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The Forest (2016/I)
Looking for twin sister in the suicide forest in Japan., 27 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this at home on DVD from my public library. My wife chose to skip it.

It appears to be based at least partly on fact, there really is a forest in Japan where people go to kill themselves. This story uses that as a backdrop.

British actress Natalie Dormer plays two roles, twin sisters actually, Sara and Jess. Jess has gone to Japan and seems to be missing, she was last seen going into that forest.

Sara back in the USA decides she has to go looking for her. The two of them have some kind of mystical "twin bond" and Sara can tell that Jess is still alive.

So most of the movie takes place in the forest. Sara meets a guy who presents himself as an author, he offers to go with her and in return she will let him write her story. Both of them are warned that in the forest spirits of all the dead still reside there and they will see many visions but not to believe them.

While this is not a bad movie overall, there really isn't much her to make it a good movie. In the end they rely on one trick and when it is all done I thought "So what?"

SPOILERS: The trick they rely on involves the visions. Sara gets into a place where she sees her dad trying to harm her and her sister as youngsters, Sara trusts that vision and uses a knife to pry her father's hands away. But she is really cutting her wrists, when she gets outside again she is bleeding and basically dies and gets sucked under with the other souls, while her sister makes it to safety.

A very interesting and entertaining Pixar animated movie., 25 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I saw this at home on BluRay from our public library. We found it interesting and inventive and enjoyed it very much. The animation gives a real personality to the animal characters, and the voice acting is first-rate.

I had almost quit watching animated movies, so many of them have gotten so silly and frankly dull. So I only took this one home because it is on BluRay and with a hi-def TV and a surround sound system with powered subwoofer I figured it would be worthwhile. And it exceeded my expectations, it has a great sound track.

The story starts off cleverly, we see a large ring of asteroids in space, one of them bumps another and it heads to Earth a few billion years ago. The asteroid that hit the Earth and is given credit for extinction of the dinosaurs. But this is a different take, the asteroid whizzes harmlessly by, and the story that ensues is "What if the asteroid did not hit and cause the demise of dinosaurs?"

So what we get is a focus on a dinosaur family, they actually farm high plains land in Wyoming with the mountains as a backdrop. And of course they speak English very well. The drama starts when dad and son, Arlo, are out on an expedition when a flash flood sweeps dad away right after he pushed Arlo up the ravine to safety.

As Arlo learns to deal without a dad he has another encounter, what appears to be a small boy who does not speak and still walks (and runs!) on all fours. At first they are enemies but soon become friends. Later they encounter a family of T-Rex dinosaurs and help them round up their lost cattle.

Any word description of the story will fail miserably, it cannot capture the fun of watching these fictional prehistoric characters deal with their world.

Dreamy, philosophical, disjointed - not for most mainstream audiences., 24 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this at home on DVD from my public library. My wife gave up after 30 minutes when it became clear that there would be no traditional story or recognizable dialog.

In spite of its very mixed reviews I was curious about this movie because of the stellar cast. However I didn't give enough attention to the fact that it is a Malick film and he makes very unusual movies.

The title comes from the identity of one Tarot card, The Knight of Cups, described as "a person who is a bringer of ideas, opportunities and offers. He is constantly bored, and in constant need of stimulation, but also artistic and refined. He represents a person who is amiable, intelligent, and full of high principles, but a dreamer who can be easily persuaded or discouraged."

And that pretty well describes the central character, Christian Bale as Rick. The filming was done mostly in Los Angeles where Rick works as a writer, but also Las Vegas and what I recognized as Death Valley. There is even a short clip through St Louis. As the DVD extra explains the actors didn't work from a script, just with vague ideas of what the scenes were supposed to be. Actors were encouraged to improvise, lots of footage was shot, the film was put together in the editing process.

While the movie has some interesting elements overall it is a failure for my viewing pleasure. You watch it and you have a feel for what is going on but everything is hinted, there are no complete conversations, there are lots of shots of the city or the countryside, sunsets, hummingbirds, with little to no connectivity of everything.

It is a Malick project for Malick, for the rest of us just a curiosity.

Borrows from a number of time-travel movies, overall entertaining., 23 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We saw this at home on DVD from our public library.

Usual casting with a bunch of 20-somethings playing high school students. It is set and filmed in Georgia, David is the bright kid in school and looks forward to attending MIT. As the movie begins we see him making a video to go along with his application, he has designed a system to allow him to control a drone simply by use of his hands and fingers by pointing. This establishes his outlook and the friends who help him, including his sister who always has the video camera.

Which brings up my only detraction, the whole movie is done in shaky, hand-held camera style. Several times I had to close my eyes and just listen because I was getting just a little bit dizzy. "Motion sickness" is an issue with me. But as the movie progressed I had less and less difficulty with it.

Anyway, David's dad had died in a car accident 10 years earlier after David's BD party, his mom was not well off financially. He was accepted at MIT but was only offered a $5000 yearly scholarship. He needed much more money. That is soon addressed when he and his friends are snooping in his dad's old workshop, the house basement, and find plans for what appears to be a time machine.

