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A woman's quest for personal salvation, based on a real event.
I have always enjoyed roles played by Reese Witherspoon and this one is great. She is Cheryl, a young woman who has had a tough life, most by her own design, sleeping around with many other men, getting into heroin use, then losing her mother of only 45.
Thing is, this is based on the book written by the real Cheryl who also has a small appearance in one scene. So from what I can tell watching the movie, and one of the DVD extras, the movie is pretty accurate.
Laura Dern is good as usual as the mother Bobbi, and we see glimpses of her in a number of flashback scenes throughout the movie.
But honestly, as much as I enjoyed Reese, this is a female "feeling" movie that I didn't enjoy as much as I hoped to. Much of the movie follows Cheryl as she, a novice, hikes the trail from Mexico to the Canadian border though California and Oregon. So we see a number of events, a few threatening situations, bad blisters and bloody toes from too-small hiking shoes, encounters with other hikers, and a writer who stops to photograph her and ask a few questions, considering her a female hobo.
In the end the real Cheryl achieved her redemption, now happily re- married with children and living in Oregon. But as the script says near the end, she doesn't regret any of the things she has done because they all contributed to her becoming who she is.
Mr. Pip (2012)
Inspired by real events, how a book or a character can become your salvation.
I found this movie on Netflix streaming movies. It really is a fine one, an epic of sorts inspired by real events in the early 1990s on Bougainville Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. That island was at one time the largest source of mined copper, and a civil war shut it down and threatened the existence of the islanders.
Hugh Laurie is the lead actor as Mr. Watts, the lone remaining white face in this community of very dark-skinned people. He stayed for his "wife" Grace who was one of the natives. (We later find out he had a wife back in London but left her to be with Grace, whom he got to know in London.)
So with the islanders stranded and no school, Mr Watts decides he will try to fill the void. On his first day he quickly admits that he is not a teacher, he has no actual teaching skills, but he would use Charles Dickens as his muse, and "Great Expectations" as a teaching tool.
One of his students is 12-yr-old Xzannjah Matsi as Matilda. Her dad had left to go to Australia for work a few years ago, leaving her and her mother waiting for an opportunity that never came to join him. Her mother is played by Healesville Joel as Dolores, who in real life actually is her mother.
It is worth noting here that aside from Lawrie, most of the characters on the island are played by first-timers who had no prior acting experience. I can't say enough about Xzannjah, she has a face that seems to be carved out of Ebony, flawless features, and her natural acting style makes her ultimately believable.
The story is an epic one, and ends when Matilda has gotten off the island, and actually gets a chance to visit the historic home of Charles Dickens.
Mostly entertaining with uneven script and direction.
It has to be hard to make an updated version of the "Annie" story so many know so well. Apparently this started out intending to be a vehicle for Will and Jada Smith's daughter but she outgrew the role. Still the Smiths produced it and picked Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis for Annie. She does a fine job. Her acting is good and her singing is good enough.
As a sideways take on Daddy Warbucks, who made his money post- depression, Jamie Foxx is Will Stacks, who made his wealth in the cell phone business. His company's motto is "never a dropped call" and they have cell towers all over the city, cleverly hidden within the structure of tall towers and buildings.
Stacks has decided to run for Mayor of New York but he has an issue, he isn't really a people person and trails badly in the straw polls. But one fateful day he sees a 10-yr-old girl fall in the street, he saves her from a vehicle, and the cell phone video of it goes viral, his popularity ticks up. So his handlers hatch a plan, if he would become the foster parent of this orphan it could put his vote total high enough to win the election. But then the story arc has him actually fall for the girl in earnest, her positive attitude changes him.
Rose Byrne is Stacks' assistant, Grace and Bobby Cannavale is his campaign manager Guy. Cameron Diaz has received her share of criticism for her role as Ms Hannigan, operator of the 6-girl home, and I think for good reason. As an actress I generally like Diaz but here I don't think her characterization works for this movie. The director has to share credit for that.
Many have complained that any "Annie" must be red-headed with light skin and freckles. I don't agree with that, "Annie" is a timeless, race-less story and I think it can be made with any ethnicity, and children could identify with it. To me this version falls a bit flat because the script isn't that good and the direction, or film edit, just doesn't flow very well.
Lots of Disney silliness, entertaining if you are in the mood.
I wouldn't normally seek out this movie but my local public library system bought the DVD so I watched it along with my wife. Nice that it is barely more than 70 minutes long, we found it suitably entertaining. I believe it does exactly what it sets out to do.
As the movie starts we see a family in disarray. The car is all banged up, a door is totally missing, and the kids are disheveled. When they get home and open the front door they all scream and close it. Only near the end do we find out why, as the movie then shifts to 24 hours earlier.
Young Ed Oxenbould is Alexander Cooper and the story is told from his point of view. He is about to turn 12, likes a cute girl that he rides to school with as her family drives them. But he almost seems invisible to her, a much more serious student. And young Alexander has a knack for doing stupid things, like setting the classroom on fire during Science lab, even burning the periodic chart of the elements.
