Fences. Denzel Washington wrote, produced and stars in this big screen adaptation of August Wilson’s classic stage drama. He plays Troy, a former Negro Leagues player now working as a garbage collector in 1950’s Pittsburgh with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Though things appear well on the surface, the dynamic is fragile: The marriage tested when Troy reveals a long hidden secret that shatters Rose’s trust in Troy. Also, the long simmering tensions between Cory and Troy come to a head when Cory wants to pursue a college scholarship playing football. Troy also harbors guilt from benefiting financially from his brother Gabriel’s (Mykelti Williamson) deteriorating condition, which was a direct result from injuries sustained in World War II. All of these situations come to a dramatic head, with results that will have long term effects on everyone in Troy’s orbit. Working off a screenplay that was written by Wilson before he passed away in 2005, the acting is off the charts. Washington, Adepo and Stephen Hendrerson (as Troy’s friend and co-worker, Bono) are electric. Davis – who received an Oscar nomination for her movie stealing 7 minute scene with Meryl Streep in Doubt – gives the film’s standout performance as the loyal but long suffering wife Rose. As a director, Washington keeps the pace steady but brisk, giving the actors plenty of room to chew on Wilson’s vibrant and rich material. With plans for Washington to adapt all of Wilson’s plays to the screen, this is a terrific way to launch the series. One of the year’s best. Fences opens Christmas Day.
20th Century Women. After making the rounds on the festival circuit, Mike Mills’ (Thumbsucker, Beginners) semi-autobiographical film hits theaters this weekend. Set in 1979, the film stars Annette Bening as Dorothea, a single mother raising her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in Santa Barbara. They share the house with two borders: Abby (Greta Gerwig), a punk rock fan and photographer and William (Billy Crudup) who spends most of his days fixing things around the aging house. Increasingly disillusioned about her parenting skills, she asks Abby and Jaime, a neighbor and childhood friend (Ellie Fanning) for help. It puts this them all on a emotional journey that have an impact on them collectively and as individuals. Mills’ script – set at a time where the country was in a post-Vietnam, recession laden funk – asks more questions than provides answers and deftly makes the connection this period laid the groundwork to what is happening now. Bening gives a career defining performance as a single mother who feels her role in her son’s life is becoming more cloudy by the day. She will be a favorite during the awards season. Zumann makes a dynamic debut as Jaime more than holding his own with seasoned vets such as Bening, Fanning and Grewig. There’s definitely gonna be more lead roles coming his way moving forward. With a sound script and subtle, nuanced performances, Mills has put together a well rounded new twist on the coming of age story. 20th Century Women opens this weekend.
Silence. Martin Scorsese co-wrote and directed the eagerly awaited film version of Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed 1966 novel. Set in the 17th Century, the film stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Portuguese Catholic priests who travel to Japan to find their missing mentor, played by Liam Neeson. It’s the ultimate test of faith: Christianity is outlawed and the mere presence of priests are forbidden. It’s during their travels that they encounter brutal feudal lords, ruling samurai and hidden Christians who are trying to avoid slow, painful forms of death for their newfound beliefs. They are struggle with the same paradoxical dilemma their mentor faced: Are they willing to publicly renounce their faith in order to save the lives of other believers? Scorsese, who has spent 28 years trying to get this to the big screen is firing on all cylinders, visually and with the script, which he co-wrote with Jay Cocks. It rounds out the trilogy of Scorsese films that tackled the human and emotional side of spirituality (Last Temptation Of Christ, Kundun) and challenges even the most fervent believer. The cast is spot on with Driver, Garfield and Neeson delivering outstanding performances. Visually stunning and emotionally arresting, Scorsese has produced an meditative epic that stands alongside any of his classic films. Silence opens this Friday. You can also go to www.silencemovie.com for more information.
Paterson. The latest from writer-director Jim Jarmusch stars Adam Driver as Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He has a set, daily routine: performs his bus route, writes poetry in his notebook, walks his dog, has one beer at the neighborhood bar and goes home to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Whereas Paterson’s life is set and constant, Laura’s life is a non stop shift into new goals and ideas. Their devotion and support for one another is endless as they navigate their way through this small but vibrant city that has produced some of the most important people in popular culture. As he does with previous work, Jarmusch finds the beauty in what seems to be some every day details, making the city of Paterson a silent, but important character of the film. Driver and Farahani have great on screen chemistry together as the devoted couple. Where she rocks, he rolls giving new meaning to the term ‘opposites attract’. Paterson doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of most movies coming out now, but it has what makes us love film: Mystery, warmth, depth and a simple, yet textured story. Another winner from one of cinema’s best filmmakers. Paterson opens on December 28th. You can also go to www.PatersonMovie.com for more information.
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth by Sturgill Simpson. A lot of people were surprised when Sturgill Simpson’s major label debut was nominated for Album Of The Year for the upcoming Grammy Awards. They shouldn’t be. This loose concept album about a Navy sailor writing to his wife and newborn son is 9 cycle walk through of American music of the last 60 years. Outlaw country, orchestral pop on the scale of Orbison and Bacharach, gospel, Stax drenched soul, psychedelia, and traditional country are in their full glory throughout this 9 song set. It’s all anchored by killer songwriting and a voice that recalls Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt at their zenith. Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ sounds as if George Jones had a chance to make his American Recordings. Its no wonder why contemporary Nashville is a bit ticked off at him: Simpson made the type of sprawling adventurous album that they have been trying to move away from for decades. Thank God he stayed true to his vision: It’s an instant classic. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth By Sturgill Simpson is available now through Amazon, Itunes, and all major music retailers.
Finding Joseph I: An Oral History Of H.R. of Bad Brains by Howie Abrams and James Lathos. As a companion piece to a forthcoming documentary, this book is a warts and all look at one of the most enigmatic and dynamic frontmen of all time. Bad Brains are one of the most influential and important bands in rock history and at its center was its vocalist, Paul Hudson, better known as H.R. (Human Rights). Using physical and vocal acrobatics, Bad Brains helped define the D.C. hardcore/punk scene inspiring such artists such as Henry Rollins, The Beastie Boys, Dave Grohl and many others that helped the alternative music explosion of the 90s and beyond. H.R.’s bandmates, producers, managers, collaborators, influences, and H.R. himself tell the remarkable story of the many highs and lows H.R has dealt with – and overcome – throughout his life to become a musical legend. Told with remarkable candor and insight, it is the definitive look at a musical legend. Finding Joseph I: An Oral History Of H.R. Of Bad Brains is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Star Wars has become an international cultural phenomenon. This still astounds Carrie Fisher, despite the fact that is come to define her career. Being at the center of this cinema hurricane is the subject of her latest memoir. With unearthed diaries that she kept during shooting as a basis, Fisher gives us an insider’s view of what happened on the sets of one of the most popular films of all time. We all know now about her on set love affair with co-star Harrison Ford, but it shows a vulnerability that even surprises Fisher today. Fisher also muses on celebrity culture, growing up in a famous family and how that all got consumed by a space western that took place in a galaxy far, far away. Told with biting candor and wit, Fisher has put together another memorable look at a life that has been anything but boring. The Princess Diarist is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Live, laugh, and above all else, love. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays everyone!