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Tuesday August 20th 2019

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Red & Howl

James Franco in Howl

Red
****
Action/Comedy
Summit Entertainment
Southdale Mega 16 (10)
Running Time: 111 minutes
Languages: English, Russian
Rated:PG13
Director: Robert Schwentke

This was a nice mix of cast with action master Bruce Willis, Oscar winners Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”), Richard Dreyfuss (“The Goodbye Girl”), versatile Brian Cox, likable John Malkovich and the elder statesman, Ernest Borgnine (“Marty”).

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA assassin living almost a recluse life except for phone contacts with Sarah (Mary Louise Parker). Frank gets wind that hired assassins are out to kill him to prevent any possibilities that any secrets leak out. To counteract the assassination attempts, he kidnaps Sarah for her own protection and organizes his own commandos – six in all. Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Victoria (Helen Mirren) are members of Moses’ counter-attack.

Malkovich excels in his role as an unhinged commando living in an underground hideaway. Mirren is no queen here as she handles machine guns as easily as riding a bike. Freeman looks like African royalty once Moses gets him out of the nursing home.

All in all, Robert Schwentke’s “Red” (acronym for “Retired Extremely Dangerous”), is pretty good though certain scenes merit little if anything. For example, why is it necessary for Moses to raid a C.I.A. agent’s home and threaten to kill his children? Isn’t this a comedy, not a drama?

I cannot forget the elder statesman Ernest Borgnine, as the “Recordkeeper,” in a cameo role in what is quite generic as a movie, but I went for the ride. It’s entertaining even with its shortcomings.

Howl
***1/2
Drama/Animation
Oscilloscope Pictures
Lagoon
Running Time: 90 minutes
Unrated
Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Kudos to James Franco for his performance as Allen Ginsberg. The film itself raises an interest for me to peruse Allen Ginsberg, particularly his poem, “Howl” which back in the 1950s spawned controversy. Its references to male homosexuality were considered to break obscenity laws. Precisely, “Howl” is about the poem and the man behind it. The young Ginsberg is seen reading his poem out loud to a group of Beatniks in an underground room.

The film alternates between young Allen Ginsberg’s life to his first public reading of “Howl” to his trial for obscenity in San Francisco and his interviews which color animation of the man’s imagination. There are references to Walt Whitman’s poem, “Leaves of Grass”. For example, at the trial, witnesses are asked if “Howl” is similar to that famous Civil War era poem. One witness on the stand, Professor David Kirk (Jeff Daniels), is asked if poetry is prose by the prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Stratham). “Sir, you cannot translate poetry into prose,” Kirk answers and goes on to say, “That’s why it’s poetry.” That said, the impression that the prosecutor and some other “learned” men are ignorant about literature, and particularly about Ginsberg’s “Howl,” is salient.

Paradoxically, although Ginsberg promotes his subliminally gay literature, he did not want to publicize his works nationally, fearing his father would find out he was gay.

Conversely, beyond the conversation about the poem itself, the movie’s platform questions freedom of speech (writing) and how censorship and democracy may not necessarily go hand in hand.

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