Monthly Archives: June 2013
There was a time when newscasts were the place to get the news of the day. They were hosted by trusted individuals, who felt like family for some of us. Out of this group the most popular ones were Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. When they retired a new breed came to the forefront, with names like Rather, Jennings and Brokaw. For me they were the last keepers of an era where news was meant to inform, not garner ratings. I will say I have the utmost admiration for today’s news reporters who risk their reputation, career or possibly life to get to the heart of a story. In this Sundance Film Festival winning documentary Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the bestseller book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army; traveled to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia to put the pieces together of a covert operation that led to collateral damage. In the movie there was a film clip of a television show where talk show host Jay Leno asked Jeremy why he was still alive and I felt the same way. It was nerve wracking to see Jeremy go into some of the most troubling hot spots in the world. Watching his reporting process was fascinating; he looked like a jigsaw puzzle master as he tried fitting together snippets of news. Some scenes did seem as if they were used for a dramatic effect, but the pacing remained consistent. There were some interviews Jeremy conducted that were unbelievable to me, regarding his ability to sit down and talk to those individuals. Considering the topic I felt there could have been more suspenseful and engaging scenes. If for no other reason, I have to give Jeremy credit for his courage in traveling to such places. Compared to him it is almost silly that I am afraid to go into some parts of my own city. There were several graphic scenes with blood.
2 1/2 stars
Those I call friend join me on a life long journey. We walk side by side down a long and winding road, where we discover amazing sights along the way. Sometimes they have to push me up a hill of doubt; other times, I have to pull them through a thicket of low self-esteem. Either way we take this journey together without any judgements, only unconditional love. Though every step is precious, there is an extra comfort when we share the high and the low points along our way. This comedic drama reinforced the deep affection I have for my friends. After recently reviewing special effect laden blockbusters, it was peaceful just to sit and focus on the art of acting. Recently widowed Arvilla Holden, played by Jessica Lange (The Vow, Big Fish), was distressed further when her stepdaughter demanded her father’s ashes be given to her, to be buried next to his first wife. Not wanting Arvilla to take the trip alone; her two friends Margene Cunningham and Carol Brimm, played by Kathy Bates (Titanic, Midnight in Paris) and Joan Allen (Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Death Race), decided to join her. The trip would take the three women to unexpected places. For me the story was a generic blueprint; it had no embellishments or surprises to set it apart from similar stories done before. I wished the writers would have done a stronger story line because it really was not fair to the actresses. The acting power of Jessica, Kathy, Joan and Christine Baranski (Mamma Mia, The Good Wife-TV), as the stepdaughter Francine Holden Packard, deserved a better script. There was sweet, gentle moments throughout the film, along with chuckles provided for the most part by Kathy Bates’ character. An added bonus for me was the beautiful scenery the trio stopped at during their journey. This was not a great movie by any means; however, I simply enjoyed the underlying theme of friends being there for each other.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
Obsession is my next door neighbor. We visit from time to time and when they want to go on holiday, I watch over their house. I am very familiar with obsession’s traits; just ask any of my friends. At the height of my fitness classes, when I was teaching full-time, I could wear a different T-shirt every single day for over 1 year, before I needed to think about doing any laundry. What can I say, I liked fun T-shirts to wear in my classes. With my love for movies, one would think I obsess over the actors’ lifestyles. I have no desire to be like them. If anything, I would only like to know what it is like to buy something without having to think about how I will pay for it later. The mass of reality shows, I feel, warps the perceptions of so many people. Seeing the lifestyles of these celebrities, they want to live the same good life but without putting in any of the hard work. Not that a majority of these so called celebrities even have a concept of what it is like to work. Based on actual events, writer and director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Somewhere) created this film about celebrity obsessed teenagers, who go on a crime spree. Using the internet, the group of friends break into celebrities’ houses, to steal their personal items. Leading the group was relative newcomer Katie Chang as Rebecca and her friend Mark, played by Israel Broussard (Flipped, The Chaperone). Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Harry Potter franchise) as Nicki and Leslie Mann (This is 40, Knocked Up) as her mother Laurie were far and above the best when it came to the acting in this drama; yet, they were not major characters. The set up for this film through the first robbery kept my attention; I just sat there amazed that something like this actually happened. As the movie progressed I started to lose interest due to the repetitive robberies being filmed in a similar way. The choppy writing and the shallow character development left me disinterested in any of the individuals. By the end of the movie, I had the same feelings about the characters as I have about reality stars; I did not care about them or their vapid lives.
