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Yeonpyeong haejeon (2015)
Suspenseful, entertaining, authentic naval warfare film
Caught this on Netflix streaming, while I had "nothing better to do;" and, boy, am I glad I did. "Northern Limit Line" is, clearly the most authentic movie about military life since "We Were Soldiers"; and it the most the most authentic film about shipboard life since "Das Boot", but a lot more entertaining. Based on a two incident, what would be called a "clash" by a news reader in a paragraph on a "Nightly News," "Nothern Line Limit" is, alternately, suspenseful, exciting, grueling and, ultimately, touching. Very well written, directed, photographed, acted and scored, "Northern Limit Line" also contains the longest modern naval warfare sea battle I have seen. Hollywood could certainly learn from South Korea about how to film a sea battle. My only slight quibble is the editing. One or two sequences end abruptly, disorienting the viewer for an instant. The movie could also use a slight trimming, particularly the "port departure sequence" on the day of the battle.
Inexplicably, I could not enjoy "Northern Limit Line" on my home theater system. For some reason, the title does not appear on the Netflix "Search" menu on my Roku. Too bad, because the sea battle cries out for a big screen and Surround sound. I give "Northern Limit Line" a "9".
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
Ill-conceived story structure torpedoes potentially good love story
"Ricki and the Flash" is one-fifth rocker love story and four-fifths cliché family drama. Hitting all the right PC buttons, "Ricki..." features an interracial couple, a gay son and an emotionally disturbed daughter estranged from her biological mother. This movie could have been saved in post-production, by ending the first song sequence with a flashback to the "family drama," then periodically flashing forward to the romantic relationship between Meryl Streep (who looks great OUT of makeup) and Rick Springfield (who also looks great). If this had been done post-production, a barely digestible meal of a movie could have become, at the very least, tasty fast food. I give "Ricki and the Flash" a "6".
Mr. Nobody (2009)
Flawed near-masterpiece box office dud
Beautifully directed, photographed, edited, and, mostly acted, "Mr. Nobody" is testimony to how even the best films prospects can be destroyed by horrendous marketing. While "Mr. Nobody" may be an accurate title, it is a horrible title for a movie of such scope and accomplishment. Perhaps the horrid title is why only a few US theaters played this movie, returning only a few thousand dollars on a film which cost $47M. Fortunately, streaming video makes it possible to see this flawed near-masterpiece. In fact, I saw the theatrical version as part of the Netflix streaming package; and the director's cut, which addresses all but one of what I consider "flaws" is available on Amazon streaming. My only criticism of both versions is the casting of Diane Kruger as the adult "Anna". Juno Temple, an adult actress who plays juvenile roles, is, again, world class, with the intensity needed for the pivotal "Anna". On the other hand, Diane Kruger, lacks both Ms. Temple's intensity and disproportionately large breasts, which makes it pretty hard to believe she is the same character. Better that Temple be aged with makeup or digitally. Nonetheless, "Mr. Nobody" emerges as one my Top 20 all-time favorite films. I give "Mr. Nobody" a "9".
La piel que habito (2011)
Sensuous, perverse, audacious
While convoluted and, sometimes,tedious, "The Skin I live in" evokes the theme of obsession in a manner worthy of such classic films as "Eyes Without a Face" (1960), "Vertigo" (1958), "The Night Porter" (1974) and "Obsession" (1976), while managing to be even more perverse and disturbing than any of these.
"Vera" (Elena Anaya) whiles away her days in either provocative yoga positions, totally nude, applying sackcloth to sculpture, or receiving experimental skin grafts from her captor, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas. When not totally nude, Vera is clothed in a body suit, which is skin tight right down to shaping her private parts. In addition to Robert applying illegal, genetically modified skin grafts, he gives Vera opium pipes to remove her memory. What connection does this have to the deaths of Robert's wife and daughter? Who is Vera? The answers will both fascinate and horrify you.
As "Vera," Spain's leading actress, Elena Anaya, gives the most sensuous performance since Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice". Her awards and nominations are well deserved. Sadly, for "The Skin I Live In," Elena was overlooked for a Golden Globes or an Oscar. Oh well, maybe her performance in "The Skin I Live in" is just too kinky for these "mainstream" organizations. Banderas is also excellent, the perfect mix of victimized husband and monster.
As for Pedro Almodovar, with "The Skin I Live in," he is either spectacularly good or almost inept, depending upon the sequence in the film. Perhaps, I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate Almodovar's "genius". However, I felt Almodovar misses the mark too many times to either give him or "The Skin I Live In" the praise I would otherwise grant it. Nonetheless, I give a movie that could have been a "10" a solid "7"...and as a writer/producer, I hope someday to have the honor of working with the almost irresistible Elena Anaya.
New Take on "old hat"
While the Runyonesque plot of responsibilities of parenthood reforming a rascal go back least as far as "Little Miss Marker" (1934), thanks to a brilliant cast and solid dialog, "Grandfathered" still manages to mine gold from an old mine. Great one-liners and a little sex in the form of luscious Christina Milian, this is the funniest mix of sharp humor and sex since the premiere of "The Big Bang Theory". The satire is comparable to last year's underrated "Selfie"; however, both the casting and even-ness of it is closer to "Big Bang". While Josh Peck's character is written as a bit too annoyingly backward and Milian's as eye-candy for adolescent boys, Stamos has never been more appealing and Paget Brewster seems capable of carrying the show alone. I can hardly wait for the next episode; and I have not said that since "Selfie" departed.
Frequently rewarding, if mostly disappointing caper flic.
For the first roughly 40 minutes of "Focus," I had high hopes of a con film on par with "The Sting" and "The Film-Flam Man," a largely-forgotten, minor masterpiece with George C. Scott. Then, "Focus" became as soft and predictable as the "mallow," that is the nickname of one of the characters. What really redeems "Focus" is the chemistry between Will Smith and Margo Robbie. Robbie is a real find; and her chemistry with Smith is most convincingly romantic I have seen in this century. Unfortunately, the sting (pardon the pun) that takes up roughly two-thirds of the movie is utterly predictable and unconvincing. Great production values, fun cast, that wonderful chemistry, clever opening and little else. I give "Focus" a soft "6".
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
What were the Wachowskis' thinking?
If the final year of the 20th Century, the Wachowski's produced and directed the most audacious and thought-provoking science fiction film of the 20th Century, "The Matrix". Even though the Wachowski's followed up with two disappointing, disjointed and nihilistic sequels, the importance of their accomplishment led one to hope for great things from them in the 21st Century. Alas, whatever talent the Wachowski's promised in the art of storytelling is in no way present in either their next project "Cloud Atlas" nor "Jupiter Ascending". "Cloud Atlas," which had as much potential as "The Matrix," was ruined by DELIBERATELY unintelligible dialog in the exposition and episodes so short they seemed more like scenes from separate movies. On the other hand, "Jupiter Ascending" is ruined by the imposition of more characters (heck, more SPECIES) than a Russian novel, a villain who sounds as if he belongs in an iron lung and unintentionally funny technology (Channing Tatum, in his "gravity boots" reminds me of Wilie E. Coyote wearing a product from Acme)and ludicrous, unfunny social commentary on government red tape. Note to Wachowski's: if you are going to copy "Star Wars," make it "A New Hope," not "The Phantom Menace." I give "Jupiter Ascending" a "5).
An instant classic, joining "Robocop" and "Terminator 2" as best of the genre
Given the insipid ad campaign by Sony for "Chappie," I did not expect much. Boy, was I surprised. "Chappie" joins "Robocop" and Terminator 2" as best of the genre, whose theme is "Do we have a soul; and is the 'soul' what makes us 'human'"? However, while "Robocop" and "T2" asked this question indirectly, while engaging in great action and dark comedy, "Chappie" approaches it directly, while still providing exciting entertainment without the preachiness of "T2". Let us say, while "Robocop" and "T2" struck gold by variations on familiar paths, "Chappie" takes "the road less traveled" and strikes platinum. I certainly hope, when the Academy and the Writers Guild are selecting "Best Screenplay" nominees, "Chappie" is one of them.
"Chappie" takes the "Simpson's dysfunctional family" approach, providing "Chappie" with an extended family of violent drug dealers. Yet, despite their chosen profession and lifestyle, each of the "family" members possess strong redeeming elements of likability, humor, heroism and self-sacrifice. Most notable among these is "Mommy" (Yo-landi Visser), whose off-putting makeup and wardrobe hides an unconventionally beautiful woman, both physically and spiritually. As Chappie's creator, Dev Patel creates an even more engaging "science geek" than the male cast members of "The Big Bang Theory". Dev reminds me a bit of Rahul Kholi on "IZombie". His "home helper" robots are absolutely adorable; and they perfectly reflect Rahul's character.
While Sigorney Weaver is a bit typecast, Hugh Jackman provides perfect contrast to his usual "stalwart hero" roles. One keeps expecting Jackman to turn out to be the "hero" of this piece; and THAT is good casting.
Hans Zimmer provides his usual, beautifully appropriate music to "Chappie". His music particularly raises the adrenalin-level of what are really pretty conventional action scenes.
I can see no way anyone could improve on "Chappie". Thus, I feel fully justified in giving "Chappie" a resounding "10".
American Sniper (2014)
Boring, episodic movie
Unlike many reviewers (most of them paid film critics), I will try to separate my personal animosity to US policies in the Middle East from my measure of the artistic merit of "American Sniper".
My wife insisted on us watching "American Sniper," then lost interest in the first hour. Most of the truly engaging, emotional scenes are revealed in the trailers. What comes in between those engaging moments are detached episodes chronicling Chris Kyle's tours in Iraq. I admire Kyle for his personal code. However, I did not admire Kyle's inability to question the policies of those under whom he served, even when director Clint Eastwood slyly presents evidence to motivate Kyle to do so. What Eastwood does fail to do is provide a subtle transition from extroverted "good old boy" to extreme introvert; whom, in his wife's words, is "not here". However, I doubt any director could have done so, given the absence of such scenes in the screenplay.
This being said, while Sienna Miller is very good, Bradley Cooper, as "Chris Kyle" is nothing short of extraordinary. I cannot imagine another acted who could have done it better.
Without revealing the end of the movie (which is ridiculous, given it is "old news"), let me say it is perfectly appropriate. Chris Kyle paid the appropriate price for using his skills to help the wrong people.
I give "American Sniper" a "6".
Best of the series, which is not much of a compliment
I find myself watching the Transformers movies because my wife likes these mindless action flicks. I found "Transformers: Age of Extinction" to be far more bearable than any of the other films in this series and certainly more bearable than the "G.I. Joe" franchise and the last two "Iron Men" movies. First the good news: 1) The action sequences are actually coherent in this one. 2) No Shia LaBoef. Now, the bad news: 1) Insufferably long 2) The climactic fight sequences are a letdown, given the trans-formative capabilities of the new "autobots". 3) No Megan Fox 4) No Rose Huntington-Whitely, either. Definitely, the quotient of female eye-candy has dropped dramatically. The highly touted Bingbing Li is so heavily made up, she looks less real than the worst CGI and her personality is even less realistic. Amazingly, Bingbing purportedly garnered 20 endorsement contracts from this. Oh well, everyone has a right to his own tastes. Fortunately, John Goodman graces us with his great humor and booming voice, making the seemingly endless action sequences a lot more bearable; and Michael Bay keeps the camera moving enough to keep the convoluted storyline from feeling it is unfolding at a snail's pace; which, unfortunately, it is. I give "Transformers: Age of Extinction" a "6".