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The Judge (2014)
an attorney comes home to defend his father, 9 February 2016

A successful attorney for the guilty, Hank Palmer, now living in Chicago, returns to his hometown in "The Judge," from 2014. The film stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton.

Hank (Downey) comes home to Carlinville, Indiana, for his mother's funeral. He has two brothers: Glen (D'Onofrio) whose hand was hurt in an accident, ruining a promising sports career, his slow brother Dale, and his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), from whom he is estranged. He also see his old girlfriend, Samantha Powell (Farmiga).

He can barely be in a room with his father, so the next day, he boards a flight back to Chicago when Glen calls to tell him that their father has been accused of a hit and run. The victim is a murderer, Mark Blackwell, who received a surprisingly light sentence from the Judge. Hank leaves the plane and returns home.

His father doesn't remember the accident, explaining that he "lost time," which in a fragile mental state, he sometimes does.

Hank plans on defending his father, but the situation between them becomes worse and worse. And the prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Thornton) wants to make sure the Judge goes to prison.

This is a story of a dysfunctional family, as if you couldn't guess. It's a story of suppressed rage, blame, feelings of abandonment, and guilt, and some secrets. The scenes between Duvall and Downey are as heartbreaking as they are powerful. Good thing I had a box of tissues handy.

The acting is superb. Everyone is a multilayered character - Samantha, who flirts with her ex boyfriend Hank, but never got over the fact that he left for a concert and never returned; the Judge, a once strong man facing the loss of his wife, mind, and bodily functions; Glen, who is stuck in town dealing with his younger brother.

Robert Downey, Jr. is charismatic, and his emotions are perfectly on point. Duvall - someone used the word breathtaking. I will, too. This is not just a stereotyped stern father. This is a real person. The two set fire to the screen in their scenes together.

I admit I was disappointed for the first hour because I thought this was a courtroom drama, but when I realized what it was, I no longer felt that way. David Dobkin does a beautiful job of directing.

I realize there is nothing new under the sun - this is another family of Dueling Dysfunctionals with lots of issues. But it's played (for me, anyway) as if it's a brand new story, a story of the different ways love expresses itself even when there has been devastating hurt.

The Moment (2013/I)
unrealized potential, 9 February 2016

I saw Jennifer Jason Leigh on stage in Proof, and she was wonderful. She is a marvelous actress who appears in independent films of varying quality.

"The Moment" from 2013 is just such a film. It has an interesting premise and had the potential of being truly brilliant. But it's too convoluted and misses the mark.

That's just my opinion. People on the board seem to like it, though I think it only had 1-1/2 or 2 stars on Netflix, and a 5 rating here. Not sure who's voting.

The movie goes forward and back in time. Leigh plays a photographer (named Lee), and when we first see her, she goes to the home of someone named John, calls him, and says her cameras are in his home and she needs to get in. He doesn't respond.

She gets into the house and finds that he hasn't been there in quite a while. She goes to the police to report him missing.

Then the movie starts to go back in time and into the present.

Lee ends up in a psychiatric hospital and we learn about the problems she had with John. And she meets a man also in the hospital named Peter, whom she tells her therapist looks exactly like John.

Both men are played by Martin Henderson, who could not be more handsome, and to have him play both parts was a major mistake. I realize I wasn't concentrating hard enough, but I had trouble figuring out if she was talking to John or Peter - were we in the past or the present?

Anyway, Lee is afraid that she killed John. As she tries to regain some grip on reality, we learn about her problems with her daughter and what actually happened with John. realize the truth as well as the truth about her troubled relationship with her daughter.

I feel that the director, Jane Weinstock, was not experienced enough to handle this kind of film, but I give her credit for taking it on. I understand, according to one review, that the people who liked it were psychiatrists or their patients. Interesting.

Jennifer Jason Leigh was something like 51 when this was made, and she looks like a woman in her thirties, and she's not heavily made up. In Proof, she was playing someone 25 and she was 40. She does a great job of playing this confused and frightened woman.

This is a psychological drama with an unsatisfying ending. I can't say I liked it. I do think it was a mistake not to cast different actors as John and Peter. It would have helped - immensely.

Blockade (1938)
ambiguous drama and a miscast Henry Fonda, 8 February 2016

Henry Fonda was roped into this -- he had a higher box office rating than the perfect actor for it, Gilbert Roland. There aren't many roles both of these men could play, and this wasn't one of them.

The story concerns the Spanish Civil War.

The script was written by an avowed Communist, John Howard Lawson who wanted to "present the Communist position" in his scripts. He doesn't really get to do that in Blockade, since it's deliberately ambiguous as to the different factions, referred to as "they" and "us." The costuming also doesn't suggest anything as far as sides.

The story concerns a place called Castelmare, where Marco and Luis (Fonda and Leo Carrillo) help a Russian woman, Norma (Madeleine Carroll) who has had a car accident on the way to her father's. For Marco, it's love at first sight.

When war begins, Marco is the head of a group of peasant attempting to defend Castelmare. Meanwhile, Norma and her father are forced to spy for the other side. Marco winds up killing Norma's father.

Castelmare cannot get any supplies, and Norma is being blackmailed to give information about the ship so that it can be sunk.

Probably the most striking thing are the closeups of the suffering peasants.

Casablanca it isn't. Fonda and Carroll have no chemistry. The dialogue is very stilted.

Henry Fonda at the end gives an impassioned speech right into the camera. It's embarrassing.

World War II at home, 8 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It seems impossible that this film was made almost 32 years ago -- Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn look almost unrecognizable in "Swing Shift," from 1984, directed by Jonathan Demme and also starring Christine Lahti and Ed Harris.

Hawn plays Kay Walsh, married to Jack Walsh (Harris) in 1941. They're a happy couple. Pearl Harbor happens, and Jack enlists. Kay goes to work as a riveter in an airplane factory, working the swing shift. There she meets Mike Lockhart (Russell) who immediately pursues her -- for six months, until she finally agrees to come and hear him play the trumpet at a swing club. They begin an affair.

Meanwhile, Kay has befriended her neighbor, Hazel (Lahti), who has had her heart broken more than once by her boyfriend Biscuits (Fred Ward). and she is also working in the factory.

Kay finds a community in the factory, people she can spend time with outside of work. Then, abruptly, the war is nearly over, and Jack returns.

Nice wartime story about the women left behind, the loneliness, their new independence, and a world outside of their homes. There is the expectation that this is all temporary. When the war is over, they will be let go, the men will return to their jobs, and the women will go home where they belong. Meanwhile the women have been given a taste of a new kind of freedom.

"Swing Shift" is about the societal changes during the war for both sexes. Men saw war, with its accompanying camaraderie, death, horror, and separation from loved ones. They came home to wives who may have been earning more than they did, who could fix the toaster, and had a new set of friends. It was a time of big adjustment.

Hawn is sympathetic as Kay, a pretty woman who married very young and finds it hard to get along without her husband. As the man who doesn't care if a woman is married or not, Kurt Russell is fine -- he falls for Kay, perhaps picking up on her loneliness, and pursues her with determination.

The showy role belongs to Christine Lahti, who gives an emotional performance, hurt by the man she loves and unable to get over him. Lahti has always been a wonderful actress who has given many powerful performances -- as an ex-hippie living underground in "Running on Empty," and in many striking TV performances. She shows her stuff here.

Holly Hunter, Lisa Pelikan, and Chris Lemmon, who all went on to varying levels of success, have small parts. Good movie, and a good look at wartime at home.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Excellent look at a huge murder case, 7 February 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson is a look at the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.

For those of us who lived through every second of it, it brings back a lot of memories -- the Bronco chase, Mark Fuhrman, the verdict, and everything else in between.

If you are too young to remember, the O.J. trial took over the airwaves for months. It also dominated news and talk shows.

This is the story of the case, but also some behind the scenes drama. I'm assuming some of that is at least partially true.

The casting is wonderful, particularly David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. Kardashian was on O.J.'s dream team for support -- thanks to the prominence of his family today, I imagine he'll be front and center. His ex-wife and children are, and I don't remember them being mentioned originally.

Kardashian finally decided O.J. was guilty and stopped speaking to him, even refusing to talk to O.J. when he was on his deathbed.

Courtney Vance sounds just like Johnnie Cochran, a brilliant attorney who was responsible for getting O.J. found "not guilty" by distracting the jury and changing the trial to one about racism. Of course, that opportunity was handed to him by Mark Fuhrman. Before Fuhrman testified, Cochran approached Chris Darden and said, "Chris, don't put that white boy on the stand." They did, and there went their case.

Don't ask me what John Travolta is doing. Normally he's an excellent actor. Sarah Paulson does a terrific job as Marcia Clark.

Bruce Greenwood is Gil Garcetti. When we were watching all this take place 20 years ago, this was a perfect role for Clint Eastwood.

As O.J., Cuba Gooding is very good, as is Billy Magnusson as Kato. Kato got 15 minutes of fame out of the trial and milked it.

