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Has retained most of its charm over the almost 50 years., 19 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was released in 1966 when I was a junior in college. I was 20 and I remember it, though vaguely. I remembered the basic premise but watching it today, on 'Movies' channel, filled in all the gaps from almost 50 years.

This was a cutting edge premise back then, to miniaturize a small submarine with a doctor and scientists inside, to be injected into the body of an injured diplomat to find the blood clot in his brain and save him.

Now, in the 21st century we are on the verge of doing just that, but in a different way. Very small surgical instruments can be injected into the body, the eye for example, and controlled with magnets and exacting instruments perform medical procedures from inside.

So in this movie which is sort of an odyssey inside a human body, the group encounter a number of obstacles, each time needing to invent a solution. But the fun is in seeing the various depictions of systems inside thew body.

I will mention only one of the cast, Raquel Welch who was about 25 during filming, as Cora. Now it isn't totally clear to me why her character was essential, but she provided much-needed "scenery." Of course Welch went on to a good film career as a sex symbol, but at 25 she was about as gorgeous as she would ever be.

Very captivating story of how Walt Disney eventually convinced P.L. Travers to let him make Mary Poppins., 19 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me get this out of the way up-front, this movie is not necessarily an accurate account, even though it is based on real people and real events. It is about the difficulty Walt Disney had convincing author P.L. Travers to sell his studio the film rights to her book, to make "Mary Poppins." But from what I can tell by reading various articles some of the details are different from what actually happened. For example, much of the conceit of the movie is based on P.L. Travers not yet having signed over the rights to make the movie, and her going to Los Angeles to work with the writers was also to get her to sign. In reality she had already done so.

P.L. Travers was the pen name of the author, who was born as Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia in 1899. The movie starts in 1906 when she was 7, and during the 2-hours running time of the movie it flashes back often to her childhood. Her father's name was Travers Goff, an unsuccessful banker and an alcoholic who died young, and memories of her father had a lasting effect on his daughter. Her pen name was likely in memory of her father.

Emma Thompson is P.L. Travers and she plays her as a very severe and tactless person. She may have been a bit more fun-loving in real life, but in this movie she is very aggressive in having her own ideas incorporated into the movie script. In fact she insisted that discussions be tape recorded and we get to hear her actual voice during the end credits. She seemed to be pretty close to Thompson's portrayal.

Tom Hanks is good as genial Walt Disney, shown in this movie as being quite involved with the process of fleshing out the movie, but independent reports say he essentially turned it over to his own writers to work with Travers and had very little to do with it until the premiere.

The young Helen is a key character, showing her relationship with her father and her early poetry writing, and she is played very well by young Annie Rose Buckley as "Ginty", her father's pet name for her. Her dad is played by Colin Farrell as Travers Goff. Her mother is played by Ruth Wilson as Margaret Goff.

A fine actor, Paul Giamatti has a relatively small role as the limo driver, Ralph, but it adds a nice touch to the story.

In all my wife and I enjoyed the movie, it never seemed long and in fact the story is so interesting I found myself wishing it had gone on a bit longer. It may be a somewhat fictional re-telling of the story, but it is very well made and interesting.

Not just your usual rom-com, very funny and entertaining., 18 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came across this movie on Netflix streaming movies. Most of it is in English but there are subtitles for scant dialog in German, French, or Italian.

This really is an international story. The two main characters are Italian and German, he a tour bus guide in Paris and she a German flight attendant. The other two main characters are French and British. Thrown all together, it works!

Vincenzo Amato is the Italian tour, Paolo, guide in Paris. As he takes tourists around he is fond of mentioning that real Italian architectural features are best seen in Italy.

He has been living for some time with Nora Tschirner as the German flight attendant Greta. He has finally decided to buy a ring and propose to her, and she accepts. She is the love of his life and he says he can't live without her.

Then one day as his bus is stopped at a traffic intersection a pretty French woman on a bicycle pulls up next to his driver's window. He sees her, she glances at him and smiles, then traffic movies. This happens again on another day and soon he feels that he MUST meet her. His British friend encourages him.

So the movie is about the complication this "girl on a bicycle" brings to Paolo's life, will this wreck his plans to marry Greta? Quite different from the usual USA rom-com, I really had fun with this movie.

(As an aside, Nora Tschirner reminds me so much of Jenna Fischer of 'The Office' and several movies, they resemble each other and their acting styles are very similar.)

SPOILERS: When Paolo inadvertently hits the girl with his bus, she ends up in the hospital. To check on her he has to tell the staff he is her husband. Then her two kids show up and call him dad. He takes the girl back to her apartment and, she being in a cast with no one else around, decides to take care of her, feed the kids, make sure they get to school. All this he does without telling Greta, getting up very early, he says to go jogging, and finally getting home after Greta is in bed. Eventually all comes out, and on the plane, Paolo threatens to stay in the toilet, preventing the plane from landing, until Greta agrees to forgive him.

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.

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