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North by Northwest (1959)
A guy walks out of an advertising agency....
While spending a couple of days with my wife and I, my mother asked me "Do you have any good movies ?"
My reply : "Have we met ?"
This woman has known me for 40 (shudder) years. (35 of which I have been a confirmed movie FREAK)
We went through the personal collection and settled on one of my personal Top 10 North by Northwest.
I'm certain you've seen it. If you haven't, you've seen the iconic shot of Cary Grant being chased by a crop duster or part of the climax on Mt. Rushmore.
You should watch this movie.
If you haven't seen it, I'll repeat myself....Hitchcock, Grant, Mason (that should be sufficient).
If you have seen it, you should revisit it. If for no other reason than to see how tension, humor, and drama used to be achieved without graphic violence, vulgarity/profanity, and/or nudity.
Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill. He's an advertising man of the original "Mad Men" era. By an ordinary coincidence, he is mistaken for a government agent by a ruthless spy (Mason) and his henchmen. What follows is a humorous and exciting journey from New York all the way to Mt. Rushmore.
Sorry, "Jason Bourne". Nice try, "Dr. Kimble". This is the ultimate "man-on-the-run" film for my money.
My rating : 10 out of 10 (Masterpiece)
Now You See Me (2013)
Tricks are new, plot .....aged
I was drawn to rent this film based upon the trailers and TV spots. I'll confess a slight aversion to the work of Mr. Eisenberg, who inexplicably annoys me. The movie also stars Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles.
My reviews will never give away significant plot twists or spoilers but you might want to know what the movie is actually about.
Four moderately successful (depending on your measure) street magicians are summoned by an unknown party for initiation into "The Eye". "The Eye" is an ancient secret society of magicians who "protect real magic from those who would use it to rob, steal"....vote the wrong way...etc. In order to be accepted, you must follow instructions with blind obedience and be a pretty talented illusionist. The rest of the plot centers around a series of high profile robberies and pursuit of the magicians by the FBI and a professional "de-bunker" of magic (Freeman).
Where the film works: A very talented cast. James Franco's younger brother Dave does very well. Harrelson is great and ended up with most of the movies funniest lines. As the group's "mentalist"/hypnotist, he is also arguably the most dangerous. Caine & Freeman could bring complexity and depth to reading ads for the 64th street Hy-vee meat counter, so you know they are always solid. Obviously the movie is going to contain some wild and exciting stunts that stretch the SOD (suspension of disbelief), but they play well. Where the film let me down a little: Since "you've gotta put a girl in it", Mélanie Laurent, is cast as a French Interpol agent. She is sent to America to work with the FBI. Ruffalo plays the FBI agent, but his performance is lacking in depth. ((Hmmmmmmm .... man.....woman.......I wonder what is gonna happen with that.....)) Honestly, what I disliked the most was that I was expected to root for criminals. Not a new plot line, but I didn't particularly find the justification for larceny that compelling and a number of hi-jinks they pulled in order to escape capture (in the real world) could have easily led to the harm of hundreds of innocent people. The "sexual content" referenced in the MPAA rating relates to a couple of brief non-explicit comments. There is profanity/vulgarity and a couple of fight scenes (very well choreographed, I must admit)
My wife only said "Come on.....(side eye)" a handful of times, so it isn't entirely preposterous. My rating : 6.5 out of 10 (a little better than average, but just "ok")
World War Z (2013)
Since yours truly is all about giving the fans what they want, I'll split this review in order to satisfy the only 2 demographics which exist in the world of entertainment: Those who "like zombies" and those who do not.
Where I fall is irrelevant, and did not influence my review of this film.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former investigator for the United Nations. He's preparing to be sent to some of most undesirable places on Earth to investigate war crime, find out who's stealing humanitarian shipments, and validate/refute claims of genocide. But, while living with his family in Philadelphia, he is called back into service when a "zombie apocalypse" occurs. In order to work up a vaccine for pathogen, Gerry is tasked with tracking down "patient zero," the original host of whatever creepy crawly causes people to lose skin pigment, cognitive abilities, speech and their sense of humor.
I'm pretty sure you will enjoy the movie a great deal.
Where it works : Pacing - This movie starts very quickly, 3-4 minutes after credits finish, you start to see the beginnings of very bad things happening in the "City of Brotherly Love" (along with EVERYWHERE ELSE). Rarely does it slow down from there. When it does, you just catch your breath and it's off and running again. Effects - Top notch CGI equate to some very original and memorable images/scenes. The makeup and zombie effects are nothing new (more on that in a moment), but there are a lot of wide "big picture" or wide angle shots which made my jaw drop. Originality - This film was based on what is purported to be a very good novel by Max Brooks. One person I talked to was upset about the film version, saying it was abysmal compared to the novel. That's not a shock. But the speed & agility with which the zombies move and the "resolve" they use to overcome obstacles is nothing I remember seeing before. Where it doesn't work : Gore (or lack thereof) - This is an assumption, but if you are into zombies, you may find this movie a little too sanitary for your taste. It's PG-13, which means that you will find more blood & guts in almost any episode of "The Walking Dead" than you will in this film. Standard makeup: veiny, skinny zombies with bad teeth. Story - No spoilers here, this film doesn't present you with the nice clean time-line most films do. Be prepared to have lingering questions.
Un-dead ? Ain't nobody got time for that
If you enjoy action/suspense....give it a shot. I think you'll be glad you did.
Where it works : Pacing - This is an exciting movie. It's starts quickly and really does keep genuine tension very tight through the length of the film. Just pretend the zombies are terrorists or bad guys if it helps you with suspension of disbelief. Performances - Everyone in this film is wholly believable in their roles, from Pitt on through to the supporting cast. There's not a great deal of "star power" but it does feature solid actors and actresses who take the story seriously and turn out a movie no one should be ashamed of. Story - There is a "solution" to the zombie problem offered in the film which I found very intriguing and original. Where it doesn't work : Characters - They are a little flat. This may have come from condensing the story from novel to film, which often leads to the removal of most character development in favor of action/events (see 90 % of films adapted from a story or novel by Stephen King). The usual nagging questions - How can zombies move without heartbeat? How do they can keep going so long without rest? Why do they all vote for the same party? (sorry, got a little carried away with that one). All I can say is fish gotta swim, zombies gotta roam.
In the end, I wish I had seen it on the big screen and my wife liked it as well.
My rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
Iron Man Three (2013)
Release the WiseCrackin'
Brilliant inventor/engineer/smart-alek Tony Stark is suffering from insomnia and bouts of PTSD after the incredible battle in New York with the Chitauri & Loki. He still puts on his best cynical/sarcastic/charming face for the public but he has great doubts about himself and his limitations. These are further exasperated by the arrival of "The Mandarin." Mandarin takes credit for several high profile and destructive terrorist attacks throughout U.S. Tony offers to help, but he is told that Mandarin is a "terrorist problem, not a super- hero problem." After an attack leaves his former bodyguard in a coma, Tony disagrees and levels a threat directly at the Mandarin. Things escalate quickly from there.
An obligatory word about sequels.....
The late, great Gene Siskel once said,
"Ok, we're going to talk about sequels. We are going to talk about sequels. See, wasn't it less interesting the 2nd time ?"
This logic holds up more often than not, though I've softened on my inherent disdain/mistrust of sequels over the last decade or so. While there are some movie franchises I enjoy a great deal, I believe each movie (whether part of an ongoing story-line or self-contained) should be able to stand on its own merits.
That said, I liked this movie. But it did come in slightly below my high expectations.
