long gone from him now. Way to go, JGL!
  • The writing of this film by Oliver Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald is a thing of beauty.  Stone and Fitzgerald bring this controversial news story to life. Watching this film made me think long and hard about the reach our government’s eyes and ears have and how all of us need to fight for our privacy.

THE BAD:

  • This film does present a few key questions, but the most important one is this:  How authentic is it? Especially regarding Snowdon’s attitude and motivation. Was he a patriotic hero or a traitor? A little bit of both? In terms of humanity, that’s possible; none of us, after all, is all good or all bad. But legally? Morally? Ethically? How can we know? Where can we find facts to support or explode the film’s POV on the matter?

CUTTING TO THE CHASE:

Do you want to see a film that centers around our right to privacy and how we need to protect it? Snowden offers that.  But is this entertainment or propaganda? It’s an Oliver Stone film, after all, and this aspect of his track record is mixed.

This time around, the entertainment factor definitely is present. But be careful. If you do not want to be provoked into re-examining some very thorny issues, tread with caution. If you do – this film is a must-see.


Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE