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Effects, Ronin, The Valachi Papers, Monster Hunt

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THE EXCEPTION: NOT THE RULE



Novels and films have filled us with possibilities of historical events since the first written words appeared and images on celluloid blasted across movie screens. They give us the opportunity to make the impersonal facts personal, to insert characters into a story filled with what ifs rather than just the facts. Some work, some don’t, but most fall somewhere in between. Such is the case with THE EXCEPTION.

Jai Courtney stars as Capt. Stefan Brandt, a WWII German officer assigned the task of security for Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) now safely ensconced in Holland. Brandt is given the assignment in lieu of a reprimand for an event we are not yet aware of as the film begins. The Germans have invaded the Netherlands and the location of the Kaiser is now under their jurisdiction, thus Brandt’s assignment.

When he arrives Brandt is instructed on how things operate here. The belief is that one day Wilhelm will return to the throne and become king once again. He is still treated as royalty, which he is, and all around him caters to that position. One of the earliest instructions Brandt is given is to never associate with the help.

Of course he ignores this instruction the first night when an invitation to dinner the next night is delivered by one of the maid, Mieke (Lily James). Before dismissing her Brandt orders her to strip and has sex with her. Mieke complies without comment and leaves when done. An attraction between the two forms and they meet behind closed doors and in secret from there on.

As all of this unfolds at the home of the Kaiser, Gestapo agents in town are seeking a British secret agent rumored to be in town. Scanning with electronic equipment they have narrowed down where orders are coming from via Morse code but haven’t pinpointed it yet.

As things progress and Brandt comes to know the Kaiser for who he really is, various items are revealed to the viewer. What was the affront committed by Brandt? Who is the British spy most likely located within the Kaiser’s staff or on his grounds? And does loyalty to one’s country mean loyalty to one’s leaders?

All things come to a head when a visit by Heinrich Himmler is announced. Himmler informs the Kaiser that he is needed to return to Berlin in the coming days with the intent of placing him back on the throne. In secret he lets the local Gestapo head and Brandt know that this is just a ploy to root out those who still support the Kaiser. The plan sets in motion events that the story has led to at a faster pace.

The movie is well made on a technical level. Well shot and staged with solid directing of all involved makes the movie easy to watch. The sets and costuming are well done here, creating a movie that makes us feel we are there rather than one where spotless uniforms are the rule of the day ruining any sense of reality.

All of the actors involved do a tremendous job. Courtney stands out offering a low key approach to his character. I feel as if all other films I’ve seen him in have presented him in an over the top style. Here he plays Brandt as a man thinking and feeling instead of a blustering take charge man. James also does a good job here as Mieke, a woman who is torn as to what to do. And Plummer as always turns in an excellent portrayal of his character.

My only problem with the film lies in the relationship between Brandt and Mieke, at least at first. It begins almost immediately in the film and is so abrupt as to make it the one unbelievable moment in the film. Their first time alone together, while not violent, actually amounts to a rape and yet they fall for one another. I found that difficult to believe. To think that they fall in love afterwards is a bit much.

With that exception I found the movie entertaining and interesting. The plot is believable and it may stir up interests for some in what really became of Kaiser Wilhelm II for those who do not know. I know that it did in me. In the meantime the movies offers a bit of escape from a historical perspective and is worth giving a watch.

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THE LOVERS: RENEWED INTEREST?



Hollywood loves to use a recurring theme when it comes to marriage. They seem to have this idea that the best way to solve marriage problems is to have an affair. I’m not sure if it’s because there are so many failed marriages there or that there is so much rampant cheating going on there or what.  But every so often a movie comes out pushing this idea. THE LOVERS is the newest example.

Michael and Mary (Tracy Letts and Debra Winger) are a middle aged couple for whom the spark has gone out of their relationship. Each day is filled with the same old same old, work, home, dinner, bed. Romance is a thing of the past. But they have something in common they aren’t aware of. Both of them are having affairs.

Much of what I just wrote is assumed as we go along. The first moments of the film are of each individual with the person they are having an affair with. Both are promising that they are going to leave the other spouse but want to put it off until they have a chance to talk with their son who is coming home for the weekend from college.

Both are having affairs with what appear to be much younger people. In Michael’s case it is a young ballet dancer. Of all the characters in the film she is the most irrational and explosive. She seems to have fits of rage that made me as a viewer wonder where the attraction came from unless it was all physical.

In the case of Mary her lover is a writer. While we witness to two romantically involved we also get to see that side of him. He discusses his writer’s block with her and later in the film is reading something he’s just written. Her attraction seems both physical and mental.

But something happens. One morning before their son comes home they wake in bed together, in that semi-groggy state of mind we all do in the morning, and without realizing just who they are with they kiss. Their eyes open, they both jump out of bed and begin getting ready for work. But as they do so they find themselves drawn to one another and jump back in bed.

Over the next few days both are dealing with this new sense of vigor and attraction to one another. At the same time their lovers are feeling ignored and threatened. It’s not that they are aware of what has happened but they notice something is different. Each continues to put pressure on Michael and Mary to end it and be with them instead.

