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TxMike

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Sweetwater (2013)
Started out well but in the end was just a shoot-fest., 11 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming movies. It has a fine cast, all of them are good. Ed Harris can play a role like no other, it is what we have come to expect from him. But Jason Isaacs as the half- crazed Bishop and Prophet Josiah gives an award-caliber performance.

It is set in the 1800s and filmed in beautiful New Mexico. A former prostitute and her Mexican husband are settling in to start a new life, but their neighbors are a self-proclaimed "prophet" with a band of loyal thugs and a group of submissive women. Conflict first arises when some of his sheep are grazing on unfenced land and destroying some crops. This "holy man" has his own form of justice and it is brutal.

The old, grizzled sheriff comes into the region to look for two men who disappeared while on a trek across New Mexico. He suspects the prophet and digs around to establish his evidence.

Ed Harris is Sheriff Jackson, January Jones is the former prostitute Sarah Ramírez and Eduardo Noriega is her husband Miguel. Brit Jason Isaacs with an authentic American old west accent is Prophet Josiah.

I also want to mention one of my favorite and very versatile actors, Stephen Root as the dishonest banker Hugh. Root has appeared in quite a variety of roles, always developing an excellent character. I first noticed him in "Office Space" where he played the dim-witted paper shuffler who had been fired but still came to work.

Anyway the story is set up with really good possibilities but it seems that the script writer didn't have a good way to pull it all together and the last few scenes just represent a killing spree. It took the luster off an otherwise nice story.

SPOILERS: The Prophet had indeed killed the two men the sheriff sought, for having trapped and cooked one of his sheep. Later he killed Sarah's husband because he had raised the issue of the sheep grazing on his land. When Sarah found her husband's body, and got the Prophet's men to tell her what all happened, she shot and killed them, the dishonest banker, and tracked down the Prophet. The last showdown is in the sheep pen, and the Prophet and the Sheriff end up shooting each other. Sarah gets wounded but she puts another bullet through the head of the Prophet for good measure. With no witnesses left, I suppose she would go free.

A delightful movie of a tough time in Nazi Germany amidst war., 8 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this movie on DVD at my public library. I purposely went into it not knowing much about it, I normally just like to see what unfolds. It is set mainly in 1938 to 1945 Nazi Germany as war breaks out and Nazis are looking to purge out the Communists and the Jews.

The movie is narrated by Roger Allam as "death", the Grim Reaper, and the movie starts with his voice-over. There is a family on a train, a mother and her two children, a daughter and a younger son. The son gets sick, bleeds from his nose, and dies. They are forced to bury him near the train line during their journey.

We find out where they are going, to Stuttgart, a childless family are set to adopt the children, because the mother is unable to keep them, presumably because she is considered a communist and must flee. But the new parents get only one, the girl, and thus only half of the "allowance" the government would give them. Times were tough, they needed the resources.

The title reference belongs to the little girl, wonderful young (about 11) Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger. It is her story, she yearns for knowledge and is particularly attracted to books. She is in virtually (maybe actually) in every scene, the success of this movie depends on her and she carries it well. She is not so much a "thief" as she is a "borrower". However right after a large book-burning in the street she picks up an unburned book and takes it home. When asked if it was hers she says "It wasn't always mine."

The movie probably also would have fallen flat if her adopted parents had not been great, and they are, played by Geoffrey Rush as the happy and generous Hans Hubermann, and Emily Watson as the gruff and frowning Rosa Hubermann. Also good was the blonde kid she became friends with, Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner.

Very nice cinematography and sound engineering. In the approximate 1:45 into the movie, the bombing scenes were filled with explosions that rattled the pictures on the wall of my home theater room.

I have seen a number of movies set during Nazi Germany during that era and this is one of the best. It is the little girl's story and how she survived the war and prospered.

Gravity (2013)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Three astronauts on a repair mission get into an unplanned jam., 5 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie, "Gravity", has received much hype starting quite a long time before its release. As with most highly hyped movies, when viewer expectations are heightened, the actual viewing doesn't quite match the high expectations. We saw it on DVD, a Redbox rental. However it is a very good and entertaining movie with a good share of drama. Will they or will they not survive the surprise rain of new space debris?

Sandra Bullock is a PhD scientist Ryan Stone, sent on a repair mission for the Hubble telescope. This is realistic, as that equipment has had similar repair missions. While she has trained for months for the mission, she is not a pilot and will encounter particular difficulties in this unplanned event.

Her main partner is very experienced astronaut and pilot, George Clooney as Matt Kowalski, a carefree type of guy who always seems to have a "story" for mission control.

