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This Is the End (2013)
I missed the end of This is The End
There are so many apocalyptic movies out these days I decided that if I was going to see one, I wanted it to be a comedy. So I went to see "This is the End", which supposedly about the end of the world as seen by some Hollywood types, playing themselves, sort of. I thought it would be a spoof of those other movies and of Hollywood. Sounded good.
Instead 90% was about a bunch of unpleasant people holed up in James Franco's house deciding to live it up as best they can with drugs, booze and the little remaining food, further fortified with plenty of sex and bathroom humor. One guy is angry because he didn't even want to go to Franco's party and now he's stuck there with a bunch of people he doesn't like. I empathized with him totally. I never laughed once, although I did crack half a smile at one line,(but forgot what it is). The other people there kind of snickered once.
I suspect the writers and maybe the actors were as high as their characters when they made the film and I the audience would have to be the same to enjoy it as much as they did. Maybe they should have passed joints out with the tickets like those 3D Glasses. It may have a great, hilarious ending I missed. But I kept looking at my watch, (which seemed to be having a losing battle with the space-time continuum), and inventorying the many things I would rather be doing than watching this flick. I finally decided to do them.
It's a Wonderful World (1939)
The darkness before the dawn (spoilers?)
This was Jimmy Stewart's last film before "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" and it's easy to see why this one has been forgotten.
Stewart plays an obnoxious, (yes, Jimmy Stewart is obnoxious), detective who is arrested for hiding his client while he tries to prove he's been framed. He escapes and kidnaps poetess, (yes, poetess), Claudette Colbert to aid his escape, (she has a car). Inexplicably, she falls for him and aids his escape. But first he has to disguise himself with absurdly thick glasses and do a fake Alabama accent, etc. etc. None of it is funny.
There are some impressive talents associated with this film. Their reputations are based on other films. Stewart is totally unappealing and Colbert fatuous.
Black Swan (2010)
Dancing with the Stars
I just got back from watching "The Black Swan" and am still sorting out my feelings about it. Most of the way, it was borderline unwatchable, mostly about people mutilating themselves mentally and physically. Then it got very dramatic but kind of over the top with a seeming triumph but by that time you don't know what was real and what wasn't: you don't know whether to be "uplifted" or not. It has some of my favorite actresses in it- Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis, who I'd only seen in the lightweight "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Date Night", (both of which were a lot more fun to watch than this). All gave terrific performances. Portman, who was also great as Anne Boleyn in "The Other Boleyn Girl", has matured into a major actress. But Hershey is probably the best thing in the movie as the loving but somehow threatening mother. Kunis gives the film the only charm it has and hits all the right notes in her limited but important role. Ryder's appearance made me sad because a decade ago she might have played Portman's role, (although she doesn't really have a ballet dancer's body). Her career never really recovered from her shop-lifting arrest, although she's made some interesting smaller films. I may be interpreting this wrong but I'm not alone, (judging from the IMDb) in seeing her role as the aging ballerina being angrily "retired" as paralleling her own career. Comparisons are being made to prior films- one that keeps cropping up is "Showgirls", another movie that may not be as "good" as this one but was more fun to watch. Some are comparing it to the same director's "Requiem for a Dream", about people who are falling apart due to drug use, (and who also lose touch with reality, as does the audience,). That was another unpleasant one. Id have to say that this is a movie you should see if you want to make sure you have an opinion about who should have won which award. But if you're looking for a good time, skip it.
Hawaii Five-0 (2010)
Firstly, I'll identify myself, as every reviewer should: I'm a 56 year-old who was a fan of the old show. So I'm n going to inevitably view the new show from that perspective. If I were a 20 year old who didn't know there was an old show, I'm sure my perspective would be quite different.
The producer called this an "homage" to the old show in TV Guide. And yet his premise is that the old show never happened. Hawaii-Five-0 was not created when Hawaii became the 50th state. It's now being created on the 50th anniversary of it's becoming a state. McGarrett is a naval commander with a background in intelligence as before and he reports directly to the governor. But as he's perhaps 30 in this one, he was born about the time the old show ended. Danny Williams is a Jersey cop who relocated to the islands to be near his daughter and argue with his ex-wife. Chin Ho Kelly is a 30ish ex-cop who left the force when accused of taking a bribe. And Kono is a bikinied surfer babe.
