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Jurassic World (2015)
I saw this film this evening (Thurs 6-11-15). I had to go to a later showing than I normally would because earlier times were sold out. There's a lot of great word-of-mouth. I think it deserves it! For me, it's the best since the original JP film. It is an excellent addition to the series. As things have evolved in the movie world, CGI makes just about anything that can be dreamt of visually possible. The only barrier left is the imagination of the filmmakers. So there's not much of anything new that can be added (I also saw it in 3-D. What's left to improve the movie going experience are the human creations: acting, story, sets, costumes, etc. I like what they did here. I especially liked the acting.
Chris Pratt is the best actor yet to appear in these films - completely believable as an action star. He'd be a terrific Indiana Jones (as has been rumored) or even Han Solo; not to mention any number of new movie heroes yet invented. I like everything about him. I'd even go so far as to say he made the film.
His co-star; Bryce Dallas Howard, was excellent opposite him. Although there was little chance to show it in this type of film, they had great chemistry. I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil it for anyone; but the physical side of their relationship would have made a great film on its own (and considerably easier to make!). I loved her look in the film; almost China-doll-like at the beginning, although more of her natural freckles would have been wonderful. She is a stunning beauty and a great actress in the bargain.
The rest of the cast did a standout job as well. Vincent D'Onofrio made a great guy to dislike. I also liked Jake Johnson, Irrfan Khan, BD Wong (the only cast member from the original Jurassic Park I think) and Judy Greer. Bravo to all!
Onthe final analysis, very worth seeing.
The last couple of years have been rough for me. I even asked myself if I should be going to a movie like this at all. But curiosity overwhelmed me. My expectations weren't high, but I had a vague hope that at least the production values looked good from the trailers. I didn't expect more than that.
I have to admit that I liked this film far more than I expected to. It was excellent all around with few sour notes and those are too minor for most people to ever notice.
To begin, the score, art direction, sets, set decoration, makeup, costuming and cinematography were superb. The cinematography was what, in my opinion, really made the look of the film. It took the most barbaric, brutish of subjects and made it visually glorious. It was really beautifully done; definitely Oscar worthy.
The sound and sound effects were excellent throughout; especially difficult in this type of film. Location selection seemed to fit perfectly as well.
That brings me direction and acting. David Ayer directed as well as wrote the script. Perhaps that made the direction part of the effort easier; no arguments with the writers! He's known for some fairly good action films; of which this is now the best.
The primary actors, Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal all had significant screen time. All of them were superb with this material; with Pitt shining the most. His blunt portrayal is spot on to some actual soldiers I've known quite well. Congratulations Mr. Pitt; you deserve some recognition from your peers for this. If you don't get that - which seems unthinkable - you at least have my thanks. I found myself wondering, as I almost never do, where Pitt, LaBeouf and Lerman found within themselves the appropriate and terrific emotions for the job they did. I can't imagine it being easy for them at all; which somewhat adds to the experience of watching them.
The rest of the cast were quite good as well, especially Peña; and Bernthal may actually be somewhat hurt by his excellent portrayal, such was the degree of unpleasantness he elicited.
Two ladies, Anamaria Marinca as Irma and Alicia Von Rittberg as her cousin Emma; were excellent in the small dialog they were given to work with. Both had to convey a great deal through unspoken action and I could almost taste their discomfort and fear. This was especially true of Marinca for me. I couldn't take my eyes off of her when she was on screen; especially in closeup.
For the rest, for me this was so realistic it teetered on the edge of uncomfortable, being too close to some exceedingly unpleasant personal memories; especially with the great sound effects. I especially liked the job they did of bringing the MG42 and Ma Deuce to life. Congratulations for a job well done!
For older ladies in the audience, I can hold this film up as an example of why many veterans do not talk about their experiences. They are too inhumanly ghastly to withstand explanation to those without such experience, and trying to find the words to explain things is just too emotionally draining.
All of this ads up to a great movie going experience. I hope you can enjoy the film. I may have a few nightmares; but I handle those better than I used to.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
I'd hardly know where to start without giving away spoilers. Even after this long there are those who have not seen the movie ... or read the book. The film does a marvelous job of bringing the book to the screen with its themes and viewpoint intact. For that the filmmakers deserve much praise. The production values were high, the direction tight and on target and the locations, sets and music complimented rather than distracted. It goes without saying that the acting was talented and spot on. To begin, I especially liked Laura Dern. She's always good but I especially enjoyed her here. She reminded me exactly of some of the cancer mothers I've known and she did it with dignity and grace. Thank you Ms. Dern. I can't comment on the part played by Sam Trammel. I can't because his character is me. I should mention that unfortunately, for me, this subject matter was a bit too close to home. Once you've been down this road the world can never look the same again. That has to bring me to Hazel Grace; and the young talent who played her: Shailene Woodely. Ms. Woodley gave beauty, sensitivity, dignity and grace to the most difficult of characters. I could give in to my ceaseless grief and anxiety and say something mean-spirited about her performance because; after all, she's actually healthy and strong and is likely destined for a long, happy and successful life. How could she possibly begin to grasp the gravity of her character and the all-to-real physical pain and mental anguish that her character had to live with every second of her life? But, to her great credit, she pulled it off. At least she did for this film-goer and that's enough of an accomplishment for her young life. I'm glad I didn't have to cut her any slack; she had that line as taunt as it could be. The real question left for this film then, is if they did right by all of the very real Hazel's and Gus' out there. In the final analysis they did as much as could be covered in the short flash of time that is a film. It's perhaps all most audiences could take as well. It was very hard for me to sit through as it was. Had they struck a mark any closer to the source I don't think I could have lasted the film. My own family's experience was far worse than this. My oldest daughter had a brain tumor, the same kind as John Travolta's character in "Phenomenon". I guess that's ironic in some way. The only good thing I can say about that is that she very quickly lost the ability to understand what was happening to her. Another irony is that patients like her were mentioned in the book this film was adapted from. It said, "... Her brain cancer was of the variety that makes you not you before it makes you not alive." That was the sole blessing in it; a perverse kind of mercy. But enough about me. See the movie. It's bound to give something to each one who sees it. If it does, do yourself a favor and read the book. It is better than the film ... all books are.
When the Game Stands Tall (2014)
Excellent film; but ...
I saw this tonight. It was good for the kind of movie it is; a movie about high school sports and their "positive effect" on players as made possible by a great coach.
While this film was very well made, and did illustrate it's point well, it's almost as noticeable for what it doesn't say; or avoids saying altogether. I feel a bit insulted by it, truth be told.
So what's left out? Two very significant facts.
1) The first, and the least important, is the fact that for all the good accomplished by this coach on behalf of his school, the lofty good it does is reserved for a comparatively small number of students. Namely, only for members of the football team. When I was in school (admittedly a very long time ago) the average high school football team was about 33 players. Even if it's a few more, the number is still tiny compared to the whole student body. It leaves me feeling that one cannot get the whole benefit of an education unless one is a very large, athletically talented male.
2) Probably the most significant contributor to the teaching arsenal of the coach is that the school, and therefore their philosophy, is primarily derived from the fact that De La Salle is a Catholic school that places a heavy emphasis on a Christian education after the example of Saint De La Salle. I cannot imagine this school having the success it does absent that philosophy. It went so far as having the strongest statement concerning one of the students who was murdered, stated only in French. The statement being, I believe, that he was a man of faith. That faith was not in football in case you might wonder.
Considering the above, the film's message still has value; albeit in a round about manner. It's still worth seeing; but I sure wish it would inspire someone to come up with a way to teach something this significant for those who aren't able to play football.
Bruce L. Jones
The Lone Ranger (2013)
This movie was certainly different. It is a well made production for sure with a lot of very well staged action. However, the action did get a bit ridiculous and overblown. To compensate for this it seems that Johnny Depp played kind of a clown version of Tonto, in the same way he was a clownish pirate in Pirates of the Carribbean. That's not too surprising considering that some of the people involved with Pirates made this movie. They were obviously trying to duplicate the success of the pirate films. In doing so here they made one huge error. The error was in using such an iconic story without considering that too many people would be disappointed. By contrast, in the pirate films they invented a new icon, so to speak, while it could be said here that they are trying to destroy one.
The rest of the cast did a good job with what they were given. Ruth Wilson played a mildly insipid love interest for the Lobe Ranger and his brother (yes, one of those). The only performance I really liked much was by James Badge Dale who played a Texas Ranger brother to the Lone Ranger. His character felt more real. Barry Pepper played an interesting Custeresque soldier that at least entertained. Traditionally great performances were turned in by Tom Wilkenson and William Fichtner; both villains. But the villains were all so stereotyped it was boring. Much of the rest of the cast just seemed to disappear under endless grime.
