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Sally Field's Doris is a real creeper, isn't she?, 1 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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

I have been a Sally Field fan for a long time, starting in 1965 when she was 'Gidget' and a few years later as 'The Flying Nun'. You see she and I are almost the same age. I have watched myself age, I have watched her age. We both show the experience of seven decades.

Here Sally Field is Doris, and she reminds me so much of my older sister living in Miami, the way she dresses, the things she hoards, the way she reacts to situations. I must say she plays this role perfectly.

In a later conversation when asked if she had ever been in love she recounted a proposal when she was in her 20s, but it would require to leave home and she made her choice. On Staten Island (actually filmed mostly in L.A.) she lived her life with her mother, never marrying, and taking the ferry to Manhattan to work in a clerical job. Now that her mother is gone Doris is just an old spinster hoarder.

One day the office gets a new transfer, 30-something Max Greenfield as John, an artist who will facilitate a transformation of sorts in the workplace. Doris and John meet, face-to-face in a crowded elevator and Doris is smitten with this handsome young man with the great smile and winning personality.

The age difference only comes up in an indirect manner, but Doris is intent on getting John's romantic attention. She becomes a 'creeper' of sorts, she established a fake FB account, with the help of a 13-yr-old, and friended John, claiming to have met him in Malibu, she sees him one day about town with his girlfriend and she follows them, and later causes their breakup with a post to his FB that looks like he had another girlfriend.

Some of the scenes are uncomfortable to watch, because Doris is so pathetic. Her breakout was when her brother and a couple of others were at her house, trying to get her to throw away most of the junk she and her mom had hoarded over the years and she reaches her limit shouting "This is my home, this is my stuff, I'll decide what to do with it, everyone get out of here."

The story is really about Doris finally, in her late 60s, breaking out of her routine and finding a life around her. John was just a catalyst to energize her, in the end it was unimportant if she ever attracted him or not. In fact if I were to project where this story might go, if there were a sequel, I'd like to see Doris find a nice retired widower near her age.

Burnt (2015/I)
Bad-boy chef seeks redemption in London., 30 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We watched this on DVD from our public library.

In spite of his being a "pretty boy" Bradley Cooper, about 40 here, is truly a fine actor. He is Chef Adam Jones, classically trained and fine- tuned under a prestigious French Chef, he messed it all up with his boozing, drugs, women, and bad temper. As the movie starts he is working in New Orleans as an oyster shucker. He keeps a small diary, it only has one type of entry, the cumulative number of oysters he has shucked. The day he reached 1,000,000 he puts his tools down, and walks out the door, ignoring all the "where are you going" questions.

It seems Adam has made a pact with himself. He was a 2 Star chef, which is great, but he wants to achieve the ultimate, 3 stars. Reaching his symbolic goal he heads to London with a plan. He will take over a famous restaurant there, make it one of the best anywhere, and in the process get his 3 Star rating.

Even though Adam has given up drugs and booze, he still is far from being a "people person." He is arrogant and demanding and the first night of the new opening yells at all his staff and throws all the food in the garbage. It isn't "perfect."

Of course a movie like this has to have a love interest and it is played very well by Sienna Miller as Chef Helene who Adam gets fired from her job so that she has no choice to go work for him.

The other key character is fine actor Daniel Brühl as Tony, who runs the restaurant for his ailing dad. Adam knows the big secret, Tony is a homosexual and is in love with Adam, so in essence he will do anything for Adam.

Overall this is a really entertaining movie with a good story, that of a lost man, Adam, trying to achieve what he wants but having to do it through building a cooperative team, rather than through intimidation. My only complaint is how bad his behavior was in the kitchen, it seems hardly believable that someone could be that difficult and that destructive and still make it. But maybe they thought they had to go to that extreme to show his transformation.

