May 2nd, 2016 — 7:32pm
Eye in the Sky-rm
Not since the Hurt Locker have we seen a film, which provides a deep emotional insight into an aspect of modern warfare in which the United States is involved. In this case it is a U.S. drone pilot ( Aaron Paul) working with Colonel (Helen Mirren) and a British Lieutenant General (Alan Rickman) across the pond, who are about to direct a drone missile strike at a group of terrorists who are strapping on explosives for a planned suicide bombing in Nairobi, Kenya. Collateral damage must be taken into account and high-level government officials in both countries are asked to weigh in on this process. What is the right thing to do? It becomes clear that firing this missile could be an extremely important event in the war against terrorism by eliminating one of the major leaders as well as saving many innocent lives from the impending terrorist attack. All of this might depend on whether a nine-year-old girl is able to sell all her baked bread and thus leave the street outside of where the terrorists are located.
We know that modern warfare has changed forever when the commanding pilot of a strike airplane is actually taking his or her eight-hour shift in the pilot’s seat in a shed in Texas where the sophisticated controls and video screens are set up to fly a drone thousands of miles away, which is locked and loaded with deadly missiles. On top of all this, we learn that smaller drones in the form of little birds can be flown to hover over a target to get more intelligence and they can even be in the form of flying insects which can be dispersed to get a closer look. This is no longer science fiction but it is a story that could be ripped from today’s headlines.
As this film unfolds, the viewers are challenged to decide whether they would pull the trigger to kill an innocent child, who we have come to know and see, in order to save many other adults and children in the near future. Also we have to consider the propaganda implications if we kill one civilian versus if the terrorists kill many civilians. These are the choices to be made.
When our military men and women make these types of decisions they are often doing them based on what they have experienced in real combat zones. The late Alan Rickman, in his last role, playing the veteran lieutenant general delivers a line which we believe will live on in movie history as he tells a well-meaning woman politician, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”
We are sure that Director Gavin Hood (who gave himself a small part in the film) had a very large budget for this film, which he put to good use. There are realistic special effects and we felt we were side by side with the struggles that are made by modern-day warriors. The film is carefully constructed, enlightening and thought-provoking . It will take you on an emotional roller coaster and is well worth seeing. (2016)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, War
November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am
We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people
Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.
This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.
Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror
September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm
Woman in Gold – nf
This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.
We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.
Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.
Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
August 1st, 2014 — 6:53pm
The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
January 14th, 2014 — 7:02am
Hitchcock- nf As we anticipate this year’s Academy Awards nite, we were in the mood for a movie about making movies. We chose to view this biopic about the great Alfred Hitchcock. We can’t imagine two better choices for the stars than fellow Brits Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirin as his wife, Alma. While Hopkins seems to channel Hitchcock in appearance and mannerism, director Sacha Gervasi added to the impersonation by showing the iconic director’s profile numerous times. This is the story of a crisis in the life of the “Master of Suspense” as he is wondering if he is past his prime and won’t ever be able to match his last success North by Northwest. Perhaps driven by some demons in his own head he decides that he wants to make a movie of a book he has just read titled, Psycho. Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) head of Paramount Studios, where Hitchcock has a contract doesn’t think it will go over with the public and won’t provide the funding. Hitch makes a deal with them to do it if he provides the finances, which he does by mortgaging his own house. The screenplay by John J McLaughlin based on a book by Stephen Rebello shows us a man who realizes that he is at a crucial point in his life and with his marriage. He seems to have the confidence to make a great movie but he has to reach much deeper to try to save his marriage. As a movie fan it is fun to see a depiction of the making of Psycho. In this case it is Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles who we see might have been the “other woman” in the grand master’s life. While there is some attempt to remind us of the magic of a Hitchcock film, in the end it is just a snapshot of a one of film-lovers great heroes. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama
August 4th, 2011 — 6:53pm
