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Wonder Woman (2017)
The Wonder of Wonder Woman
5 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Months ago, I had very mixed feelings about going to see the Wonder Woman movie. I was never a big Wonder Woman fan in the first place. I'd read the comics sometimes in the '60s, watched the amusing Lynda Carter show in the '70s but was never really into it. I was really sick to death of the current Marvel and DC comic movies - the Marvel movies were no longer very funny and the last good DC-related movie was probably Batman back in the late '80s. I figured I'd give WW a pass.

And then I started seeing the trailer for the new Wonder Woman movie. It was an impressive two minutes. Interesting photography, athletic leaping about, some humor...maybe this would be good. I'd always hated the slow motion in movies like The Matrix but the use of slow-mo in the trailer made sense for Wonder Woman.

So I went on the first day. I went on about one hour of sleep, so during the first hour of the movie, i dozed off periodically and missed a few points. The theater wasn't terribly full for a 12:30 show, but it had more than the 10-20 you often see during the first show on a Friday. I did manage to stay awake through most of the second half and really enjoyed most of it. The scene where Wonder Woman rose out of the trenches and ran across the battlefield was extremely moving on many levels.

There were at least two backward-nods to "Great Famous Feminist Moments in Movies and/or Books. The scene I mentioned featuring WW racing across "No Man's Land" just screamed the famous moment from Return of the King where Eowyn rips off her helmet, screams "I am no man!" and kills the Witch King (with help from another "non-man," Merry). The other moment was a little quieter and I missed it during it first time I saw the movie (I liked it so much I went again on Saturday with my family) as I was sleeping. There's that amusing scene when Diana and Steve talk on the boat, and she explains that she understands about pleasure seemed like a shout out to Teri Garr's famous comment in Tootsie "I'm responsible for my own orgasm."

The action scenes were all well-shot, and there was always enough character development and dialog to keep the movie interesting. Strong photography, effects, costumes, production development, acting, script - this is probably the best action movie I've ever seen. I ranked it an 8 on IMDb. Congratulations to Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot & the rest of the crew - you did a GREAT job!!


I had such hope that maybe, just maybe, the 20 minutes of bloated fighting at the end of every action movie would not happen in Wonder Woman. When Diana killed the German general, I nearly stood up and cheered. But then she realized that even though she thought she'd killed Ares, the war was going on...because the war-mongering general was not Ares, but someone more behind-the-scenes was...which, after a few minutes of interesting discussion about how Ares worked, launched into about a 15 minute-long boated fight scene. Oh well, at least it seemed a little shorter than usual.
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Ghostbusters (2016)
While I'm Sick to Death of Reboots, This One ROCKED!
14 July 2016
Those comic dynamos Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones & Chris Hemsworth (why not, men can be funny too!) did their hysterical best in Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot.

Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play old friends/paranormal book co- authors who reunite when a ghost shows up at a mansion. Kate McKinnon is McCarthy's current work partner. When they all wind up unemployed at the same time, they decide to work together as more ghost sightings are reported. Leslie Jones is a transit worker/Manhattan expert who joins them after she sees a ghost in the subway.

The ghosts/demons appear having been "summoned" by a disaffected white boy (who'd probably bitch mightily about a gender-changed Ghostbusters reboot) named Rowan, creepily played by Neil Casey, who's working as a well-dressed janitor in an art deco Manhattan hotel.

The chemistry between the leads and their secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) is very funny and the special effects are striking throughout.

There are a few missteps in the movie, either due to some minor problems in the script or possibly with the editing. Ghosts sometimes appear in very public locations and are even filmed by people on their smart phones, yet city officials seem to be able to convince people that they are fakes. A minor character is thrown out of a window onto a street, and it's not at all clear what happened to him. If he'd been killed, it would have been an issue for the women. There are some continuity issues here and there.

But, on the whole the movie works well, is very entertaining, and sets up the cast for a possible sequel. Would love to see "the mentor" very much involved if there is a sequel.
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Crouching Tiger was GREAT but..Sword of Destiny, not so much.
5 March 2016
I really loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Sword of Destiny is a very frustrating movie. It has some of the feel of the original, but it suffers from "Hollywood sequelitis" - everything must be more amped. Lots of characters added, very erratic focus, very little plot or character development.

Michelle Yeoh is wonderful as always. Most of the new actors are kind of a blur.

The movie has some terrific photography and sword fighting scenes, but nothing as awe-inspiring as the first movie, when so much of this style of fighting was new to me. Probably worth watching if you loved the first movie, but it's a noisy shadow of the first, so it's on the disappointing side.
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Spotlight (I) (2015)
Spotlight - Spot on!
9 January 2016
I had a feeling when I first saw Spotlight that it would be my favorite movie of the year, and it is. Exceptionally intelligently written, one of the best ensemble casts ever, it brilliantly portrayed how difficult dealing with child abuse in general is and how very difficult it was to deal with it in Boston when the biggest perpetrators were employees of the Catholic Church. It's a powerful and painful movie that never lost track of the importance of the past in dealing with horrors of the present.

I lived in Massachusetts in the '80s and '90s. I was horrified by the former Father James Porter case and utterly dismayed by how little things changed after that case became oh so public. Spotlight insightfully portrayed why things failed to change after former Father Porter went to jail.

The writers, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer deserve all best original screenplay awards for 2015 hands down. I didn't see another movie all last year that was as solid as this movie. McCarthy also previously wrote & directed The Station Agent (Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson & Bobby Carnivale) and The Visitor (Richard Jenkins) and wrote the story for one of the best animated features ever, Up. Almost everything he touches portrays real people like real people on camera and I love that (yes, even in Up).

I'd long been a fan of Michael Keaton and I'm very pleased that he's been in each of my favorite movies of the last two years (Birdman and Spotlight). Mark Ruffalo gave both a passionate and compassionate performance. And the actors who played the abuse survivors, particularly Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), and Jimmy LeBlanc (Patrick McSorely) captured the difficulties of telling their stories.

While much of this movie may come off as religion-bashing and a love letter to The Boston Globe, watch carefully because there were times when the Globe failed and other times when individuals in the Catholic Church tried to help and were rebuffed as no one (including the Globe) believed them.

When I look back at so many movies this year, I've seen many with great performances (like The Danish Girl and Concussion) but they seem to be lacking something in the storytelling. Spotlight lacks for nothing.
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Steve Jobs (2015)
Captured the Chaos Around Computer Launches Very Well
23 October 2015
Steve Jobs really isn't a biopic. It was a look at how Apple/NeXT computers were introduced to the public, how Steve Jobs made those launches happen, and his relationships with several pivotal people in his life (Joanna the marketing czar; Woz his early partner & hardware guru; John his mentor/Apple CEO; Andy, longtime Apple developer; Chris an old lover & mother of his eldest daughter; and Lisa, his daughter).

The movie opens with the SF writer/futurist/inventor & 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke talking in the early '70s about how he envisioned the future of computers. Just about everything Clarke described happened in the computer industry by the late '90s. It was a great introduction to life pre- Internet/pre-personal computer - some people felt the technology would come (before flying cars even). And people like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen helped to turn futurists' dreams into realities that conflicted and competed for decades.

The movie covers 3 different computer launches - Mac (1984), NeXT (1988) & iMac (1998), the chaos around them and how to make it look like the computer was working as expected even if it wasn't. Characters weave in and out of Steve's sphere as Joanna tries desperately to keep him focused on the task at hand. A few flashbacks back to the early development days in the garage show how far Jobs came. In many ways he was more of a marketer than his marketing department was.

This movie is great for people interested in computers. It may not be all that revelatory about Jobs himself, though the scenes between Steve Jobs and John Sculley were particularly good. The scenes with his ex-lover and daughter were a little too soap-operish and seemed almost out-of-place even though they were important to the story. Michael Fassbinder as Jobs and Kate WInslet as Joanna were particularly good, but the entire cast was terrific.

I expect to see the movie Steve Jobs adapted as a play any time now, the script is so strong.
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Quirky Teen Flick
25 June 2015
It's VERY good; a bit much on the extreme close ups (Greg, the lead, is extremely self- absorbed) but a quirky look at his life and how he's forced to visit a classmate with leukemia. My one problem with The Fault in Our Stars was the leads looked too healthy; Olivia Cooke as Rachel really looked quite ill in parts of the movie. The movies that Greg and his friend Earl make were a hoot. Some wonderful stop-motion animation in this movie, particularly in the little movie Earl and Greg make for Rachel. Also enjoyed the way that most of the adults were every bit as weird as the kids, particularly Greg's father and the history teacher.
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Inside the Actors Studio: Robin Williams (2001)
Season 7, Episode 14
The Funniest Episode of of Inside the Actors Studio Ever
27 September 2014
But it's also just a little bit sad now.

Robin Williams was both thoughtful and reflective, and also completely gonzo during this Inside the Actors Studio episode. He was so fast and so on during that taping, it's simply amazing. There's also the great "shawl improv" where he borrows a pink shawl from a woman in the audience and just uses it as a prop.

He explains how he did his first nude scene in Central Park in the middle of the night which is a very funny story.

The DVD is two hours of hysterical stuff. The Williams taping is rumored to have gone on for 5 hours, which would be a great thing to find and broadcast.
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Home Run First Time for Stephen Chbosky
2 October 2012
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the better teen flicks of recent times. While I wasn't familiar with male leads (Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller), they could match wits against the excellent Emma Watson in a movie about early '90s teenage angst. Set in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, novelist/screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky did a fine job with his first book/script/movie.

