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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Grey - Liam Neeson Wolf Movie

A bunch of Alaskan oil workers are being transported by plane from one Alaskan job site to another. Along the way the plane crashes deep in the Alaskan Wilderness, in the sub zero temperature, harsh Wilderness. While completely exposed to the elements the oil workers are systematically hunted by wolves.

"The Grey" uses all the same formulas that most survival films use. Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a bit of a survivalist and has some expertise in the habits of wolves. Like most films where victims are hopelessly stranded there is always one guy that, in theory, has the expertise to save the group but her or she has never actually used that expertise before.  Liam Neeson's Ottway is one of these guys.  You may have seen this character before. In spite of the would-be hero's competence, his  lack of practical experience causes certain members of the group to resent his actions. Eventually the savior must prove himself by one upping another member via debate or conflict, demonstrating some remarkable accomplishment or by simply telling the group something like"... follow me if you want to live or stay here and die if you don't...." Neeson's character, Ottoway, does all three by the way.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Parking Lot The Movie - The Corner Lot VA Documentary

Parking Lot The Movie is a documentary about a working in a parking lot called "The Corner Lot" in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Corner Lot is situated in a college town (University of Virginia) nestled down a back alley behind a row of bars and stores.

What makes The Corner Lot so unique is that is has a history of being staffed by graduate students, teachers and otherwise over-educated intellectuals (and I mean that in a good way). You may have run into folks like this. Think of the scruffy, liberal, well spoken, skateboard types and you'll understand the kind that work here. These are the kinds of folks some conservative types would scoff at but secretly wish they could have a long, deep conversation with.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Hunter - Tazmanina Tiger Movie Review

If you believe the movies, it seems there are dozens of shadowy organizations looking to destroy someone or something for a price. Along the way, these organizations always manage to betray their veteran assassin in the field leading to some cat and mouse betrayal and revenge. Think of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in "Mr and Mrs Smith", George Clooney in "The American", heck even John Cusack in "Grosse Point Blank".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chopper Eric Bana Plays Famous Australian Criminal

Mark "Chopper" Read is a charismatic career criminal from Australia. His real-life criminal exploits as well has his penchant for telling terrific, if not embellished, stories about them has led to a series of books and some notoriety in pop culture.

In the movie "Chopper", Eric Bana plays Mark Read. Bana is almost unrecognizable in this film. He clearly bulks up for the role and transforms himself into an exceedingly violent, paranoid, yet bigger than life personality.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sweetgrass - Low Key Cowboy Sheep Herding Documentary

Sweetgrass is documentary about a family run sheep farm taking their herd high up into the Montana mountain plains for one last time to graze.  Have you ever seen "Brokeback Moutain" ?  It is that kind of cowboy film only there isn't one ounce of homosexuality and Sweetgrass is a completely non-dramatized, true, documentary.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brad Pitt The Assassination Of Jessie James Review

I love when I find a movie that I'm not all that enthusiastic to watch and I wind up completely enjoying it. "The Assassination of Jessie James by The Coward John Ford" is a huge film title to swallow. It is also a fitting name. This film is big on screen, runs a long time (160 minutes) and feels like a long but satisfying piece of literature.

In short this is the story of Jessie James gang and the man, Robert Ford, who eventually kills Jessie James. This is not a wild shoot out Western Movie actually there are no gunfights at all though there are a few, brief periods of gun violence.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beasts of Southern Wild – Louisiana Bayou Folk Movie

 I have always been interested in films where people live on the fringe of society. Beasts of Southern Wild is a film about a society that lives on a small Louisiana Bayou island that the rest of the world seems to ignore. 

While the island I’ve heard is fictitious, I have no doubt there are modern-day communities just like this one. These people live off the land and seem to have a MacGyver-way of building all of their comforts largely from discarded junk from the nearby coast. It is a primitive lifestyle that is occasionally enhanced, or invaded, from the outside. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hole Courtney Love Drummer Documentary Movie – Hit So Hard

Patti Schemel played drums for the Courtney Love fronted grunge band Hole. “Hit So Hard” is a documentary about Schemel’s rise to success as a pioneering female drummer and the struggles she had with that success.

 If you are a fan of Hole or grew up around the grunge rock-Kurt Cobain-Seattle scene you will really enjoy the never seen before footage of the band. This film takes you on-stage, backstage, in hotel rooms, on the tour bus and gives some insights to the unknown personalities in band largely overshadowed by singer Courtney Love.  I should mention too that the film does a nice job of remembering deceased bassist Kristen Pfaff. Pfaff’s death occurring largely in the shadow of Kurt Cobain (Love’s husband).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Descendents Film Review - George Clooney Shailene Woodley

Matt (George Clooney) lives in Hawaii with his wife and two daughters. He is rich and is deciding a real estate deal that could earn him and the rest of his family millions of dollars. It all sounds like paradise but this guy is having a rough time. His wife lies in a coma dying after a boating accident. His daughters don’t respect him and his big real estate deal is causes him public vilification. Oh yeah, while Matt’s wife lies in a coma, his eldest daughter (Shailene Woodley) tells him that his wife was having an affair with another man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Last Rites of Joe May - Dennis Farina Movie

Joe May (Dennis Farina) is an aging street hustler who has just left the hospital after a two month bout with pneumonia. He returns after his two month hiatus to discover his possessions are all gone, his friends are distant and his apartment has been rented out to a young woman and child after his landlord presumed him dead. He develops an unlikely and somewhat predictable bond with the young woman and child after discovering the mother is abused by her boyfriend, a local police officer.

