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Overview of Lance Armstrong's strong-arm tactics to win fame and fortune., 26 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By now any of us who pay any attention at all to cycling know the end game here. We know that after years of in-your-face denials Armstrong has admitting that he lied all those years, admitted that he indeed was on a number of performance-enhancing drugs while he was winning several consecutive Tour de France individual championships. Many if not most of us at least saw clips from the interview he did with Oprah.

This is a good documentary, it is over 90 minutes, it has lots of clips from competitions, lots of interviews with teammates and close associates of Armstrong during those years, lots of snippets of Armstrong declaring his innocence. It shows his ruthlessness at going after others and trying to defame them if he thought they had turned on him.

By any measure Armstrong is a dastardly, untrustworthy person and he brought it all on himself. He wasn't an easily-led victim, he was the ringleader. But what I miss from this presentation is more from Armstrong after the Oprah event. What were his feelings now about turning on his friends and trying to destroy them? Does he just look at it as a "business decision" that failed? Or has he come to realize how wrong his behavior was?

I was one of the avid TV spectators as Armstrong won those Tour de France titles. Armstrong was such a convincing fraud and liar I became angry at the French for continually accusing Armstrong of something he assured us was false. I was duped and if I ever happened to encounter Armstrong face-to-face I'd just tell him, "You cheated, you lied, you let all your fans down, how dare you!"

'I'm not done, I will now recite the entire poem in Mandarin.' (Sophia), 25 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a hard movie to get into, mostly because it has a very dark and ugly beginning. It is the bathroom of a night spot and the main character, Richie, is inspecting each one to see toilets filled with urine and feces, even on the toilet seat, it must represent the filthiest toilet in all of Manhattan. And then he finds a pretty dead young lady on the final toilet, a victim of an overdose.

The next scenes aren't much better, Richie is an his bathtub with a razor blade, intending to kill himself. So for me the rest of the movie was an uphill exercise to see if there was any redeeming value in watching it. I actually skipped to the last third of the movie and after seeing that I went back and viewed the parts I had skipped.

Written, directed, and starring Shawn Christensen as Richie, it is about a 30-something guy with a job at a bowling alley, in debt to some gangsters, and still in grief over his beloved Vista who had recently taken her own life. The only thing he can see is ending it all and joining Vista. Until his younger sister, a single mom, calls him after years of estrangement with an urgent need for Richie to meet her 11-yr-old daughter at her school and get her home safely.

That cute and smart daughter is Fatima Ptacek as Sophia, and she is the main reason to watch the entire movie. In real life she is studying Mandarin, and also appears to be in gymnastics. She plays her role perfectly and in the end she warms up to Richie. His having a niece that cares about him just might give him some reason to live.

The sister and mother of Sophia is played well by New Yorker Emmy Rossum. She is also a mess of sorts and when she gets brought into central lockup after an altercation it prolongs the time Richie has to stay with Sophia, and for him to consider his options.

Not for every taste, much of it is at night and shows the seedy underbelly of New York, but for those in the right frame of mind can be a worthwhile viewing. I found it on Netflix streaming movies.

SPOILERS: Sis got into trouble because she was having an affair with a married man and the wife got involved. One of Richie's friends came to the rescue, asking a lawyer to help out. She was grateful for Richie's help but when he got home he resumed his interrupted suicide mission. But then the phone rings again. At first he disconnects it, determined to not be sidetracked again, but is curious and plugs the phone back in. It is his sis inviting him to dinner in a few days with her and Sophia, he pauses, thinks, and says "I'll be there."

If your parents never had sex chances are you'll never get it either., 24 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming movies. I took a chance and it is well worth the 90 minutes. Good story and good characters.

It is a discouraging movie in many ways but has a hopeful ending. Set and filmed in New Mexico, Sarah Bolger, doing a believable American teen accent, is 16-yr-old high school sophomore Lucy Diamond. Her dad, James Marsden as Chuck Diamond, has some sort of job that requires him to be away for weeks at a time. Her mom is Claire Danes as Lainee Diamond who had Sarah when she was only 17. Chuck is old-fashioned, he is the bread winner so Lainee doesn't tell him she has a telemarketing job when he is away.