It looks to me as if the casting people were very careful with their choices, so I expect the rest of the cast will be good as well.

Some of what takes place in the film isn't quite correct, as I recall it anyway. No one called O.J. and said, "your wife Nicole has been killed." I remember that as being a big part of my belief that he was guilty. He was called and told, "Your ex-wife has been killed." Well, he had two, but somehow, he knew it was Nicole right away. As far as him asking how she was killed, he probably didn't.

In the beginning, the prosecution seemed to have O.J. dead to rights, with his blood on the sidewalk and the gloves showing a mix of his and the victims' DNA. But they were undergunned. And frankly, the charisma of Johnnie Cochran was overpowering. I think a lot of the jury was mesmerized by him. Chris Darden, on the other side, went to his funeral. A powerful adversary you couldn't help but admire.

Barry Schenk's complete ruination of Dennis Fong is considered one of the great all-time cross-examinations - I hope they show it.This was the beginning of Schenk's Innocence Project, which has, through DNA evidence, been able to get many people released from prison. Unfortunately it couldn't get O.J. in prison. Too new back then, I guess.

I was surprised to read that some younger people had no idea O.J. played football. I don't know why I should be surprised. There are people on this site who think Gandhi was a fictional character.

Whether or not you're familiar with the case, the series will prove fascinating.

not good, 7 February 2016

Unlike other reviewers, I haven't read any of the Inspector Gamache series. But I love Nathaniel Parker, so I watched this.

Have to say it was a big bust.

It was directed in a static fashion and moved slowly. Also, the acting was pretty bad.

Even the mystery wasn't impressive, at least the way it was set up.

An elderly woman is killed in the woods by an arrow; she was beloved in the community, so who could have killed her and why?

Inspector Gamache (Parker) investigates. Someone called this "Inspector Lynley Goes to Quebec." I didn't find Parker like Inspector Lynley, who had quite a temper and wasn't anywhere as near as quiet as Gamache.

The characters were not well fleshed out.

All in all, kind of a waste. Reminded me of the Canadian films of Mary Higgins Clark movies - not well done.

fantastic film that takes place in postwar Vienna, 6 February 2016

Even today in Vienna, one can take the "Third Man Tour" (Der Dritte Man) except, of course, that Orson Welles wouldn't go into the Viennese sewers and those scenes were done in England. There were actual sewer scenes with a double. Never mind, it is still a magnificent black and white film 99% filmed in Vienna. Directed by Carol Reed, it stars Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Alida Valli.

Western novelist Holly Martins (Cotten) comes to Vienna at the behest of his old friend Harry Lime, but when he arrives, he learns that Lime is dead after being hit by a car. He investigates and finds the circumstances very strange indeed, especially when learning there was a third man that helped carry Harry's body to the sidewalk, a man who has since disappeared.

He then meets Harry's girlfriend (Alida Valli). And he also meets a police officer in the British section of Vienna, Inspector Calloway (Trevor Howard), who tells him that Harry was a murderer and a racketeer, and it's better that he's dead. Holly is shocked and demands proof.

One of the most atmospheric films ever made, with its zither music, cinematography, and Vienna at nighttime. Then there's some brilliant dialogue, particularly the "cuckoo clock" speech made by Orson Welles.

The cinematography is particularly striking, with its angles, back lighting, and shadows on empty streets. And who can forget the man hidden in the doorway, when the light from an apartment goes on and shows his face - certainly one of the great appearances of a star in a film.

One feels Lime's presence throughout the film, though he only has five minutes of screen time.

Though none of these actors were the first choice to play their roles, they are all excellent.

There was a Third Man TV series in 1959 that ran for six years and starred Michael Rennie as Lime. In the series, Lime is a hero.

He's no hero in the movie, but it is a powerful story and film, never forgotten once seen.

Crooner (1932)
a band leader starts singing, and it goes to his head, 5 February 2016

"Crooner" is a 1932 film starring David Manners, Ann Dvorak, and Ken Murray.

Manners plays a band leader Teddy Taylor whose singer becomes ill before a performance, so he has to take over. He has a voice the size of a mosquito, so someone hands him a megaphone, and a star is born. His girlfriend (Ann Dvorak) brings a publicist (Murray) to hear him, and Murray signs him, promising Teddy and the band big money. He actually doesn't like Ted's voice, but when he sees how the women fawn all over him, he decides he can take him to the top.

Ted becomes successful and becomes a major jerk, two-timing his girlfriend, refusing to conduct the music at a tempo people can dance to, and demeaning the band.

