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Bridge of Spies (2015)
The story of the prisoner exchange involving Francis Gary Powers is one of unending tension broken just occasionally by little humorous comments. Tom Hanks plays the lawyer defending the Russian spy that was eventually traded for U-2 pilot Powers. The negotiations are complicated and could have been tedious in the hands of a lesser cast and director.
Hanks is completely believable and a pleasure to watch. We get to know and, to some degree, sympathize with the Russian spy and Powers is certainly a likable character, shot down on his first spy mission. Very entertaining and educational film. Recommended.
Interesting, but not great
In 1996, the dreams of a group of Everest climbers ended in tragedy at the top due to poor decisions, short supplies, and blizzard conditions. This is a well-made and fascinating story, but it lacked emotional power for several reasons: In 3-D, every time the camera panned, the background images were an unrecognizable, shaky blur that left me queasy. I didn't feel the 3-D added anything to the scenery, which was already awesome (They really did film at Everest Base Camp). Another problem I had was that the characters were hard to tell apart with the beards, goggles, caps, and other gear hiding their faces. And lastly, there were a variety of accents that I found hard to understand, so I was basically just following the action like a silent movie.
The old question of "Why do you climb a mountain?" is never answered in this film, and there was only a very brief epilogue, but the movie does make you think about the costs versus the rewards of scaling the peak.
(There was a 1997 TV movie, "Into Thin Air: Death on Everest," which had a smaller budget but packed much more of an emotional wallop because it focused on personalities and backstories of the climbers.)
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
"I'm your husband...Ben."
Nicole Kidman stars as a woman with a brain injury who forgets everything each time she goes to bed. Every morning, her husband (played by Colin Firth) has to reintroduce himself and tell her about their life. Christine's new therapist takes a very personal interest in her, and soon she starts to get back bits of her memory.
This movie is extremely intense and creepy, which sounds good, except that you know right off the bat who did what to whom. The powerhouse teaming of Kidman and Firth means the acting is very good; it's just too bad they got stuck with such a dopey, plot hole-ridden script. After the movie was over, I was really shocked at how implausible it all was. Nothing in it could have happened.
Recommended for fans of Kidman and Firth as long as you don't look too closely at the story.
San Andreas (2015)
Being a fan of disaster movies like, "The Day After Tomorrow," I really expected to like this movie, but I couldn't - I'd already seen most of it in "TDAT":
1. Brave dad goes off to rescue independent teen child from natural disaster 2. Teen falls in love while dodging doom 3. Tsunami (coming from the wrong direction) pushes ship into city street 4. Dad easily finds child despite impossible odds 5. World almost ends but divorced parents still reunite
And all this happens without the lead actresses' makeup even getting smeared!
It was just too corny for words. Dwayne Johnson is very likable, but he's stuck uttering the dumbest lines ("We rebuild!!") There are two young, cheerful Australian guys with such sickeningly sweet English accents, I expected them to break out in songs from, "Oliver!" The worst offense was to film many of the big disaster scenes with a very shaky hand-cam and to focus on the stars' faces instead of the crumbling landscape. None of the effects were believable because, though millions were killed and maimed, the stars emerge completely unscathed and looking effortlessly handsome/beautiful.
Bottom line: It held my interest but was dumb.
Into the Storm (2014)
Breathtaking special effects
I think the special effects were even better than in, "The Day After Tomorrow." The storm scenes are unbelievably intense; it felt like it was in 3-D, and I was wedged up against the back of the chair, holding my breath, the whole time. Although I didn't know any of the actors, I thought the casting was excellent.
The one weak spot was the inevitable single mother/drop-dead-gorgeous tornado scientist; I could have done without that cliché. But the movie is so fast-paced, I didn't have time to dwell on negatives; I was completely caught up in the spectacle.
Definitely recommended for those who like disaster movies; may be too scary for those who have lived through a twister.
The Uninvited (1944)
Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as siblings who buy a huge, old English house (sans electricity, of course) on a cliff over-looking the sea. They soon feels chills and hear ghostly sounds at night.
This is a wonderful movie, genuinely scary but completely non-violent. The Oscar-nominated, black and white photography in the creepy, dark house is outstanding and the fear of things that go bump in the night is what makes this one to watch with the lights on. Milland and Hussey are witty and urbane and Gail Russell is sweet as a neighbor girl with an interest in the house.
The lovely, "Stella by Starlight" is played several times and the entire soundtrack is excellent. This is a good old-fashioned thriller with a few laughs to break the tension.
The Book Thief (2013)
"But in the end there were no words."
As the story opens, it is 1938, and a young German girl whose mother cannot keep her, is sent to live with strangers. Little Liesel adjusts to her new life with the help of her kindly new Papa and the books she steals, which teach her to read. But life becomes frightening when the war starts and the family decides to hide a Jew in their home.
This is an exquisite movie, the best I've seen a long time. The story is unforgettable and the cast is outstanding. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are wonderful as Liesel's foster parents Sophie Nelisse is perfectly cast as Liesel, growing from age 8 to 16. We see the war through her eyes; she is unflinchingly brave and lovable.
There is a small amount of violence, mostly bombing, with just enough good people to show that life is worth living. This is a tear-jerker, but well worth watching.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Excellent acting but forgettable story
When the author of "Mary Poppins" comes to see Walt Disney about making her books into a movie, we learn a lot about her childhood and the inspirations for her characters. She's a rigid sourpuss, immune to the warmth and charms of Mr. Disney, however, and won't even consider the changes he wants.
The constant flashbacks to P.L. Travers' idyllic-then-tragic childhood are quite interesting (although I still don't understand the title). Tom Hanks is utterly lovable as Disney and plays well against Emma Thompson's brittle, control-freak old maid, Travers. It's fun to see the two pros act together.
There is a lot of trivia for fans of the Mary Poppins movie, but this is actually a very lightweight and inconsequential story, more suited as a "extra" on the Mary Poppins DVD, rather than a full-length film. I enjoyed it but have forgotten most of it already.
Liam Neeson stars as troubled air marshal Bill Marks, who is enroute to London. He starts receiving text messages saying someone on board will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150M is sent to a secret bank account. And then people start dying.
In this movie, every character, except for Bill, is set up as a likely suspect; they all look very shifty and fully capable of murder. It's fun to watch everyone look guilty and my mind was racing to figure out the culprit (I couldn't.). Neeson is outstanding as the air marshal, running the gamut of emotions from grief to confusion to terror; he's instantly sympathetic and likable. Julianne Moore is good as Bill's seat mate and it's great to see Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey") as a flight attendant.
From the opening moments, I felt uneasy; that quickly turned to paranoia and then fear. The story kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and I really enjoyed the mystery of it. Recommended.
This should have been a thrillingly romantic, sweetly funny movie that touched on loneliness and following one's heart to find real love. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an unfocused, unfunny, and decidedly unromantic story that is very unsatisfying.
Keri Russell looks like the perfect in-love-with-love Austen fan, but Jennifer Coolidge is coarse and annoying playing her usual dumb blonde. There were two men who could have fulfilled Keri's fantasies, but both of their parts were poorly written. Neither man was heroic enough to match Keri's idealized Mr. Darcy.
The whole set-up of the "amusement park," Austenland, was poorly realized and the rules for guests were confusing. Jane Seymour was unappealing as the Austenland owner; she should have been funny, but she wasn't.
I'm glad the book is better than the movie. But then, it would have to be.
Lo imposible (2012)
Frightening true story
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as parents who take their three sons to Thailand on vacation where they become victims of the deadly tsunami of 2004.
Every minute of this true story is gut-wrenching, from the incredibly realistic recreation of the tsunami to the mass death and devastation afterward. Watts and McGregor are excellent as the suffering and selfless parents and Tom Holland gives a wonderful performance as their brave young son.
I saw videos of the disaster, but putting a personal, family face on the horror makes it all the more real and heartbreaking. Filmed on location in Thailand, the movie is intense and very moving. Highly recommended.
Captain Phillips (2013)
Thrilling and unforgettable
Captain Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) was taking his American cargo ship on a routine voyage off the coast of Africa, when a small band of armed Somali pirates boarded the ship. While most of the crew stayed hidden, the pirates took Captain Phillips hostage in a lifeboat.
