Friday, July 29, 2016

Hiding (2012)

So many movies have been made about people in witness protection and then being found out by the bad guys they are supposed to be protected from. The stories usually turn into some kind of action/thriller where a ton of people are getting killed so some bad ass FBI agent comes in and saves the day or the person who is supposed to be protected does the ass kicking. The 2012 movie Hiding took the story of a person in witness protection but did not make it as predictable as a story like this could be.
            Alicia Torres (Ana Villafañe) is being relocated to a small town in Montana through the Witness Protection Program by an Agent Noah Carter (seriously, he is Agent Carter… well, not my favorite Agent Carter, if you know what I mean). She is to go by the name Josephine Russo and she is not allowed to make contact with anyone from her former life including her grandmother and friends or even be able to paint and draw like she used to or even speak Spanish. Alicia, or Jo as she will now be referred to, is placed into the home of a social worker named Debbie. Debbie has a daughter named Lucy who is the same age as Jo. Jo is not used to people being so nice she is used to the hustle and bustle of New York and people having attitudes. Throughout the movie she has flashbacks to her old life in New York with her parents who were killed and who’s murders she witnessed.

            Jo begins school the following day. She is almost immediately hit on by the football team captain Brett (Jeremy Sumpter). His hitting on Jo causes his ex-girlfriend Zoe to become extremely jealous. Zoe approaches Jo to try to intimidate her but that does not work so well because Jo gives her a big old New York attitude right back and stands up for Lucy who was with her. Jo standing up to her makes Zoe super pissed so she starts looking into Jo to try to get some dirt on her.

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            While walking down the hallway, Jo passes by the art room. She goes into the room lured in by her passion. In the art room is a kid named Jesse (Tyler Blackburn) who is working on a painting of the Chicago skyline. They are both drawn towards each other (haha art pun). Jesse is the smart, thoughtful, talented guy compared to Brett who knows he can get whomever and whatever he wants with his stupid charm.

            One-day Jo realizes it is her grandmother’s birthday and asks Debbie to send her grandmother some flowers. That backfires when a man simply known as Mr. Ostrog is sent to find Alicia for the man who killed her parents. Mr. Ostrog tracks down Alicia’s grandmother through the high school she attended when he poses as someone who wants to set up a scholarship in Alicia’s name. At the nursing home where the grandmother is Mr. Ostrog finds the flowers from Jo that were sent through a flower shop in New Jersey. By contacting the flower shop Mr. Ostrog finds out the order was placed by Debbie in Montana.

            Meanwhile, back in Montana, Zoe has a student obtain Jo’s school transcripts and records. She cannot find a trace of Jo online. To try to get Brett back, Zoe tells him she looked into the school Jo was supposed to have transferred from in Seattle and that she is nowhere in their records. This does not bother Brett at all, in fact he tells Zoe to back off.
            Mr. Ostrog comes to Montana. He tracks Alicia down to the high school and even manages to bump into her outside the school. After that encounter he starts stalking her from his car. Of course Jo notices she is being followed, Ostrog is not that good at being inconspicuous. Since she cannot have a cell phone where she can possibly be traced, Jo uses the school phone to get in touch with Agent Carter (hahahaha) to tell her she thinks she is being followed. As she is waiting for Carter to call back she sketches out the guy she bumped into outside the school and faxes it to Carter. In her panic Jo asks Brett for the keys to his truck and his cell phone. Before Jo can even get in the truck Mr. Ostrog comes from behind and chloroforms her.
            Mr. Ostrog takes Jo to a cabin in the middle of the woods (soooooooooooooo clichéd). He has her tied to a chair and of course Jo manages to be a bad ass and run away and then of course she is caught by the bad guy and of course the hero Agent Carter comes in and shoots Mr. Ostrog before he can kill Jo.

