Monthly Archives: August 2012
With this gripping film, we return to a theme I covered previously: Are some people simply born evil or is it something they learn? When the media covers a story, depending on the spin; we can believe a person is innocent or guilty. I find especially true these days, a news story gets twisted in a positive or negative way based on the news station’s affiliations. One of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) wrote and directed this intense docudrama about a group of soldiers manning a military checkpoint in an Iraqi town. I had a hard time remembering this was a fictional piece; it seemed so real to me. The idea of having soldier Angel Salazar, played by Izzy Diaz (If I Had Known I Was a Genius, several various TV show episodes), documenting his time by video taping it, was brilliant. We were able to see what Angel was recording through his viewfinder. It was fascinating to see how some of his informal scenes were later covered by the media. Witnessing fellow soldiers B.B Rush’s and Reno Flake’s, played by Daniel Stewart Sherman (The Briefcase, Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and Patrick Carroll (several various TV show episodes), heinous behavior was disturbing. I wondered if they always had that type of behavior or if it came on due to the environment. One of my best friend’s brothers never spoke of his time overseas during the Viet Nam War. I was always curious what life was like for him. In truth, the only ideas I have of military life in battle is what I have seen on the news. After watching this movie, should I assume war nourishes the seeds of evil in some individuals? Blurring the line between fact and fiction, this haunting story could easily be someone’s nightmare. Bloody, violent scenes.
3 stars — DVD
If you have been unplugged from this movie’s marketing machine, you may not be aware this was Whitney Houston’s final performance. Though I do not see how that could be possible; the studio has been promoting it nonstop. As I watched Whitney on screen, I was sad this was to be my final memory of her. In this movie remake, Whitney (The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale) played the deeply religious mother Emma, to three talented daughters. My parents taught me not to speak ill towards the dead, but then I would not be able to review this dramatic film. I will say it was good to see Whitney sober. Her acting was not exceptional and though the director did everything possible to make Whitney’s big solo number spectacular, the voice I remember was not there. The story set in the 1960’s was about the three daughters forming a singing group, in spite of their mother’s wishes. Youngest daughter Sparkle, played by Jordin Sparks in her first starring role, was the songwriter of the group. Jordin was the youngest winner of American Idol, a singing competition reality show. As for her acting ability, there was none. I found Jordin to be a poor choice for the role. The oldest sister called Sister, played by Carmen Ejogo (Pride and Glory, Away We Go), handled the most dramatic parts of the film. There were no surprises in this musical movie and I found the slow story incomplete. For example, I never understood why Whitney’s character was so strict and distrustful; both of the girls and the music industry. For me personally, I would have preferred remembering Whitney Houston from her younger days. It was sad to see an older, puffy version of a lost talent.
1 3/4 stars
In these days of auto-tuning and lip synching, I miss hearing the pureness in a singer’s voice. I can understand as audiences expect bigger and bigger stage shows, very few artists can keep up with the demands of singing and dancing on stage for up to 2 hours. Lip synching has become a given at many of today’s concerts. I miss the days where you would have a Tina Turner or Bette Midler on stage, drenched in sweat, after having just sung live for almost 3 hours. Hearing the songs in this documentary reminded me of those good old days. Singer-songwriter Rodriguez released a couple of records back in the 1970’s. Their sales went nowhere and Rodriguez faded away. In a time before MP3 players or digital downloads, bootleg recordings of his music eventually made their way down to South Africa. His songs ignited the hearts of the South African people, making Rodriguez more popular than Elvis. As years passed, rumors began to spread about the singer’s death. This outstanding movie was about two South African men, who began a journey to find out the truth about this gifted artist and his life. With a voice that sounded like James Taylor to me, I was immediately drawn into the mystery of this man’s life. There were stories spread of Rodriguez being on stage as he doused himself with gasoline and setting himself ablaze. Or, after singing a song he pulled out a gun and shot himself; the tales got bigger and bigger. I loved hearing his daughters talk about their youth, growing up with such a humble man for a father. This documentary worked well on many levels; from a historical perspective, to steady pacing, to what I felt was the greatest part of the story–a pure artist who sang for the love of it.
3 1/2 stars
There have been many discussions about whether a man and woman can maintain a friendship after being a couple. In my world it has happened, easily for the most part. The girl I dated in 8th grade is still one of my closest friends today. In other relationships, there had to be a time of separation before the friendship could continue forward. I have always felt just because the love aspect did not work out, why would I remove myself from the other facets of the person, that were in synch with mine. Granted, when it comes to the issue of trust being broken, it can be very challenging to proceed with the friendship. I found this movie to be one of the smarter ones to deal with a couple’s separation. Celeste and Jesse, played by Rashida Jones (The Big Year, Our Idiot Brother) and Andy Samberg (That’s My Boy, Friends With Benefits), were going through a divorce while maintaining a close friendship with each other. On a personal level I have seen where that has been hard to do, but I gave credit to Rashida and her writing partner Will McCormack for making this intelligent story more believable. I expected Rashida to be good in this dramatic comedy and was not disappointed. The surprise for me was Andy showing more of a dramatic, serious side than his usual comedic talents. During the scenes where each character talked about seeing other people for dating, I felt they were true to life. The secondary story with Emma Roberts (Valentine’s Day, Nancy Drew) as pop star Riley had a surprise twist to it. Let us face it, relationships take some work; you have to give Celeste and Jesse extra points for working harder at it.
What does our physical age really mean? If we are 66 years old, does that mean we cannot enjoy ourselves on a roller coaster? Or what if we were 15 years old; we should not consider climbing Mt. Everest? I have always felt the body was rented, including its daily changes. What was inside was always more important for me and I acted accordingly, never wanting to limit myself. I just try to take pleasure out of the things I do without paying much mind to other people’s notions of how I should act. This beautiful movie really turns our ideas of aging upside down. Benjamin Button, played by Brad Pitt (Moneyball, Fight Club), was abandoned at birth by his father. Though he was just born, Benjamin appeared to be a tiny, elderly man. Believing he would not live long, no one wanted anything to do with the unusual baby. No one that is except for the loving Queenie, played by Taraji P. Henson (Think Like a Man, Date Night), a worker at a senior citizens home. She took in Benjamin as her own son. It was at this home where a resident’s granddaughter named Daisy took an interest in the curious child. Though the movie was long, I was never bored. For me, it felt more like it was of an episodic nature; like watching a book coming to life on the big screen. The film followed the mature Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett (Robin Hood, The Lord of the Rings franchise), as she grew older through the years; while the elderly Benjamin continued to grow younger with each passing year. Everyone was wonderful in their roles, with each pristine scene looking as if it were a part of a family’s cherished photo album. A magnificent movie that showed age to be whatever you wanted it to be.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
I make it a point to never talk about religion or politics in my classes. Having been a witness to verbal assaults between people of opposing views, I find such behavior silly. In this age of reality television shows, how long before you think we will subject political candidates to a televised obstacle course or quiz show format? In this political year, here are two candidates who certainly would add some spice to any election race. Cam Brady, played by Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Blades of Glory), was running unopposed for reelection. Two CEOs from a large corporation, looking for someone who would be in favor of legislation beneficial to their company, threw their money behind local tourist guide Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis (Due Date, The Hangover franchise). With Marty in the race, the campaign quickly heated up into an over the top battle–not so dissimilar from any current reality show competition. I laughed at several scenes during this comedic satire. Though I am not a fan of Will Ferrell, i found his limited acting ability worked to his advantage, in his role as the pandering incumbent. With everything these days being marketed to death, I found some of the looniness in this film not much different from what our political candidates must go through before any photo op or stump speech. The uncomplicated story was well served with the actors’ comedic talents. When the movie ended, I wondered what it would be like if we made every person with political aspirations go on a game show. Besides winning valuable gifts or prize money to fund their campaigns, we would really see what these people were made of. Stay through the first set of credits.
