Thursday, December 20, 2012

Film Review: The Discoverers

I know I mentioned in a previous review that I like stories of discovery.  I also have said in the past that I tend to enjoy films about teachers and writers.

Well, this film is sort of an exception to that.  Maybe it's because I saw Freedom Writers the night before and the scenes of jaded teachers and faculty tend to grate on me.  Coming from that film and seeing the opening sequence in which college professor - and Lewis and Clark aficionado - Lewis is told that teaching his students isn't important, only irked me a tad bit further

And then there are his kids who in some ways remind me of George Clooney and the younger cast in the Descendents (read my review).  Another film I didn't love.

I think my problem is that we've gone down this road before.  We've seen these kind of predictable plots.  They key in these films should be how they get there.  To paraphrase Lau Tsu, "It's the journey, not the destination."  And yet neither of these films work hard enough on the journey for my taste.

The highlights:

1) Lewis' daughter gets her period while they're out in the wilderness, cut off from civilization.  That whole situation and how they handled it is one of two top moments in the film.  I often think about those kind of inconveniences in disaster films.  People isolated in the middle of nowhere.  What does a woman do when it's that time of the month?

2) The ending.  I won't give it away, but while it's a slight let-down, it still was a nice way to close the film. :)

Additional treat:  The much undderated Stuart Margolin as Lewis' father, Stanley.

It's a comedy lacking in true comedic moments (save for the first highlight mentioned above), but maybe it will resonate more with others than it did me.


Film Review: The Impossible

Impossible is definitely an apt title for this film, which tells the true story of a family that got caught up in the Tsunami in Thailand a few years ago.

The special effects of the tsunami is incredible.  It's amazingly realistic.  It just takes your breath away.

It's a compelling and powerful story.  It also seems so unbelievable.  Yet, if you believe in fate and destiny and happenstance, you find this film quite intriguing.




Film Review: Quartet

I love the British.  I do.  I also love Dustin Hoffman.  And, I also have seen plenty of operas.  So I was expecting a truly delightful film.  Sadly, it just didn't have the punch I would have expected from a British comedy.

For a funny film I'd recommend The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (see my review).  It was lighthearted, moving and funny.  This one had some really great moments including and not only the musical performances, but some of the comedy.  Sadly, the jokes only elicited a mild chuckle from me and nothing that had me doubled over.

Highlights include Tom Courtney's character Reginald connecting with young kids by comparing rap to opera, and the ending credits which showed old photographs of the opera singers who appear in the film and the opera company they performed with.  And for the actors who aren't opera singers, they had similar photographs that included one of their hit performances on stage or film.

I think Dustin Hoffman played it on the safe end.  His cinematography was pretty basic.  It could just be he that because he's a new director, he's still learning the finer things.  Perhaps his next film will be more daring.

I recommend this film for opera buffs and anyone who enjoys watching a group of classic, British actors on screen.

Film Review: On the Road

Another admission:  I've never read On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  At times I wish I had, being an English major and always enjoying the exploration in novels.  Sadly, I have yet to read this one.  I would like to.

So it was with a blank slate that I saw the film adaptation by Jose Rivera.

Sitting in a crowded theater prior to the film commencing, I was keenly interested in knowing who had read the book, as the question was being posed to the audience.  A decent amount of hands went up.  When people were asked whether they had liked the book or not, they were divided.  I thought that was interesting.

Then the critic who introduced the film, Godfrey Cheshire, agreed that many people are divided by their feelings over the book.  To this day you either love it or hate it. 

To give us an idea of what was going on during the era depicted in the film (late 40's/early 50's), he mentioned that the interstate highway system was brand new then.  This planted an image in my mind of a group of young Beatniks exploring the country, encountering different types of people, experiencing radical new things (for the time).  I was even more intrigued.

What played out what not what I expected.  There were no experiences on the road, no strange encounters.  Instead the road itself seemed to be taken for granted.  One scene they're in New York, then they're in San Francisco.  Then the're in New Orleans.  Dean asks Sal to come back to San Fran, so he "poof!"  There he is.  But he doesn't fly there.  He drives.  It takes at least 5 days to travel from to New York to California.  I know.  I drove that route back in 1993. Think about how long it must have taken Sal to drive it.  I'm sure it wasn't only 5 days.

The movie dealt more with the downfall of Dean and his friendship with Sal.  It was done very well, and the leads, including Kristin Stewart, did a great job with the material.

Sadly, it didn't feel like a 1940's film, except for maybe the cars.  Instead, it felt like a hippy film, taking place in the late 1960's.  I'm told the characters in the book had greased back pompadores.  Not in this film.  Their hairstyles were more long and loose.  It was difficult to see what the conflict was between the Beatniks and the rest of society.  It also was difficult to place some of the scenes.

Now, I love 60's films.  I wished I was a hippy myself.  The closest I can get to that is claiming, honestly, that I was born in the "Spring before the 'Summer of Love'" (April 1967).  However, this isn't a 60's hippy film.  This is supposed to take place in the late 40's/early 50's.

I didn't hate the film. It was enjoyable for what it depicted, but I wondered if the book had more.

After the film the audience was asked if they liked it.  I kept quiet, but was amazed and surprised at the resounding, "No!" that Godfrey Cheshire received as a response.

I definitely have got to read that book.

Film Review: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

Okay, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've never seen an Ed Burns film before.  Not that I have anything against him or his films.  I just never have seen The Brothers McMullen.  Now that I've seen the Fitzgerald Family Christmas, I would like to see Brothers McMullen.

Not having the first film to compare, I can say that this one is entertaining.  I wasn't laughing out loud all the time, but the story was interesting, the acting solid and the film as a whole was entertaining.

There were predictable moments like the sister who was dating a much older guy and her brother who was dating a younger woman and what occurs when they decide to spend the weekend at a beach house.

The main plot of the film involves the estranged father of seven kids wanting to see his family again after he had deserted them some 20-30 years ago.  Ed Burns plays the loyal son who still lives with his mother and constantly works to bring this fractious family together every Christmas.  Now, he has to get them to vote on whether they want to spend it this year with their father.

A cute film.  It won't win any awards, but it's a nice holiday film.

Film Review: Hitchcock

I found this movie entertaining... a bit too much so.

As I watched this film I found myself not really connecting with it.  At first I couldn't understand why, but afterwards I realized it was because it didn't seem realistic.  It painted Alfred Hitchcock as a temperamental, spoiled child, and not the bossy, tyrant tales about him have told. 

It is an entertaining film, though.  I would just take it with a grain of salt.

Film Review: The Other Son

An interesting, well told tale of two young men, who discover they were switched at birth.  The twist is that one man is a Palestinian being who had been raised by a Jewish family in Israel and the other is a Jew who had been raised by Palestinians across the border.

What helps this movie along is that the young men, while in shock, seem to be more curious than angry about their predicament.  Each one wants to know more about their real family.

I won't give anything more away, but I wonder how the film would have played out if they had been angrier?

Note:  This is a French film with English subtitles.  Sometimes the characters speak English because it's easier for the two families to comprehend each other.  Other times - aside from French - Hebrew and Arabic are spoken.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Film Review - Nobody Walks

I'm not a prude - at least I don't think I am - but lately I've been wondering about the proliferation of movies that involved people cheating on their spouses and how it's presented on screen.

A few years ago Michael Douglas starred in a film called Solitary Man about a man who is given only a few months to live, and decides to go out and leave his old life behind, divorce his wife and essentially have his mid-life crisis adventure while there’s still time left.  The writer/directors claimed they were trying to show how wrong it was, but yet I didn't get that vibe from the film.  Instead I saw it as a man trying to find himself even if it meant leaving his wife and sleeping with a much younger woman.  And yet, I felt the writer/directors were trying to hide the fact that the guy was actually living the life they wanted to live. Instead they had to have a moral, a lesson as to why it's so wrong just so someone in Hollywood would distribute it.

Do all films need a message, a moral, a lesson?  It looks that way.  And, sadly, some films seem to have the standard mantra be more of a veil over the real story.  The moral or lesson that they try to pitch to audiences is that it’s wrong to cheat on a loved one, but yet I don't see that as the real story.  To me the true theme seems to be in some cases that it’s okay to do certain things that society and morality and government think is wrong.

Nobody Walks gave me the same feeling.  There's this desire to cheat, to throw away the rules and have relations with anyone.  It's okay.

It's okay.

It's okay to give in to your desires.  It's what happens.  It's acceptable.  Granted not everyone in the film does so.  So then the question I'm pondering is: who is wrong?  The person who did give in or the one who didn't?

Here’s the plot:  A twenty-three year-old artist from New York City comes to stay with her friend's family in Los Angeles while working on an art film for a gallery opening.  The reason she is there is because Peter (John Krasinsky), a married, 40-something is a sound engineer who is working with her on the final cut of the film.  Her presence ignites passions within practically the entire family and anyone else who encounters her or enters that household.

There's no real bad guys in this film.  You find your allegiances vacillating between all the characters.  You cheer for them one minute and criticize them the next.

But in the end there's no lesson.  No moral.  No right or wrong.  In some ways it's refreshing.  Why disguise your own explorations with a lecture?

And while it's never boring, it does make me wonder what the theme is?  Is it the carefree energy emitted by the young Martine that these people crave and find themselves connecting to?  Is she an innocent party or a somewhat knowing catalyst?  Or, in the end, is she just another chink in the fidelity armor?

Is marriage all that it is cracked up to be?  If we watch enough films will we finally decide that it's okay to sleep around, that it's socially acceptable?

When the gay population first demanded same sex marriages, I was surprised.  I’m not against it at all.  I totally understand the point of it, but with the institution of marriage crumbling for straight people, and Hollywood constantly showing us infidelity, how long will it be before people stop getting married altogether?  Is this battle a moot point?  Perhaps we can all “live in sin”.  It might be cheaper that way.

Some people will deny the influence the film industry (or Hollywood in particular) has on society.  I think they have a strong influence in TV shows as well as film.  I think its power is highly underestimated.  If these themes in films continue to play out, will monogamy really matter anymore?

Everyone’s forgiven or forgotten Bill Clinton’s transgressions.  So it is okay?

I would really like to know, because perhaps the bad guys in these films are the people who resist the temptation or the people who actually are hurt as a result of these affairs, the betrayed spouse or partner who winds up being angry, cold or rude, or - in some cases - vengeful.

Is the film industry trying to change society?  Or do they want us to believe that art is imitating life?

What better platform to push a viewpoint?  So many writers, directors and producers all after the same goal, all sharing the same theme.

To prove my point even further, take a look at all the pot smoking that occurs in most films.  It shows up in Nobody Walks as well.  Is it a veiled statement about the forty-somethings in this film trying to cling to their carefree pasts?  Or is it a statement from the filmmakers that pot should be legalized, because - as they depict it - it’s no different than having a couple of beers.  Everyone seems to think just as clearly as when they were sober.  No munchies or staring at the paint on the walls.  Everyone seems to be in control.

Is that realistic?