One highlight of the movie is that most of the characters are fairly well-developed. Even without knowing everything about him, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller) can tell our hero Charlie (Lerman) is another "misfit toy," just as they are. All of the kids have had trouble in the past or in the present, and they're generally dealing with it. But Charlie, especially, has difficulties. Chbosky shows how Charlie's past problems can't always be hidden, and emerge in some unexpected ways.

The movie makes good use of its Pittsburgh location, particularly with some memorable trips over the Fort Pitt bridge. Any movie that can both cast Tom Savini and give Eide's a plug is good in my book! This movie might be a movie like American Graffiti in the future - a movie with an awful lot of young talent in one place at one time.
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Mostly a Political Polemic
2 October 2012
Won't Back Down is less a movie about living, breathing characters (with one exception) and more a political polemic about bad schools and bad unions. Viola Davis manages, as usual, to rise above surprisingly simplistic material and give a fine performance. But most of the characters were reduced to giving talking points, and some usually good actors gave surprisingly bad performances as a result. I know people worked very hard on this movie, and I'd like to be able to give it a more positive review...but I just can't.

This movie also made pretty good use of its Pittsburgh location, particularly nice use of the the incline. Points for the many sports-related T-shirts and the Giant Eagle bread.
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Ted (2012)
Rare Comedy That Doesn't Give It All Away in the Trailer.
8 July 2012
Liked much of the movie very much - not every plot point is revealed in the trailer, for one thing. For another, while it was raunchy and foul-mouthed, it wasn't disgusting (well, except in one part), so it didn't annoy me quite as much as Bridesmaids did last year. It makes many insightful comments on mid-'80s culture (or lack thereof) and on celebrities. It does fall apart a little about 2/3rds of the way through when it generally stopped being so funny and started taking itself a little too seriously. While I don't care for Seth McFarlane's TV work, I enjoyed most of Ted, and think he, like Ben Affleck, has a great ear for the South Boston style of speech and attitude.
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The Muppets (2011)
Quite entertaining
23 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I'm old enough that I never saw Kermit until I was 12 and was watching Sesame Street with my youngest brother in 1969. Loved The Muppet Show in the late '70s, and was reintroduced to Sesame Street with my daughter in the early '80s.

My husband and I were about the only adults without children in this afternoon's showing of The Muppet Movie. We loved almost every minute if it.

Like "Up," the first 10 minutes or so of this movie are both brilliant and touching. Any kid who felt at all like an outsider in childhood, and saw "his/her people" in another part of popular culture can relate to Walter.

There are loads of pop culture (especially about the '80s) and movie-making jokes throughout the movie. Teens and adults will probably appreciate them more than the kids did. The '80s Robot was a great concept!

The movie lags a little here and there - it steals a bit much from the "Blues Brothers" and "UHF" and the original "Muppet Movie." There was a little much toilet humor and vaudeville jokes were just too obscure for 2011.


One thing I found especially interesting was what was amusing to the kids in the audience. The kids really didn't seem to like the singing (though I found the Chris Cooper rap a complete hoot). The funniest thing to the kids seemed to be the abrupt appearance of Jim Parsons near the end of the movie. "It's Sheldon!" even some very young kids were saying. But the kids got wicked antsy during Kermit's overly-long speech at the end.

On the whole, it's a cute, entertaining flick. Jason Segel and Amy Adams were both charming. But the movie was funnier when it was more subversive.
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Bridesmaids (I) (2011)
Who Spoiled Bridesmaids?
31 May 2011
I've had very mixed feelings about this movie from the first time I saw a poster for it in my local theater. On the one hand, I love Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig and I like raunch (like the scenes with John Hamm). OTOH, I hate scenes like the food poisoning scene. So, I wasn't going to go, but one of my husband's cousins (female) said it wasn't that disgusting so my daughter and I went.

We liked it, though the disgusting stuff was too much, there was enough funny stuff that the movie almost came together. My daughter tells me that Hangover 1 was less gross than Bridesmaids. I wish people would pay less attention to Judd Apatow.

The interesting thing was that most of the audience when we went to see it was women between the ages of 40 and 60 and a few men of about the same age. I figured the audience would have skewed much younger.

What made the movie work for me were the scenes like the brilliant staredown between Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne, the generally sweet scenes between Kristen Wiig and Chris O'Dowd (what a cutie!), the scene where Wiig knows she must dump Hamm, and even the scene when she makes the incredible cupcake for herself, during a time when she's swearing to other people that she's no longer baking. And the scenes in the jewelry store - hysterical!

