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Fun movie with Scotch Whiskey as its theme., 30 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was filmed in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands, all places my son and I visited by train about 20 years ago. For me that was a highlight of watching this, to see those places again.

I found it on Netflix streaming movies.

It is Robbie's story. Having grown up in a rough part of Glasgow he has already in his young age had a series of bad encounters with the law. He is a hot-head too, and when disrespected can easily go off to almost killing the victim. Now he has also gotten his girlfriend Leonie pregnant, much to the dissatisfaction of her dad, who even tries to bribe him with money to leave and never see his daughter again. Robbie doesn't have very good prospects.

Robbie's life begins to change when get gets on a work payback group for non capital offenders, basically being a supervised work crew to pay back society for their crimes. The monitor of the group, and the man with the van, gets them interested in Scotch Whiskey, and the title of this movie arises from a distillery tour when the young guide explains that in barrel aging a small percentage of the whiskey is lost forever through evaporation and they call that "the angel's share."

(NB - The Jim Beam company calls the whiskey trapped inside the wood at the end of aging, "the devil's share", and even sell a whiskey of that name where they claim to have extracted it from the wood. I have some and it in fact is pretty good.)

Anyway it turns out Robbie has a natural nose for discerning different qualities of whiskey, and I naturally thought that would lead him into getting a job with a distillery and be able to leave his former life, and build something better for Leonie and him. But the movie takes a quite different turn.

Good movie, I enjoyed it for the characters and the subject, both redemption and imagining being there in the whiskey tastings.

SPOILERS: Robbie finds out a very rare, very old whiskey is to be sold at auction, and in fact one bottle ended up going for over One Million pounds. But before the auction Robbie hatched a plan with his friends on the work gang, they visited the distillery, Robbie managed to hide among the casks through the night, his friends were outside with empty one- liter soda bottles, he opened the valuable cask and used long clear tubing to siphon off enough to fill 4 bottles. Then he took ordinary whiskey to back fill so that the 4 liters would not be missed. Even when cops stopped and searched them randomly afterwards, all the cops saw were 4 bottles of what they thought was soda. Robbie learned of a black market buyer and sold a bottle for 200,000 pounds and split it with the other 3, and bargained for a job for himself in the whiskey business. His hapless friends broke two of the bottles in a moment of stupidity, and he gave the 4th to the work supervisor who had introduced him to whiskey. But Robbie, Leonie, and their new baby were off to a new life near Stirling.

(NB- About 20 years ago we spent two nights in a hotel in Stirling which I like to describe as "the worst hotel in all of Scotland." It was their last weekend of operation, I suspect it was being demolished afterwards. The only good part was that they let us stay free, that's how close to "camping" it was. But I will always remember that hotel stay.)

Gripping true story, the horrors of the fight in Afghanistan., 29 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I live in Houston Texas, and around here an institution of sorts is furniture store magnate "Mattress Mac", known for his philanthropy and his very annoying "save you money" TV commercials. In recent TV commercials we sometimes also see a burly young man standing with him, that young man is Marcus Luttrell.

I only mention this to make a connection, because this movie 'Lone Survivor' is about Marcus Luttrell and his experience in Afghanistan as a member of a Navy Seal team sent into a hostile area to eliminate a top Taliban commander. That he survived to write his book and now see this movie come to reality is a testament to his toughness.

Unfortunately the others did not survive. This is not an easy movie to watch, the fighting is very realistic and the deaths often very gruesome. I never liked Peter Berg as an actor, and I do not like all his directorial efforts, but I have to give credit here, he went all out to make it realistic. That can be either good or bad depending on one's tolerance for violence and gore.

The mission was jeopardized when a group of two men and a boy, herding goats, came upon the Seal Team on a mountain slope overlooking the village where the target was. The men were faced with a critical decision, kill the innocent three to avoid spoiling the mission, or let them go and surely spoil the mission. It wasn't easy and it wasn't unanimous, but they did let them go, they did abort the mission, they tried to get rescue but had radio problems.

In the end Marcus Luttrell was saved only because he came upon men in another village that had an honor code of sorts, to protect someone in need of medical attention.

A chapter in a long war.

Rio 2 (2014)
Adequate follow-up to 'Rio' but not quite as enchanting., 29 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was almost three years ago that we saw 'Rio', a very nice animated movie about rare blue Macaws. Here is the summary I wrote about that one:

It starts in Brazil when animal smugglers are illegally trapping various species of wildlife. A pretty blue one ends up falling off a truck in Minnesota, and becomes a lady's pet.

Some years later an ornithologist from Brazil, looking for the rare blue Macaw, comes upon the bird, now an adult named Blu, and tries to convince the owner that they need to travel to Rio de Janeiro to hopefully mate with the last know female blue Macaw. They are reluctant but finally go.

In 'Rio 2' there of course the male and female blue Macaws, again voiced by Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg. They have become a couple with a family with cute young birds. They are in Rio but see something on the news about other blue Macaws possibly living in the deep Amazon and they travel there.