The film industry would like us to believe that films like these are art imitating life.  In some cases I would agree, but when certain themes are used so often, I start to wonder.  Is it a lack of imagination, just a bunch of filmmakers following a trend that seems to work again and again (e.g. sort of like remaking old TV shows into films because they have no other ideas)?  Or is it a want or desire to send a statement to society that we shouldn’t be so strict about monogamy and drugs.

Again, I'm not a prude.  I'm not going to preach that this is all bad.  But the casual presentation of these subjects makes me wonder what the message really is in these films.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Mighty Fine

Writer/director Debbie Goodstein shares the true story about a man wrestling with anger issues to the point where it terrifies his family.

Joe Fine (Chazz Palminteri) owns a garment business in the mid 1970's.  He has moved his family to New Orleans to start fresh.  It is not the first move, as explained in voice-over by his daughter, Natalie (Jodelle Ferland), and soon we see why.  When his business dreams are dashed, he takes his stress out on his family.  Older daughter Maddy (Rainey Qualley) reveals that this is not the first time he has acted so violently.

The film shows an interesting angle as to how abuse can affect people.  In this case it's often more verbal than physical, but he does lash out at times as well.

Palminteri does a good job, but as with his other roles he seems to be playing the father like a thug at times.  Andi MacDowell is terrific as his wife,  a Holocaust survivor.  She is scared of her husband, although she loves him very much.

Rainey Qualley (Andi's real life daughter) and Jodelle Ferdland are great as the two daughters.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Belated Reviews: Frozen River, Away We Go and Beeswax

Film:  Frozen River

Synopsis:  It's about a woman whose husband up and leaves the family without warning. She's desperate, because they had enough for a final payment on a modular home, and he's ran off with the money. So she has only a few days to pull together the funds, and she can't earn the amount needed on her salary. So she has to resort to some desperate means to get the money in time, taking a huge risk that could not only put herself in danger, but also her kids as well.

My review:  This is a powerful film and very compelling.

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Film: Away We Go

My review:  It's a cute film, though somewhat over the top at times. I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't rank it at the top of the list of comedies.

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Film:  Beeswax

My review:  Boring. The production values were very amateurish - lower than low budget - and the writer/director decided to throw away the script during filming. So it's a film without a plot.

The characters are only slightly interesting. There's a lot of shoulder shrugging and mumbling through it (it's a part of a new genre of films coming out of Harvard University called "Mumblecore", and it shows).

Imagine a bunch of 20-somethings who are in a reality show that doesn't have anyone screaming at each other, getting married, getting rich or kicking someone off an island

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Belated Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

This is a fictional Holocaust film, taking a very real, alarming subject and making a children's story out of it. Considering the sensitive subject matter, I thought it was well done.

It stars David Thewlis (Harry Potter) as a German soldier whose son befriends a boy in a concentration camp. The plot requires you to have to suspend reality, since there are some scenes that just wouldn't make sense otherwise.  Based on a children's book, the writers of both the book and the film called it a "Fable", but in the end this misled the audience and caused some negative reviews.

I cried of course. I always do, but I did think it was a good film so long as you ignored a couple of obvious flaws.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Belated Reviews: For My Father, The Young Victoria and Wonderful World

Film:  For My Father

Review:  A very good film about a Palestinian who has to redeem his family name by becoming a suicide bomber. We see what he encounters when he goes into Israel to do the deed. It was a very interesting and poignant film.

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Film:  The Young Victoria

Review:That was very good, although I think it would have worked better as a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series with more episodes added to it chronicling her whole reign. The film only covers her early years, and even that scratches the surface. Still it was entertaining with a nice bit of romance. They did bend the truth in one scene, which I heard bugged the British audiences a bit, so that might not sit well with purists, but overall it was a nice film.

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Film:  Wonderful World

Review:  This is the fourth time since I started attending the film series that I've seen a Matthew Broderick film, and I've come to the conclusion that the man needs some serious therapy. All of his characters have been depressing and a bit pathetic. He really needs to get away from these pathetic characters. Each one learns something and rises above their mood, but only marginally, since Matthew himself doesn't.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Belated Reviews: Defiance, The Wrestler and Nothing But the Truth

Film: Defiance

Synopsis: Based on a true story of three Jewish brothers who find themselves concealing 100+ Jews in the woods of Belarus during WWII, while butting heads with each other as to whether they should fight or survive.

My review: It was a bit too commercial for my taste, though the director (Edward Zwick) had said he did that to lure people who might not know Daniel Craig as anyone other than James Bond. He thought it would be a good way to send a message to the audience about these people.

In the end it only made me like the film less.  Pass on it.

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Film:  The Wrestler

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood

Synopsis: It's about an aging wrestler (Mickey Rourke), who has a heart attack and has to come to terms with the fact that he will have to retire from wrestling or die. The struggle for him is that he has no idea what to do with his life, as wrestling is all he knows.

My review:  I'm not a professional wrestling fan, but The Wrestler held my interest.  Overall the film is very good and you end up enjoying the wrestling scenes (except for one really bloody one, where a few people actually left the theatre. I closed my eyes during it and let it pass).

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Film: Nothing But the Truth

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda and Matt Dillon.

Synopsis: When a newspaper reporter uncovers the identity of a covert CIA operative and reports on what she believes was a government cover-up, she gets embroiled a battle with the federal government when she's ordered to reveal her source.

My review: While it dragged a little at times, I thought the movie was well done and the acting great.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Belated Reviews: The Cove, Surveillance and The Loss of the Teardrop Diamond

Film:  The Cove

Review:  This was very interesting. It's a documentary about a former dolphin trainer (Richard O'Barry) who saw the error of his ways and has spent his life freeing dolphins that are captured for one reason or another.  It has brought some much needed buzz to the plight of dolphins in Japan.