The story comes to a head when their son gets home. He’s warned his girlfriend to expect them not to be a very caring couple. When he sees them together this way he isn’t sure what to expect. Could it be that things have been straightened out? Could they have rediscovered what it was that drew them together in the first place? And will they stay or go?

The movie is entertaining and well-made on all fronts. It’s well shot and directed, moves along at a steady pace and never seems to drag. The acting is more believable than one would expect. It’s good to see Winger back in front of a camera again since her output has decreased over the past 8 years or so. Perhaps the only thing that felt intrusive in the film was the music, odd since there is a whole segment in the extras about scoring this film. It’s like the classic old movie melodramas where the tones rise and fall with the emotions on display. At time that got in the way of things for me.

The only other thing that bothered me was the fact that both seem to work at jobs where it’s nothing for them to leave for hours at a time to have affairs or not come home on time on a near daily basis. Not only that their respective lovers have no problem showing up where they work with no reason to do so other than to see them. For me that made parts of the movie unbelievable.

Still, it is an interesting movie and will hold your attention start to finish. There are moments that might bring a tear to your eye and moments that will make you laugh out loud. And for many it will make you wonder if you don’t pay enough attention to your spouse and show them that even after all this time there is still love between the two of you. With any luck that will be the thing that sticks with most viewers instead of thinking that sleeping with someone else will help your marriage. 

T2 TRAINSPOTTING: 20 YEARS LATER



Believe it or not it’s been 20 years since the movie TRAINSPOTTING unleased itself upon the movie going public. At the time the movie was one of the most talked about films of the period. And yet you rarely hear anyone talk about it since then. It was controversial, it was upsetting and it was one of the first major films director Danny Boyle made. Since then he has gone on to direct SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 127 HOURS, 28 DAYS LATER and STEVE JOBS. The actors involved have gone on to bigger and better things as well. And now, 20 years later, they have all reunited to tell the continuing story or this group.

If you missed the first film or know nothing of it, it told the story of Marc Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his friends, a group of heroin junkies bent on crime. Included in the mix were his best friend Simon “Sick Boy” (Johnny Lee Miller), waste head Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and the ultra-violent Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Their drug fueled antics and hallucinations are the stuff nightmares are made of. By the end of the film the gang had stolen a load of money that Renton took off with, leaving only a portion for Spud.

T2: TRAINSPOTTING has Marc returning home. His mother has passed away leaving his father home alone. He meets up with Spud as Spud has gone off the wagon again. Marc tells him he needs something to switch his addiction to, something like running or boxing, just something else to focus on. He then sets out to meet with Simon.

Their reunion goes pretty much as one would expect at the end of the first film. Fist fly, bottles are broken and curses are exchanged. Simon was left behind with nothing and now owns the pub his mother owned falling on hard times since the area has degraded. On the side along with his girlfriend he tapes well to do men with her in an adjoining motel room and then threatens them with blackmail. The two seem to make up and Marc reveals he is back home after living in Amsterdam after failing at marriage and with a job ending there. But Simon has other plans. Still holding a grudge he sets in motion a plan to have his revenge on Marc.

As all of this is unfolding Begbie sits in prison, meeting with his attorney in the hopes of getting parole. When it is denied, he escapes and heads home. He recruits his son, now in his late teens and attending college, to help him in a burglary. His view is that the boy should be following in his footsteps and setting aside dreams of school.

Begbie eventually runs into Simon which Simon uses to his advantage. He lets him know that Marc is back in town, telling him he’ll make sure he gets his chance at him. In truth, Simon is playing one against the other. On Marc’s end, he recruits him to help change the pub into a brothel, something that helps Spud as well since he seems to be a natural decorator and assists the reconstruction.

As with the first film the plans made by each and every one of these characters falls apart at one time or another. The question becomes will they be able to see past that indiscretions found in their history together or not? Will they forgive and forget or will plans of destruction fall through? And as the movie progresses, much like the first, you wonder just who if any of these friends will survive.

To begin with Boyle has done an amazing job of pulling together all the elements needed to tell a story effectively and in an entertaining manner. Visually the movie is stunning at various times, a testament to Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Moments in this film may stick with new recruits to the films like the first one did with a generation ago.

All of the actors are at their best here, playing roles that were new to them 20 years ago as if they never left them behind. Each has gone on to so much more and yet here they are again. Interestingly enough in the extras a discussion among them with Boyle has McGregor talking about how he didn’t know if he could be the same character again coming from Scotland since at the time of the first film he had only been away 3 years. Then he says he realized that much like he had been away so had his character.

There will be moments that might offend some and certainly moments that will upset a few viewers. If you’re willing to give this movie a chance you’ll find that it has some hilarious moments (it is considered a dark comedy) and some touching moments as well. By the end you’ll hope you’re still around, and all involved as well, to see if they can carry on the story in another 10 or 20 years.

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