Where it works : Humor - All of the trademark Starkisms are here. Tony being Tony, while putting bad guys, bad girls, fans, kids or members of the press in their place verbally. RDJ does sarcasm better than any other actor today, in my opinion. Action - There is a ton. You're about 20 minutes in before things really get going, but the filmmakers make up for lost time, especially for the finale. Lots of explosions, chases, narrow escapes and large complicated structures going BOOM! CRASH! POW! ZAP! and so on. If you like stuff blowing up, you'll get your fill. Tony's got a new suit which he can operate remotely, along with a few other surprises. Tony Stark - The character itself has gotten better over the course of Marvel's three films. Tony is a billionaire who struggles with a responsibility to his fellow man, deals with past indiscretions/childish behavior, and tries to overcome the insecurity which plagues us all. RDJ has truly digested this role and deserves many accolades for it. He's a fine actor and he's turned a larger-than-life comic book character into a human being (not as easy as it might sound) Where it doesn't work as well: Story - This is adapted from the "Extremis" series created by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. I found it interesting, but not delivered in a particularly coherent fashion. The overall motive for the antagonist is very similar to that of Obadiah Stane from the original IRON MAN. References - There were a number of references to The Avengers. These were justified by the arc of IM3's story, but it was a little odd to talk about Thor, Loki, and the group collectively half a dozen times without seeing any of them. It also begged the understandable question: "Why aren't any of Tony's super-friends showing up to help him out?" All in all, it's a very good movie. But, the first two films set a very high bar for the franchise. In my opinion, the first remains the best, the second (a very close) 2nd.
BTW : As is the current trend in Marvel films, there is a short scene after final credits that's worth a look. ;-)
My wife liked it, but thought parts of it were "a little silly" My personal rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
of the rare variety that will actually inspire people to get into making films...
The story is pretty straight forward and easy to encapsulate. A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
With the aid of a video reference book, I once estimated that I have watched about 4,500 movies in my lifetime. I especially enjoy movies that entertain through fantastic settings or story-lines.
You've probably heard and/or read a fair amount about this movie. It did very well at the Cannes Film Festival. It's IMDb rating is very high (8.6 average after 100K votes) and it has been #1 at the box office its first 3 weeks of its release. As is fitting with a movie about space, (a.k.a the final frontier), I have ventured into a new frontier myself with this film. I dropped $ 13 for a single ticket and watched the IMAX 3D print.
I went into this movie with extremely high expectations.
They were all surpassed.
GRAVITY is, to be honest and objective, one of the greatest motion pictures I've ever seen.
I predict it will continue to make piles of money. I further predict it will be nominated and could very well win the Academy Award for best picture of the year.
Where it works : (get comfy, this will take a little while) Photography - It's being said that this film sets a new and very high benchmark for cinematography. That is an understatement. Not only do the effects and use of mirror or "stereo" cameras give you the sense you are in space, at times you seamlessly move from being next to characters, to inside their spacesuits. It is shot in such a way that you get the sense, through point of view and lighting effects, that you are weightless. Music - Steven Price's score is a character in and of itself. Exciting, rich, somber, emotional, triumphant. Visual Effects - I view 3D, even with its impressive modern enhancements, as a gimmick to bump ticket prices. While this film didn't make me change my mind about that, I will say this....I paid $ 13 for a single ticket...and I got my money's worth. The effects in the film are nothing short of jaw-dropping. The 3D was utilized very well and IMAX allows you to be swallowed up by the stars and the action. Tension/suspense - Take just about every disaster movie, space movie, chase movie, and action movie....think of your top 5 to 10.......do you have them in your head ? This film is going to make you reshuffle that list. I was gripping my armrest, eyes wide, through 90 % of this film. The oft used phrase "Edge of your seat" was originally penned for experiences like this one. Acting - Bullock and Clooney are consummate professionals. No shock they are going to do well. Sandra Bullock owns this movie. Could very well see another Academy Award on her shelf by this time next year. Story/plot - What would appear to be a movie about survival, is more about dealing with unforeseen and/or undeserved consequences, and moving on (in the face of INCREDIBLE adversity). -CLICHE ALERT- This is a film that leaves you feeling lucky and glad to be alive.
Where it doesn't work as well: ((((crickets)))) If I have to pick something, some people might find it too strenuous or come away with the thought, "really, are they really going to have to deal with all of that ?" But, the sheer beauty, impact, and power of the film makes that criticism seem petty.
Overall, I can't recommend it strongly enough. GO SEE IT. If you can afford it, SPEND THE EXTRA $$ ON 3D and/or IMAX.
This film is of the rare variety that it will actually inspire people to get into making films, acting, directing, or photography.
I went with a friend of mine who "loved it".
My personal rating: 10 out of 10 (Masterpiece)