The film shows him in Japan with a team of activists who are exposing the slaughter of 23,000 dolphins a year.

Interesting stuff.

Bye the way, he used to be the dolphin trainer on the TV series Flipper.

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Film:  Surveillance

Review:  It's an interesting film, but it's not my cup of tea.

If you like David Lynch movies, or you like suspense of any kind, then you might enjoy this. I personally like suspense, but this film was disturbing.

The script was written by David Lynch's daughter Jennifer. She seems to have her dad's penchant for morbid subject matter.

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Film:  The Loss of the Teardrop Diamond.

Review:  Based on a Tennessee Williams story, which is rarely adapted to stage or film.  I can see why.  It was not one of my favorites. I found the characters to be played well, but the story kind of dragged.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: The Perfect Family

Kathleen Turner stars as Eileen Cleary, a devout Catholic, loving wife and doting mother.  She spends her days helping out at the church, serving communion and bringing food to the less fortunate.

One day her priest (Richard Chamberlain) tells her that she's been nominated (by him, I believe) for "Catholic Woman of the Year" a very daunting competition involving a home visit by a bishop, letters of recommendation from her family and a pristine family life.

Well, two out of three might not be so bad.

You see, Eileen has been living a lie.  Her family isn't as clean and pure as she so desperately wants them to be.  And she wrestles with that fact as the competition hangs over her.  The movie depicts her constant struggle between being devout and saintly and coming to terms with her family's collection of "sins".

It's lighthearted and - I'm pleased to say - entertaining.  I've often struggled with Kathleen Turner's raspy voice, but found her to be quite amusing in this film.  She does a great job as the matriarch who tries so hard to cover up everything with a smile and a white lie.

I had feared it would be akin to The Family Tree, which also dealt with a dysfunctional family, but this one - written, produced and directed by women - had a much better feel and flow to it.

The cast is stellar.  Aside from Kathleen Turner and Richard Chamberlain, there's Zoey Deschanel, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Pena and Michael McGrady.

It takes place in Chester, NJ.  However, it was filmed in Los Angeles, which was somewhat disappointing, since Chester is about 30 minutes from the cinema.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I love British films and TV. I can't explain why.  I just do.  So I was really looking forward to this film.

As a whole I enjoyed it.  There were scenes that were a bit too predictable and pat, but most of them worked for me.  I loved Judy Dench at the call center.  Ronald Pickup's character is a lot of fun, especially when you learn his true experience with women. They all did a great job.  I really enjoyed it.

I would have liked a few more scenes in Maggie Smith's story in order to really feel the impact on her character, but one could just imagine how things unfolded, so I didn't have a problem with that.


Overall it's a nice feel-good film that I highly recommend.  And one doesn't need to be in a certain age bracket to enjoy it. :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reviews: Turn Me On, Dammit and Downtown Express

Title:  Turn Me on Dammit (Norwegian)

Review:  An interesting twist to an old theme about a teenage girl who has to suffer through alienation, when a classmate lies about an encounter of an explicit nature.  The twist?  I won't give it away, but while it is a comedy, it does explore female sexuality in an interesting way that might appeal to teenagers of both sexes.  However, it has adult themes, so parents be warned.

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Title:  Downtown Express

Review:  A lighthearted tale about a Russian violinist, studying at Julliard and tackling his desire to follow his own path vs that of his father.  A nice film although some of the acting feels a bit stilted.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: Monsier Lazhar

This French-Canadian film tells the story of an Algerian man who takes over teaching a class of eleven year-old children who are dealing with the suicide of their teacher.

Bashir Lazhar is also dealing with his own demons, and in so doing finds a kinship with those students.

A heartwarming piece, this Oscar nominated film is a must see.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Belated Review: Secretariat

I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to see this film.  I had heard some mixed reviews and I had mixed feelings about Seabiscuit.  I didn't want it to be a replay of that film.

However, I do like horse racing plots (I'm a huge fan of Dick Francis), and I do remember hearing about the Secretariat as a child.  Also, I was curious as to why Craig Ferguson had a fake horse by that name on his talk show.  So that was enough to take the chance.

Overall the film was well done and very engaging.  I found the story to be interesting and it held my interest throughout.  I think as an overall story it flowed much better than Seabiscuit, which seemed to assume that the audience had read the novel or educated themselves enough ahead of time to excuse the lack of exposition at the beginning of that film.

John Malkovitch is only marginally better in this than Dangerous Liaisons.  Here he plays a French-Canadian named Lucien Laurin.  His French-Canadian accent was terrible, especially his pronunciation of his own name.  Considering how proud he was, you'd think he'd get that right.  It's not "Looshun".  It's "Loo-See-En".  And it's not "Lawrenn".  It's "Law-Ran" with the "N" being almost silent at the end of both names.  I can accept the American characters' mispronunciation, but not his own.

Still, aside from that he had some bright moments, and it was a well done film.

Oh, and I think I figured out the whole Craig Ferguson thing.  Very funny.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Belated Review: The Deal

William H. Macy wrote, produced  and starred in this film which also featured Meg Ryan, Jason Ritter and LL Cool J. It's a comedy about a down-on-his-luck producer who decides he's going to get one of the major studios to agree to film a movie about Benjamin Disraeli, only it has to star the recently-converted-to-Judaism action star played by LL Cool J. Elliot Gould is in this as a rabbi who also serves as technical advisor.

There's a lot of jokes about Hollywood, lots of Hebrew spoken by LL Cool J, lots of deal-making scenes that are quite clever (and probably true), and a few really funny moments.

It was an amusing film, but for the most part it didn't have the strength for a theatrical release.  I'm not sure if it has been screened anywhere since I saw it a few year ago.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Belated Review: The Brothers Bloom

I wanted to like it this film, but in the end I didn't.

This was a movie about a couple of con men, this time two brothers. One was the true master of the plan, while the other reluctantly carried it out with him.

It starred Adrien Brody, Mark Rufalo and Rachel Weisz.

My problem with the film was that the whole thing was a con. There were no moments of revelation - not even at the end - no moment of reality, though they seemed to tease us with it from time to time.

Also, my biggest gripe about the movie was the sloppy feel of it. There were at least two situations in the film that were never resolved, and writer/director admitted to us at the screening that he felt he didn't need to resolve it.  He said that the audience could figure it out on their own. I disagreed with him on that.  While I don't mind that concept, not everything can be imagined by the audience.

I like films that make you think and leave things to the imagination, but this one felt a bit lazy.  Just leaving a scene out isn't enough. There has to be something worth talking about.  Leaving a hole isn't the same as an open ended film or dropping a hint that could go in any direction.

He purposely omitted key plot-points because he confessed that he couldn't come up with a good way to effectively present them.  There was another instance in the film where he raised our curiosity about something in a scene, but never answered the question.  And there's one or two more instances that cried for an explanation, but we didn't get one.


I wanted to like this film. There are hilarious moments with a Japanese girl, played by Rinko Kikuchi, who likes to blow things up. They call her Bang Bang. To me she was the funniest, best character in the film, but I was the only one in the theater who laughed at her jokes.

Unless you like the eye candy of the cast, I would pass on this film.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Belated Review: Day Break

This is an Iranian film. It was an interesting movie exploring the act of forgiveness of convicted murderers in the country's prisons. It's part of the religious law that the family of the victim has the right to accept forgiveness from the killer. By doing so they spare him his life. He still has to pay a fine or sign over property as determined by the victim's family, and he has to serve a jail term.

If the family doesn't forgive one member has to administer the execution. This falls under the "eye for an eye" belief. If someone else executes the convict it is considered murder.

Anyway, this movie explores this as we follow one man though his stay at a Teheran prison, where he's already been brought up for execution and delayed twice because the victim's family failed to show up. We watch and wait to see if he will be forgiven or not. It's a fictional story based on real events.

It's a good film. At bit slow in points, but they worked for me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Belated Review: Mongol

Mongol is a film about Gengis Kahn from childhood until he started to unify Mongolia.

I thought it was a good film along the lines of Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but without the 360 degree camerawork and martial arts. This was more like Braveheart with a lot less fighting scenes, but like Hero in the sense that it had some sweeping landscapes and beautiful imagery.

I never learned about Gengis Kahn in school, so I knew very little about him. Apparently, there is no real documented history about him, only stories from people whose lands he captured. The movie paints him in a positive light.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Belated Reviews: 9.99, The Messenger and Precious

Too short to separate.  I highly recommend The Messenger.  Precious was excellent as well.  See below:

Film:  9.99

A bizarre animated film about a bunch of people living in a high-rise apartment complex, each one trying to find meaning in their lives.  One man finds the love of his life and does anything she asks of him, which makes him as happy as she is, no matter how odd the request.

There are other stories, but that's one of the more memorable ones.  This film is a puzzlement.  I really wasn't sure what I was supposed to get from it.

It features voices from today's top Australian actors including Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia.

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 Film:  The Messenger

Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster star as two US soldiers stationed in New Jersey who are assigned to visit relatives and break the news of the death of their loved ones. It was very well done. It shows how these two men cope with the job and what wounds of their own they're carrying. For once, NJ was depicted in a better light, although they still mainly show the blue-collar areas.

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Film: Precious

A very powerful film. It's well done, but it's a bit difficult to watch.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Belated Review: The Dukes

This movie is about a few former members of a do-wap (a capella) group who keep trying to get jobs making money performing their hits. Sadly, they haven't had much luck, instead doing lame TV commercials. Two of the leaders of the group (Robert Davi and Chazz Palmentari) work for their aunt in her Italian restaurant. Their goal is to settle down and open their own restaurant, but they have no money to do so.

So without giving too much away, the film is a comedy about what capers these guys get into to try to get money to buy a restaurant. Robert Davi wrote and directed this film, which also stars Peter Bogdonovitch, as a sympathetic tour manager, and Miriam Margolyes as their Aunt Vee. :)

There's some great familiar faces in this like Bruce Weitz (Hill Street Blues) and Joseph Campanella, who has a very nice, brief appearance in the film. :)

Both Robert Davi and Chazz Palmintari can sing and they used to perform as singers before they became actors. Robert does sing in the film.

The movie itself was entertaining, but I found it a bit slow moving until about 1/2 way through. Then it picked up steam. Still, it's a nice film and I would recommend it. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Belated Review: SOP

Standard Operating Procedure (or SOP). It was a documentary about the controversial photographs that were taken at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib that sparked an uproar about torture and improper interrogation practices at that prison, and caused the arrests of US soldiers there.

It was interesting, though it tended to dwell a bit too long on certain aspects. The people interviewed (many of whom are those who are in and/or took the photographs) at times seemed a bit distant and unaffected by what had happened. No one showed any remorse, but part of that was because they were "just following orders" and because many of them "spent time in jail" which could desensitize someone after a while.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Follow up: sometimes one has to turn it off.... Or not....

A few months ago I reviewed Dangerous Liaisons, the film that starred Glenn Close and John Malkovich.  I chose to turn it off after 20 minutes or so because I couldn't stand John Malkovich's character.  I found his portrayal to be flat.