The main story becomes about the birds and the conservationists trying to stop the illegal logging which not only is destroying native growth, but is also endangering habitats.

My favorite new character is a colorful frog voiced by Kristen Chenoweth. She is very lively and sings beautifully. Overall there are several musical numbers and the movie is a pleasant diversion.

Joe (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Joe, a Texan with a good heart but really difficult anger-management issues., 28 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is called 'Joe' and it is about Joe, a man in his late 40s who has been in prison, has been married, has grandchildren he finds out about from the local police. He seems mostly "rudderless" in life. We see him making random stops at local spots, making small talk with the locals, or getting a quick hand job at the local whore house, and working a crew of day laborers who work a large plot of land to get rid of diseased trees for a bigger contractor.

(As an aside, we learn from the BD extras that the men in his work crew really were day laborers picked up from the local area and given a chance to act in a movie. Where they do have dialog it does come across as non-actors, but it works fine for this movie.)

Nicolas Cage is Joe and he plays the part to perfection. His life changes a bit when Tye Sheridan (of 'Mud' fame) as 15-yr-old Gary wanders into his work group and asks for a job, he rattles off a list of manual labor jobs he has done and Joe hires him.

Which brings in another very interesting character, Gary Poulter as Gary's no-good dad Wade, always wearing a jean jacket with "G-Daawg" on the back. Wade is given a chance to work too, but he is just a non- productive wine-head and he is sent away after one day. But that isn't Wade's biggest issue, he is mean, he beats his son, takes his son's hard-earned money, and does just about the most despicable thing imaginable, which I describe after the "SPOILERS" warning below.

(As another aside, the director went to the streets of Austin Texas to try to find a homeless man to play the part and that is how they found Poulter. I was shocked to learn this because to me he appeared to be a seasoned actor and played the mean dad chillingly well. Ironically he returned to the streets and died quickly.)

So much of the movie is about Joe dealing with the various characters, and getting shot in a sort of drive-by for a barroom retaliation. Joe does what most people only wonder about doing, like ignoring the police siren and driving on anyway. Or when a young cop has him stopped with gun drawn, just going up to him and slapping the gun out of his hand.

But deep down Joe is a good person and he influences young Gary to lead a better life.

Filmed in several of the small Texas towns between Houston and Austin.

SPOILERS: The man who shot Joe was also very bad, and recognizing that Wade needed money, no matter the source, Wade agreed to bring his young daughter, apparently autistic, to a remote spot to allow two men to rape her in a pickup truck's covered bed. Joe found out in time and had Gary show him where, he managed to stop the guys in time, and actually shoot both of them. But Wade was on the bridge with a gun, he shot and mortally wounded Joe, then Wade jumped to his death off the bridge, finally realizing that was the best thing he could do for his family. The movie ends with Gary getting a new job, this time joining a crew planting new Pine tree seedlings, a metaphor for going from killing forests to bringing them to life with his new perspective.

Wes Anderson shares with us the whimsical goings on in his creative mind., 25 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this movie twice. The first time I neglected to consider that it is a Wes Anderson movie. As such I tried to make sense of it in the usual way and, while I enjoyed it enough, my second viewing a few days later was much more fun. In fact, I'll go so far as to say this is one of the most fun movies I have seen in quite a while.

The most common element of every scene is that there is nothing in common with normal expectations. Every scene is done in a very careful, particular style. Whether it be colors, or camera angles, or unexpected dialog, often all of these and more, the whole movie is a delight of invention.

The phrase "never a dull moment" applies.

The story has three layers, 1986, 1968, and 1932. It starts with the older author telling of his younger self meeting with a mysterious man who tells him of his past, in 1932, and that is the story featured. It is about how he came to own the Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictional place. It involved wealthy guests, a bisexual concierge, and a very new lobby boy, destined to become the old owner of the hotel.

It has a great cast of some of the best actors, many of them typical participants in Wes Anderson projects. The story is fun, but it really is secondary. The filming and story-telling mechanism is the best aspect of this movie.

Dramatization of the real 1970s and early 1980s serial killer in Alaska., 25 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this one on Netflix streaming movies. The main leads are all good in their roles. It is based on the real serial killer in Anchorage, Alaska and how one trooper's persistence finally was able to put him away.

Nicolas Cage is trooper Jack Halcombe, about to leave the job for another in a few weeks. But he is bothered by the occasional young women, often prostitutes, who either go missing or turn up dead. He becomes a man on a mission to identify and imprison the guy.

He gets key help from Vanessa Hudgens as teenage prostitute Cindy Paulson who had been abducted by the suspected serial killer but had gotten away. She provides key observations that lead them to the man.

Looking quite remarkably like the real guy (google search images) John Cusack is Robert Hansen. He had a long history of various arrests, and admitted to frequenting prostitutes for things he didn't want his wife to do. He was also a pilot of a small plane and a big game hunter.

While this movie is good overall at times it seemed a bit disjointed. I would have liked that the story be a bit "tighter."