The story is centered on Sarah, she is smart and responsible but her dad and mom probably should have never married. They don't have a loving relationship and mom strays when she meets what seems to be a nice guy. There is an interesting scene in a supermarket when one of those "nice guys" courting her is seen shopping with his two children and his wife.

So how does Sarah avoid that same trap? And how can she pursue her love of cooking, perhaps becoming a successful chef, and writing a bestselling cookbook? Her best friend since they were 6 is Thomas Mann as neighbor Kenny Crauder and after Sarah and Kenny start to realize maybe they are meant for much more together, and begin experimenting, Kenny gets sent away to live with his father.

The movie never pretends there are easy answers for all these issues. In the end mom finds yet another old boyfriend, she desperately needs to be "saved". In the process Sarah has to fend for herself again.

The movie ends with a sweet scene, with a Peter Fonda cameo as the owner of a popular local restaurant. After his son and Lainee run off to Mexico Sarah finds ingredients in the kitchen of the now closed for the evening restaurant and makes eggs in a red sauce. She serves herself and Fonda's character, they taste and compare notes as Sarah's voice-over indicates she will be OK, she has a plan.

From 'Here' (1941 Pearl Harbor) to 'Eternity' (war and death)., 24 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was the darling of 1953, winning a whole slew of Oscars and several more nominations. One of the Oscars went to Sinatra for Best Supporting Actor. Most of us remember Sinatra for his singing but he was a fine actor with 64 roles credited to him.

This story takes place in Hawaii in 1941 on an Army base, just a few months before the eventual December 7th surprise attack of Pearl Harbor, the event that got the USA into WW2 against the Japanese. There is a boxing theme running through it, with the military championships scheduled for December 15th, and we know that will be upstaged.

Burt Lancaster in his early 40s is the lead as Sgt. Milton Warden. He is confident and runs a tight ship, but he also has his eye on the pretty girls, one in particular, the wife of his commanding officer. It seems pretty well known that the officer routinely cheats on his wife so that makes the pursuit somewhat logical. Deborah Kerr in her early 30s plays that woman, Karen Holmes.

The second main story involves Montgomery Clift as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a former boxer who quit after a man he knocked over was badly injured and lost his sight. So he was transferred to Hawaii and ceaselessly harassed by men in his platoon trying to get him to change his mind and fight on the team.

In his Oscar role Frank Sinatra was Angelo Maggio, a little guy with a big heart but who drank too much. In a bar another man, Ernest Borgnine as Sgt. 'Fatso' Judson, insulted Angelo's mother so Angelo hit Fatso over the head with a chair. The fight was broken up but later when Angelo was thrown in the brig for deserting his guard post, under the 'care' of Fatso, it eventually led to Angelo's death.

The last scenes in the movie depict the attack of December 7th and it appears that some real news footage of the attack was used.

Several good stories are woven in and while I haven't seen the movies this was competing against I can understand why it was then and still is considered such a timeless movie.

The two sisters who should have had each-other's children., 23 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Even though it is almost 20 years old I only managed to see this movie now. It is mainly notable for DiCaprio's performance as a troubled teen right about the time he was in 'Romeo + Juliet', a movie I didn't care for, and about a year before 'Titanic' a movie I like very much.

Meryl Streep is Lee, a hair dresser and not a very caring mother. She has two sons, Leonardo DiCaprio as 18-yr-old Hank and his younger brother Charlie. It is clear early that Hank does not like his mother and misses his dad. To the point that he takes a box of photos, dumps them on the upstairs bedroom floor, douses the pile with lighter fluid, and burns the pile.

Unfortunately the whole house burns down so Hank ends up in a mental hospital to deal with his anger and poor decision-making.

