Monthly Archives: May 2013
Residing in one of the rooms of my mind are colorful balloons, each one filled with a dream of mine. In my 20’s the room was nearly full with all types of balloons. Some had streamers of anticipation attached while others floated high above on the currents of hope. Through the years I would periodically enter this place to pick up the shriveled balloons of broken dreams, strewn across the floor. Replacing them with new dreams that would inflate fresh balloons, I would sit back to watch them gently rise to the others above me. The room is not as full as it used to be, but I still can recall my past dreams. Young, full of aspirations and dreams was the colorful Frances, played by Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, Lola Versus). In her late 20’s she still had hopes of being a dancer, having a fabulous place in New York City, finding real love and to always have Sophie; played by Mickey Sumner (Last Chance Harvey, Missed Connections), as her best friend. Despite the changes that took place in life, Frances continued to hold onto her optimism. Filmed in black and white, this dramatic comedy showed the perfect slice of Frances’ daily life. Directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) and written by him and Greta, they really conveyed the essence of life’s ups and downs. This was Greta’s best performance to date; I found her character to be honest and real. Besides her’s and Mickey’s endearing performances, Michael Esper (All Good Things, Loggerheads) as Dan, Adam Driver (Lincoln, J. Edgar) as Lev and Michael Zegen (The Box, Adventureland) as Benji also did justice to the smart script. There was a wonderful style and vibe to this movie; in a way, it had the flavor of a Woody Allen movie but for a younger generation. No matter what reality may bring, dreams are the fuel to propel us forward.
3 1/2 stars
One of the purest forms of innocence can be found in a small child. Without the opinions, prejudices or hatred that can be found in adults; children have the ability to be all inclusive. For that reason it is tragic when a child pays the price for an adult’s war. There is one kind of war that involves bullets and bombs, which is horrifying enough. But there is another type of war and this one involves only two adults–the mother and father of the child. It saddens me when I see one parent using their child as a pawn in a fight against the other parent. I cannot bring to mind anything uglier than a couple sacrificing their child for their own personal gain. Because of the excellent acting in this drama, it made watching this film harder for me. Updating this Henry James story to modern day New York City; the plot was about aging rock star Susanna’s, played by Julianne Moore (Being Flynn, A Single Man) bitter divorce battle with her husband Beale, played by Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Our Idiot Brother). All of this is seen through the eyes of their young daughter Maisie, played by relative newcomer Onata Aprile. For such a young girl, her face easily conveyed the emotions she was feeling. A surprise for me was watching Alexander Skarsgard (Battleship, True Blood-TV) as Lincoln. Familiar with his towering vampire role on True Blood, I was impressed with his acting ability in this film. Alexander’s character was one of the strongest in the cast. I could have used more background information on the characters, but it was a minor complaint. It would be hard not to get involved in the story with the strong emotions playing out on screen. All one could do is hope Maisie does not become another casualty of war.
I do not know what you would call it exactly, but there is a certain freedom in being able to say anything I want when reviewing a movie. All I am doing is expressing my opinions and feelings, the same as any other reviewer. No matter what I write, I know there will be no retaliation from the movie studio. It would never occur to me that someone associated with a movie that I rated would go after me or a member of my family. I am fortunate to live in a country that gives its people the right to speak their mind. I have to tell you though, after seeing this film I am not that sure anymore. It was one thing to be familiar with the story when it actually was in the news; but it was another to watch the story unfold on film. In the capable hands of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), this political thriller was frightening to me. Using each of their books as a basis; Doug created a taut suspenseful film about CIA operative Valerie Plame, played by Naomi Watts (The Impossible, J. Edgar) and her American diplomat husband Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn (Gangster Squad, Milk). After Joe wrote a disparaging article, critical of the current political administration, government officials decided to expose Valerie’s cover. Naomi and Sean were so good in their roles and in their relationship to each other; I felt they were channeling the real individuals. By showing the couple’s home life with their children, it only added more intensity to the horror of their situation. After watching this movie I was left thinking about what life would be like if no one was allowed to speak their mind. We would be left with what George Orwell told us about, a world ruled by Big Brother.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
Being the designated driver for some of my friends, I have been stuck staying at a nightclub until closing time. When the lights came on I was stunned how the entire place radically changed. When we first arrived at the club there were colored strobe lights sparking everywhere, narrow spotlights searching the dance floor while a cool, low fog circulated around our feet. At the end of the evening the room was flooded with harsh white light, exposing stained dark walls and a floor littered with confetti and crepe paper streamers. Some of it was clumped together on parts of the floor where drinks were spilled. At one of the leather clad booths along the wall, there was a passed out patron. As you can see it was not a pretty picture. The same could be said for this tired film. Consider this movie the last call of the franchise. Phil, Stu and Justin; played by Bradley Cooper (Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook), Ed Helms (Cedar Rapids, The Office-TV) and Justin Bartha (National Treasure franchise, The Rebound); participated in an intervention for Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign, Due Date). On the way to the treatment center; the Wolfpack was ambushed by Marshall, played by John Goodman (Argo, Flight). Holding Doug as hostage; Marshall gave the rest of the gang three days to find Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong (Community-TV, Pain & Gain). The story was one dimensional; in other words, it seemed as if they planned the jokes first, then wrote the story around them. The problem was the lack of humor; the jokes were utterly stale. Using Alan’s questionable feelings towards Phil as a continuous joke quickly became old. The character of Mr. Chow derived his humor by being inappropriate for these politically correct times. When the first movie came out it was a novel and fresh idea. I found the film to be dreary and lazy. Consider this film a reminder to never stay beyond last call.
