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Quite a fine movie for those who enjoy singing AND a good story., 22 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was attracted to this title because I have long been fascinated with identical twins. Although "identical" genetically, some sets behave almost exactly the same while others are quite different. I am close friends with a set who look alike but are quite different in most ways and have taken, so far, quite different paths in life.

This story plays on the concept of identical twins separated shortly after birth and growing up in different families but as adults are almost the same. There have been a number of studies over the years of such identical twins growing up quite differently but being almost the same as adults.

It starts in the 1930s when the parents of the twins can't make it financially so give one of them for adoption by the local preacher and his wife who had just witnessed that they could not have children. Because this was an unusual action the parents pretended one of the two babies had died and held a funeral, even burying an empty box and installing a headstone.

The boy grows up as Ryan Wade and his adopted father plans for him to follow the calling, become a minister. Even though Ryan goes to divinity school, his heart isn't in it, he drops out, works at blue collar jobs like delivery man or auto mechanic after his stint in the Army. Then he learns about famous singer, Drexel Hemsley, who looks exactly like him and sings the way he does (the same actor, a singer and Elvis impersonator plays both roles.)

His own career gets kick-started when his wife encourages him to enter a Drexel "sing-alike" contest which he of course wins, then gets a manager and begins his own successful career, but only by impersonating the famous Drexel, who in fact is his brother.

Ray Liotta overacts a bit as the preacher Reece Wade, but Ashley Judd is just right as the preacher's wife Louise Wade. The real life singer Blake Rayne, not an actor before this movie, plays Ryan Wade and Drexel Hemsley, but almost all the focus is on Ryan and his path to discover who he really is.

I really like this movie, Rayne's acting style is pleasant and the story has a lot of meaning.

SPOILERS: As Ryan's career as "The Identical" had taken off, Drexel's small plane crashed and he was killed. (This type of accident happened a number of times to real singers in the 1950s and 1960s.) Then Ryan's dad had a mild heart attack, in the process Ryan found a letter explaining who he really was. He had a short meeting with his birth father, now blind, at Drexel's gravesite, and later thanked his adopted father for all that he had done for him. His singing career continued.

Love overcomes all, even an alien abduction., 21 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming movies. I didn't expect it to be good but I was in the mood for something different. I came away surprised that it is much better than I expected. It is well-acted, has reasonably high production standards and is an interesting story that has not been done before.

It starts with a group of teenagers (played by actors in their late 20s and early 30s) going out for a weekend at a cottage in the woods. At that same time in the nearby area something strange happens, a young lady in a phone booth outside is taken away. The presumption is that aliens are responsible, and they in fact show up at the cabin.

What this movie does is after the humans are unsuccessful at fighting off the aliens, all of them are captured and taken up to the space ship, and we actually see them in a type of slimy cocoon, and the boy and girl evidently show off their love for each other enough that they next awaken, surprised to be back on Earth in a field.

Brittany Allen is the girl, April, and Freddie Stroma is the boy, Kyle. Most of the actors are from TV series but there are two experienced actors, Gil Bellows as Sheriff Murphy and Michael Ironside as Travis who explains that the government has known about the aliens for some time and they had an agreement. This is a Canadian production, with mainly Canadian actors, so I suppose it was the Canadian government.

SPOILERS: When the boy and girl awake in the field, thankful to be returned to Earth, they see military men in uniform and wearing protective masks. Running towards them to be rescued, both of them are shot. As they are dying he puts the engagement ring on her finger. Then a military man comes up and shoots each a few more times, to make sure they are dead. Then they are thrown into a pit and burned. It is their way of hiding the alien connection, and they apparently have done it before.

Black Sea (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A thinking person's movie, dealing with being trapped in a submarine., 20 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There is an interesting, short extra on the DVD, much of the movie was actually filmed (digitally) in an abandoned 1960s Russian sub.

Here's how the story is set up. Jude Law is experienced submarine captain Robinson, a real blue collar type, working for a salvage company. One day and without prior warning he is fired and told to clean out his space that day.

Then, one of his friends is lamenting with him in a pub, talking about how the rich people just use them for their benefit, suggests they can get back at them, he knows where a shipment of gold bars, bound for Nazi Germany in the 1940s, is laying in wreckage on the bottom of the Black Sea.

Most of the movie is about this group of 12, half British and half Russian, who bargain with a wealthy man to front them $180,000 to get an old sub for the mission. In return he would get 40% of what is recovered. But with the various experts comes baggage, there is strife, things get bad, and the gold-hunting job becomes one to see if they can survive.

Not everyone will like this movie, in fact my wife walked out just past the halfway point. But I think it is a fine movie, the acting is good and it goes to places I didn't expect.

SPOILERS: It turns out there was no rich man who fronted the money, he was only an actor, and they were not to receive any of the gold. It was all set up by the salvage company, to get Robinson to do the job undercover. After a series of mishaps, and most of the 12 had died, Robinson and two others were still alive. He sent the other two to the surface in escape suits. But Robinson, as any worthwhile captain, went down with his ship. However he sent a few gold bars plus a note and photo of his young son to the surface in the last escape suit.

Breathe In (2013)
A catalyst called Sophie., 20 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I watched this movie together, on Netflix streaming. Except for the rampant mumbling which made some of the dialog very difficult to understand we found this to be a very good movie. The subject is a young girl and a middle-aged man falling for each other, a subject which often is treated quite superficially, but this movie treats it in very deep layers.

Guy Pearce is Keith Reynolds, doing a job he really hates, teaching music in high school, but he has to make ends meet. He also plays at times with a symphony in NYC and hopes to get on an the 1st chair of the Cello section. He seems reasonably happily married and has a daughter graduating from high school. They mention they are 1 1/2 hours away from NYC on the fast train, so maybe they live on Long Island or in Connecticut, but they never say.

The fireworks start right after their foreign exchange student shows up. Felicity Jones is Sophie from England, just turned 18 before she arrived. Sophie is pretty and talented, seemingly virtuoso on the piano, but she also seems unhappy most of the time.

The two other main characters are Amy Ryan as the wife and mother, Megan Reynolds and Mackenzie Davis as the daughter just turning 18, champion swimmer, Lauren Reynolds.

As the story progresses it becomes clear that Sophie uses people to get what she wants, like having the cute young man take her to Manhattan for a somewhat expensive evening of nightspot hopping, but spurning him completely when he brings her home. Then we see that Sophie and Keith begin to take an unhealthy attraction to each other.

The themes here are somewhat complex, they involve a man who isn't satisfied with his position in life, a practical wife who objects to the great expense of moving to NYC, an exchange student who has no appreciation for the problems she may be causing a whole family.

Generally the subjects are treated very well, Sophie is selfish, Keith is weak, Megan is trusting. There can be no good resolution to this type of situation. A midlife crisis seldom turns out well.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not that sexy and not that interesting., 20 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had decided long ago that I had no interest in seeing this movie. But recently I noticed that my public library had bought several BluRay copies and I could get one with no wait. So I figured, "What the heck" and now I know what all the fuss is about.

I have no idea how well it translated from the book(s) but I imagine that the target audience is mostly romantic women. It is about a simple woman quite accidentally meeting a very handsome, wealthy and self-assured young man who takes an interest in her. What woman wouldn't like that fantasy?

The main problem I have with the movie is it asks lots of questions but provides no answers. The handsome and wealthy man loves kinky sex but keeps any woman he likes at arm's length. On a couple of occasions it seems like they will address that but don't. And then it ends with what can only be interpreted as setting it up for the first sequel.

The young woman, just finishing college, goes to an interview assignment in the place of her roommate who is feeling bad. Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, plays that role as Anastasia Steele. By all indications she is a regular hard- working girl with normal morals. She is taken aback by the attention but learns to enjoy it. But she is not sure she wants to sign the contract he requires.