            In the end everything is great. Carter tells Alicia that just as long as she can keep quiet and not cause another scene she can stay where she is which makes her very happy.
            The only reason I even heard of Hiding is because of Ana Villafañe. Last week I got to see Villafañe in the Broadway show On Your Feet where she plays Gloria Estefan. The girl is ridiculously talented! I enjoyed her performance so much. She is a stunning singer and excellent actress. In the Playbill under her bio some of her TV and Film work was listed and Hiding was one of them. Naturally, I was curious to see Villafañe in something else since she was so amazing live in front of me on stage. Her acting in Hiding was so good. Jo was supposed to be a tough New Yorker girl and that is exactly what Villafañe played. You believed she was from NYC and had a fabulous tough girl NYC attitude.  I would love to see her in more movies and shows down the road… maybe if On Your Feet gets turned into a movie? I mean, come on the girl is a clone of Gloria Estefan AND she can act on camera so well.  

            The rest of the cast was alright. Jeremy Sumpter was so damn creepy! He looked like a psycho killer and stalker. I do not think I have ever seen him in something else before this and I am perfectly fine with this being the only Sumpter movie I ever see. Tyler Blackburn was good. I liked his character so much better than Sumpter’s and his acting was way better.

            The story was not too bad. The only thing to me that really brought the movie and story down was the storyline with the popular girls and Zoe. That was a good macguffin to think that Zoe had something to do with getting Mr. Ostrog on the path to finding Alicia/Jo. The actresses who played the popular girls were terrible. Some of the story was totally clichéd but since I like Villafañe so much and the fact that the story was not the worst I was able to look past the clichés and enjoy it.

            Hiding was a decent movie. I was just so happy to see Ana Villafañe in a movie and to see that she truly a very talented actress. As much as the story was clichéd in some areas there were differences that makes it a bit of a stand out in Witness Protection-themed movies. The ending was left open ended. It did not just end, not all the bad guys were caught. Well, to me it could have been both open ended and just finished because the focus was on this one guy looking for her and not a whole bunch of other people. I liked open ended/ambiguous endings like that because it lets you kind of create a story of what happened next.  If you can find Hiding I recommend giving it a watch. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Silent Sundays: Terror Island (1920)

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“Lost treasure has ever lured the adventurous- and today countless chases seemingly wild and impossible are under way to salvage the vast wealth sunken by raiders and submarines in the Great War.”

            I think stories of people going looking for sunken treasure is fascinating. It is not something I would ever want to do myself since the ocean freaks me the hell out in every single way but what I find fascinating is how explorers go looking for the treasures and how they act as detectives to locate the sunken vessels with the lost treasures. One story I find interesting is a wreck that happened in the 1800s. There was a ship that went down in a storm mostly because it was carrying so much gold bars that weighed it down. The lost gold caused a financial panic in the 1800s. A man found it after many years of trying to find but it turns out the cold is a bit cursed. Everyone who comes into contact with it has a bit of bad luck. One of the gold bars in currently on display at the museum I am interning at (The Museum of American Finance which is located on Wall Street). The gold bar was used as part of a tour for this company called Museum Hack. Me and the collections manager went on a Museum Hack tour because we have never been on one (it was amazing! It was like a dream to my museum nerd heart). The tour guide told us that the gold was cursed! Me and the collections manager looked at each other because she had put it on display!
            Looking for lost treasures of sunken ships has captured the imagination of people for decades. So many films and books have been written about explorers and adventurers looking for lost gold. One such film is a silent from 1920 entitled Terror Island.
            Harry Harper (Harry Houdini) has created an important submarine for finding treasures called the Hawk. In the local newspaper there is a story about a sunken ship full of diamonds and there is a big fortune for anyone who finds it. Harry had hoped to keep his invention a secret but it somehow got leaked to the newspapers.
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            Job Mordaunt, known as the “meanest man in town” is looking for the diamonds just like everyone else. His son Guy (a very young Eugene Pallet) is in on the idea with his father but has some plans of his own to get the diamonds for himself. Guy calls Harry to discuss double crossing his father. Guy claims to have a map from his cousin Beverly and if he can get a hold of it he wants Harry to come with him to get the diamonds and split the profit. Harry tells Guy he does not do business with crooks.
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            Beverly has a letter from her father that a pearl he gave her that is shaped like a skull was from an island where he has been taken prisoner. He writes that she must bring the pearl back to the island to rescue him and the native will show him where the sunken ship with the diamonds is located. The natives have given her father until the day of their feast day to bring the pearl back.
            Since Beverly does not trust her relatives she goes to Harry after reading about his new invention. He agrees to help her mostly because he does not want to do business with her uncle or cousin. As soon as Beverly get home she is attacked and chased by her uncle and cousin. Harry fears for her and runs to her house just in time before Mordaunt and Guy could do anything to her.
            Mordaunt finds Harry and attempts to kill him and kidnap Beverly. Mordaunt and Guy take them both onto a ship but Harry manages to escape and takes his submarine to the island where Beverly’s father is. Unfortunately, Harry is somehow recaptured when he goes to save Beverly. But what kind of film would this be if a rescue did not go over well? Harry and Beverly manage to get away again and swim down to the submarine.
            Beverly’s uncle took the pearl from her. Harry and Beverly go to different sides of the island to observe Mordaunt giving back the pearl. By doing this Harry figures they can still get the location of the sunken ship. The native get their pearl back but in exchange for her father and the pearl they want Beverly as their sacrifice.
            Harry makes it down to the native and they quickly hang him by the neck. Can it be called “pulling a Houdini” if Harry Houdini actually escapes, well, like himself? Yeah, I guess so. Harry pulls a Houdini and escapes the native’s hanging device. While Harry was struggling to get free the natives put Beverly into a safe from the downed Hawk and throw her into the ocean. Harry saves her and also manages to get his hands on the jewels from the Hawk. He comes up to the island and the natives are so impressed by him that they let Beverly and her father go free.
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            Terror Island was good. I found it more exciting and engaging to watch than Harry Houdini’s other film I recently viewed, Haldane of the Secret Service. There was plenty of action and tension with the underwater and fight scenes. If you like silent films and would be interested in seeing Harry Houdini act in a film Terror Island is definitely worth watching. It is available to view in full on YouTube. 
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Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