The Debt-sp – When you start with a plot that has the Israeli mossad tracking down the “Surgeon of Birkenau” who is in East Berlin working as a fertility gynecologist, you can be pretty sure that you are going to have an exciting movie. Then when you have veteran Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren playing the lead along with Jessica Chastain, an engaging new actress who has starred in several movies which are coming out over a six month period, it becomes obvious that this is a movie which also deserves your attention. These two outstanding actresses are complimented by Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds and Sam Worthngton This is a film that will not disappoint. It is thriller with fast action, great tension along with a story that you may think you understand but it will take you for ride and challenge you in an ethical dilemma which the characters eventually face. Director John Madden expects the audience to be alert and you may miss a few fine points of the plot but in the end you come away still thinking about the story and the repercussions of it. What else can you ask for? (2011)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller
October 15th, 2010 — 4:09am
Red– sp- Retired and Extremely Dangerous is what the title of this movie stand for. This cast of actors, while some are a little long in the tooth, are far from retired but their characters in this movie are certainly dangerous. While you probably can picture Bruce Willis toting a deadly machine gun can you picture Dame Helen Mirren blasting away with an up to date Kalashnilov or whatever they are called? This is what you get in this delightful fun spoof of all the shoot em up, kill lots of people, blow things up, smash cars, CIA , FBI movies that you may have seen in the past few years plus some shades of James Bond. In addition to Helen and Bruce, you have great star power from John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dryfuss as well as excellent performances by Karl Urban, and Brain Cox. Basically the plot is that the old team has to get back together because they are all on a hit list related to some “ work “ they did in Guatemala 20 years ago. The plot thickens and involves the modern day CIA and maybe the Vice-President in a not such a good way. The story and the actions are completely unbelievable as they are played out, but you never know about the real secret lives of secret agents. Malkovich plays a delightful character who appears to be completely paranoid but everything that he is concerned about seems to happen with a vengeance. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, veteran movie producer, was at our screening and took us through how he put together this cast and how much fun they all seemed to have making the movie. He is hoping that older crowd will identify with the RED component and that the younger crowd will be drawn in for the action. We doubt that it will make the Oscar list but a good time can be had by all. ( 2010)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Action, Comedy
January 16th, 2010 — 2:38am
* * * *
The Last Station – sp – Leo Tolstoy died in 1910. This is the story of his last year based on a novel by Jay Parini with a screenplay written and directed by Michael Hoffman. Helen Mirren is as good as she ever has been ( and that is saying a great deal ) in her role as Sofya Tolstoy . Leo Tolstoy himself is played magnificently by Christopher Plummer who looks amazingly like the real Tolstoy seen in the film clips shown with the credits at the end of the film. It is the story of this great revered writer who at this late stage of his life has many devoted followers and is leading a movement of peace, love and putting aside the material things in life. The relationship of Leo and Sofya after 47 years of marriage is being examined or perhaps tested as Tolstoy accepts the idea put forth by his devotee Vladimir Chertkov played by mustache twirling Paul Giamitti, that the rights to his work belong to the Russian people and not his family as Sofya vociferously contends. James McAvoy is Valentin Bulgakov, Tolstoy’s young sensitive and naive secretary who is closely observing the struggles of his employer/hero as he himself has just discovered a meaningful relationship with a young woman. Producer Bonnie Arnold related to our preview audience how the movie idea was originally that of Anthony Quinn who hoped to star in it but all the pieces did not come together for him. It was filmed mostly in the East German countryside where Russia in the early 1900s could be recreated including the Tolstoy estate and authentic railroad and station scenes. The Russian backers of the film, which were part of the international consortium, that raised 17 million dollars to make it, required that the music background be composed and recorded in Russia. Sergey Yevtushenko subsequently did just that and his beautiful piano music added greatly to the mood of the film. The relationship between Leo and Sofya as played by two great actors is nuanced in so many ways and is the highlight of the movie all be it perhaps a tad overly dramatic. This may have been why we were always aware we were watching a film and didn’t get completely drawn into it as we both felt should have been the case. Perhaps also if we had read the book or were better students of this part of Russian history we might have also better appreciated their conflict, which was the essence of the story. (2009)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Romance