In the fully competent hands of director John Lee Hancock, who also directed The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, the putative founder of McDonald's. The film is entertaining but not revelatory enough. There's little doubt an even more horrifying story lies beneath.

The film begins with Kroc's spiel. Kroc is a 52-year-old salesman with a history of failure (just ask his wife). Now, Kroc is selling a multi-teated mixer for shakes. He appeals to the potential buyer's ego as much as to his business strategy. He is rejected over and over. Then, his secretary reports an order for six of those mixers, so Kroc drives from St. Louis to San Bernardino to see who placed such a big order -- and why.

He finds the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, and he observes their operation. The brothers even show him the Speed-ee system they've devised. Kroc knows a good thing when he sees it. He's especially attracted by the bright yellow arches that Mac designed for the store in Phoenix, and he sees those arches as complements to the flags that fly and the crosses that mark cityscapes across America.

The Founder tightropes across a minefield. By casting Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the film replaces a conscience with a good face, making it harder to boo the man for his actions, from hanging up on his partners to actively lying about his dealings, which include referring to himself as the founder of the restaurant. Keaton works his magic as Kroc works his. Well cast as the brothers McDonald are Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, solid and stolid men with common sense. Linda Cardellini and Laura Dern star as Kroc's serial wives. John Schwartzman's cinematography and Robert Frazen's editing add filmic interest to this juicy biopic.

 

  

All terrorist actions leave scars, the cruelty unfathomable. One such event, still immediate in its pain, is the Boston Marathon bombings, April 15, 2013, that stunned and shocked the nation in its targeting a celebratory, illustrious race. Director/co-writer Peter Berg's Patriots Day honors the Boston strong who faced and triumphed over that horrific tragedy.

In the opening scenes, the film effectively axnd appealingly presents snapshots of many impacted by the bombing, including police, government officials, marathon runners, and spectators. Various personalities are established as the individuals go about their daily routines, thereby nicely defining the event and the locale. It's a special day because of the Boston Marathon, known as Patriots Day, but it's nothing extraordinary beyond that, until -- and it is that "until" that creates suspense and tension. With the bombs' blasts, the mood and style changes with rapid, exceptional editing and chilling recreations. 

The blasts themselves feel horribly real as any, and the chaos that follows is unnerving. Wisely, Berg resists sensationalizing the aftermath, preferring to let honest depiction suffice with details of the way authorities identify the Tsarnaevs making surveillance footage examination compelling, and one unbearably tense scene depicts the car hijacking of Chinese student Dun Meng. By contrast, a particularly powerful scene is one of the quietest, the interrogation of Tsarnaev's wife.

Solid performances bring the participants to life. Central among them is Mark Wahlberg as composite character Tommy Saunders, a complex sergeant working his way off suspension with assigned duty at the marathon finish line, and Michelle Monaghan as his wife Carol. Also superb are John Goodman as Commissioner Ed Davis, Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, Jimmy O. Yang as Dun Meng, and J.K. Simmons as Jeffrey Pugliese in Watertown. The interlocking these Bostonians lives asserts the fact that terrorism impacts a community, a truly important reminder.

Patriots Day ends with comments from survivors and officials, followed by photographs of the four killed. I can't imagine a dry eye in the house in what is an exceptional film about a horrid event. For some, myself included, it offers some emotional catharsis in its honoring the medical staff, the officers, and the entire Boston community. At area cinemas.

 

 

A film that runs two hours and 41 minutes can be criticized for being too long. When that film is about torture, it invites jokes about torture to the backside. Silence is that film. However, despite its length, Silence is a stunning, unforgettable, even timely film about the Martyrs of Japan, whose feast day is February 6.

Silence begins with torture: persecutors drizzle boiling hot water onto the baptized, exhorting them to renounce their religion. Here, the persecuted are Christians in Japan in the 17th century. In this time and in this place journey two Portuguese monks, Rodrigues and Garupe. They seek their mentor, a priest rumored to have renounced his religion, taken a wife, and become Buddhist. The fervent young monks cannot believe this; they would rather think the man dead than apostatized. So they follow Christ, their boon companion, into danger, bearing their crosses.

