Monthly Archives: October 2012
Happy Halloween to you and for your treat I have a special movie for today’s review. I still have a vivid memory of where I was when I first saw this fun horror film. My family was vacationing with my aunt and her family at a summer resort in Michigan. This movie was being shown in a recreation room that had dark paneled walls and stale popcorn. I remember my cousins and I being frightened of the evil sorcerer. Little did we know that when viewing this movie as adults it would be so campy. Bumbling magician Dr. Adolphus Bedlo, played by Peter Lorre (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon), had crossed paths with the evil Dr. Scarabus, played by Boris Karloff (The Mummy, Arsenic & Old Lace), who turned the poor man into a raven. In need of someone with strong magical powers Dr. Bedlo sought out Dr. Erasmus Craven, played by Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands, Theater of Blood), who was the son of a powerful magician. Though Dr. Craven stopped practicing magic, he agreed to help the raven when he discovered who was being held by Dr. Scarabus. It would take a monumental tsunami of wizardry skill to break the spell and survive Dr. Scarabus’ evil power. For the time this movie was made the special effects were fun; keeping in mind nothing in it compares to today’s standards. It was obvious the actors were relishing their roles as these titans of terror were being pitted against each other. Notice Dr. Adolphus Bedlo’s son was played by a young Jack Nicholson (The Shining, Chinatown). Director Roger Corman (Bloody Mama, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) did a good job of mixing horror with comedy. This was a light hearted romp with stellar stars letting themselves go and enjoying the experience. Get your favorite snack and I will tell you what I say to all of my classes on this day: “Eat without guilt!”
2 1/2 stars — DVD
One year ago today I started this movie/dvd review blog. Every day since I posted a new review and today I want to thank all of you for your support, your likes, your twitters and your comments. At first I had no goal or dream for these reviews. But as time went on a dream formed inside of me and it has been my motivation. I am so proud to say I stayed focused and committed to doing these reviews and reached my dream: I have written a review every single day for an entire year. I know what some may say, but I say why wrestle with one’s obsessions when they can easily shake hands with them. Starting this new year I plan on continuing to introduce you to new and old movies, with the hope of being able to still surprise you at times. Also know that if a day should pass without a review, do not worry. I am fine but before my house is picked to audition for an episode of some hoarding show, I need to address the mountain of magazines growing on the floor, the pile of unopened CD’s multiplying on the dining room table and the mounds of papers sprouting in the most unusual places. Once again thank you from the deepest place in my heart. Let us go see what is playing at the movies!
Before I talk about this movie I need you to know that I rarely pay attention to what a person looks like–unless there is some hygiene thing going on. Whether tall or short, big or small, blonde or black, glasses or not; the surface of an individual has no bearing on what type of human being they can be. For me, what is inside of a person means more to me, for example a good heart and a kind soul. With that being said, I found watching Helen Hunt (As Good as it Gets, Mad About You-TV) to be a bit disturbing. Her plastic surgery has given her the appearance of a Klingon. I do not understand why she felt the need to alter her appearance. The other issue I had, which I know is more valid in reviewing this film, was the continuous loss of her Boston accent for her character Cheryl. Inspired from a true story, Cheryl was a sex surrogate hired for an unusual job. Mark O’Brien, played incredibly by John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Perfect Storm), was a polio victim who only had the ability to move his head. Using an iron lung to help him breath and a gurney as his only means of transport, Mark had the blessing of Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy (Fargo, The Cooler), to try and lose his virginity. Cheryl and Mark would discover the journey was more important than the end results. This movie could have been a downer, but the witty script and flowing direction kept the story moving along in a charming way. John Hawkes was amazing in this challenging role, able to convey feelings and emotions simply with his face and words. I found this engaging Sundance Film Festival winner to be a testament to the mind being stronger than the body and the heart giving us our humanity.