2 1/4 stars
Evolution may not be working in our favor after all. So many times I have heard, the only thing that will still be around centuries from now will be insects–cockroaches in particular. With an increased threat coming from newly discovered super bacteria and aggressive diseases, one has to wonder how safe mankind will be on this planet. I have already taken precautions by not letting anyone use my pen or telephone and I avoid all salad bars and buffets. Now according to this movie there is an even bigger threat to all of us. In one of the better suspenseful openings I have seen in an action movie, I was swept up into the drama of this story. Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly, Moneyball) played United Nations investigator Gerry Lane. About to take a road trip with his wife Karin, played by Mirelle Enos (Gangster Squad, The Killing-TV), and their two children; Gerry would have to abandon them when Assistant Secretary General Thierry Umutoni, played by Fana Mokoena (Hotel Rwanda, Safe House), requested Gerry’s help in tracking down the source of the zombie attack on Philadelphia. Brad was very good playing a stoic, older action figure persona in this adventure film. The other stand out for me was Daniella Kertesz (Loving Anna-TV, Ha-Emet Ha’Eroma-TV) as Segen, the soldier assigned to protect Gerry. In the beginning of the movie, I found the special effects incredible as this constant tidal wave of zombies came across the movie screen. The surprise was how the director kept up the tension and suspense without the need of blood and gore, to scare the audience. Unfortunately, a film cannot sustain itself without a solid story and here was the wink link. I never really understood what Gerry had done for the United Nations that led him to be their “go to” man. The world aspect of this story was great, but there was no depth; it started to become one chase scene after another, after another. I heard the book was quite different then this movie. Also, the ending had to be re-written and reshot. It appeared as a lead-in for a sequel. The use of scientific logic in this film was a brilliant idea…and a scary one at the same time. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood.
2 3/4 stars
An evil presence lived in my bedroom closet. I would only hear it at night when I was a little boy. It would make a creaking sound as if a giant’s foot was stepping out of the closet to eat me. One of my defenses was to hide under my blanket and be very still. The other was to make pretend spiders out of black construction paper and place them on the floor, in front of the closet door. They used to do a good job; so good, that I accidentally scared one of my brothers, when I left one of the spiders on the floor. As I grew up it dawned on me that what I was really afraid of was the unknown. It would have been a big help if this animated comedy had been around back then. A film that showed monsters going to school to learn how to scare humans was a wonderful idea. For those of us who saw Monsters, Inc this was the opportunity to visit with a younger Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, voiced by Billy Crystal (Parental Guidance, Analyze This) and John Goodman (Argo, Flight). If you are not familiar with their story, it will not be a major factor in watching this film. A few sly references would be missed. However, the charm and originality of the previous movie was also missing. The story took a little part from the movies Carrie and The Hunger Games, minus the frightening parts. I believe young children will still enjoy this movie; though, I did notice the kids were noisier here than at other animated family films I have seen. Billy and John were perfect voicing their characters again, as was Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Broadwalk Empire-TV) as Randy. The addition of Helen Mirren (Red, Hitchcock) as Dean Hardscrabble was my favorite character. Though there was a little less magic and a little less fun in it for me, I still enjoyed finding out how monsters learned to be scary. Stay through the end of the credits.