All hell breaks loose during their EVA (extra-vehicular activity) when a Russian planned destruction of obsolete orbiting equipment starts a type of chain reaction and a great debris field orbiting at normal orbit speed, in a trajectory that crosses that of the US astronauts every 90 minutes. Their hope of competing the mission, or even preserving the space station, are gone and the movie is simply about their trying to survive and get back to Earth, back to gravity!

Pretty fascinating effects to simulate weightlessness and working in space, the movie is well-made and entertaining.

SPOILERS: Kowalski hooks up Stone to himself via a tether and he uses the power of his jet pack to maneuver them towards another space station. However running out of fuel and oxygen, Kowalski unhooks himself and leaves Stone to try to survive as he drifts away, doomed. In a complicated series of events she manages to get into an escape pod and makes it safely to Earth, almost drowning as she lands in a lake, but the movie ends as she pulls herself up and turns to walk away.

Somewhat uneven supernatural thriller set in South Louisiana swamp land., 5 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I recently was watching "Bad News Bears" with Vic Morrow, and realized how much his daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh, is now resembling him as she approaches the age he was when he died. So I looked up one of her older movies, just for fun viewing, and found this one on Netflix streaming movies.

It is set and filmed in an area I know well, the areas near swamps in South Louisiana, including a couple of old plantation homes. One of the actors, Ben Mouton, is even from Lafayette and attended USL, the same college I attended a few years earlier.

The two Bonnard sisters live in an operate a B&B in the old plantation home. There has always been rumors that ghosts live in the swamps and people have disappeared with no trace.

The older sister, probably early 30s, is Judith Ivey as the overprotective Charlotte Bonnard. Jennifer Jason Leigh is her sister, perhaps 10 years younger, Lucy Bonnard. Lucy has apparently had some emotional issues growing up and is still on medication. Charlotte treats her more as a child than a sister.

One day a stranger, Eric Stoltz as Washington businessman Matt Rutledge, shows up for his reservation to stay there a few days. It isn't clear what he is doing there, and seems more than a bit suspicious, especially when he begins to make moves towards Lucy.

This doesn't sit well, especially in the eyes of family friend and handyman, Benjamin Mouton as Etienne LeViolette. (As an aside, being from Lafayette, he is the only character that sounds like he is actually from Louisiana, all the other accents are generic "southern" accents that seem out of place.)

A few strange things happen, the pet family dog turns up dead, before the mystery is sorted out.

This is an uneven movie at best, even though the core story has a lot of possibilities. The script, the acting and the direction are mostly bland, often ringing untrue, but Stoltz and Leigh do fine in their roles. I enjoyed it mainly for the novelty of a movie set in my home area, Southern Louisiana.

SPOILERS: When Charlotte was in high school her date was too aggressive and tried to force himself onto her. When little sister Lucy witnessed what was going on she found a rock and hit the guy on the head, who then tried to rape Lucy. But Charlotte picked up a knife, stabbing him to death. Afraid the two girls dragged the body to the edge of the swamp and dumped him in, never to be found. A boy witnessed it, in the nighttime shadows they thought it was their friend Etienne, but it in fact was the guy's brother, now returning for revenge as Matt Rutledge.

Mr. Nobody (2009)
'Sometimes they call me CRAFT ... can't remember a f#@king thing.', 4 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I missed this one when it came out in 2009, in fact I don't even remember hearing anything about it. I recently found it as a new addition in the Netflix streaming movies library. Superb picture and sound, even streaming over the internet.

This multi-national film production (yes, shot on film) begins somewhat oddly, showing a pigeon in a cage, with a block of wood on one side and some food suspended out of reach in the corner. It seems as if the pigeon is thinking, and figures out if he pecks at the block to move it near the corner he can reach the food. And he does. The "pigeon superstition experiment." And this is associated with the theme of the movie, we make decisions to do certain things and that has wide-reaching effect on a number of other things.

The movie cuts backwards and forwards many times as Nemo Nobody, the last mortal human in a New York hospital is being watched, reality show style as he turns 117 on February 9th, 2092, and is being interviewed. The many cuts are made when Nemo was either a small boy, a teenager, or a young adult in different situations. Even in different family situations with different wives and different children.

How can all these be possible? How can each be real? Or is anything real? It is difficult to say exactly what the story is here, but for me I found watching it mesmerizing. The images, the whimsy, the fantastical story-telling. Maybe the way film and movies were received when they first began over 100 years earlier.

I can't say enough about Jared Leto, who not only plays the recognizable Nemo as a young adult, but also the 117 yr-old Nemo in the hospital. With appropriate makeup and a change in his vocal quality he really comes across as the very old man.

Key actresses in his adult life are Sarah Polley as Elise, Diane Kruger as Anna, and Linh Dan Pham as Jean, all wives of his in one version or the other.

Other key characters are Rhys Ifans as Father Nemo (actually father Nobody) and Natasha Little as Mother Nemo (mother Nobody).

I give this film really high marks, I am certain I will watch it again. But I also recognize some will not enjoy this sort of non-linear story- telling.

SPOILERS: At one point when Nemo was a boy of about 9 his parents decided to split up. At the train station he is standing with his father, watching the train pull away with his mother at the train door. He doesn't know what to do, should he go with mom or stay with dad. As long as he fails to decide, then every future possibility is as good as any other, and this is what is depicted during the 2+ hour movie. It touches on such things as the butterfly effect, the Big Bang, time, and entropy.

Not a 'pretty' movie, gets down and gritty in the Rust Belt., 4 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The "rust belt" - the informal description for a postindustrial steel region referring to economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the shrinking of its once powerful industrial sector. Previously it was known as the industrial heartland of America and includes parts of states such as New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey. Those are some of the areas depicted in this movie.

While it isn't a pretty movie with a pleasing story, it is filled with fine performances and depicts a difficult way of life that is close to a reality for many in the rust belt.

Woody Harrelson is a fine versatile actor, seeming best when his character is mean and dastardly. That is what he is here, as backwoods gambler and drug lord Harlan DeGroat. In an early scene when someone asks "Do you have a problem with me?", his reply is quick and concise, "I have a problem with everybody." Indeed we find out that he does.

The other person in that scene is Christian Bale as Russell Baze. He is the older of two sons of a sickly steelworker, basically bent on doing the right things and working hard, even if it is a menial existence. But he rather innocently gets into trouble when, driving home after an associate offered him a drink, he rams another vehicle entering the highway and he ends up in prison for what appears to be a few months, maybe a year.

Casey Affleck is his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr., not at all like their father, and after a stint in the Army and fighting in Iraq is determined to NOT follow in the footsteps of his dad and his brother. This gets him into some shady activities, and worst of all gets him involved with DeGroat.

All the other characters end up being pawns to the bigger story and it involves the inevitable encounter and showdown between DeGroat and Russell Baze. It gets quite intense.

It is a good movie about a difficult way of life, not everyone will enjoy watching it. But after I started I couldn't stop until the end.

SPOILERS: DeGroat has no mercy and gives no ground, when he is not repaid some debts he and his men simply kill the two men, one being Rodney. Eventually a hunter's dog digs up the body in a shallow grave near DeGroat's hangouts and Russell sets his sights on getting even. DeGroat does not know that Russell is the brother of the man he killed, and when Russell hunts him down gets the upper hand with his high powered hunting rifle. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, Russell has killed DeGroat in a field near the closed-down steel mill with the local sheriff as a witness, but the last scene has Russell sitting by himself at a table. Perhaps he got off without charges because everyone knew justice had been served, if unconventionally.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Anjelah Johnson just a bit off her game., 1 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"That's How We Do It", which happened to have been taped during a live performance in Houston, is a real gem of comedy. We saw that one last year and were hopeful this one, "The Homecoming Show" would be equally funny.

It is not.

It is called the Homecoming show because it was live in her home city in California. The audience was very active and were certainly having a lot of fun. But for those of us not familiar with the many "inside references" much of it falls flat.

I still am a big Anjelah Johnson fan. I still like her humor, and I hope future installments will come up to what most of us expect of her. It seems that she is trying too hard to be quirky instead of natural, and it works only part of the time.

Lovelace (2013)
The Linda Lovelace story, from her point of view., 1 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was a young professional back in the early 1970s and I remember some of the controversy about Linda Lovelace and her porn movie "Deep Throat". Even news people like Walter Cronkite and entertainers like Johnny Carson were talking about it. However I never saw the movie, only imagined what it must have contained.

This movie, "Lovelace", is about all that and more, based on Linda's book "Ordeal." It is told in a sort of flashback manner, as she is taking a polygraph test before publishers agreed to accept her story. So we are to feel that it is mostly true, although only from her perspective. It is interesting that the movie's end credits have the usual disclaimer "all people and events are fictional."

Amanda Seyfried is really good as Linda Boreman, although tiny at 5' 2" she is quite smaller than the 5' 8" Linda was. It was well-publicized that Lindsay Lohan was first slated to play Linda, but I don't believe she could have brought the realism that Seyfried does.

Linda was a "good girl" from New York who got pregnant and had a baby that her mother tricked her into putting up for immediate adoption. After that episode they moved to Florida where this story starts, in 1970 when Linda was 21. She is a go-go dancer at a local skate rink when she meets Peter Sarsgaard as her future husband Chuck. But Chuck Traynor was a possessive, controlling man who only saw Linda as a source of income. It was he that talked her into the porn industry, to take the name Lovelace, and this movie even portrays him as selling her to sex with about a half-dozen men in a hotel room as he waits outside.

By her own estimate Linda said she only spent 17 hours in the porn industry, and she didn't think that should define her life. She wrote the book, released in 1980, and went on some talk shows to talk about her cause. Her life came to a sad and early end when she was injured in a car accident in Colorado in 2002, when she was 53.

This is a good movie about a distasteful subject. All the acting is good, and I was particularly surprised at Sharon Stone who played Linda's mother Dorothy Boreman. She was all but unrecognizable, watching it I knew I had seen that face but could not place it. Only during the end credits did I find out it was her. Then re-watching her scenes the Sharon Stone voice is very recognizable.

Saw it on Netflix streaming movies.

Daisy and Eddie were lovers, then war broke out., 31 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this one on Netflix streaming movies. I like Saoirse Ronan, she is a fine young actress, and she doesn't disappoint here.

Saoirse Ronan is Daisy, an American teenager traveling to England to spend the summer with her aunt and her cousins. We never meet her dad, but we find out that her mother died during childbirth.

She has a bad attitude, she seems to resent being sent there, she has little regard for her cousins, and her mother is involved in some sort of public awareness position, possibly with the government. It seems they are cautious that war might break out and are estimating casualties. She has to take a trip to Geneva and leave the three teenagers and a young girl behind.

When she is gone the kids are out on a picnic when a strong wind comes up, then they hear a distant blast, and soon snow starts to fall. They find out on the news, before power is lost, that an atomic bomb has gone off in London, and soon troops are ordering evacuations.

Daisy's cousin is played by George MacKay as Eddie, probably a year older. He has been pressed into the position of head of the family since the mom will probably not return. But he and Daisy also find an unavoidable attraction. They become young lovers, then just as suddenly troops come and separate them.

The movie is mostly bleak and sometimes hard to watch, as it portrays England in a type of emergency probably similar to what it was during the WW 2 in the 1940s. But Daisy is determined to survive and get back to home, and hope that Eddie survives also and makes it back too.

The title "How I live Now" is a reference to Daisy's transformation, before all the hardships she was shallow, using her willpower for trivial things like avoiding eating chocolate. But now she began to use it for more meaningful things, and trying to build on her newfound maturity.

The trouble teens can get into., 30 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had heard about this movie but had never seen it until this week when I found it on Netflix streaming movies. I didn't think that much of Claire Danes back in the 1999 time frame, but she was so good as Temple Grandin in the movie of the same name, I approached this one with a fresh perspective. She really is a good actress and already was when this was filmed in 1998, when she was still a teenager.

The story immediately reminded me of an actual jury trial I was involved with in the 1990s, as jury foreman. In a very similar real-life case two teenage girls were caught at the airport with suitcases containing drugs, and they claimed a mysterious man had bought their tickets and asked them to each carry a suitcase onto the plane for him. The man never was found.

Claire Danes is Alice and her best friend is Kate Beckinsale (actually 25) Darlene. They had known each other since they were babies crawling towards each other in adjacent yards, and now they have just finished high school together. They are supposed to be going to Hawaii for a week, but on a whim Alice convinces Kate to go to Thailand instead. Their parents don't know.

This is a familiar theme in movies, the more recent "Taken" with Liam Neeson also plays on the theme of young daughters not telling the truth about their plans for travel abroad.

Naive, the girls meet an Australian man who invites them to Hong Kong for a couple of days, they go, and on the way back to Thailand are caught at the airport with a few kilos of drugs in the carry-on bags. They are put in jail, they get sentenced to 33 years. It looks bleak.

One of them gets a tape recording of her story to Bill Pullman as American lawyer Hank Greene, married to a Thai woman, also a lawyer. Pullman plays almost the same character as Daryl Zero in "The Zero Effect", a 1998 movie. But here his motivation is simply the fee, and he gets the girls to have their parents send him $15,000. Not all goes well, when he thinks he has a deal to free the girls, it backfires and they appear doomed.

It is a heartbreaking story, but very realistic as this sort of think can happen, and probably does more often than we realize. It took me 15 years but I am glad I finally saw it.

SPOILERS: When Hank Greene finally unraveled the whole story, it is one of corruption. The Australian was a known drug smuggler, and on that particular flight had 8 young women carrying drugs for him. As his "fee" he reported Alice and Darlene, so the cops could find their drugs and arrest them, as a diversion of sorts to assure the other 6 went through. The cops knew about this, and being able to arrest the two girls was their compensation for looking the other way. In the end Greene was not able to get the girls off, but Alice did the right thing in her own eyes, she pleaded to the judge that it was all her idea, Darlene was completely innocent, she should go home and Alice would serve a term for both of them. And that is how the movie ends, with Darlene being freed and Alice as a convict perhaps for the rest of her life.


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