I was also happy to see Jill Clayburgh, even if I didn't recognize her at first (she died not long after the film was done).

Now, about Meghan - what bugged me about her was that she was written and performed like Rosie O'Donnell. Not all fat women, even not all Irish fat women, act like Rosie. But, I like that Meghan was quite successful and smart on her own, even if she was socially very awkward. I just wish every time someone decides it's OK to show fat people having sex, that food wasn't instantly involved.

As a writer and an actress, Kristen Wiig has huge potential. I just hope some guy doesn't ruin her next script. Bridesmaids wasn't ruined, but it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been.
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Unstoppable (2010)
Don't Stop for Unstoppable
14 November 2010
I'm not much for action adventure type movies, because they are mostly a mess of illogic. Unstoppable is no exception. I'm surprised that the reviews have been as positive as they have been. I'll admit it's a little exciting in places, but it really didn't hold my interest very much. The script has almost every action movie cliché and stock character you can imagine. Tiresome.

I'd like to say it was well-made, but the photography swings so much that it gets a little dizzying. I suppose that's part of the point - keep the audience off-balance so they can't think very much during the movie.

There are also stupid continuity problems. For whatever reason, while the movie is clearly set in Western Pennsylvania and a few scenes are actually set in Pittsburgh, the production decided to put in fake town names. I'm pretty sure the ending sequences were shot in Wheeling, West Virginia. So why not say the train was going to wind up in Wheeling? Why make up the name of another city that's larger than Pittsburgh but roughly in the Pittsburgh area?

Much of the movie was shot in small towns outside of Altoona, where train tracks parallel small country roads for a long time. One thing that was too bad is one of the most striking train vistas in the region is the Horseshoe Curve, which runs along a hill overlooking a valley. For whatever reason, they didn't/couldn't shoot from there.

At one point early in the movie, you see Channel 11 weather on in the background. It shows the highs in the 90s in southwestern Pennsylvania the day of the "train incident." At the end of the movie (which is either late in the day of train incident or maybe the next day), people are wearing mittens and scarves.

The acting was just tiresome. I've been a big fan of Denzel Washington, but he's done this upright/blue collar guy a lot over the last few years, and I know he can do better than this. Chris Pine is still so-so. The only performance that was at all interesting was Rosario Dawson who is stuck in a train control center for the entire movie. But she was the only person in this movie with any spark.

What made the movie kind of tolerable in places was comparing/contrasting corporate/government reaction in Unstoppable (which was shot in the fall 2009) and the BP oil disaster (which happened in mid-2010). You can almost see top-level corporate reaction in both being the same; that some of the people on the ground might have had a few clues but where generally ignored. The one federal government part in Unstoppable was played by a guy who initially seemed like he'd be part of the problem, but he wound up being part of the solution.

So if you like a movie that basically screams "I'm a big video game," you might like Unstoppable.

Laurie Mann Pittsburgh Flicks
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The Road (I) (2009)
Uneven Road But Worthwhile
25 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I managed to stay up for the 12:01 premiere in Pittsburgh late last night with about 50 other Pittsburghers.

I'm glad the movie started with some establishing shots of what life was like "before." It's almost idyllic; almost Eden-like. These brief and dreamlike passages helped provide a vivid contrast to everything that happens later.

About ten years after a global catastrophe, a ragged Father and Boy travel across a wasted countryside. They see few people, and most of them are as dirty and hungry as they are. And, frankly, the only word for this situation is bleak. If you make a movie about the end of the world with a very muted palette, there's no other word for it!

It took a while for the movie to get rolling. One thing Cormac McCarthy did very well in the book was to give a good sense of real geography. In the movie, Father and Boy go through random parts of the country, as if they were just wandering. Mountains became plains, and clearly ocean-going boats appeared on a dry riverbed when they were still very far away from the ocean. There wasn't even a single sign for "See Rock City." ;-> You never had the sense as you did in the book of the painful slog up and down the mountains. The most damaged countryside is seen extremely early in the movie, which probably wasn't the best choice. At one point near the end, Father and Boy spend a few days next to the "ocean" and there's no tide.

Another odd choice by the filmmakers were the constant extreme close-ups, so you could see every bit of grime on the characters. In some scenes, the cameras were so close to the actors that the actors looked very flat. The two times when the close-ups were very effective were the ones of Eli and towards the end of the movie.

Despite these criticisms, the movie looks right. The art direction and most of the photography was absolutely spot-on. The locations selected generally worked very well (my criticism about the traveling was more of the director's, editor's and maybe the writer's choices). There was certainly enough grime to go around even if the ash situation was generally played down.

And what about the acting? Viggo Mortensen gave one of the best performances of recent years. Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves very high praise for playing one of the trickiest roles for a kid actor in years and pulling off an American accent flawlessly. A few people have criticized Smit-McPhee's performance, but I think he matched Mortensen point-for-point. And I would actually have liked to see a little more Charlize Theron. While Mother appeared in a few more scenes in the movie than she had in the book, much of her long fight with Father wasn't included. Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams were great in small parts. I had mixed feelings about Guy Pearce, just because he felt "a little evil."

Another controversial area in this movie has been its music. I think the criticism was partially justified. The use of the slightly-out-of-tune piano for the keyboard was an excellent choice. But, particularly in the "tension" scenes, the music was too much. And it got overly Disnified at the very end, along with the movie itself for about a minute.

It's not a perfect movie, but it is a worthwhile one, and I recommend seeing it. 7.5 out of 10.

Laurie Mann Pittsburgh Flicks - Movie-making in the 'Burgh
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The Proposal (I) (2009)
Lightweight Confection with Very Good Casting
20 June 2009
This was a fun flick, mostly filmed in Massachusetts, in a community on the north shore called Rockport. Even with some mountains CGI'ed in the background, Rockport didn't look that much like Sitka, Alaska. It looked...well, like Rockport with mountains inserted. Still, they tried. At least the second unit might have gotten up to coastal Alaska for a few shots of mountains and the midnight sun (or their special effects folks had some fun with that).

Yes, Sandra Bullock's character behaved like a jerk for most of the movie, but Ryan Reynolds was getting something he really wanted - a massive promotion. So the script observes frequently that he's manipulating her as much as she's manipulating him. He's getting something he wants desperately.

I loved Betty White - where's she been? She was great! While Mary Steenburgen was good, it was a little disconcerting that she looked so much like Bullock. It lent a little Oepipal tint to the proceedings.

I'm not normally a fan of Ryan Reynolds, but he was pretty charming in this movie.

So, I didn't think this was a waste of money. Of course, I only paid $6.50. I might have been more critical if I'd paid a little more...
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Milk (I) (2008)
Milk: The Best Movie of 2008
20 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's possible I might see a better movie in the next two weeks, but I doubt it.

When history is known (like, say, with the upcoming WWII movie Valkyrie about a plot to assassinate Hitler), a movie can loose its dramatic tension since "we know what happens." A good director, screenwriter and cast can compensate by dynamic direction, an intelligent script and spot-on acting. Milk succeeds on all points. Director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have created a compelling movie. And Sean Penn gives the most joyful, winning performance I've ever seen from him.

Milk is the story of an unlikely political activist. Harvey Milk was a closeted gay guy in New York City until his very late 30s. The early scenes of Milk remind you what a bad old time the '50s and '60s were for gay men, with old footage of police raids on gay bars.

By the early '70s, Harvey had met Scott, a much younger man. They ran off to San Francisco together where they opened a camera store. They had a very affectionate relationship. If this movie had been about a heterosexual couple and not a homosexual couple, it would have been rated PG-13 instead of R. Still, I've heard reports of some audience members leaving during the early kissing scenes (there are some sex scenes, but they are extremely discreet). Why would you go to a movie about a gay man coming out of the closet if watching two men kissing was going to upset you? As a business owner, Harvey understood the importance of being out and being organized. He became a frequently unsuccessful candidate for local office, while becoming more politically able and building a network of young men to support neighborhood causes. In these scenes, some of the actors are actually old friends of Harvey's from the '70s. In at least five different scenes, you see the writer Frank Robinson, a man who was Harvey's contemporary. While I wish they'd mentioned who Frank was, it was nice to see he was involved in the movie.

Harvey became an expert at working the crowd and working the press. While Scott had served as Harvey's campaign manager, he was disillusioned by politics and the pair split up. Harvey went on to win the 1977 election for city supervisor. Harvey became involved with a volatile Hispanic man named Jack, and became close friends with Cleve Jones.

Even though Harvey had a local victory, he got very involved fighting California's Proposition 6, a measure to fire gay teachers and their supporters. It was promoted by Anita Bryant (who only appears in this movie in old clips - a nice touch to reinforce how passé she should be) and John Briggs, a California state senator. After months of pushing, Harvey got to debate John several times. In the run-up to the statewide vote on Prop 6, Jack committed suicide which left Harvey fairly depressed. However, after pollsters and early results made it look like Prop 6 would pass, it wound up failing by a large margin.

While he was fighting against Prop 6, Harvey tried to cultivate positive relationships with the other city supervisors. The relationship between he and newly-elected conservative supervisor Dan White was fairly contentious. After months of not getting any legislation passed, Dan resigned from the city supervisors and tried to get his job back. When he didn't get it, he smuggled himself in the city office building, and assassinated both Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk.

The movie certainly captured the grief of San Francisco following these assassinations. But these impact of these murders went way beyond San Francisco. I was 21, married, and living in Pittsburgh when I heard about them. To this day, I can't watch that famous tape of Diane Feinstein informing the public of the murders without weeping. And I had the same reaction today, at the beginning and ending of Milk. But most of Milk is one of the most vivid recreations of the '70s I've ever seen, with a performance that should win Sean Penn his second Oscar (and, maybe an supporting actor Oscar nomination for James Franco's fine performance as Scott). Emile Hirsch was fine as Cleve Jones, who later went on to be an AIDS activist and create the Names Project (the AIDS Quilt).

This movie should most be seen by the people least likely to see it - the people who think things like Proposition 8 are a good idea. Consenting adults deserve to live their lives as they choose, without fear of retribution.
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An Amazing Episode
1 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I loved this episode from the first time I saw it over 16 years ago. I haven't seen it in some time, and feel it has aged extremely well.

The best science fiction stories go beyond the gadget of the week or monster of the week. "The Inner Light" goes into the heart of Jean-Luc Picard, by giving him the opportunity to live a different life. The episode is a terrific showcase for Patrick Stewart. But the script also goes to the core of the people who want to be remembered, and who come up with a clever solution to an unsolvable problem. And it's still a very moving episode, despite remembering every little twist and turn of the script.
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Bottle Shock (2008)
The Alan RIckman Part of this Movie Is Pretty Good
22 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Bottle Shock has the look and feel of a nicely-photographed, well-cast indy movie...for about half of the movie. The other half of the movie, unfortunately, thinks it is a Hollywood movie about '70s stoner-style kids, with a hacknied plot about an uptight father trying to straighten out his college-age son, and a potentially more interesting plot about a talented winemaker trying to break out on his own that gets lost in the shuffle.

Alan Rickman's part of the movie is much better than Bill Pullman/Chris Pine's part of the movie. Rickman plays a stodgy Brit living in Paris running a wine shop. He and American ex-patriot Dennis Farina sit and discuss wine. Rickman, not being French, is given no respect by the French wine critics. He and Farina come up with an idea (this being the summer of '76) to organize a blind taste test of American and French wines in honor of the American bicentennial.

In California wine country, Bill Pullman is running a failing vineyard. You know it's failing because he's had to go to the bank again for another loan on the place which already has multiple loans outstanding. His son, played by Chris Pine seems to help some with the business when he isn't busy having sex, surfing or smoking dope. He's friends with one of the vineyard employees, Freddy Rodriguez (who is terrific in a part that isn't fully developed). Rodriguez plays a whiz at identifying wine types and vintages in blind tastings. He is secretly working with his father to create their own wine.

They're joined by Rachel Taylor who, sadly, has little more to do in this movie than be eye candy. Eliza Dushku, practically the only other woman in the movie, plays a ballsy bar owner.

When Rickman goes to California in search of interesting wines to test, Pullman's wines are among the ones he tries and likes. While Rickman's character is a wine snob, and is convinced of the superiority of French wines, he clearly thinks the American wines have improved beyond that 70s favorite, Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

The middle of the movie gets very muddy; still has plenty of nice photography and shots of people enjoying wine on beautiful California hillsides. But the stoner son suddenly goes off and gets money from a relative and you don't know who she is until later in the movie. The stoner son and the eye candy jump from bed to bed without giving it a second thought (sure there was some of that in the '70s but...). The movie regains its focus and its humor when the stoner son helps the British wine snob get fellow travelers to hand carry two cases of wine so the wine won't be subject the rigors and cold of the plane's cargo hold.

Finally, the wine arrives safely in France, and the famous blind wine tasting, The Battle of Paris, begins. It's no surprise now, but two American wines take top honors which stuns the French. One of those wines is from the failing vineyard, so the father's business is saved. The implication is, however, that the wine snob's business may have gone from slow to completely dead after the competition, for helping to show that French wines aren't necessarily the best.

I really wanted to like this movie, but I was somewhat disappointed. I like clever movies that don't rely on Hollywood tropes. Part of the point of a good indy movie is that it doesn't need every silly Hollywood convention. When the movie stayed true to the story of wine lovers and their various competitions, it was a much better movie. Rickman was very good, so it's worth going to see it if you're a fan of his.

While the production values were generally pretty good, and the costumes were always spot-on, sometimes the lighting, sound and editing were off. The movie also had an annoying number of things from the '80s showing up in the '70s, like "modern" wine labels, recycle deposit information on wine bottles and UPC codes. But, the biggest problem with this movie is that it was trying to combine the charm of an indy movie with the plot devices of a Hollywood movie. Kind of like trying to blend cabernet and riesling grapes and wondering why that blend doesn't work.
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Aaron Eckhart Shines in a Good (but not Great) Flick
19 July 2008
This movie tries very hard and has brilliant casting, often brilliant special effects, and some genuinely frightening make-up effects. Heath Ledger is very good, but I was particularly impressed by Aaron Eckhart, who's gotten extremely little notice for a very tricky part. Eckhart starts off as an extremely sincere Harvey Dent, but if you know anything about the Batman story, you know Harvey Dent has...eventually...issues. You can also figure out how Harvey changes during the course of the movie, and the director and screenwriter handle this part of the movie very well. I'd also like to give some kudos to Maggie Gyllenhaal whose Rachel Dawes had a little more oomph than Katie Holmes' version did three years ago.

Perhaps the basic problem problem with the Batman movie is that, in many ways, it's the most grown-up comic book movie ever. But, it's still a comic book movie, so it's violent in places and weighed down by chase scenes and wild hostage situations.

I enjoyed Iron Man very much earlier this year, probably because it never took itself completely seriously. The Dark Knight takes itself quite seriously and mostly succeeds. But, a few less semi-tractor trailers flying through the air would have been very much appreciated.
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Mixed Bag of Fashion Porn
6 June 2008
I've always been a fan of the TV show Sex and the City. Yeah, the women were a little shallow, there was way too much emphasis on labels but Miranda and Samantha in particular always made me laugh.

The movie...oy...when it's funny (like the first third or so of the movie), it's quite funny.

In the middle third of the movie, it completely, completely looses its way. There's some great photography (particularly during the Mexico scenes), but the movie has three of the characters behaving in ways that made no sense whatsoever. And I can't say what happens without going to spoiler city.

The movie's last third ties up a bunch of loose ends and the ending is touching. But it fell badly into "too little, too late." Now, I'm delighted to go to a movie that focuses on women. I was really happy to go buy my ticket today, and I don't feel it was a complete waste of money. But it had some of the same plot problems as Indy Jones IV (except for the CGI) - the writers screwed it up. Like Indy, the audience went because they loved the characters. It would be nice if the writer(s) had paid more attention to what people loved about the characters and written a decent script. And I do think the SATC script was a little better than the Indy Jones IV script, but that's dammning with faint praise.

The TV shows were about 25 minutes long. The movie is just about 120 minutes long. There is shockingly little sex or discussion about sex in there. In fact, there's an awful lot of complaining about NOT having sex. And, there were the implications that women must be razor thin or remove any body hair to be sexually desirous. There's more sex and sex discussion in the average SATC TV show than there was in the whole movie. Most of the sex involved Samantha's randy neighbor and Sam basically becoming a voyeur because her boyfriend was constantly working.

I hope they do make another SATC movie, but I hope that the writer who wrote the witty first third of the movie gets to write the whole movie the next time.
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Not a Complete Waste of Time, but...
24 May 2008
Y'know how people have often observed that the even-numbered Star Trek movies are much better than the odd-numbered Star Trek movies? The reverse is true of the Indy Jones Movies. The odd-numbered movies are much, much better than the even-numbered movies.

And this is an even-numbered movies.

The basic problems were with the script, the direction, the over-use of set-pieces and the over-use of special effects. The casting was really pretty good, though Shia LaBeouf was rather erratic. He was awkward as the Marlon Brando-wanna-be, but picked up a little when the action moved to South America.

The movie really picked up when Karen Allen returned to the story.

One thing that made Indy #1 and #3 so good was that they were very witty movies. The combination of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery was terrific in Indy #3. The script didn't really allow that kind of banter between Ford and LaBeouf, so this script dragged more than it needed to.

There are also many more examples than usual of bad physics in this movie. Yeah, it's action-adventure, so the laws of nature really shouldn't matter, right? If you look back over the Indy Jones movies, obeying the laws of physics is a much bigger problem in #2 and #4 than in #1 and #3. It's hard to completely suspend your disbelief when Indy...well survives multiple incidents that should have killed him.

It's not a terrible movie by any means, but the script was very flat, and the special effects were well-done but completely illogical in places. I think our audience laughed out loud maybe four times during the whole movie. No one applauded when it was all over (people did applaud for Iron Man a few weeks ago, which was much more fun).

I think they should have just retired the franchise after #3 so it could have gone out on a high note.
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Enjoyable Movie That Gets Some of The Details Wrong
23 February 2008
I basically enjoyed Definitely, Maybe, with the always wonderful Abigail Breslin who coerces her father, in the process of being divorced by her mother, into telling her the story of how he met her mother. So, he tells her the story, changing the names and some details as he goes along.

The movie does a good job recreating 1992 New York City and a somewhat befuddled young man William (Ryan Reynolds) who's temporarily left his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks) back in Madison. William has gone to work for Bill Clinton's campaign. And, at this point, the movie failed my "if you can't get the simple details right" test.