The wealthy young man, raised as an orphan, is driven to be the best in what he does, and loves to dominate. Jamie Dornan plays this role as Christian Grey. He flies his own helicopter, he is generous with gifts, he runs a foundation, but he is trapped within the demons we never find out about.

Then, as the movie ends right after he tells Ana goodbye, he gets up abruptly from a board meeting, we figure he wants to pursue her but it fades to the credits.

Somewhat entertaining but overall a movie that cheats to get your attention. I don't plan to see the sequels.

Blackhat (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good, solid cyber crime caper, better than its low rating., 19 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As the movie opens we see stylized graphics representing going down deep into the microscopic workings of integrated computer chips. This is to simulate hackers going in to take over a system. Then we see two things, a Chinese nuclear plant's pumps stop working, resulting in destruction and deaths. Then one of the commodities in the market suddenly taking off. Both of these are related, we eventually find out, the first as a way to test the hacking for a different job, the second to raise cash.

When it comes to light that part of the hacking code was written years earlier by a man now in prison, Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, the government makes a deal with him, if he can find and catch the hackers then he will get his freedom.

The movie is just a bit long at 2+ hours but all of it is very interesting. My wife and I enjoyed it.

A claymation fantasy, gentle Boxtrolls are misunderstood., 18 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I viewed this on DVD from my public library. It has a number of interesting extras on the DVD, and a couple of time-lapse shots of an animator sequentially moving the claymation figures to generate an animated sequence.

When I initially tried to watch this I turned it off after maybe 10 or 12 minutes. It was too ugly and dark to be fun. A few days later I tried again and it really picks up after 15 or 16 minutes when the story gets above ground again.

It is a strange fantasy city where an ogre of a man and his helpers have convinced the general population that the Boxtrolls are monsters, they kidnap and eat children, citing the disappearance some 10 or so years earlier of a baby.

The Boxtrolls are sort of like Hermit crabs, taking a discarded shell for their homes. But these discarded shells are cardboard boxes, and each gets his name from what was in the box originally, like "Eggs" or "Fish." They live underground and come out at night to collect items that have been discarded and make things with them.

And in fact, the boy called Eggs, now about 10, was raised by the Boxtrolls because the boy's father, afraid the ogre would kill him, asked them to take him. When Eggs finally dresses like a normal boy and goes above ground, he finds out the lies being told about the Boxtrolls and helps to make things right.

The movie is filled with fine voice actors, and I will mention three. Ben Kingsley is the main bad guy, Archibald Snatcher, who loves cheese but has an allergy and a very bad reaction (swelling of hands, feet, face) when he eats even a tiny bit. Newcomer Isaac Hempstead Wright is the boy, Eggs. And Elle Fanning is the girl Winnie, who starts out as a spoiled rich girl but ends up helping Eggs.

This doesn't seem to be an animated movie for kids, in fact it may be hard to state what the target audience is, but it is interesting especially for the great job they did with the animation. However it will never become one of my favorite animated movies.

Fictional story inspired by the real Lost Boys of Sudan., 17 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some years ago I saw a documentary on the subject, but this movie is a fictional story inspired by the real events. In fact its content was run by real survivors of the Sudan wars of the 1980s to make sure everything was realistic.

The title is from "Huck Finn" and we encounter it three times, it means a lie which is appropriate for the good of someone else, maybe even to save their life.

The story starts in the 1980s and we see how whole villages were wiped out by gunfire and burning. In this tale three brothers and their sister in South Sudan manage to run away and survive, then head East towards Ethiopia where they had been told they could get refuge and food. The only transportation for most Sudanese was walking so they thought nothing of making such a trip of several hundred miles, and with little food or fresh water.

They eventually meet up with many others headed south to Kenya so they joined them. Their fate was a refugee camp where they could get food, medical care, and safety, but many of them stayed there for years, some never leaving this refugee camp.

This movie concerns the three brothers and their sister who received the opportunity to travel to the USA where they would find work and integrate themselves into society. But there was a problem, they had to separate the boys, headed for Kansas City, from their sister headed for Boston, because of the availability of foster homes.

