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At The Movies

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09/13/2014 05:00 AM Posted By: Neil Rosen
Albany/HV: 'Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire in the '60s'
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A new documentary looks at the glory days of Esquire Magazine during the turbulent 1960s and the man at its helm. It's called "Smiling Through the Apocalypse."

Harold Hayes' tenure as editor at Esquire ran from 1963 to 1973. During that time, he provided a launching pad for some for the most prolific writers of the day. One of those was the late great Nora Ephron.

Many of the remarkably talented people that flourished under Hayes are on hand here. They recall what it was like to work for this man and share captivating stories behind some of the some great articles that they wrote.

Writers such as Frank Rich, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal and Peter Bogdanovich worked at Esquire under Hayes' tutelage early on in their careers. They all wax poetic about the welcoming environment he created, along with the total creative freedom that he gave them.

On the visual side, there's Candice Bergen, who served as a photo editor, and there's also a look at heralded photographer Diane Arbus, who had her first published works in Esquire.

Then there are all those controversial covers, which are vividly on display here, with their back stories explained throughout the film.

Harold Hayes passed away in 1989, and the film, which was written and directed by his son, Tom Hayes, is quite informative, capturing a unique time period and a bygone era in journalism. The movie also serves as a voyage of discovery for Tom, as he learns what his father was all about and the cultural impact that the brash, irreverent magazine that his dad piloted had on society.

Hayes has been praised by many of his esteemed colleagues and staff as the greatest postwar editor ever, and he's credited with giving birth to a new form of journalism. This labor of love by his son nicely brings his dad's accomplishments and influence to light.

Neil Rosen's Big Apple Rating: 3 1/2 apples


09/06/2014 05:00 AM Posted By: Neil Rosen
Albany/HV: Movie Review: 'The Two Faces of January'
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Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Issac team up in a new thriller set during the early 1960's in Southern Greece. It's called The Two Faces Of January.

Issac plays a small time scam artist who's living in Greece and working as a tour guide.

Mortensen and Dunst are a wealthy American couple who first meet Issac when they're visiting the famed ruins.

This well mannered couple are not at all what they first appear to be, though. Mortensen is a big time confidence man. So when a private detective catches up with him, demanding the money that was stolen from his clients, a murder takes place.

Looking to get out of the country as quickly as possible, they enlist Issac's help to secure fake passports. Soon all three of them find themselves entangled in this crime and wind up on the run.

The movie is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote "The Talented Mr. Ripley" along with "Strangers On A Train," which was the basis for my favorite Hitchcock movie. This film—by first time director Hossein Amini, who also wrote the screenplay—is basically a Hitchcock wannabe.

The film has an old fashioned vibe to it and the cinematography, costumes and production design are spot on, nicely capturing the flavor of the time and place.

Viggo Mortensen is excellent playing a drunk who's spinning out of control, and it's unlike anything I've seen him do before. I was also impressed with Oscar Isaac's 180-degree turn from his fine work in "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Dunst on the other hand, lends little to the proceedings. Plus a romantic subplot between her and Issac's character isn't satisfactorily fleshed out.

The screenplay, which is mildly suspenseful for a while, slows down considerably halfway through and completely falls apart by the end.

Despite it's deficiencies, it's fun for a bit—which is why I'm recommending this for an On Demand rental, where it currently can be found, as opposed to paying full price at the box office.

Neil Rosen's Big Apple Rating: 2.5 Apples


08/30/2014 05:00 AM Posted By: Neil Rosen
Albany/HV: Movie Review: 'The One I Love'
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Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass star in a new indy film that combines romance, comedy, drama and science fiction. It's called The One I Love.

Duplass and Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a dysfunctional couple who's marriage is on the rocks. Seeking to put a romantic spark back in their relationship and save things before it's too late, they seek help from a marriage counselor played by Ted Danson.

His recommendation is that they spend a long weekend at a country estate.

Initially, the change of scenery in this idyllic setting seems to be working for these two. But after a bit, both of them start to exhibit some strange behavior.

Things get much weirder, on the level of a Twilight Zone episode. I can't tell you anymore about the plot, though, because it would be considered a spoiler.

