Monthly Archives: December 2013

Flash Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Daydreams are like the morning dew on budding ambitions. For inside those daydreams is the pollen of ideas. Many of us have daydreamed at one time or another; I am a firm believer in them. Daydreams provide me a safe haven to let my mind wander untethered from my required responsibilities. Sitting in a waiting room while my car is being serviced provides me time to take a mental vacation to a warm exotic place as the drifting snow outside the dealership fades away from my vision. After I lost my weight many years ago I used to daydream of being a dancer, specifically a go-go dancer. It was not because I was looking for adulation. After being uncomfortable in my body for so long, I wanted to see how it would feel to let go in a very vulnerable way and not give any thought to how I looked to other people. This dream stayed with me for some time but I never had the courage to follow through with it. However, that daydream played a factor in my pursuit of becoming an aerobic instructor. Finding myself in a physical activity where I was not being teased or judged gave me more confidence than I had ever experienced before. Someone else who had a fondness for daydreaming was Walter Mitty, played by Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder, The Watch). To disappear from his uneventful life, Walter would escape into his daydreams of adventure and heroics. When his job position was threatened with elimination, Walter had to take off on a real adventure he never imagined in the hope of saving his job. Based on James Thurber’s short story of the same name, this adventure dramedy was not a remake of the Danny Kaye film. Directed by Ben, I enjoyed the flow of the story. There were several scenes that were visually stunning. I have to say those same scenes were the most engaging. If there was not some adventure taking place on screen I then found the story becoming weak, lacking any energy. The parts where Ben and Kristen Wiig (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Bridesmaids), who played fellow employee Cheryl Melhoff, were together I found almost boring. It was funny because I wished the short scenes that had Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment, Terms of Endearment) as Walter’s mother Edna, would have been longer. This award winning movie was  a good effort but the people involved in making it would have done better if they had dreamt bigger.

 

2 1/4 stars

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Flash Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

When two people work well together they create something truly special. I have one friend who is the only person I will travel with because we compliment each other so well. When we are exploring a new city or area out of state, we usually cover everything on our to do list. If for no other reason because we both are avid walkers. For example at a national park while they read all the signage that pertains to each site, I make sure I take multiple photo shots to create a visual travelog. After we return home we can easily recreate our vacation down to the littlest of details. In film history there have been several couples who had a way of blending with each other to give us memorable moments. Some of these pairings would be Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy/William Powell. A current couple that does something special when they get together on a film project is Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed, Titanic) and director Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Departed). In this crime comedy the two men made a spectacular film. Based on a true story Leonardo played Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who was at the center of a huge securities fraud scheme back in the 1990s. With his partner Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill (This is the End, Moneyball), the two built up a brokerage firm that would fund their excessive lifestyle; it did not matter if it was legal or not. I believe this was Leonardo’s best acting performance to date. Not only the emotional aspect but the physical side of his acting created a volcanic, unforgettable character. The casting of this Golden Globe nominated movie yielded several interesting choices such as Rob Reiner (The Story of Us, All in the Family-TV) playing Jordan’s father Max Belfort and Joanne Lumley (Late Bloomers, Absolutely Fabulous-TV) as Aunt Emma. For the few scenes they had, each left a lasting impression. Now I understand the movie originally clocked in over 4 hours but after some editing it was reduced to 3. This was still too long for me, since I felt the amount of sexual scenes were excessive. With that being said, Martin’s directing was pure perfection; each scene came across fully realized. Some viewers may have a hard time with the nudity and use of strong language throughout the film. Based on the track record for Leonardo and Martin, we should be in store for more movie magic in the future.

 

3 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Hours

I was saddened with the recent reported news about the father who was driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. With his young child not buckled in the back seat, the man crashed into a road barrier. He drove away not aware his child was thrown out the back window. It was not until he was pulled over by the police that he realized his toddler was missing. From this news and my recent memories recalled for a recent review about parenting, I was happy to see a movie that had a positive parental role model. Let me first tell you there was some sorrow regarding this film due to the recent death of actor Paul Walker (Fast & Furious franchise, The Lazarus Project) who stars in it. In this dramatic thriller Paul played Nolan Hayes, who became a new father when his baby was born prematurely just as Hurricane Katrina was set to hit New Orleans. As disaster took hold of the city, Paul would not leave his child alone in the hospital since she was placed in a neonatal incubator. Writer Eric Heisserer (The Thing, Final Destination 5) wrote the screenplay and made his directional debut with this film. I know there has been a variety of stories based on the tragedies caused by Hurricane Katrina, but I found this interesting story compelling due to its personal aspect. Paul was convincing in the role, having to handle most of his scenes by himself. Genesis Rodriguez (Identity Thief, Man on a Ledge) played his wife Abigail. The problem with this movie was the directing and the script. Though I liked the idea of the story, I felt it went for cheap thrills. There were scenes that were easy to predict along with some being just odd. For example, in the scenes where time was a factor, they did not always seem to be accurate in their duration. Also, I do not have medical training but one of the baby monitor’s readings did not seem right to me. Due to this I had to wonder if the movie studio rushed out the film; the thought of it makes me uncomfortable. Despite these faults, I still was interested enough to keep watching. If in fact this is the last completed movie made by Paul Walker, it was not the worst film I have seen. I just wish it would have been stronger as it did depict a positive role of a parent who would do anything for their child.