Farina is wonderful in a rare lead part. This is not surprising as this man has been playing the role of street tough characters his whole life. Watch him in any of his mob movies or TV police series and you’ve seen him nail this performance before. The difference here is that Farina’s character, Joe, is broke down, broke and still struggling to be respected on the street. He is like an old professional football player trying to get in one more season, not just for the money (which he badly needs), but also for the pride of being a respected street thug.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Iron Lady Streep as Margaret Thatcher - Film Review

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is now old with a failing mind. She hallucinates about her deceased husband and is rapidly losing her ability to take care of herself. In between hallucinations she reminisces about her life while the film flashes back on her lifelong career as a British Parliament member and reign as Prime Minister. 

Yes, “The Iron Lady” is a flashback film. I’m a bit indifferent to this style of storytelling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of The Iron Lady, it doesn’t help the film or even make sense. When the film is set in the present, Thatcher’s mind and body are slowly succumbing to old age. This is interesting stuff for the first five minutes or so when you learn all you need to know about her old age condition (weak body, hallucinations, forgetfulness, etc) but after that the rest of the present-time scenes are too long , look pretty much all the same, and add nothing to the story.

Honestly, I can’t figure out how Thatcher can reminisce with such detail while her mind is failing but I’ll suspend disbelieve for the sake of the movie.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tron The Original Jeff Bridges David Warner Film

The year was 1982 and I was a video game addict. Atari 2600 and quarter operated video games were my mantra. Ah, those were the days. When “Tron” came out the film really dazzled me. I was a pre-teen back then and wondered if I saw Tron again now, as a grown-up, would I still enjoy the film. 

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a computer programmer that has created some of the world’s most popular video games only to have them stolen by Ed Dillinger (David Warner) in order to hasten Dillinger’s meteoric rise as an unscrupulous CEO.

Flynn continuously hacks into the corporate mainframe computer system that Dillinger controls in order find the proof that Dillinger stole his ideas. In this Sci-Fi world, Flynn does this by hacking programs into the mainframe where these programs take on a human form. The programs are much like soldiers in a video game. They search for clues on behalf of their programmers (or ‘users’) while fighting off similar anti-hacking programs (so to speak) in combat scenarios using various weapons and vehicles.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Melancholia Review – Lars Von Trier Kristen Durst

A family wedding is taking place and frail family bonds are exposed. Parent child resentment, personal issues, and depression all begin to weep out through a thin façade of a celebration of marriage.

During this time a giant planet is on a collision course with Earth. Scientists are skeptical it will hit Earth but some are not so sure.

Lars Von Tier directs “Melancholia” Lars Von Trier is no stranger to disturbing films. Anyone who has seen the film “AntiChrist” will know exactly what I mean. He mixes psychological torment with atmospheric visual bravado. Melancholia is no exception.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fear and Trembling - Japanese Business Culture Movie Review

An easy to follow yet subtely complex film, a young, white woman Amelie (Sylvie Testud) lived in Japan as a toddler then moved to Belgium. Now a young woman, she moves back to live in Japan believing if she immerses her life in this country she will proudly become Japanese herself.

She already speaks fluent Japanese. She is hired as a translator by a presumably respected and successful Japanese corporation. She works there for one year. Over the course of the year she is only given simple, menial tasks and in the process of doing them breaks a series of Japanese cultural taboos. For example, in one scene she is asked to serve coffee to customers. She speaks in Japanese in front of the customers. Keep in mind she is white, red headed and does not look remotely Asian let alone Japanese. The customers are deeply offended by the fact a ‘westerner’ can understand their discrete conversations. Amelie is berated by her superiors for this.

Denzel Washington in Book of Eli

I’m a sucker for post apocalyptic films so I was pretty interested in watching the movie "Book of Eli"

There are some terrific ideas in this film that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.

Thirty one years ago the world was obliterated by war and there is nothing left but scotched desert. Eli (Denzel Washington) has heard voices, presumably by a Christian God, to deliver a bible to a location he knows nothing about other than it is in the direction of West. For thirty one years he has been walking west. He knows it is the right way to go but where it will deliver him, nobody, including himself knows. It is truly blind-faith, a cool theme that lingers throughout the movie.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

MMA Documentary Movie Review – Jens Pulver: Driven

Jens Pulver is a former mixed matial arts (MMA) fighting champion trying to hang onto his career. He is a family man, has bills to pay, and wants to keep on fighting.

“Jens Pulver: Driven” is not a film about the violence in the ring. If you are looking for a blood and guts MMA documentary, you won’t find it here. This movie is more about Jens Pulver the human being, rather than Jens Pulver the fighter.

At first, I liked that this was not some head bashing romp. It is a very human documentary that even those who detest the MMA might have enjoyed. A man comes, tragically, from a broken home, an abusive father, a beaten mother and manages to find guidance and discipline through sports. The problem is it’s the same story we’ve heard before. I’m not taking anything away from Pulver when I say this. He endured a lot as a child and deserves to have his tale told. The story just isn’t fresh.
Victims of abuse might find inspiration in “Driven” though I say that with caution. Pulver’s rise from hardship, while heroic, isn’t the path for everyone. To suggest that the abused are somehow equipped for violent careers might not be the best message. The message to be taken here is that by all accounts, Pulver seems to be a kind and responsible man now (albeit one who breaks heads for a living) in spite of his difficult childhood.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Great 1935 Film The Informer John Ford Victor McLagen

The year is 1922 and there is conflict between the Irish that want their independence (Sinn Fein) and those loyal to Britain. Gypo Nolan (Victor McLagen) is a big, dopey, brute that used to operate with Sinn Fein’s Irish rebels but he was expelled when unable to kill an innocent man. Desperate for money, he dimes out a Sinn Fein member wanted for murder and is awarded the bounty. People are looking for him now.