SPOILERS: As things are running smoothly the staff recognizes the "M.O." of two patrons who are sure to be from the Michelin group to eat and assign a rating. Adam gets intimately involved and makes sure everything is perfect. But they send the food back, they say it is too seasoned, and one of the cooks shows Adam lots of red pepper in his hand, it was payback for something Adam had done to his restaurant some years earlier. All Adam could do is chuckle and the cook walked out. But it turns out they were not from Michelin, and the experience gets Adam to realize that he really needed a complete cooperative crew and began to go that route. Soon Michelin raters actually did come in, Adam said "Let's just do what we normally do". In a final scene on the Thames Adam smiles as Helene indicates to him that he got the 3 Star rating.

Top Spin (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely fascinating look at young Americans trying to compete at the world class level in Table Tennis., 29 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this documentary on Netflix streaming. While I have played "ping pong" when I was younger I was never a "Table Tennis" player in the sense that these teenagers are.

It focuses on three young Americans, Ariel Hsing from California, who started playing at age 7 and was 16 when this film was made. Lily Zhang, also from California, also 7 when she started and 16 when this film was made. What they also have in common is each has parents, immigrants from China, who were Table Tennis players. This doesn't so much give them a physical advantage but more a mental advantage, the focus and dedication to train hard and continuously, to try to become the best.

The third is Michael Landers, an ordinary kid from New York who didn't have parents to motivate him, he just had an extremely acute internal motivation and became a Table Tennis prodigy at a young age and became national singles champion at the age of 15.

The focus of the story is preparation for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Each of the three was attempting to gain a spot on the team. We see ample competition footage but even more interesting are the "behind the scenes" footage of the three and their families and friends, and the rigors of their training.

Of note each of these teenagers were also dedicated students. They found it hard at times to balance school, activities, and training but each seems to have done that well.

Excellent documentary, every minute is interesting. By way of update to 2016, Ariel in 2014 became the first American-born player to sign a contract with the China Table Tennis Super League. Lily in 2014 graduated from high school and enrolled at UCal, Berkeley, and is hoping to make the 2016 USA Olympic team. Michael has enrolled in Business school in New York, still plays high level competitive Table Tennis and hopes to qualify for the Olympics one day.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Appreciate all the good moments and the bad, they are the only moments we have., 28 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on Netflix streaming. Except for a bit too much gratuitous cursing by Dot (Selena Gomez), most of it unnecessary, this is a gem of a road movie. The writing and acting are mostly spot-on.

Paul Rudd is Ben, recently unemployed and doing his best to resist signing divorce papers his wife keeps sending him. Their young son also was killed recently and Ben is in sort of a funk.

He decides to take the 6-week course on Caregiving then sets out to get a job. In his first appointment he is greeted at the front door by Jennifer Ehle as Elsa, she needs someone to care for her teenage son with MD. He is Craig Roberts as Trevor, confined to a wheelchair, quite bright and quite the prankster. Pretty much opposite of Ben.

He has no experience, Elsa is reluctant to give him the job, but agrees to try him out. Trevor has a very strict, repetitive routine every day, as the job and relationship develops Ben gets a way to challenge Trevor to move out of his comfort zone, get out and experience some things that he only muses about.

The opportunity comes when Elsa has to go off for a week on business, Ben convinces her and Trevor they can take a road trip to see many of the things that Trevor has admired in pictures or via the internet.

Along the way they encounter pretty Selena Gomez as Dot, who says "I am 21, I am going to Denver. Are you guys perverts?" The unlikely trio make the road trip even more interesting. It is impossible to describe in a few words but the whole movie is a joy to see.

Backtrack (2015/I)
Psychologist sees dead people, in a journey to come to grips with his past., 28 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming. The most glaring initial impression is that Brody speaks in such a whisper, especially during the first half of the movie, that you need to turn on the subtitles to grasp what he is saying.

Set in Australia, the Psychologist is Adrien Brody as Peter Bower. He is despondent, his daughter had died recently in an accident on the street when Peter is distracted by something in a storefront window. The significance only comes to light at the end of the movie.

This is a movie that requires viewing patience because things happen and we wonder if the story will go anywhere. But eventually it does and ends up being a worthwhile movie.

SPOILERS: The whole story is set up some 20 years earlier when a train derailed near his small hometown. Peter and a friend had gone at night to spy at lover's lane, we see they lean their bikes against train tracks, and later a passenger train comes along, hits the bikes, and crashes to kill almost all on board. We think "Those bikes could not have caused that derailment" and we are correct, it was a faulty memory, suppressing what actually happened. To relieve his guilt Peter makes a report with the lady police chief. She is curious, as her mother had been one of the fatalities, looks up all old evidence and photos, corners Peter's dad, a cop back 20 years earlier, and all that leads to Peter's dad having been at lover's lane that night, he raped and murdered a girl Peter had been seeing as a ghost, Peter witnesses the struggling girl pull the track switch which actually caused the derailment. The dad then carried the dead girl and placed her among the dead in the train. That had been in Peter's subconscious all those years and seeing a similar toy track switching station in a store display window had distracted him when his daughter was killed. As the movie ends dad meets his own fate with a speeding train. A bit contrived, I must say.

The British ski jumper in the 1988 Winter Olympics., 26 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on DVD from my public library. It is a very enjoyable movie inspired by real events, the theme is never giving up on your goals, most things are achievable if you work hard enough.

A key point to emphasize is the story here is "inspired by" the real Edwards and his exploits. He did go to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary (I remember it well, watching him on TV) as the first ever Alpine ski jumper from Britain and he did finish last in each of his events. But according to the real Eddie about 5% to 10% is factual, the rest made up for the movie.

Just a couple of examples, the movie depicts him starting jumping from scratch and going to Germany to learn. In reality he was quite experienced and almost made the British cross country ski team, then went to Lake Placid to learn to jump competitively. The movie has a character, Hugh Jackman as former American jumper Bronson Peary who teaches him jumping. That character is fictional.

Taron Egerton is very good as Michael "Eddie" Edwards. As the movie depicts from an early age he was fascinated by the Olympics and wanted to some day compete. In the summer Olympics. When it became clear he didn't have the athletic talent to do so he turned to ski jumping. There was no history of Britain having an athlete in ski jumping so he figured if he could demonstrate competence in a competition then he could go. And he did.

It is historically accurate that after the 1988 Winter Olympics, even though "Eddie the Eagle" was a big hit, the rules were changed so that in each event certain performance minimums had to be met to quality for an Olympic invitation. Eddie never could meet the new standards and was never able to compete in subsequent Olympics.

The movie is done in a very interesting and entertaining manner, thoroughly enjoyable.

Very bloody movie of Japanese teenagers killing each other with the hope one will survive, 24 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on Netflix streaming. I looked it up for only one reason, some movie fans call "Hunger Games" a "rip-off" of "Battle Royale." I wanted to see for myself.

Set in approximate modern times, Japanese teenagers are becoming more and more uncooperative, are skipping classes when they want, are disrespectful in the classroom, and we even see one of the kids slash a teacher in the hallway.

The adults are fed up with this and an act is passed, essentially an entire class is chosen randomly (they don't explain how) and taken to a remote place, given an assortment of weapons, and are told they have 3 days to kill the others, only one will survive. They wear special tracking bracelets around their necks and will explode if tampered with. Or, if they fail to meet the 3-day deadline all will explode, killing all students who remain alive.

The same teacher who had been cut in the hallway by the student is administering this event, supported by a number of military men with weapons. When explaining the process a couple of students get disrespectful and are killed right there, terrifying the others.

The whole thing is very bloody, and I suppose it works only as a type of dark comedy parody, because I'm sure teachers often fantasize about killing a few of their most disruptive students.

Is this a good movie? No, not in my opinion. Maybe it plays better to Japanese audiences. Is "Hunger Games" a "rip-off" of this movie? No, not by a long shot. I can see that it may have inspired some of the competition in "H.G." but the overall themes are so different that they really have only one thing in common - putting together a group of teenagers and telling them only one is allowed to survive.

But I am glad I took the time to see it, a very strange movie.

What if you found a brass teapot, and what if it became your personal ATM?, 21 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on Netflix streaming.