The other night I watched Valmont, another film based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangerous.  This time Colin Firth played the Valmont, and he did so in a much more convincing and fun matter.  It was a joy to watch.

Another actor who redeemed a role was Sian Phillips, who is always great in whatever she does.  Swoosie Kurtz was terribly miscast in the other film.  Sian was perfect and portrayed herself with a sense of esteem and nobility, which is what the part called for.

And Henry Thomas as Chevalier was perfect, surpassing Keanu Reeve's performance in the other film.

Annette Benning was fantastic as Isabelle.  I've always liked her performances, and she doesn't disappoint here.

As with Uma Thurmann's portrayal of Cecile in the other film, I was really pleasantly surprised at Meg Tilly's portrayal of Madame de Tourvel in this one.  I never cared for her work in the 1980's and '90's (this film was released in 1989), since she always played a soft-spoken shy, type.  I never saw her range until now.  I haven't seen much of her work in recent years, but her portrayal in this film is the best I've seen from that decade.

If given a choice between Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, I would hands-down vote for Valmont.  Don't waste your time with the other film.

Belated Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

This is a really cute film on Wednesday made by Mike Leigh, who also did Vera Drake among others.

Unlike Vera Drake, this film is very upbeat. The acting is excellent. I really sat up and took notice of that.

The movie is about a woman (Sally Hawkins) who approaches life with optimism, despite the negativity around her. :)

This film rightfully deserved the Oscar buzz it received.  It's a nice little film and the acting is stellar.  Watch out for Eddie Marsan's performance as the frustrated driving instructor.  He does a fantastic job.

Belated Reviews: Then She Found Me, Before the Rains and The Cake Eaters

Then She Found Me (Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler)

Helen Hunt plays a woman whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her and her biological mother enters her life. It's got some good scenes and some endearing moments, especially with Colin Firth, but it wasn't anything special.

Bette Midler plays her biological mother, and while it's entertaining, the character is no different from her past roles. Matthew Broderick is the soon to be ex-husband, who hasn't grown up. Colin Firth, although very neurotic in this, is the best one and he makes the film worth watching.

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Before the Rains (Linus Roache)

Linus Roache plays a British plantation owner in Imperialist ruled India in the 1930's. When his ambitions get the better of him, he winds up clashing with the local culture and laws, which causes serious problems for him and anyone around him.

Good film.

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Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny and June, Some Kind of Wonderful) directed this film, which starss Bruce Dern, Jayce Bartok (who also wrote the screenplay), Kristen Stewart (Twilight), Aaron Stanford (X-Men), Elizabeth Ashley and Talia Balsam.

Nice little film.
 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Very Belated Review: Stolen Summer

This film aired on TV the other day.  I had wondered why I had not heard of it before, given that it was a Project Greenlight inaugural production.  After watching it, I can see why I hadn't.  It's pretty bad.

I'm convinced this film was chosen By Ben Affleck and Matt Damon because they knew it would cause the audience to discuss it afterwards.  Personally, that only works if the subject matter is presented in a logical way, rather than make assumptions and leave out some key details.  The only discussions that came out of this were in the form of disgust over the obvious flaws in the film, and the insensitivity of the subject matter.

~Spoiler warning!  To better explain my views, I'm going to have to give away the ending.  So stop reading now if you'd rather not be spoiled.~

The film is about an 8 year-old Catholic boy named Pete O'Malley, who after constantly hearing from the nuns at school that he was destined for hell asks his brother what he can do to get to heaven.  His brother, who's only a year or two older than him, tells him that according to what he's learned in religion class, he has to convert a Jew and he'll go to heaven.

So Pete sets out to do just that.  He gets permission from a local Rabbi to set up a lemonade stand outside the synagogue, offering free lemonade in exchange for a trip to heaven.  No one takes him up on it, and even some members of the congregation are offended by it, telling the Rabbi that the boy's attempts to convince them to convert to Catholicism are offensive.  But the Rabbi doesn't mind.  He tells his secretary that the boy is making people think.

Events lead to the discovery that the Rabbi's son, Danny is ill with Leukemia, but in remission.  So Pete decides to help him get to heaven.  The film takes place in the 1970's when Bruce Jenner was famous for his olympic decathalon.  So Pete sets up his own decathalon for Danny to compete in.  The goal is to successfully complete each task in order to receive the "body of Christ" and eventually get to Heaven. Danny agrees to do it, because he wants to go there when he dies.

The kids are great.  The whole cast is fine. It's the writing that suffers greatly.  The plot suffers some truly gaping holes.  No one realizes that what Pete is doing is totally selfish.  He's attempting to convert Jews so that HE can go to heaven.  Yes, he claims he's helping Jews go to heaven, but it's really his own salvation he's worried about.  No one thinks that what he's doing is disrespectful to others.

No one asks him why he's doing this. No one tries to guide him and tell him that converting a Jewish person isn't the only way for someone to go to heaven.  Even his father at the end of the film tells him he's getting in anyway, so why bother trying to do any of the other good deeds a good Catholic child is expected to do?

His father tries to stop him, but uses ignorance and pride, which doesn't work.  His mother, on the other hand, thinks it's sweet that her son wants to convert someone, not even thinking of how touchy the subject might be to some people.  Not even the Priest nor the Rabbi ask him why he's doing it.  He just says it's his quest.

This film treads on the extremes.  On the one side is Pete's father who blatantly orders him not to go to the temple.  On the other are the religious leaders and Pete's mom who let him do whatever he wants.  There is no middle ground.

