February 20th, 2016 — 11:52pm
We were late in catching up with this highly acclaimed film and decided to watch it on television at home “on demand?” As we were starting to view it, SB commented, “Isn’t it going to be boring watching an entire movie of a guy stranded alone on Mars.” It is a fair question but you obviously know the answer since as of this moment the film has won golden globe awards for best picture and best actor for Matt Damon and then seven Academy Award nominations.
Veteran director Ridley Scott worked with a very skillful production team that used special effects, green screen, and reproduced Mars in a studio in Budapest and in the desert in Jordan. The screenplay by Drew Goddard was based on a first novel by Andy Weir. Anyone with a knowledge of the outer space exploration would have heard of the Goddard Space Center named after Robert H. Goddard the father of rocketry. We haven’t been able to find out if Mr. Drew Goddard is connected in any way to the space pioneer although we see he grew up in Los Alamos which is known for nuclear research as well as space research. Maybe there is an unconscious connection.
Of course the star of the film is Matt Damon who plays the stranded astronaut Mark Watney who is left behind on Mars because his crew thought he was killed in a big Martian storm. He becomes our hero. We root for him. You will get caught in his plight and the 2-hour and 24-minute movie will fly by. You will see lots of familiar faces who do a great job in their respective supporting roles. These includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember him from 12 Years A Slave) and many other fine actors. It is of note that we hear barely one sentence about who the lost astronaut is connected to back on earth and who he yearns to see if he makes it back home.
The underlying attraction of this very well done film is that it captures the human spirit. It is summed up in the song played at the end of the film by Gloria Gaynor recorded in 1978. Listen to it , catch the line at the beginning about being back from outer space, buy the song on iTunes and go see the film. Click here to hear the song – and then click the first video screen(2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
May 16th, 2014 — 8:48pm
Promised Land-nf This was a Matt Damon film that was not a blockbuster movie but it certainly makes an important statement about a controversial socio-economic issue of our time and that is fracking. We suspect that is why Damon chose to produce and star in this film. It is directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting , Milk). Two sales pros Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thompson (Frances McDormand) from a gigantic corporation named Global come to a small farming town to buy the drilling rights from the residents who have been hard hit by bad economic times. Can you imagine such a farming family turning down what seems like a lot of money which might go a long way to helping their kids get a good education or for some other very desired endeavor? Everyone knows that home grown natural gas is cleaner and less expensive than imported oil so wouldn’t this be a good thing all around? But is the process that is necessary to bring it out of the ground 100% safe? Could this process, fracking, be an ultimate horror? Might it harm or even destroy their livestock and be dangerous to people’s health? Would a billion dollar corporation manipulate the facts and convince the local folks to buy into their plan ? Is the risk really infinitesimal? To what extent would big business go to in order to buy these rights? Can a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) who happens to know a little more than he was expected to know, make a difference in this debate? It is clear that Damon and company were out to raise serious questions about fracking. After you see this film, what will you think? (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars
February 15th, 2014 — 10:05pm
The Monuments Men -Guest Review
This is a guest review by Ron Turco, M.D. Dr. Turco is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Portalnd, Oregon. He is Chair of the Committee on Art, Culture and Creativity of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry
I read with substantial disappointment David Denby’s shallow and un-insightful review of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men.” (New Yorker – Feb. 17-24, 2014).He compares this film to the old Frankenheimer movie “The Train.” There is no comparison, as the train was not historically accurate and barely mentioned in passing Rose Valland, Temporary Custodian at the Jeu de Paume whose influence was so important in the discovery of looted works in France, at the risk of her own life, that she received the French Legion of Honor and the Medal of Resistance becoming a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, making her one of the most decorated women in France. She also received a Medal of Freedom from the United States in 1948 and an Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. It was her book “Le Front deL’Art” that was the basis of the 1965 movie “The Train”, a movie in which she was only briefly mentioned, although she had also received a commission in the French First Army.
The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts and and Archives section (MFAA) of the military, attempting to save as much of the culture of Europe and Western Civilization as possible and were willing to fight and die for something greater than themselves. Some were killed in combat.