 

2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Hope is such a funny thing. In some circumstances it is the life preserver that keeps you afloat during the rough choppy waters of doubt and fear. When one has to wait for test results, hope is there to carry them through the days. There are times though where hope drives us crazy as if it greased the wheels of one’s reasoning, making them skid across the roads of reality and sanity. Checking one’s email account for an email or voice messages for that one call, hoping the person you just met keeps their promise to contact you for a date, as you refuse to make any plans yet for the weekend. This would be the wicked side of hope. The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. It says nothing about it helping or hindering us. In this latest dramatic film from the writing and directing team of Ethan and Joel Coen (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) hope was the only thing musician Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Drive), had as he tried to make it in the New York folk scene back in the 1960’s. This Golden Globe nominated black and white movie was meticulously filmed down to each detail. The set pieces and scenes had the Coen Brothers’ special way of evoking emotions out of both the characters and viewers. I do not believe everyone will be familiar with the Fred Harvey rest stop oasis, but it was priceless to see one of them in a scene. If I am not mistaken they were in only one state in America where they spanned across the highway. Besides the outstanding acting from Oscar, I thought the acting was equally well done by Carey Mulligan (An Education, The Great Gatsby) as Jean and John Goodman (Argo, Roseanne-TV) as Roland Turner. In fact, I think John is one of the best character actors working in movies today. As for the story I enjoyed most of it, though I felt at times it was meandering about, leaving uncertain conclusions. The ending left me a little cold. I am not sure this film festival winning movie will please everyone. Music lovers will certainly enjoy this musical movie; at least I hope so.

 

3 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Walking with Dinosaurs

My love of museums began at a very young age. There were several top rated ones in the city where I was born. At one museum I could take a ride down into a coal mine or climb into an actual submarine from World War II. Another museum had these large comfy seats that would lean way back, so I could look up at the stars and planets that traveled across the rounded ceiling as it changed from morning to night in a matter of seconds. We had one museum that was filled with a variety of ancient objects. There were mummies and sarcophagi that I, of course, thought were props from the movies Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. The other thing I always found fascinating in this museum were the prehistoric skeleton bones. As far as I was concerned they were the bones I saw in the Jules Verne movies I would watch on Saturday afternoons. To see up close the massive size of the dinosaur skeletons only fueled my imagination. The same held true in this action movie because the special effects truly brought the dinosaurs to life. I can only imagine what it must have looked like in the 3D version. The story was about Patchi, voiced by Justin Long (Drag Me to Hell, Accepted), the youngest and smallest of the herd leader’s children. With his friend Alex the bird, voiced by John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, Assault of Precinct 13), Patchi did not let his size get in the way of trying to be a hero. This family film was perfect for little children, especially those that are into prehistoric animals. Unfortunately that is the only good thing to be said about this boring movie. I did say it was great to watch but that only goes so far; a good story was needed to keep viewers’ attention. The humor was strictly infantile with cliched themes, such as the rivalry between Patchi and his older brother Scowler, voiced by Skyler Stone (The Rules of Attraction, Stuck on You). John Leguizamo has a distinct, rapid fire delivery that with the right script works well. Here the few funny lines he did have were probably not picked up by any of the youngsters in the audience. In fact, there were lines said by many of the characters that were just lame. It really was a shame because the trailer gave the impression of an exciting, dramatic adventure story. You would be better off to just look up the trailer and avoid the movie. Or better yet go to a natural history museum and let your imagination take off with the dinosaur bones on display.