The filmmakers have constructed a crazy premise and that's OK with me. As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to go the sci-fi route, I'll buy into any whacked out world that you want, as long as you stick to the rules of the universe that you've created. Twilight Zone episodes and Charlie Kaufman films, for example, almost always do.

At a certain point, though, first time director Charlie McDowell, breaks those roles and this movie stops making any sense at all.

On the positive side, Mark Duplass and Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss give excellent performances, as does Ted Danson in a brief role. The two leads impressively display their acting chops and much of their dialogue was improvised. The Duplass brothers also serve as executive producers here and if you're familiar with their work, their unique style is easily recognized throughout the film.

But ultimately the surreal concept is half-baked and poorly executed, which will take audiences out of the movie all leading to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Neil Rosen's Big Apple rating: Two Apples


08/23/2014 05:00 AM Posted By: Neil Rosen
Albany/HV: Movie Review: 'The Trip to Italy'
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In 2010, British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon checked in with a movie called "The Trip." Now comes the sequel, and it's called "The Trip To Italy."

Just like in the first movie, Coogan and Brydon are reviewing some top restaurants, except this time, the locale had changed from Northern England to the Amalfi coast.

Touring around in a mini-Cooper, the premise is just a basic set up for these two skilled comedians to riff on all different types of subjects, trying to one-up each other and crack each other up along the way.

In the first film, Coogan was a womanizer, while Brydon was more of a stable family guy. Now, their roles have sort of switched. Coogan has mellowed considerably and bemoans middle age, while Brydon's marriage has become rocky and he's considering having an extramarital affair. These two also dispense some notable quotes from Byron and Shelly along the way.

But the plot points are secondary to the humorous conversations that these two have in restaurants and on the road. The dueling Michael Caine imitations, a highlight of the first movie, are back. This time, it's their take on the last Batman movie with Tom Hardy, Christian Bale and Caine as the targets.

There are lots of other imitations here, too, some better than others, but more often than not the humor hits the mark.

Even though the first movie was fresher and funnier, what makes the sequel work is the undeniable chemistry between these two men. The largely improvised dialogue is witty and sometimes laugh out loud funny and some of their keen observations on minutia is priceless.

Directed, once again, by Michael Winterbottom, the Italian scenery, from Campagana to Capri is sumptuous and the food looks so delicious that I often wanted to leap into the screen and take a bite.

Overall, it's very smart and entertaining, and if Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom want to do a third film, I'd be more than happy to take another ride with them.

Neil Rosen's Big Apple rating: Three apples


08/16/2014 05:00 AM Posted By: Neil Rosen
Albany/HV: Movie Review: 'About Alex'
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A new film tries to update the 1983 classic "The Bill Chill," as old college friends reunite, sparks fly and old wounds are opened. It's called "About Alex." Neil Rosen filed the following review.

A group of familiar television actors team up in a new film that tries to update the classic formula of "The Big Chill." It's called called "About Alex."

When Alex, played by Jason Ritter, tries unsuccessfully to kill himself, several of his close college friends reunite for a long weekend to lend him their support.

Over the course of a few days, as this bunch indulges in good food, drink and drugs, old jealous feelings, resentments and romantic rivalries are reignited, pushing the limits of everyone's long standing friendships. The college pals include Nate Parker, Maggie Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield and Max Minghella. Director Jesse Zwick makes no secret about trying to emulate "The Big Chill," as he makes obvious references to that film throughout.

Zwick even goes as far as to invoke Jeff Goldblum's name at one point, who was one of the stars of that film. But I think Zwick is also trying to emulate the TV series "Thirtysomething," which his dad, Ed Zwick, created, but unlike that program, or "The Big Chill," you won't really care about what's happening on screen here.

The humor, for the most part, is lacking and you'll have very little fondness for any of these characters or the individual, personal crisis that each of them is dealing dealing with. The one exception is Greenfield, who is quite funny as a cranky, cynical, bitter guy who's always spewing fun cultural references. I would have preferred to see a whole movie just built around him.

Most of the characters are superficial and underdeveloped, while the film itself is filled with predictable scenarios. Strong performances by the cast elevate the material, but it's simply not enough.

Neil Rosen's Big Apple Rating: 1.5 Apples


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