Black Sea (2014)–The Darkness Beneath the Surface


The British-American disaster thriller Black Sea stars  Jude Law as a veteran (Robinson) deep-sea salvage captain, recently unemployed and divorced with a young son. While dejected and wondering what his future holds, Robinson has drinks with a fellow co-worker, Kurston, in similar circumstances.    Soon the two friends assemble a misfit crew to go after the treasure (rumored to be worth millions in gold bullion) from a World War II U-boat sunken in the Black Sea.   After meeting with a financial backer known only as Lewis, they set off on their adventure agreeing to a 60/40 split with Lewis. One of Lewis’s stipulations for financing is to include his minion, Daniels (David Threlfall), purportedly for monitoring the success of the mission.

The exploration begins in a mothball submarine with a crew half Russian and half British. As expected, personality clashes and differences of strategy develop almost immediately. Greed and desperation take control on their claustrophobic vessel. The increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other.

Black Sea has complicated plot twists, many unexpected, including the ending. Suicide, murder, betrayal all add to the mix. Only one crew member is bilingual and therefore the essential communicator. The youngest member, Tobin, is mistakenly assumed to be a virgin–a bad omen according to the Russian crew.

One particularly hot-headed British crewman is Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn from the award-winning “Bloodline” Netflix series) who ends up in furious, self-destructive, and damaging relationships with almost everyone. Tensions continue to mount with the expected mechanical troubles but with surprising allegiances formed in order to survive. After multiple betrayals and double-crossings Robinson is forced to attempt a risky navigation through a narrow channel in deep water, against almost all crew members’ wishes. As the leader of this mission, Robinson finds himself in no-win situations, no allies, and left with no values or integrity.

The narrative is high-drama, both character-driven and plot-driven–a rarity, particularly in film of this genre. An engaging, crowd-pleaser for almost everyone, especially submarine movie fans. “Das Boot” and “Hunt for Red October” anyone? Black Sea belongs in the same category.


“The Grand Budapest Hotel” –Hungary for Humor


The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterThis British-German co-production directed by Wes Anderson is  the adventure of Gustave, (a comedic turn for Ralph Fiennes) a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (the astonishing 17-year old Tony Revolori) , the “lobby boy” who becomes his confident and essential companion.  Together they are determined to prove Gustave’s innocence after being framed for both theft and murder. The story centers on  the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for a family fortune — all against the back-drop of a  dramatically changing Europe.

The narrative takes place in three time periods (each indicated by a different cinematic technique):  1) the present in which a teenage girl stands before a stature of “The Author” and begins learning about his story of the Grand Budapest Hotel; 2) 1968, a flashback to the elderly owner Zero Moustafa and “The Author” (Jude Law):  Zero’s remembrance of his youth under the tutelage of Gustave, concierge extraordinaire.   3)  pre- Second World War, circa 1932-33 when Zero is a young “lobby boy” and Gustave is the darling of the wealthy doyennes who patronize the hotel.  One especially wealthy eccentric upon whom he dotes, Madame D  (Tilda Swinton), dies mysteriously and bequeaths everything to Gustave.  Then the wild journey and story really take off  with Gustave and Zero partners in crime.

I am a huge fan of Wes Anderson (ever since “Bottle Rocket”). His films have always been quirky, idiosyncratic and goofy originals. All of Anderson’s trademarks combine to produce the ultimate wackiness in his humor. The absurdity that defines his style makes “The Grand Budapest Hotel” crazy and hilarious!


“Side Effects”–Warning: Contraindications

Side Effects

Side Effects” opens with Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) being released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for insider trading.  His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is frail, severely depressed, and disinterested in Martin’s re-entering her life.  Soon her world unravels as she becomes dependent upon a new, experimental antidepressant prescribed by Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), on the recommendation of Emily’s previous therapist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

The side effects of the antidepressant seem to be the cause for Emily committing a horrific crime and Banks mounts a defense to keep her from being convicted. The crime is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible?  What follows is a dark quest for the diabolical truth of this tragedy. You think you know what’s happening — but you don’t. Almost every character has secrets, lies, and hidden motives.

Rooney Mara is stunning as the wounded woman who seems to have been victimized by the antidepressant prescribed to heal her.  As her counterpoint, Jude Law gives an almost flawless performance as a self-doubting character who struggles with the consequences and repercussions of his actions defending Emily. Both Law’s and Mara’s characters cause the viewer to vacillate between allegiance and sympathy for one over the other in a dizzying set of changing circumstances. The scenes they share are the most arresting in their complexity and ambiguity of the facts.

By releasing only one detail at a time, we are kept wading through interviews, court hearings, false turns, and psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together. The entire film is very subdued, impeccably structured, and intricate in plot.   You will be rewarded in the end as the spiraling momentum towards the conclusion is so unexpected and mostly unpredictable until its final scene. 

 This film is purportedly Steven Soderbergh’s last work before retiring.  Don’t miss it!


[Available on Netflix.]