“We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I think we don't have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”

            Someone I follow on YouTube Tweeted out one day “Here’s the problem with music today: Artists in the past wanted you to know the music. Artists now want you to know them.” That is actually very accurate and very sad. We hear more about how certain musicians are getting into trouble or what they were doing on their day off than we hear their music. Before we had all this social media to follow our favorite music acts and all these tabloid and gossip rags got out of hand all we knew about musicians and singers was their music. If they were a singer/songwriter we heard their beliefs and worries and struggles. If they were a pop singer with a bouncy catchy song, we just knew their song and had a great time bouncing along with it. If a singer had a ballad out, we knew and felt their heartache whether true or untrue to their lives.
            There are a few songs I like that deal with social issues of certain decades. Bob Dylan made his career singing about his times. N.W.A. found fame and notoriety with their song “Fuk tha Police” about the intense unrest between African Americans and the police in the late 80s early 90s. In the 1950s through to the 1970s Nina Simone soulfully sang about injustices.
            Nina Simone and her thoughts on racial inequality and her life are told in the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? Her story is told in her own voice through interviews throughout the decades of her fame and by her family, friends, and colleagues.
            Simone was born and raised in the south to a poor family. She found her talent for playing the piano through church and was given lessons by an old lady in town. When she was a young age, Simone played in a church recital. Her parents were forced to stand in the back but her music teacher told the all-white parish that Simone’s parents were to sit in the front to see their girl play or she would not play at all. Her mother wanted her to be the first black classic pianist to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Simone was accepted to one school for music but was denied entry to another to complete her studies because, as she found out decades later, because she was black. Simone supported herself and her family for a while playing piano at place in Atlantic City. The club owner told her if she wanted to keep her job she better sing. And thus began her singing career.  
            Simone scored success with her song “I Loves You Porgy”. After that for a long time she toured jazz festivals. Simone hit some nerves when she released her Civil Rights song “Mississippi Goddamn.” The song was very controversial but it mirrored Simone’s disgust and anger over the Civil Rights movement and how African Americans were being treated. According to Simone’s daughter, her mother’s voice was never the same after singing that song so much because her anger ran that deep and emotional.
            The rest of Simone’s life was fraught with difficulties. For a long time, she did not perform because her personal life was in shambles. She divorced her abusive manager-husband, lived abroad in Africa for a while, was abusive to her daughter, and only started to perform again when she needed money.
            Before watching this documentary, I did not know who Nina Simone was. I believe I have heard of her through the years since I like music so much but I never heard any of her songs. Simone’s voice was incredible and her piano playing was amazing. What I liked about this documentary was that certain songs were played in full so instead of just hearing snippets I was able to hear the entire songs. There were great messages to her songs that were able to get out and create impact because of her voice and musical talent. I particularly liked the part of the documentary where Simone’s intense feelings about the Civil Rights movement was discussed. Today I do not believe musicians would ever write a song along the lines of “Mississippi Goddamn” and strongly voice their opinions out loud like Simone did. Simone literally said in an interview how she wished she could arm African Americans against the police and fight with guns for their rights and freedom. The Civil Rights movement and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. really impacted Simone and her life.
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            I know quoted that YouTuber’s tweet about how singers back then wanted you to know their music rather than today where singers want you to know them and then proceeded to review a documentary that went more into the personal life of a singer. I think What Happened, Miss Simone? was a great balance of getting to know the singer as well as her music. There was only Nina Simone, her colleagues, and family and friends telling her story. There was no narration. You got to know Simone as a singer and pianist and got to know her songs as they played in full in the background. To me a good documentary makes me interested in learning more about its subject or, in this case, hearing more of the music and that is exactly what this documentary did. As soon as the documentary was over, with an understanding of Nina Simone and her music, I listened to some of her songs. I got to hear them without any talking over them and they were incredible. What Happened, Miss Simone? has gotten much praise and with good reason. I definitely suggest watching What Happened, Miss Simone? if you have access to Netflix. 
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Silent Sundays: The Witch Woman/The Parson's Widow (1920)

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The Witch Woman or The Parson’s Widow takes place in the 1600s. A young parson named Sofren has just finished his studies and is looking for a position at a church. He is in love with and wants to marry Mari but her father will not let them marry unless Sofren has a job as a parson.
            A small village is in need of a parson. Sofren is one of three candidates for the position. The other two parsons are dressed well and were able to afford a good education at a university in Copenhagen. Sofren looks in on his competitors as they each give their sermons to some of the parishioners who will be deciding whether they get the position or not. His sermon is the only that catches everyone’s attention and he is chosen that night as the new parson. With his new position comes a clause, Sofren must marry the previous parson’s widow. This breaks Sofren’s and Mari’s hearts. The widow, Dame Margarete, is old and there are rumors that she is a witch.
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            Sofren goes to see Dame Margarete in her home one night. Since it is late she makes Sofren spend the night. In the morning Margarete gives Sofren new clothes and food and alcohol. By the middle of the day the alcohol has put such a haze on Sofren’s eyes and mind that he sees Margarete as a young beautiful woman and says that they must be married.
            One day in town, after he and Margarete are married, Sofren is at the church speaking to Mari. Margarete comes walking along that point and sees them together. Sofren covers by saying that Mari is his sister and she is upset that she has to live away from him. Margarete lets Mari comes live with them as the parsonage.
            For some time Sofren tries his hardest to meet with Mari to be alone with her but everything they do to be with each other just backfires. They even try to scare the old woman to death a few times and that does not work either. Sofren and Mari come to respect and see how kind Margarete is when Mari falls down a ladder and hurts herself. For months after that incident Margarete takes great care of Mari. Margarete tells them that her husband, the former parson, had to marry the parson’s widow. It was five years before they could be together. Sofren confesses that Mari is not his sister.
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            From that time on Dame Margarete spends more time at the grave of her husband and goes off on her own for long periods of time. One morning Mari notices that Dame Margarete cannot be found. She and Sofren go to Dame Margarete’s room and find that she has died. Sofren finds a note from Margarete instructing him to leave a horseshoe over the door and to scatter linseeds so her soul will not haunt them.
            Dame Margarete’s death saddens both Sofren and Mari. They came to admire the old woman. Sofren says that she taught him to be an honorable man.

            The Witch Woman or The Parson’s Widow was a decent silent film. It was able to hold my attention. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s direction is, as always, so stunning and so touching. He was able to make me feel sad for the main characters when they could not get married right away, their childishness with trying to scare the old woman, their love and devotion for each other, and their sadness and humility when the old woman died. Dreyer is such a great director. He is one of the only directors whose films I have watched where I am actually able to feel whatever emotion or feeling is being conveyed. If you like watching silent films definitely give The Witch Woman (as it is titled on YouTube where you can watch it in full) a try.
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