2 3/4 stars
Based on the popular fantasy book trilogy, this story came to life in this fun movie. I actually read the book Inkheart and thought it was a wonderfully creative story. Only if you have read the book, would you be disappointed with this movie. But on the bright side; if you have not read the books, then you would be comfortable seeing this magical tale filled with action, drama and thrills. What made a big difference for me was the great cast. Brendan Fraser (Crash, Furry Vengeance) is the perfect go to guy for these types of roles–fatherly in a large teddy bear way with cartoonish facial expressions. Playing Mortimer aka Mo, he was believable as the gifted reader who could bring characters to life. Let me rephrase that: when Mo reads from a book, the characters really materialize in person. There is a down side to this special talent, however. Someone living in the current world has to take the story book character’s place. Mo with his daughter Meggie, played by Eliza Bennett (Nanny McPhee, Perfect Life) has been searching for the book he read years ago that trapped his wife into its story. With the addition of Paul Bettany (Margin Call, Legion) as Dustfinger and Helen Mirren (The Debt, The Last Station) as Elinor, the actors made this pleasant movie more exciting. I just wish the film had followed the book’s story better. Having said that, I would not have paid full price to see this film in the theaters; but on DVD, it was an enjoyable time.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
I was most appreciative for the genetics lesson given by Dr. Marta Shearing, during this suspense movie. However, what I really could have used was an organizational chart for all the different top secret departments involved in this story. As you have heard from the movie trailers, Jason Bourne was not the only one; we are introduced to Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers). It was fortunate the studio chose him for this role; another actor may not have been able to make the poorly written story palatable. The writers wove the previous movies’ story lines into this updated version. All I understood was the program that created Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross was under investigation. We first met Aaron out in the wilderness, in the middle of a survival test, unaware of the agency’s troubles. I understood this movie would be more of an introduction for us; however, there was too much of it. Instead of grabbing the viewer’s attention early on, the story plodded along until Cross and Dr. Shearing, played by Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea, The Brothers Bloom) became the main focus. And lucky for us they were because both of them were strong actors that kept the story going forward. I expected to see more action than what finally came into play in the latter half of the movie. When there were fight scenes, they went by so quickly, I did not know if Aaron ever had a punch land on him. Planning a sequel was certainly on the minds of everyone involved with this film; I just wished they would have cut down on the introductions and given us a clearer, more exciting story.
2 2 /3 stars
That sinking feeling, where your heart is at it’s breaking point, when the person you love makes it clear your love has not been enough, it can be devastating. I have been on both sides of that love equation and either way it sucks. One thing I have learned from my experiences, has been to change the routine that we were following and get into a new regime designed solely for me. This was the movie’s premise. Amanda Woods, played by Cameron Diaz (My Sister’s Keeper, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), discovered her live-in boyfriend cheated on her. Iris Simpkins, played by Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland, Revolutionary Road), was shocked when the man she loved became engaged to another woman. As if they were following my advice, the two women were pushed to the brink and had to make a change. While looking online for ideas on where to take a vacation, Amanda discovered a home exchange vacation website. And the house she chose to exchange with was Iris’ home in England, far away from her LA place. But the online pictures did not show the women what type of extra amenities could be found in their new locations. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Though the story was easy to figure out, with very few surprises; I thought the acting and directing was exceptionally good. Jude Law (Repo Men, Sleuth) did exceedingly well in his role as Graham, Iris’ brother. What gave this movie extra punch for me was the secondary story about old time Hollywood. Maybe you and I don’t have the luxury to take a swapping house vacation, to get away from a broken heart; but, this appealing movie certainly would provide a respite, giving the heart some needed nourishment.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
Though Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Bernie) bares his posterior again with this movie, he is not accepting your dollar bills. Oh no, he is taking much more here. As Killer Joe Cooper, Matthew was this creepy, menacing character who was a police detective with a little business on the side. He was a hired killer. It was one of the best performances I have seen out of him. Right now thinking about some of his scenes sent a shudder of dread through me. Hired by deeply in debt Chris Smith, played by Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk), to kill his mother for the life insurance money; Joe Cooper extracted much more than what this trailer trash dysfunctional family had planned. As you just read the previous sentences, I am certain you will be stunned to learn as I was, that this film was part comedy. The utterly outrageous predicaments filmed in a raw yet beautiful way by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) gave this movie a film noir look and feel to it. The entire cast was excellent, particularly Gina Gershon (P.S. I Love You, Bond) as Chris’ stepmother Sheila Smith; who was okay with the murder plot against her husband’s first wife. Adapted from his own play, Tracy Letts (August: Osage County, Bug) wrote the screenplay. This crime thriller’s NC-17 rating was well deserved with its brutal bloody violence, nudity and foul language. In other words, this is one of those movies you will either love or hate. In one moment I would cringe at a scene, to immediately burst out in laughter in the following; this was one intense wild movie. If you have the stomach for this type of film, you may very well be a witness to future Oscar nominees Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch.