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Not Jim Carrey's Best, Not Jim Carrey's Worst, 18 August 2014

I have very mixed reactions to Jim Carrey's work. Sometimes I think he's quite good, other times both his performances and his movie leave something to be desired. On the other hand, I adore Renee Zellweger. She can make even a bad movie worth watching - for me, anyway. So, Zellweger was in this. It was worth watching.

It was a decent movie and sometimes quite funny. Carrey's character Charlie is an officer with the Rhode Island State Police - "the best law enforcement agency in the country" as we're told many times. But after a marriage breakup, Charlie's life begins to fall apart. He's left with his three black sons (his wife had an affair and then dumped both Charlie and the kids) and just tries to get through life. Then he meets Irene (Zellweger) - a fugitive from justice who Charlie has to return to New York State. You see where this is going - and then comes the twist, as Charlie suddenly develops a split personality, as the arrogant Hank makes his appearance. Irene and Charlie (and Hank of course) end up on the run from corrupt cops.

It's a fun movie. It's no comedic masterpiece, and it's a little too long for this type of movie (almost 2 hours), but it's quite watchable. It's also very crude at times. Charlie's three sons have an obviously favourite word (let's say it starts with "mother" and includes two more syllables and it occurs over and over and over.)

Basically, it's neither Carrey's best movie, nor is it his worst. (6/10)

Noah (2014)
0 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
OK ... Well ... That Was Weird, 18 August 2014

I'm aware of some pretty scathing comments coming from the Christian community about this movie. And I'll state outright - I'm a Christian, and a pastor. Even with that background, this movie didn't offend me from a religious perspective. I understand it's a Hollywood production. I also understand the criticisms. You expect that a movie called "Noah" is going to have something to do with Noah. You know. The biblical story. From Genesis. This movie has little to do with the biblical story. It's definitely Hollywood's account of the great flood and what led up to it. But I could accept that. Embellishing the biblical story to make a mainstream movie is fine. But only if it makes a GOOD mainstream movie. This was anything but. It was just a bad movie. A silly movie even. It seemed cartoonish much of the way through. It has some decent cast members. Russell Crowe in the title role, Jennifer Connelly as his wife, and even Anthony Hopkins in the role of Methusaleh. I can only assume that either they were all in desperate need of paycheques or that they didn't bother reading the script. If I were an actor, I sure wouldn't want this on my resume for the rest of my career.

The poor script and inane dialogue aside, let me deal with the issues of cartoonishness and silliness. Who were "The Watchers"? Those strange light beings apparently imprisoned in rock by God because they didn't do such a good job of looking after Adam and Eve? Was that the explanation? They made no sense. They were poorly (and very poorly) animated. They appear very quickly and their very appearance caused my evaluation of the movie to drop almost right away. And they stayed around - for the whole messy thing. There was no escape from them. And my eyes rolled every time I saw them.

You know what? You could actually make a pretty decent movie out of the story of Noah. You know what else? This ain't that pretty good movie that could have been made. For the sheer amount of creativity in coming up with some of the non-biblical embellishments (especially The Watchers) I suppose someone deserves some credit - even if much of this was downright silly. That little bit of credit explains why this gets 2/10 from me.

Not Your Typical End Of The World Movie, 29 July 2014

"Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World" is a break from the usual action packed and special effects filled end of the world stories that we've become accustomed to seeing. There's little action and few special effects to be found here. In fact, this is a sometimes humorous and often slow moving picture. It doesn't pull you in with excitement. What it does is provide interesting characters that you like; that you want to get to know better. And, of course, it presents them with a hopeless situation: the earth is going to be destroyed by a huge asteroid strike in a matter of days. How will society react?

The story basically is told through the eyes of Dodge (Steve Carrell.) I have mixed reactions to Carrell. This was a role I liked him in. Dodge is a kind of sad character. His wife has left him - and he's faced with this hopeless situation. Literally hopeless. So what's he going to do? We see a variety of options portrayed. Some people riot; some people decide to go out in a huge orgy of ... whatever turns them on, I guess. Dodge decides to seek out an old love, and on his way to find her, he finds a new friend - Penny (Keira Knightley.) Younger than Dodge, the two nevertheless bond as they travel together. Will they develop a romance? That would perhaps be a little too obvious if it happened too soon anyway. As their relationship plays out through various things that happen to them, you wonder, and then, in the end, the final moments of their relationship (before the asteroid hits) are portrayed very sweetly and tenderly. I actually found the end of this movie very touching.

And there is humour thrown in, and some satire. Cable News is skewered in this - there are regular opportunities to watch the various networks doing a "Countdown to the End" special, with the little clock winding town in the corner, everything being done with a completely straight face. Some have criticized this as being unrealistic in how it portrays people's reactions to the pending destruction of earth. Apparently some feel that universal and non-stop panic should occur. I actually thought the movie did a good job in showing diverse reactions. I don't think there would be universal panic. I think that there would be a lot of Dodge's and a lot of Penny's - people who have no panic, but would really just like to spend their last few days with others that they love. And I thought Dodge and Penny(or Carrell and Knightley) played that out well.

It's not action-packed. There are no special effects to speak of. But this is a thoughtful movie, I thought. Not fast paced, but a pleasant and leisurely stroll to the end of it all. (8/10)

Her (2013)
An Interesting And Believable Premise, 29 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The thing that makes "Her" work is that it's a movie that's essentially (I say "essentially" because it could easily fit within other genres as well) a science fiction movie - and yet it's also plausible and believable. It seems like something that could happen - maybe even in the not too distant future. That makes it hit home a little more perhaps. It's also a movie that I had to take a couple of days to think about, and the more I thought about it, the more the movie said to me.

In addition to being science fiction, this is a romance. The catch is that a man (Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his computer's Operating System, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It's not entirely clear how far in the future this movie is set, but this Operating System ain't Windows! It has a personality, it can make some decisions on its own, it establishes relationships - it even names itself: "Samantha." Samantha, in fact, is so "human" sounding that slowly but surely, Theodore falls in love with her - or with "it." Samantha has an innocence, which is to be expected from what is essentially a child, learning about its new world. And she makes Theodore (a basically lonely guy) feel special and happy. The evolution of their relationship is interesting to watch - especially as it all falls apart, because, yes - eventually it does.

Samantha found "monogamy" difficult. Eventually it's revealed that in her youthful enthusiasm, she's involved in literally hundreds of relationships - in love with many besides Theodore. For Samantha, it's no problem. As a computer, she can handle multiple relationships all at the same time without missing a beat in any of them. But to Theodore, it feels like she's being unfaithful to him. It reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: TNG, when Data has a romantic tryst with Tasha Yar, but when she asks him what he's thinking about, he rattles off several things his positronic brain had been considering, none of which had anything to do with her! Theodore didn't like the fact that Samantha wasn't totally committed to him. In the end, there's even a sort of quasi-racism (I thought at least) involved with this, as Samantha runs off (where they would run to I have no idea) with many other Operating Systems to live apart from humans. Sort of like, the two races shouldn't be mixing. I found those two things interesting reflections on some of what happens in the modern world.

Many people were quite taken with Scarlett Johansson's work in voicing Samantha. I have to confess that I greeted it with a yawn. It was a voice over basically. I honestly don't like it when big name actors take parts (like this one or in animated films) that could go to lesser known actors who could probably use the money, quite frankly! To me, it didn't matter that the voice was Scarlett Johannson. In fact, it kind of put me off. Not because she did a bad job. Just because ... But that's just me.

Still, overall this was an emotional and I thought thoughtful and thought provoking movie. (7/10)

Repentance (2013/I)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
This Just Didn't Work At All, 30 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Generally speaking, I like Forest Whitaker. In fact, he's the reason I was willing to rent this movie in spite of its rather mixed (at best) reviews. And he didn't disappoint me. His performance as Angel Sanchez was actually good. Sanchez was a man dealing with the tragic death of his mother, who decides that he's going to take revenge on those responsible. Whitaker handled the vengeful psycho character pretty well - one moment the quiet, gentle and doting father; the next moment busy torturing the guy he blames for his mother's death in his basement. But it seemed natural. He was believable in both personas, and the transition from one to another was fine. Whitaker was the obvious highlight of the movie.

Then, into the mix comes Anthony Mackie as Thomas Carter, and here's where things begin to fall apart. Not so much because of Mackie. He was all right. But the character, and the direction the story takes. Mackie's some sort of New Age counsellor type, and once that's introduced the movie disintegrates into a cacophony of meaningless and sometimes incoherent New Age mumbo jumbo. Then - because Angel and Tommy have to be brought together in some way - there's the very fortunate release of Tommy's brother Ben (Mike Epps) from prison. Ben needs money, he wants it from Tommy, Tommy apparently owes him big time so to get money he takes on - voila! - Angel as a patient. Yes. A happy coincidence. Angel's "plan" wouldn't have had a chance had that not happened. And then mixed into this there's a lot of unnecessary supernatural stuff revolving around the ongoing presence of Angel's mom. What was the point of that? Why couldn't Angel just have been out for revenge? Why did he need to keep seeing his mom? And then it wasn't just a figment of his imagination - because his daughter had some sort of contact with her as well. Totally unnecessary; totally pointless. Thrown in because ... well ... I don't really know why it was thrown in. Just because apparently. And the ending was ... not satisfying. To say the least.

Yeah. I like Forest Whitaker. But this is one Forest Whitaker movie I wish I hadn't seen. (3/10)

Marooned (1969)
I'm Sure It Was Good At The Time, 27 June 2014

This was released in 1969. So, it was the era when voyages to the moon were just beginning, and it was long before the time of the International Space Station. So it was an era when there was interest in space flight and its future. "Marooned" surely did a good job of capturing public interest in its subject matter. And it captured a sense of the future, with its multi-month mission being a bit like ISS missions. So, in 1969, this probably was seen as a pretty dramatic film. Alas, it's now 2014. I wouldn't so much say that it feels dated. Rather, it feels unnecessary.

The drama of the movie is the likelihood of the crew being lost when a malfunction makes it impossible for them to get home. The astronauts are played by James Franciscus, Gene Hackman and Richard Crenna. Their performances were fine - especially Hackman's, as his Buzz Lloyd starts to come unglued. Still, in some ways everything seemed a bit too professional, as for the most part everyone does their duty and makes the decisions that need to be made. That might be a very realistic portrayal of how the situation would be handled, but it didn't make for spellbinding viewing.

Watching this in 2014 though, my biggest feeling was that I didn't need to watch it. I mean, if you want a movie about stranded astronauts, watch "Apollo 13" - which, in addition to being a superb movie has the advantage of being based on a true story. "Marooned" isn't bad. In 1969 it was probably very good. It just isn't necessary viewing when compared to what's available today. (6/10)

Night Wolf (2010)
I Actually Thought This Was Pretty Decent, 21 June 2014

I have to say that I was surprised to see that "Night Wolf" only had a 4.5 rating at the time of writing. I agree that it's no masterpiece - even in the horror genre - but keep everything in perspective. It's a low budget horror movie with a mostly little known cast, and it's a pretty tense little thriller for the most part. It starts with Sarah (played by Gemma Atkinson, who I thought did a good job) returning home to the family estate in England from the United States to visit a rather dysfunctional group of family and friends. Pretty soon, this group finds themselves being hunted down one by one by some terrifying, unknown creature.

I thought the movie did a good job of sustaining suspense, and it was rather frightening at times. I didn't think the gore involved was gratuitous and - unusual for this kind of movie - there was no nudity that I remember. The scenes inside the estate as the group desperately tries to avoid the creature were very well done, and had a claustrophobic feel to them.

Not really showing the creature was a good decision that added to the mystery of what was happening. The final revelation of who the creature was didn't come as a surprise. All in all, this was, in my opinion, pretty well done. (7/10)

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
One Of The Most Powerful Endings I've Ever Seen, 21 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For most of its runtime, my general feeling was that The Book Thief was a good movie - a definitely interesting movie that looked at World War II and Nazi Germany from a different perspective. In this case, we see everything that happens mostly through the eyes and experiences of Liesl. As the movie opens, Liesl is on her way to live with adoptive parents. Her mother has been taken away as a communist, and her brother dies along the way, leaving Liesl to face an uncertain future on her own. As she cautiously bonds with her new parents (played by Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush) we see first the outbreak of anti-semitism with a brief look at the events of Krystallnacht, and then the outbreak of the war. Interspersed are some looks at everyday life in the Third Reich, including the decision of Liesl's parents to offer shelter to a Jew, and you get some idea of how the children especially were brainwashed by Nazi propaganda. Mind you, aside from a lot of looks at swastika flags, I thought Nazism was surprisingly underplayed in this; the Nazis and the state apparatus being present but generally more in the background than front and centre. All very interesting, and certainly worth watching, but no more than that. And then came ... the ending.

Well, the last few scenes really. It began with the bombing of the street Liesl lived on. Everyone she cared about, and everyone who cared for her was killed. She survived only because she had fallen asleep in her basement. It was literally heartwrenching. Then an equally heartwrenching reunion, as Max - the Jew her adoptive parents had sheltered - returns to her after the war. And then, the story of Liesl's long and finally happy life - all narrated by death itself. To that point, I wasn't taken with the decision to use death as the narrator (in keeping with the novel on which this is based.) But death is actually a very effective narrator at the end, making a lot of wise and philosophical observations about the human condition. The ending of this movie is truly superb.

Also superb was Sophie Nelisse, who played Liesl. She did a magnificent job of portraying Liesl gradually growing up and maturing. Those who did her makeup and costumes were equally superb. The changes in her appearance as the years went by were noticeable but subtle. Very realistic, in other words.

I give this an 8/10. The last 15 minutes or so is a perfect 10, though.

Rambo III (1988)
It's A Decent Movie But It Brought No Closure To The Series, 3 June 2014

I'd say right off the top that I enjoyed this third instrument in the Rambo series more than I did the second. I thought the action was better, and I thought the story was a little bit deeper. It's certainly not without its weaknesses, mind you - one of which has its origins early in the movie. Col. Trautman (again played by Richard Crenna) tries to recruit Rambo (of course, played by Sylvester Stallone) by telling him that he had to come full circle. For me, that set up an expectation of some sort of "full circle" ending, but I didn't see one. Full circle, in the context of the movies might have been Rambo back as a drifter in the US, or as a soldier, or as a (presumably) happy civilian just like before he got caught up in any of this. But the ending let me down a little bit to be honest. I saw no real closure in this; certainly no "full circle" experience for Rambo.

This movie is set in Afghanistan, during the Soviet war in that country. Trautman wants Rambo to go in with him, but Rambo doesn't want to. He's actually established a comfortable life in Thailand, living in a monastery, apparently happy and peaceful (apart from occasional stick fighting that he engages in to make money for the monastery.) But when Trautman goes in on his own and gets captured, Rambo, of course, goes after him.

Once Rambo's in Afghanistan, this becomes a pretty standard (and well done and exciting) action movie. Looked at in 2014, though, it's also a little tired. Another 80's Cold War movie with the Americans out to get the evil empire. And the Soviets were definitely evil in this one - and, yes, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was brutal. It's just that the format became a bit tired after a while in my opinion. They do use the Cold War theme to good photographic value, though. There's a scene in which we're shown a picture of the stark and very grey Afghan landscape around the Soviet military base, with the only colour on the screen being the bright red Soviet flag standing out so dramatically as it waved in the breeze. That scene stayed with me for the entire movie for some reason. It was just so well shot.

There's a bit of an interesting look at Afghan culture - and especially the Afghan national sport that revolves around a group of men, one of whom has to pick up a sheep carcass and drop it in a circle while everyone else is trying to stop him. Tough people, these Afghans! But the biggest problem with this movie was the "full circle" comment - and, indeed, this should have come full circle in a way, at least to bring closure to the series. It didn't really manage to do that. (6/10)

Where Maya Angelou Came From, 1 June 2014

Maya Angelou died just a few days ago, and I happened to stumble across this movie version of her autobiography (at least of her early years) on the internet. I know of Angelou essentially as a poet (and, I must confess, I'm not all that familiar with her work) and so I was interested to get a look at her formative years. This movie certainly offers a picture of what her early life was like. Angelou's upbringing wasn't easy. Along with her brother, she was farmed out to her grandparents in Arkansas for several years, before being taken by her father, supposedly to live with him in California, except that she was left with her mother in St. Louis.

The portrayal of the years in Arkansas present a picture of the racism of the era, including encounters (not graphically depicted) with the Ku Klux Klan along with some reflections on the state of black education in the area. There's also a completely non-graphic but still unsettling portrayal of her being raped by her mother's boyfriend at a young age in St. Louis, and then being unable to speak for several years because of the guilt she felt afterward when her uncles beat the rapist to death. But for all the troubles depicted, this is an inspiring movie about an inspiring person. Angelou had a lot to overcome to achieve what she did. One thing I would have preferred would have been if the movie had continued on a little later in Angelou's life. I understand that the book actually followed her life into her teens. This doesn't. Which is unfortunate, because Angelou's life, from what I read, was a fascinating one well into her adult years.

Maya was played by a young actress named Constance Good, for whom this seems to have been her only film credit. I thought she was all right in the role, but certainly not overpowering in any way. There are a number of fairly well known black actors and entertainers playing roles in this - people such as Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, Madge Sinclair and Esther Rolle all appear. Well known, perhaps, but at times - to me at least - the performances were a bit lacking, Rolle's (as Maya's grandmother) probably being the best. It's a made for TV movie, so it lacks the big budget of a splashy Hollywood production, and that shows, but it's still a pretty good film.

The version of the movie I saw was rather grainy and shaky, which detracted a little bit from my ability to enjoy it. Still, it's a good look at Maya Angelou's young life, and at the conditions out of which she had to climb to reach the heights she eventually did. (6/10)

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