One of my favorite trips was going to Italy. Every block I walked felt as if I was traveling back in time; seeing statues and buildings I had only seen in history books. It was mind-blowing for me. I gained a new appreciation for fresh unprocessed food. Tomatoes’ sweet juice oozed down my cheek when I bit into them. The nightly dessert of gelato would evoke a deep sigh of contented pleasure as smooth chilled creaminess coated my tongue and teeth, leaving a memory that it once resided in my mouth. Oh, excuse me; let me get back on track to doing a movie review and not a descriptive list of everything I ate while visiting that great country. Right from the start I knew this dramatic film could not be bad. Set in Milan, there were gorgeous scenes of the city and countryside with a particular focus on the art of food presentation. A wealthy family came together to celebrate the birthday of the family’s patriarch. When granddaughter Elisabetta Recchi, played by Alba Rohrwacher (Come Undone, The Man Who Will Come), gave her grandfather an unexpected birthday gift, the viewer was given their first clue on the impending turmoil bubbling up just under the surface of the family’s calm proper veneer. Elisabetta’s mother Emma, played by Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Michael Clayton), could give up only so much after having left Russia to marry into the powerful Recchi family. This stylish beautiful movie unfolded like a high end soap opera, filled with passion and turmoil. Tilda was wonderful in the role and I admired her ability to speak fluent Italian and Russian for her character. Parts of the story seemed contrived to me; making several scenes easily predictable. However, the moody atmospheric filming of stunning Italy not only made me hungry for the outcome of the story; it made me aware of my desire to return to a pure and fresh way of living. Italian and Russian with English subtitles.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
Some years ago for my birthday I received a gift of a reading from a psychic. Before going into the session I was told to remember the things that did not make sense to me. One thing said, that had no meaning for me, was her seeing me standing in a room surrounded by people dressed in funny outfits, moving to music. This was said several years prior to me attending, let alone teaching, an aerobic class. She also said I should pay particular attention to any person with red hair, for they have something to offer me. To this day I still think of that whenever I am introduced to a red haired person. Part of my reading delved into what she referred to as my past lives. According to her I was a spy in a previous life, so I would have easy access to two opposing forces. I was an educator and a leader along with being skilled in the use of a crossbow. Though I may not have understood everything told to me, I walked away with the idea that a person keeps returning to this world again and again until they complete their challenge correctly. This same notion could be applied to this expansive movie. With multiple stories set in the past, present and future; the actors took on several roles in this visual extravaganza. Leaving you to figure out which star was playing what role, part of the cast had Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne, Charlie Wilson’s War), Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, Monster’s Ball), Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, Another Year) and Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, The Lovely Bones). Adding in the previews, this 3 hour viewing was too much, trying too hard to be a saga for the ages. Some of the stories were more interesting to me; I would have rather seen an entire movie made out of one of them. There was pressure for me to keep up with each story line as the film kept jumping back and forth, seeing no connection between them at first. I felt everyone associated with the making of this film was spread too thin, which made for a meandering stream of babble at times. For me it seemed as if the writers and directors were deliberately obtuse, leaving this pseudo epic film open to multiple interpretations. The message I walked away with was we are all connected, with our actions having a timeless effect throughout the centuries. I got the same message from the psychic in a lot less time without the fear of my bladder exploding.
2 2/3 stars
I used to have a love/hate relationship with trains growing up. As a little kid I never wanted to sit by the windows when the train was above ground. I thought my weight would tip the train over, so I always tried to stay close to the center of the train car. Talk about having a poor self image as a little overweight child. Only when the train would go below ground would I finally relax, since I felt the dark tunnels we traveled would always keep us upright. At least that is how I rationalized it. These days when I travel to a new city I make a point of always using their public transportation; it makes me feel like an adventurer. Seeing a trailer for this action film, I thought I could easily roll with the story. I still get a kick out of the train rides at amusement parks, so this movie looked like it would be an exciting thrill ride. Inspired by true events, human error caused an unmanned freight train to leave the yard, with its cargo of toxic chemicals. With no air brakes the train would continue to pick up speed until it derailed, causing a life threatening disaster. If seasoned engineer Frank, played by Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, American Gangster), along with young conductor Will, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek, People Like Us), had any chance to stop a tragedy from occurring, they would have to work together in a race against time. At the start I enjoyed the no nonsense approach the director took in setting up the basis of the story. I was curious to see how the action would be sustained, since in my mind a train seemed like it would have less exciting options than if the story was about a hijacked or crippled airplane. It was a false concern; the action kept a steady pace as the tension grew incrementally. The acting was nothing special to me. Denzel was doing his Denzel method, being on autopilot while Chris did not bring anything new to the table. I thought Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Sin City) did a good job as Connie who worked at the train operating center. This film is fine for those who want to experience the thrill of an amusement park ride without waiting in line.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
Going away to college was a liberating experience for me. Where a majority of fellow high school seniors planned attending the state school, I chose to go out of state. Moving to a place where no one knew me seemed the safest thing to do. Surrounded by people who had similar interests to mine was exciting. For one of my required courses I was responsible for the upkeep of a horse named Daiquiri. Doing so allowed me free horseback riding lessons which I thought made be cool looking. In this educational world I learned more about myself and felt I was coming back to life. There was nothing better than acquiring knowledge and being allowed to express myself. These feelings were rekindled as I watched this sweet touching film. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother-TV, Not Another Teen Movie) deserves credit since he was the director, writer and star of this fresh thoughtful film. He played Jesse Fisher; a 30 something, recently single guy. When favorite college professor Peter Hoberg, played by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, The Cabin in the Woods), invited him to his retirement party, Jesse agreed to travel back to his alma mater. The return to campus sparked fond memories in Jesse. When introduced to college student Zibby, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene; Peace, Love and Misunderstanding), Jesse was taken by surprise with the strong connection that quickly formed between the two of them. Despite their age difference, both discovered they could still learn something from each other. This film had more to offer than what was shown in the trailer. I loved Elizabeth Olsen; she and Richard Jenkins were simply special with their acting. A surprise for me was seeing Zac Efron in this film and liking him for a change. This slice of college life with its sense of discovery, emotional upheaval and life’s lessons could easily make you want to enroll in school again.