Dad is comedy veteran Steve Carell as Ben Cooper and mom is Jennifer Garner, one of my personal favorites, as Kelly Cooper. She works for a publishing firm, about to be considered for VP, and he is an out-of-work Rocket Scientist. The family, including the other children, seem cheerful mostly, but the day in question is very bad for all of them. It seems, until things begin to turn out good for all of them.
It is slapstick and mild, as you would expect from the PG rating. Not a movie you will ponder after seeing it, just light entertainment.
Stunningly flawless visuals with a good commentary.
I am one of those who knows very little about the Alps. I actually passed through part of them a few years back on a train from Milan, Italy to Lyon, France. However we passed through a number of tunnels and missed much of the magnificence of the Alps.
The film starts with a wintertime fly-over showing the high rugged peaks with the statement "Once upon a time there were two tectonic plates that got in each-others' way, when they clashed a new world close to the sky appeared."
The 90-minute film roughly covers winter, summer, and fall in the Alps. We see farmers, tourist destinations, rivers and waterfalls, roads and bridges, outdoors explorers, and wildlife. Most of it from above using a helicopter to view the magnificent expanses of peaks and valleys and lakes. It really is a broad survey of the Alps and life in the Alps, just perfect for someone like me to just understand the breadth of it.
The picture and sound are both first-rate, I saw it on Netflix streaming movies and the occasional bass in the soundtrack rattled my windows.
I highly recommend it for anyone interesting in the subject.
You're Not You (2014)
Sometimes difficult because of the subject, but fine performances in a nice story.
The main page for this movie shows "release dates" but no business and box office numbers, so I don't know if it ever was in theaters. I found it on Netflix streaming movies. It features an all-star cast in a story about a difficult subject, a 30-something pianist in her prime being stricken with ALS.
Hilary Swank is Kate, a pianist happily married and living in Houston. (Although set in Houston, filmed elsewhere.) She and her husband have a very upscale home and entertain regularly. Her symptoms start very gradually with the occasional unexplained dropping of things. Then later, as she is playing a classical piece she plays wrong notes as her fingers seem to be trembling a bit. She is diagnosed with onset of ALS for which there is no cure, no reversal, and eventually requires a care-giver to help her get around and do even the basics, like using the toilet or taking a shower and getting dressed afterwards.
Emmy Rossum (who was so good 10 years earlier in 'Phantom') is Bec, pretty much the opposite type of person. She attends college, some times, seems very unfocused, and often enjoys nights out drinking and hooking up with a stranger. She is even having an affair with one of her married professors. She has no cooking or cleaning skills, and no experience as a care-giver, but against all probabilities Kate prefers her and asks her to take the job.
So most of the story is Kate trying to deal with all this and a husband who seems more and more distant, while Bec tries to get a better grip on her own life, and actually make something of herself. Maybe even re-kindle that dormant song-writing passion she used to have.
Josh Duhamel is good as the husband, Evan, and Jason Ritter is good as Wil, just a genuine nice guy who can't quite figure out why Bec won't give him a chance to care about her. Pretty Ali Larter also has a nice role as Keely, one of Kate's wealthy friends.
Good movie, often hard to watch, but the performances are super.
A Little Game (2014)
A really well-made movie with a host of good messages. And entertaining!
We found this nice small movie on Netflix streaming. It is set and filmed in Manhattan, it centers on a very bright and grounded 10-yr- old girl named Max. During the first 15 minutes or so my wife wondered out loud if this is a good movie, setting the stage for everything else took a bit of time. But once it got going there was never a dull moment. Well-written and well-acted, it is very entertaining and has a great message about living the life you are in and not worrying too much about what happens after. Or 5 Billion years into the future when the Sun is supposed to destroy the Earth.
The star is newcomer Makenna Ballard as Max Kuftinec. Her acting style and delivery of lines reminded me of a miniature Shailene Woodley. Her dad is the building superintendent and her mom is a chef at a nearby restaurant. She also has a very cute younger sister. She is very bright and her parents want her to be challenged so they make arrangements for her to enter a new, more prestigious school. It is more expensive than her public school and the parents have to make sacrifices.
The chess theme comes in when a teacher suggests that since Max is a Math whiz she would probably be good at chess, but Max knows essentially nothing about it and obviously can't play. But one day walking home from school she notices the chess players in the public square and enters into a deal for one of them to teach her.
Played by F. Murray Abraham, his method is unique. Instead of simply telling Max how to play the game he has her go into the city and seek clues. His point is the game isn't just played on a board, it is a metaphor for the city and you have to use chess strategy the same way you use strategy to get around the city.
This is a very satisfying movie and the young actress that plays Max is really good in this role.
Veronika Decides to Die (2009)
When life becomes mundane and you are 30, just kill yourself.
Found it on Netflix streaming movies.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, about 30 when this was filmed, is New York career woman Veronika Deklava. The opening scene is just her among thousands of others taking the train to work, as we hear her thoughts. They are mundane, she will continue to work the way her parents expect her to, she will meet a guy some day, they will marry, perhaps have children, he will cheat on her because she works too much, she will try to overlook it. With that kind of jaded outlook it is no wonder that when she gets home she lines up her various drugs in overdose mode and downs them with booze.