Most disappointingly, Armie Hammer played the Lone Ranger part as a Dudly Do-Right of the Mounties kind of thing. I just have never liked actors playing parts that depict what are supposed to be normal men in such a negative way, like stupid and clueless. He was both. It's insulting and demeaning.
As a result of all this the filmmakers delivered something that bears no resemblance to the regular Lone Ranger we all remember. I guess only Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels can be the real ones. The film was more in the way of a spoof of westerns. I usually think of such things as made by pseudo-intellectuals who can't bear to take themselves too seriously and/or who don't want to take any kind of American icon seriously; as though they just can't believe anything good can actually exist. They have to make fun of it, which just shows a complete lack of respect for mainstream Americans. In short, they're insulting their audience.
Almost unforgivably, the overlong final action scene just got boring in its predictability. It's too bad they couldn't come up with something more original than the Keystone Cops. In fact, the entire movie was way too long. They could have easily cut it to about ninety minutes and probably would have had a better film as a result.
In the end, the most enjoyably consistent thing in this jumble are the two young boys who played Danny Reid and Will; played respectively by Bryant Prince and Mason Elston Cook. I also noticed they played their parts straight. They were both good, especially Cook.
Les Misérables (2012)
I had not originally planned on reviewing this film, or seeing it for that matter, it was just a routine night out with friends and I had little input as to the final destination. Sometimes it's just more fun to take a back-seat and enjoy the company of others. It ended with the kind woman sitting next to me trying to unobtrusively stuff tissues into my coat pocket. Saying that much, post movie, I just had to say something about it to someone who wasn't there. It's said that happiness shared is happiness multiplied; but, it's just as true that it's happier still to broadcast your joy to the heights. Having said that much : The total production of the film was bleak and depressing, to say the least, perfectly in keeping with the film's theme. The sets, costumes, makeup, art everything were all top-notch. It also helps to have actually read the novel. If you do you'll have a deeper understanding of the characters, motivations and the significance of the historical setting. Hugo was brutal.
What's left is to find performances by the cast you like. Wow, to start, it's undeniable that Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Russel Crow as Javert, and Eddie Redmayne as Marius were all tremendous. I have to mention Hathaway's performance was very moving. She gave real life and form to one of literature's most wretched characters. Crowe was exceptional as a classic villain cast into that position by life's uglier circumstances. Amanda Seyfried was breathtakingly beautiful as the story's corner post, being - at the same time - Fantine's downfall and Valjean's salvation.
As for the rest ... well ... ... it's hard to put into words really, but Hugh Jackman was nothing short of stunning in the lead; and stunning is too little praise for what I experienced. I had no idea he was such an incredibly talented singer. The film is not really a musical (does anyone else know the difference anymore?), it's a grand opera and Jackman, I think, could hold his own in most operas in the world he's that good. Wow. Amazing. The music had such power and passion it was impossible not to be moved. Now, I have to admit that I might be a touch biased, being a father of a grown, married daughter myself I can totally identify with his performance ... and ... a professional who should know once told me that I reminded her of Valjean in the book. But even with those biases it was still nothing less than a completely magnificent performance. At this point I am left drained and convinced that it was the most powerfully convincing performance I've ever witnessed by a man on film; or any other media for that matter. It even washed away the smarmy, slimy aftertaste from being subjected to Django Unchained the day before.
So, by all means, see Les Miserables. It is an uplifting paean to the soul of humanity and reflects that good can be found anywhere, even in the most unlikely of places. Thanks Hugh.
By Bruce L. Jones
A Celtic Tale to the Core
I was lucky enough to see this film in a movie with other paying customers. There was a liberal dose of children in the audience who, from the sounds of happiness during the showing, was proof that it should be a solid hit. Add to that a dreamy-eyed little boy of about 8 who said to me after the film, "I gotta get me a bow and arrow!" That's about as good a testimony as you could get.
I had heard a mention from a source or two - who should remain nameless - that they had trouble with the direction the story went or that it may have been too simplistic. First, I vividly recall people complaining that the story for UP! Was too com0plex, too adult, for a kids movie. But kids liked it anyway. So, they made the story simpler this time and there are complaints from other people. You can't have it both ways. Some people would even complain if they were hanged with a new rope.
What this story does try to do is present a flavor of the Highland Scots in the middle ages. Hollywood being what it is, it's certainly not historically accurate in every detail, but my word, was the animation superb! It was simply magnificent in the depth and complexity. The star, Merida's, hair certainly had center stage a lot. I loved it! Such a riotous bouquet of autumn beauty is hard to find in real life, although I have to say I have a friend of long acquaintance who's hair is EXACTLY like Merida's. My only complaint about that character is with that coloring she screamed with the need for freckles! That would have made her visually perfect to type and character and the absence really disappointed me.
Second, as to the story elements; I feel certain that there are few places on earth with a rich a history of mythical and magical creatures; all of which were taken quite seriously and believed without doubt. The old stories are replete with such tales containing Druids, witches, soothsayers, faeries, brownies, ùruisg, gruagach, little people, silkies, water horses, banshees, Bean-shìdh, kelpies, Blue Kelpies, Seonaidh's, Changelings, Wulvers (a sort of kindly werewolves), Will-o'-the-wisps, Nuckelavees (a quite monstrous elf) and on and on. All of which goes to say that this animated film rests smack in the center of an ancient and rich culture and does it some justice, not in overreaching accuracy, but certainly in underlining the look and feel of the land and the people.
I loved it, my daughter loved it and my grandkids loved it (it didn't hurt that this grouping contains several people with red hair). We loved the look of the people, the costumes, the sets - especially the forested ones and the wonderful voices! Billy Connolly, Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson all did a wonderful job.
Oh, yeah, my 5 year-old grandson wants the girl ... ;) By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Rock of Ages (2012)
Coulda been Disney
Considering that my youngest was a dedicated and superb guitarist at the exact time period the film was set in, and we're in California, I had more than a few expectations for this film going in. By the time the closing credits rolled by I found I was of a divided opinion; some good, some bad. The easiest first, the good:
Good thing number one is Julianne Hough. The only drawback with her is that hard-core rockers will find her too bland, even later in the film when she falls off of her GTS's.
Overall, I thought someone like Emmy Rossum or Anne Hathaway may have been better picks for the part, with their much fuller voices and more candid, adult sexuality.
Hough's leading man is the forgettable, unknown-in-the-mainstream Diego Boneta (born Diego Andrés González Boneta in 1990 in Mexico City, Mexico). I felt inclined to dismiss him as just another pretty-boy used as Latin eye-candy to attract the younger teenaged- girl ticket buyers; ala Ricky Martin.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alex Baldwin and Russell Brand all did yeoman service but nothing to write home about.
Without doubt, the biggest surprise of the film was Tom Cruise. He managed to look younger thanks to what appeared to be maniacal workouts. But the big fat sprinkle- covered-cookie was his singing. He is credited with the vocals in the sound track credits so I have to believe it was really him singing. Thats right, he was so good I had to check. I'm already annoyed with him for getting to slowly grope both Hough and Akerman. No mortal man should ever be allowed to be that lucky.
Another surprise for me was the talent of the beautiful, Swedish-born Malin Akerman, who is very watchable in this. In one sort-of love scene with Tom Cruise she is startlingly sexy set to music.
Now for some of the downside. It's supposed to be a comic satire - I think. There really wasn't enough good comedy to tell, even with Cruise hamming it up all over the set. The plot, and therefore the film, revolves around a central character, a pretty, young, small town girl from middle America (played by Julianne Hough; a pretty, young, small town girl from middle America) who comes to LA to make her fortune in the music industry; again like Hough. The plot is something right out of the 30's, pulled from the shelf - dusted off - and the names and places changed to protect the innocent. I think the filmmakers didn't notice the too-old-fashioned, paper-thin story. The release info describes the film as a Comedy, Drama, Musical, Romance. They should have picked one, or at most two, and done a better job. As it was, it seemed they were going more for a comedic setting, but missed huge chances to make it a great deal funnier.
The biggest down-side, for me, was the completely ill-advised decision to throttle back what could have been great by going for the kiddie ticket-buyer with a PG-13 rating! To me, the rivers of alcohol present was more off-putting than things that may have made it an R rating. One of the things Heavy Metal was about was a blatant sexuality. That's largely missing here; although Akerman came closer to it than any of the rest in her table top scene with Cruise. I'd have given my left big toe for that to have evolved into a more grown-up scene. Had Akerman peeled a bit further she'd have become a legend. As it is, it'll likely be forgotten. Come to think of it; that's a perk Cruise didn't need. The filmmakers just couldn't drop the hammer.
I know, I know ... it was extracted from a Broadway musical of the same name. So ... that doesn't mean it couldn't have been greatly improved. It was like going to a highly touted action film to find the climactic scene turned out to be a pillow fight between Batman and Spiderman.
As alluring as they were, due to the production decisions eliminating most of what could have been a blast, Hough and Akerman just failed to exemplify the hard-edged, blatant sexuality of the era. After all, boys grew up dreaming of being rock stars, not to play music, but to have access to bundles of not-quite-clad sexy girls. A juicier, more adult, far better script was hiding in there trying to get out, but perhaps a Rossum-like star might have been needed to bring it out in Hough's part and I'd have loved to see Hathaway in Akerman's part; not because they're inherently so much better singers or actresses but because both of those ladies know how to kick down barriers with aplomb.
I tend to think either woman Hough or Akerman, may have been up to the challenge given the chance. As it was both were very chaste in the film, the costuming perhaps a shade more modest than 2010's Burlesque in which Hough also appeared with Christina Aguilera and which also missed the mark.
Both this film and Burlesque suffer a crisis of credibility by completely ignoring what originally made their representative genres so popular: s-e-x and the maximum amount of s-k-i-n. There's nothing in either film that couldn't be seen on any given weekend in a Southern California mall bar the singing.
Well, a guy can dream, right?
Act of Valor (2012)
About as real as it can get
This is a concept I've not seen before that I can recall. The film makers eschew real actors in the lead roles and, instead, use a group of real active-duty Navy SEALs as the actors. In considering the difficulty in trying to coax any degree of realism out of actors it was likely easier to use the SEALs and try to teach them to act a little. Up front, I have to say that although none of them will likely win an academy award for their acting, their effort in an unfamiliar landscape was heroic and a good deal better that other attempts we've all seen to use "real" people in film roles (with the possible exception of Audie Murphy). Congratulations gentlemen; it was a job very well done! Having spent nearly 40 years in and around the military, including Special Operations, I think I can speak to it to some degree. Acting aside, for the rest, as a result of the care and guidance of the actual combat vets, the entire suite of action necessities are the best-of-the-best. Uniforms, gear, equipment, dialog and the tactics on display are as likely as real as you'll ever see without enlisting and volunteering for BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training). One thing I especially liked was that this came closer to the sound level of an active weapons environment that most films. The sound accuracy, though not perfect, was better than usual too. There was also the ever-present gasoline-fueled explosions that Hollywood is so fond of, but I guess they had to have their way with some stuff.
The one things that I was surprised to see the film lacked was any sort of a realistic depiction of the more shocking levels of blood and gore present in reality. Maybe it's just as well, there's enough of the other types of realism here to satisfy even the most jaded movie-goer; and enough pathos that I'd advise ladies and more sensitive men to bring some tissues. It is a good thing, though, if people were made aware that compared to real life, the depictions of those things in this film are several orders of magnitude short of reality. The reality these men survive and live with is a good deal worse than what we see here.
The thing that most people will not know or understand is that there are better quality weapons and equipment out there with which to outfit our military, but Congress only buys the cheapest stuff they can find. That is an invisible enemy our people must also face.
Plenty of other people will relate plot details, that's why I many times skip those things. They just become repetitive. So I hope what I've related here will induce a few people to go and see this film. I don't know if anyone outside America will appreciate it, but all Americans should. I have always been very grateful that these men and their actions exist. They help make not just America safe and free, but the whole world. They all deserve our undying thanks.
By Bruce L. Jones - http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Red Tails (2012)
The sum is better than the parts
Due to the current state of computerized graphics anyone making any kind of a film in today's world is expected to create something visually stunning, many times to the exclusion of almost everything else. The challenge is, therefore, to retain something of additional value in the production. In the case of a film about well known historical facts, it's even more of a challenge, I believe, as there is a feeling that certain historical facts must be portrayed or the film is seen as lacking. It was with those thoughts in mind that I entered the screening of this film. I think the film met with mixed success.
First, in what seemed like an attempt to convey too much information the story suffered in the telling. I tried to like it better but, overall, the story seemed rushed, chopped in places. For the sake of a smoother story, perhaps the film should have been lengthened. I also felt I'd have enjoyed more emphasis on the individual men. We were left knowing little about them and understanding even less. One commonly used vehicle in such films in the past is the introduction of the people they love "back home". We had none of that in this movie, perhaps making them seem less sympathetic. Instead they used a trite subplot about one man's muddled romance with an Italian girl, played by Daniela Ruah as Sofia. Her Italian wasn't very good.
The remainder of the film was chock full of old-fashioned stereotypical characters and their behavior. We were given everything from the extra-religious guy to the self-appointed ladies man to the squadron alcoholic. Some of the actors did better than could be expected with the material at hand. Most notable among those were Cuba Gooding Jr. As Major Emanuelle Stance, Terrence Howard as Colonel A.J. Bullard, Nate Parker as Cpt. Marty 'Easy' Julian, Tristan Wilds as Ray 'Junior' Gannon, Elijah Kelley as Samuel 'Joker' George, Leslie Odom Jr. As Declan 'Winky' Hall and David Oyelowo as Joe 'Lightning' Little. Those actors, and the rest of the cast, gave passable, but not noteworthy performances. Much of the lack of accolades here should be laid at the feet of the Director, Anthony Hemingway.
The best things in the film were the result of the remainder of the crew. The efforts of the art sections were great; including Art Direction, Set Decoration, Costume Design, and Makeup. But it was the Cinematography by John B. Aronson was stunning, although now days it's becoming increasingly difficult to determine where old-fashioned camera work leaves off and CGI begins. The combination in this instance was superb, and all the reason necessary to see the film. The external aerials were among the best I've seen, although the sound could have been more realistic. I especially enjoyed the way the depictions of the Me262 were presented. Those were extremely good.
Otherwise, there were a lot of technical errors surrounding the aircraft, but I suppose they felt they had to make drama somehow given the sparseness of it in the script. The makers also missed the use of the P-47 Thunderbolt before they were assigned the P-51's. The P-47, affectionately known as the Jug, was the heaviest and most expensive single engine fighter and could have given some interesting action ideas. They were next to indestructible. I think one exercise that could have been a good investment is to introduce the sound people to the REAL sound of .50 BMG and 20mm cannon fire tearing through metal at close proximity; likewise the unmuffled. deep throated roar of a 2,000 horse-power V-12 aircraft engine.
In the end, I think the films does far less credit to the Tuskeegee Airmen that it may have. The film makers make it appear as though it was only a dozen-and-a-half guys when in fact there were hundreds of them. Still, the scale is tipped toward seeing it on the big screen.
By Bruce L. Jones - http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
War Horse (2011)
Take a young girl
I went in knowing what the film was supposed to be about. From the trailers I expected that the film would be an attractive looking production. I tried to have no other expectations, threw on my suspension of disbelief cloak and just allowed the Steven Spielberg film to play itself out.
I didn't dislike the film but, at the same time, I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would. On the other hand, some of the others I saw the film with - females - appeared to love it. The film is based on a children's book about a horse (name of Joey); which does explain some of it. It's made in a very emotionally obvious way, seeming to actually reach out, straining to pluck your heart-strings from across the room. The characters were flat and one dimensional, in spite of an impressive cast of familiar faces. The characters seemed to be randomly injected into the story at odd intervals in ways to compliment the horse as it grows to maturity and goes off to join the army; and, oh, for the edification of other reviewers, the horse wasn't "conscripted" it was sold into servitude by it's owner to pay for his misdeeds.
The characters ran the gamut from the man who originally buys the horse, Peter Mullan as a hard drinking farmer type named Ted Narracott. In rather predictable fashion he is, of course, too addled and intoxicated to do anything of value with the horse he buys as much to spite David Thewlis (as Lyons) as for any other reason. That leaves an important task for his son to tackle. The son is played by Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott in a rather unimpressive way. If it weren't for some of the other actors the film would have been a much bigger disappointment. The list of those positives begins with Emily Watson as Rose Narracott, Mullan's wife and Irvine's mother. She was good, but her role seemed to be the dramatic equivalent of a straight-man, injecting necessary lines of dialog to prop up the story; the characterization of Mullan's alcoholism painted as much by her great performance as his.
Then there is the always watchable Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, the man who buys the animal into the service. Next came David Kross as Gunther, a German soldier who tries to do good by the horse but ends up in terminal trouble himself. Next was a kindly but bumbling grandfather; ably played the veteran actor Niels Arestrup, who takes a liking to the horse because his adorable granddaughter, played by Celine Buckens as Emilie.
Perhaps the best part of the film was a very impressive scene where the horse escapes from the Nordic side of the battle line but gets himself trapped in the battlefield's no-mans-land. I'll interject at this point that this film is visually stunning, with magnificent work behind the camera by the great Janusz Kaminski.. But he is given a visually rich canvas to witness. The sets and costuming are top notch as is the special effects, so all-important in a war film, and all of that was backed by a great musical score. The production values were so great in those scenes it made me sorry it wasn't a straightforward story involving the first world war.
Dragging the story to a place where it was positioned to get the animal back to the simple-minded Albert felt overly contrived. The one bright spot in that segment was Eddie Marsan as Sgt. Fry. He sealed the return of the horse to it's rightful owner, Albert and there were few dry eyes in the audience.
I was tempted to say it's a "chick flick", but in the end it felt much more like a vehicle aimed at tween girls.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
A powerfully done story
I won't add any spoilers as this is too good a movie to spoil. So how do I review it? We'll give it a shot. This is primarily about the American film.
First, if you have not read the book OR seen the original Swedish film, do not do either. We take it for granted that the book is always better than the film - and that is certainly true in this case. But if you read the book first it will spoil the film, so by all means read the book, but read it after you see the film; both films. The original Swedish film is outstanding in all respects.
I have a great suggestion for the world of filmmaking: The next time you find yourself with such a stunning book to make into a film, get together the American and Foreign interests and make the films side-by-side. It would drastically reduce the overall costs and just as drastically shorten the production schedule. Then you release the finished films; the US version to the US and the other version to the rest of the world.
First, the story is not for the feint hearted, it's brutal at times and portrays the seamier side of humanity very graphically. The story hit most of the important stuff so there's no shortage of material. The film runs three hours, but it doesn't seem like it. The pacing and energy in it is sufficient to keep your attention. That means the writing was very good too, as was the directing. The overall film struck me unmistakably as a modern film noir. The cinematography reflects great skill and is responsible for making the film even better. The camera had great scenery to chew up and it was given delicious sets and beautiful weather to set the mood. It won't disappoint.
The actors chosen to work on this project were well cast and all were excellent in their portrayals. Daniel Craig gave the character believability and a sympathetic demeanor. The young woman chosen to portray Lisbeth Salander was Rooney Mara. Mara was excellent in a very demanding role. She had to subject herself to depictions of violent victimization of the worst kind and managed to make it feel very real. I think Ms. Rooney has a great future in film if someone can find her the right parts. This part was a perfect fit for it. She really makes the movie, but as the title character she should. My only complaint at all was that the sound people didn't quite manage to make all of her spoken dialog clear in spite of the accent she adopted. The accent and her manner of delivering it were quite remarkable.
All in all it's an excellent film of this genre and I was glad to have seen it.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
An entertaining film
This modern remake of a cultish classic is at least as palatable as the original. The updates work well for this kind of film, which is, admittedly, a semi-musical. So I was pleasantly surprised that it was worth the price of admission, with some change back to boot.
To make it enjoyable the film at least had to do the music and dancing well, which it did. The two young stars, Julianne Hough as Ariel Moore (a preacher's daughter) and an unknown for me; Kenny Wormald as Ren MacCormack, did deliver on the dance floor. Both of them are superb dancers and Hough, especially, looked great in the saloon, line dancing scene. I think part of the reason she's amazing to watch is because she looks like she's having the time of her life.
But music and dancing can't be the whole movie, we hope, so there has to be dabs of acting to weld the disparate pieces together. The sparks to accomplish the welds are some fine moments by all the supporting actors. It leads off with Dennis Quaid, playing Hough's ministerial father. He's turned into an excellent actor over the years and is believable in the role. There is also Ray McKinnon as Wormald's uncle. He's an asset to the film, one of the best actors on screen that night. Miles Teller as Willard, Wormald's side-kick was surprisingly good, an engaging personality that gave some comedic relief to the rest of the proceedings. The rest of the supporting cast were assets as well; Andie MacDowell as Hough's mother. Then there was Patrick John Flueger as Chuck Cranston, the resident bad guy along with the town meanie played by Brett Rice as Roger Dunbar. Also, worth note was Ziah Colon as Rusty; Hough's friend.
But the real acting surprise, and treat, was Ms. Hough. She was not only believable in just the right degree at the serious, crucial, points but solid throughout. The character she played called for a fair range of emotions and it was a genuine pleasure to watch her deliver every time. Even in the films early scenes, she looked radiant sans makeup. I appreciated the addition of those glimpses of her natural state, because as a trained artist I saw them as a great study in the structure of a classic beauty. I think she's the rare girl who looks just as beautiful without the makeup. And on top of that she can act. In this instance, she clearly outshines the female lead in the original. Hough's stunning looks are soon overshadowed in the film by the sheer talent she so effortlessly gives the audience.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Prime Suspect (2011)
Great female lead
I rarely review TV series as they are so changeable from one episode to the next. However, sometimes I can see some promise that bears mentioning. This series is derived from a successful series in the UK of the same name, starring no less than Helen Mirren. This US version is set within the NYPD and stars Maria Bello as tough-as-nails NYPD homicide Detective Jane Timoney, an outsider who has just transferred into a new squad where her prospective colleagues have prejudged her and decided to not like her before even meeting her.
Now, unlike some, I have spent a bit of time wearing a badge on the streets so I know what it's like, to be one and to convince others that you belong wearing a badge. To me, women playing cops, regardless of whether it's in the movies or on television, begin with a serious handicap. That handicap is that most of them are never convincing as cops. Almost every actress I've seen try on such a role fails because she doesn't have the necessary "edge" to her mannerisms or manner of speaking to make them convincing in the role.
The speech aspect isn't about getting the jargon right either, although that helps, it's literally about the manner of speech they learn to adopt. Women in our society have a characteristic way of speaking. Female cops, real female cops, no longer speak that way and that is the part almost no actresses get. That convincing part is the depth of self-assurance and self-confidence that it takes for a woman to succeed in such a man's world and also survive. A female LEO learns to have that fairly early in her career. The result is that they are cops to the bone and it shows in how they handle themselves and how they talk. Any cop, even a girl, has to convince people that they own the piece of ground they are standing on or they will fail. If they can't do that well you may as well put them in a cape and high heels because that won't sell either.
Now, the people making this series have actually tried to get together a group of actors that can come across with a degree of accuracy. They aren't perfect, but they're working on it. The star, Ms. Bello, has done some great work in motion pictures. She appears to have been trying to get into this role as she doesn't come across as a lame actress trying to do it. She has been believable to a degree that almost no women ever have. We'll see how it goes, but I think her efforts can be torpedoed by the people making the show, writers, directors, etc.
I also like the choices for the other actors; Bello's boss is played by Aidan Quinn as Lt. Kevin Sweeney (find a way to use him more); Kirk Acevedo plays Det. Luisito Calderon; Brian O'Byrne as Det. Reg Duffy (he's been especially great thus far) and Peter Gerety as Desmond Timoney, Jane's father.
So, the bones of a great beast are there. I'll have to watch longer to see if the makers can truly breathe some life into the creature so that it can reach it's full potential. So-far, so-good. The most immediate disappointment is that it's airing on network TV, which is all but dead creatively in the US now. I hardly know anyone who watches much network TV any more. The cable shows have such greater chance at approaching realism now days that it's a shame the makers of this show will be denied a great many of the newer tools; especially for this kind of show. Good luck. Sincerely.
A Home Run
Well, when purchasing my ticket I expected to see a good movie about baseball. I was rewarded with just that. Overall I thought the film excellent, both as a finely crafted film and as a representative of baseball. To demonstrate that I had no preconceived prejudices, I can say that I'm not really a fan of professional sports any longer. My fond memories of baseball are mostly from playing the game when I was a kid. We lived in a neighborhood with a lot of boys, all of whom were involved in sports and we played baseball a lot. But, that was the 1950's and times have changed. No one now days can hold a candle to The Mick. The film centers around the Oakland A's in the early 2000's and it's controversial General Manager, Billy Beane, skillfully played by Brad Pitt. The premise is the real story of how, with an extremely small budget for a professional sports team, he managed to win a surprising number of games, including setting an all-time major league record of 20 consecutive wins. The method used by Beane was not of his invention, having already been around in theory and known as "sabermetrics". The crafting of the team into that form is credited to have been begun by Beane's predecessor, Sandy Alderson. Beane himself was thrust to the forefront as the focus of a successful 2003 best-selling book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game"; which ultimately led to this film. The film was very well done, really succeeding in sucking in the audience to it's ebb and flow. The audience I was in clearly enjoyed the film, there was a lot of laughter in the right places and applause at the end, which is rare enough. The setting had the look and feel of realism and the same with regard to the actors portraying the players. There was a fairly long list of good character actors peppered throughout the film, all of whom added considerably to the film's realism. But the lion's share of the film, and the credit for it's quality, goes primarily to it's major stars, Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Team Manger Art Howe, and Jonah Hill, as the fictional character Peter Brand who is said to have been based on Paul DePodesta who was Beane's assistant during the period covered by the film. Hoffman is great as usual but played his character a bit understated. Jonah Hill nearly ran off with the attention altogether while he was on screen. But Pitt clearly controlled the central attention and did so with ease and excellence. He managed to make the character look smart, fair and quite human. Pitt's humanity was helped by the presence of tidbits of his family life, mainly focused on his relationship with his 12 year old daughter, well represented on screen by the young Kerris Dorsey as Casey Beane. The interplay between them added a lot of humanity to the film that would have otherwise been lacking. There was a small part played by Robin Wright as Beane's ex-wife Sharon. It was the closest anything in the film came to a romantic involvement. Many of the character actors made important contributions, such as Stephen Bishop as David Justice, Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg and Brent Jennings as Ron Washington. There was even a cameo by Joe Satriani playing his guitar as superbly as usual. Leaving the theater I thought that one would have to have at least a working knowledge of the game of baseball to get the most out of the film. I wondered how it would play to someone without that knowledge and I think a lot would be lost, but it would still be enjoyable for it's basic story of struggling to overcome long odds to achieve something good and the exploration of the people and personalities involved. That's a pretty good accomplishment for any film to make and this one does it with a lot of fun and class.
Brutality with a heart?
Since I lived my life in the midst of very real, extreme violence most of my life I'm, generally, not really one to rush to an "Action Movie" featuring large servings of violence. I've experienced enough to last several lifetimes. Generally. Warrior was the only film in my local theater I hadn't seen, so I bought the ticket. The experience turned out better than I expected.
The film revolves around the two grown sons of a family headed by an abusive-alcoholic, Marine war-veteran father with frustrated delusions of an athletic youth. So, he tortured his boys to grow up to be tough, honorable men with leanings toward violence against others by training them and pushing them to compete in amateur wrestling. As that story began to unfold I was thinking, do I really want to stay? This is my life story for cryin' out loud. In the end, I opted to watch more as after all, there was that exorbitant ticket expenditure.
The focus of the film is the life struggle of the brothers; Brendan Conlon very ably played by Australian Joel Edgerton and British actor Tom Hardy as his Marine Corps brother Tommy Conlon. The unenviable role of the father is masterfully enacted by veteran actor Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon. The film belongs almost entirely to this trio; the rest of the actors being mere counterpoint; albeit excellent counterpoint. Sadly, Nolte's character is a sad example of the breed. He drank, abused and bullied his way through life and now he clearly wants to finally make a relationship with his two sons; but complications ensue. Neither of his sons want anything to do with him on a personal level. * In their teens, their mother leaves their father, taking her younger son, Hardy, with her. The older boy, Edgerton, stays with his father. Hardy's character remains sullen and brooding as he ages and joins the Marines. He deserts the Marines in the desert and flees back to the states to become an MMA fighter, brilliantly hiding from authorities by going by his mothers maiden name while his face is spread all over worldwide media. Hardy plays the character so Brutish and mean that it's impossible to have any feeling for him but revulsion. The performance is nearly over-the-top and the realism they may have been looking for falls short as a result. In making that choice of characterization I feel the director made the mistake of letting it happen. A little more of a balanced character would be more realistic and play better.
Edgerton's character gets an education, marries, has children and becomes a physics teacher. Not surprisingly, both of the sons grow up to hate their father for the decades of abuse they, and their beloved martyr of a mother, suffered under his roof. They also harbor bad feelings and overall resentment towards each other, designed to heighten the film's tension. Nolte is, doubtless, superb in his performance of the lifelong booze sponge trying to finally clean up his act, while at the same time, he feels himself teetering on the rim of hell, contemplatively staring into the abyss he's soon to join. He expects to find forgiveness from his sons and a chance to know his two little granddaughters, whom he doesn't know. Of course his sons reject him, appropriately. But, Hardy wants him as a trainer so he can go beat up more people with greater efficiency (he reportedly gained 30 pounds of muscle for the role) so he enlists his hated but efficient father to help him achieve his goal.
The sympathetically Edgerton, finds himself in a financial bind over the catastrophic medical expenses of one of his daughters. I can't help but feel that they're trying really hard to make me like this guy. Predictably, he decides to get himself right, financially, by returning to the underbelly of MMA for quick paydays. That sets up the world of MAA as a reuniting force that finally slams, quite literally, the two brothers back together. Right there should be a winner, because, after all, what guy has not wanted to pound his brother into a bloody pulp at some point, and here is the vicarious opportunity!
The separate roads they take before reaching the cage is splattered with a large amount of gratuitous violence. The "fighting" is barely removed from street brawling and the "fighters" were beaten relentlessly. It's also peopled, as it was pointed out to me, with a generous serving of male bodybuilder-type meat for the enjoyment of the distaff attendees. I found it odd that the film makers didn't take advantage of the rating to include at least some gratuitous female nudity. Such an addition would, at least, be non-violent.
I have seen bloodier and more violent films, but this one is solidly ensconced in that genre. Brutal might be a better word. Still, given that vehicle, I have to admit that the filmmakers have managed to inject some humanity in the subtext. The boys, although explicitly unforgiving of their father, are also torn over that position by their own humanity. Edgerton has what appears to be a great relationship with his wife, well played by Jennifer Morrison. He is also loved by his kids, his students and at least one colleague, played by Kevin Dunn as Edgerton's boss. He also appears to have a friendship of mutual respect with Frank Grillo as his friend and trainer. The best thing that can be said of the remainder of the cast is that they seamlessly create the authentic feeling atmosphere, which is the be all and end all of MMA; and it is brutal, bloody and at times sickeningly violent.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Better than expected
This is a fine - even superb - suspenseful drama from director Steven Soderbergh, and writer Scott Z. Burns, with a modern but familiar theme: the devastation of disease. The film begins with the mysterious and fairly sudden sickness and death of Beth Emhoff, superbly played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Her death foretells terrible events to come and we see what happened to her in flashbacks. Those events are what transpires when a new and extremely virulent virus appears in the world, beginning in Asia and rapidly spreading throughout the world. What is depicted in in the wake of this horrible outbreak is an epidemic as bad, or worse, that the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 that killed between 50-100 million worldwide.
Paltrow's husband is played, in an equally fine performance, by Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff, a plain, ordinary man caught up in incredible and devastating events that suddenly kill his beloved wife and step-son. Damon's daughter, Jory, is played by newcomer Anna Jacoby-Heron who is virtually imprisoned in the house with her father for the duration as he is terrified that it will infect her although he, himself, is immune. Damon and Jacoby-Heron are then the frame-of-reference for the film and how this terrible thing affects all of humanity. Through them we see what happens in America when people go berserk with fear and desperation. I tend to think the depiction of that is an accurate, probably conservative, representation of what would actually happen if such a pandemic were to happen today, which is all too possible. I feel that possibility makes this film far more of a horror film that anything produced by Hollywood with all the usual blood, gore and special effects of monsters and madmen. It is more horrifying because it is all too possible and what we see on screen feels all too real.
Most of the rest of the "name" cast, comprise the "good guys" who are working on a way to save the world as civilization crumbles beneath their feet. They are Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes, Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears and Elliott Gould as Dr. Ian Sussman. They provide the intellect and stability that leads to the discovery of ways to treat the disease and through them we see some of the scientific process involved in fighting modern diseases.
There is a semi-badish kind of guy, portrayed by Jude Law as a selfish, self-serving blogger named Alan Krumwiede. In him we see some of the worst parts of society and how unethical people take advantage of tragedy to empower and enrich themselves.
In all, the film is riveting and interesting throughout. It has the right note of suspense and discovery to keep us interested, awake and not fleeing for the exits. Therefore, the writing, directing, costumes, makeup, cinematography, sound, music, everything, is expertly, professionally and superbly done.
Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
The Change-Up (2011)
Nothing really new here
This was just about last on my list of movies to see this summer and it lived up to that expectation. I talked myself into going with the rationale, "How bad could it be with Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds and Leslie Mann?" Well ... I'm still wondering. Director David Dobkin and writers Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, I'm afraid, let me down. I was, or at least the better person I like to think I am - offended by heavy-handed attempt; especially how the children in the film were handled/depicted. The very young Sydney Rouviere as Cara Lockwood could have been sparred the association.