The movie's primary story really gets going when Lee's sister down in Florida, Diane Keaton as Bessie, lets her know that she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia and her only hope might be to get a marrow transplant from a suitable, compatible family member. So Lee, Hank, and Charlie make a road trip.

The dad of the two sisters is Marvin, he is very sick and barely lucid, Bessie is his caregiver. He has his room he mostly stays in "Marvin's Room", which seems a rather arbitrary title to choose.

The story is about family dynamics, including Hank's anger, Aunt Bessie seems to understand him and deals with him in a productive manner, something Lee can't quite seem to grasp. Bessie has no regrets, "there has been so much love in her live." When Lee agrees that people loves her she corrects that, it is the love Bessie has been able to give to others, something Lee had never understood before.

Good, interesting movie but not great nor memorable.

Robert De Niro has a nice supporting role as Bessie's physician, Dr. Wally. Old veteran Hume Cronyn, just a few years before he died, is Marvin.

Comet (2014)
Interesting character study of two in a couple who can't quite decide., 23 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming. I like the two main actors so gave it a try. Frankly it isn't easy to figure what all is going on, and when, because of the editing. But that didn't matter to me, I enjoyed the performances and the overall quirkiness. I was looking to be entertained and I was.

Justin Long is Dell at an outdoors nighttime viewing of some heavenly phenomena. I believe it was a comet. He happens to encounter Emmy Rossum (of "Phantom" fame) as Kimberly. She was there with a date but that didn't stop Dell from telling her that she needed his phone number because she would want to contact him, he was sure they were soul mates and should be together.

Not for all tastes, but I enjoyed it. We get to see them in a number of situations over the 6 years.

'Walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way our lives turned out.', 21 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Seeing who the two stars are I was expecting something totally different. This is not a comedy, it is a serious look at the life of twins who find at 35 or 40 that their lives are kind of messed up, in different ways, and they don't quite know what to do about it. But they remember that dad always said that they had to stick together.

Bill Hader is Milo Dean, a homosexual living in Los Angeles, waiting tables while he anticipates his big break on the road to becoming a famous actor. His twin is Kristen Wiig as Maggie Dean, married to a nice man, Luke Wilson as Lance, and they live in a small community on the Hudson River just up from New York City (filmed in Nyack).

As the movie begins we see flashbacks to when the twins were maybe 10 and dad had a skeleton mask on, each child had small skeleton toys, and later in life they each got skeleton tattoos. Thus the title "Skeleton Twins." Even then little Milo was dressing up as a girl with makeup, is it nature or is it nurture?

Anyways the catalyst for the story presented here is Milo, despondent that his latest boyfriend had gone, tries to kill himself in a half-hearted wrist-slitting attempt. His loud music alerted the neighbors and they found him in time. Maggie gets a call from the hospital, at the moment she is contemplating suicide by overdose, and she flies over to be with him, seeing him the first time in 10 years.

So what is it about these two that they would think things are so bad they might want to kill themselves? That is what the movie explores, and in a sense the idea that adults may look perfectly normal to those around them but really messed up under the surface.

Interesting movie, and both Hader and Wiig are superb in their roles as very flawed people.

SPOILERS: As Milo goes back to NY with Maggie to live for a while where they grew up, he looks up an old teacher, Ty Burrell as Rich, now with a son and a girlfriend. But Milo and Rich had had a homosexual affair when Milo was only 15 and had clearly never gotten over that. Plus Maggie and Lance were trying to start a family but she was secretly taking birth control pills, because as she got into a series of new hobbies each time she also was sleeping with her instructor. She didn't know why, she professed love for her husband but couldn't seem to resist affairs. As the movie ends Milo and Maggie seem to be helping each other and there is hope for each of them.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Lots of whimsy in this story, a worthwhile diversion., 19 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set along the Texas and Oklahoma border, but filmed in California. I watched it on Netflix streaming movies.

This unusual community mainly of various types of trailers in on an old drive in theater site, had been called the "Stardust" but the "S" is long missing, so the residents call their community "Tardust."