You know the rest of the story. You’ve seen this plot before. Betrayal, action, romance, revenge, money, etc. What makes “The Informer” different is that this film is made in 1935 before such thematic cliches and in many ways, this John Ford movie still feels like it could hold its own today.

Shot in 1930’s black and white this film is thick with atmosphere. There is a foggy, ethereal darkness to this movie that gives each scene a somber, intimate thickness.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tous les Matins du Monde (All the World's Mornings) Review

Tous les Matins du Monde is based on a true story. Monsieur De Sainte Colombe in the 1600’s was arguably the world’s greatest Viola De Gamba player. He certainly was considered so in France where the King repeatedly asked for his services as a musician, which often Columbe refused.

Colombe’s wife dies and he becomes a complete recluse. He practices and composes fifteen hours a day and has an emotionally distant relationship with his daughters who he also trains to become master Viola De Gamba players.

Along comes a young, eager, musician, Marin Marias who is played as a by Guillaume Depardieu, then as an older man by Guillaume’s real life father Gérard Depardieu. Marias asks Monsieur De Sainte Colombe to train him on the Viola De Gamba. He reluctantly agrees and this begins a long, awkward and tumultuous relationship between Columbe, Marias, and Columbe’s daughters.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Informant

“The Informant!” is based on a true story. During the mid 1990’s, ADM (Archer Midland Daniels), one of the largest corporations in the United States at that time, consipired with a number of other competitors to control the pricing of a product called Lysine. I don’t anything about Lysine but according to the film, it is used in a tremendous amount of products such as vitamins, soda and others consumed by many people every day.  Keeping the prices high adds up to millions of dollars in greater profits and huge executive kick-backs.

I’m not sure where to begin on this film. It is both a dead pan and zany film dominated by Matt Damon who plays Mark Whitacre, the real-life whistle blower who exposes the price fixing scheme to the FBI.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jack Kerouac King of Beats – Beatnik Documentary

On The Road, Dharma Bums, Visions of Cody, etc Jack Kerouac wrote books that helped to not only define the Beat Generation in the post World War Two 1950’s but he helped establish an entirely new form of spontaneous writing.

Jack Kerouac’s life is intriguing not just for his success as an author but also for his soul searching adventures and the fascinating Beat Generation authors and artists he surrounded himself with.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Knuckle – Bare Fisted Fighting Irish Gypsy Documentary

“Knuckle” is a 2011 documentary about modern-day gypsy clans (aka “Travelers”) feuding in Ireland. Director Ian Palmer spends 12 years filming the Quinn McDonagh clan and their violent feud with the Joyce clan.

The feud is fuelled by a never ending cycle of insults and infrequent gang violence. The real and most common fighting between the clans occurs when each clan delivers one man to fight one on one, bare knuckle style. The fights are refereed and continue until one man is knocked out, quits or if the combatants agree to a draw via a handshake.

Fights are solicited via insulting videos sent between the clans. They contain a lot of yelling, swearing, personal insults and explanations of easily they will beat the other side up. The videos remind me so much of professional wrestling interviews that I had to chuckle at a few. That said, unlike pro wrestling, these threats and ensuing brawls are very real.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Week With Marilyn – Monroe’s Fling with Clark

“My Week With Marylyn” is based on a true story about a young 23 year old man, Colin Clark, who is tasked with escorting Marilyn Monroe while filming the movie “The Prince and The Show Girl”

The film is based on Colin Clark’s actual memoirs “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me”

Clark has just graduated from Harvard and is looking for a job. He wants to work in film and is desperate to do so. He applies several times to work on a movie set. After being repeated rejections he convinces the director of “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” , Sir Laurence Olivier , to hire him. He is assigned a no-pay, go-for type menial job attending to Olivier’s petty needs. As Olivier becomes increasingly frustrated with Monroe’s erratic behavior, he assigns Clark to keep tabs on her to ensure she continues to show up for work every day. It is during this time that Colin Clark wins the trust of Monroe.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Magic Trip Bus Ride With Ken Kesey and Neil Cassady

The year is 1964. Ken Kesey, author of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' decides to take a group of friends he calls "The Merry Pranksters" on a cross country trip to the New York State fair. Buying an old school bus the group paints the vehicle in a wild collage of colors. They name the bus "Furthur", pack it full of illegal substances and proceed to have a drug fueled LSD romp across the United States. All this was shot in 16 mm film (that feels a like a home movie by today’s standards) and produced into a documentary called "Magic Trip"

Neal Cassady, made famous as a character Jack Kerouac's book 'On The Road', fittingly drives the bus most of the time. He is fun, hyperactive, and never seems to really be paying attention to the road. He, along with some others, completely embraces the trip and enjoys each moment. Others are not so thrilled and reluctantly accept the monotony of the drive and the crazy antics that surround them.

