Monthly Archives: September 2013
The racetrack had to have elaborate turns, at least one bridge, hills and a long stretch of flat road. These were my requirements when I would set up my slot car racing track when I was a kid. Back then it was all about the speed; how fast could I navigate the course without the car spinning off the track. My interest in fast driving continued into adulthood; as long as I was behind the wheel I would get a thrill from driving. However, if I was in the passenger seat or a spectator I lost all interest. Because of that I have no desire to watch auto racing competitions; they leave me bored with their cars repeating the same track over and over into a monotonous blur of metal and sound. This is why it was all the more amazing to me how director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) got me totally interested in this action film based on a true story. The film followed the rivalry between 1970’s Formula 1 racing car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Red Dawn) and Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds, Good Bye Lenin!). I do not know how accurate the depiction of hard partying British playboy James and no nonsense Austrian Niki were to the real men, but for this drama it worked in propelling the story forward. With Chris and Daniel playing the central figures the rest of the cast was left in the background. Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies, In Time) as James’ 1st wife Suzy Miller was forgettable for the most part; but Niki’s wife Marlene Lauda, played by Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, Youth Without Youth), had more staying power. If I had not known this was a Ron Howard film I would have never guessed he was the director; the film had a fast pace with quick editing shots that made me dizzy at times. Action and speed were the main drivers (get it?) for this story which did not allow much time for character development. The CGI effects were seamless to the point I was not even aware of them. I appreciated the different angles the director used in filming the racing scenes, from driver perspectives to overhead long shots. With the use of voice-overs, I felt the story was well rounded enough for the viewer to get a good sense of these championship drivers. I especially enjoyed the way the movie ended. Please do not tell the state police, but after the movie I made it home in record time. A few scenes had blood in them.
There was something about the piano that attracted me to it. I did not play with musical toys as a baby, but I had two aunts who each had a piano in their home. Whenever we would visit these relatives invariably I would be found sitting at the piano, pressing the keys in different patterns. I never pounded on the keys; in my mind I thought I was actually playing a song, though I could not read a single note of music. What fascinated me was the infinite combinations I could create with all those keys at my fingertips. It was later when I realized other musical instruments had the ability to create the same combinations, but it did not have the same flourish like a pianist. I remember one of the first concerts I attended had a pianist front and center. The way his fingers rippled across the keys, creating sounds as soft as a cat’s purr to booming roars of harmonic fireworks; I wanted to play the piano just like him. For eight years I took piano lessons so I have an appreciation for any skilled musician. If you add outlandish outfits and lavish sets, you will have the star of this biographical drama. Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Wonder Boys) was amazing with his performance playing Liberace. The story was based on the autobiographical book written by Scott Thorson, who had a tumultuous relationship with the entertainer. Though Michael Douglas won an Emmy for his performance, Matt Damon (Elysium, Promised Land) as Scott was equally as impressive with his acting in this Emmy winning movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Magic Mike), there was a steady layout of scenes. It was during the quiet scenes where the story really shinned. To balance out the weighted dramatic parts, Rob Lowe (Wayne’s World, The West Wing-TV) as Dr. Jack Startz and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places) as manager Seymour Heller handled the comedic elements. One of the biggest surprises for me was finding out who played Liberace’s mother Frances. I am not going to mention her name in this review and I hope you do not try to find out before seeing her in this film. With the understanding we are seeing the life of Liberace through Scott’s eyes; this still was a glimpse behind the flash of rhinestones and sequins only to find a dark, troubled life from a different era.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
In a child’s life there is a short span of time that heralds a final hurrah to their innocent youth. It takes place just before the child begins to understand the rules and customs of their culture and government. My memory of that time is still clear in my mind. It happened in 7th grade when my best friend and I were going out after dinner. His mother wanted to make sure we would be home before curfew. I had never heard the word “curfew” before and asked my friend about it as we left his house. When he told me there was a city law that made it illegal for people under a certain age to be out after a particular time, I was outraged. As soon as I came home I had to ask my parents about it. I was stunned when they confirmed what my friend’s mother had said to us. From that point on I began to understand there would be rules and regulations outside of my home that I would have to adhere to or face the consequences. Remembering those times made watching this dramatic film all