Five-0 is not a highly respected wing of the state government. It's a sort of vigilante organization of misfits who operate outside the law. The governor authorized it's creation "with full immunity" to deal with the crisis, (if that's what it was) that resulted in the murder of the new McGarrett's father. Yet it's going to be a permanent organization. What will be it's assignment? The old Five-0 was a sort of "major case squad" that worked on cases involving general emergencies, battled spies and dealt with things that represented PR problems for the island's tourist trade. They worked on an even basis with military, the FBI, the CIA, etc. and well as the Honolulu Police Department, (HPD). They had the full respect of those organizations who knew that if you were operating in Hawaii, it was McGarrett's turf. It's hard to view the new group in the same light. The men are grimy-looking commando-types and the woman's job seems to be to appear in a bikini or her underwear and deliver a few karate kicks. The governor, who was clearly held in high esteem by McGarrett in the original, is here a political and bureaucratic antagonist, not to be fully trusted. This far more resembles the "A" Team than the Hawaii Five-0 I remember.
The old program was beautifully produced, photographed and edited. There was heavy emphasis on suspense and character development. There were occasional chases and action scenes but the shows were mostly conversation, with the good guys methodically closing in on the bad guys, setting up an exciting ending. The new show is like a modern action film. It's got to keep moving from one action scene to another with 2-3 lines of dialog devoted to fleshing out character a bit, usually when they are driving to the next battle scene. The editing is jumpy and kinetic. It's reasonably exciting and sexy but it's not Hawaii Five-0.
Going in, I could not see why they didn't just present stories of who's running Five-0 now, with a picture of McGarrett on the wall. Give us new characters with new names. After seeing it, I think they should have called the whole show something else, because that's what it is.
Cause for Alarm! (1951)
The truth is the best lie
When you lie you do it to make yourself look better than the actual facts would make you look. But you can't rearrange reality in every detail to accommodate the lie. And, unless you are terribly good at lying, you are going to create suspicion by your behavior and manner. People are going to find out you are lying and think all the worse of you for it. They will even doubt the truth is the whole story when you finally tell it. We see it all the time in politics where "the cover-up is worse than the crime". But it happens in all walks of life. The best way to make yourself look good is to tell the truth- the whole truth. Then you can manage the situation because your version of events is grounded in reality and people will have reason to trust you.
Here Loretta Young's sick husband, Barry Sullivan, paranoid, (probably a side-effect of his medications), sends a letter to the DA that his wife and doctor are in love and trying to murder him. Then he dies of a heart attack and she has to get the letter back before the DA gets it. I wondered throughout the movie if she wouldn't be better off just telling what happened and having medical experts determine the actual cause of death and the side-effects of the illness and the medications. But by nervously trying to stonewall or manipulate everybody, she increases the evidence that she was up to something and when the authorities examine the case, she's more likely to be in real trouble.
Somehow, I doubt that the resolution of the movie would have been enough to solve her problem.
Gunsmoke: The Big Broad (1956)
Not such a dog
I disagree with the other reviewer of this episode: Dee J. Thompson is actually an attractive and talented actress who is playing Lena Wave as if she were a female Hoss Cartwright. She's very forceful, although not quite as big as everybody around her claims, (I think some camera angles were used to exaggerate her height).
Contrast this episode, which is ultimately a drama with Lena as a tragic figure who wants to be treated like a woman but who doesn't know how to act like one, to "Hinka Do" (1/30/60), in which Matt encounters another large, boisterous woman with a diminutive husband. "Mamie" is played by a stout, middle aged woman who really is unattractive. That one is played strictly for laughs. "Big Broad" is a more dramatic and better episode with some real depth to it.
Julie & Julia (2009)
"It just makes you want to grind things up"
My title is my family's favorite line of Julia Child's. She was grinding some meat at one point in her show "The French Chef" and realized that that wasn't very interesting by itself so maybe she should say something and began singing the praises of this particular brand of grinder. Finally she just smiled and said "it just make you want to grind things up". We all doubled over in laughter and have quoted the line ever since.
The thing that made Julia's show so endearing is that she was, on the surface, hardly TV material- a large, unlovely woman with a hoarse voice, describing all these exquisite recipes and enthusing over how wonderful everything was. Yet she had a certain hokey charm, and her enthusiasm for cooking and for life was obviously very real, as was her show, which never seemed to edit out all the disasters a cook can encounter. She just steamed right through them, like a battle ship through the waves, and never lost her poise.
And that's a key part of what this film is- or should be- about. The most bothersome thing in the movie is that, by telling their stories simultaneously and switching back and forth between them, the filmmakers seem to be suggesting that Julie and Julia are somehow sisters under the skin, making a similar journey half a century apart. The problem is that they aren't and it comes as quite a shock to find out that the real Julia Child didn't approve of Julie at all. The film leaves that matter unresolved and that's what I left the theater thinking about.
In another age, it would have remained a mystery but now we have the internet and there is an article by Russ Parson, the LA Times journalist who made the aged Julia, who was in assisted living by that time, aware of Julie's blog.
Most accounts say that Julia felt that Julie's cooking all her recipes in a year was just a stunt and that the elder lady didn't much like her coarse language. That's probably true but Parson's article gives us a significantly different spin on her reaction. Julia's intent with her book and her show was to make French cooking possible for the average American housewife. When she read Julie's printed-out blog, she was not pleased that Julie had such difficulty with some of the recipes and that she reacted so emotionally to the disasters that befall even the best of cooks. "She's not a serious cook is she?", Julia told Parsons.
But beyond that, Julia Child, (born 1912), is part of a generation that survived two World Wars, and influenza epidemic, the depression and the Cold War, (which included Senator McCarthy investigating her beloved husband). A brief scene also indicates her heartbreak at not being able to have children. As the article points out, when Houghton-Mifflin refuses to publish Julia's book after she's worked on it for eight years, she says "Oh, boo hoo, what shall I do now?" Julie, on the other hand is part of a generation that revels in its own angst the way Julia reveled in her food. They write blogs to tell the world how much they hurt inside. Julie may be able to cook what Julia did but can you imagine Julia writing a blog like Julies? She was a survivor that didn't let things get her down and that came through in the determined optimism she maintained on her show, no matter what went wrong.
Instead of having Julie's husband tell her that the Julia of her mind is perfect and the one in the real world isn't, what the filmmakers should have done is to show Julie learning not just cooking, but surviving while watching those old clips from "The French Chef". Then she would have known what the problem was, and so would the audience. Julia wasn't just a cook: she was a grinder.
The Soloist (2009)
More the cello than the violins
It was a rainy day and a good day to go to a movie. I'm not a fan of the action "franchises". I prefer what I call "people" movies- movies that are about human beings, their lives and relationships. I'm willing to check them out whether or not they got great reviews or won awards, (which they often do because they stand out so much against the video-game dreck). "The Soloist" has gotten some very negative reviews from some sources but I decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best movies I've seen in years.
The key to it is that it doesn't try to be sentimental. There is a cello but not much violin music and that seems symbolic of the approach: it tells the story and presents the characters without sentimentality or lectures. The film allows us to determine our own reaction to it. Robert Downey Jr. gives his best ever performance as Mr. Lopez, the reporter who starts out looking at Mr. Ayers as a way to fill a column but comes to realize he was exploiting him rather than trying to be his friend. He then realizes that to be his friend he has to accept him as he is rather than forcing him to someone else. Jamie Foxx, who is amazing in the way he loses himself in his roles, avoids overplaying his part or asking for sympathy. He just acted what he saw. Together they are the best movie acting tandem I've seen in a long time.
The film is brilliantly made, with just a hint of what Mr. Ayers has gone through trying to sort out reality and imagination and his triumph over the tragedy by finding a way to keep playing his music even if he was unable to continue his formal career. The editing is wonderful, jumping back and forth between Ayers and Lopez's stories without ever being confusing.
I couldn't help but compare this to "A Beautiful Mind", which also deals with schizophrenia but is full of inaccuracies. That was a good film despite that but this is a much better one.
Observe and Report (2009)
Forgive and Forget
A few weeks ago I wanted to see a movie just because I hadn't been to one in a while. The best of what was around seemed to be "Paul Blart Mall Cop". It was pretty much as expected: a harmless, amiable family comedy that was neither memorable or objectionable. Then I saw Seth Rogen being interviewed about his new movie "Observe and Report", which was also a comedy about a mall cop. "Observe and Report" was the motto of the mall cops in "Paul Blart". Often, when two movies come out within months of each other with a similar theme or setting, one is the original and the other is a "quickie" copy that was slapped together when the first project started to get some publicity. What makes it confusing is that the copycat film, because it is a "quickie", often reaches the theaters first, causing it to appear to be the "original" and the actual original project to appear to be the copy. And very often, the second film is really the best one. I offered this theory on the message board for O&R and there was some agreement that this is what happened here: O&R is the "original", Paul Blart the copy.
One poster was adamant that the two films not be compared because they were totally different. I've now seen O&R and agree that it is different but there are enough similarities that I suspect the makers of "Paul Blart" had had a look at the O&R script. There's a thief in both and he occupies the same position in both stories. There's a love affair with a dream girl who is a clerk in one of the mall stores: O&R does Paul Blart one better with two such stories, with one girl turning out to be a lot better than the other. The hero in each wants to be a "real policeman" and is treated with disdain by those who already are. He proves himself in the end of both films.
The differences are that Paul Blart is sweet and lovable, although deluded about his capabilities and status in the world. The O&R hero has similar delusions but is also supposedly bi-polar, although his primary problem seems to be that he is a jerk. The film is very crude. I'd call it crude humor, but nobody in the theater I was in was laughing. F-bombs are dropped all over the place, including one scene where Rogen and another character take turns telling each other to "F-off" to see who gets tired of it first. I lost.
Of greater concern is the films casual attitude toward drugs and violence. Rogan and a colleague are seen snorting cocaine and when he goes on a date with Anna Faris, she asks for his medication and gulps down some pills with goodly amounts of alcohol and winds up in bed with Rogen, who has apparently never seen "The Philadelphia Story", where there are "rules about such things". When Rogan finally catches up with the flasher he's obsessed with, he shoots him! There also a "comic taser" scene where the device is used to terminate an argument. They rid the mall parking lot of skateboarders by beating them up. Ultimately the film is just repulsive rather than innovative or funny.
"Observe and Report" may have been the original project but it is decidedly the inferior one.
Law & Order: UK (2009)
A world united by the "Doink Doink"
I just watched the premiere of "Law & Order: UK" on U-Tube, (hopefully it will appear on my local cable outlet before long: per Wikipedia, Dick Wolf would like to show it on NBC). I've loved Law & Order for years but also enjoy the British cop shows so this new program unites two great traditions with plenty of know-how.
The premiere is based on episode #40 of the original series, "Cradle to Grave", first shown 3/31/92. Per "Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion" by Kevin Courrier and Susan Green, which came out in 1998, "Cradle to Grave" was "written during a period when the Upper West Side of Manhattan was undergoing massive renewal. There were several landlords who were notorious for hiring thugs to throw little old ladies out on the street with their belongings and then trash the building so they couldn't get back in. And the city did not have the capacity at the time to cope with how much of it was happening. You were sickened every day with wonder as to how anybody could do this." One poster decried the use of early L&O scripts of the UK series, saying that one of the aspects of the original show that he liked was the "ripped from the headlines" relevancy of it. I'm sure this type of thing continues to go on anywhere in the world where urban renewal is taking place and that the writers of L&O-UK would not have chosen this episode to adopt unless it was just as relevant to London in 2009 as it was to New York in 1992.
One difference appears to be the climate. In the original, the baby froze to death because the heat was turned off in the winter and the temperature in the building was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, (which is about -7 Centigrade). In the UK version, the baby died of gas inhalation. I guess the Gulf Stream required the script to be altered a bit.
I was pleased to see that the "Law & Order" style was retained: the hand-held camera, the jump cuts, the no-nonsense dialog, the sardonic humor and the concentration on the case, which we follow in it's, (unnaturally rapid), progress through the courts. It was recognizably L&O but adapted to the British system of justice, complete with those adorable wigs they still wear in court. The cast was good, although American ears will have a tough time following the cockney-style dialog of the cops, (are the US cops as impenetrable to British ears?).
There has been some comment about the unlikelihood of ex-athlete and comedian Bradley Walsh in the "veteran cop" role but I think he does OK. You will note that the most beloved of the veteran cops on the original L&O was played by Jerry Orbach, a legendary Broadway song and dance man. I'm sure that's what they had in mind, although the veteran cop in "Cradle to Grave" is Paul Sorvino as Phil Cerretta, (a much underrated performance).
I really like Ben Daniels as the prosecutor. He really hits all the right notes. Posters have compared him to Jack McCoy, (Sam Waterson), but "Cradle to Grave" is a Ben Stone, (Michael Moriarity), episode. I like Jack/Sam but Ben/Michael has always been my favorite prosecutor.
Dick Wolf has suggested that if this new series is a success, there could be a "hands across the water" cross-over episode. I'd love to see it. He also is thinking of extending it to other countries. He's talking about a Muslim version: Law and Order: Cairo. I'd suggest one in Jerusalem, which would have to deal with multiple religious and legal traditions, or Mumbai, (a perfect follow-up to "Slumdog Millionaire"). Maybe we could have a Law & Order: Bejing to see how cops and lawyers try to find justice in a non-democracy. Maybe someday the whole world will be united by hearing that "doink doink" and by a greater understanding of each other's legal and moral traditions