Monthly Archives: November 2013
The first thing I noticed was the high darkened ceiling. Laid out were curved rows of burgundy colored seats that reminded me of a lake at sunset. I was excited to be at the movie theater, though you could easily say, “movie palace.” The place was built years before there was such a thing as stadium seating. I can still remember a phone book being placed underneath me so I could see over the people’s heads in front of me. The animated films that played in those movie theaters are now considered classics; they enchanted us with their stories, songs and animation. I would get totally engrossed in those wonderful films; their magic would draw me in to become part of their world. Early on in this animated adventure movie those feelings I experienced as a young boy welled up, magically taking me to the kingdom of Arendelle. Kristen Bell (When in Rome, Veronica Mars-TV) and Idina Menzel (Rent, Enchanted) were the voices for Princess Anna and her sister, Princess Elsa. When the kingdom plummeted into a perpetual frozen winter, Anna set off on a perilous journey to find her sister who was the cause of the frigid temperatures. Helping her track down her icy sister was Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff (Taking Woodstock, The Conspirator) and his loyal reindeer Sven. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which was one of my favorite cartoon movies, this film is proof Disney has not lost its magic. First of all, I loved the story and thought Kristen and Idina were ideal for the roles. The music and songs were not only memorable, but I believe will earn this film an Oscar nomination. There was comedy for all age groups, exciting action and beautiful visuals; just like the old classics. It was so satisfying to watch a well done animated film where the entire audience was enjoying the story as much as me. I found it funny that Olaf the snowman, voiced by Josh Gad (Jobs, Thanks for Sharing), was the one character who I thought would be the most annoying but instead turned out to be amusing. One of my few complaints was about the ending; I felt it was rushed as if the studio had to keep the movie length low, so they could fit in their movie short and abundance of previews. The bottom line here is I had such a good time seeing this wonderful film, experiencing the same feelings I had when I was a kid, except without having to sit on a phone book. Notice the disclaimer towards the end of the film and there was an extra short scene afterwards.
3 1/3 stars
Walking down the grocery store aisle can be dangerous for me. Besides my desire for foods that are not the healthiest, my eyes can easily spot the words “new” and “improved” on any package. When it comes down to it I am a marketer’s dream shopper because I am easily swayed to try new food items. If they fit into my world of approved foods I am always adventurous to bring home new stuff and taste it. Sometimes I hit the jackpot when the product tastes so good, I do not want to brush my teeth for hours, letting the sumptuous taste linger in my mouth as long as possible. Other times it is a bust and I bring it to the office, hoping someone will get a positive experience from it. When it comes to a product’s packaging that claims a new fuller taste or improved flavor, I am aware it is more of a gamble. I have been disappointed when I brought the package home only to find the improvement consisted of shrinking the size of the food. To make matters worse, I can see it was done to make the package look fuller, but the net weight was reduced and I am being charged the same price as the former package. Stuff like this ticks me off as I am sure it would you too. I have to tell you I felt the same way about this comedy remake of the French Canadian film Starbuck, which I reviewed here previously. This American version starred Vince Vaughn (The Internship, Couples Retreat) as David, a delivery driver who discovered he was the father to 533 children, due to a mixup at the fertility clinic he donated at years ago. If a film studio wants to do a remake I do not have an issue with it. However, if it is going to be done I expect to see and experience things differently than the original; otherwise, what is the point? The biggest flaw in this movie was Vince Vaughn. I am tired of him playing the same role now in every one of his movies, it does not provide any entertainment value to his films. Supporting characters Brett, played by Chris Pratt (Moneyball, Wanted) and Emma, played by Cobie Smulders (Safe Haven, Now I Met Your Mother-TV) at least tried to act in this dud. Another thing that annoyed me was the obvious manipulation of emotions the writers were trying to do in the script. It did not work for me. Save your money by skipping this film and go rent Starbuck instead.