It's an okay comedy/drama, but the only really comedic part is when Ted is taking voice lessons. I actually didn't find Ted's voice so awful as some other people on this board is - I've heard worse, except when he goes crazy singing high notes for his teacher.

This film apparently was a big success for Manners, who had played standard leading men up to then. He was attractive (and related to Princess Diana on his mother's side), but he didn't stay in films long, preferring writing and painting.

Ann Dvorak turns in her usual good performance, as a sweet, patient woman who becomes fed up.

This film may be the veiled story of Rudy Vallee or perhaps even Bing Crosby -- an egotistical crooner. I imagine both would fit the profile.

Madoff (2016) (TV)
5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
a $50 billion fraud that took years to discover, 4 February 2016

"Madoff" is the story of sociopath Bernie Madoff, a story we all know too well. It's worth watching for the performances.

It stars Richard Dreyfuss as Madoff. He's terrific, and I imagine very much like the real man. The two-parter follows the story of the Ponzi scheme, the effect on Bernie's family, and Madoff's inner dialogue, done as a narration.

Other actors in this excellent cast include Blythe Danner, Tom Lipinski, Peter Scolari, Danny Deferrari, Frank Whaley, and Erin Cummings.

Though the first part is all over the place, with dizzying camera work and disjunctive scenes; the second part is much better.

The film does a great job of showing what happens when people -- like, for instance, the SEC -- turn a blind eye to something because they believe someone to be respectable. It took securities investigator Harry Markopolos 10 minutes to figure out that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, and six hours to figure out how he was doing it. But no one listened - and that's the title of his book.

It also demonstrates how Madoff saw himself as a victim, the "fall guy," finding it outrageous that he was being blamed.

Standout in the cast, besides Dreyfuss, is Peter Scolari as Peter Madoff - a brilliant, emotional performance; Tom Lipinski and Danny Deferrari as his sons, who found out the trading division they ran was just a front and turned him in; Blythe Danner as Ruth Madoff, who stood by him and tried to get her sons to sign a bond for his bail (they refused); and Michael Rispoli, who worked side by side with Bernie.

I saw "Enron: The Smartest Guy in the Room" and also a documentary about Madoff, and saw the SEC meeting where a Judge slammed the SEC, asking them "what the hell" they thought they were doing, ignoring countless letters of complaint about Madoff, and the fact that somehow they didn't know he wasn't a registered agent. Not that he needed to be one - the only investments he ever made were in his own bank account, to the tune of $50 billion.

For Bernie's investors, half of them as of this date have been completely repaid, with more money being returned all the time. Irving Picard has been diligent in going after Bernie's money - but mind you, he formed foundations and gave millions to charities, and those charities wound up having to return the money.

It's an awful story, but it's hard to have pity for Madoff. It's hard to feel sorry for his investors, because it was greed that brought them to him in the first place, the carrot of big money.

The ones to pity are the members of Madoff's family: his two sons, now both deceased, his son Andrew telling a newspaper that his father's disgrace "killed my brother (suicide) and it's killing me slowly (lmantle cell lymphoma)." The family has a genetic predisposition to cancer; leukemia killed his nephew Roger.

In one of the saddest moments of the film, Madoff presents his brother Peter (Scolari), Roger's father, with a new car shortly after Roger's death. Peter of course works in Madoff's firm and knows Bernie's methods aren't above board, but he doesn't know details. Peter gets into the car and sobs, "Roger, he's been paying me off for years, hasn't he?"

"Nobody wants the magic trick explained," Madoff tells his wife. And he was right. Nobody wants the magic trick explained as long as the checks are good and the money keeps rolling in.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
very entertaining British comedy, 4 February 2016

"High Heels and Low Lifes" is a British comedy from 2001 starring Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack as friends who become involved in a robbery and decide to take matters into their own hands.

Driver plays a nurse, Shannon, and McCormack is her actress friend Frances. Finding out about a robbery nearby, they decide to blackmail the robbers for $2 million. The gang is led by Kevin McNally and Michael Gambon.

It's much more convoluted and fun than I've just described. I only gave it a 7 because it actually could have been a TV movie. However, it's so darn funny, and everyone in it is great. I had never seen the prolific McCormack in comedy; she's excellent. Minnie Driver looks great and is hilarious -- the two make a wonderful team. I wish they had turned this into a series.

It's on Netflix - if you like the type of comedies that were done in the '80s before everything appealed to the lowest common denominator, this is for you.

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