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Bridge of Spies (2015)
The story of the prisoner exchange involving Francis Gary Powers is one of unending tension broken just occasionally by little humorous comments. Tom Hanks plays the lawyer defending the Russian spy that was eventually traded for U-2 pilot Powers. The negotiations are complicated and could have been tedious in the hands of a lesser cast and director.
Hanks is completely believable and a pleasure to watch. We get to know and, to some degree, sympathize with the Russian spy and Powers is certainly a likable character, shot down on his first spy mission. Very entertaining and educational film. Recommended.
Interesting, but not great
In 1996, the dreams of a group of Everest climbers ended in tragedy at the top due to poor decisions, short supplies, and blizzard conditions. This is a well-made and fascinating story, but it lacked emotional power for several reasons: In 3-D, every time the camera panned, the background images were an unrecognizable, shaky blur that left me queasy. I didn't feel the 3-D added anything to the scenery, which was already awesome (They really did film at Everest Base Camp). Another problem I had was that the characters were hard to tell apart with the beards, goggles, caps, and other gear hiding their faces. And lastly, there were a variety of accents that I found hard to understand, so I was basically just following the action like a silent movie.
The old question of "Why do you climb a mountain?" is never answered in this film, and there was only a very brief epilogue, but the movie does make you think about the costs versus the rewards of scaling the peak.
(There was a 1997 TV movie, "Into Thin Air: Death on Everest," which had a smaller budget but packed much more of an emotional wallop because it focused on personalities and backstories of the climbers.)
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
"I'm your husband...Ben."
Nicole Kidman stars as a woman with a brain injury who forgets everything each time she goes to bed. Every morning, her husband (played by Colin Firth) has to reintroduce himself and tell her about their life. Christine's new therapist takes a very personal interest in her, and soon she starts to get back bits of her memory.
This movie is extremely intense and creepy, which sounds good, except that you know right off the bat who did what to whom. The powerhouse teaming of Kidman and Firth means the acting is very good; it's just too bad they got stuck with such a dopey, plot hole-ridden script. After the movie was over, I was really shocked at how implausible it all was. Nothing in it could have happened.
Recommended for fans of Kidman and Firth as long as you don't look too closely at the story.
San Andreas (2015)
Being a fan of disaster movies like, "The Day After Tomorrow," I really expected to like this movie, but I couldn't - I'd already seen most of it in "TDAT":
1. Brave dad goes off to rescue independent teen child from natural disaster 2. Teen falls in love while dodging doom 3. Tsunami (coming from the wrong direction) pushes ship into city street 4. Dad easily finds child despite impossible odds 5. World almost ends but divorced parents still reunite
And all this happens without the lead actresses' makeup even getting smeared!
It was just too corny for words. Dwayne Johnson is very likable, but he's stuck uttering the dumbest lines ("We rebuild!!") There are two young, cheerful Australian guys with such sickeningly sweet English accents, I expected them to break out in songs from, "Oliver!" The worst offense was to film many of the big disaster scenes with a very shaky hand-cam and to focus on the stars' faces instead of the crumbling landscape. None of the effects were believable because, though millions were killed and maimed, the stars emerge completely unscathed and looking effortlessly handsome/beautiful.
Bottom line: It held my interest but was dumb.
Into the Storm (2014)
Breathtaking special effects
I think the special effects were even better than in, "The Day After Tomorrow." The storm scenes are unbelievably intense; it felt like it was in 3-D, and I was wedged up against the back of the chair, holding my breath, the whole time. Although I didn't know any of the actors, I thought the casting was excellent.
The one weak spot was the inevitable single mother/drop-dead-gorgeous tornado scientist; I could have done without that cliché. But the movie is so fast-paced, I didn't have time to dwell on negatives; I was completely caught up in the spectacle.
Definitely recommended for those who like disaster movies; may be too scary for those who have lived through a twister.
The Uninvited (1944)
Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as siblings who buy a huge, old English house (sans electricity, of course) on a cliff over-looking the sea. They soon feels chills and hear ghostly sounds at night.
This is a wonderful movie, genuinely scary but completely non-violent. The Oscar-nominated, black and white photography in the creepy, dark house is outstanding and the fear of things that go bump in the night is what makes this one to watch with the lights on. Milland and Hussey are witty and urbane and Gail Russell is sweet as a neighbor girl with an interest in the house.
The lovely, "Stella by Starlight" is played several times and the entire soundtrack is excellent. This is a good old-fashioned thriller with a few laughs to break the tension.
The Book Thief (2013)
"But in the end there were no words."
As the story opens, it is 1938, and a young German girl whose mother cannot keep her, is sent to live with strangers. Little Liesel adjusts to her new life with the help of her kindly new Papa and the books she steals, which teach her to read. But life becomes frightening when the war starts and the family decides to hide a Jew in their home.
This is an exquisite movie, the best I've seen a long time. The story is unforgettable and the cast is outstanding. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are wonderful as Liesel's foster parents Sophie Nelisse is perfectly cast as Liesel, growing from age 8 to 16. We see the war through her eyes; she is unflinchingly brave and lovable.
There is a small amount of violence, mostly bombing, with just enough good people to show that life is worth living. This is a tear-jerker, but well worth watching.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Excellent acting but forgettable story
When the author of "Mary Poppins" comes to see Walt Disney about making her books into a movie, we learn a lot about her childhood and the inspirations for her characters. She's a rigid sourpuss, immune to the warmth and charms of Mr. Disney, however, and won't even consider the changes he wants.
The constant flashbacks to P.L. Travers' idyllic-then-tragic childhood are quite interesting (although I still don't understand the title). Tom Hanks is utterly lovable as Disney and plays well against Emma Thompson's brittle, control-freak old maid, Travers. It's fun to see the two pros act together.
There is a lot of trivia for fans of the Mary Poppins movie, but this is actually a very lightweight and inconsequential story, more suited as a "extra" on the Mary Poppins DVD, rather than a full-length film. I enjoyed it but have forgotten most of it already.
Liam Neeson stars as troubled air marshal Bill Marks, who is enroute to London. He starts receiving text messages saying someone on board will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150M is sent to a secret bank account. And then people start dying.
In this movie, every character, except for Bill, is set up as a likely suspect; they all look very shifty and fully capable of murder. It's fun to watch everyone look guilty and my mind was racing to figure out the culprit (I couldn't.). Neeson is outstanding as the air marshal, running the gamut of emotions from grief to confusion to terror; he's instantly sympathetic and likable. Julianne Moore is good as Bill's seat mate and it's great to see Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey") as a flight attendant.
From the opening moments, I felt uneasy; that quickly turned to paranoia and then fear. The story kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and I really enjoyed the mystery of it. Recommended.
This should have been a thrillingly romantic, sweetly funny movie that touched on loneliness and following one's heart to find real love. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an unfocused, unfunny, and decidedly unromantic story that is very unsatisfying.
Keri Russell looks like the perfect in-love-with-love Austen fan, but Jennifer Coolidge is coarse and annoying playing her usual dumb blonde. There were two men who could have fulfilled Keri's fantasies, but both of their parts were poorly written. Neither man was heroic enough to match Keri's idealized Mr. Darcy.
The whole set-up of the "amusement park," Austenland, was poorly realized and the rules for guests were confusing. Jane Seymour was unappealing as the Austenland owner; she should have been funny, but she wasn't.
I'm glad the book is better than the movie. But then, it would have to be.