Moneyball – Pitt Hill Hoffman Sabremetrics Baseball

The duties of a general manager of a Major League Baseball team negotiates all the player contracts, makes the trades and ensures the best available players are playing for his ball club. What does a big league general manager do when his team cannot afford to hire any quality players?

In “Moneyball”, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics or the A’s as they are called, are a good ball team but exist in a small baseball market where there is little money to spend for big money baseball players. To compete with wealthy teams like the New York Yankees, Beane decides to hire ball players that have talents that are undervalued by the rest of major league baseball. He avoids players that have high RBI’s and great base stealing ability which are attributes that can cost a team millions of dollars. Instead, Beane strictly looks at a player’s ability to get on base. On base percentage and walks rule in Beane’s thinking. The more guys that get to first base, the more runs will eventually score. Sounds easy enough but few in his organization agree.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commune An Alternative Lifestyle Community Documentary

In 1968 the Black Bear Ranch was founded in the remote woods of Northern California. Largely funded by celebrity donations, the 80 acres of land was completely paid for allowing people to live on the land for free. The timing was perfect, this was 1968 when throngs of people (hippies I suppose)wanted to escape societal norms established in the cities and suburbs and create a more utopian society. The Black Bear Ranch provided this through communal living, few rules and lots of free love.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Arcade Video Game Champion Movie – Chasing Ghosts Beyond The Arcade

I was a video arcade game fanatic when I was a little kid. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s I begged my parents for their spare change so that I could slug their hard earned quarters into games like Pac Man, Tempest, Defender, Dig Dug, Joust, Asteroids, etc

In the early 80’s a group of teenagers with the help of the earnest, somewhat aloof, charismatic video game referee, Walter Day, were declared video game champions of each of their respective games. For a brief period of time they gained a degree of fame which saw an appearance on the 80’s show “That’s Incredible” and led them to an ill-fated national video gaming tour. They were featured in a Life Magazine photo.

“Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade” is about their Life Magazine photo reunion in 2005. During the film they discuss their rise to success, what their current life is like and their still-simmering desire to be considered the best.

King of Kong – Donkey Kong Champion Documentary

If you grew up playing in the video arcades of the eighties you surely remember Donkey Kong. When you play Donkey Kong you control a man trying to climb a switchback trail to save a woman in distress. On top of the trail stands a giant gorilla throwing barrels down at the man in order to prevent the rescue. If you never played Donkey Kong you should know that it was once considered the most popular video game of all time.

“King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” is about an intense rivalry over who is the best Donkey Kong player in the world. Bill Mitchell is arguably the greatest player of Donkey Kong of all time. He has set numerous Donkey Kong records. Steve Wiebe, during a layoff stint, decides that he is going to break the Donkey Kong record. He practices and studies Donkey Kong night and day until he becomes a master in his own right.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Restless Movie Review - Mia Wasikowska Henry Hopper

A teenage boy, Enoch (Henry Hopper, who is the son of Dennis Hopper), is obsessed with attending funerals. It is at a funeral that he meets another teen, Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). Annabel is dying from cancer.

Enoch and Annabel are an unlikely couple but I suppose as relationships go, they are perfectly matched. They watch funerals together, they sneak into a morgue, at times pretend to be dead, plan their own deaths and pretty much revolve their entire relationship around their obsession with dying.

Death is the overwhelming thematic element in “Restless.” The Oregon sky always seems cloudy and the ground is perpetually wet. Enoch broods over the loss of his parents years ago in a car accident. Annabel is aware that she only has a few months to live.

Enoch lives with his aunt, who he unfairly blames for his parents passing. They live in huge home that seems to resemble the Adam’s Family haunted mansion (for those who remember that TV show). The home is big, woody, ornate and never, ever seems to get enough light inside. You sense death in that home.

The characters in Restless all have lives revolving around the dead or dying. They are funeral workers, morgue attendants, doctors, nurses and people about to lose loved ones forever.

When Enoch and Annabel go out trick or treating together during Halloween, I realized that his film is absolutely and unapologetically saturated with death.

Before you fall into severe depression, rest assured that within the gloomy themes there is a very light hearted love story going on between Enoch and Annabel. The activities they enjoy together are morbid but they seem to love every minute of it. Their relationship is more a celebration of life rather than one that is coming to a doomed ending.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Pit - New York Futures Traders Documentary Review

It seems being a trader in the pit of a commodities exchange is sort of like being a dinosaur in the middle of an extinction event.  Technology is the ice age set to wipe out guys who trade by call out bidding forever.

"The Pit" is a documentary that focuses on a number of hard nosed coffee traders on the New York Board of Trade.  These traders essentially bet huge sums of money on what the value of coffee will be months from now. If they guess the price will go up or down correctly, they stand to make huge sums of money. If they are wrong, the loses could ruin them forever. These are high risk guys living high risk lifestyles. These guys are tough, edgy and a little crazy. They scream and muscle each other into different commodities transactions every day. The days of hollering may be over though. Computers are now making the screaming, or "call out" bidding, obsolete and traders now have to adapt or find new careers.

"The Pit" does a nice job of explaining how futures work. Breaking down how futures are traded is not easy. It is pretty technical stuff that can lose audience members in an instant. To the film's credit, they find a wonderfully colorful trader who breaks down the process in such simple terms it would make a finance teacher proud.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bang The Drum Slowly Film Review – DeNiro Baseball Movie

A below average Major League Baseball catcher, Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro) learns that he is dying from Hodgskins disease. The only other player on the team that knows of Bruce’s illness is the star pitcher, Henry Wiggins (Michael Moriarity). Together they conspire to keep the illness a secret from the team and to keep Bruce playing what may be his last season of baseball.