1 3/4 stars
It takes a person with a certain disposition who can enjoy living in a small town. They find comfort in knowing their neighbors, bumping into friends at the local supermarket, having their children attending the same school and living a simpler lifestyle than in a large metropolis. I am so not one of those individuals; in fact, I would probably get claustrophobic if I had to live in a small town. Being born and raised in a large city, I find comfort in the anonymity of being part of the masses. I do not know if it is due to how I was raised or to the hostile environment I experienced in high school, but for years I have always felt safer being invisible and not standing out. Now I will say I do not have a problem visiting small towns. There is something to be said for kicking back and going at a slower pace from time to time. If you can appreciate the attributes of small town living, you might get a quicker kick out of this dramatic adventure film. When mentally confused Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern (Monster, Last Man Standing), received a notice stating he could be a million dollar sweepstakes winner, he was determined to make his way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings–even if he had to go on foot. With his youngest son David, played by Will Forte (The Watch, MacGruber), being the only family member to show compassion for his dad, they took off on a road trip that brought them some unexpected surprises. This beautiful black and white film directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt) unfolded like the sipping of a sweet tea on a lazy summer day. There were no big or thrilling moments per se; instead, scenes bloomed with satiric wit and touching realizations. The actor that stole ever scene she was in was June Squibb (Meet Joe Black, Scent of a Woman) as Woody’s wife Kate. She was a hoot with her take no prisoners persona. I found myself being drawn into this quirky story as it revealed more and more the realities of small town living. There were several scenes where I laughed out loud as the stellar acting carried us along for the ride. Though I still would not want to live in a tiny residential area, I would gladly go visit this family and sit down to a piece of homemade pie and some iced tea.
3 2/3 stars
There is a certain type of person I cannot play with regarding games or competitive activities. You may be familiar with such an individual. Their only reason for playing is to be the ultimate winner, no matter the cost. I played the game charades with a group of people at a party once, where the opposing team had such an individual. During their turn to guess the answer from their fellow teammate, this person’s face turned to a deep shade of red as he yelled out answers. For all the times he jumped out of his chair, you would have thought the seat was bristling with white hot electricity. When the timer ended and his team heard the correct answer; he shouted at his teammate, asking them why they did not do a particular pantomime gesture as a clue for one of the words. I reached my limit when this person tried changing the rules in the middle of our game, telling us the way he played the game was the right way. If there is one thing I cannot stand it is someone who tries to manipulate or change the rules solely for their benefit. For that very reason, I was quickly invested in the story of this action adventure sequel. After wining last year’s Hunger Games; Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, played by Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, Winter’s Bone) and Josh Hutcherson (American Splendor, Bridge to Terabithia), had to keep up the appearance of being in love as they embarked on a victory tour throughout the districts. If you have not seen the first movie, I suggest you do because it will help you with the story in this film. The other thing you will notice is the improvements made to this science fiction movie. Let me start out with the script; it kept things tight and added a needed layer of depth to the characters that was missing in the first installment. I must admit I have a little crush on Jennifer’s acting abilities. She was the perfect person to play this role and that is without me having read any of the books this franchise is based on. Besides her gifted acting I thought Elizabeth Banks (The Next Three Days, Role Models) as Effie Trinket and Donald Sutherland (Pride & Prejudice, The Con Artist) as President Snow did a better job in exposing more emotions out of their characters. Not only were the special effects top notch but the high caliber of directing produced a seamless series of scenes that kept me completely engaged and entertained. In the game of making sequels; this exciting film is the way it should be done, because I enjoyed this better than the first movie.
3 1/2 stars
Music has such an intoxicating affect on me when I am listening to it. There are certain songs that contain the memories of my joy and pain in their musical notes. A particular song will come on the car radio and my heart will deflate, peeling a layer of sadness that floods into my bloodstream, reminding me of a painful breakup. I will be walking through a department store and hear the beginning notes of a song playing on the speaker system; a waterfall of joy cascades down on me like a sparkling waterfall as I remember the wonderful time I spent with a close friend. There is the famous quote, “Music has charms to sooth the savage breast,” though it is usually misquoted as beast. Well music can do that and a whole lot more as you will see in this touching dramatic movie. J.K. Simmons (Contraband, Juno) and Cara Seymour (Gangs of New York, An Education) played Henry and Helen Sawyer, the parents to their estranged son Gabriel, played by Lou Taylor Pucci (The Story of Luke, Beginners). When it is discovered Gabriel had a brain tumor that prevented him from forming any current memories, his parents sought a way they could somehow reconnect to the son they had not seen for so many years. The first thing that grabbed me in this film was the acting of J.K. Simmons. He had always been a solid actor in a multitude of supporting roles, but it was great to watch him take this lead role and bring life to it. Of course to have music be part of the narrative was a big bonus at least for me. Speaking of the plot, I became enthralled with it since it was based on a true story. Getting Julia Osmond (My Week with Marilyn, Legends of the Fall) to play musical therapist Dianne Daley was a wonderful addition that balanced out the rest of the cast. The story already had built in emotional elements to it, which the director used to his advantage. I was aware of the manipulation and pulling of heart strings but I did not care. The mind’s capabilities was something that has always fascinated me. Seeing how it could be affected by music in this touching film only made me enjoy watching the movie that much more. I would not be surprised if I added a new memory to one of the songs from this film’s wonderful soundtrack.