the more amazing to me. From a country that had no movie theaters, where the one and only female director had to do everything from the inside of a van away from her male workers; the fact this movie was even made was somewhat of a miracle. It is the first film to come out of Saudi Arabia. Newcomer Waad Mohammed played 10 year old, hightop sneaker wearing, Wadjda. Wanting to beat her friend Abdullah, played by newcomer Abdullrahman Al Gohani, in a race; Wadjda came up with some creative ways to earn money to buy a bicycle. It did not matter to her that women riding bicycles was frowned upon by everyone around her. This film festival winner and official submission for the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards had a gentle, humorous story. I found it fascinating the way writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour created what life was like for men and women in Saudi Arabia without being judgmental. In addition, it was curious how this was the first film for many of the actors. The only main character listed as an actress was Ahd (The Imperialists are Still Alive), who played Ms. Hussa. Part of the charm of this film was being exposed to a culture that was so foreign to me. Despite the cultural differences, I could relate to Wadjda’s rebellious streak. Arabic with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars
A love relationship is very much like a tree. With care and affectionate nourishment the love grows, branching out to reach further up into the sky. Your relationship solidifies when the leaves open up to shelter and protect you from any harmful rays. Times of sadness come like changing seasons; shriveled leaves dropping like colorless tears. You gather them up and place them around the base of the tree to protect it like a warm shawl, warding off the cold effects of somber winter. The love and support you show will rekindle life into a new season of love. Like a tree one cannot pick and choose the parts they love and ignore the rest. Relationships go through many season of change; unconditional love is what keeps them strong. Love gets tested in this dramatic comedy about people and their addictions. The story centered around Adam, Mike and Neil; played by Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Shutter Island), Tim Robbins (Mystic River, Jacob’s Ladder) and Josh Gad (Jobs, Love & Other Drugs), and the effect their different stages of recovery from addiction weighed on their relationships. The chemistry between Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man franchise, Country Strong) as Phoebe was sparkling real; I enjoyed watching both their playful and serious scenes together. There was an even pacing to the story where I never felt it becoming slow. I expected Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Event Horizon) as Katie to give a good acting performance which she did, but I was surprised at the screen presence from Alecia Moore aka Pink (Get HIm to the Greek, Catacombs) as Dede. Some of the humor was obvious, especially around Josh’s character Neil; it came across as cheap shots regarding Josh’s size. The writers did an admirable job for showing the characters’ addiction as a disease without it becoming a joke. That does not mean it was all seriousness; there were light threads of humor that never reached a higher level of laughter. Without saying it in so many words, I liked the way the theme of unconditional love played out in this romantic movie.
2 2/3 stars
It is not to see who will win that keeps my attention at competition events; it is the way the contest does not have any discrimination that attracts me. Having been exposed to the ugliness of prejudice at a young age, I tend to seek out things that create a level playing field for all. Whether it is a singing, dancing, musical or sporting activity; I enjoy seeing people from all over the world, from all walks of life coming together to perform the same activity. I never understood why country, race, religion or even physical appearance should matter to someone. Shouldn’t being human suffice? I admire the participants in any type of physical venue due to my background in fitness. Add in some music and I love it more; so, this dance competition movie was something I was curious to see. Inspired by the documentary film Planet B-Boy, the story revolved around a premier international dance crew competition that attracted teams from all over the world. America had not won in 15 years and Dante Graham, played by Laz Alonso (Jarhead, Constantine) wanted to change that statistic. Josh Holloway (Paranoia, Lost-TV) played former championship basketball coach Jason Blake who was hired by Dante to train a team of dancers to bring home the championship. Caity Lotz (The Pact, Death Valley-TV) as choreographer Stacy and Josh Peck (Red Dawn, The Wackness) as assistant Franklyn would help Coach Blake in this quest. My biggest complaint about this musical dance film was the awful way they filmed the dance routines. I did not understand why they were filmed either in slow or fast motion, making them look cartoonish. If the idea was to bring together the best dancers to form a team then I wanted to see them actually dance. The story was completely lame with all of its stereotypical cliches and ideas. With uninspired dialog the acting was simply pathetic. Josh looked like he was about to cry in every single scene. Maybe he had a clue on how bad this movie was turning out. The two best parts for me in watching this film were not paying to see it in 3D and the enjoyment of listening to a couple of good songs that were used during a few of the dance segments. I plan on viewing the documentary Planet B-Boy and if you are interested in seeing some real dancing, I recommend you take a pass on this film and get the documentary also.
1 1/3 stars
The further technology advances the less personal it becomes is something everyone has heard. From what I have seen I believe it is true. For example, I have noticed a change in people’s reactions to amber alerts. Though everyone still acknowledges such news with sympathy, the feelings do not last long. Driving on the highways it is not uncommon to see an amber alert posted on the electronic signs hanging over the road. For myself, I will take note of the car’s description listed in the message but once I exit the highway the memory fades. With the immediate bombardment of news we get on a daily basis, the significance of each story bleeds into the next until all of it becomes this obscure sea of information that floats outside of us. That is not the case when it comes to this intense crime mystery movie; it brings the story down to a personal level. Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, The Prestige) in one of his best roles played Keller Dover, the father of a missing daughter. With his wife Grace, played by Maria Bello (Towelhead, Secret Window) suffering over the loss and Detective Loki’s, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac, End of Watch), perceived inability to arrest a suspect; Keller would take matters into his own hands, doing whatever it would take to find his daughter. I was totally taken by Hugh’s wide-ranging performance; he was incredible. It was funny, at first I did not understand Jake’s character because I thought the acting was odd from him. But then slowly I began to grasp what Jake was doing and found his interpretation to be quite powerful. It was a different type of character for him and I felt he nailed it. Viola Davis (Won’t Back Down, The Help) as Nancy Birch and Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) as Holly Jones were outstanding; Viola does suffering better than almost any other actress I know. The story was not simple; in fact, I feel I need to see this film again to really make some connections I thought I was missing due to some twists. This was a tough, emotional, in your face movie filled with raw emotions, prepare yourself. It is one thing to hear or read about a crime; it is another to see it unfold in front of your eyes. There were several scenes of violence with blood.
3 1/2 stars
In a single moment’s time, the calm road one has been walking on can turn into an icy precipice; causing a slide into stark confusion. I stopped at the health club to pick up some paperwork on my way to teaching a class at another fitness center. It was a cold winter morning where during the night a layer of thick new snow had covered the ground. Returning to my car, I reached into my coat pocket to get my car keys but they were gone. I had the keys when I locked the car a few minutes ago. Panic began to course through my veins as my mind crashed into several possibilities on where my keys could be. With each passed second landing heavily on my shoulders I retraced my footsteps; looking for the imprint of the bottom of my boots in the snow. Halfway to the club’s front doors a discoloration in the snow caught my eye. Tucked into the snow like a priceless gem in a white velvet jewel box were my car keys. All of the confusion spiraling in my mind fell to the floor of my brain with a thud as reality started to seep back into me once again. Where I panicked over my lost car keys; imagine what Dr. Martin Harris, played by Liam Neeson (The Grey, Taken franchise), must have felt when he thought he was losing his mind. Waking up in Berlin from a coma due to an accident; Martin discovered the woman he thought was his wife Elizabeth, played by January Jones (Pirate Radio, Mad Men-TV), had no idea who he was since she had never seen him before. Adding to the confusion, Elizabeth was already married to a Dr. Martin Harris, played by Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall, The Missing). This action mystery movie was a fun mental diversion for me. Even with its improbabilities and convenient coincidences I enjoyed the story’s twists and surprises. Liam was very good in this role as were Diane Kruger (Inhale, Troy) as taxi driver Gina and Bruno Ganz (Downfall, Eternity and a Day) as former Stasi agent Ernst Jurgen. The directing kept the story going at a fast clip, helped with some good editing. There was no confusion on my part in watching this thrilling movie. I knew I wanted to see an entertaining film that would enable me to mentally escape for a couple of hours and I got it. A couple of brief scenes that showed blood.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
It is so much easier to help people fix or solve their issues than one’s own. I fall into that category of people who do not like change for myself. It is simple for me to stick with a known routine instead of trying to alter it, even if I find it taxing. You never know what the unknown has to offer. Regarding someone else, I can easily dole out the advice that I believe can help them. Isn’t that like being a doctor because I have heard they make the worst patients? Having a streak of doom and gloom inside of me, I at least am aware how easy it is for me to remain in a rut. This is why it was so easy for me to understand where the main character was coming from in this dramatic comedy. Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) played frustrated stay-at-home mom Rachel. Tired of the monotony in her life with her husband Jeff, played by Josh Radnor (Liberal Arts, How I Met Your Mother-TV); Rachel decided to take in exotic dancer McKenna, played by Juno Temple (Killer Joe, Atonement), to become their son’s nanny. There was an interesting switch of sweetness and sourness among the scenes in this Sundance Film Festival winning film. It took little effort to go from a humorous situation right into a poignant predicament. Part of the reason for that was due to the excellent directing. Kathryn had perfect comedic timing as she delivered some smart fun lines. I thought her interaction with Juno was in flawless balance; each of them was able to play off the other’s energy. Jane Lynch (Role Models, Glee-TV) played a great character as Rachel’s therapist Lenore. The script provided a twisted, keen take on suburban living; allowing secondary characters to have a bit of time in the spotlight. There were a few scenes that were uneven, but they did not last long. I do not know if I really believed the ending to this film but that may be due to my own way of looking at things. Each of us handles our issues in our own way. I find it fascinating how we react to them so differently.