So if you look at this "project" critically and how the students go about it then you can find many issues with it. But that isn't the point, the real point is what they do with the ability to travel back? Do they just use it to correct a failing classroom verbal report? Or to win a lottery for tuition money? Or do they use it to find true love or to prevent a plane from crashing?

And the big question, does David use it to try to prevent his dad from dying in the car wreck? Overall I found it to be a very interesting and entertaining movie.

SPOILERS: In the end David does travel back 10 years, he has an encounter with his dad, but after several instances of going back and changing things which did NOT work out for the better he decided that it was wrong to mess with the past. He did not try to save dad and in fact destroyed plans for the time machine so that their time travel experiments would never occur.

Miles Davis didn't call his music 'jazz', he preferred 'social music.', 22 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this at home on DVD from my local public library. My wife chose to not see it, not her kind of movie.

I was a trumpet player through high school, college, and about 20 years of my adult life. I of course knew of Miles Davis but his music is not what I enjoyed hearing. For old style Jazz give me Louis Armstrong, or more currently Wynton Marsalis. Still, recognizing how popular Davis was in certain circles I was anxious to see this movie. He had a number of medical issues and addictions and he died in 1991 at the age of 65.

The movie is not at all what I expected. As they discuss and explain in the DVD extra they never wanted to make a "cradle to grave" documentary of Miles Davis, that would be dull and not at all in line with how Davis created his music. So they made a film that has a sort of haphazard structure, not linear at all, and instead of focusing on his playing the story is a fictional heist caper.

The main story is set in the late 1970s when Davis was in a several year hiatus, he said he just wasn't inspired and he never created new music just to satisfy Columbia, the studio that had him under contract. But when a reporter from Rolling Stone looks him up, and discovers a "session tape" Davis made, everyone was anxious to hear his new music. The tape is stolen, there is a chase scene, and that turns out to be the core of the story. Many flashbacks are used and it isn't always clear how they relate to the 1970s present.

Miles Davis is played by Don Cheadle who also wrote and directed. He is very good in the role, he makes a very believable Davis. And Ewan McGregor is the reporter, Dave Braden.

I enjoyed the movie, it was good to get a glimpse of who Miles Davis the person might have been. Viewers expecting to see a documentary may be disappointed.

SPOILERS: When it is all done, the tape is recovered, and we hear some of the music, Braden asks Miles, "All I hear is organ, when do I hear you?" (Meaning the trumpet.) Davis answers "That is me." His new session tape was of him playing organ. In real life Davis actually began playing piano before he took up trumpet, and he spent some time studying at Julliard after high school before striking out on his own.

A sequel, 14 years after the first Greek Wedding., 20 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from our public library. There are a couple of interesting "making of" extras discussing how they brought essentially the entire cast back for this sequel.

About 13 years ago when I saw the original I recall that I found it funny and totally entertaining. This one is good, but I didn't enjoy it as much. Mainly because I have short patience with overly loud families that intrude into the business of everyone else. I know, that is part of the premise but the first 20 minutes were less enjoyable for me. Often it seems that the humor is being forced and tied too closely to what we saw in the first one.

Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script, is back as Toula and John Corbett is back as her husband Ian. In this story they have an almost 18-yr-old daughter, about to finish high school and go off to college, so they have been married at least 19 years. The excitement has long ago worn off, with both of them always busy, so part of the theme here is rekindling their romance.

Toula's father is again played by Michael Constantine, pushing 90, as Gus, and he still thinks Windex can cure almost anything. Lainie Kazan, pushing 75, is back as her mom, Maria. The main wedding focus here is Gus pulling out their old marriage certificate from over 50 years earlier and realizing it was never signed by the priest so he and Maria were never married. He wants to correct that but Maria insists on a genuine proposal and a real wedding.

The other main story is about the daughter, Elena Kampouris as Paris. She is at that age where she wants to break free of her parents' influence, and grandpa Gus keeps bugging her about finding a nice Greek fellow and having a family.

Overall an entertaining 90 minutes. I always enjoy Lainie Kazan, few realize that in her younger days she was a well-known singer and was actually Streisand's understudy for "Funny Girl" on Broadway. Plus Rita Wilson sings the final song that she also wrote, "Even More Mine" that plays over the credits. I had no idea she is such an accomplished singer, and beautiful lyrics.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Epic telling of a NY gangster's whole life from about 13., 16 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this at home on DVD, 2 discs, 229 minute version, from my public library.

I recently was looking at the IMDb top 250 list and one of the movies I had never seen was this one, currently residing at #68 on the list. So this viewing satisfied my curiosity. Of note it is the last feature film of the noted director Sergio Leone.

The movie is long but that never becomes a factor in watching it, because every scene is so interesting. The late and great critic Ebert wrote of it, "Is the film too long? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it takes real concentration to understand Leone's story construction, in which everything may or may not be an opium dream, a nightmare, a memory, or a flashback, and that we have to keep track of characters and relationships over fifty years. No, in the sense that the movie is compulsively and continuously watchable and that the audience did not stir or grow restless as the epic unfolded."