3 stars — DVD
I first heard this quote back in my high school world history class. The sandal clad professor was leading a discussion about rulers in power such as dictators and despots. To drive home the point he was trying to make, the teacher quoted Briton, Sir John Dalberg-Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” That quote really struck and stayed with me as the class dug deeper into the course. As I finished my schooling and entered into the workforce, I continued to see examples where people in power had some form of corruption. It would be either morally or financially, but each time I would hear that history teacher reciting the quote and be amazed how perceptive Lord Acton was back then. Those quoted words truly apply to this documentary film about cyclist Lance Armstrong. Director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The Last Gladiators) followed Lance for 4 years, looking to create a film about Lance’s return to cycling and trying to capture his 8th Tour de France competition. In fact, the working title of this movie was “The Road Back.” But after Lance admitted to doping, Alex had a much different story to document. As for the mechanics of this film I thought the director kept a tight rein on telling the story, mixing his footage with news clips and interviews. I found the pacing consistent and at times was surprised by scenes that were captured by the director. On the downside, I felt parts of the movie were a rehash of events that were already reported in the news. Due to this I did find myself getting bored sometimes. I guess this would lead to an important question one needs to ask themselves before seeing this movie: Do you really care about Lance Armstrong? His life was certainly compelling; a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France made a great story. Add in the work of The Livestrong Foundation, where by the way one club I teach cycling at has their bikes, I could see where a documentary of Lance would sell. However, with the true story now out I really do not have any sympathy for the man. Those words first spoken in the 1800’s about power ring just as true today as they did centuries ago.
2 3/4 stars
There are people walking this earth who are related to me, but I have no idea who they may be. With my family roots coming out of England, Lithuania and Russia, there is not a trail of records that would form a clear family tree of relatives for me. I wish there was a way to find these individuals and hear their life stories, let alone look to see if there were any physical resemblances that were passed down to each generation. To hear a different version of a family member you were familiar with would be a heady experience, I would think. As far as I know there have not been any relatives that had a secret spouse or child, but I have to assume anything is possible. This very topic was the heart of the story in this Oscar nominated movie. At the reading of Nawal Marwan’s, played by Lubna Azabal (Body of Lies, Coriolanus), will; her children Jeanne and Simon, played by Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin (Through the Mist, Taking the Plunge franchise) and Maxim Gaudette (Polytechnique, Cheech), discovered their father was alive and they had a brother they never knew existed. Per their mother’s wishes the two children set off on a harrowing trail that would lead them to some deep family secrets. This dramatic mystery grabbed my attention right from the start. The parallel stories were easy to follow and augmented each other with a buildup of drama. Even though the actors were speaking in a foreign language to me, I thought the actors’ acting came across vividly, with emotions easily pouring out of them. It especially added strength to the scenes that had a higher level of intensity. The directing was right on target; I only had a minor complaint of not always knowing what location was being shown at first. As I said it was not a big deal since the gripping story kept my interest in this film festival winning movie. How ever you define family, some people’s focus is solely on their family members; for others it is not a priority. This film presented an unbelievable option that never even occurred to me. This Canadian movie was spoken in French and Arabic languages with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
Some people determine their wealth based on how many books they have in their possession. I can absolutely understand the concept. Books are portals that let me visit different lands, times and people. Sitting in a crowded subway car does not bother me; knowing that as soon as I crack open the cover to my book, I will be off on an adventure down to a place such as the Amazon River. Another benefit that comes with books is the opportunity to share them with someone else. One of my favorite date nights is going to a bookstore, where we split up and seek out books we think the other person would enjoy reading. I consider the act of reading aloud to someone to be a sweet, loving gesture. You can now understand why the title to this dramatic movie, based on the best selling novel, intrigued me. The book thief in this story was a young girl named Liesel, played by Sophie Nelisse (Monsieur Lazhar, Esimesac). Set in Germany during the early stages of World War II, Liesel was sent to live with foster parents Rosa and Hans, played by Emily Watson (War Horse, Breaking the Waves) and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). As the horrors of war took place around her, Liesel’s love of books provided a safe haven for her and the people around her. Though I have not read the book, after seeing this film festival winner I have the urge to read it now. Besides the wonderful performance from Sophie Nelisse, I thought Geoffrey Rush did a great job with his role. The chemistry came across as lovingly real between the two of them. I did have some confusion on the circumstances that led Liesel to her foster parents, however. There were several other scenes that seemed rushed or without much emotional depth. This can be attributed to the script, for I found it to be uneven. Having the story told from a child’s perspective was something I found different then other films that dealt with the subject of Nazi Germany. One thing I found odd was the use of a narrator, especially towards the latter part of the movie where I felt the story was being quickly rushed to wrap things up. I liked parts of this film but the thing I really enjoyed was being reminded of a saying I used to hear when growing up–no one can ever rob you of an education. A few scenes had German spoken with English subtitles.