2 3/4 stars
Where yesterday’s movie review talked about the internal struggle between the heart and the mind, today’s movie made me think about the external forces one could face regarding love. I find it perplexing when I hear people say, “He comes from a good family” or “You cannot marry someone outside your faith.” What do these things mean? To me being able to say, “I love you,” is one of the most profound statements a human being can say. It supersedes what anyone else has to say on the subject. Looking at relationships historically, marriages were arranged for various reasons. In some cases families were joined for political reasons, while others were done simply to combine farmlands. In this quiet drama the attempt to join two people in marriage was done, in my opinion, for selfish reasons. Yiftach Klein (Policeman, Noodle) played Yochay, the brother-in-law of Shira, played by Hadas Yaron (Out of Sight). When Yochay’s wife (Shira’s sister) died during childbirth; Shira’s mother Rivka, played by Irit Sheleg (Night Terrors, Abba Ganuv III), suggested Shira marry her brother-in-law and become a mother for the new born baby. On one level the story made me uncomfortable; however, when I viewed the movie as a glimpse into a family’s struggle between old world traditions and modern independent thinking, I was able to see it as a historical study. This film festival winner provided a peek into an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in Tel Aviv Israel. The acting was well done by Hadas and Yiftach, as they used their bodies to convey the enormous pressures being placed on them. However, there was a negative side in focusing on the physical. I wished there had been more verbal interactions between the characters because I found myself getting bored. Gratefully the filming had a stark, sharp look to it. The way Shira’s pale whiteness contrasted with the darkly clothed men around her was interesting to watch. It may be due to my feelings about love being a personal thing, but I found this film to be somewhat sad. It is already hard enough when the heart and mind wrestle over the direction of love; but then adding outside influences creates a bigger challenge. Hebrew with English subtitles.
2 1/2 stars
If it has not happened yet, count on your heart coming out victorious at least once in a wrestling match with your brain. Many of us have experienced that one relationship where we know it is not the best for our mental health (sometimes physical health), but our heart has already bought the ticket for the ride. I can remember being in a relationship where the good times overshadowed the uncomfortable moments. It felt like I was sitting outside and watching the most spectacular fireworks display, yet I was shivering from the cool night breezes. The explosions of color aka my heart, kept me seated even though the wind aka my brain, was telling me to go inside. It happens to all of us, but maybe not as dramatically as it did with the La Contessa Livia Serpieri. Played by Alida Valli (Eyes Without a Face, The Third Man), the Contessa Serpieri lived in Venice Italy during the mid 1800’s when the area was under Austrian occupation. Trying to help her resistance fighter cousin; she set up an introduction to meet Austrian Lieutenant Franz Mahler, played by Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train). The meeting would set in motion forces that would jeopardize family, friends and even the very existence of Venice. This historical drama was a lush, musical movie to watch. Filmed in 1954 there was a different sensibility back then, where the actors exuded a more physical display of emotions. It almost appeared as if they were overacting. Keeping that in mind, it made sense since the sets were so voluptuous and abundant. In addition, filling the musical soundtrack with pieces by Giuseppe Verdi and Anton Bruckner; I felt I was in the middle of a grand opera, set in the beautiful city of Venice. For some this movie may seem way over the top; but to me, it was obvious this film was made from the heart. Italian and German with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
It takes but a single second where all senses vault into a heightened state. At the moment you would do anything to protect your loved ones. Too young to go alone, I had taken my niece and nephew to a rock concert. The band was playing in a small venue, where the main floor was one large open space without seats. I directed the two of them to the balcony which formed a narrow lip around the perimeter of the room, where it would be easier to keep an eye on them. During the show my nephew wanted to go downstairs to get closer to the stage. Reluctantly I agreed as long as he was able to remain visible to me. My niece and I saw him wade into the pulsating group of fans. As the music pounded off the walls, a swell of people appeared to swallow him up. Every cell in my body sparked with fear. I had no sense of time passing but suddenly my niece pointed to a spot in the crowd. There was my pale-complected nephew, slowly floating across outstretched hands like a water lilly on a dark rustling pond. When he finally made his way back up to us I could see how much he loved being in the middle of the crowd, making the concert a memorable one for him. Gratefully I did not have to leap off the balcony but I certainly had a taste of what it felt like to have my adrenaline fueled senses ready to do whatever had to be done, to protect my niece and nephew. It was that same type of feeling that made Collette, played by Andrea Roseborough (Disconnect, W. E.), become an informant in this tense drama. During the 1980’s in Northern Ireland; Collette agreed to spy on the IRA for British MI5 agent Mac, played by Clive Owens (Inside Man, Children of Men), for the sake of her child. It was quick to connect to Andrea’s character due to her excellent acting. However, I was disappointed with Clive’s performance; it lacked intensity. Combine that with the dull directing and I was left wishing there had been more scenes filled with tense emotions. There was at least a sense of dread and fear as the story continued to build. By the time things got exciting I realized that is exactly what the movie needed, more thrills. It would have been a better suspense movie about a mother protecting her young.