Martin Scorsese based his screenplay, co-written with Jay Cocks, on the novel by Shûsaku Endô. Silence is a story of perseverance and persecution, compromise and confession. It is not a story of Japanese history; in fact, Scorsese makes no attempt to place this particular aspect of religious persecution within political context. Rather, he concentrates on torture, as he did in The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. Only near the end of Silence does he address the silence of God and of God's priests. 

However, scenes in Silence, beyond the decapitations and grillings, grab the viewer, such as when three black-clad monks descend stairs, a scene shot peripherally. Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is often stunning. The acting is serviceable, especially Andrew Garfield's as Rodrigues and Liam Neeson's as the mentor monk. The Asian cast deports itself most admirably. But, in the end, Silence is about torture, not God's persistent, if silent, presence or Jesus' way. 

 

 

The title's all wrong, far too sweeping, and a little misleading. For one thing, how the three women referred to in the title represent a century's worth of women is ungraspable. For another, the character played by Annette Bening so dominates the story that "20th Century Woman" is a truer title.

Dorothea, a product of the 1940s and 50s, is the single, rather Bohemian mother of a growing boy in 1979. Jamie, at an awkward age, needs guidance into manhood, so ever-helpful and liberated, his mother asks help from two young women. Julie is the growing girl next door, who sneaks into Jamie's bedroom to sleep with him -- no sex, just companionship because, she feels, they are too close as friends. 

Abbie, a photographer, is in her twenties and lives in the same house with Jamie and Dorothea. She is immature but has Jamie's ear. Also practically living there is the contractor, fixing up the money pit of a house. Dorothea is attracted to him in her quirky way. 

But, truly, none of the characters is that attractive. Of them all, Jamie is the most interesting. He is played well by Lucas Jade Zumann. His mother is played by Annette Bening, but she and her cigarettes never ignite the role that dominates the film. Greta Gerwig, also seen in Jackie, plays Abbie -- not much attraction there, and Elle Fanning plays Julie weakly. Billy Crudup, also seen in Jackie, plays the contractor.

Mike Mills wrote the script with its voiceovers. He gave words to each of these characters, partly molded from his own life as was the story of the late-coming-out dad in Mills' brilliant Beginners. Because of that film, you may want 20th Century Women to be better, warmer, more honest. And it is, but only in small lines here, tiny parts there, not in the aggregate. 20th Century Women doesn't entertain, not as a moment in time or as a study in 20th century women's characters.

 

 

 


Through his documentary Under the Sun, shot inside North Korea, Russian director Vitaly Mansky provides a fascinating comparison/contrast between the scripted story he agreed to shoot and the candid footage captured, his cameras running after official filming ended. Borrowing his title from North Korea's designation as "Land of the Rising Sun," Mansky offers a rare, first-person experience.

Ceding total script control to the North Korean officials, writer/director Mansky follows a family living in Pyongyang. Over the course of a yea, eight-year-old Zin-mi Lee prepares for induction into the prestigious Children's Union, an event celebrated yearly on "Day of the Shining Star," Kim Jong-il's birthday. Zin-mi goes to classes, eats a traditional meal of Kim-chi with her parents, practices dance, and visits a classmate in a hospital. The scenes are rehearsed with the Korean minder always supervising, encouraging enthusiasm and smiles among the participants, including workers at the mother's exemplary soy milk factory and the father's equally successful garment factory. 

School lessons exalt the past Great Generalissimo Kim Il-sung and the current Great Leader Kim Jong-Un who will "fulfill all our hopes and dreams." Their stories, pictures and statues are unconditionally revered while Americans are described as cowards and scoundrels, the Japanese as defeated, hated aggressors. By contrast, in scenes not staged, school girls with coats on in the classroom warm their hands over a heater near windows thick with frost. Zin-mi's parents walk her to the school bus. Later workers push a broken-down bus, and we learn that actually these young children live at school to study more, their parents and all workers reside at factory barracks so they can devote themselves to their "beloved jobs." 

From a quiet, observational perspective, Mansky starkly and skillfully reveals the striking contrasts between the actual and the staged. In Korean with English subtitles. The Missouri premiere of Under the Sun takes place at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, January 27 through Sunday, January 29 at 7:30 each evening. 

 

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