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Still Alice (2014)
More frightening than fiction
If I could give this movie an 11 I would in a flash. When someone 'old' gets Alzheimer Disease (or any disease really) there are sighs and utterances of 'at least they had a long life.' When someone young becomes unwell we weep and cry out for what they do not have and may never have. However, the relatively 'young', relative to the illness, often get forgotten. The few are too few to shout from the mountaintops about the injustice of it. In Alzheimer's anyone under the age of say 65 is young and the hereditary EFAD (Early onset Familial Alzheimer Disease) is rare. It takes courage to bet on a movie about real things that few take notice of or just don't know it exists. In this case, however, I think the star power will get people in but the story will hauntingly hold them forever. If you haven't seen it... see it. If you've seen it... keep that memory.
Interstellar fell short of a 10 because the voices in some parts were too low, I simply could not hear what they were saying. In fact, we missed at least half of Professor Brand's (Caine) dying confession. Fortunately Murph (a brilliant Chastain) filled in most of those blanks. My other issue was with the scenes around the black hole and Cooper (McConaughey) awakening at the hospital. Those scenes were unnecessarily complicated and it was compounded by more muffled dialogue. Most of the movie addressed the science - factual and fictional - in a more understandable way and spread the harder concepts out. I loved everything else. All the actors stepped up. Standing with Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine were Matthew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway, John Lithgow, Matt Damon and Mackenzie Foy as young Murph. Matthew McConaughey is no longer just a hot guy doing his thing, he is a dad struggling to give his children a life and a future. He doesn't always make the right decisions but he's doing the best he can. Fortunately he has his weathered father-in-law (Lithgow) to raise his children while he goes off to save the world. Foy masterfully captures the emotions of the young daughter who so completely loves her dad and feels utterly betrayed by his decision to leave. Early on Brand (Hathaway) breaks down and I resented the 'hysterically emotional woman' implications of that. When I stepped back, though, I realized that unlike Cooper her whole life has been about the success of this one mission. She abruptly learns that a lifetime of planning and a lifetime of personal sacrifices does not guarantee success. Dr Mann (Damon) faces similar realities but allows it to blacken his heart. Damon perfectly plays the obsessed man. Interstellar is a thrill ride that I hope to go on again and again.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Humor's the big winner
Thor: The Dark World has great characters, special effects and decent plot lines but humor was the big winner and at the lead was Kat Dennings. There was drama, action and romance and life and death struggles but these were effectively offset by one-liners and situational comedy without being awkward or detracting. These combined elements made it an all round fun movie to see (in 3d, if you can). There was this wonderful battle between light and dark both in the sets and the characters. Marvel fans must see it but there is enough other enticements to drag along a non-Marvel friend or two. Female presence is strong with Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings and of course Natalie Portman. I know it hasn't come out in the US and I don't want to spoil the fun. Heimdall is a wonderfully complex character even though he has only a fraction of the screen time. As in the first Thor, he is caught between his duty and the greater good. Idris Elba's portrayal of him is one of mystery and sage-like wisdom. Thor's world is rocked but how far? The ending leaves you wondering and hungry for a third.
Burn Notice (2007)
A few years back Coke came up with a new and improved formula i.e. New Coke. It failed because consumers drank the 'original' Coke because that is what we fell in love with. For me, Burn Notice went from a 12/10 show to a sometimes 7ish show. I know there had to be some changes as Micheal had to face his past and how that affected his personal and professional life. Could he have it all? If he had to choose, what would he choose? But here is the thing, my family and I and some friends fell in love with the original formula of Burn Notice. I hate that they turned him into some raving revenge filled cyborg who kept dragging his loved ones further and further into almost total annihilation. It's like the ideas were running out so they replaced smart TV with easier action over brains TV. TV is satiated with sex and violence TV, Burn Notice was a fresh breeze blowing from TV land. Yes, there was sex appeal. Yes, there were things blowing up but there were also heart and soul and thought. I will buy the final seasons when they come out on DVD... just because I hate incomplete sets. I hope that the final episodes of the show give some satisfaction and closure to what was a great show. P.s. While I hate the story direction the acting skills and quality of shooting have always stood up in a big way.
