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Forks Over Knives (2011)
It changed my diet
There is no quibbling about it; this movie does have a certain agenda that some people will find objectionable. Okay. But, there is enough supportive information to at least consider altering our heavy meat and dairy eating habits.
As a middle aged male with questionable eating habits, I have been concerned about my blood pressure, cholesterol, general overweight condition, and the numerous medicines that were necessary to keep them in check. When I watched this documentary, I went to check out some of the information presented. While there are some distortions, the bulk of the facts did vet out. Shortly after scrutinizing the documentary's information, I made the decision to try a plant-based diet, excluding all the meat and dairy that I never thought twice about eating for three months. The end of the three month "test" was to include a medical exam and corresponding blood work. Why not? What is there to lose?
I did decide to include a couple of servings of fish a week in my "vegan" diet. This was a tip of the hat to the Norwegian study that saw a dramatic drop in cardiovascular related deaths when meat and dairy were restricted sharply during WWII. What they specifically left out of the film was the fact that the Norwegians stepped up their fish eating greatly during that time. Other than the inclusion of fish, I went with a plant based diet.
In a nutshell, the blood work and physical changes after three months did see significantly better results. My weight was down. The cholesterol was down 25%. My HDL and LDL ratio improved. Blood pressure still remains an issue and, sorry to say, it didn't help with male performance, but the other results were impressive. When I told my doctor to look at the last year results against this year's, he took a double-take and asked, "What's going on?" He okay'd a cutting of my cholesterol and one of my blood pressure meds. A checkup on the changes are due soon.
While there is plenty to criticize about the film's bias, there is room for all of us to take stock and ask, why not take a step toward improving our eating habits? Is there anyone that really believes eating animal based foods is good for you in large quantities? Yes, probably a hamburger now and then isn't going to kill you, but eating a larger portion of fruits and vegetables is a better step for us in the long run. I'm at about the six-month mark now. I can't see going back to a diet similar to what I had before. I like the way I feel now and I like the numbers on my blood report. It is enough to keep me on a vegan diet.
Good decent fun
For those with a cynical outlook on life, this movie isn't for you. If you are looking for angst and conflict, these ingredients are missing as well. If you are interested more in a human interest story and how one can find their way out of a setback from an unexpected direction, this is worth taking a chance.
As you probably know, the main story line involves a chef, once one of the up and comers many years ago, now runs a kitchen in a well established successful restaurant. The restaurant is successful with dishes he created many moons before, but now he wants to freshen up the fare, especially when a noted food critic is scheduled to rate the restaurant again after many years. As you can guess, events happen to cause a total upheaval for the chef.
The complicated part involves his son from a failed marriage. He spends time with him and gets along well with the ex, but he doesn't really "know" his ten year old boy. Now, with encouragement of his ex-wife, he and his son have an opportunity to spend time together while the chef puts together a new strategy.
First off, if you are a food junkie, there are a lot of nice moments involving the preparation of food. It isn't just a plot mechanism; it is a full feature of the whole story.
Second, the chef is struggling with what he wants to do and what he has to do. During his journey, he discovers why he became a chef and why his previous experience was lacking. Who can't identify with this dynamic.
Third, I really enjoyed seeing the change as he goes from a chef in a successful restaurant to a chef that finds what it takes to get himself re-invented and re-energized into his true passion.
This movie does lack the bumps and challenges of many similarly themed plots. Plus, it isn't a doubling-over-with-laughter type of movie. It has fun moments, touching moments, poignant moments, and a few outrageous moments, all of which are executed well. So, since when does this make for a bad movie? Do we need to see recovery from galactic suffering in order to call it a "good" movie? I don't think so.
For the most part, movie goers want to go and have a good time once in a while without the extra baggage of human discontent. There is enough strife to give the story a base to advance the idea that, when pushed, we can change and come out stronger. It is just that this particular journey is a little more enjoyable earlier in the movie than most.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Painful viewing for no reward
At this point, I'm tired of movies getting a break because the subject matter is "important" and "socially relevant". I'll concede this is a high quality movie crafted by professionals to produce a haunting effect on those that watch it. I just tire of watching the debasing of people from a horrible period time and time again. I tire of us giving awards to these films because it is a socially correct action.
I compare this to "The Color Purple", another fine movie I refuse to ever watch again. The searing pain of watching people abused washes out any kind of positive movie experience possible. Yes, events like this happened and I can't help the world solve every de-humanizing act or give proper retribution to those that suffered. And I know for a fact that watching it displayed in gripping horror on a large screen is not going to help my coming to terms that I had white ancestors abuse other humans.
It seems the success and recognition of these films is just going propagate similar films until we bleed from watching them. How about a film of nothing but beatings? Throw in a little story, but make sure there are copious amounts of footage showing people getting shredded like cooked meat. Will that be enough? Will it ever be enough? No, I don't think so.