So that is the main story here, their relocation to a land of strange customs. They are assigned to Reese Witherspoon as Carrie who would help them find jobs. As she realized how far they had to go in this new environment she became much more involved and eventually to try to reunite the boys with their sister.

This is a very good movie and brings home the big issue of internal strife and displacement, not only in South Sudan but in many countries all over the world. Aside from Reese, many of the actors were either men who had actually been young boys in South Sudan or men whose parents were.

A "homesman" is the one who brings crazy women from the frontier back to their original homes for treatment., 16 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is hard to describe and even harder to explain. I found two stories here, interwoven.

The first is the hard life in the 1850s western frontier. In this story it is the plains of Nebraska. Often residents are very young, e.g. a man of 21 with a wife of 19. It is much harder than they ever expected, with disease and drought, and with little to look forward to, many women go crazy. Or maybe they are just very depressed. When they get into that state, they quit talking, or make no sense, or kill their newborn, it is a signal to sent them back home, maybe to a place like Iowa, for care.

The second is the journey. None of the men really want to volunteer for being the homesman, it is a dangerous journey of about five weeks. So a single woman, Hilary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy, says she will do the job. As she explains she can ride as well and is as rugged as any man. Plus she is still single, it seems she is so plain and bossy that men refuse her marriage proposals.

She is given a wagon, one with bars on the windows and a locking door, to transport three crazy women. On the way she encounters a man, Tommy Lee Jones as George Briggs, on a horse and with a noose around his neck, the end of the rope tied to a tree above. If the horse decides to go he is dead. Mary Bee frees him only after he promises to accompany her to deliver the women. They will pass through Indian country, she can use his help.

So the main of the story is this unlikely band of five making the trek. Mary Bee is an honorable woman, Briggs has no honor. He does what he believes will best serve his interests. As an example, on the way everyone is hungry, he comes upon a hotel, he wants rooms and food but is turned away. So he returns at night, steals the food, and burns down the hotel, likely those in the hotel perishing also.

Since the title of the movie refers to the Briggs character I will assume the story is about him, and how he affects those he encounters. Will Briggs ever change? Not likely.

This in not a pleasant movie to watch, but it has some entertaining moments. Written and directed by the star, Jones, it is his project and it is very effective. I could not stop watching.

It also was nice to see Barry Corbin in a brief role as Buster Shaver. I became a fan of his as Maurice Minnifield of the old TV series "Northern Exposure" and one year when I was an extra in a movie he was in had the chance to sit at a table and have a short conversation with him. A nice guy and what a career!

When your father dies and you inherit a debt., 14 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie has three of my favorite actors so I knew I'd like it before I watched the first scene. But ultimately I like it for the fine story. It plays out more like a stage play, which it is, and probably can be enjoyed best by audiences a bit on the mature side. My wife and I are retired and we really like it.

Kevin Kline is American Mathias Gold, liquidating all his few possessions and traveling to Paris to execute the remaining part of his deceased father's will. It is an apartment in a prime location, he finds it may be worth as much as $12 Million (or Euros) but there is a hitch, something he never heard of and could not have imagined. The seller 43 years earlier did it in a way that she could not be evicted until she died, and to add injury to insult, she had to be paid 2400 Euros monthly. Mathias had no way to pay her.

Thus the reference to the title, Mathias inherited not only the apartment but also the old lady, played by Maggie Smith as Mathilde Girard. Also living there was her daughter, Kristin Scott Thomas as Chloé Girard. (The actress actually lives in Paris, just a few minutes away from where it was filmed, and she is fluent in French, a perfect choice for the role).

Mathias hatches a scheme to sell the place anyway, but then life gets in the way. There are revelations about an affair between his dad and the old lady, when she was younger of course, and a suspicion that Chloé might even be his half-sister.

This is a fine cast and the story has a good element of realism to it. It is both funny and tragic, but there remains a good resolution on the horizon.

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