2 1/2 stars
There are so many instances where people talk through a filter. An employee and a boss each have their own filter they must use when talking to each other. A teacher has a certain filter they need to use when talking to their students, just as a student has a filter they use when talking to their teacher. At least they did in my time, though based on what teachers have told me, students today use a filter with larger holes in it. The type of relationship where I feel there is no need for filters is the one between friends. With my friends and I there is no need to soften or temper our words to each other. I would not want it any other way. Our words travel on a slick smooth road that is void of any exits or potholes; a clear straight highway of thoughts and feelings. Fifteen years have gone by, letting their filters become less porous, as college friends reunite for the Christmas holiday at the home of Mia and Lance, played by Monica Calhoun (The Salon, Diary of a Single Mom-TV) and Morris Chestnut (The Call, Think Like a Man), in this funny movie. They soon discover the happy occasion may not soften the hard feelings and lies that were lying dormant inside of them. I did not know this comedic drama was a sequel at first, not recalling ever seeing the first one from 1999, The Best Man. Though the writers tried their best to make this a stand alone film, I felt I would have gotten more out of this movie if I had seen the first one. A few times I thought I was missing the joke or point being made. Putting that aside, I thought the story was predictable for the most part. With a majority of humor being handled by Terrence Howard (Prisoners, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Quentin, I thought the first half of the movie was okay. For the last half of the film, the story shifted where I found myself becoming more invested in the action. Besides the story involving Lance and Mia, I was interested in what was taking place with Robyn and Harper, played by Sanaa Lathan (Something New, The Family That Preys) and Taye Diggs (Equilibrium, Private Practice-TV). One of my pet peeves is a movie trailer that shows a scene that is not in the film and it happened with this movie’s trailers. Also, I felt the trailers showed too much humor with none of the dramatic scenes; this was poor marketing in my opinion. Good communication would have helped better advertise this movie; it would have also helped create stronger bonds between the friends in this film.
2 1/3 stars
Real magic is something I find when reading a book. The author is the mapmaker while I travel along the route they laid out before me. The magic begins in my imagination when the printed words (yes, from a book that is in my hands) gently soak into my eyes. When I read the word “villa” I conjure up a sprawling terra cotta structure, guarded by tall majestic trees with long green arthritic arms stretched out trying to hold hands with each other. A character in the story can mention a musical instrument and I will hear it playing in my mind. Some of you already know I prefer seeing the movie first then reading the book afterwards. The reason being I usually find the book better than the film. My imagination paints such a vivid picture of what I am reading; it is hard for a director to recreate what I have already seen. Since I have read this classic Charles Dickens story and seen the previous film versions of it, I will review this movie as if it is the first time I am seeing the story on film. The story revolved around a young orphan named Pip, played by newcomer Toby Irvine and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Now is Good). Partially motivated by his attraction to Miss Havisham’s, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger), adopted daughter Estella, played by Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre, Anna Karenia); Pip diligently struggled to become a respectful fine gentleman, worthy of Estella’s affection. The two stand out performances in this dramatic romance came from Ralph Fiennes (The Duchess, Skyfall) as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter. The rest of the cast was not bad; they just did not stand out compared to these two. I thought the cinematography was wonderful, both indoor and outdoor scenes were richly detailed. The issue I had with this film festival winner was how dry and disengaged everything seemed. There was not much life in this movie; I found my mind wandering through portions of it. There was not as much drama as one would imagine with a Charles Dickens story. So with everything I have just said; if I now compare this version to the ones that came before, this was a pretty movie to watch that did not have much to show for it.
2 1/3 stars