My dark side flourished with evilness when I was younger. If I felt I had been crossed or had my trust broken, I would not walk away. Instead I would go on the attack. At a former company there was a co-worker who was friendly to my face, but then would go out of her way to put me down in front of management for her own gain. I decided if it was not business related I would not make a response to any of her actions, pretending she no longer existed. To drive the point home, whenever I brought a food treat into the office; i offered it to every single person but her. I discovered it drove her crazy, so I kept it up for 1 1/2 years. Looking back I realize my behavior was childish, but at the time it felt so good to do. Whether in a movie or real life I always vote for the bad person to get their just desserts. That is why this classic movie was so much fun to watch. Everything was precisely put into place from cast to story to director in creating this brilliant film. The time was the 1930’s in the midwest and young con artist Johnny Hooker, played by Robert Redford (The Natural, The Way We Were), wanted to get revenge on powerful gangster Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw (Jaws, A Man for All Seasons), for ordering the hit on Johnny’s best friend. Knowing his limitations, Johnny needed help from master con artist Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke, Road to Perdition). The two men came up with an elaborate plan to get back at Lonnegan, hurting him where it mattered most. I have nothing negative to say about this dramatic comedy. With a wonderful score by Scott Joplin to the distinct titled segments; the Oscar winning movie was filled with surprise twists. From the outstanding acting, directing and writing; this cinematic treasure delivered pure good justice.
4 stars — DVD
There was a running joke in my family regarding our inheritance being the jar of buttons our mother got from her mother. I remember that jar; it was stored on a shelf in the back of my mother’s closet. The interesting thing about that jar was the variety of stories attached to each of the buttons residing inside that glass container. There was a small pearl button that was from the sweater of my mother’s older sister, who died in her teens. My great aunt was represented by a black onyx octagon shaped button that I recalled weighed heavy in my palm. For me, buttons represent a family’s history. In this dramatic film, buttons take on a whole different meaning. Set in two small towns during the Nazi occupation of France, there was a rivalry between the kids from each town. Though Lebrac, played by newcomer Jean Texier, was a poor student in the classroom; he was a quick learner in the art of battle, as leader of his gang. With each gang coming up with elaborate ways to ambush the other; the victors started to cut and keep the buttons from one of the losing boy’s clothing. When new girl Violette, played by Ilona Bacheller (Those Happy Days), came to live with her godmother Simone, played by Laetitia Casta (Arbitrage, The Island), her Jewish faith would add a real element into the boys’ plans. Inspired by stories from the resistance, I thought the outline of this movie would make an interesting story. Unfortunately, the movie was too melodramatic for me; with an annoying, syrupy music score. A secondary story line between Simone and the school teacher, played by Guillaume Canet (Tell No One, Love Me if You Dare) was never fully developed, adding only confusion. For a time and place that could have created a well done dramatic story, this film was like a spare button sewed to the inside hem of a shirt. It was only needed when there was a missing button. In other words, there are better films to see in this genre than this movie. French with English subtitles.
Still in the glow from my recent 4 star review of Argo, I decided to visit Ben Affleck’s (Argo, Smokin’ Aces) previous directorial effort. Having traveled out east for many years, the setting and mood of this film was quite familiar to me. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bostonian swagger; it has to do with a single mindfulness and toughness. When I first started visiting Boston it was evident that there were invisible boundary lines between neighborhoods. There was an intense loyalty on display from the residents for their community. Granted with Ben growing up in the area this was not a stretch for him to recreate that same brotherhood in this movie. The story was about a group of bank robbing friends. When a heist did not go as exactly planned; bank employee Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Frost/Nixon), was taken hostage for a brief time. Concerned she could still reveal clues about the heist to special agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men-TV, Friends With Kids); Ben’s character Doug MacRay decided to keep an eye on her by following her around. What better way than to somehow innocently make her acquaintance. However, when his worry turned into affection for her; would he be putting his gang into jeopardy? I could see Ben’s directing style clearer here now that I have seen his recent stint with Argo. He has a good eye for what creates tension in a scene. The pacing was steady as he balanced big action scenes with a kind gentleness. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy) brought a manic bravado to his fellow robber character James Coughlin. I enjoyed the way Ben and Jeremy played off of each other. It is apparent to me that Ben’s skilled directing is no fluke. I venture to say he will be known more for his directing than acting in the years to come. Scenes with violence and blood.
3 stars — DVD