Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Before Midnight Review

Posted: July 26, 2013 in Movies

The third chapter of this series–following Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke portraying two people in love with each other–picks up ten years after the last entry. In the series, Ethan Hawke meets Julie, they have an affair, separate, reunite, and stay together–an American man and a Parisian woman.
These are two very fine actors, with a great deal of physical charisma, obviously, but more than that, these films are truly introspective, thoughtful and unflinching. Julie has gotten bigger in the backside, Ethan isn’t as attractive, but it is clear that these two love each other. The movie really seems to pose the question, though–why don’t they get married? What is it that holds them back?
I was pondering this question the last few months in particular. A new young couple moved into our neighborhood, and they took no little pride in telling anyone who would listen that they decided not to get married, but to live together until they see how it works–whatever that means. Are they going to be compatible? Will they be able to make the commitment that is necessary? Evidently, they don’t know, or can’t tell, and they feel that this will help them decide. I can’t help but wonder what will happen if she gets pregnant–will that be a positive, or a negative?
Julie’s character walks out a couple of times–yet, when she comes back, and when he goes to find her, it is evident that leaving the other person wouldn’t be a matter of inconvenience–It would be a profound heartbreak and a crippling emotional loss.
A profoundly good film–lots of sensitive discussion, moral dilemmas, funny, heartbreaking–yet more than entertaining. It is a fine discussion of what it means to be in love under very difficult circumstances. Four stars, one of the best films of the year.

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Oblivion fim review

Posted: July 18, 2013 in Movies, Uncategorized

Tom Cruise excels in the new film Oblivion, in wide release as of 4/24/13. This movie, however, should not be seen by people who don’t know or understand film as an art form. This ain’t The Three Stooges, folks.

In 2007, my wife and I went to see Hugh Grant in a rather strange, if hilarious, film called Music and Lyrics.  We both enjoy Grant, and this film started well. In the opening scenes, we were treated to Grant performing as a member of a two man singing group, once wildly popular but now fallen on hard times. The retrospective of the group that started the film featured Grant singing with his partner in a very tight white suit which screamed vintage Elvis. Funny? Well, as Huckleberry Finn says, “It would have made a cow laugh.”

So we, along with most of the audience, sat in paroxysms of laughter at the preposterous performance not only by Grant but by his exquisitely talented co-star, Drew Barrymore. However, toward the end of the opening sequence, an older couple came to stand in front of us and proceeded to assail for ruining their experience at the film. Our—not just my—laughter had ruined their experience and they intended to complain.

A woman behind me, bless her, spoke up and advised the couple that they were watching a comedy, and that people laugh at comedies, and we as an a me udience found it funny. For my part, I was so surprised that people would complain about others laughing in a comedy that I couldn’t respond. The complainers left in a huff and, we found out after the film, actually did complain that people were laughing at the film. The theatre manager proclaimed herself as dumbfounded as we were.

I saw something like this happen at a production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple at the old Drury Lane Theatre in Evergreen Park. Here again, I sat behind two people who didn’t get it. Tony Mockus and Tony Randall all but stunned us with laughter; yet, in front of me were several people who kept turning and looking at us as we laughed nearly out of control at the production. Apparently, they thought the play was an exposition of the tragedy of Oscar and Felix.

So, if you are a person whose experience in film is limited to, say, the humor of the three stooges, or the plot depth of a TV sitcom, you may want to stay away from this superb film. I urge you not to do so. This film is a work of art and will take you to a new level in your appreciation of the potential of movies.

Tom Cruise, a few years ago, took on a remarkable project called Vanilla Sky based on a short story by a true master of the Science Fiction genre named Philip K. Dick. Directed by Cameron Crowe, the film starred Cruise, Penélope Cruz, and a brilliant Cameron Diaz. The film required a great deal of effort on the part of the audience, and those who demand that their film experiences be mindless iterations of, say, Smokey and The Bandit, will be disappointed.

The premise for Oblivion, which is set in 2077, says that most of the earth has been destroyed by a dreadful war against aliens. Cruise has a job of mopping up the mess that is left, and lives in the sky with the beautiful Olga Kurylenko. As he goes about his job, he finds himself in apparently constant battle with what are apparently aliens left over by the war—

–And that’s all I can tell you about the plot. I think I know what happened, but I’ll leave it to you.  

 

This film features great performances by Morgan Freeman, and Andrea Riseborough, but also a fine, if thankless cameo by Melissa Leo. The set is convincing, and convicting as well. I say that not lightly.