“Bang The Drum Slowly” not what I would call an on-the-field baseball movie. This isn’t “The Natural” or “Bull Durham” where actions on the field are very relevant to the plot. The baseball scenes in “Bang The Drum Slowly” are very subdued, relatively short and feel like watching a bunch of guys going to work every day. Much of the movie is set in the locker room or the hotel where they stay (which unfortunately never seems to change).  None of the players or coaches gloat about the joy of playing baseball. Baseball is their job and they revolve their lives around it.

This blue collar feel to this film is refreshing and feels in stark contrast to fast riches and prima donna elements seen in real pro sports today. The lack of game day melodrama made it feel more original and sets Bag the Drum Slowly apart from sports flicks that have a more on-the-field formula like films “Any Given Sunday” and “Major League”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disturbia Movie Review – Shia LeBouf

A teenager , Kale (Shia LeBouf), is sentenced to three months house arrest for hitting a teacher. During his house arrest he wanders the house alone all day and is desperate to fill his time with some sort of activity.  To break the monotony he begins spying on his neighbors through his bedroom window. His voyeuristic focus is on the beautiful teenage girl Ashley (Sarah Roemer) and their mutual neighbor who may or may not be a serial killer (David Morse)

There is nothing unique about this film. This flick is a collage of so many of the teen thriller movies you’ve seen so many times in the past. Nerdy, somewhat outcast types stumble upon exceptional circumstances that break up the monotony of their otherwise affluent, posh, suburban lifestyle.

Along the way a gorgeous, popular, teenage girl moves in across the street and begins an implausible relationship with the socially awkward young man.

Like so many thrillers, he bad guy is big, brooding and somehow manages to be everywhere at once. He moves slowly but keeps up easily with the light speed, reckless pace of the fleeing good guys. It is as if the bad guy has the ability to teleport himself everywhere at once without breaking much of a sweat.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens Film Review – Olivia Wilde Daniel Craig

“Cowboys and Aliens” was kind of fun to watch but ultimately this was just another shoot ‘em up action movie that plays the same old angles and recycles the usual alien film cliches.

The film is set in the post American Civil War Wild West. Jake (Daniel Craig), an outlaw, wakes up in the middle of the desert seriously wounded and suffering from complete amnesia. It turns out Jake has enemies after him like Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and along the way he has to figure out why. Sound familiar? It should. Hollywood is full of amnesia films already. Total Recall anyone? Bourne Identity? Memento? Arguably we could throw the Matrix in there too. Do we need another I-can't-remember-a-thing-flick?

While Jake is getting his wits back, outer space aliens attack the Earth. The aliens are nothign new. I can’t help but think Cowboys and Aliens just used the same space creatures from Battle Los Angeles. It seems all aliens are thick skinned and very difficult but not impossible to kill with bullets. That is unless you hit them impossbily deep in their chest cavity and then they die instantly. Aliens in both films love our natural resources as well. In the case of Cowboys and Aliens, the aliens want to steal our gold. Go figure. Not food or water or fuel but gold. Why do they want gold? Apparently it is rare on their planet too. Very exciting reason, not.

Limelight – Peter Gaiten Documentary

"Limelight" is a documentary about the rise and fall of club owner Peter Gaiten. Gaiten opened a series of night clubs throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s. He was highly successful in attracting millions of customers over the course of his career. He succeeded by offering cutting edge music and innovative club themes. The film presents him as being responsible for introducing hip-hop and rave music to the New York scene.**

Much of the movie focuses on his two most popular New York City night clubs, Limelight and The Tunnel. Both were wildly successful due to Gaiten’s strategies I mentioned above but were also blamed for rampant drug dealing and introducing the drug called ecstasy to New York.

Limelight is shot like an Mtv rockumentary / documentary. The footage is highlighted with subtle light effects, camera angles and animation. Much of the film’s interviews are dominated by insiders of the club and music scene as well as a few celebrities (Moby, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, etc)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Take Shelter Movie Review - Jessica Chastain

Curtis(Michael Shannon) and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), live a settled down, rural, blue collar life with their young daughter. Curtis begins experiencing intense nightmares that seems to suggest the end of the world. Are these dreams real or are they early signs of mental illness?

The pace, setting, style and atmosphere of "Take Shelter" reminded me so much of M. Night Shyamalon's "Signs" (Mel Gibson) that I jumped up and checked IMDB to see if Shyamalon wrote the film. It turns out Shyamalon had nothing to do with this movie. Jeff Nichols wrote and directed but the film's rural setting, slow suspense, apocalyptic signs and family-centric plot all smack of "Signs" I even thought there was a strong resemblance between Michael Shannon's character, Curtis, and Joaquin Phoenix's character Merrill, in "Signs"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick Richard Gere Film Review

Bill, a troubled, unemployed 1900’s steel worker (Richard Gere) travels with his girlfriend Linda (Brooke Adams) and much younger sister Abby (Linda Manz) to the south where they work as farmhands during the great depression.

Bill and Linda are lovers but they travel through life posing as brother and sister simply because, as the narrator states, “people will talk.” Because they keep their relationship a secret the terminally ill owner of the farm (Sam Shepard) lets himself fall for Linda.