George Clooney has done an outstanding job with his film “The Monuments Men” and in reminding us that the story of The Holocaust must be told over and over again in different ways and at different times. He masterfully and in sometimes direct or subtle ways brings out the Nazi horror and disregard for human life. Mr Denby has missed the point entirely in his understanding of these heroes and heroines and mentions that most of the works were returned to private collectors. That is not completely true. The works were returned to the countries of origin or to the Jews from whom they were stolen. In the film George Clooney also does an excellent job in presenting the value and importance of the sacrifices of the MFAA people, a job that was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and strongly supported by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many of these people went on, after the war, to make substantial contributions to art and culture. Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein founded the legendary New York City Ballet as one of the most important cultural figures of his generation. Second Lieutenant James J. Rorimer, who worked closely with Rose Valland, was instrumental in founding the Met’s medieval collections branch, the Cloisters. “The Monuments Men” film is very close to the facts (a few minor changes, as with all films, including “Lincoln” and “The Navajo Code Talkers”). The acting is superb and I highly recommend this film, especially to young people who may not have an understanding of the broad ramifications of The Holocaust or the history of these brave people. John Edsel’s scholarly book “The Monuments Men” should be required reading in high schools throughout our country. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, War
January 6th, 2012 — 6:48am
We Bought A Zoo– rm You get exactly what you expect with this movie. We saw it with our grandchildren and we all thought it was a good enjoyable movie. Interestingly enough, it is based on a true story. After his wife dies Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) moves his family which consists of two kids (Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) to the California countryside (the real life location was in London, England) where he buys a house connected to a dilapidated zoo. There is a crew of variegated zoo keepers trying to fix it up which includes their wise and appealing leader Kelly (Scarlett Johansson). There is Mee’s caring older brother (Thomas Haden Church) who thinks Mee is clearly doing the wrong thing by spending all is money trying to save this zoo. Then there are the animals who are …well exactly as you would expect them to be. There are a couple of other well done roles including Elle Fanning as the budding teenager who takes a fancy to the budding Mee child and John Michael Higgins as the mean zoo inspector who could prevent the zoo from reopening. Cameron Crowe ( of Jerry McGuire fame) had the directing honors and the movie has all the ingredients for a successful Christmas movie which will live on for children and grown up children of all ages through Netflix. (2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Family / Kids
October 2nd, 2011 — 6:46pm
Contagion-rm Shortly before we saw this movie we had our yearly flu vaccine. The news of today happens to be reporting that cantaloupe from Colorado infected with deadly bacteria already have killed 10 people. We know about the SARS epidemic almost 10 years ago that killed almost 1000 people worldwide before being controlled. Certainly we are still in the midst of the AIDS epidemic that has killed many millions of people although our knowledge about this disease and our ability to offer limited treatment has allowed some control over it (although there is still not a proven vaccine). So many of us come to Contagion with a mindset that everything that we see in this movie could really happen including the deaths of millions of people. Director Steven Soderbergh depicts the events from different parts of the world as well as the activities inside the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta in a most realistic manner. This almost could have been a documentary film. Perhaps after we have something similar really happen in the future, people will look back on this movie and say they really nailed it . So we certainly can’t put this movie in the science fiction category. If it isn’t a doc and it isn’t sci-fi, it must be a drama without really much romance or mystery (they know they have a disease and have to make the vaccine- no real mystery). Despite very fine performances by Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslow and Gwyneth Paltrow, we found we didn’t really care very much about the characters. They were more or less stereotyped or perhaps “cardboard” without any real dimensions to them. Perhaps that was the idea. They could be everyman or women who lives their lives and then gets a terrible infectious disease or are threatened with getting it. We saw people do desperate things to get the vaccine or food and supplies when they weren’t available but we didn’t really see anyone struggle with any ethical dilemmas. Elliot Gould has a brief appearance in the film as a scientist who was making some breakthrough research and then he was shut down because he wasn’t part of the elite CDC team and we never hear from him again! Not everyone who may see this movie knows about the potential of infectious disease lurking around the corner that might not be controlled by “the authorities” Others who know better sometimes use a denial mechanism to avoid thinking about the dire possibilities. A movie such as this one might offer a big scare to such folks and who will then feel much better when it is over and they are safe as the walk out of the theater (for now). Perhaps this should be in the “ horror/thriller” genre, which often makes a great movie experience for many people. So if this seems right for you, go for it. (2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Thriller
June 18th, 2011 — 4:25am