At its heart, this film is a love story and hopeful, hard at times to watch but ultimately pleasing. Go and see it.

 

I was born the year before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers which was 1947. America, at the beginning of ubiquitous change, saw its national pastime undergo a major change: the integration of black athletes into its ranks. Jackie Robinson, a fleet deer, a powerful slugger, an adaptible human, took the challenge and opened the world of major league baseball to black ballplayers.

The lead role of Jackie is sustained by Chadwick Boseman, who will be a superb actor in years to come. Physically, they couldn’t have selected a better person. Acting, he’s fine. He captures the emotion well that Robinson must have felt at the constant racial epithets to which he was subjected by vicious rednecks.

But the performance of Boseman is overshadowed by that of Harrison Ford in an inspired casting choice. I went a bit leery at seeing Han Solo, or Indiana Jones, appearing as Branch Rickey. Yet there is no hint of another character other than Mr. Rickey, who was one of the most famous wheeler dealers in the history of baseball. Ford is flawless in his performance, caustic, cigar chomping, brusque and competent. Watching him deal with one of the most revolutionary moments in the history of sports should be required in any acting class.

The movie is not without flaw, to be sure. We find ourselves unsure of any of the main characters’ names, despite the fact that the ’47 and ’48 Dodgers were terrific. The manager of the Dodgers as we begin the movie is the famous Leo Durocher, but when he’s fired for horsing around with Laraine Day (historically accurate, to be sure) another manager named Burt is brought in. Okay, I think it was Burt Schotten, but I don’t remember Dodger history all that well. I do remember Ralph Branca, and of course shortstop PeeWee Reese, who famously befriended and accepted Robinson. But to slur over their names is unfair.

Not the best movie of the year, no. Still it was entertaining and a lot better than I was expecting. It could become regarded as  one of the best baseball movies of all time.  <

The Croods

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Movies, Uncategorized

the Croods brings to mind a lot of movies. First, and I suppose foremost, the old TV show the Flintstones–Nicholas Cage is the patriarch of a family, and at times we almost expect him to yell “WILMA!” But the inventions aren’t there; this is really a cave man cartoon, with no improvements. The family lives in fear of everything. Then, we feel the echoes of the strange but effective “Quest for Fire”, with Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong, because in many ways this is a quest for fire movie; I could name several others, but the film derives from, and also, to be fair, enlarges on those films. 

Having said that, this is a tremendously entertaining, and very funny, movie. The cave family’s daughter, named Eep, meets a young guy who has learned to make fire. Adventure after adventure follows as he joins the family in an attempt to escape earthquakes, floods, famine and fire. Therein lies the problem with the film: we have far too many chase scenes. The action is too frenetic. 

Still this is a good film to take the family to–probably not much under five, though, please. Look for good voice overs from Cage, Chloris Leachman (!)and, really, the rest of the cast. Three stars and a great deal of fun, 

Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Movies

Oz the Great and Powerful.

 

les miserables poster

It’s appropriate that the opening images of Les Miserables show miserable men trying to drag a huge ship into a dry dock, presumably to repair it. By the time this dreary, even dismal rendition of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece is over, the exhausted patron feels like he’s been dragged face forward through three hours of misery by an ill-equipped, badly directed cast of some of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

I don’t seek to disparage all of them, to be fair. Ann Hathaway has a graceful, well-executed role as the unwilling prostitute whose child graces the life of the pathetic main character, Jean Valjean (tediously performed by Hugh Jackman here.) Russell Crowe portrays the relentless sheriff who is Valjean’s nemesis, trailing him endlessly and without mercy–for some reason. Valjean didn’t escape from the chain gang, as far as we can tell,  so why Crowe’s character pursues him is never exactly clear. Hathaway is lucky, though, since her character dies before she has to endure two plus more hours of this film.

 

I have never been a fan of Sasha Baran Cohen, whose rapier like wit needs a long session with a whetstone. He is a sort of Fagin character here, but utterly without grace, charm or dignity. Tedious about describes it.

I have worked on many operas. Without doubt many of them can be enjoyed just for the music, which is usually sublime, exquisite and lovely. Not here. None of the characters can sing. They struggle manfully to produce acceptable versions of the score and in general produce wincing thuds of unlistenable weariness. The audience strains to understand why truly great singers could not have been employed.

Wait until it comes to a legit theatre near you.  Don’t bother with the film. One and one half stars.