2 2/3 stars
This may come as a surprise but it turns out celebrities do not walk on water, even though some of them think they do. Part of the problem is the public’s fascination with these bigger than life characters. I do not understand why people will buy merchandise simply because their favorite celebrity endorsed it. Now I know some of you must be thinking who am I to talk with me contributing to actors’ bank accounts by going to see their movies. All I can say is I watch movies for medicinal reasons; they are therapeutic for me. This does not mean I approve of celebrities acting out in public. As far as I am concerned; there is no difference between them and the rest of us, they have the same body functions as we do. If a celebrity should fall on hard times, there are some people who get a sense of satisfaction in seeing these stars brought down to human level. Now if you want to laugh at a celebrity’s predicament and not feel guilty about it, this is the movie to watch. Essentially playing themselves I admired all the actors who took part in this wickedly funny comedy. Even those who only had cameo roles helped to knock down this facade or fascination we might have about their public personas. During a party at James Franco’s (Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers) house, what was originally thought of as an earth tremor turned into something of catastrophic proportions. I was taken by surprise by how good the writing was for this part parody, part satire, crazy fantasy film. Too many stars to list, the major players were Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet, Pineapple Express), Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, Superbad), Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, Knocked Up), Craig Robinson (Peeples, The Office-TV) and Danny McBride (Up in the Air, Your Highness). I have to give a shout out to Michael Cera (Juno, Youth in Revolt) and Emma Watson (Harry Potter franchise, My Week with Marilyn) for their small hilarious roles. Though some of the jokes got tiresome, who knew the end could be so funny. Warning: Strong and crude language used throughout the film.
3 1/4 stars
Every week I would take a trip to outer space, where I would visit aliens and super heroes. I learned about ray guns, space ships and all kinds of devices that were not found on Earth. I never knew our planet was being protected by people with special powers; I wanted to grow up and be just like them. You would be surprised to find out how often Earth had been saved by these special individuals. Each Saturday morning I ate my breakfast on a little snack tray, in our living room in front of the television. The Saturday cartoon shows I watched was where I discovered all these new places and people. In this reboot of the Superman story, I felt I was back watching those morning cartoons. Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals) was a perfect blend of wholesomeness and angst as Clark Kent/Kal-El. I found the childhood scenes touching as we witnessed Clark being picked on by the other kids. The story focused on Clark’s struggle with feeling different but not fully understanding the reasons why. Not until a mysterious object was discovered on Earth would he then learn about his true identity. The casting in this action movie greatly helped with the weak story. Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter) as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman) as General Zod, Russell Crowe (The Next Three Days, Gladiator) as Jor-El and Diane Lane (Unfaithful, The Perfect Storm) as Martha Kent were all excellent. The sets and props were so imaginative; I got a real kick out of seeing them. Plus, I want to point out the musical score was awesome. Just like those Saturday cartoons, this film was driven by action. There were so many battles, with an over abundance of special effects; it became too much for me. As a result the story suffered because there was not enough room to develop the characters; despite the movie being 2 hours and 23 minutes long. I will say some of the fights were unbelievable; they looked like cartoons that came to life. As long as you go into the movie theater knowing this was more of a comic book/Saturday morning cartoon type of film, that was small on drama; it will entertain you. At the end of the movie I did have a craving for some sugary crunchy cereal. A brief scene that showed a small amount of blood.