Bill and Linda notice his interest and concoct a scheme where Linda marries the farm owner believing the owner will die in a year and they will inherit the farm.

Terrence Malick wrote and directed this movie. “Days of Heaven” is loaded with great scenery and intimate shots of life on the farm. The scenes of buffalo, wild horses, wolves (or was that coyote), and birds thriving among the flowing wheat fields felt like I was looking back in time. Like other Malick films such as “The Tree of Life” and “The Thin Red Line”, “Days of Heaven” is more of a visual experience than other conventionally shot films. Malik’s experimentation with close ups, camera angles and use of sweep makes this movie feel more grandiose in spite of its compact setting.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Incendie Great Foreign Language Film Review

A woman (Lubna Azabal) dies and in her will she tasks her twin daughter (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and son (Maxim Gaudette) to deliver a letter to their father and brother they never met. To find them they first must learn about their mother's mysterious life before, during and after the Lebanese civil war during the 1970's.

As far as famous actors go, there are none. I've never seen a movie so beautifully acted by a cast I did not know by name. This is a heavy film with moments of desperation, determination and despair. Desperation, determination and despair can easily be over dramatized. The cast handles the weight of their roles so naturally that it not only underscores their talents but makes the characters so believable.

This film moves between the 1970's and present time but the messages of the film are timeless. In a novel way "Incedies" examines the cycles in life that will affect humankind forever. The never ending cycle of birth and death, pain and revenge, peace and war, hate and forgiveness all culminate into a reap-what-you-sow theme throughout this film. Pay careful attention to the consequences of family relationships, good and bad, when watching this film.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Meek's Cutoff Film Review - Will Patton and Michelle Williams

Three small families are headed west along the Oregon Trail. They are travelling in covered wagons in search of a better life. The film is set in the Wild West days of 1845. This is not a typical western ‘cowboy’ film. At least not kind I grew up watching. While I profess to know nothing of the old west, Kelly Reichardt (director) and Jonathon “Jon” Raymond (writer) do a nice job of convincing me that this is what the ‘cowboy days’ were really like.

There is no sheriff on a white horse or villain wearing a black hat in "Meeks Cutoff". There is no epic battle between cavalry and Indian tribes. The conflict in Meek’s Cutoff is limited to believable, realistic differences of opinion relayed mainly through civil, terse, conversations. These debates feel natural and creates the suspense of waiting for something bigger to happen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Old Joy Film Review - Kelly Reichardt Jon Raymond

Friends Mark and Kurt meet up to spend the night camping in an Oregon forest. They are grow men in their 30's or 40's.  You sense that they have grown up together and once experienced a care free, road trip, spiritual, hippie-esque  lifestyle during their younger days.   These were the kind of guys that likely followed the Grateful Dead during the day while spending nights in their cars or camped in local woods nearby.

Mark (Daniel London) has clearly accepted or at least resigned himself to the responsibilities of adult hood. He has a stable job teaching carpentry and a baby on the way. He feels attached to Kurt but has other priorities that prevent the two from spending more time together.

Kurt (Will Oldham) does not accept growing up as readily and lives more in the past than Mark. He pines for the older days. Have you ever met an adult that can not seem to escape childhood? A grown up that has no stable home, refuses to hold down a job, talks about how great the past was, and has no plans for the future?  He or she might be like Kurt.

If I made these characters sound too one-dimensional I must apologize. The characters are more complicated than this. This film is written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond. Two writers that bring terrific subtle complexities to characters (see Wendy and Lucy.) This is a movie that says so much about these two characters without saying much at all. Kurt does not want any part of growing up but he doesn't stand in the way of others that do. He is non judgmental and very kind. This is not a self absorbed partier that disrupts people's lives. It is as if he quietly, desperately wants to live in the past but he also embodies a tiny, envious attraction to the mature adulthood he'll never attain.

Wendy and Lucy - Michelle Williams Will Patton Movie Review

I have been lucky. I’ve never lived a life of poverty. Not that I’ve been wealthy, but I have had a wealth of friends , resources and good fortune that has prevented me from ever falling through the cracks of society.

Wendy is travelling from Indiana to Alaska in hopes of finding a job. With her is her dog, Lucy.  Lucy I am convinced is her only friend in the world.. The film doesn’t tell you this directly but you somehow know she has left nothing behind in Indiana. Her cash, car and dog are her only possessions and all she has to rely on.

She winds up broke down in a depressed town in Oregon. She loses her dog. She is has no place to go, no place to stay and not much money in her pocket. She has nothing and is in a town that has nothing to offer.

I mentioned that I have never been poor. I have never fallen through the cracks into a transient, impoverished cycle with little opportunities out. While I cannot speak from experience, it is due to great writing, acting and directing that convinces me “Wendy and Lucy” is all about falling through the cracks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Tree of Life a Terrence Malick Film - Reviewed

In the opening scenes of "The Tree of Life" I immediately thought of the movie the "The Thin Red Line"  Both films are so lyrical with dream-like, artistic scenes that risk losing a more mainstream audience at every turn.

The resemblance between "The Tree of Life" and "The Thin Red Line" is not a coincidence.  Terrence Malick is credited with writing the screenplay and directing both films.

When I finished watching "The Tree of Life" I knew it was an excellent move but I struggled to explain why. For a minute I thought I would be at a loss for an explanation just like when I reviewed "Synecdouche, NY"   I think I figured out Malick's film though and will give it a shot.

