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The Great Gatsby (2013)
A Ravishingly Beautiful and Highly Entertaining Film
I very much liked Baz Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby. I would have been disappointed if it had not been filled with striking visual images of beautiful people but it was filled with many of both. I have long been fond of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the same name and this is the first film version of the story I have seen that I thought worked. Much of the dialog was from Fitzgerald's own words.
The large ensemble cast was excellent. I was particularly impressed with the performances of Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway, and Joel Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan. As usual, Leonardo DiCaprio was excellent, this time as Jay Gatsby.
Luhrmann has achieved another artistic triumph. Highly recommended! 8 Stars out of 10.
Taken 2 (2012)
Dumb but marginally entertaining
Taken 2, like too many Hollywood sequels, is a shameless money grab. The first Taken, while not a bastion of intelligence, was entertaining and had a semblance of suspense. For those of us who had seen the original, though, its clone, Taken 2, was entirely predictable.
I decided to see Taken 2 solely because of my high regard for Liam Neeson. The always reliable Neeson did not disappoint me here. His performance lent an air of credibility to the film, which its underwhelming screenplay lacked.
Despite the failings of Taken 2's screenplay, it was saved from utter failure by its excellent ensemble cast, high production values, and well done action sequences. Add to that its short runtime of 92 minutes and Taken 2 was worth the price of admission, albeit barely.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
A worthy addition to the Bourne series
I went into the Bourne Legacy with no expectations whatsoever. The critics' review of the film were so all over the place that I had no idea whether I would be royally entertained or bitterly disappointed. In the event, I was royally entertained. I loved the intricate backstory explaining how Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) came to be such a super warrior and the complications that came with it. I thought Renner's work here was the best he has done since his memorable performance in The Hurt Locker.
The film's production values could hardly have been higher. I gave high marks to its colorful locations, fine cinematography, and brilliant ensemble cast. The producers took care to cast fine actors such as David Strathairn and Elizabeth Marvel in small roles. As usual, Rachel Weisz was marvelous, although I barely recognized her at first. It appears that she has had some cosmetic surgery, which, while leaving her still beautiful, changed her looks. No matter, she was still fine.
After the, to me at least, very interesting exposition of the background of the Outcome subjects, the movie shifted into high gear, with heart stopping chases, on both foot and motorcycle, through the streets of Manilla.
Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy is a worthy successor to Matt Damon's Jason Bourne in The Bourne Trilogy. 8 Stars out of 10.
People Like Us (2012)
A decent try but not recommended
As other posters have already noted, the ensemble cast of People Like Us was terrific. Although, I ended up being underwhelmed by the film, it wasn't the fault of marvelous performances by Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde, and Michael Hall D'Addario as 11 year old Josh.
Despite a couple of scenes that were laugh out loud funny and a couple of others that moved me, the film was by and large too long and too soapy. I could never quite warm to the characters enough to forgive their many weaknesses. The lesson of the film may have been that family members forgive each other and rise above their failings but I still couldn't care about them very much. If anybody could have made me care, it would have been Pine, Banks, Pfeiffer, and D'Addario but even their considerable charm and skill weren't enough.
Sitting through People Like Us wasn't quite a waste of two hours but it came perilously close to that. As I was feeling generous, I gave it 6 Stars out of 10 but can't really recommend it.
The Beaver (2011)
Loved Gibson, hated the film
As others have noted, Mel Gibson gave a remarkable performance as the thoroughly deranged Walter Black. The supporting cast was excellent, too, particularly, Anton Yelchin as Black's estranged son and Jennifer Lawrence as the son's high school classmate. Nevertheless, I ended up detesting the film because of what to me was a vicious and unnecessary turn of events about two-thirds of the way through it. After that, I simply stopped caring and was sorry I had decided to watch The Beaver in the first place.
Jody Foster, as usual, gave a fine performance but I though less of her directorial skills. In addition to her to me questionable decision to include a plot point that was a turn off, I thought her film dragged throughout most of its middle section. Because of this it seemed far longer than its actual runtime of 91 minutes. Not recommended.
Place of Execution (2008)
Terrific adaptation of a fine thriller
I finished reading Val McDermid's excellent thriller, "Place of Execution," a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it enough to pickup the DVD of the miniseries of the same name. I have now seen it and cannot praise it highly enough. Despite the complexities of the story, with its twin time lines and intersecting stories, it worked, I thought. Val McDermid co-wrote the screenplay, which I loved. Despite some changes from the book, do doubt made to tighten the story, it works.
