Category: 3 Stars


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

January 3rd, 2014 — 8:10pm

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty -rm

There is a little bit of Walter Mitty in all of us. Who hasn’t had a daydream of being a hero, flying in a plane or a helicopter on some mission, jumping through some dangerous obstacle, defeating the villain and winning over the object of your affection? This ability to fantasize at any time, any place, can carry us out of any mundane situation and temporarily put us on top of the world. It is the universality of this state of mind, which made the skillfully penned short story by James Thurber written in 1939, endure and become one of the most frequently anthologized stories in American literature. The derivative word “Mittyesque “ lives on in the English language meaning an ineffectual person who spends time in heroic daydreams rather than dealing with reality. The first Walter Mitty movie, which didn’t follow the plot of the Thurber short story, starred Danny Kaye and came out in 1947. Nor does the current movie with the screenplay by Steve Conrad, although the theme does befit Walter Mitty. In this story Life Magazine is closing and  converting to an all online media. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a behind the scenes negative analyst (meaning he analyzes and fixes up negatives of photographs of pictures, which appear in this iconic publication.) There is to be one last issue of the magazine before it closes and Mitty has taken on the responsibility of tracking down a lost negative sent in by a great photojournalist (Sean Penn) who travels the world to capture magnificent pictures. Mitty has a secret crush on co-worker Cheryl Melhoff  (Kristen Wiig) with whom he timidly interacts with in real life and of course is quite dashing in his secret daydreams. In his quest of the missing negative  Mitty travels the world, ends up in Greenland and then Iceland, takes dangerous helicopter rides, climbs gigantic magnificent mountains and skateboards down them, faces man made dangers well as the perils of nature including a shark. At times it may be a little disconcerting as a there is a blur between whether we are seeing the real actions of Mitty or his fantasy life. This is not a movie about another superhero. The attempt here is to make Mitty possibly be anyone or everyone. Stiller’s face, his acting along with his outstanding directing, with a full, well thought out sound track, a 90 million dollar budget including shooting in Iceland as well as generous very effective CGIs, achieves this goal. An added bonus is Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mother. In the end, we are moved and touched by the film so it is probably worth the budget and what may be the longest end of movie credits that we have seen in a long time (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

Anchorman 2

December 25th, 2013 — 1:16am

 ***rl-rF1gfu1pP7doSJN1xCaFPSCJmcBNk2gTeMqj49s-eXivW2XOC3aaT0ykujIS_wMZW=s85 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) 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

American Hustle

December 22nd, 2013 — 11:29pm

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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)    

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime

Nebraska

December 7th, 2013 — 8:38am

 ****KjVyXLVBE8Pv2M0hKRSnVhOpeWe543_O4ucfYjQ1gytKeSSxvuiy9a-L_Z-WXKnuk1UCY8U=s142 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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Dallas Buyers Club

November 17th, 2013 — 3:00am

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 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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

The Broken Circle Breakdown

November 7th, 2013 — 7:57am

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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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Romance

Freedom Writers

November 3rd, 2013 — 6:16pm

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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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Don Jon

October 13th, 2013 — 7:46pm

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Don Jon- rm – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a writer, director and lead actor takes on a complicated and difficult subject and that is relationships and sexuality. He also takes a swipe at the Catholic Church and what some might say is the stereotype of New Jersey women and men. Don Jon  (certainly a name to remind us of the great lover Don Juan), played by Levitt is a 30 something guy living a single life in New Jersey. He lives near his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headley) and is a working guy like his dad. He has a bachelor pad where he enjoys sex with his latest girlfriend. However, he enjoys watching pornography on his computer even more. Ms. Sugaraman (Scarlett Johansson), his new girlfriend is a knockout but she has definite ideas what a man should be like and thus tries to set the bar for Don Jon. This includes, going back to school, having a maid clean his apartment rather than himself (which Don would rather do), spend time with her and her friends together and most of all enjoy seeing romantic movies with her. Don tries to do all of this but still goes back to his Porn. All the Hail Mary’s ordered by his Priest after his Confession don’t help. He meets a slightly older widow (Julianne Moore) who shows him that sex and lovemaking can even be better than porn when the two people are really into each other. Levitt makes his points with good writing and great acting (especially his and Johansson’s). However, it isn’t clear to us if he is talking about the current state of sexuality in today’s society or if he is making a statement about the coming of age of his generation or both. In either case, he made a bold creative movie that may be able stand on it’s own. We suspect that Mr. Levitt who has established himself as an actor will be on the scene as a filmmaker for some exciting new movies. Perhaps we are seeing the the new Woody Allen. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Romance

Gravity

October 5th, 2013 — 10:11pm

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Gravity rm- We saw this film in newly furbished movie theatre with very comfortable large seats that go back almost 180 degrees, a gigantic new screen and a magnificent sound system that was capable of shaking the entire building. We chose the 3D showing which was perfect for this film. The view shown of earth from space was breath taking. Director Alfonso Cuaron obviously had the money and the special effects people to make the most of this experience You probably have seen the coming attractions of this film. You can also get a pretty good feeling what it is like to float in space with only your thrusters to move you around by going to the movie web site and take their simulated space walk where you control the movement (http://gravitymovie.warnerbros.com/#/experience). So what is left?A little of George Clooney and a lot of Sandra Bullock who really carries the movie. She flips, turns, worries, frets, thinks about her daughter and really does a great one woman show. There really is no great story line.  It is a fun experience and perhaps it shows you the state of the art for making a movie “in space.”  We think many sophisticated movie goers will probably want more than this movie provides. Maybe visiting the website will be enough.. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Thriller

Witness

September 3rd, 2013 — 6:07pm

***Witness

 

Witness- nf  This is a 1985 thriller directed by Peter Weir and stars Harrison Ford as John Book a very honest Philadelphia police detective who is investigating a murder of an undercover cop. There is a witness to the crime and that is a young Pennsylvania Dutch Amish boy, dark suit and black hat, who happened to be in a men’s room stall when the crime went down.He identifies a picture of the killer who is  McFee,  a  dirty cop ( Danny Glover) involved with two other cops  wheeling and dealing narcotics big time. When they learn of the witness, they are out to get the kid and the good cop who gets injured in a shoot out with McFee. Book, along with the kid and his beautiful widowed mother Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis), return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for him to recuperate from his injuries (they can’t take him to a hospital where the bad cops would find him). This is where the Amish live  in the beautiful countryside with horse drawn carriages and peaceful non- violent traditional  ways. They have their Council of Elders, prayer meetings and even a barn raising where all the men pull the frame up and begin to hammer away before taking a break for the meal prepared by the women of the community. This story allows a bringing together of two divergent cultures yet both living in the 20th century side by side. Add to this a romantic twist as the beautiful Rachel and the dashing Book are drawn to each other. You know the trio of the dirty cops are going to track them down, guns blazing and you can be sure there is going to be an exciting climax with uncertainty to the if and how  Rachel and the good detective will resolve their relationship. This is a unique premise, an unusual setting and a well done breath taking movie. Viewing the Netflix Special Feature, which includes interviews with Director Peter Weir and the various actors will add to your enjoyment. (1985) 

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama, Thriller

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