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"Suits" (2011)
Very entertaining series, law firm in Manhattan., 18 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I came across this series on Amazon Prime streaming programming. We started watching it from episode 1 of season 1. Right now we are almost finished with season 2. Most episodes are about 42 minutes long, made for one hour time slot with commercials. We often watch 2 or 3 episodes a night.

The premise is set in the first episode, Harvey Specter is a great lawyer and senior partner in his firm. As he is fond of saying "I never lose." As he is looking to hire a new associate, interviewing one after another Harvard law graduate, Mike Ross suddenly and frantically appears at the interview venue. Mike Ross has no degree, he is a petty drug dealer, and takes the BAR exam for others for cash, he is a genius with a photographic memory but no degree. In spite of all that Harvey hires him.

Therefore an ongoing issue is who else will find out that Ross isn't really a lawyer? Specter and the firm obviously would get into lots of legal binds when or if it were found out.

As the characters flesh themselves out we meet Jessica Pearson who is the managing partner. We meet Louis Litt who is a brilliant lawyer but also a petty, deceiving chipmunk. He and Harvey are always at each other. Rachel Zane is the highly talented paralegal who desperately wants to pass the BAR and attend Harvard Law School. Donna Paulsen is the pretty and smart assistant to Harvey.

Season 1 has the best stories, as we are getting through season 2 we are losing a bit of interest but overall it is an entertaining diversion. We will probably keep watching.

Dramatization of the April 2010 disaster. Failure to properly audit., 16 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from a Redbox rental. No extras, just the movie.

The Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible rig for drilling oil and gas wells in very deep water, as deep as 8,000 feet, and designed to drill as deep as 30,000 feet, more than 5 miles deep. Its above-water platform was roughly the size to two football fields placed side-by- side.

I live near the Gulf Coast, my career was in the oil industry, so this event almost 7 years ago is still somewhat fresh in my mind. In April 2010 in final operations to seal off a new well and begin production, some shortcuts were taken. The sealing cement was not properly tested and when the incident happened high-pressure natural gas, methane, flooded the platform and resulted in a fireball, eventually destroying and sinking the platform. The largest oil spill in history resulted. Today it rests on the bottom of the Gulf about 5000 feet down. There had been 126 aboard and 11 died, the rest escaped via lifeboats.

I found the first half of this movie most interesting as it deals with the characters, their lives, how they traveled back and forth, how they interacted on the job, the depiction of the disagreements on well readiness. Most of the second half is the disaster and as such it becomes the somewhat typical disaster movie, showing the explosions, the falling rigs, the injuries, the escapes. All well made but nothing that we haven't seen before except we know this was a real event.

Mark Wahlberg is the co-main character, Mike Williams, chief instrument guy, and Kurt Russell as Jimmy Harrell, almost always called "Mr Jimmy", who it seemed was the chief supervisor on the rig. Both of them are excellent, I particularly liked Russell.

Gleason (2016)
Saints Pro Football Player cut down with ALS at age 34., 15 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I found this on Amazon Prime streaming films. She bailed on it about 30 minutes from the end in a particularly difficult scene. It pulls no punches, we get to see exactly what a person goes through in the first few years after early symptoms appear and the diagnosis is made.

The subject is Steve Gleason who, after highly successful school and college athletics found himself playing standout pro football for the New Orleans Saints. He was rough and tough, also very intelligent, and seemed to never quit. At age 34 he started having some unusual symptoms and shortly was diagnosed with ALS.

(As an aside I just watched 'Concussion' which deals with CTE caused by head trauma that long-time football players experience so I immediately wondered if it could also trigger ALS. The research is ongoing but so far experts in the fields have no evidence of a link.)

Most of the film takes place in New Orleans, Steve married Michel Varisco, she of course has a key role in his life and in this documentary. I used to live in the New Orleans area and I recognize Varisco as a genuine family name for that area. Michel was always an energetic and happy person, and for the most part remains that way, but as the film progresses you can see the stress she experiences.

When Steve received his diagnosis and his prognosis, not good, he and Michel were determined to have a child, and the result is a boy, Rivers, who it seems inherited most of his physical features from his mom. Much of the film is Steve leaving video for his son so that he will be able to see dad as he was before being debilitated by the disease.

Plus the film covers Steve's work to form the foundation that among other things raises money for ALS research, and to lobby Congress for proper medical coverage for ALS victims.

It is not a pretty picture, to see a formerly elite athlete deal with his quick degeneration into helplessness, but it does show how one can deal with it, and perhaps a reminder to all that life is precious, always live it as if today were your last. Don't take life, health, and relationships for granted.

Steve's dad, Mike Gleason, also had a key role as related to father-son relationships.

Coin Heist (2017)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
High school seniors try to salvage their extracurricular clubs., 15 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I watched this movie on Netflix streaming. It is definitely a "made for TV movie", looks like one and sounds like one, with a cast of mostly TV actors. It has a low rating, mostly deserved, but can be a fun viewing if one is in the right frame of mind. IOW, don't expect too much and look for the fun in it.

Filmed in New York locations but set in Philadelphia, the main plot requires a group of 4 students to team up to sneak into the Philadelphia Mint, alter a coin die for making quarters, hack into the control system to fabricate a few thousand coins with "errors" - an extra fin on a fish - and get out safely with the altered coins. Thinking they could eventually sell them at a big profit to coin collectors and re-fund the cancelled activities at school.

So that is all very implausible and unlikely that school kids could do that and get away with it. So we have to look a bit deeper, to the relationships the kids develop with each other, interactions with the teachers and administration, and the other kids who are oblivious to the plan.

I am glad we watched it, even with its limitations it is more fun than all the shooting, stealing, cheating, cursing movies that are typically being made.

Concussion (2015)
Really fine dramatization of the genesis of football's "concussion protocol.", 13 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from our local library.

It has become common when watching a major college or pro football game to see a dazed player taken off the field after a very hard hit, and the announcers mentioning the player was being put into the "concussion protocol." It is to evaluate them and assure they don't return to play to risk brain damage.

This didn't always exist, in fact it is relatively new, only a few years. For years football glossed over head injuries, basically denying that any long-term damage occurred. But then doctors started noticing that retired football players often began experiencing strange symptoms that pointed towards brain damage.

Then in 2002 all-star Steelers center Mike Webster died of a heart attack at age 50. As luck would have it the doctor performing the autopsy was Dr. Bennet Omalu, who avidly studied life, death, and the brain. The only thing abnormal in the autopsy was that Webster looked much older than 50, maybe in his 70s or 80s. On a hunch Omalu removed the brain and had it sectioned and "fixed" for study under a microscope.

What he found was truly Earth-shaking in football, he found abnormalities that could only be attributed to repeated harmful collisions over a long time. As other former football players experienced erratic behavior and died young further study found the trend, and they named it "CTE".

The NFL pushed back hard, if acknowledged the findings would jeopardize their whole very profitable business. But persistence and help from others in the medical profession finally resulted in football collisions being the cause of CTE, and one of the remedies has been establishing the Concussion Protocol, designed to minimize further injury.

This is a very fine movie of a very important discovery. Will Smith really shines as Dr. Bennet Omalu, there were times I actually forgot he was an actor. One of his supporters was Alec Baldwin as LSU alumnus Dr. Julian Bailes who had been an NFL doctor. And David Morse as Mike Webster.

Small story, too many car and motorcycle chase scenes., 7 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We watched this at home on DVD from Netflix. No extras, just the movie. Darned cheap bastiges.

I didn't realize, until I looked it up, that the last Bourne movie was 9 years ago. Matt Damon is looking like the middle-aged man he is. Not bad, just realistic.

Of course he is back as Jason Bourne, enjoying his freedom and anonymity after the last installment. But an incident causes him to surface again, and the core of the story is to uncover what his dad's assignment really had been and how he died.

The real villain here is Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey. On the surface he seems like a dedicated CIA guy but he has some corrupt connections. While much of this movie has them attempting to bring Bourne in alive, and perhaps re-integrate him into the program, Dewey really wants him dead so that things can remain undiscovered.

Pretty Alicia Vikander seems everywhere nowadays, and perhaps she is suffering a bit from "overexposure", but she is effective as CIA operative Heather Lee. She becomes Bourne's ally.

Dewey hires a really bad guy, he will kill anyone who even stands in his way when he is out to get someone, and that guy is Vincent Cassel only known as The Asset. Naturally the climax of the movie involves them fighting to the death. We can guess in advance who will survive.

The story here isn't bad, in fact it has good possibilities. Unfortunately the chase scenes, an early one involving Bourne on a motorcycle chased by cars, and near the end cars and police vans in downtown Las Vegas, are way overdone and way too long. I suppose they appeal to the fans who really like chase scenes and lots of destruction. I view it as a substitute for good writing.

As far as I am concerned the Bourne movies can stop, but I also suppose they make money and Matt Damon is a producer and he probably has fun making them. I say look for at least one more, maybe two or three more.

Mr. Church (2016)
Very nice, quiet drama based on real people, Eddie Murphy shines as Mr. Church., 4 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I saw and enjoyed this movie via Amazon Prime streaming movies.

As the author explains it is based on a real person in her life, although the name is changed and that person did in fact die some years ago. Some of the events and ages are changed for purposes of making the movie flow better but the core of it is the devotion and friendship that the relationship represented.

Here Eddie Murphy is "Mr. Church", Henry Church who was hired by a wealthy man, to go daily to his ex-lover's home to cook for her and her 10-yr-old daughter, and perhaps do other appropriate things. The lady, Natascha McElhone as Marie, had breast cancer and was only given 6 months to live. The 6- month plan turned into an almost 20-year relationship starting in 1971.

Mr. Church remained a mystery to others, he would show up each morning and would cook marvelous meals. He also was an artist and a musician, a piano player. He was always proper and spoke kindly, but had a nasty cigarette habit. In the evening he would walk away, never wanting to discuss where he lived or what he did on his own time.

Marie had a young daughter of 10 when Mr. Church showed up, and that character, Charlie, is based on the author herself. Charlie grew up and was played by Britt Robertson as a teenager in high school, a young college student, then a young single mother.

The acting is uniformly good, and I especially like Eddie Murphy. While most know him for his comedy he is even better, in my mind, in dramatic roles. He is a marvelous Mr. Church. Good movie.

SPOILERS: In real life the mother did not die from the cancer, she is in fact still alive. Mr. Church did contract lung cancer and died after Charlie came back to L.A. from college in Boston, pregnant with her soon to be born daughter. But the role Mr. Church played essentially was the only father that Charlie ever knew and clearly had a positive effect on her life and career. The end of the movie shows her activating her typewriter and writing a story called "Mr. Church."

A thoroughly Egoyan movie, deals with kidnapping and child pornography., 2 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My wife and I saw this online (Amazon, Netflix, don't recall which). While I can't really say it is "enjoyable" because of the subject matter, it is a well-made and worthwhile story. Again Ryan Reynolds shows us he isn't just a pretty face.

It is a Canadian production throughout, and set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Ryan Reynolds is a working man, a landscaper, Matthew. He has a bright, pretty daughter who is 9, just about to turn 10. Going home after his daughter's ice skating practice one day he stops briefly at the local pie shop for treats, his daughter stays in the back of the extended cab truck, and when Matthew returns she is gone. No idea where she is.

Rosario Dawson is the police chief of the small community, he goes there to report his daughter missing but instead of doing an immediate all-out search they question him over and over, seemingly assuming he wasn't telling the truth, that perhaps he was responsible for her being missing. New investigator, Scott Speedman as Jeffrey, is especially distrusting.

(Honestly, this part of the movie I disliked, it didn't seem realistic to me that the law-enforcement officers would immediately take that stance, plus I am not a Speedman fan, to me he is a lousy actor.)

Anyway that's the way Egoyan wrote the story, the daughter really was kidnapped, and the story spans about 8 years. We don't actually find out what all she was subjected to but it is hinted that she was used for online porn, where children are forced to "perform' while subscribers watch live. And as she got older was used to help recruit younger children.

The movie is primarily about the father, Matthew, never giving up, continuing to hold hope that his daughter was alive and he would find her. It is a bleak movie in many ways but we found it a worthwhile watch.

SPOILERS: We learn relatively early who the kidnapper is, and that he has installed hidden video equipment to be able to watch the parents real-time, as part of his perversion. When the daughter is about 17 and being cooperative he allows her to meet with her dad, in a secluded location, in the snow. When he tries to take her away the kidnapper comes out of hiding and shoots Matthew with a tranquilizer dart. Eventually Matthew used clues his daughter gave him to track down the guy, who dies in a shootout, but frees his daughter. The daughter is finally safe.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fairly typical, traditional Woody Allen movie with love and infidelity in the 1930s., 2 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on Amazon Prime streaming movies, my wife chose to NOT watch it, she isn't a Woody Allen fan.

I am a Wood Allen fan, of sorts. Some of his stuff over the years I really dislike, with a passion. Other movies I find very unique and charming. But Woody does like to write about the imperfections of relationships, I believe all of his movies deal in this genre, people falling in love then out of love then in love with a married person, and the comedy comes from those interactions.

There have been at least two prior movies called "Cafe Society", it is a reference to the wealthy who apparently spend lots of their social time in restaurants and night spots, meeting fellow wealthy friends and having a good time.

Set in the 1930s, in this movie young Bobbie (Jesse Eisenberg) is the Woody Allen surrogate, his acting throughout the movie is a type of imitation of the characters Woody used to play when he was younger. Bobby is a New Yorker but goes to Los Angeles to try to build some sort of career there. He falls in love with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who had been having an affair with Bobby's uncle Phil (Steve Carrel). When Vonnie figured out Phil was not going to leave his wife then she gave in to Bobby's affections.

It takes a while to unwind but eventually Bobby, Phil, and Vonnie see clearly what is going on. Later Phil actually does leave his wife and marries Vonnie. Bobby goes back to Manhattan to run a club owned by his gangster brother, and it is there, in the second half of the movie, the "cafe society" is unveiled and discussed. It is the business Bobby is in.

Did I enjoy this movie? Yes, for the most part. It is pretty typical Woody Allen fare, a love-triangle comedy, and 24 hours later it leaves no taste in your mouth, neither good nor bad. Just light entertainment. Good for a change of pace.

SPOILERS: Bobby meets a nice girl (Blake Lively) in Manhattan, falls hard for her, she becomes pregnant, they get married, Bobby's business and his influence thrive. Some years later Phil and Vonnie show up, rekindling old feelings. It is clear they still would prefer to be with each other but Vonnie has become accustomed of the lavish lifestyle and travel with Phil, Bobby has a wife and family. The movie ends with each of them seemingly with far-off thoughts. Are they just wondering "What could have been?" Or are they trying to figure out how to get out of their marriages and with each other again? We can only imagine.

Sully (2016)
Great recreation of the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson., 28 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We saw this at home on DVD from Netflix. Plain DVD, no extras.

I remember the original incident clearly and it doesn't seem like almost 8 years ago. It only seems like 2 or 3 years ago, when 'Sully' in command of his plane lost both engines from bird collisions shortly after takeoff and had only a few seconds to decide to try to return to the airport or to try to make a safe landing on the Hudson River in NYC harbor.

Sully was an experienced pilot of 42 years, a cool head when things go wrong, just what you need in that situation. After barely 35 seconds of deliberation and finding alternate landing strips he judged that he did not have enough altitude and air speed to glide to an airport. He chose to land on the water.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the fine cast features Tom Hanks, well- chosen to play Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, and Aaron Eckhart playing his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles. Yes the movie does include a recreation of the landing in the water, the subsequent evacuation personally managed by Sully, and the rescue by harbor boats and helicopters. But we all knew that, more importantly the movie covers what we never had a chance to know.

It deals with the FAA hearings and what seemed like an attempt to place the blame on pilot error, that Sully in fact could have and should have returned to one of the two landing strip possibilities rather than landing in the Hudson. The FAA had engineering calculations and flight simulator runs with real pilots that showed he could have landed safely.

All in all a fine, worthwhile movie that pays proper tribute to the right pilot in that particular situation to assure the survival of all 155 aboard.

(Side note: Anna Gunn was one of the FAA officials at the hearings but I could only look at her and think of Walter White's wife in 'Breaking Bad.')

SPOILERS: At the hearing Sully spoke up, he couldn't believe the FAA investigators failed to consider the human element, the time it took after the bird strikes to size up the options and choose one. After all the pilots who, in the simulator, made safe landings had as many as 17 practice runs first. Then they added 35 seconds between the bird hits and the decisions to go back to either Laguardia or to Teterboro. Each time they crash landed short of the runways, proving Sully had made the only decision that would have saved the lives of the people onboard.

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