It is a story about a group of Jewish teenagers in New York and how their lives developed and played out over 60+ years. The earlier scenes are during early 1920s when Prohibition was in full force, other scenes are during 1933 when Prohibition was repealed, some in the 1960s, and the latest ones in the early 1980s, the period this movie was actually filmed.

Robert De Niro, around 40, is David 'Noodles' Aaronson and his bestie is James Woods, around 35, as Maximilian 'Max' Bercovicz. They become the two most influential members of the group that got rich on a number of illegal activities.

In many places the story is hard to follow because few clues are given as to when exactly some things are taking place. You have to guess based on the vehicles you see, the age certain characters look, what kind of music is playing, etc. So when it is all over you are not really sure what all you saw and what exactly the stories are.

Still it is easy to see why this movie is highly rated. I enjoyed every minute of it but it is not the type of movie I'd watch multiple times.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
NOT a good movie. No good reason to have superheros battle each other., 15 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this at home on DVD from my public library.

I am a long time fan of the fantasy of superheros. I read the comics when I was a boy growing up and I have enjoyed most of the superhero movies over the years. When I first heard they were making this movie my thought was, without knowing anything about the story, this can't be good. Batman and Superman would never try to kill each other.

So, with the movie now on DVD i satisfied my curiosity. To give proper credit, the acting and cinematography are very good, as well as the production design and sound. To me the choices of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and Henry Cavill as Clark Kent and Superman, were very good.

But the story sucks. Batman (and others) get concerned that Superman, being an alien, is ultimately dangerous and bad for the world, so assisted by an evil Lex Luthor and some long-hidden Kryptonite they set out to get him.

No, it isn't a very good movie at all because it isn't a worthwhile story.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sequel to the 2013 "Olympus Has Fallen" where the White House was attacked., 15 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We watched this at home on DVD from our public library.

Exactly 3 years earlier I saw "Olympus Has Fallen". Part of my impression then was, "I would imagine any person of any nationality would find it repulsive to see his or her country's capital and president under attack." This time it is London, and not just a targeted attack but great destruction of many architectural treasures of London.

As is explained in the DVD extras, the 2013 movie was so successful, with a worldwide box office of over $160 Million, they decided to make this sequel and had to think of a novel premise. But the core story is the same, terrorists want to capture the US President and assassinate him live for the world to see, as a comment on what the terrorists see as unholy USA intervention in world affairs. This time the terrorists are located in Pakistan, an Osama Bin Laden type directing the attack.

Gerard Butler is back in his role as Mike Banning, personal protector of the POTUS. And Aaron Eckhart is back as President Benjamin Asher. The event that sets this all up is the sudden death of the British Prime Minister after surgery and heads of state from all over the world are coming to London to attend the funeral. But the terrorists and their vast cache of weapons are waiting.

It is for the most part an interesting movie but in truth I get tired of seeing so much violence depicted, we have too much of it in the real world.

SPOILERS: Even though five world leaders are killed in the initial mayhem the target really is the POTUS. As I guessed early on the death of the Prime Minister was actually a murder, to get everyone to London. With London electrical power off and a mole inside helping the terrorists, Banning and Asher make it to a secret MI6 office, only to be joined by a band of terrorists. As in the first movie Banning manages to kill all the terrorists in sequences that would make Leon the Professional proud, and as the POTUS is about to be killed on live broadcast Banning gets there to save the day.

12 Angry Men in the modern drone warfare game., 7 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I saw this at home on DVD from our public library.

I had expected this to be more of a focus on the drone operations and it isn't. Instead it is more of a psychological thriller. It examines the issues involved in conducting drone operations to take out terrorists half a world away from the drone operators.

The core story here involves a couple of terrorists, one from England and the other from the USA, traveling to and meeting other terrorists in Kenya. A surveillance team made up of politicians and military leaders are following them remotely using surveillance cameras. The mission is to capture them alive and bring them back for due process and trial.

The mission gets knocked off track from two surprises. The first is when a local operative launches a camera in a flying beetle that goes into the house where the terrorists are. They see a cache of ammunition and a suicide bomb-making operation. This means a suicide mission is imminent and killing them with an air strike may be better, to prevent them from killing a mass number of people in a public place.

The second surprise is when a young girl is sent by her family to set up and sell about 8 loaves of bread her mom had just baked. She is right outside the wall of the target building and a blast from a drone missile would likely kill her. Can they live with that type of collateral damage?

So, like in 1957's "12 Angry Men" where personal prejudice and personal goals can cloud the decision making process, that is exactly what we have here. The military leaders see an opportunity to take out high value terrorist targets, they want the OK for a precision strike. The political leaders see a public relations pitfalls, while the low-ranking drone operators back in the USA on a military base see the human side of it, the burden of counting down and pressing a trigger that will kill people, maybe even children, half-way around the world.

The movie does not try to give any easy answers, it shows how difficult it can be to do the right thing for the greater good of all.

SPOILERS: In the end politicians are convinced that the strike should be made, it is, drone cameras show one high-value target is still alive, a second strike is ordered to get her. In the process the young girl was not gone in time, she is badly injured. Her parents take her to a clinic for medical care but she cannot be saved. The two drone operators back on base are told to go home and get some rest, "We need you back here in 12 hours."

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