I want to give this series a 10 but... I loved seasons 1 and 2 and the end of 4. I felt that most (not all) of 3 & 4 got lost. Conflict is a part of Star Trek. New things always give rise to questions and phobias. However, it turned vengeful and militant for far too long. There were some long standing problems and issues but I felt that one episode ran into the other. There weren't enough stand-alone episodes - which could easily have included those recurring themes without them being the entire episode. I wanted to see a season 5 to deal with the Federation, T'Pol's heritage, T'Pol and Trip, the Borg, etc. My feeling is that if the show hadn't gotten lost we might have had that number 5. However, the quality of acting never diminished. The relationships continued to be tested and to grow. There were individual episodes of seasons 3 & 4 that made me fall in love with Enterprise again - and buy the series. If I had to pick a most outstanding character it would be T'Pol played by Jolene Blalock. Her portrayal of the logical Vulcan fighting pesky emotions was outstanding.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Saved by Rachel Weisz
A 5 is generous. Overall The Bourne Legacy was slow when it should have been fast and fast when it should have been smart. Cross' motivation was singular, almost animalistic - smart pills (movie over!) For one thing, it takes more brains and skill to disable than to kill. Early on we are fed the idea that Mr Cross is of substandard intelligence without these little pills. Later we are told that if he survives being given a virus he won't need the pills anymore. The problem is that it's coming from all directions and doesn't stay with an idea (at least a good idea) long enough to make a connection, something to identify with. Jeremy Renner was like the energizer bunny on meth. Rachel provided the emotional connection and some stability. The only other thing I can say in a positive way was the relationship development between Dr Shearling and Cross. Go Matt!
Men in Black 3 (2012)
He was wrong
I loved Men in Black, Men in Black II was okay but not as good. My brother-in-law was wrong about Men in Black 3. He didn't like it. He didn't like the fact that Tommy Lee Jones was not in it except in the beginning and end. I loved the aliens from the previous two movies but I really enjoyed the strong story line in this one. I love the vision of the 1960's - jet packs, awesome motorcycles and a gigantic neuralizer. Josh Brolin was a perfect young K - chemistry wise, voice, mannerisms, etc. The humor was wonderful, sometimes with great subtly and sometimes in your face. I like Emma Thompson and liked seeing her this sci-fi humor role. It is well worth seeing, I think I want to add it to my collection.
7 is generous
Limitless was 'messy' (in a good way) right from the start and then they ended it all cut and polish. The alternate ending on the DVD was much better. If they had combined the two, I would have given Limitless at least a 9. As it is, 7 is generous. I am always mesmerized by Bradley Cooper's blue eyes and Robert De Niro is one of the grand masters of acting. The idea of mind enhancers is old but Limitless presents it in a fresh way. I liked the opposite reaction to the drug - Eddie vs. Lindy. By-the-way, I am new to Abbie Cornish and hope she has a long and fruitful career. He tasted the power and wanted more with little or no reservation; she tasted it and liked it but saw the inherent danger. Of all the locations I liked his old apartment the best. It had so much character and set the basis for the contrast between pre-NZT Eddie and post-NZT Eddie (of course, clothing and hair helped). What were they thinking with that ending - there was no struggle, no questions. He was like the addict that finally got all the perks without the consequences. It just didn't fit!!!
I wish there was an 11 for truly exceptional films. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is one of those chilling looks into humanity. Life and death. Love and loss. Secrets and discoveries. Family, friends and strangers. Anyone who has loved and lost can relate to Oskar, a boy trying desperately to hold on to the memory of his beloved father. So too many of us can relate to Linda, a mother fiercely trying to connect to her ever distant son. Most of all this movie is about reconciliation. Merriam-Webster defines reconcile as 'to restore to friendship or harmony (reconciled the factions)'. Oskar needed to bring harmony back into his life and in so doing he shared his life story with complete strangers who in some way needed his story to bring harmony to theirs. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close lets us be a part of something bigger, reminding us to make ties and fight to keep them - even if that means letting go.
I started watching Monk during it's maiden run and then didn't. I bought the series for my folks and started watching it and then didn't. Recently I decided it was time to watch this brilliant show from A-Z. I just finished. A lot of shows end badly when they try to keep it going and resort to disjointed stories and crumbling characters. Shows also end badly when they rush the ending, leaving questions and doubts. In Monk fashion the show ended on a perfect 10. Every show that ends has a continuing story in the minds of it's fans, the friendships developed over the show will go on in Monk's continuing story. In the end he has a 'complete' family, a reason to live and not just exist. I'm glad that they move on together and not apart. Except... Randy and Sharona (Benjy too). They will never be too far away to be the plucky comic relief in the lives of Leland, Natalie, Julie, Trudy, Steven, Molly and of course our very own obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk.