*** Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues –rm Nobody should be surprised by this movie. Either you have seen the first version of Anchorman or you have seen the massive publicity and the trailers about this movie. If you haven’t, feel free to take a moment and watch one of them which has a good many of the film’s “funny” lines and bits: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elczv0ghqw0 The jokes are juvenile, slapstick with a lot of screaming along with racial, antigay, sexist jokes and even makes fun of people who are blind. Of course the characters are also making fun of themselves and they will make you gasp and /or laugh, sometimes. Adam McKay, who co-wrote it with Will Ferrell, directs it. MacKay also co-wrote the first Anchorman. The movie opens with Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell) being fired by the retiring veteran anchorman (Harrison Ford) who at the same time names his own replacement to be Ron’s co-anchor and wife (Christine Applegate). A new 24-hour/day-television news station subsequently hires Ron and he rounds up some of his previous colleagues from the old days who are played by Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner. They have lots of interactions with the television station people especially one tough, sexy boss played by Linda Jackson. The storyline is thin, disjointed and flows in order to allow the jokes and comic routines. There are bit to middling roles by Kristen Wiig, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steve Coulter, Kanye West, Tina Fey, Greg Kinnear, Liam Neeson and Amy Poehler to name a few. They really don’t change the level of the comedy, which comes mainly from Ferrell. With so many great films out at this time of the season, if you don’t see a large number, we don’t know why you would choose this one. But on the other hand, we realize that there are a lot of folks who go for this type of comedy so after some discussion we decided that it might fit our criteria for three stars. (2013)
Archive for 2013
American Hustle- rm The opening words on the screen states something like “Some of this actually happened”. This refers to what is known as the Abscam Scandal, which occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the FBI ran a sting operation where several members of the House of Representatives and a US Senator were offered bribes from a fake Arab sheikh. Most of the story in this movie probably didn’t actually happen but it is somewhat entertaining, has very good acting, but is arguably overdone. The wide span that the title suggests is quite fitting because just about all the characters are hustling each other in some manner. We initially meet Irving Rosenfeld (played by a slightly overweight balding Christian Bale with a glued on comb over) who is a con man who owns a bunch of dry cleaning stores and runs a scheme where he extracts a non refundable fee of about $5000 from people looking for a deal by promising to put them in touch with a way to make several times that amount of money but the deals never materialize. He also sells phony art to people eager to own what they think are originals. He meets his match in a young woman with a moniker of Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who assumes the persona of a sexy British aristocrat. Although she was a down and out American girl, she wins him over and they become a team. They were “busted” by an eager FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), who then enlisted them in running scams to catch bigger fish, in order to save their own skins. The plot thickens and the other characters complicate the situation including Rosenfeld’s unhappy sexy wife (Jennifer Lawrence), Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Remmer), a really good honest caring person who truly wants rebuild Atlantic City but gets ensnarled in the sting and there is Victor Tellegio (Robert di Niro) the most feared gangster who when he kills, he never hides the body in order to intimidate everyone else. Everybody is conning everyone else. The FBI is carrying on like a bunch of keystone cops fighting among each other. The maestro here was the director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) who co-wrote the script with Eric Singer. Yes, there were unexpected twists and turns. However, the characters and situations didn’t seem very real to us and we didn’t really care about most of them. The comedy and action may have held our attention most of the time but in the end we felt that we were hustled. (2013)
Saving Mr. Banks -rm In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)
**** Nebraska-rm You might say that this is a “road movie.” However, the guys who go traveling on an adventure here are father and son. The Dad is Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a not quite with it, aging alcoholic Korean War Veteran, probably in his 80s who his family thinks is ready for a nursing home. His traveling companion is his younger son David (Will Forte) a not very successful television and audio component salesman who has just separated from his long-term girl friend. The purpose of their trip is to go from Montana to Nebraska to claim the million dollars mentioned in the letter that Woody has received which makes him thinks he has won the money but is clearly just another worthless magazine sweepstakes advertisement. Prior to their departure we meet his older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), a local “wannabe” TV anchor and Kate (June Squibb) Woody’s feisty, outspoken wife. On the way, they