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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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I Finally Saw This Terrific Clint Eastwood Film - See it? What Did You Think?

Midnight in Paris - Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams... A Whimsical Comedy....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Midnight In Paris Movie Review - Rachel McAdams Owen Wilson

For a while, it seemed every NetFlix DVD I ordered had a trailer for "Midnight in Paris."  This probably explained my impossibly long wait to see this film. It took months for it to be released to me from my DVD queue.

Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson team up again (since Wedding Crashers) as a couple with very different ideas on how to spend their trip to Paris.  She wants to shop and do 'touristy' things while he wants to experience the real romance and history of Paris.

This is whimsical tale to say the least. The year is the present time.  Owen's character, Gil, is a writer. He wants to write a great classic. Walking the streets of Paris alone one night he stumbles across a sort of alternate world in the Parisian past.  Here he meets famous artists Hemingway, Piccasso, Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald and many others. He loves it. He wants to stay in the past.

The film is easy to watch and doesn't try to make you believe an inch of it. As a viewer you just fall into this tale and go along for the ride.

Owen Wilson is an actor whose style never seems to change but it works.  His mannerisms and personality fit this role.

The film is good fun and not one to be taken too seriously.  If you are a literary buff, you'll really enjoy the film and probably have a better understanding of the personalities behind each artist. If you are not a literary guru, don't worry, the inside-literary-references do not get in the way of the film. If anything, they give this rather goofy Woody Allen tale some unexpected depth.

The film wraps up a little too neatly but don't all fairy tales?

Midnight in Paris is not quite as funny as the trailer makes it out to be. The trailer exploits the best lines to get you to see the film and I fell for the ploy.  I still liked this film.

If you can suspend belief and don't mind Woody Allen-type films, you'll find this movie to be fairly unique, refreshing and occasionally funny.

Check it out.



95 Minutes

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gran Torino Movie Review - Clint Eastwood as Grumpy Old Man

I finally got around to watching Gran Torino.  Clint Eastwood stars and directs.  He plays an 80 year old man named Walt Kowalski.  Walt is an angry, intense, bitter Korean War veteran and retired US autoworker. He lives in a poor Detroit suburb that the audience can only presume was once a prosperous, working class town in a more golden time.  He is upset that people of various races (Latino, African,  Asian population) appear to be the majority population in his town.

I completely enjoyed Gran Torino.  Yes, the film uses all the same character tricks you've seen before.  The bad ass that finds a soft heart.  The reluctant mentor who takes a troubled kid under his wing (in a very Mr Miyagi / Ralf Macchio "Karate Kid" like way). The racist who overcomes barriers. The troubled conscious that finds peace.

Eastwood makes these well-worn themes work in what seems to be a homage to many of his older films:

-Walt, the disillusioned, word-gone-to-pot, character that feels a little, but not too much, like Dirty Harry. 

-The use of tobacco spit as a sign of disdain, like Outlaw Josey Wales. 

-Vulnerability (ie health), like Honkytonk Man. 

-Aging intense, veteran, like Heartbreak Ridge.  

The list could go on. Can you think of any others in this film?

This film is an embodiment of just about every role Clint's played and it works. No one else could play this role but him.

The supporting cast is made up of largely unknown and journeyman actors. I found the bitter interaction between the character Walt and his grown children bit cliche and not played particularly well by Brian Haley, Dreama Walker, Geraldine Hughs and Brian Howe. It felt too forced and not genuine. This is my only complaint about the film. The rest of the cast  were terrific. They come off as earnest and and effortlessly believable.

Any relationship, whether a casual acquaintance or new found love, on some level, draws us into affairs of other people's lives whether we like or not.  For me, this is what this movie is all about. Walt Kowalski, with great reluctance, forges new bonds and then must face the triumphs and tragedies of those bonds.

Great film.  Check it out.


117 Minutes

Profanity, violence, and completely, utterly politically incorrect.

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War Horse - Should You Watch This World War One Film ?

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Monday, January 2, 2012

War Horse - World War One Film Review

War Horse is a sappy, melodramatic, feel good film that pulls out every obvious cliche to get film goers to buy tickets.

The sound track is big, orchestrated and entirely too contrived as if to say "this is an Oscar worthy film."

All the characters are handsome, chummy and leave their idyllic, small town lifestyles for the horrors of war.

The horses, and there are actually two 'lead' horses 'acting' for much of the film, communicate so tenderly I wasn't sure if Mr Ed was going to show up next or just R2D2 and C3PO.

The sweep of the film was massive and at times felt forced and excessive.

The film is predictable and, inevitably make the audience leave the theater happy in spite of the fact that every single character suffers great loss of friend, pet, loved ones or even their own life.

That said, in spite of all the formulas Steven Spielberg through together to ensure box office success, the film actually works in spite of itself.  I think this is because the actors are so terrific they make this film somehow believable. 

Niels Arestrup and Emily Watson really stand out. Not surprising since these two actors seem to always get everything just right.  Eddie Marsan, who I loved in the film Happy Go Lucky, also makes a brief but solid performance.

All in all I liked the War Horse and was glad I saw it. This film is definitely designed to be a safe bet at the box office.  Every aspect of the film is a tried and proven formula.  While it is something I won't sit up at night thinking much about, it is a fairly safe film for the family and it does have a feel good ending.

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