SPOILERS: It turns out Hansen was quite deranged, he would capture young women, fly them to his favorite remote locations, free them, then use a powerful rifle and scope to hunt them down and kill them, burying them where they died. At home he kept a map, with marks at a number of places, it turned out to be the places he killed various girls.

The tough life of 1920s immigrants in New York., 24 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very good story and told very well. It moves rather deliberately, but not a pause or quiet conversation is wasted. I became a big Cotillard fan when I saw her in "La Vie en Rose" and her performance here as a Polish immigrant is every bit as good. So is the performance of Phoenix as the Jewish businessman trying to make it with his girls and his show.

Set in early 1920s New York (and filmed in New York) Marion Cotillard is Ewa Cybulska who arrives at Ellis Island with her sister. They just are looking for a better life. But her sister is ill and has to be retained at the hospital, and faces possible deportation.

Joaquin Phoenix is Jewish businessman Bruno Weiss, and it appears he routinely hangs around the processing center, looking for candidates for his girlie show. When he spots Ewa (pronounced 'Eva') and senses that she may be in a difficult situation, he pays a guard to let her go with him, he will provide shelter for her and help her raise funds to get her sister out.

But Ewa is basically a nice girl that soon finds out that the musical review Bruno runs is in a side business of prostitution. But she desperately needs money and is shunned by her aunt and uncle in New York. She doesn't see any other choice.

But Bruno makes the fatal mistake, falling in love with one of his employees, and especially one that is working as a prostitute. This cannot turn out good for Bruno.

And all that is complicated by Bruno's cousin, Jeremy Renner as Emil, working as the magician Orlando. Emil also falls for Ewa, who only wants to save her sister.

Good movie of a tragic time.

Free Zone (2005)
Not much of a story here, but it makes you glad you don't live in that part of the world., 21 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was looking on Netflix streaming movies for Natalie Portman movies and came across this one. Ordinarily I would not have been interested in it, but right now in July 2014 there is intense fighting, rockets and ground invasions, between Israel and Hamas. In this movie we see three women, a Jewish-American, a Jew, and a Palestinian being brought together by a quirk of circumstances.

Natalie Portman is 23-yr-old American Rebecca who wants to get out of Israel immediately, she has broken off an engagement and wants to be anywhere. She finds herself in the taxi of Hana Laszlo as Hanna Ben Moshe. She is on a mission to get to Jordan quickly, leaving her husband home just injured in a rocket attack. At issue if $30,000 owed to them for some armored car work. When they get there Hanna deals with Hiam Abbass as Leila.

There really isn't much of a story here, the most interesting parts of the movie involve border crossings, announcements of imminent terrorist attacks, and Middle Eastern people arguing about whether the money is there or not. Plus lots of hand-held camera footage of the road trip and scenery in Jordan. Death Valley looks more hospitable than most of what we see in Jordan.

The movie opens with a full 8 minutes of nothing but a close-up on Portman's face, filling half the screen, as she cries and listens to a traditional Passover song about buying a lamb for two coins, a cat ate the lamb, a dog ate the cat, a stick beat the dog, and on and on. A very difficult opening to get past.

Then the end has the two older women sitting in the cab, one saying I want the money, I know you have it, the other saying I don't have the money. Both of them, over and over, as credits roll.

I suppose it has a target audience, not sure who.

State of the art of unmanned drones., 21 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this program on Netflix streaming. It is very well done and uses a number of experts' comments.

While it hasn't been totally explained publicly, the USA have been using unmanned drones for several years in certain foreign countries to hunt down and destroy enemies. Especially after the 9/11 events.

Sometimes these unmanned drones are piloted from thousands of miles away, using high resolution cameras and GPS for guidance. Still on some occasions they are mistakenly used on innocent people.

The program also talks about research in the field, and how some drones are being built to find their way around using on-board sensors, with no need for such things as GPS guidance.

As one comments, in 1903 the Wright Brothers flew the first plane, and now just over 100 years later we are just on the ground floor for unmanned drones.

Fascinating topic and a good program.

Pleasantly entertaining family movie with a horse., 21 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this movie for Brooke Shields, I have been seeking out hers that I hadn't seen.

Cute and short for her age Sammi Hanratty carries the movie in the title role of Whitney Brown. She is bright, popular, and ambitious, and gets elected as president of her Junior high class. But she is also somewhat spoiled by her wealthy parents, she seems to get what she wants. Until one day dad comes home, he has lost his job, they are broke.

They have to move away from Philadelphia and Whitney naturally protests, but not in a whiny, mean way, just disappointed that she has to leave her school and friends. They move away to a country house that her grandfather owns but is vacant.

There Whitney meets the horse, and soon has a different perspective on what is valuable. She also gets to know her grandfather.

A good family movie and young Hanratty does a good job in the lead role.

Brooke Shields is the mom Joan Brown, Aidan Quinn is the dad Henry Brown, and the grandfather is played well by Kris Kristofferson as Dusty Brown.

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