If you want to watch this kind of movie knowing full well what you will be facing because, let's face it - there are no surprises here, then by all means, watch it. Award it. Keep producing more and more filmography offspring. Because, evidently, there are plenty of people that want to continue wallowing in it. I have no appetite for it any longer.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Comedy? No, a Tragedy
I'm a longtime Woody Allen fan, though it's been a spotty relationship. I didn't go see it at a theater despite the generally positive reviews. It's appearance at a local Redbox was enough to trigger a need to view it.
It is a respectful work with all the principle actors doing a fine job, especially the searing performance of Blanchett as a woman on the edge. Blanchett's character, Jasmine, is a New York socialite, or at least she was before upscale lifestyle came crashing to a halt, that is now forced to move in with her sister living in a modest San Francisco neighborhood. Though they are sisters, both have had much differing paths and see life through very different lenses. Her sister tries to help Jasmine get on her feet, without bringing up the past indignations, while she manages a job, a boyfriend, and two kids. Jasmine has basic issues dealing with coping in a world without seven-figure indulgences. As she attempts to fit herself into the new reality, we see flashbacks that weave her relationship with her sister and other members of the family in context with her new path.
Woody's films are always about relationships and this one has some of the most complicated and contested relationships than the last two or three features combined. It almost feels like these were spread a little thin, but it doesn't bog down the feature because the focus is on Jasmine and the path of destruction she imparts. It is painful to watch Jasmine who has few positive personal characteristics that are suited for her new world. The many flashbacks, which take up a good third of the movie, shows how she isn't able to move on from a person used to being provided the best of everything. Most the reviewers compare this movie to "A Streetcar Named Desire" and I'll have to take their word for it because I never read or saw it. Maybe that was a blessing.
The dialog rich movie is nearly extinct, but Woody keeps the flame burning for the fans of Ingmar Bergman and Fellini films. This one doesn't have the crispness of some previous works, especially the recent Midnight In Paris that I really adored, but who are we to complain when movie producers give us product where dialog is an afterthought. You may not come away fully fulfilled, but it will make you think about what truly makes a rich life.
Django Unchained (2012)
Am I missing something???
The popularity of the movie and seemingly high regard by critics have me wondering why I did not enjoy this movie to the extent I had anticipated. There are so many strange elements, character non sequiturs and inappropriate dialogs that take away from what is a good story and fine set of actors.
Here is the short list of issues I have. The music would have been perfect for "Blazing Saddles". The hokey lettering for times and places (especially the elongated "Mississippi"). Some of the scenes purported to be in the deep South obviously came from dry rocky areas of California. The overuse of the sudden zoom shot (like the early scene with DiCaprio). The stupid hooded mask scene before they raid Dr. Schultz' wagon. What it does to the film is to make it look disjointed and out of context a good portion of the time. Plus, plot contrivances appear to make the story end properly. I can't buy the whole Django escape from the crew taking him to the mine.
This film is long, and by that I mean long in a way that is not good. I kept wondering when it was going to end. The movie is by no means a good follow up to "Inglorious Basterds" which was a fine film. The gratuitous violence and gore isn't what hurts the film as much as how the tone is mangled at various points along the way. If you like films, you'll probably want to see it. But don't be surprised if at the end it doesn't satisfy.
Sleepwalk with Me (2012)
Brilliant! It's about relationships, not comedy
The first mistake is to think this is a comedy.
Mike Birbiglia plays comedian Matt Pandabiglio (boy, he disguised that well, didn't he??) who is still struggling with material, delivery, gigs, and, by the way, his long-time girl friend Abby, played by Lauren Ambrose. It is clear by those around him, they are the ideal couple that will get married and have a family. If fact, they are wondering what is taking so long. So we get to see Matt do a few minutes on stage while working his regular bar-tending job, but obviously he is a work in progress.
But Matt has another problem that is troubling to Abby and his parents - he is experiencing sleepwalking with such intensity, he starts acting out his dreams with whatever is around him. Much of this has to do with his evolving comedic life and the long term live-in situation with his girlfriend.
I watched this movie with the same expectation of others that I'm sure thought it was going to be exclusively a comedy. There are some of Mike's classic comedy routines with his terrific understated sense of humor, but it really is window dressing for how his relationship, sort of stuck in neutral, begins to affect them both after so many years of no commitment. Just like life, there are some good times, bad times, and all of those times in between. I'm trying to remember the last good relationship movie I saw that so cleanly portrayed the love of two people that were really not made for each other and didn't know it until so many years had passed.
I am stuck wondering how much of this is autobiographical and how much was fiction. There are some definite parallels between Mike B.'s actual life and Matt P. in the movie. All I can say is, if it wasn't all biographical, then Mike did a fabulous job of making a complete and honest storyline that has people asking questions of their own behavior and relationships. Give the people in the film credit for doing a wonderful job of acting. My had is off to Birbiglia for piecing together a terrific movie.
Well made, but not my cup of tea
Once in a while, a well-crafted movie comes along but it fails miserably to resonate to the viewer. This is a good example of it.
I found many reasons to not like the film. This movie clearly has too much space; the film pacing is sometimes excruciatingly slow. The subject matter, how one aging married person cares for his fast declining spouse, is squeamishly dark and bitter. There are some symbolic messages left to your imagination. And the final scene left a foul taste that poisoned the whole experience. In our small art picture theater, the final cut produced a collective gasp of displeasure.
Looking at the face of it, however, it is clearly a well-made film on a difficult subject. The acting is superb and there is no doubt this film was artfully constructed. But, the viewer deserves to know this movie is not a touchy-feely type of experience despite the title and picture of a smiling elderly woman. It is very difficult to see the beauty behind the grisly realities.
Good movie productions do not always lead to enjoyable experiences. You have been warned.
More than baseball
Moneyball examines a deeper premise than how the 2002 Oakland A's managed to form a contending baseball team with a small payroll. While there is a lot of baseball in the story, it is not the whole story.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland A's (still is) during a time when it appeared baseball was ruled by large payrolls. Right away, you are shown how the Oakland team loses three big talents to the more well-healed baseball teams (Yankees, Red Soxs) and now they need to find players to stand a chance to compete but at one of the lowest payroll levels in Major League Baseball. Billy discovers Grant (Jonah Hill) who uses a different, more calculated approach to evaluating talent than the old tried and true method of subjective evaluation by long-time scouts.
The story is crisp, the movie cleanly presented, and well-acted by the two principle actors. Aaron Sorkin's writing fingerprints are all over it. It is fine movie making.
But the story isn't just about baseball, it is about how objective tools are used to decide how the talent is acquired and used. We are seeing more and more of this in our daily lives. If you work for an employer, there is a strong probability that how your efforts are graded are done using a scale that is cold, hard, and unmoving. What was once a series of perceptions and opinions by your boss are now hard straight facts. It is because the humans that manage other humans have a series of preconceived notions of how well you do your job. Humans are fallible, so our evaluations are flawed too.
I once created a computer program to play the board game Monopoly with me. I figured that I should be able to beat it more than it beats me because I wouldn't be able to construct a rich set of logic rules that would beat my cognitive abilities. After playing against it many times, I was surprised to find that it could beat me six out of ten games. Reason? I was subject to making decisions based on gut feel instead of cold hard logic and I made faulty decisions. The computer didn't, so it won more times than not.
Moneyball is the same thing. A roomful of scouts deciding on which players they should go after is flawed and will ignore those that deserve consideration while accepting those that don't. This is expanding to our workplaces as well and we will be accepted or rejected based on firm data than someone's opinion. As a teacher in a high school, that is exactly what testing has done for schools. It is probably coming soon to a workplace near you.
Young Adult (2011)
Not worth a rental
It didn't help I was expecting this to be a comedy (thanks, Redbox for that wayward clue), but I didn't even make it to the end.
This one can't be blamed on the acting; as a whole, they did the best with what they had to work with. It was the story and storytelling that failed.
The Girl-Who-Made-It (Theron) comes home to small town Minnesota and tries to make it with her high school beau (Wilson) though he is married, adores his wife and child, enjoys his simple life and has no big wants or desires. And that is the big problem for this movie - you must believe her attempts at baiting her old boyfriend away from his happy life isn't met with some kind of discussion point. The ex-boyfriend and his wife seem to not even notice or comment on her come-ons, instigations, and manipulations as she tries to change her past.
The whole tone of the movie is depressing. There is an awful amount of drinking, even for the well-adjusted. Why are these people so miserable? If you have a couple of mindless hours to kill and you've seen everything else out there, it may be worth seeing just for the performances. Theron is powerful as the depressed returnee, Wilson is quite capable, and I like Oswalt (friend) and Reaser (wife). But, you might as well have a lot of beer ready so you can drink along with them into a mindless stupor.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Subtleties Lost in the Confusion
I love this type of genre where the story, plot, and acting is valued greater than action. If you've read the book or seen the TV mini-series, you'll probably like this at about an 8 level. If you haven't been exposed to the story, it will be a confusing and boring experience.
Like the TV series, the emphasis is on limited dialog, plain locations and spaces, and acting space. Some would call it dry, but there is power in the silence as the characters share meaningful looks and furtive glances. If the TV series dialog was measured, the movie dialog was more rationed. I think there were a solid five minutes George Smiley (played by Oldman) said a word after his first screen exposure.
The general plot is not that hard to follow, but this is a story based in subtleties. Nuances are difficult to interpret if you don't know where the story is going. Suffice it to say, everything you see is important and sometimes you don't realize the importance until later. Following the high level agents takes attentiveness not usually needed in a wide-release film.
Still, I like the style and substance of the movie, even if it is difficult to catch all the meanings of each plot step. Several people nearby me mentioned that while they liked the movie, they were confused about certain events. One told her spouse they needed to pick a simpler movie to watch next time it hurt their brain.