 

1 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: American Hustle

One would think with my love of movies I would see a favorite film more than once. In all honesty it happens very rarely. If there is a movie I just have to own, I will see the film again when I buy the DVD. As far as I can remember, I think there are only 4 movies I have seen twice while they were still playing at the theater. One of those films was The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If I were reviewing movies back then I would have given this film a 4 star rating. Everything from the acting to directing to the music was as close to perfect as possible. Now the reason I brought up this film was because this crime film reminded me of The Sting. From writer and director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) this film festival winning movie was loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal from the 1970’s, which was an FBI sting operation against public corruption. Forty pound heavier Christian Bale (Out of the Furnance, American Psycho) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) played con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Forced into service by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Words), they discovered their lives could be at risk when some dangerous individuals suddenly became involved. The first thing in this Golden Globe nominated movie that reminded me of The Sting was its story. Besides both being about a sting operation, the story had several twists and surprises. The next thing that was similar was the unbelievable, amazing acting. Everyone in this film held their own with their terrific acting skills. One of the youngest actors in the cast gave such an astounding performance that she should get nominated for an Oscar. That actress was Jennifer Lawrence who played Irving’s alcoholic wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I thought her young age would be a hinderance in playing this role, but that was not the case. However, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, North Country) who played Mayor Carmine Polito looked too young for the part. His acting was first rate, but I felt he needed to look older for the part. Everyone in this dramatic film had equal amounts of screen presence which carried me through the couple of parts I found to be slow. With a little more editing the already fantastic dialog would have been ideal for me. The music and sets were perfect for the times. This movie certainly will get a couple of Oscar nominations and is definitely worth seeing. Now that I have seen it I have this urge to see The Sting again.

3 2/3 stars 

Flash Movie Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Credit has to be given to a person who believes their own convictions. Their dedication does not waiver during the low points in their life. When I was auditioning at several health clubs to teach aerobics, I still remember the reactions I got from several fitness directors. The most negative comments came from the director of one of the more prestigious health clubs in the city. As I drove home I went over everything I did in the audition, looking for something that I could have done differently, wondering what caused the sourness on that director’s face. Knowing my style was different with its choreographed movements; by the time I got home I decided I would not change, believing there was a place that would take a chance on me. The following week I had an audition where I did the same routines and this time the director not only had a smile on her face but joined in on the routines. I was hired on the spot. Since then whenever I applied to teach at another club I would insist the director come to my class to see what I was doing instead of me performing in their empty aerobic studio. Understanding a person’s dedication, I have to commend Will Ferrell (Elf, The Other Guys) in his desire to entertain audiences by bringing back his character, newsman Ron Burgundy. In this sequel a television station decided to launch a 24 hour news channel, looking at Ron Burgundy to be one of their announcers. Assembling his former news team Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, played by Steve Carell (The Way Way Back, Get Smart), Paul Rudd (Role Models, Wanderlust) and David Koechner (Thank you for Smoking, Balls of Fury), the news team came to New York City to make their mark with their own style of reporting. This comedy film had been hyped for so many months by the time I sat down to watch it I have to admit I was already a bit tired of it. The film trailers had the better jokes from the script because what I saw was not all that funny. Sure there were a couple of chuckles, due more to the outrageousness of the scene, but I did not find much creativity being used throughout the film. I did enjoy the variety of celebrity cameos, surprised by the actors who agreed to be in the movie. For those looking for some mindless fun, this would be the film to see. There was a brief extra scene at the end of the credits.

 

2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Carlos

I do not want to see the aftermath of a major accident. A car crash, where the vehicles are crinkled and smoking, with the flashing lights of police cars all around is nothing I want to slow down and stare at as I drive by. It is hard for me to watch the news when they show the aftermath of a terrorist attack with people strewn about like limp broken dolls. Even in movies I am not fond of seeing the scenes that show realistic bloodshed. If a character gets shot with a ray gun it does not bother me; but if it is a sawed off shotgun, I would rather not have to see the outcome. Just to let you know as a movie reviewer I never look away from a film no matter how gruesome it may be. When a movie is made about a situation that actually took place there is a distinction that has to be made. If the film is a documentary I expect to hear real facts and see actual footage. Now if the story is done as a dramatization I understand the writers may take certain liberties to enhance the story and make it more entertaining for the viewer. In the case of this biographical crime drama, I understand it may not be exact factual information and for that reason I am reviewing it as an entertainment piece not judging the acts shown or the political statement. First aired as a television miniseries, this tense thriller was about the infamous terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez aka Carlos the Jackal. A Venezuelan revolutionary, one of Carlos’ famous acts was the 1975 raid on the OPEC ministers during their annual meeting. Edgar Ramirez (Vantage Point, Wrath of the Titans) was incredible playing the intense, egotistical terrorist Carlos. Even when his scenes required him to speak in a different language he was seamless in the way his character interacted with a variety of foreign individuals. The length of this Golden Globe winning series was 5 hours and 33 minutes on multiple DVDs and I was never bored as I watched it. My remembrances of the actual events depicted in this drama were vague, but due to the tightly written story and excellent direction I found myself staying engaged with every scene. This was an extremely well done, provocative dramatization of a person who, whether he liked it or not, was famous with a larger than life reputation. There were several brief scenes that showed blood. English subtitles were used during the scenes that had Arabic, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Japanese or Russian dialog.

 

3 1/2 — DVD

Flash Movie Review: The Last Days on Mars

On Saturday afternoons there was a television program that exposed me to some strange creatures. I remember watching a being that had the limbs of a human but was totally covered in scales like a fish, living in a dark lagoon. Tomatoes which never frightened me before were now wreaking havoc on innocent citizens with their massive weight. When I was little you would always find me in front of our television set on Saturdays watching this program, where each week the uniformed host would introduce a new movie. As I got older I started to figure out that the space aliens attacking Earth had aluminum foil wrapped around their heads and the colossal woman was not fifty feet tall; there was a split screen which explained my confusion on why there was never any interaction between her and anyone else. All of these movies served some level of entertainment. Looking back at those times I can easily say some of the films are now considered campy. With today’s movie review, this science fiction horror thriller took itself too seriously to be considered campy. A small group of space explorers on the planet Mars was completing their duties as they prepared for their return trip back to Earth. Their plans were disrupted when an evil force started to attack them and try to pick them off one at a time. Liev Schreiber (Salt, Defiance) as Commander Vincent Campbell did his best to battle the unknown force; however, I was completely perplexed why he even agreed to do this film. I felt the story was an amalgamation of several other movies, finding nothing new or exciting. The character Kim Aldrich, played by Olivia Williams (An Education, The Sixth Sense), was a Ripley wannabe from the Alien franchise as far as I could tell. The special effects were substandard to the point of almost being laughable. I have been sitting here racking my brain out to find something redeeming to say about this awful film and all I can come up with is the fact it did not have anything offensive in a hateful way. Do yourself a favor and go rent one of those campy movies from the 1950’s or 60’s, taking a pass on this film that was horrific for the wrong reasons. There were scenes of violence and blood.

 

1 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

There is a place where all the should do’s, have to do’s and suppose to do’s in life cannot infiltrate; it is in one’s memories. Some of these remembrances may be average such as a friend’s phone number or a bank account number; however, there is a special area where the cherished memories are stored. It is in this place where I keep my fondest memories that get quick access to my heart. I remember my favorite babysitter who had a way of reading a story where the characters would come to life for me. She had a quiet gentleness that I found soothing. The reason she is presently closest in my thoughts is due to this comedic drama about a nanny. This film reveals the true untold story of how Walt Disney gained the rights to create what was to become the iconic film Mary Poppins. In that place where my fondest memories reside is the memory of the first time I saw this film about the unusual nanny, Mary Poppins. Since I can perfectly recall that experience I was concerned this biographic film would taint my memories. I can honestly say it did no such thing, instead it added a new depth of color to my vivid memories. Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Pirate Radio) played the fiercely protective author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips, The Terminal) played Walt Disney, the creative genius who spent 20 years pursuing the author for the rights so he could keep a promise he made to his daughters. This film received a brilliant performance by Emma, who was as difficult and unyielding as anyone could be against the creator of Mickey Mouse. The scenes where she had to sit with the creative team of Don DaGadi, played by Bradley Whitford (Scent of a Woman, The West Wing-TV), and brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, played by B.J. Novak (Knocked Up, Inglorious Basterds) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom), provided me a wild history lesson to some of the cherished songs from the Mary Poppins movie. The one complaint I had was the use of dual story lines because I thought each story could be its own film. Though I will say I thought Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Pride and Glory) did a touching, emotional job as P.L. Travers’ father. The insertion of Mary Poppins film clips in this Golden Globe nominated movie added to the heightened amount of joy I experienced during this film. I am happy to say my childhood memory of seeing Mary Poppins now has a new coating of fondness due to this beautiful movie. Please make sure you stay through part of the credits to hear the actual recordings of P.L. Travers.

 

3 1/4 stars

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