The premise concerns a young 20-something couple trying hard to use their college education towards a conventional existence in Indiana (filmed in New York). He is a phone salesman trying to get people to buy extended warranties. She is shopping around for a job. But they are barely making ends meet.

The young wife is Juno Temple as Alice and the young husband is Michael Angarano John. One day they are driving in a rural area and get hit by a truck that didn't stop at an intersection. There also was a dilapidated antique shop. They go in and on impulse Alice sees and steals a nicely decorated brass pot.

Thinking it was only an attractive pot, one day while curling her hair she burns herself and yelps, then finds that the brass pot generated some money, several $20 bills. A light went off in her head, she purposely hurts herself again and more money. Then, the greater the hurt the greater the amount of money.

So what we have here is a seemingly unlimited source of money for two young people who are pretty much broke. This spirals into a number of other situations as they try to figure out how to make a million dollars. But some research shows that the brass pot and its magic may be a terror in the long run.

Somewhat different theme from most modern movies, I enjoyed it.

Guidance (2014)
Mostly entertaining caper of a pathologically immature actor., 16 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this on Netflix streaming movies.

It is a product of Pat Mills, a Canadian, who wrote and directed and also stars. It is a parody of his own life, starting out as a child actor on a TV series.

In this fictional takeoff Mills is a mostly unemployed actor who drinks too much and is always on the verge of being evicted from his apartment. He has a difficult time facing issues. Like the skin cancer he has on his shoulder, the doctor says it is serious and needs to be treated. But his approach is to put a band-aid on it to hide it.

With enough smarts to realize he needs a job, he looks in the newspaper classifieds and sees a position for a high school guidance counselor. He is absolutely unequipped for that but decides, "I'm an actor, I can play that part." So he finds a video of a real guidance counselor, studies it, learns the right things to say, and steals his identity for the interview.

There is an immediate opening, the Principal is headed out of town, so they call back and hire him the same day.

Of course the whole thing is implausible, he drinks shots of vodka with students in his office, he smokes pot with them, he tells a promiscuous girl she needs to accept that she is a slut and be the best slut she can be. In essence all the things a guidance counselor should not do.

It doesn't last, especially when he starts to rob tanning salons for quick cash. There is no significant moral here except that there are people like this in life, I knew one very well, who think that constant positive reinforcement of one's self can overcome anything. It can't.

Ride (2014/I)
A mother's journey towards normalcy by letting go and falling free., 13 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We found this movie on Netflix streaming. It is written and directed by Helen Hunt, who also stars. The animosity displayed between the mom and her son is hard to get past at times but overall it ties up with an important life lesson.

Helen Hunt is Jackie, a New York author and publishing company executive. She drives her career hard and has a few quirks. We see some early when she is at a high-rise swimming pool doing laps using the dog paddle, so that she never has to get her hair wet.

She is single and has a son, Brenton Thwaites as Angelo. He is also an aspiring writer, finishing high school, and set to attend an arts and science college in Manhattan. Their backstory of sorts is that she has become very attached to her son, as well as being very demanding of his writing, probably as an overreaction to having her other son die in his youth.

All that sets up the core of the story which is Angelo dropping out of college to travel to California to be near his father. He wants to get away from the New York rat race and figure out what he wants to do, citing many examples of successful authors who didn't finish college. But mostly he wants to move far away from mom.

Mom doesn't get angry, at least not much that we can see, instead she packs a bag and unannounced travels to California. She has had a problem letting go and at one point when Angelo mentions surfing, as one example of something Jackie would never do, she stubbornly tells herself it can't be that hard, she'll just get a board and begin surfing. She learns the hard way there's much more to it.

The title "Ride" is a reference to riding that wave, finally, as a metaphor for her letting go a bit, for herself and also for her son. In the end he decides to move back to New York and resume his college but she decides to stay in California, beginning to give her son the freedom he deserves.

Early in the movie when mom and son discuss how to end a fictional story her saying is it should be "something surprising and inevitable." That is the ending Helen Hunt wrote into this screenplay.

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