stop in Woody’s old hometown where there is a family reunion of sorts. While we could understand Woody as a taciturn man who has lost some of his mental prowess with age and drinking, we were not sure of what to think of all his relatives and old friends most of whom didn’t seem very bright, barely said a word to a close relative or friend they haven’t seen in years and could have dinner and watch a football game on TV without talking and one who was content to sit in front of his house just to watch the occasional car go by. We would hope there might be some blow back of these depictions from the folks in Nebraska and Montana or maybe we just aren’t familiar with the lifestyle out there. The real essence of this movie is the father son relationship as we appreciate David’s tender caring for his Dad. The subtle connection between these two is conveyed by the sensitive acting of both Forte and Dern, who say a great deal with non-verbal communications. Whereas June Squibb, as the wife, delivers her dialogue in clear and times a humorous manner but the content also helps us understand the underlying character of old Woody. The reaction of old friends and family to Woody when they believe he may have won a million dollars is another sad commentary on human nature, which this screenplay by Bob Nelson effectively delivers. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways) was born in Nebraska so we will assume that he is bringing a certain authenticity to the setting and the people. He also chose to shoot the film in black and white, which set the tone and nudged us to appreciate the starkness of the setting and the characters. (2013)
August: Osage County sp– Meryl Streep has done it again as she turns in what has to be a sure thing for another Oscar nomination as best actress and we wouldn’t be surprised if Julia Roberts snags one for her supporting role. These two are part of the most dysfunctional family configurations that you can imagine as they gather in the matriarch’s (Meryl Streep) house after the patriarch(Sam Shepherd) has just killed himself. The setting is bleak but beautiful (if that is possible) Osage County in Oklahoma. The three daughters who come home, are played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. A husband and boyfriend are played by Ewan McGregor and Dermot Mulroney. Margo Martindale is great as the almost equally mean sister of Steep’s character and her grown son is inhabited by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. Her husband is wonderfully acted by Chris Cooper. The Director is John Wells who is best known for his television work on ER, West Wing, Shameless, Southland and many other shows. He certainly found the right touch to work with this all star cast as the interaction which develops over the post funeral dinner is spellbinding as are the subplots with the various family members. The screenplay is written by Tracy Letts who originally wrote it as a highly successful Broadway play which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Wells, in a post screening discussion, stated that he hoped the audience will find a little of their own families in this depiction which we believe is a stretch as much of the family interrelationships were horrendous although fascinating. Streep’s character is anyone’s worst nightmare as a shrew, cruel insensitive pill popping mother about whom we can only gain insight and understanding when we hear her talk about her own mother. Is it ever possible to get away from such a bad piece of luck as to be born into this family? In one sense the movie is a study of how family members might be able to escape from such a toxic environment. We can only imagine how this witch-like matriarch might feel if she is finally abandoned and left alone with her native American housekeeper (perfectly played by Misty Upham). (2013)
Philomena – Early in the film we learn that Martin Sixsmith (Steven Coogan), a former journalist, has lost his job as a Labor government (British) advisor and decided to meet Philomena ( Judy Dench) an elderly woman who as a teenager had an out of wedlock child at a convent and saw that child taken away for adoption. In her later years she unsuccessfully tried to find out what happened to him and never stopped thinking about him even after she became a mother and grandmother. She agrees to let Sixsmith help her try to find her, long lost but never forgotten, son and write a human interest story about this situation.
The film is based on a non-fiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by the real Sixsmith which documents the journey of this unlikely pair. This movie about this human trauma was directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay by lead actor Coogan and Jeff Pope. It takes a hard look at the attitude of the Catholic Church towards unwed mothers (at least in Ireland 50 years ago but which may not have completely changed today.) It pulls no punches in showing the cruel treatment of the unwed mothers who had to work in oppressive conditions for a few years in return for having had their child delivered and cared for by the nuns in the convent, only to see their little one sold to rich Americans who were looking to adopt a child. The details of the destiny of the children were hidden from the mothers and attempts to later trace them were covered up with lies and deception. There is an attempt at some balance by showing the contrasting lack of religious faith by the journalist compared to the almost all forgiving faith of Philomena but in the end the Church does not look very good.
The movie also reminds us of the painful discrimination towards people with HIV disease which existed in the United States, especially in the 1980s. Both Coogan and Dench are excellent as they convey their subtle emotions and the grand lady of theatre and film may be up for another of her many awards. The storyline of this film also deals with a psychological topic that one of us (MB) has been interested in from a clinical point of view as well as how it has been depicted in various movies. Lost or hidden family members is the subject and the incessant drive to find that person where the emotional connection is intensely built on the biological connection even when the life experience together has been very little or even absent. Some of the recent movies which we have reviewed on this subject have been The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, Stories We Tell, Admissions and Mother and Child. MB has also written about this with case examples in a blog titled PsychiatryTalk.com which you can click here to view. This very fine film is not only another example of this phenomena but also stands on it’s own as a compelling dramatic production, (2013)
Dallas Buyers Club- rm– In order to join the Dallas Buyers Club, you had to pay $400 per month. In return you get all the medicines that can be obtained by the Club available from all over the world to treat your condition of HIV/AIDS. Needless to say, most of these medications were not yet approved by the FDA. Also it should be recognized that the gathering process is mostly illegal but the medications seem to be working and prolonging the lives of the participants in the Club. The man who is the chief person in charge of obtaining the merchandise is Ronald Woodroff (Mathew McConaughey), an electrician and sometimes rodeo bull rider. We meet him as a tough guy, who snorts cocaine and has lots of causal sex. He certainly knows how to deal in drugs. McConaughey carries the film with his riveting performance of this character. It appears that he must have lost about 50 pounds to prepare for this role as he comes across as quite thin and emaciated (although in a shirtless scene he did seem to show a little too much muscles for a man dying of AIDS no matter how thin) There is also a great acting by Jared Leto who plays Rayon, a thin young man with AIDS who is trying to be an attractive woman . There is also a fine performance by beautiful Jenifer Garner who we see as a conflicted doctor torn between wanting to conduct AIDS research the FDA way but seeing that there might be a better approach to help people. . The film was set in the 1980s at the time that this deadly disease was killing so many people without an effective treatment in sight. It is based on a true story and captures the desperation of so many people and their families with AIDS at this time . It also highlights the dilemma of the FDA to fund pharmaceutical company double blind careful research which takes time and mandates that some patients in studies must get placebo even though that means they will stand no chance of improvement. It reflected the reality that effective forms of treatment sometimes surfaced in Mexico and other countries throughout the world that were not approved for treatment in the US . This all added up to an absorbing enlightening film with a screen play by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack which was directed by Jean-Marc Valiee. Twenty years ago Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for Best actor for his role in the motion picture Philadelphia which was one of the first mainstream Hollywood pictures to deal with HIV/AIDS. McConaughey has a chance to be similarly recognized for this role and this film certainly will live on as an important piece of history of the AIDS epidemic.(2013)
The Broken Circle Breakdown –sp (In Flemish with subtitles) This will be Belgium’s bid for the best foreign film of the year. Early on in the movie you learn about a married couple, very attracted to each other, have a 5 year old child who is dying of cancer. Elise is a tattoo artist (played by Veerle Bactens a very popular Belgium actress who can also sing quite well ) who joins her husband Didier (Johan Heldenberg) and his bluegrass musical group. Their grief over the loss of their adorable daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) tears them apart and they turn on each other. The anger and the hurt that they inflict on each other breaks up this wonderful relationship. This is one of the points of the film. Number two would seem to be the difference in how people deal with such a loss. Elise would like to believe that their daughter’s soul or spirit might reappear as a bird or is living on in some way whereas Didier believes that when you are gone you are gone! The third point we get from the film seems to come out of left field but is connected to the storyline. That is related to former President George W. Bush who vetoed stem cell research in the US and all the people who on religious grounds might have agreed with him. Didier in the film ridicules this point of view and goes on a tirade against it since he feels such research can save lives such as that of his daughter. The final point we believe that is made is that some people can never recover from such a tragedy, leaving one to believe that you should enjoy life while you can because you never know what terrible thing is around the corner . These are all worthy themes for a movie but we felt that they were dealt with in a relatively superficial manner thereby missing the opportunity to leave us with memorable film. Certainly the acting was outstanding. The movie was directed by Felix Van Groeningen who also wrote the screenplay with Carl Joos, after he saw the story written and directed on the stage by Johan Heldenberg who played Didier in this film. Van Groeningen showed the sexual chemistry of the couple quite well. He also used flashbacks, which is often the vogue in today’s movies but which we thought was somewhat overdone in this one. Whatever shortcomings the film may have had was made up by the effective intertwining of some terrific country bluegrass music throughout the film which included vocals by the two stars. This is particularly interesting because we learned that bluegrass music is not yet a popular genre in Belgium today. (2013)
Freedom Writers- nf We watched this film with our 12 year old granddaughter and 10 year old grandson. We all liked it and got caught up in the inspirational theme of the movie as we saw young people asserting themselves and making a difference. The screenplay is written by Richard LaGravenese who also directed the film. It is based on a true story about a newly graduated schoolteacher who is taking her first job at Wilson High School in Long Beach California in 1993 shortly after the riots in Los Angeles the previous year. The teacher is played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank who is surrounded by a few veteran actors but mainly a cast of unknown young people who play high school freshmen (although they look a little older than that age) who are the first teaching assignment of the novice teacher. The students are from various factions in the community, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian with some, of course from various gangs. The high school had formerly been a high achieving school but since it was integrated with students from the various groups, it has mostly lost its academic standing. The school administration had little expectation for the students but the new teacher Ms. Gruell didn’t seem to get that message. However, she does have to struggle to figure out how to reach these students. She realizes that while many of them have had similar experiences they don’t have empathy or understanding for each other. She also helps them learn about other people who have been terribly oppressed by introducing them to the facts of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few undercurrents and subplots that may not be entirely clear as well the story of the teacher’s personal life which includes a marriage falling apart as her husband (Patrick Dempsey) feels he is being neglected by his hard working wife who has to take on 3 jobs to get all the books and things for her students. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the film is the reenactment of the event where the students wrote letters to Miep Giess (Pat Carrol), the woman who hid Ann Frank and they actually raised money to bring her to the USA to meet and address them. (That scene will bring a few tears to your cheek) The teacher then had the students write about their feelings and experiences in a journal. A compilation of these writing was then put into a book, which was published as The Freedom Writers Diary. The entire story reached national prominence when it was featured on the ABC TV shows Prime Time. Now it lives on to inspire new generations of teachers and students as well as others like us as we catch up with it on NetFlix. (2007)
The Book Thief- sp– This is an extremely moving film which captures still another aspect of the inhumane, cruel and evil impact of Hitler and his Nazi followers on the German people. It does this through the eyes of a young girl Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is 12 years old when we meet her as she is separated from her family and comes to live with a German couple in a small town just before the start of World War II. Her new mother Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is tough and strict on the outside but we come to see her tenderness and love as the story develops. Her new father Hans (Geoffrey Rush in what could be an Oscar nomination performance) shows his tenderness, love, pain and identification with his new daughter in many complex ways. It is their love of words and books, which they share, which brings them together and helps to convey the story that is being told. Whenever you have a child actress who is carrying the story and the emotion of a film, mainly with few words, the credit for this accomplishment has to be shared with the director, which in this case was Brian Percival. Kudos also for the birth of this film deserves to be given to Fox 2000 a major studio led by Elizabeth Gabler which also brought Life of Pi to the screen. This movie, which is narrated by the voice of death, is a fast moving two hours and five minutes and there is nothing that we would suggest should be cut from it. Although we both very much enjoyed the world wide best selling book upon which it based, one of us (MB) had some reservations about the book and the motivations of the author (see http://www.bookrap.net/?s=Book+thief) We both agreed the screen play by Michael Petroni was true to the book by Markus Zusak and the few changes were inconsequential. The music score, which captures the mood, and emotion, which exists throughout the film, was done by veteran award winning composer John Williams. When you think about it, our understanding of important historical events such as the rise of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust often comes from the great films on these subjects, which become imprinted in our minds. The Book Thief will be one of the films, which will play this role with the moviegoers of today. (2013)