The problem with that is that Pete is not given any guidance or teaching.  The Rabbi holds back from giving him some insight to Judaism, and his mother lets him go do whatever he wants.  And his Priest is too jaded or fed up to care.  Not one of them tells him that there can be another way to go to heaven.  It's not like the quest is a big secret.  I'm all for allowing a child to dream and think and have an imagination, but the ignorance on both sides was upsetting and especially disappointing by the end of the film. With no pep talk, no role model and no guidance he'll just going to keep making mistakes in his life with his parents just chalking it up to him following his dreams. 

Even the most spiritually free people have had gurus and teachers to guide them.

Another gigantic flaw in this film is the inaccuracies of Judaism.  I'm Jewish and I can tell you that no one in my religion would be caught clasping their hands in front of them when praying.  That's a no-no.  Christians do this.  Jews do not.  So the shock of the Rabbi and his wife seeing their son cross himself at the dinner table is lessened by the shock of seeing them clasp their hands together to pray.  Terrible.

Also, the Rabbi tells Pete that Jews believe in heaven.  Is Pete too young to be told the truth?  Jews by tradition don't believe in heaven.  There is some debate as to what they believe happens after one dies, but heaven and hell are not among the common Jewish beliefs.

Then came the final act of the film.  Danny dies before he's had a chance receive communion.  He could have done it without insulting anyone, because the Priest tells Pete the bread he has wasn't blessed.  So essentially it would have just been bread (or a wafer).  But Danny is dead, so now we all have to be sad and be shown how Pete is the smartest most caring person in the whole film.  Say it with me, "Plot device!"

And, then, as if the Catholics weren't offended enough by the stereotypes in this movie, Pete tells the Rabbi that Jesus is just a symbol.  What?  Is this the moral lesson fellow Catholics are supposed to take from this film?  He also tells the Rabbi that because Jesus is a symbol the Jews should have one too, so theirs can be Danny (:::sob:::).  While the sentiment is nice, it only reminds us how sad the adults are in this film to miss the opportunity of supplementing his quest, rather than letting him go half blind with it.

Did he really teach anyone tolerance?  No.  He just brought everyone together.  It's Pete's mother who finally speaks up and with a threat to her husband of no more sex unless he shapes up.  Then once Danny dies (which is shortly thereafter), everyone turns a corner.  Pete's just the cute kid.  That's all.

How ironic that the boy who played Pete is Jewish and his father is a Rabbi.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Very late Review: Noise

If a film can be noisy without making noise, this one would be even without the noise it's implying.  And that's what films do these days.  They take a word and play on it.  So noise can be literal or it can be visual or it can be just the acting in general being just over the top.

And, yes, the acting was over the top.  And that's what really hurt this film.

Tim Robbins plays a Manhattan resident who is growing increasingly annoyed by the minute as car alarms disturb his peace.  When conventional methods to silence them doesn't work, he takes to a bat and destroys the offensive cars.

His maniacal antics are the crux of the film, but rather than being funny or amusing, they get just as annoying as the alarms themselves. 

William Hurt can't save this movie from it's lower depths.

Skip it.

Very Belated Review: Last Stop 174

When I go to film screenings, I prefer not to read the premise ahead of time.  I believe that doing so might ruin the surprise.  There have been times I have found myself either losing interest, because too much has been revealed in the synopsis, or I wind up expecting too much.  This doesn't happen often, but it has occurred on occasion, and so since I can't pick and choose what will be shown at a preview screening, I decide to be clueless about what is to unfold in front of my eyes.

Sadly, I can't avoid what the guest host (aka film critic) will say as part of their introduction to the film.  For Last Stop 174, the film critic set it up by telling us that the film was loosely based on a true story about a bus hijacker in Brazil.  We were warned that it was fiction, but the idea that it was about a hijacker, made it seem intriguing.

Sadly, it was anything but.  The hijacking doesn't happen on camera.  The last scene we see is him getting on the bus.  While this would work in a more interesting film, this one was far from it.  The buildup isn't worth the time spent sitting through the movie.  The plot dragged and there was nothing driving it forward.  One could argue that because I knew it was about a hijacker, I expected too much from it, but I disagree.  While I do concede that I would have been disappointed had it been a compelling film that ended the same way, I doubt I would have disliked it as much if it had a better plot.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Belated Review: Eat Pray Love

A friend of mine told me that I shouldn't see the film, but read the book instead.  I decided to watch it anyway, since it was on cable the other night.  It's not a bad film, but I felt something was lacking. 

I've noticed something interesting with films adapted from books.  They either skim the surface, because they assume everyone has read the book, or they skim the surface because they have a deal with the author to entice people to go and read the book after they've finished the movie.

Of course, not all film adaptations fall into this trap.  The Lord of the Rings and the very first Harry Potter film are a few of several who give the audience enough information to comprehend what's going on.  Then there are films like Seabiscuit which told a great story, but glossed over the background, leaving me feeling like they were just playing out highlights from the book.  The second Harry Potter film was much worse.  I couldn't follow it at all and felt lost without reading the novel.  I finally did read it along with two more, but I have yet to revisit the second film and found myself not needing the pre-read for the two follow-ups nor the ones since  (I haven't seen the last two yet, but I don't plan on reading the books beforehand, since I haven't needed to since the second film).

I sometimes feel that films that skim the surface are treating audiences the way a teacher would in a classroom the day after the students were assigned a chapter to read in the textbook.  The teacher would not recite, nor reenact the chapter, but they might give you the highlights or go over it in such a way that's geared to the students who wisely read that chapter the night before.

But a movie shouldn't be the teacher.  Granted, best-sellers adapted for films are more likely to have a knowing audience than not, but to assume that every single audience member has read the book prior to screening is like assuming that everyone thinks alike.  Sorry, but thankfully we don't.

That said, I have found a few recent films that are presented with the belief that everyone watching has read a synopsis about it, so they don't need to give a back-story in the film.  It's as if the producers said, "It's already covered in the synopsis, so why rehash it?  It saves film and devotes more time to the real story."  I don't know if anyone else has noticed it, but I have in a few occasions.  Frankly a movie should tell a story and not assume the audience's knowledge of the subject matter, whether it's adapted from a book or summarized on a poster or press release.

So films really should take this into account and be made to stand the test of time.  Don't assume we all know the story before we buy the tickets.

When it comes to adaptations, I prefer to read a book after seeing a film, because I'm sometimes disappointed with the outcome or find myself comparing the book to the film while I'm watching it.  So when I sit through a movie that feels like its missing something, I wonder if that's a marketing ploy to get me to read the book even more now.

With Eat Pray Love it worked, although I had planned to read it at some point anyway.

I like spiritual topics, so I wanted to be motivated and inspired by this film, but I wasn't.  Not that it was horrible.  I found it watchable and the characters entertaining, but it didn't have the spiritual depth I expected.  The wisdom sounded more like platitudes or fortune cookie sayings, rather than anything unique or inspiring.  Her return to Bali was a disappointment.  I didn't see the change in her from India.  There might have been in the book, but I didn't see it in her on screen.

I hope the book provides more enlightenment for me.  Again, the film was entertaining, but seemed to lack the heart I was looking for.

Belated Review: The Ghost Writer

When I first saw the trailer to this film I was intrigued.  I enjoy films with plots involving writers or English teachers, so this one seemed right up my alley, but then I read a few reviews and changed my mind.

While at a film screening for another movie, my screening companions told me they loved The Ghost Writer and that I should see it.  I finally got the chance last weekend during a free preview of Showtime on Demand.  So I sat back on Saturday afternoon and watched the film.

Sadly, I should have listened to the critics.

I found the film to be too slow-moving to make any impact once the truths were revealed.  There were also plenty of questions in relation to the plot holes by the end of it.

Sadly I don't recommend this film to anyone unless you're a big Ewan MacGregor fan.  Pierce Brosnan fans shouldn't bother as he is barely in it and what he does contribute is minimal at best.

The best thing to come out of this film is the posting on the IMDB message board titled "5 Things I learned from The Ghost Writer".  It's so true and hilarious.  Started in April of last year, it's still going strong with users adding more and more to what has become not five, but 37 things learned from watching  the film.  Click here to read it.  I would just add the following to the list:

38.  When tasked with only two weeks to rewrite a large manuscript, don't spend any time doing it despite feeling stressed out about it, but manage to pull it off on time.

39.  When you're handed another person's manuscript in a yellow bag and it's stolen from you in a mugging on the street, don't question the interesting coincidence of the news leak that happens later on, nor the fact that the manuscript was stolen to the person who gave it to you.  In fact, never bring it up again except to your agent after the mugging.

40.  When your politician husband - who relies on you to help him make decisions - is involved in a scandal and is speaking at press conferences, don't bother to go with him and stand by his side.

41.  If you're an ex-Prime Minister who is under scrutiny by the world, sit by a large window of your vacation home with your team so that everyone can see what's going on via helicopter.

42.  Take the time to show off the security system to the film audience, but never use it when it matters.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

I had mixed feelings about a Tintin film, since I had seen photographs from a live-action version when I was a child and wasn't impressed with it.  The characters looked like caricatures and not real people and that disappointed me.  However, when Stephen Spielberg explained his motivation for making the film, and when I heard that Peter Jackson was involved and was a huge fan of Tintin, it piqued my interest.

I've been a Tintin fan for over 30 years.  One thing I enjoy about the stories they appeal to people of all ages.  I find myself discovering new things every time I read them, especially since there were things that I didn't comprehend as well as a child.  Among other things, Captain Haddock's exclamations became funnier and funnier as I got older.

One thing that I enjoyed about the Tintin film was the way they depicted the friendship between Haddock and Tintin.  They captured it very well. I'm not sure how those new to Tintin felt about that unlikely friendship, but to me it worked.

Using scenes from Crab with the Golden Claws to introduce the pair was well done, especially given that this was my first introduction to Tintin as a child.  My very first Tintin book was Crab with the Golden Claws, and to this day I think it's a fitting introduction, despite the fact that there are several books that predate that one.  However, this one introduces Haddock.

There's plenty of action in the film, perhaps a bit too much, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment.  I do feel that we could have replaced one or two sequences with more character development, but since they're working on a sequel there will be time for that in the next film.

One thing that didn't add to the film was the 3-D technology.  So much was happening so fast, it was just too much to notice the 3-D effects, except in one or two scenes.  Perhaps it would be better for me to compare it to a 2-D version to understand the difference.  But right now I don't think the film needed to be in 3-D.

Fortunately, while I avoided most spoilers, I did read a couple which helped prevent me from being disappointed as I watched the film.  It helped my expectations.  One  tidbit came through in the trailers (and that Puppy Chow ad) and that was Captain Haddock's Scottish accent.  Most Tintin fans never considered him Scottish, so that was a surprise, but knowing it ahead of time allowed me a chance to accept it before seeing the film.

The other tidbit was that Calculus is not in the film.  I won't get into how they acheived this, but since he'll be the focus of the sequel and since it was important to introduce Tintin, Haddock, Snowy and the Thom/pson Twins, it made sense.

 Overall I liked the film and would like to see it again.  I'll definitely get the DVD.