Alicia Silverstone, nearing 40 but playing a 32-yr-old single mom with no parenting skills at all, and always looking for her sugar daddy. Her name is just Tammy.

Her high school daughter is AJ Michalka as Vallie Sue, arguably the only decent, well-adjusted character in the whole story. She has a talent for writing and is encouraged by her teacher, but all Tammy does is try to discourage her, telling her that her future is to find a guy.

Vallie Sue has a vivid imagination and she sees Billy Burke, who in another place is a TV star, as simply Cowboy on the dilapidated old drive in screen. He isn't really there of course but they have conversations. Cowboy is the only one she has to talk to.

The other key character is Michael Spears, real Lakota, as local Indian Tenkill. Through most of the story we don't know if he is trustworthy but all that is settled near the end.

A 'different' movie, my wife abandoned it after 15 minutes but I enjoyed it for the story. Tammy is a very, very annoying character but you know what, there really are some single mothers like that in rural settings.

SPOILERS: Vallie Sue, looking for her little brother, is being bothered at night by two local bad guy drunks, threatening to rape her, when Tenkill shows up. He basically tells them if they don't leave her alone then they'd better kill him otherwise he would go after them, their family, and anyone else they knew. It turns out Tenkill is the father of her little brother, and he also knows a woman in Oklahoma City that will take Vallie Sue in as a boarded for her to go to a better school there, while Tenkill will take care of her brother.

Hercules (2014/I)
I enjoyed it, 'The Rock' makes a very good Hercules., 19 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this on Netflix streaming movies.

Set in the time 'BC', somewhere between 300 and 1200 BC, Hercules is mythically half man and half god, being fathered by Zeus. However as the movie ends some dialog shed some doubt on that. Still it seems to me the Hercules depicted here is indeed the son of Zeus.

Dwayne Johnson is Hercules, he and his small band of 'men', which includes one woman warrior, and expert with the bow and arrow, are mercenaries. However after their most current job is finished they find out they have been betrayed so the last half of the movie is their fighting to restore order.

His band includes Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and pretty Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Atalanta. Tall and blond she looks the part of a warrior.

All in all a very entertaining movie and Johnson is a great choice as Hercules.

Kinda, sorta based on a real story. Old singer-songwriter turning 70., 18 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There actually is a singer-songwriter from Wales who had received a letter from John Lennon some years after it was sent to him. So with that kernel of inspiration this script is about a totally different fictional character, an American singer-songwriter who is approaching 70 and does his own tribute tours to keep his cash flow up. He is only a shell of the singer he used to be but the old fans keep cheering just to see him onstage. In reality it works that way, at any given time across the USA there are old groups and individual performers from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s still doing their old songs and old fans keep cheering them on.

Al Pacino is well cast here as Danny Collins, the old singer who has pretty much lost his voice but still goes through the motions. He is turning 70 and his old friend and manager has found something unique. He bought from a collector a letter that John Lennon had written to Danny Collins but Danny never got it. His manager at that time had kept it and after his death it ended up with a collector.

Upon getting his letter from 40 + years earlier it had an affect on him. He decided he had wasted much of his life and he was determined to make amends. He goes to New Jersey and checks into a Hilton for an "indefinite stay."

There he befriends, and actually chases, the hotel manager, Annette Bening (who was so good in 'American Beauty') as Mary Sinclair. But his real mission involves a young couple and their 7-yr-old daughter. Danny had fathered a child years earlier but had never met him. That adult child is Bobby Cannavale as Tom Donnelly. His wife is Jennifer Garner as Samantha. Their young daughter is a bright but hyperactive child who will need spacial schools to allow her to develop to her potential.

Naturally Tom is not happy to see Danny show up at his home, but Tom has some issues also and even though Danny can be very abrasive and uncaring, he can also be very caring to those he wants. So much of this story is to see if Danny can establish relations with his family that never knew him. And while he is at it start to write good music again.

Old reliable Christopher Plummer is good as Frank Grubman, Danny's current manager and best friend.

Good movie.

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