1 3/4 stars
I return to the race track, ready to take on my all to familiar opponent. We have raced many times before. My silver car has a lightning bolt across its hood. As the timer reaches zero, I gun the car and off we go. The first curve is easy, followed by a short straightaway. My rival is matching my every move as our cars are side by side. I know the next curve leads to a short drop; I have to be careful not to let the car jump to high off the pavement. Just as I come out of the turn; my nemesis’ car swings wide, its back end tapping my side panel. If I had not braked immediately, my car would have skidded off the track. Because of that bump my slot car loses to my cousin’s car. Anytime I was over at his house, we would immediately head out to the slot car shop to race our cars. That thrill of speeding returned while watching this high octane action film. I barely remember the previous installments of this franchise and it was okay. This story picked up where the last movie ended; with their $100 million dollars Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, The Chronicles of Riddick), and his friends were scattered around the world, enjoying life. The only thing missing for the group was being able to go back home to the States. One day the one person who could offer them the opportunity to go home showed up at Dom’s place. Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain, Snitch), needed Dom and his gang to get behind the wheel again and track down the mastermind behind the team of precision driving thieves, stealing highly classified government secrets. The dialog was kept to a minimum, making room for insane driving stunts and crazy fights. The automobiles were the real stars of this movie. Humor was used as an additive for some of the scenes, mostly handled by Tyrese Gibson (Transformers franchise, The Take) as Roman and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tropic Thunder, No Strings Attached) as Tej. I liked the fact that this film kept things simple; the focus was on the action, accompanied by a straight forward story about the things people do for the sake of their family. Fast cars was the hook for me; but then again, I know a thing or two about speed. My guess is I am the only person you have ever met who received a speeding ticket in a national park. A few very brief scenes with blood.
The best part of the forest for me is the darkest place. Passing the wooden sentries, I look for the area where leaves have formed a confetti sky above me. In the quiet stillness, when the sun is at the right angle, a single ray of light will infiltrate the darkness. I love to see that single bright strand illuminate a tiny patch of ground; noticing almost microscopic sized, feathery objects floating briefly through the light. It is wonderful to witness; seeing the forest teaming with life. In this animated adventure, the forest was home to a magical world of creatures. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Carnage) was flawless voicing the evil leader Mandrake. With the fate of the forest dangling in the balance, Mandrake was determined to overcome the forest’s protector Queen Tara, played beautifully by Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls, Cadillac Records). The basic story was about good and evil. What set this one apart from others was its creativity. First there was the imaginative and colorful characters of the forest. Next was the use of actors with distinctive voices like Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Seven Psychopaths) as Ronin and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia, The Big Wedding) as Mary Katherine. I never thought in my lifetime I would hear Steven Tyler of Aerosmith voice a cartoon character as he did here, playing Nim Galuu. The movie was stunning to watch and had an engaging soundtrack, thanks to American composer Danny Elfman (Men in Black franchise, The Nightmare Before Christmas). While I was watching this film I was aware the children in the audience were sitting quietly, intently watching the screen. There was action, comedy, adventure and romance; something for everyone. The next time I walk through a forest, there will be no way I cannot think about the memorable creatures from this fantasy world.
Some of the best family stories are the ones that border on the edge between reality and fantasy. With so many storytellers in my family telling and rehashing family events, one has to question the validity of the tales being told. One story I remember hearing had to do with a great uncle of mine. Furious at a nephew who was mistreating another nephew of his, my great uncle broke into the house of his nephew, catching him in the middle of taking a bath. It did not stop my great uncle. He went right up to him, pointed a gun at his head and told him to leave the other nephew alone. My great uncle turned around and walked out of the bathroom, leaving the frightened nephew sitting in a ever expanding pool of yellowed water. Now how much of that was true, I will never know. Truthfulness aside, I love the use of story telling to pass down a family’s history through each generation. Oscar nominated writer/director Sally Polley (Mr. Nobody, Dawn of the Dead) had a gold mine of family stories to sift through in making this remarkable documentary. Using actual footage and reenactments of family events alongside interviews with family and friends, the film was not your typical documentary; it played like a good dramedy with a wild story. Sally’s mother was a colorful Canadian celebrity which I found funny when compared to Sally’s deadpan style of interviewing. It was fascinating to see where the line of questions started and where they wound up taking Sally and her family, delving into the history of the rumors and tales each had heard growing up. As I watched this movie I was reminded of a children’s game called “Telephone.” It is a game where a group of kids sit in a circle and one child whispers a message into the next child’s ear. Then each proceeding child whispers the message to the next one until the message makes its way back to the first child’s ear. The message always evolved into something else as it was whispered along. I was thoroughly entertained by Sally and her family. If for no other reason than to listen to another family’s story.
3 1/2 stars
Everyone has a breaking point; it is just the reactions that are different. Some people quietly remove themselves from the situation that pushed them over the edge; others may explode with anger. I have been working to separate myself from the latter group, trying to teach myself to walk away when I get angry. It has not been easy. When I get pushed past my breaking point a floodgate opens up, releasing years of stored anger and hurt that sears through my veins before erupting out of my mouth. If I am fortunate to have a friend with me, who has the ability to read my face and see the subtle telltale signs of my transformation, they will try to diffuse the situation before I go over to the dark side. Age may have something to do with it, because as the years have gone by the intensity levels have diminished. I cannot say the same thing for the main character in this crime mystery, inspired by true events. A talented actor was needed for this role and Ryan Gosling (Drive, Gangster Squad) was eerily perfect playing David Marks. Son of real estate magnate Sanford Marks, played by Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, Frost/Nixon), David did not want anything to do with the family business. He thought he could succeed on his own when he met Katie, played by Kirsten Dunst (Upside Down, Melancholia), a tenant in one of the family’s buildings. Settling into what appeared to be an idyllic life with Katie, it would not take long before mounting pressures pushed David to the brink. In one of her best performances, Kirsten was wonderful playing an intelligent woman of simple means who experiences life on a new level. Frank was great as he oozed with entitlement playing the chairman and demanding father. I wished the script would have been better because there were spots int the story that I found perplexing. Not that I was bored at all; the powerful acting kept me watching what essentially was a love story mixed with a murder mystery. There is a fine line between rational and irrational behavior. It all depends on where we place the breaking point. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
No matter what profession a person has studied in, they could have graduated at the top or bottom of their class. Even with my high regard for the teaching profession, the same holds true. I have had an assortment of teachers that ran the spectrum from inspirational to looney. There was one teacher I had who was an alcoholic. When he walked into the classroom with a beet red face, all the students knew he had been out drinking somewhere. A scandal was caused when my social studies teacher started an affair with one of the gym teachers. Out of all my teachers, my 7th grade teacher was the most bizarre. She avoided talking to students by keeping a pack of flash cards with her at all times. I do not know if she had the cards specifically made for her, because they each had different messages such as “Bring that to me” or “Please sit down and stop talking.” All I can say is, there are some teachers who are mentors and there are some who should have never chosen teaching as a career. In this dark mysterious comedy from France, the instructor took his mentoring to an extreme. Fabrice Luchini (The Women on the 6th Floor, Paris) played Germain, a frustrated writing teacher. When student Claude Garcia, played by Ernst Umhauer (The Monk), showed talent in his writing, Germain encouraged the young man to explore and push the topic further. However the subject happened to be Claude’s classmate Rapha, played by newcomer Bastien Ughetto, and his parents Esther and Rapha Sr., played by Emmanuelle Seigner (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Ninth Gate) and Denis Menochet (Robin Hood, Inglourious Basterd)s. When boundaries get pushed to create good story, consequences cannot be too far behind. I found parts of the story witty and amusing, enjoying Fabrice’s performance and that of Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Gosford Park) as his wife Jeanne. There were some sections of the story that seemed too crazy to even be possible. I would be the first one to praise the teaching profession; I just would not use the teacher in this movie as an example. French with English subtitles.
I would have been angrier if I had seen this documentary a few years ago. Having survived the global financial crisis of 2008, I know I am one of the lucky ones. Seeing co-workers being let go, consoling friends who lost their homes to foreclosure, worrying about uninsured family members with health issues; I do not recall ever being so overwhelmed with all the negative news. Every generation grows up with the expectation to have an easier life than the previous group. For the very first time in modern history that is no longer the case. Because the wealthiest group of people make up only a small percentage of the population, the average citizen may not have an understanding of derivatives or credit default swaps; I certainly have no need to pay attention to such things. However, I do know what the words greed, selfish and power hungry mean. This Oscar winning film presented the crisis in laymen’s terms without choosing political sides. Not that I now understand the financial markets any better, but at least I can see how people’s thirst for money and power nearly brought down the world economy. The hardest part was seeing how these people barely suffered the consequences of their actions. Director and writer Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) did an incredible job piecing together the events that led up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Matt Damon (Promised Land, Contagion) was the narrator, taking us through charts and interviews with politicians, economists, professors and former chairmen to name a few. Now you may think this all sounds like it would be dry and boring to watch; it was not the case. I credit the style of questioning that was done. Interviewees were either asked straightforward questions or requested to comment on their past speeches and published articles. I will say there were times I liked seeing some of these individuals squirm when their past conclusions or actions ran contrary to current facts. There is nothing I can do to change the past; I can only use history as a teaching tool as I try to live each day in a responsible way. It was a shame other people did not have the same idea.
4 stars — DVD