Of course she sent a farewell email so medics are sent to her home and they break into her apartment. When she awakes, in a medical facility, she has been in a coma for some time, her heart had stopped, and in the process generated an aneurysm that was inoperable and her time alive was limited, she had maybe a day, maybe a week to live, no one could be certain.
So she settles in at this facility, run by a Psychiatrist that tries to get her to open up, try to be joyous. But my own thoughts were, if she tried to kill herself, and now has a very short time anyway, why bother?
The break comes when she identifies with the pain of another patient, Jonathan Tucker as Edward, depressed and mute since an auto accident that killed his girlfriend. On a whim Veronika uncovers the old piano and plays classical music she was trained for, Edward seems to respond. Maybe she can now see purpose in her existence?
All the actors are good, and Brit David Thewlis plays the Psychiatrist Dr. Blake. It is a slow-moving movie but also very nice if one has the patience to see it all the way through, as critical scenes don't come until near the end.
SPOILERS: The hospital, near the Hudson River outside the city, is not voluntary and patients can't leave by their own volition. But after Veronika and Edward no longer want to be there he leads the two of them on an escape, find a train, and head to Manhattan. While they are escaping we learn that Dr. Blake lied about Veronika, using the medical tests of a former patient. She did not have an aneurysm and was not dying soon, he only wanted to try it as a way to spark her interest in living. He resigned and left to visit an old colleague, while Veronika and Edward visited on a park bench. Suddenly she went unresponsive and we think she has died but then she wakes up, she had just been tired, it seems she and Edward may have met their ideal mates and both will overcome their emotional baggage.
Novel premise, a group accidentally find a travel route between alternate universes.
I found this movie on Netflix streaming movies. It is set in no place in particular but the residential area used in filming was Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans on the West bank, that looks amazingly like the Laplace neighborhood I lived in some years back. Plus the city scenes are New Orleans, with the tall, monolithic One Shell Plaza as the featured building that served as the jump point from one Earth to a different alternate Earth. Pretty interesting story.
Ronan (fitting name) is trying to make a go of it at prize fighting but isn't very good at it. He gets a mysterious phone message, a bit garbled, from his dad, to meet him at a certain address. His younger sister Beatrix gets the same message. They each show up at the family home, hoping to find dad there, but he isn't. So they seek out the address, it is the tall building downtown.
Inside they find it quite dilapidated, with strange graffiti, cryptic mentions of Earth 25 or Earth 186, and on and on. Then, without warning, there is a rumble, and when they go outside everything is a mess, destruction everywhere, and they quickly realize it has been that way for years. They have traveled to an alternate Earth in an alternate universe. And the building they were in looks unchanged. It is the vessel that facilitates jumps to alternate Earths, every 36 hours. And there are so many you'll likely never get back to the one you started at.
So it is a Sci-Fi drama, they get captured by some men who are trying to find the person responsible for the bomb that destroyed their reality. We never find out his motive. The story introduces some interesting ideas. Each alternate Earth has pretty much the same people living there at their same ages. You pay for things by placing your palm on a large sensor, it identifies you and draws the money out of your account. All the technologies are different, the foods are different, but the people are pretty much who they are in each Earth.
It ends in a good way, but in a way that would facilitate additional movies, or additional episodes, if it had been picked up as a TV series. I enjoyed it.
'What do you see when you close your eyes?'
I came across this movie on Netflix streaming movies. At about 90 minutes long it is just right. Set in the future when robots are fairly common, filmed mostly in the mountains of Switzerland in the winter, a snowy village in a valley surrounded by mountains. The language is Spanish with English subtitles.
I really like this movie, it is about family and friends more than about robots. But the lead billing goes to Daniel Brühl as Alex Garel, a very creative robot designer who left a project unfinished some 10 years earlier. Now he has returned to the town and to the institute, finding his former girlfriend married to his brother, but he has not lost his feelings for her.
The couple has a child, young Spanish actress Claudia Vega as Eva. The title of the movie is "Eva" so we know it will be about her. Alex first encounters her when he is looking for a bright, curious child to model his new project after, to give this new robot a mind that is interesting. So he asks Eva to help him even before he finds out whose child she is.
Yes, the robots are fun to watch, even the robotic cat that follows Alex everywhere. But the story is really about relationships and Alex coming to grips with some issues left undone.
SPOILERS FOLLOW: As the story moves forward I began to suspect that Eva was really Alex's child, she looked more like him and had his curiosity. But the bigger surprise is about 20 minutes from the end when Eva falls non-responsive in the snow as her mother is looking for her. She is actually a robot, the project his girlfriend finished after Alex left. Mom revives her with a new power cell but when Eva discovers she really is a robot she pushes her mom who then slides down and falls maybe 100 feet into the snow below. She dies in the hospital, Alex is left to care for Eva and decides she cannot continue on, so he says the code for all robots, "What do you see when you close your eyes?" and she falls non-responsive.