In this latest of body switching movies, Ryan Reynolds as Mitch Planko and Jason Bateman as Dave Lockwood find themselves in that predicament after a night of drunken carousing that ended with them urinating into a fountain in a park while simultaneously wishing they had each other's lives. Presto, that initiated the switch and the rest of what followed was disappointingly predictable.
What little there was that was OK to watch was largely due to the efforts of Reynolds, Bateman and Leslie Mann who played Bateman's commanding wife, Jamie Lockwood. Their talent alone made it bearable to sit through, especially Mann's.
The film makers could have actually made a better statement but abandoned that quest in favor of a lot of sophomoric profanity grafted onto the same old Hollywood formula. So, what was wrong? To start, this example of the sludge of hyper-vulgar films of late, doesn't even pull that off well. The very vulgar dialog (which I know was the cause for more than a dozen people I saw walking out of the theater before 15 minutes had expired) seemed disingenuous, kind of forced, like "Let's see how many vulgarities, that we think are clever, we can cram into each sentence?" I know from personal experience that just about any good US Navy Chief Boatswain's Mate could make these guys seem like choirboys and do it with more conviction, imagination and finesse. The language was often surrounding toilet humor - literally. After the first example that became very predictable, as was the story line.
The story was very predictable and formulaic. It roughly followed the same sort of predictable moralizing as just about every other film like this. The short of it is the message that you'd be much happier with your own life than any other. Considering the liberal sprinkling of vulgarities one might think they'd go after some grittier territory, because the language wasn't all that new or innovative. The "moral setting" fairly much paralleled the usual WASP morality that has existed since the days of the old motion picture production code; or Hay's Code.
For example, as alluring and desirable as Ms. Mann obviously is to her husband's friend, the plot made sure that when he was "switched-out" (her husband's friend now in her husband's body) he was never allowed the advantage of having carnal knowledge of her or, conversely, her husband, now in Reynold's body, was never allowed to enjoy the "perfect setup" to take advantage of the opportunity blatantly dropped into his lap by Olivia Wilde as Sabrina McArdle, an assistant to Bateman's character. Bateman, now in Reynold's body, has secretly lusted after her in the office and has the opportunity to sleep with her dropped into his lap by Wilde herself but he abandons the act just as it's about to begin to run back "home" to the wife - Mann - that he now realizes means the world to him.
All of that is terribly Victorian in it's moral outlook in spite of the overblown, teasing dialog. In the end I came away with an appreciation of the ability of the actors to endure the material, but most of all an acute appreciation of Ms. Mann's very lovely physical attributes, which, I think, made the ticket worth the price of admission. So, thank you very much Leslie! One woman behind me wasn't equally impressed by Bateman and Reynolds, who had a number of urinating scenes as I heard her mumble to a friend, "Those guys must have awful small "manhood's ... ", she used a much more vulgar term, "... because I can't see a thing!" which, in the end, was just as well.
By Bruce L. Jones
Humans are an afterthought
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Put on your suspension of disbelief cloak and enter in ...
Entering the theater I thought, do I really want to see yet another entry in the ape versus human saga? The truth is that I was primarily drawn by a curiosity to see what the more modern special effects could do to improve the look of this decrepit franchise. In a word, the effects are stunning as expected. So, in that way, the effects were no surprise. I don't know if just meeting expectations is what they were going for.
The other curiosity was the story as it seemed a departure from the originals. Other than a few obvious nods to the original which felt strained, it was. When the original was released in 1968 the country, indeed the world, was living under the threat of immanent nuclear annihilation and the main focus of the evening news everywhere was the war in Vietnam. So, the story line of the original blamed the excesses of nuclear weapons for the downfall of humanity and the elevation of the simians to preeminent status. That theme carried through the sequels along with it's strong anti-war subtext. A lot of people were discussing the moral and ethical theme of the original film when it came out. That won't happen here.
The new version has thrown out all of the basis for the original film and replaced it, ironically, with a strong, albeit possibly inadvertent, pro-war subtext. The other themes seem to be anti-animal research, anti-genetic research and the usual anti-authority figure. The majority of the plot is telegraphed far in advance so there are no surprises. In fact, if you've seen the trailers you've seen most of the plot.
Like most movies, if you try to make sense of what's on screen you quickly begin to see the underpinnings of the whole story disappear. So do not try to rationalize it, it'll just spoil it. Instead just sit back and enjoy the effects. The lions share of the movie is the effects. While credit certainly goes to the creators of those effects, in this case, because of the method of animating them, a large part of the effort has to go to the ones upon whom those effects are applied. In this case that is first and foremost in the person of Andy Serkis. So, exactly how much of it is Serkis and how much the effects remains to be revealed. For now they form an inseparable nexus. That also applies to the rest of the ape-actors such as Richard Ridings as Buck.
That brings us to the humans in the film. The clear standout here is John Lithgow. His performance as Franco's dad, who suffers from Alzheimer's is touching and in all ways superb performance. The other humans here are almost props or clichés. The actors are props in that the story revolves around them but is barely about them. They add color, like the natives in a Tarzan movie. James Franco is OK, but not great, as Lithgow's scientist/son but then again, he's given very little real material to work with so it may not be entirely his fault he comes across as kind of bland.
His "female lead" is Freida Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame. She is pretty set dressing and doesn't do a bad job of acting. But there is something lacking from her performance, or maybe she just lacks much screen presence beyond being a kind, pretty face. Also, for a modern Hollywood film set in California, she seems rather overdressed. Again, considering it is California, perhaps an actress more like Jessica Alba might have been more appealing. In any event, her performance is forgettable. The good news is it doesn't detract any from the film.
The rest of the actors are walking/talking props representing most of the modern day movie bad guys, like the cruel animal keeper, the greed driven boss, violent cops and the cretinish neighbor prone to outbursts of stupidity and violence, etc.
That brings us back to the effects. It's entertaining enough to buy a ticket just for that and to see the way the film is boxed, as it is a great visual film. Besides, the filmmakers need to make enough to pay for all those CGI effects.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
The Help (2011)
Courage has a price
"A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all morality." - - John F. Kennedy Kennedy, of course, was correct. In this film we get to see a rare presentation, full to the brim with women with more than enough courage to impress even President Kennedy. Of course, that is the immediate thing in the back of everyone's mind who watches this film. In fact, there is so much courage to go around it's hard to decide just who is the most important character in the film. I finally had to decide it's a team of courageous women focused on truth and perhaps, ultimately, change.
This story is primarily set in the early 1960's in the town of Jackson, Mississippi. It deals with the subject of the truly bad treatment that black servants received from their white employers and is lightly framed by the growing civil rights movement.
The two most prominent characters - protagonists - as we near the end of the film have been Emma Stone as Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark. It's those two characters who are the genesis of everything that happens here. The journey they embark on together, from the staid, old fashioned society they came up in toward a brighter future is the stuff of greatness. Their experiences and the resultant emotions carry us easily along through their trials and tribulations as they work through the story.
The greatest thing about the film is watching these two women do what they do best: act. Both Davis and Stone are exceptional actresses and have plenty of room here to exercise their craft. There is not a false note from them in the entire film. Davis, who has already garnered a lot of notice from her previous films, is in perfect form as the overworked and much under-appreciated maid. Stone, who has shown great promise as an actress in lighter roles, certainly makes a terrific showing as a great dramatic actress. Both of these women are fascinating to watch; their styles and presentations so different yet so unfailingly on target. The film is more than worth watching for them alone, but we have many more fine performances here.
The primary antagonist is wonderfully portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook. Howard is perfect in this difficult role of the saccharine, insincere, self-important, lying troublemaker who serves as a focal representation of all that was bad in their society. She is just as wonderful to watch work as the others and gives a comic edge to a performance that could have gone over the edge into ridiculousness had it not been handled as well.
There is also a wonderful performance from Octavia Spencer as Howard's maid Minny Jackson. Her performance shows surprising depth and is worthy of all the praise that could be heaped upon her.
It's hard to give appropriate thanks to all of those in the film that gave so much of themselves to make this film as great as it is. There is Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Stone's mother. She is great in showing a transformation in a character. Then there was a small role played by the great Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson, the maid that raised Stone's character and served as her character's moral compass. Her performance is understated and quite touching. Another small but excellent portrayal was from Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters, who is Howard's mother. All of these actresses ad flesh to the film in wonderfully realistic ways.
But perhaps the most unusual and very entertaining part was played by Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, a very ditzy, white trash blond who marries up and is trying to make inroads into the tight social circles of the city. But her portrayal is also infused with warmth and genuine charm, lightening the story and providing an excellent counterpoint to Howard's character. Her performance, although quite different from the other performers, is every bit as good and you can't help but love her by the end of the film.
Considering how entertaining the film was, one must certainly praise those who sculpted this fine film. The director, Tate Taylor, who also scripted from Kathryn Stockett's novel, created some excellent material here and is just as deserving of praise as the actors/actresses. The portrayal of the intricacies and hypocrisy in the world around Stockett is brought to the screen with intelligence and compassion.
Underscoring the great performances are the technical aspects of the film; cinematography, score, editing, sets, costuming, lighting, makeup, everything, is wonderfully done and presents an overall visual and aural portrait of the mid-twentieth century south.
This is definitely a film worth seeing, and although there are a few light moments, it's just as adamantly a drama. It should not be overlooked at Oscar time. Thank you everyone for giving me a great end to a wearisome week.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Very entertaining ... eventually
This film is a little offbeat as comedies go. It starts on a somber tone and then tries to build something humorous as it meanders along. There are some places where the pace slows to a slow walk and it can almost lose it's interest for fans of the faster pace of a lot of modern film. But I found that I liked that quirkiness and it added some depth that may have otherwise been lacking in the typical comedy. However, I feel it may be too much of a pendulum for some as it swings from serious to comedic. I've noticed that a lot of time, people looking for a comedy can do without the seriousness. But given those mood swings, the directors do manage to make it a comedy, after all.
When it comes to comedy the cast here is very entertaining. The central characters are Steve Carell as Cal and Julianne Moore as his dissatisfied wife Emily. She announces that she wants a divorce after a tumble in bed with Kevin Bacon as her boss David. Bacon's character clearly has a solid thing for Moore's character and commences to pursue her, but this angle is just a diversion. The film makers missed chances for funny things that might have supplanted the more serious ones by neglecting to capitalize on this pairing more.
A good deal of the movie revolves around a friendship that builds between Carell's character and Ryan Gosling as the smarmy, girl-crazy Jacob. That term is often followed by the descriptor "hound". After meeting in a bar, Gosling takes on Carell to fashion him over into his own image. That's when the more fun aspects of the film start as we watch Carell try to crawl out of his shy, suburbanite shell to become more appealing to the opposite sex.
One encounter Carell makes is with the stunningly talented Marisa Tomei as Kate; a school teacher. When she's on screen she's a huge lot of fun to watch. I don't think I've ever seen her give as much as a mediocre performance and she won't disappoint here.
Another pairing that may surprise some people, but not me, are the encounters between Gosling's character and Emma Stone playing Hannah. Gosling has turned into one of moviedom's more superior actors; who can be expected to always deliver a stellar performance. But the real treat here is Stone. She has become a superb comedienne with a timing and delivery that is as close to perfect as you can get. In fact, Gosling is really playing a straight man here to Stone, ala Abbott and Costello; it's that good.
But the one who really illuminates the screen is Emma Stone. Each time I see Stone in a film she is better than the last time and she is nothing less than enchanting. She always comes across as smart and funny. I am especially drawn to the smartness. It is amazingly refreshing to see a female character who actually has brains, beauty and a lot of good old fashioned humor. It's not that "brainy" parts aren't written for other actresses; it's just that the others almost never quite pull it off (with a few notable exceptions such as Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof, but that was decidedly unfunny). Emma Stone is a real treat to watch and I find I can't take my eyes off of her every time that she's on screen. Her very large, luminous eyes run a thousand expressions a second over an even more expressive face, all of them unerringly faithful to the character while, at the same time, feeling very fresh and original. To top it off, she's a stunning beauty herself in that slightly unusual way that normally makes girls off of the street into supermodels. Stone and Gosling are so good, so entertaining, that I could effortlessly watch an entire film, perhaps several entire films, of just them bouncing one-liners and smoking sexuality off of each other. I found myself actually disappointed when the spotlight left them.
But the film doesn't end with just those fine actors, either. There are some surprising, disarming skirmishes between Jonah Bobo as Carell's thirteen-year-old son Robbie Weaver and Analeigh Tipton as his seventeen-year-old babysitter Jessica who, herself, has a thing for Carell. Young Bobo gives a surprisingly good performance as a love-and-thunder-struck young man struggling with some very real, grownup emotions. The height disparity between them made it more enjoyable as we watched and even rooted for Bobo to succeed. I also enjoyed Tipton (could lips be any more sensual), who's face I last saw as a model; but she's a model who can apparently act. She had a hard part to play, straddling a fine line between funny and what could have easily been seen as tragic or even perverse. I hope she feels good about the job she did here and I hope to see more of her in the future.
Finally, the very fine actor John Carroll Lynch as Tipton's father Bernie did a fine job with a small part and certainly injected comedy when he was given the chance.
The rest of the film was expertly staged and photographed so it's top quality there. I also enjoyed the musical score, skillfully blending old favorites into the story in a way more noticeable than usual.
All-in-all, Crazy, Stupid, Love teeters on the brink of sappiness without quite going too far that way and does a good job of appealing to the usual sentimental themes of love stories throughout the ages with some unexpected, modern twists. If you've ever been in love, see it. If you ever want to be in love, see it. Or, if you just like love stories, see it. It makes for a very good night at the movies. Thank you one and all.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Life as We Know It (2010)
Worth the ticket price
I saw this film with someone I care about; the theory being that happiness shared is happiness multiplied. It was a lot of fun. Like a lot of comedies, this certainly isn't brain surgery; or rocket science either for that matter. But it does touch on some very real, human subjects about life, relationships and families. In that way it is sometimes as much of a drama as a comedy. Both sides of that coin are more than average entertainment.
The story is set in Atlanta, but it could be in any modern day urban environment. The two central characters, named Holly Berenson and Eric Messer, are ably portrayed by Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. The plot is about throwing two people with opposite personalities together in order to take over the care of their best friend's baby after they are killed. They begin with an adversarial relationship from the start and we get to watch how their relationship evolves as they are forced to work together to take care of the ever adorable baby. The story - perhaps inadvertently - makes a strong case for arranged marriages but, at the same time, also makes a lot of good points on the subject of the importance and value of families.
The production quality is above average throughout, having a slick, almost too polished Hollywood look and feel to it. I wondered who the maid was.
The two leads certainly make the film, delivering above average performances and fitting the whole idea of the story as well as any two people could. I especially enjoyed Ms. Heigl's performance. She brought individuality, tenderness and real emotion to what could have been a stereotyped character. In the end I found myself rooting for them to survive.
I also bears mentioning that the supporting cast is quite excellent. The most noticeable were Josh Lucas who was charming, Faizon Love and Melissa McCarthy; both suitably funny . . . especially Love. Which is as good a word as any to end this.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Will give you a headache
I sometimes have the pleasure of babysitting my Grandkids, and my 4 year old grandson absolutely delights in throwing his toy cars and trucks off of the second floor landing and seeing them burst apart. He then collects and plays with the pieces, sometimes breaking them even more. This movie is like that. It's like the little boys who used to play with the transformer cars when they were little got older and now they're still playing with them through the manipulations of cameras and computers.
This film does exhibit all of the usual modern computer generated effects. The locations are widely separated with nothing being too spectacular in that regard. The costuming is simple as are the props (except the computer stuff of course). The sets are, well, hard to judge because you can't really believe they're not primarily computer generated effects. I think the problem is they keep trying to do bigger and bigger special effects and at some point it almost gets boring from being so uniformly explosive and overwhelmingly unreal. I'll invent yet another new term here to cover it: "Action Movie Desensitization". One can't believe that these types of films are not solely aimed at the average 12 year old out of school for the summer. There's little else in the theaters.
The film also requires an immense degree of the ability to suspend one's disbelief to begin to watch it. The plot is as thin and makes about as much logical sense as a 1930's comic book plot, but it's there if you want to try to follow it. If you saw any of the preceding "Transformer"-type films you could likely write a better plot yourself; so just substitute your own plot in your head as the explosions unfold (NOTE to writers; a college graduate usually isn't a "teenager").
That leaves the acting. The principle characters do yeoman service for their paychecks. Several previous denizens of Transformerville return to reprise their former roles with Shia La Beouf straining his best to out-panic and out-sweat his previous filmic efforts. He does so well, along with John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey and Alan Tudyk. The always watchable Frances McDormand comes on strong as a bad-womanesque government wienie. She was cool being bad. John Malkovich provided a great characterization as La Beouf's mildly-insane, oddball boss. He and McDormand are likely the best things in the film, BUT, there was a truly kinetic, unhinged, off-the wall performance by the increasingly popular Ken Jeong. Watch for him, he's a riot.
The odd addition is "the girl"- there's always a girl. In this case the very publicized Megan Fox from the former films was unceremoniously replaced for little understood insults to the hands that fed her. Such is life. But, Fox's bad luck provided all the excuse necessary to replace her with a younger model, literally. In this instance "the girl" is "unconventionally beautiful" 24 year-old British farm girl/model named Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Whitely's previous claim to fame, it seems, is the talent to look decent while walking around in public places in her underwear, which, of course, brought her to the attention of these film makers, so, at this point in her career I imagine her strategy has worked out rather well. She's not terrible in the film so at least she doesn't embarrass herself. However, skimpier costuming may have brought in a few dozen more teenage boys.
I couldn't help but note that every time Whitely appeared on camera, or in some cases even close-by off-camera, the script became peppered with some rather obvious and sophomoric sexual innuendos and double-entendres accompanied by some rather epic leering. The most blatant one early on coming from someone commenting on the container La Beouf's medal came in. And, please, no one spoil it for me by claiming it was unintentional. I, at least, wanted to give the writer credit for getting away with some originality.
Another thing one can't help but notice the height disparity between the two leads, La Beouf and Whitely. I checked and he lists his height in his bio as an entire quarter of an inch taller than her's states. There seems to be different people playing La Beouf as his height seems to change up and down by four inches or more throughout the film. Some of that can be explained by her footwear, but not all of it. One may wonder why I mention that? I mention it because I was so disinterested in the "action" on screen that I was looking for other things to find interest in on screen. Still, I have to give credit for any shorter guy willing to undertake scaling mount Whitely. It must have been very fun for him.
In the long run, I would have much preferred it had they cast a "real" young actress in the role instead of a model. There are a number of good ones to choose from. For example, Blake Lively (barely shorter), pixieish Ellen Page, Hilary Duff (Oooo, she can even resemble a tough girl), Kay or DaniellePanabaker (or maybe both of them, they're small), Hayden Panettiere, Mia Wasikowska (shorter than whazziz name), Aly Michalka (barely shorter), Emma Roberts (who is charmingly shorter than that Witwicky guy), Amanda Michalka (also shorter) and, my personal favorite nominee, Emma Stone (also shorter). See how easy it is? In conclusion, I will posit that the theater was uncommonly packed, the most I'd ever seen on a weekday performance, and the audience uniformly seemed to like the film a lot. So, I guess that means that they will make a lot of money which, in turn, will likely generate yet another sequel.
Your Highness (2011)
Your Highness I allowed myself to be talked into going to this film by some friends. I thought, "How bad can a film be if it has Natalie Portman in it. Let's just say I won't hold it against them; or her. They didn't know either and I am telling myself that her enduring this tripe was a form of purgatory to remind Ms. Portman that even though she can win an Oscar she can still be thrust into the abyss.
I am asking why a concept that sounds like it has promise can fail so miserably? And fail it did. I didn't hear a single person in the theater laugh once during the film. Remarkably, the entire script came across as almost worthy of a sophomore high school amateur night with the performances not far behind. A good deal of this film seemed to be aimed at titillating the senses of slow, unimaginative 12 year old boys. I had to search for competent acting here and came up with little to show for it.
Ms. Natalie Portman at least didn't make a fool of herself, turning in a performance that seemed to be at least trying with the sparse material. She had the only good moment, no a great moment, in the film by shedding her duds and revealing a quite stunning posterior. Thank you Natalie! Charles Dance as the King was actually quite good; I suppose because he was removed from the more objectionable parts and since he's been knighted by the Queen he must know what he's doing, right? Damian Lewis, who was so riveting in Band of Brothers as Major Richard Winters, gave a spotty, somewhat credible performance. I imagined that he felt bewildered by the material and those people behind the camera kept telling him, "Go ahead man, do it this way. It'll be great!" Those people lied to him.
The usually great Zooey Deschanel seemed to be spoofing the writers and directors by pretending to act badly with the material she was given. I know she was pretending because I have seen her do worlds better with seemingly little effort.
James Franco came across as a bit less animated that he was at the last Academy Awards program. He must be listening to the Lindsey Lohan school of advice.
Rasmus Hardiker had a badly written part but he seemed to do better with it than most of his colleagues.And Justin Theroux as the bad guy, well, he did what he could I suppose but it was a lurid, seamy, badly written part.
Having mentioned all of those, I suppose I should say something about Danny McBride, who seems to be responsible for most of what appeared on screen. I could swear that I actually saw people in the theater cringe whenever he was on screen. I know I disliked every scene he was in. A lot. Most of those scenes were puerile to the point of being offensive. There is a way to effectively use material that is more on the adult side. This is perfect example of how not to do it.
Each of the participants in this venture can rest easy as, having reached bottom, they have gained an example of what not to do from now on in their careers. I hope.
Where do I get my money back? By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/
Entertaining, BUT ...
Thor is the Norse god of thunder, among other things, and is still revered as such in some places. But this is not about religion although most of the story's framework is drawn from it.
I first learned about the God Thor reading about him in the pages of my parent's encyclopedia late at night by flashlight. I think I was about 10. To me, Norse mythology was just more interesting than the Greek or Roman. Among the things I learned, Thor also represented fertility and was the protector of mankind. Not altogether bad things for a movie hero. So, I was hoping this film would turn into one of those guilty pleasures, not in least part because I can also remember reading the comic book when I was a kid.
The title character is played by Chris Hemsworth, who has a modern day comic book physique to fit the part. He's actually best when he's more serious. He doesn't do the comedic parts of the film nearly as convincingly. Writing him in as completely clueless about human culture on Earth doesn't fit well for the part of a God.
Thor's love interest is amply provided by the stunning Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. Portman, for her part, adds a lot to the film both with her excellent characterization and just by beautifying the screen. She is just one of those people you have a hard time taking your eyes off of. I liked the comic elements she was in, her's is the kind of face you like to see happy.
The supporting players, Anthony Hopkins (as Odin), Rene Russo (subtly underplaying Frigga, wife of Odin and Queen of Asgard), Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hiddleston are all terrific. I am struck at the range I've seen in the performances of Stellan Skarsgård. Is this the same guy who played the palpably evil Cerdic in "King Arthur"? Of course it is. It's also the same guy who sang and danced in Moma Mia as Bill. That's some wide range of talent. I think he's one of my favorite people to see on screen. He's always doing something interesting and he ads subtle touches here that provide some connectivity and explanation. Tom Hiddleston added something great as one of the film's villains. He didn't over do it either. Thank you for that.
But one of the best new actresses around, Kat Denning added marvelous relief as Portman's quirky and funny assistant. I am looking forward to seeing her do a lot of great things in the future. I hope the filmmakers also see that she's not just funny, but can be really sexy too.
Overall, however, the film left me wanting more. I tried to understand why I felt that way. I think the most disappointing element was the story. It wasn't bad, really it wasn't, just disappointing. I was hoping against hope that it would more closely follow the original Marvel comic I remember so well. In those, Thor was sent on a mission to Earth by his father, Odin. He lived life on Earth as a disabled doctor, Dr. Donald Blake, who then became the superhero when he was needed by tapping his cane on the ground. Then his cane became the magic hammer Mjolnir and he was magically transformed into Thor to do battle against evil.
Well, that's not the plot of the movie. The plot of the movie is considerably weaker and it seems the lighter, comedic elements were an afterthought to prop it up. The comedy, perhaps, saved the story from becoming trite. There's nothing wrong with some comic relief, but it shouldn't feel like it was NEEDED.
In the film, Thor is cast out of Asgard, presumably to learn a lesson. He must become worthy to return, but the film's Asgard is overwrought, hardly seeming like the kind of place a playful young pagan God would care to go back to (How much more entertaining would have been the participation there of Freya, goddess of love, beauty, fertility and war).
The makers of the film (including the director Kenneth Branagh) might have taken some council from the old movie, The Vikings (1958) and the celebratory banquet hall in it, presided over by the obviously hedonistic Earnest Borgnine. That setting seemed a far more desirable candidate for a Viking Asgard than the stark sterility of this film's sets. Borgnine's version seems like more the place a warrior would like to be swept into Valhalla by scantily clad Valkyries. The injection of the other kind of reality would have been far more entertaining than all the CGI nonsense here. It just wasn't interesting at all.
While we're there, the use of 3D in this film was my second big 3D disappointment recently. It would have been nice to see it well used but it goes by without hardly any notice. It made me feel cheated out of the extra admission price.
Some of the other CGI effects were very good and much more original than some other recent offerings. The film's use of color and space was fairly stunning. But I'd like to send a note here to the film makers, Gods should not need any kind of mechanical apparatus to wield their power. That would be more impressive than what was done here.
In the final analysis, it's worth the trip to the theater, you'd definitely benefit from seeing this on a really big screen. However, you won't really miss anything if you opt for the digital version and skip the 3D.
By Bruce L. Jones http://webpages.charter.net/bruce.jones1/