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A brilliant miniseries based on a wonderful book
I read the wonderful Stephen King novel, upon which this great miniseries is based, when it was a bestseller and then reread it in the spring of 2016 when I heard about this show. Over the past couple of days I have watched the miniseries again and liked it even more this time. It is one of the best, if not the very best, filmed versions of a good book I can recall.
The series is a bittersweet examination of the power of unintended consequences. The key to it is expressed in Al the diner owner's warning to Jake when Jake agrees to go back to 1960 and live in the '60s for three years in order to try to prevent the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald in Texas in 1963. Al tells Jake to expect "push back" whenever Jake tries to change events because "When you f*** with the past, the past f***s you back." As Jake desperately tries to prevent the JFK assassination and to "fix" some other things along the way, he discovers the dark power and truth of Al's warning.
As is true of King's best work, and I think his 11/22/63 is near the top of that list, this story, while filled with King's dark humor is also filled with dark truths. By its end, it moved me.
The best Film of a Stage Musical I have Seen
I came to Miss Saigon with little or no knowledge of what it was about or even who wrote it. The only reason I got the unexpected privilege of seeing this great film of a great musical was the recommendation of a friend, a fellow musical theatre buff, who recommended it to me. The Blu-ray disk apparently isn't available in the United States, so I bought it from Amazon.uk. I'm glad I did.
The show is deeply emotional and often very sad. I wasn't prepared for that so by the end of the night I had been worn out but worn out in a good way.
The show's four principal characters, The Engineer, Kim, Chris, and John were all played by talented actors who could both sing and act. I was particularly impressed by the then 18 year old Eva Noblezada, who played Kim. The show will be moving to Broadway in March with many of the actors who are in this filmed version.
In an early scene, Gigi (played by the wonderful Rachelle Ann Go), Kim, and the rest of the girls with whom they work, sing the haunting, "The Movie in my Mind." The 17 year old Kim, who is new sings,
"I will not cry, I will not think/ I'll do my dance, I'll make them drink/ When I make love, it won't be me/ And if they hurt me, I'll just close my eyes"
But the girls all hope to be rescued by an American GI from their desperate and dangerous lives. The song ends with Kim singing her own dream, of
"A world that's far away/ Where life is not unkind/ The movie in my mind"
There is a lot that is funny in the show too, primarily delivered by the cynical but wily Engineer. Alas, though, this is a show about loss, which I guess should be clear, as it is based on Puccini's tragic, "Madam Butterfly."
I cannot recommend the "Miss Saigon: 25th Anniversary" too highly. The film tells its dark and tragic story with beauty and elegance. Not to be missed!
The Great Gatsby (2013)
A Ravishingly Beautiful and Highly Entertaining Film
I very much liked Baz Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby. I would have been disappointed if it had not been filled with striking visual images of beautiful people but it was filled with many of both. I have long been fond of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the same name and this is the first film version of the story I have seen that I thought worked. Much of the dialog was from Fitzgerald's own words.
The large ensemble cast was excellent. I was particularly impressed with the performances of Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway, and Joel Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan. As usual, Leonardo DiCaprio was excellent, this time as Jay Gatsby.
Luhrmann has achieved another artistic triumph. Highly recommended! 8 Stars out of 10.
Taken 2 (2012)
Dumb but marginally entertaining
Taken 2, like too many Hollywood sequels, is a shameless money grab. The first Taken, while not a bastion of intelligence, was entertaining and had a semblance of suspense. For those of us who had seen the original, though, its clone, Taken 2, was entirely predictable.
I decided to see Taken 2 solely because of my high regard for Liam Neeson. The always reliable Neeson did not disappoint me here. His performance lent an air of credibility to the film, which its underwhelming screenplay lacked.
Despite the failings of Taken 2's screenplay, it was saved from utter failure by its excellent ensemble cast, high production values, and well done action sequences. Add to that its short runtime of 92 minutes and Taken 2 was worth the price of admission, albeit barely.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
A worthy addition to the Bourne series
I went into the Bourne Legacy with no expectations whatsoever. The critics' review of the film were so all over the place that I had no idea whether I would be royally entertained or bitterly disappointed. In the event, I was royally entertained. I loved the intricate backstory explaining how Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) came to be such a super warrior and the complications that came with it. I thought Renner's work here was the best he has done since his memorable performance in The Hurt Locker.
The film's production values could hardly have been higher. I gave high marks to its colorful locations, fine cinematography, and brilliant ensemble cast. The producers took care to cast fine actors such as David Strathairn and Elizabeth Marvel in small roles. As usual, Rachel Weisz was marvelous, although I barely recognized her at first. It appears that she has had some cosmetic surgery, which, while leaving her still beautiful, changed her looks. No matter, she was still fine.
After the, to me at least, very interesting exposition of the background of the Outcome subjects, the movie shifted into high gear, with heart stopping chases, on both foot and motorcycle, through the streets of Manilla.
Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy is a worthy successor to Matt Damon's Jason Bourne in The Bourne Trilogy. 8 Stars out of 10.
People Like Us (2012)
A decent try but not recommended
As other posters have already noted, the ensemble cast of People Like Us was terrific. Although, I ended up being underwhelmed by the film, it wasn't the fault of marvelous performances by Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde, and Michael Hall D'Addario as 11 year old Josh.
Despite a couple of scenes that were laugh out loud funny and a couple of others that moved me, the film was by and large too long and too soapy. I could never quite warm to the characters enough to forgive their many weaknesses. The lesson of the film may have been that family members forgive each other and rise above their failings but I still couldn't care about them very much. If anybody could have made me care, it would have been Pine, Banks, Pfeiffer, and D'Addario but even their considerable charm and skill weren't enough.
Sitting through People Like Us wasn't quite a waste of two hours but it came perilously close to that. As I was feeling generous, I gave it 6 Stars out of 10 but can't really recommend it.
The Beaver (2011)
Loved Gibson, hated the film
As others have noted, Mel Gibson gave a remarkable performance as the thoroughly deranged Walter Black. The supporting cast was excellent, too, particularly, Anton Yelchin as Black's estranged son and Jennifer Lawrence as the son's high school classmate. Nevertheless, I ended up detesting the film because of what to me was a vicious and unnecessary turn of events about two-thirds of the way through it. After that, I simply stopped caring and was sorry I had decided to watch The Beaver in the first place.
Jody Foster, as usual, gave a fine performance but I though less of her directorial skills. In addition to her to me questionable decision to include a plot point that was a turn off, I thought her film dragged throughout most of its middle section. Because of this it seemed far longer than its actual runtime of 91 minutes. Not recommended.
Place of Execution (2008)
Terrific adaptation of a fine thriller
I finished reading Val McDermid's excellent thriller, "Place of Execution," a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it enough to pickup the DVD of the miniseries of the same name. I have now seen it and cannot praise it highly enough. Despite the complexities of the story, with its twin time lines and intersecting stories, it worked, I thought. Val McDermid co-wrote the screenplay, which I loved. Despite some changes from the book, do doubt made to tighten the story, it works.
"Place of Execution" is morally ambiguous, to say the least, the darkest of dark tales. It asks the question, When must the truth be sacrificed because justice requires it. The question is never answered but that's a good thing. Instead, we are left to ponder.
The arrogant Philip Hawkin is the squire of the remote village of Scardale. Hawkin, well played with malevolently superciliousness by Greg Wise, has a wife and 13 year old stepdaughter, both of whom had lived in the village long before Hawkin came along. In 1963 the stepdaughter, Allison, disappears and the evidence developed by the police sets afoot this stark morality play, the facts of which are not fully revealed until 40 years later. To say more would deprive you of the rich pleasures of seeing the truth revealed a layer at a time. After that, you will be left to decide the justice of the matter.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
A surprisingly enjoyable adaptation of a great work
As was the case with so many Hollywood Golden Era films of the '40s any relationship between this version of Pride and Prejudice and either Jane Austen's novel and historical accuracy is purely coincidental. Nevertheless, and to my surprise, I loved it. The screenplay, written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin is brilliant and very funny but departs significantly from the original. Those of you who are very familiar with the Jane Austen novel and are such purists that you can't live with the significant changes made should stay far away. I forgave Huxley and Murfin, though, because their sweet, goodnatured romantic comedy, which takes only 117 minutes to tell, just works.
The cast, particularly the women was marvelous. They were uniformly beautiful as well as graceful and elegantly dressed. Greer Garson, as Lizie, was a delight, despite having been many years older that Austen's original. Her scenes with Laurence Olivier, as Darcy, couldn't have been more fun. In this version, Olivier became a warm and and approachable person at a much earlier stage than he did in Austen's novel and their scenes together fairly crackled with romantic tension. Even the pompous and arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh, played by Edna May Oliver was written to display a level of warmth and humanity that Austen certainly never envisaged.
This old film has held its age remarkably well and is great, great fun. Highly recommended!
Hunter S. Thompson was a supremely funny man but, alas, was a deeply unhappy one. Thompson's political positions could have hardly been more different from my own. Nevertheless, I admired his work because he was such an original and so entertaining. I did so mainly because I knew better than to ever take him seriously. Unfortunately, Thompson never learned to not take himself too seriously and that failing led to his self destructiveness and, ultimately to his suicide.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a mostly loving look at Thompson through the eyes of many of his friends and the politicians he wrote about. It shows a man with a profoundly dichotomous nature: creativeness and wit on its positive side but dark, self destructive depression on the other. It created the richly entertaining Gonzo journalist who those of us who admired his work so enjoyed but also planted the seeds for his depression and death.
Near the end of the film, Thompson's first wife, Sondi, takes issue with those who characterize Thompson's suicide as "heroic." I think she has a point. Thompson had largely fallen from the public eye some years before he killed himself in 2005 at the age of 67. In a note delivered to his wife four days before his death, which was described by both his family and the police as a suicide note, Thompson wrote, under the title "Football Season is Over":
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."
That about sums it up.
Death Sentence (2007)
Death Sentence is a truly awful picture. I decided to watch it because I had never met a revenge thriller I didn't like -- until Death Sentence came along. The film has literary pretensions, which because of its clunky writing and sheer preposterousness it could not deliver. I wanted to like it, I really did, but there's nothing there to like. Trust me on this.
Despite the presence of the talented Kevin Bacon, who did about all he could with what he was given, the movie is a bore. Even the many bloody action sequences are tedious because of their silliness.
If nothing else, Death Sentence disabused me of the notion that I would find something to like in any revenge thriller. Do yourself a favor, stay far, far away from this one.
District 9 (2009)
A work of genius!
District 9 is inspired film-making. In some ways, I suppose, it is an allegorical tale, but it is NOT a Message Movie. Thank heavens for that because I detest most such films. Although I feared that this film might be a heavy handed anti-Apartheid drama, I saw instead a brilliant sci-fi film, in a class with Ridley Scott's classic "Alien."
The protagonist of the film is Wikus Van De Werne, played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley from whom I hope to see more in the future. Wikus is alternately, stupid, naive, and funny, but ultimately loyal and brave. The movie traces his assignment as the man in charge of an operation to remove aliens from a squalid camp near Johannesburg and resettle them in a remote location. How all of this is developed and plays out is fascinating and consistently interesting, trust me on this.
District 9 is directed by young Neil Blomkamp -- he is only 29. This is the only film of his I have seen but he has convinced me already that he is a force to be reckoned with. He made District 9 for little money, at least by the standards of most modern special effects laden films, and co-wrote the screenplay, too boot.
This is a smart film; it is also sometimes moving and often funny. Highest recommendations!
Lakeview Terrace (2008)
A dreary story about unsympathetic people
Were it not for the outstanding performances of Lakeview Terrace's stars, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, and Kerry Washington, I would have given this depressing film a vote of 2 stars out of 10. The film is utterly devoid of humor and paints an oppressively sad picture of racism in the suburbs. This isn't the first depressing mess of a movie directed by Neil LaBute, as the misogynistic, In the Company of Men, demonstrates. Perhaps LaBute wanted to deliver a message on the wages of racial intolerance with Lakeview Terrace. If so, he failed. LaBute's message was delivered with so much bitterness and anger, I found the movie nearly unwatchable. I suppose that it goes without saying that I do not recommend Lakeview Terrace.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
An unserious but beautiful and exciting noir thriller
Let's get this out of the way first: I love Brian De Palma's stuff. The guy is the ultimate trickster, who has not the slightest compunction about jerking his viewers' legs. Nevertheless, his films are beautiful and The Black Dahlia is no exception. Better yet, a first class cast really gets its teeth into a picture that is an exercise in noir storytelling. Anybody who goes into this movie with the idea that it will tell a serious story is doomed to disappointment.
If you recognize that the confused and confusing plot is nothing more than another De Palma joke at our expense expense and that the real mission of the film is to pay tribute to the wonderful noir stories about L.A. in the '40s of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, you are in for a treat -- at least if you are as big a fan of those dark and exciting stories as I am.
Don't let De Palma's joke get the better of you. Forget the plot and watch The Black Dahlia from the point of view of most of us when we saw the far more successful and approachable, Sin City. The Black Dahlia is never as overtly funny as Sin City but, it seems to me, it does a lot of the same sort of things. Recommended, 7 out of 10
Much to be commended but ultimately uninvolving
Milk has a lot in it that is very good. The cinematography, by Harris Savides, is beautiful, as is the original music by Danny Elfman. I deeply admired Sean Penn's bravura performance in the title role, his Best Actor Oscar was well deserved. Josh Brolin, as Milk's killer Dan White also gave an affecting performance.
Now to what I liked less. Despite a well written screenplay, for which Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar, I found the story rather uninteresting. But blame that on me, not Milk. Milk's activism in support of gay rights was always a mixed bag to me. He was absolutely right to fight tooth and nail against the anti-gay and homophobic attitudes of Anita Bryant and her fellow True Believers who supported the viciously repressive Proposition 6. Nevertheless, Milk's harsh criticism of gays who wanted to keep quiet about their orientation always made me uncomfortable. That decision should always be a matter of personal choice and not questioned in an attempt to gain more political power, or so it seems to me.
I should observe finally that Harvey Milk was a powerhouse, a charming, charismatic leader, so he was appropriately celebrated in this film. On balance, I give Milk a marginal recommendation, 6 out of 10.
A dark but brilliant near masterpiece
I saw Watchmen today without knowing any more than the broad outlines of what it is about. Those of you who expect a comic book based movie to be a feel good epic with the superhero saving the world and getting the girl should forget about it.
This is a dark and disturbing story. It's saving graces are its thoughtful nature and how beautiful it is to look at and listen to. Some of the graphics are awe inspiring and the music works very well There is much to think about here, too. In fact, I am still thinking about it.
Try it, you might like it, I did. 9 out of 10.
The Wrestler (2008)
The emperor has no clothes!
The Wrestler is an overblown mishmash, saved from utter disaster only by excellent performances from Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomey. For that reason I gave it 5 Stars out of 10 but even 5 Stars was probably too high. Despite a couple of great performances, this gritty, dreary, depressing mess was a failure. Rourke's Wrestler was a quintessential loser, who I could not care about, no matter how I tried. I think I know what Aronofsky, particularly with his, umm, odd ending, had in mind here but, for me at least, it didn't work. Despite brilliant work by Rourke, his character was an unsympathetic goof who failed at every important responsibility he ever had, leaving me nothing and no one to root for.
Copying Beethoven (2006)
Beautiful film about the great music of a great composer
Copying Beethoven is a beautiful film, both visually and sonically. Its real star is Beethoven's music, particularly his great masterpiece, the 9th Symphony. I loved it but warn those who expect strict historical accuracy that they won't get it here. Beethoven never had a female copyist and the character of Anna is entirely fictional. Nevertheless, Beethoven's tortured brilliance is portrayed to perfection by a slightly overweight Ed Harris and Diane Kruger, as his copyist, Anna Holtz, is perfect, too. Kruger is little more than competent as an actress but her ethereal beauty and earnestness work here.
The high point of the movie for me was its portrayal of the first performance of the 9th Symphony, with Anna, who is hidden from the audience, doing the conducting, which the deaf Beethoven follows. The audio for the scene was taken from a recording of the work made by the great Concertgabouw Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink. It is riveting.
Another scene involving a performance of Beethoven's music displays to perfection how controversial he could be. His great Grosse Fugue for string quartet was roundly panned by 19th Century critics. That happened, of course, because the work was so far ahead of its time. In the movie, the audience gradually walks out of the premier performance and the Grand Duke even tells Beethoven how terrible he thinks it is. The Grosse Fugue has gained wider acceptance but is still among Beethoven's hardest to perform and least approachable works.
I love Beethoven's music, so I was immediately captivated by the movie. It didn't let me down. Highly recommended.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Mama Mia: a Glorious Mess
The movie version of Mama Mia is almost but not quite a disaster. Despite a cast that was mostly nearly a generation too old, couldn't sing, and couldn't dance, the film mostly succeeded. The brilliant Meryl Streep was a lot of fun and could sing better than adequately, despite her nearly 60 years. The lovely Amanda Seyfreid was young enough and could sing, too. Also Christine Baranski proved that she is as funny as ever and has a nice singing voice.
On to the not so good stuff. Although tasked with important songs, Pierce Brosnan was not up to that task. The guy just can't sing. Oddly, Colin Firth, who had much less to do musically was pretty good. The dancing was awful. It looked like what a group of friends at a bowling alley might try to do after 3 or 4 beers.
Despite its shortcomings, Mama Mia is a lot of fun and its wonderful old Abba songs were often moving, thanks to a strong screenplay. Seeing the movie made me regret than I didn't have a chance to see the 2001 Broadway production.
The Bucket List (2007)
Delightful and well done
I LOVED The Bucket List. The talent of its Oscar winning stars notwithstanding, this if a smart, funny, and occasionally irreverent film. I was endlessly entertained. The emotional growth of its two protagonists and their increasing ability to deal with their illnesses as they grow closer together is heartwarming. Indeed, I think that is why IMDb voters uniformly appreciated the film (7.6 average rating) and the usual naysayers among the critics simply didn't get it (only 41% positive reviews, according To Rotten Tomatoes).
With their treatment of The Bucket List the critics reinforced my notion that there is some secret provision in the Critics Union's bylaws that approving of most movies that are overtly sentimental and any Rob Reiner film are dismissible offenses.
Lonesome Dove (1989)
The best miniseries ever made
Lonesome Dove is the finest miniseries ever made. It is perhaps the most faithful adaptation of a great book I have ever seen on film. There is riveting scene after riveting scene. I read Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name in 1986 when it was a bestseller and watched this miniseries in 1989 during its first run on TV. I bought the DVDs when they were first released and have watched them many times over the years. I loved every version, every time.
There is now a Blu-ray edition of this great old series, which I just watched. The old 4:3 film has been reformatted to 16:9, widescreen, and digitally remastered, including a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. It was a marvelous experience. Highly recommended.
Better that I had thought it would be
Despite its relative unpopularity with IMDb viewers and the generally bad reception it received when it was released, the first "Hulk" has a lot going for it. The cast is uniformly wonderful and Ang Lee's direction is surehanded. I particularly enjoyed the special effects, especially the chase scene in San Francisco.
I have a couple of quibbles, though. The worst is that the film 's 138 runtime is far too long. This caused it to drag in spots. Also, Lee couldn't seem to hold a consistent point of view. He shifted, sometimes jarringly, from cartoonish to super-serious darkness. It is a somewhat dark tale but, come on, it's based on a comic book. Thus, I could have done with more good natured fun and less King Lear.
My reservations notwithstanding, I rather liked "Hulk." It was often exciting, always pleasant to look at, and had several excellent performances. 7 out of 10.
Murder in the First (1995)
Historically inaccurate but entertaining
I won't dwell on the factual inaccuracies of "Murder in the First," other posters have already discussed them. I will note, though, that there are many more differences than there are similarities between the real Henry Young and the fictional version presented in this film. That said, the movie is reasonably good popular entertainment, with outstanding performances from a large ensemble cast. The eeevil Associate Warden Glenn, played in a scenery eating tour de force by Gary Oldman is a hoot. Do you want to talk about a guy you love to hate? Kevin Bacon's performance as our put upon hero was also entertaining, if a little actorish.
"Murder in the First" is a lot of fun but there is nothing in it to take seriously, at least nothing I could find.
Some facts some propaganda
The collection strategies used by collection companies, some of which are illustrated in "Maxed Out," are unsavory by any measure and can't be gainsaid. Nevertheless, the film seems not to know the meaning of the term "Personal responsibility." The folks who get into the kinds of trouble depicted by the movie got there because they lived beyond their means, the difference between their income and outgo being financed by credit card companies, albeit at outrageous rates. Still, the debtors either knew or should have known what they were getting into.
I agree, though, with the film's depiction of The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005. The act was not really a "reform," but a limitation of the rights formerly provided to debtors to discharge their debts in bankruptcy. Even under the old law, nobody who wasn't desperate sought bankruptcy protection. To narrow its protections was an outrage, it seems to me.
Despite its propagandistic tone, one-sidedness, and anti-business attitudes, "Maxed Out" is occasionally informative and makes some useful points. Marginally recommended if you have some stomach medicine nearby.
Casino Royale (2006)
Perhaps the best of the bond films
This is the best film in the 007 franchise since the Sean Connery era and one of the best ever. Daniel Craig brings a thuggish edginess to the role unseen in any Bond flick since Connery's tenure. I thought there was always something a little too elegant and unserious about the actors who played Bond in those years but Craig has taken care of that this time. I can hardly wait to see the upcoming sequel.
This "Casino Royale" provides a combination of excitement and humor, plus some sadness, not often achieved in the venerable Bond series. In addition to Bond, I thought the elegant and beautiful Eva Green was particularly effective as Bond's love interest. She had an aurora of seriousness and quiet intelligence that served her well.
This may be the best of the Bond films. Highly recommended, 10 out of 10.