Here are my beefs: if you are sent from one state to another and put up in a hotel for weeks, you are not going to be "toilet paper boy," you are going to be higher up in the organization. I can't imagine there being a $12 an hour copier-runner in a campaign now, much less in 1992. Those are both the sort of jobs the high school, college kids and interns get, who are there working for free. I know because I've had those kids of jobs on campaigns.

And, campaigners not wearing their candidate's button almost constantly on their lapels? Let's be real! Now, some of the campaign stuff was spot on - the long hours, the chaos, the big open office, the ra-ra nature of the enterprise. And, certainly, later on, another campaign collapsing very rapidly amid bitterness and recriminations.

In the course of working on the Clinton campaign, he meets April (Isla Fisher), who's an odd combination of flaky and charming. They have this very funny smoking scene which would, more typically, occur between two high school students but it works well anyway.

Along the way, he also meets Summer (Rachel Weisz). There's a very amusing subplot about who else she is involved with, and it's a bit of a surprise.

So, the question is, which one is his soon-to-be-ex-wife? The basic problem with this movie is, while there are times when William is shows to be quite competent and even charming, most of the time he's depressed and some of the time he's drunk on top of that. By the time he's telling this story to his daughter, he has more of his life back together, except for the fact his wife is splitting with him.

But why? I think one of the real problems is, since more of the action of the story takes place 10-15 years in the past, there's a giant disconnect with the present. Yes, there are clues, but still...the fact that he's in the middle of a divorce, and it's clear his wife is doing the divorcing, leaves a funny void near the end of the movie.

The other problem is that while Ryan Reynolds is a fine-looking actor, I wish someone with a little more depth had the lead. I wish the leading male had been as charismatic as the four leading females!
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I'm Not There (2007)
Fascinating Art Film
2 December 2007
I'm Not There is basically a two-hour long experimental film with uniformly excellent acting and production values. Todd Haynes' deconstruction of the writings of Bob Dylan was always interesting.

But the movie doesn't just deconstruct Dylan; it takes a pretty good whack at American and British culture from the late '50s through the mid '70s, particularly the mod scene in London in the mid-'60s.

Cate Blanchett is the best Dylan of the bunch, as the icon who turns the singer electric and leads him into a drug-filled time in London. She looked and talked more like Dylan than anyone else. Michelle Williams did a great turn as an Edie Sedgewick-esquire model named Coco. It was a pleasure to see Richie Havens in a small role as a guitar player early in the movie.

While this is not a literal biography of Dylan in any sense of the word, the movie uses his music and attitude very well. I'm not a huge Dylan fan, but I know his music and parts of his life well enough that I really enjoyed the movie.
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Best Movie of 2006
13 January 2007
2006 was a pretty awful year for movies, but Children of Men is an astonishing exception. Well-acted, well-directed, mostly intelligently written, Children of Men is one of the best movies ever. The fact that it's a science fiction movie gauls some to the point where they will not call it science fiction. It's a dystopia set over 20 years in the future. It's a science fiction movie with great acting, which makes it a rare movie indeed.

V for Vendetta, the other big British dystopia, got more attention earlier in the year as it was a very flashy, explosive movie. But what Children of Men lacked in explosions, it more than made up for in a stronger sense of reality.

I'm sure you've heard the plot - it's about 20 years in the future, women stopped reproducing and a flu pandemic killed many children. There's no one left younger than 18, so the remaining countries are in complete despair. Clive Owen is the poster boy for despair. I've enjoyed performances by Clive Owen in the past, but he's emotionally naked in this movie and he's absolutely superb.

There's an extraordinary scene late in the movie that may be one extremely long tracking shot (or, then again, maybe not). It follows Clive Owen into a street battle and into a ruined apartment building. It shows the harrowing nature of urban warfare better than almost any movie I've ever seen.

While it was a very violent movie in places, it's not gratuitously violent. The R rating may be more for the language than for the violence (well, and one scene involving a naked woman, but the nudity is not gratuitous either).

I highly recommend this movie.
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Either You Love it Or You Hate It...
23 April 2006
I loved it.

I even liked Jennifer Aniston, and I'm hardly a fan of hers. The other women were wonderful as always.

I'd like to particularly note Simon McBurney, who plays Aaron (Frances McDormand's British husband). He handled a potentially awkward role very well. The chemistry between Jane and Aaron was awesome! Yeah, the rich are a little different. It's a little hard to tell who's lying and when they're lying. There's a scene at the very end of the movie that, if you take it at face value, means one thing. But if one (or both) of the characters is lying (which is completely possible, given what we've seen of them) it means something completely different.
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