Friday, May 17, 2013

The Five-Day Fade

     Today's at home viewing reviews include a musical rewind to the sixties, a travesty of justice from the seventies, and another of the same from the eighties. Let's hop some decades...

  The Central Park Five - Documentarian Ken Burns is famous mostly for his work on PBS series and specials that have illuminated various topics and times from the history of America.  Apparently, the calling is to be a family affair, because with this film his daughter Sarah joins him as co-director.  The picture tells the story of five black and Latino youths who were convicted (on the flimsiest of evidence) of raping a woman in New York's Central Park in 1989.
     While the story IS heart breaking and thoroughly told, I'm afraid that the movie comes across as a little dry.  Told mostly in straightforward interviews interspersed with vintage footage, there are few of the cinematic flourishes we have come to expect in recent years from feature documentary films.  Also working against the picture are the inevitable comparisons to the Paradise Lost series, which told a similar story in a much more dramatic fashion.  While "Central" does address racial issues not inherent to the West Memphis case, otherwise it mostly covers the same thematic ground...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Any Day Now - In this movie, writer/director Travis Fine takes on the issue of gay adoption through the true life story of a 1970's couple who tried to legally adopt a teen-age boy with Down Syndrome after being granted temporary custody by his negligent mother.  It's not a pretty story, but it is one that is well told.  It does become a tad melodramatic in the final act, but the facts of the case are a true American melodrama.
     The film hinges upon the performances of Alan Cumming and Garrett Dillahunt, who play the lovers Rudy and Paul.  I am most familiar with Alan Cumming in the role of Nightcrawler in the first X-Men film franchise, but his work here is excellent and nuanced.  Rudy is a drag queen and easily the more flamboyant of the two.  Whereas most actors would approach a character like this (complete with over the top cabaret numbers) with broad strokes, Cumming fills Rudy with details and delicate touches that allow him to easily avoid creating a mere caricature.
     Most of you are probably familiar with actor Garrett Dillahunt as the star of the TV show Raising Hope, although he has certainly played a number of smaller roles on the big screen as well. In this film he plays Paul, the closeted assistant DA who gives up everything to be with Rudy and raise Marco with him.  He plays the character with great calm determination, creating a dynamic in which each member of the couple lends their relative strengths to each other.  The viewer never doubts the love between the two, nor the love that they have available for Marco.
     While the complaint could be made that most of the other characters are played as unrepentant villains, this is not so much a flaw in characterization as a reflection upon how far we have come as a society.  During the time in which the action of the film takes place, their attitudes and opinions would easily have been touted as ethically sound.  Looking at them through modern eyes, they seem hopelessly insensitive to both the feelings of the couple and the needs of the child.  Perhaps in another thirty years, the entire issue will seem ridiculous...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Not Fade Away - Writer/director David Chase is probably best known as the creator of The Sopranos television series.  In Not Fade Away he presents us with a different vision of New Jersey as we follow the adventures of several teen-age boys in the 1960's who try to start a rock band.  As a period piece it works quite well with lots of historical milestones filling in the background of the boys' world to keep us rooted in the era.
     The film is also tied to the television show by the presence of James Gandolfini, who plays the main character's father.  His interaction with lead John Maguro forms the basis for most of the film's dramatic highpoints and the two have excellent onscreen chemistry.  In fact, Maguro is quite excellent throughout and the main reason for seeing the picture.  His rendition of "Time is On My Side" is actually a little inspired.
     My biggest complaint with the movie is that the narration is delivered by Maguro's character's younger sister, who is largely uninvolved in the action of the film, and would have in fact been unaware of most of the story as it was happening.  One can assume that her brother filled her in later, but that of course skews the whole story to his perceptions.  A small complaint, but one that bothered me nonetheless...4 of 5 stars.

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