Category Archives: Rant and Rave

Book Report: “Hamilton The Revolution”

Hamilton The Revolution – by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

  • DougInNC book report
  • “More than a Review”

Why am I effusive about Hamilton – The Musical, and certainly recommend a deep dive under the encyclopedic covers of “Hamilton The Revolution?” The answer has as many layers as the topic itself. As I peel them back, I’ll still maintain the whole is serendipitously greater than the sum of the parts.

Hamilton The Revolution is a book about a musical about a book about a man. Having read this book as a complement after seeing the stage action, my review conflates the two.

The hook for me: “words, words, words,” wrote Jeremy McCarter in chapter 28. Those words of which he spoke, nearly 22,000 in the production, grasped me by intermission of the stage show, securing the immediate and everlasting thought, “This is creative brilliance.” The book reinforces that, with more words about the exquisite weaving of words; there are brilliant pictures, too. Continue reading Book Report: “Hamilton The Revolution”

The Raven (2012)

“The Raven” stars John Cusack, whose films are the box of Hollywood chocolates that make you wonder what you’re going to get when you open one of them.

This time you get a reasonably-good storyline, darn good cinematography (ignore the gore), other sharp actors, and a solid conclusion that delivers just the right “twist” of surprise. Those admirable attributes are sometimes supported and other times interrupted by the irregular, quirky actions of Mr. Cusack.

Aside: Brendan Gleeson appears, though not as the lead he was “In The Heart of the Sea” watched earlier in 2017. I hope it is worthy to say he is a Lego(R) that fits and holds things together wherever placed. His understated portrayal of “The Guard” (2011) made me respect his presence on the screen.

Trumped

“Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time” is an engaging “while it happened” collection of film clips and “while it happened” interviews. Its chronological starting point is the Trump announcement that he will enter the race for the Republican nomination. It ends on election night, November 8, 2016.

America itself began as the greatest military upset of all time, did it not? America loves upsets, right? True! But this film makes clear that the election was the greatest “pundit” upset of all time. The  experts were following the playbook of conventional politics while guerilla warfare, campaign grenades, and other unconventional tactics and mishaps exploded on the scene.

They never could made sense of it. So they made a movie they could watch again and again to see if it will ever sink in. It just so happens you can watch it as well, and as well you should if you have the stomach for it.

In the Heart of the Sea

“In the Heart of the Sea” is a movie about the retelling of the story that became Moby-Dick, the book. Or maybe it is the story of those done-in by Moby Dick, the whale. It slights the conveyance of the story to author Melville, while the sea-going adventures are portrayed better than many that rely on CGI for their scenery.

Watch “Genius” if you want a film that delivers the angst of authorship more adeptly. Watch “Master and Commander …” for a movie that seizes the seas in a far better manner.

Rendition (2007)

“Rendition” was recommended long ago by a friend. We could find some common ground on this film, as it composes an interesting tale and communicates something that was little known or understood at the time. I give the story good marks, as well as most of the actors. Still, I was disappointed in two regards.

First, the “plot twist” that warped time was unnecessary. Thank goodness watching at home enabled a “pause button” moment and evaluation of the story’s shift before concluding with a few scenes. I suppose the director wanted audiences leaving the theater to take it with them in discussion among their friends. If that technique is used, the viewer should be given more film time to process the surprise rather than being resigned to a “what the heck” fog just as the story reaches its conclusion.

Second, this point was over-wrought: Strong men are evil; powerful men are unprincipled; meek and milquetoast men are the only real men the world can count on. Got it; I’m ready for a war film.

 

Lion (A Long Way Home)

“Lion” was seen, quite accidentally, on the 5-year anniversary of the main character concluding his real-life journey. The coincidence made me smile. I read some criticism of this film that it became too much about the technology. I didn’t see that. I did see strong acting, sometimes slow progressions that did not bother me, and a memorable tale.

I only somewhat grasped the monumental depth of the internal struggle for this character. I have to believe that some scenes fell on the cutting room floor that could have made the story epic. Those may have been lost to elements that played up relationships and feelings, which were also valuable insights. Something had to give, but there could be a terrific 3-hour version of this film that mines deeper into the mind.

If this is compelling for you, also see “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (2002) another Australian story of a journey toward home. The Aussies provide few but fabulous films.

Hidden Figures

My 2017 “best screenplay” leader is “Hidden Figures.” Take a tissue, because it’s sweet; plus you’ll laugh, cringe, and learn. To see this film is to see history in the making: by the women portrayed, by the space race, and by the lightly-touched overlapping civil rights scenes. This film makes history come alive. The acting is solid; the scene settings adequate; neither is outstanding.

Kudos to Schroeder and Melfi for masterfully bringing Margot Lee Shetterly’s book to the silver screen.  Psychologist Jerome Bruner said, “An act that produces effective surprise [is] the hallmark of the creative enterprise.” Such a surprise is delivered by the three writers, especially for those of us thinking we know the story of early space exploration.

Background on the book’s development can be enjoyed at this link to brainpickings.org.

Everest

I finally got “up” to watching “Everest” and it left me cold. The obvious pun-making review would begin as such. To further the fun of language, Everest itself is a mountain while the word is a portmanteau representing that point from which some never return. (2015 was the release year for this film, the same year the ‘p’ word “officially arrived” according to grammarly.com).

Watching this story unfold, one feels just some of the drama but not the full experience of the mountain. Second, it portrays the characters as quite normal persons, yet I would imagine that the very short list of those scaling this peak would be exceptions to normality. Those are just two reasons I could not fully connected to this film.

It’s worth watching if you’re so inclined, as you will feel some of the isolation and desolation of this place along with the gist of the story on which it is based. Compared to other movies I’ve watched this year, it doesn’t finish “on top.”

Every Brilliant Thing

“Every Brilliant Thing” is lovingly brought to you by HBO Documentaries. It is poignant, captivating, and long on meaning despite being short on time (1 hour in length), shining with love, laughter, sweetness, and sorrow. It is hard to rave about a story that dwells on the topics of depression and suicide; it may not be for you, but I found entertaining as well as emotional connections.

This work was produced by filming a one-person stage play, though that person involves his audience in contagious ways that make you want to catch what they have in those moments.

Genius

“Genius” is brilliant! Was there no publicity for this movie? I recall not one mention of a terrific film. Of course one expects excellent portrayals by Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman. They deliver beyond any reasonable expectations.

Each character is believable and every scene assembles the life story of author Thomas Wolfe. I should know this tale of a famous writer who called North Carolina home, and now I am so happy that I do.

“Genius” is strong competition for “Fences” as my best movie of 2017 – one month into the year. Even though I raved about the latter, I’ll now declare “Genius” to be the better,  Astounding historical portrayal gets my nod over pure fiction, even the gripping drama provided by Fences.  Whether they are 1 and 2, or 1A and 1B, it’s clear that I value dialog over non-stop action, and deeply human stories more than plot lines alone.