The story of this film does not follow a straight path at all.  The film follows the family through what is likely 1950's and 1060's and jumps to the 2000's from time to time. We know the family loses a son in what I can only presume is the Vietnam War but the film does not confirm this. The plot and scenery is very ethereal. It does not follow a linear path.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

See The Sea Film Review-Short Movie

A woman is staying at a semi-secluded beach town. She lives alone in her  cottage with her baby. Her husband is away on what I presume is business. A strange hiker asks if she can stay on the cottage property for a few days. You know something is upsetting about this hiker but you aren't sure where all this worry is going to lead.

The hiker is an odd one but over the course of this film you find that the woman is not exactly straight-laced herself. There is something unsettling about both woman. Both seem to lack a certain compassion, yet have small social desires. The odd relationship of these two characters really made me concerned for the safety of the baby. This is an unspectacular baby. The film does not try to make the baby more sympathetic than any other baby. It is just a baby and sympathize with the child simple because it is a child. A child in the middle of two strange bedfellows.

Small Potatoes Who Killed The USFL - Movie Review

I was just a young teenager when the United States Football League played from 1983-1985. The USFL was considered an underdog rival to the National Football league even though they did not play during the same time of year. The NFL played football in the fall and the USFL played in the spring.

I remember the USFL pretty well and rooted for their success like anyone who roots for an underdog (and loves football year round)

ESPN put out a short film that delves into what happened to the USFL and what caused the league to go out of businesses. The film is called "Small Potatoes Who Killed The USFL" This short documentary was part of ESPN's 30 for 30 television series.

"Small Potatoes Who Killed The USFL" was made in 2009 but looks like it was made in the 1980's. The sound track is dated (even for 2009) and the split screen effects seem so old-school cinema- tacky. It documentary is cheaply shot. Sounds horrible right? Somehow I loved it. The 80's camera work, special effects, music and subject matter made it feel like I was watching the USFL back in the 1985 again. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Warrior Film Review – MMA Movie

Two estranged brothers run into very hard times. Each brother has very different problems but their path to recovery is the same. They both enter into a championship mixed martial arts event. Ultimately, they must fight each other for the title and the winner-take-all prize.

When I first heard of this mixed martial arts genre film I thought is was going to be another shallow, violent, fight flick. I was thinking along the lines of "Bloodsport" with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Bloody and predictable. The underdog good guy enters into some seedy, underground world of fighting, a friend gets killed, and the underdog goes on to win the title, the girl and gets revenge for his fallen buddy.

Warrior is not that kind of film. For an MMA movie it really was not violent in any disturbing way. There is no revenge motive. The characters are developed wonderfully and the acting is terrific.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rise of The Planet of The Apes Review

Rise of the Plant of the Apes was not a horrible film, but it certainly never lives up to its potential.

A Pharmaceutical company tests drugs on apes. The apes are given a drug that can reverse Alzheimer's symptoms.  By taking the drug, apes become very intelligent. Their intelligence reveals to them how badly they are treated and how to revolt against humans.

The cast is never given the opportunity to give great performances. I thought their roles could have been adequately played by lesser actors.  James Franco does a nice job but really isn't given a script that lets him exploit his acting talents.  This is no "127 Hours."  His character, while very likable, is flat and uninspiring. The role is beneath him.

Franco's character has a girlfriend too. This actress is forgettable. I don't know her real name and won't bother to look it up. She's very beautiful but adds absolutely nothing to the film. I kept waiting for this character to contribute something, anything to the movie but there was nothing.  She is hot looking though so I suspect her character was meant to reassure the audience that the likable, leading man is truly a heterosexual and that's about it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tiny Furniture Movie Review Lena Dunham Laurie Simmons

I never came home from far off University but it must be strange for a college student to move back in with their parents  after graduation. The former student has all the urges to be an independent adult, yet without income and maturity they are trapped under the rules of their parent's home. The child (or young adult) feels contempt toward their parents rules and, at the same time, self entitled to their parents unconditional love.

Tiny Furniture stars Lena Dunham as Aura. She's a college student that has returned home. Like so many she is struggling to adjust.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Margin Call Film Review - Moore Spacey Irons

"Margin Call" epitomizes the financial collapse of 2008. A venerable investment firm, built on thin-as-ice investments, is now worthless. The company decides to deceive their customers and sell these worthless investments before anyone realizes they are junk. In the process, the institution destroys itself, possibly its customers and a handful of players make a lot of money.

I've heard this is based on the Lehman Brothers failure but I do not know if that is true.

Margin Call is packed with talented actors. Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Paul Bethany, you name it, they just kept pouring out of the woodwork as I watched this film. Even Mary McDonnell ( from the Kevin Costner film "Dances With Wolves") appears for 3 minute bit part in the film.

The acting, of course, was excellent. The big names and recognizable faces no doubt drew people into the theaters. From an acting/directing perspective I only found one scene disappointing (an overly contrived scene where human resources is firing Stanley Tucci's character, Eric Dale).

I did wonder if they really needed so many all-stars for this type of film. It seemed a bit overkill but I don't care. I don't pay the salaries, I just want a decent film.

City of Life and Death Film Review - Nanking Massacre

"City of Life and Death" is based on true events surrounding the Nanking Massacre. I had never heard of the Nanking Massacre and I feel guilty about my ignorance.  The massacre occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War.  The film is set in 1937. The Japanese invade the then-capital of China, Nanking.  The Japanese army breaches the walls of the city and commits mass slaughter and raping of the population. The Chinese army at Nanking is doomed and its  population is left to suffer. 