"Place of Execution" is morally ambiguous, to say the least, the darkest of dark tales. It asks the question, When must the truth be sacrificed because justice requires it. The question is never answered but that's a good thing. Instead, we are left to ponder.
The arrogant Philip Hawkin is the squire of the remote village of Scardale. Hawkin, well played with malevolently superciliousness by Greg Wise, has a wife and 13 year old stepdaughter, both of whom had lived in the village long before Hawkin came along. In 1963 the stepdaughter, Allison, disappears and the evidence developed by the police sets afoot this stark morality play, the facts of which are not fully revealed until 40 years later. To say more would deprive you of the rich pleasures of seeing the truth revealed a layer at a time. After that, you will be left to decide the justice of the matter.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
A surprisingly enjoyable adaptation of a great work
As was the case with so many Hollywood Golden Era films of the '40s any relationship between this version of Pride and Prejudice and either Jane Austen's novel and historical accuracy is purely coincidental. Nevertheless, and to my surprise, I loved it. The screenplay, written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin is brilliant and very funny but departs significantly from the original. Those of you who are very familiar with the Jane Austen novel and are such purists that you can't live with the significant changes made should stay far away. I forgave Huxley and Murfin, though, because their sweet, goodnatured romantic comedy, which takes only 117 minutes to tell, just works.
The cast, particularly the women was marvelous. They were uniformly beautiful as well as graceful and elegantly dressed. Greer Garson, as Lizie, was a delight, despite having been many years older that Austen's original. Her scenes with Laurence Olivier, as Darcy, couldn't have been more fun. In this version, Olivier became a warm and and approachable person at a much earlier stage than he did in Austen's novel and their scenes together fairly crackled with romantic tension. Even the pompous and arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh, played by Edna May Oliver was written to display a level of warmth and humanity that Austen certainly never envisaged.
This old film has held its age remarkably well and is great, great fun. Highly recommended!
Hunter S. Thompson was a supremely funny man but, alas, was a deeply unhappy one. Thompson's political positions could have hardly been more different from my own. Nevertheless, I admired his work because he was such an original and so entertaining. I did so mainly because I knew better than to ever take him seriously. Unfortunately, Thompson never learned to not take himself too seriously and that failing led to his self destructiveness and, ultimately to his suicide.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a mostly loving look at Thompson through the eyes of many of his friends and the politicians he wrote about. It shows a man with a profoundly dichotomous nature: creativeness and wit on its positive side but dark, self destructive depression on the other. It created the richly entertaining Gonzo journalist who those of us who admired his work so enjoyed but also planted the seeds for his depression and death.
Near the end of the film, Thompson's first wife, Sondi, takes issue with those who characterize Thompson's suicide as "heroic." I think she has a point. Thompson had largely fallen from the public eye some years before he killed himself in 2005 at the age of 67. In a note delivered to his wife four days before his death, which was described by both his family and the police as a suicide note, Thompson wrote, under the title "Football Season is Over":
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax This won't hurt."
That about sums it up.
Death Sentence (2007)
Death Sentence is a truly awful picture. I decided to watch it because I had never met a revenge thriller I didn't like -- until Death Sentence came along. The film has literary pretensions, which because of its clunky writing and sheer preposterousness it could not deliver. I wanted to like it, I really did, but there's nothing there to like. Trust me on this.
Despite the presence of the talented Kevin Bacon, who did about all he could with what he was given, the movie is a bore. Even the many bloody action sequences are tedious because of their silliness.
If nothing else, Death Sentence disabused me of the notion that I would find something to like in any revenge thriller. Do yourself a favor, stay far, far away from this one.
District 9 (2009)
A work of genius!
District 9 is inspired film-making. In some ways, I suppose, it is an allegorical tale, but it is NOT a Message Movie. Thank heavens for that because I detest most such films. Although I feared that this film might be a heavy handed anti-Apartheid drama, I saw instead a brilliant sci-fi film, in a class with Ridley Scott's classic "Alien."
The protagonist of the film is Wikus Van De Werne, played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley from whom I hope to see more in the future. Wikus is alternately, stupid, naive, and funny, but ultimately loyal and brave. The movie traces his assignment as the man in charge of an operation to remove aliens from a squalid camp near Johannesburg and resettle them in a remote location. How all of this is developed and plays out is fascinating and consistently interesting, trust me on this.
District 9 is directed by young Neil Blomkamp -- he is only 29. This is the only film of his I have seen but he has convinced me already that he is a force to be reckoned with. He made District 9 for little money, at least by the standards of most modern special effects laden films, and co-wrote the screenplay, too boot.
This is a smart film; it is also sometimes moving and often funny. Highest recommendations!