Inside Job-nf– Filmmaker Charles Ferguson takes a long, hard skillful look at the individuals and their actions which brought about the global economic meltdown of 2008. It is hard to come away from this Oscar nominated documentary without feeling some combination of anger and depression. Anger, because you see self-serving greed and even corruption among the financial leaders of this country. Depression, because you see that many of people in charge of our financial institutions today including many in the highest positions in government are still not inclined to make changes to prevent another financial crisis. If you can take a dispassionate view of this story, it feels as if you are watching a film showing you something about how the rise and fall of the Roman Empire came about in some distant time. In this case however we are dealing with contemporary times. We learn how an economic boom led to a desire among those in the financial and banking industries to make even more money as they transitioned from carefully investing their own money to going public and now risking other peoples’ money for tremendous payouts for themselves. The complicated concepts of derivatives is actually made sickeningly clear as we see how investments were really bets with essentially no clear downside for the bankers but devastating results for the middle class. No place was this more relevant than in the home mortgage market where the financial guys would make their money on the volume of the mortgages sold and not on quality or the ability of people who bought them to pay them off. Matt Damon is the narrator of the film although Ferguson does much of interviews. The film is interspersed with film clips of the leading players of this giant debacle from the officers of the big financial institutions to the well known faces in government including Paulson, Greenspan, Geitner and others with major government responsibility for regulation and policy. We see the story of the march of deregulation from the Reagan, through the Bush years even including some during the Clinton White House. There is also the apparent failure of the Obama administration , despite their bailout successes , to have regulated and overseen what should be regulated and overseen. The lack of prosecution of some of the glaring criminal activities is highlighted and the obscene executive compensations, sometimes more than a hundred million dollars, for people who participated in very questionable actions is spelled out. . (See an article MB wrote in the Huffington Post about this issue over a year ago). It is also quite disturbing to see the failure of he academic community to acknowledge the payments they receive from interested parties for their speeches and writings which supported the unstable financial situations that occurred. (These days the medical community is usually obligated to make disclosures of potential conflicts of interest when speaking or writing ) Granted, the filmmaker is trying to make a point about the inside job, which was pulled off on the American people. There may be some other points of view, which he didn’t show but interviews made with top people, and the facts presented make it pretty easy to vote for conviction if we were the jury (even without cross examination from another viewpoint). Ferguson did have a great deal of access to top people some of whom asked him to turn off the camera once they were shown their inconsistencies. The movie is well edited to one hour and 48 minutes. Most of the film is sharp and well framed. When archival footage is used and it makes a point, you don’t mind if it isn’t top-drawer quality. Although a year old, it is still right on the mark for today. If you have a stake in this economy and the future of our country, you better understand what this film is saying. (2010)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary
September 6th, 2010 — 8:57am
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The Informant! – nf – This is another one of those stories where it turns out the truth is stranger than any fiction which a writer might dream up. The story is actually based on a non fiction book by Kurt Eichenwald which Steven Soderbergh has masterfully brought to the screen. Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a scientist turned business executive who holds a high position at the Decatur Illinois Fortune 500 food company Archer Midland Daniels ( ADM) as well as being a dedicated husband and father of two children . The story revolves around how he presents himself to the FBI as an informant and has decided to tell the story of how his company is fixing world wide prices which effect just about every meal that we eat. Damon’s voice narrates most of the film so you get the impression that you really know what is going on in his head. He does a believable acting job in creating the strangely patriotic, naïve guy who also doesn’t really know how to tell the truth and seems to believe his own deceptions. A certain amount of tension and suspense is achieved as he does his undercover work with clandestine audio and video recordings. As the story evolves and the details fall in place, it is hard to believe that this all really happened or perhaps we should say, “only in America.”. This is a fast moving 108 minute movie which will be just right for those who like this genre. (2009)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
January 16th, 2010 — 2:41am
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It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This is the last verse of poem titled Invictus that Susan’s dad frequently recited to inspire her and her brother. The poet William Henley wrote it in 1867 most probably reflecting his battle with tuberculosis which caused him the loss of a leg and a life with an artificial limb This is also the title and a recurrent theme of the latest movie directed and produced by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. It is small slice of the great accomplishments of a man who spent 27 years in a small prison cell before emerging to be Prime Minister of South Africa and lead his country after the fall of apartheid The story shows how Mandela was determined to bring together the country despite the anger of the blacks after years of oppression and the resentment of the whites after the loss of their power and their majority rule. The vehicle for demonstrating Mandela’s role in unifying South Africa was the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa. Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar the captain of the South African team originally not up to the task of winning. He becomes inspired by Mandela and helps his team master their fate and perhaps the fate of their nation. The real Nelson Mandela reportedly met Morgan Freeman and hoped that he would play him in a movie . Freeman very much wanted this opportunity and finally found the script where he could do it. He did it so well that when Clint Eastwood met Mandela he said that he thought that the great leader was “imitating Freeman”. It was more than the acting that make this an outstanding film. The breaking down of barriers between people is reflected in subtle nuances of the relationships between the white and black bodyguards of the Prime Minister, in the contrast of team captain Pienaar’s parents and even in the interplay between a youngster and a police officer listening to the big game on the radio. The powerful struggle that his country had to go through seemed to be echoed in the struggle of the Rugby scrum. The final game was shown in some detail and we were told was recreated from the study of tapes of the contest. The television scenes and commentary of the actual game was woven into the movie. Only three of the many rugby players seen in the dramatic battles on the field were actors. One of these with a very small part but with a distinctive face was Scott Eastwood son of Clint. (2009)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, Sport