City of Life and Death was released in 2009 and completely shot in black and white.  The black and white really supports the bleak and somber mood of the film. The movie is harrowing. It is full of death, despair and hopelessness.

I read a bit about the Nanking Massacre after watching the movie. The film is violent. There are many scenes of indiscrimanent killing and raping. The actual massacre, by the accounts I've read, was far more cruel and lethal than this film was willing to portray.

The violence in City of Life and Death is not gratiuitous. It could have been by all historical accounts far more vicious but it elects not to be.  I suppose there is a point in cinema where raping and violence needs to be controlled. Not by sensors per se but by good direction and writing.  Too much violence and the audience becomes numbed or perhaps walks out, which does no justice to the victims at Nanking.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Doubt Movie Review - Streep Hoffman Adams

Doubt is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. I was sorry it took me a long time to get around to watching it.

The acting is some of the best I've ever seen.  Streep plays a stern catholic school nun, sister Aloysius. She is the principal who rules with seething quiet and decisiveness.  Streep plays the character perfectly. You can sense the ice water in her veins but not to the point where Aloysius is simply some stereotype, dogmatic nun. There is also a deep compassionate side that Streep lets drip out in tiny, subtle amounts throughout the film giving the character a deep complexity.

Amy Adams, always terrific (see my Junebug review), plays a young, inexperienced nun and teacher. She doesn't get out often and is a bit naive. She has the will to do the right thing but without making life too complicated.  She is perhaps the first nun I've seen where I wanted to get up of the couch and make out with the television screen.

I don't know why I said that and, yes, I'm aware I'm going to hell.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Synechdouche NY), plays Father Flynn. He runs the school. He's Aloysious' boss. He is also a reformer. He wants to engage the children and their families in a positive way. He wants them to see the Catholic Church as a warm and welcome part of the family.

I think Flynn reminds me of teachers I so loved when I was growing up. Flynn is a perfectly written character. Hoffman makes this character immensely likable (even if the Bronx accent doesn't always hold up).  Great juxtaposition to the severe no-nonsense Aloysius.

Zero Kelvin Review - Norwegian Hunter Poet Film

Zero Kelvin (Kjaerlighetens Kjotere) is set in 1925. A Poet named Henrik (Gard Eidsvold) from Oslo wants an adventure so he leaves his girlfriend for the arctic conditions of Greenland.  He signs on with a company to Hunt where he is teamed with a hunter and a scientist.

The hunter, Randbaek (Stellan Skarsgard), is ruthless and volatile.   Henrik's romantic personality and Randbaek's viciousness clash throughout the film.

This film on the surface is easy to watch but there is an underlying complexity to the relationship between Henrik and Randbeck that makes it intriguing.

Randbeck whips the dogs and humiliates Henrik throughout the film.  It appears Randbaek has a split personality.  Most of the time he is simply vicious but he has periods of poetic tenderness.

Henrik is just the opposite. He loves the dogs and is poetic most of the time.  He is not a wimp though and does speak up for himself.  You have the feeling he could kill someone with great reluctance and regret.

It is as if Randbeck is Henrik's alter ego.  At times Henrik softens Ranbecks madness and Randbeck toughens Henrik. In many ways the two souls need each other, both spiritually and for survival, in isolated Greenland, but Randbeck is too far gone.

  I did have some problems with the film.  Randbeck steals the show. Stellan Skarsgard is a great Randeck. Steely, jaded, angry, crazy yet somehow the direction of the script has him explaining, almost sympathetically,  his madness in the end.  It seemed a little too neat.

The ultimate ending  was a tad predictable as well. I won't say much more.

That said, I love cold, arctic London, Hemingway films.  This film is well acted and has some rich character interaction that kept me glued to the screen.  

Check it out sometime



118 Minutes

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Monday, January 16, 2012

How I Ended This Summer - Isolated in Arctic Russian Film

How I ended this summer is a Russian film set on an isolated Island near the Arctic Ocean.  I watched the film in English subtitles.

Every since reading my first Jack London story I have always been fascinated with people who live on the edge, who survive  in desolate places.  I loved the film "The Fast Runner"  which is a fable set among the ancient Inuit people living, thriving, in one of the coldest regions of Earth.   "How I Ended This Summer" is set in the modern day.   Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and Sergei (Sergey Puskepalis) take  radiation readings at a desolate arctic outpost.

They are completely isolated and rely on each other for day to day work and chores.  You get the impression quickly that Sergi is the experienced 40-50 something, old-school worker who finds Pavel, a college intern, to be a bit of a nuance. The tension between them is very natural and not over done.  The film builds suspense quietly. No sound track, no explosions, just an existence between two very different people. One a little crazy, one a little naive.

I loved the scenery.  The austere and unforgiving land not only looks great but it really forces the audience to focus on these two characters who are, quite literally, trapped in their careers and with each other.

How I Ended This Summer does not talk down to its audience. The film does not take the time to explain anything. It just unfolds and lets you figure out most of the film on your own. 

 There is some mystery to the film, which lends it some intrigue.   Why are they working on this site? Who are they working for?

Sergey Puskepalis and Grigoriy Dobrygin are well cast and very believable.   They are tired and brooding They are wonderfully ambivalent at times toward each other. They act along side each other very well.

Check this movie out.


130 Mins


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