2 1/2 stars
All the details were double checked, everything was in order for your spectacular trip abroad. Part of your itinerary was having dinner at a famous restaurant; in fact, you had to rent a car to visit the eatery. When the day finally arrived, the weather did not cooperate; it was dreary and damp. The incredible views the restaurant was known for were now shrouded in a gray, misty fog. At least you had the meal to look forward to that food critics had fawned over. Long story short, the food was a disappointment. Leaving the restaurant you decided to take a walk. As you reached an intersection the sound of a small bell tinkling got your attention. A bicyclist, riding with a basket of bread loaves, passed in front of you. He parked alongside a building. The aroma coming off of the freshly baked bread made your taste buds yearn. The small golden crusted loaf you purchased weighed heavy in your hand. As you walked away you took your first bite and the thick forgiving dough filled your mouth with the most wonderful taste. At the same time you took notice of your surroundings and realized there was a gap in the sky where the low hanging sun looked like it separated a venetian blind to peer out. A single ray of sunshine lightened the street you were on. From out of the drabness wooden shutters bursted into color, the cobblestones of the street wet with condensation glistened and the hanging baskets of flowers from windowsills took a last sigh before nightfall. It lasted only a moment but you were at the right place at the right time to see it. I had the exact same feeling after seeing this superb film festival winning movie. After weeks of sitting through several mediocre movies, this film made up for all of my long hours of sitting in a movie theater seat. Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now, 21 Jump Street) and John Gallagher Jr. (Pieces of April, Jonah Hex) played foster care facility employees Grace and Mason. Their daily roller coaster ride of emotions would reveal similarities they shared with the young adults, affecting their own personal relationship. The brilliant filming of this movie made each character real with feelings. I thought the acting was amazing from everyone including Rami Malek (The Master, Larry Crowne) and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher, J. Edgar) as Nate and Jayden. I was so totally immersed into the story that I forgot the characters were actors. There were several scenes that looked like I was viewing actual news footage, that is how convincing this complete film was for me. This movie represented that perfect moment I have been waiting for all year. A couple of brief scenes showed blood.
I hope I never see a family member’s name in the news because of a crime they committed. There have been so many stories I have heard about other families’ problems that I have been grateful no one I know has made the news among my relatives. One of the craziest stories involved a member in one of my aerobic classes many years ago. This member with a quick wit always stood in the front row. With an excellent ear for rhythm he did every move perfectly. Since I always faced my classes it was easy for me to see how the female members were checking him out. Just before the holiday season he disappeared for a few weeks; members were coming up to me and asking if I knew what happened to him. All of us soon got our answer in the city’s newspapers: He was arrested and charged for the murder of his roommate. She was found stabbed in the trunk of her car that was left abandoned at the airport’s parking garage. Though this was a horrific story it reaffirmed my belief in never judging a book by its cover. This action comedy movie’s story was about Giovanni Manzoni, played by Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook, The Big Wedding) and his family who had to be sent into the witness protection program when he turned in evidence on his Mafia associates. Given the new identity of Fred Blake, Giovanni was sent with his wife Maggie and their two children Belle and Warren; played by Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows, Stardust), Dianna Agron (I Am Number Four, Glee-TV) and John D’Leo (The Wrestler, Wanderlust), to a small town in France. Under the watchful eye of special agent Robert Stansfield, played by Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln, Hope Springs); the family was instructed to blend in. However, it would not be an easy task for the Brooklyn mobster and his family to let go of their old habits. Sadly the witness protection program could not hide what was supposed to be the humorous elements I saw coming from a mile away. The acting from Robert and Michelle was not good; they simply reprised one of their old movie characters. Tommy Lee was underwhelming but it was due to the script; it was fractured into distinct segments that never came together to make a seamless story. This film tried to convince me it was an original crime caper comedy but I was not buying it. A couple of brief scenes had blood.
1 3/4 stars