This movie, based on a true story, is extremely intense and exciting, so frightening, I don't think I could have watched it on the big screen, but on DVD, it was riveting and enlightening. There isn't any real violence until the very end, but the drama is kept at a unbearable level by the non-stop yelling of the pirates. Their leader is played by Barkhad Abdi in his first acting role. He is outstanding and deserves his nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Tom Hanks delivers a powerful performance, remaining calm and providing a balance to the pirates' hysteria.
The script manages to elicit sympathy for the pirates because of their miserable lives; they live in abject poverty, forced to hijack ships by their warlords or die. The movie is excellent and highly recommended.
Rock of Ages (2012)
The main plot is about a boy and girl from small towns who meet in at a rock club. The subplot involves an aging rocker (Tom Cruise) who is appearing at the club.
What a terrible movie this is. I was embarrassed for Tom Cruise who is never believable as the stoned, groupie-lovin' rock star, Stacey Jaxx. Oh my, the tattoos, the (un)sexy wardrobe, the mumbling, the singing...it was all too much.
And what can I say about Alec Baldwin who wears a Garth Algar wig and plays the club manager. He must have been paid a ton of money to do this movie - it looked like an SNL sketch.
Paul Giamatti is the only one who actually acts convincingly and his part is small.
Oh, it's a rock opera. Awful.
The Big Wedding (2013)
Robert DeNiro is divorced from Diane Keaton and living with Susan Sarandon. Robert and Diane's adopted son is about to be married and they have to pretend they're still married so as not to offend the son's conservative mother. Their daughter is leaving her husband and their other son is embarrassed to still be a virgin.
A far-fetched plot and a motley collection of completely immoral losers make for a disgusting movie. There are a lot of big names in it, none of whom should be proud of their work. The script is full of profanity.This is altogether without redeeming qualities and recommended only for those with junior high leanings.
The Details (2011)
Good premise, bad ending
Jeff Lang (Tobey Maguire) seems to have it all, a great career, beautiful family...and then it starts to fall apart: Raccoons tear up his new lawn. This drives him crazy and is just the first of many bad things that happen, all leading up to coldblooded murder.
This is a dark comedy with many funny and silly moments and just as many bizarre and absurd ones. Maguire is good as the Everyman character, but I thought Elizabeth Banks, who plays his wife, was too teenage-Barbie doll-ish. Dennis Haysbert is Jeff's loyal best friend and Laura Linney steals the show as his pathetic, loony neighbor.
There are lots of twists and turns and it was fun to watch until the end, which just stops, like the director ran out of time and told everyone to go home. The non-ending almost spoils a good movie and left me unsatisfied.
Broken Flowers (2005)
Murray deadpans it
A man receives an anonymous letter informing him he is the father of a 19-year old son, so he sets off on a journey to visit his old girlfriends to see which one wrote the letter.
Bill Murray stars in this movie which is, at times, funny, pathetic, and shocking but mostly just boring. His character is an unappealing, solitary man who shows no interest or emotion; Murray pretty much phones in his performance, so underplaying his role that I wondered why he bothered at all. It's an intriguing premise that goes absolutely nowhere and the ending feels like the writer just ran out of ideas and stopped writing.
For Bill Murray fans only.
You can't feel sorry for yourself after seeing this movie
Christy Brown was born in Dublin to a very large, poor family. He had severe cerebral palsy and could only control his left foot. Without formal schooling, he became an acclaimed painter, writer, and poet.
This movie is absolutely wonderful. I'd put off watching it because I expected it be maudlin and manipulative, but it's not; it's earthy and defiant and hopeful, just like Christy. Daniel Day-Lewis earned the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning performance which manages to convey his horrible frustration and longings without being overly-sentimental. He's really outstanding. Brenda Fricker won Best Supporting Actress; she's immediately likable and admirable. The entire cast is perfect and the story is truly inspiring.
All Is Lost (2013)
A man wakes up to find his tiny yacht sinking in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He's alone, but with experience and resourcefulness he saves the boat (until the next disaster strikes). Again and again, he uses every bit of knowledge he has to pump, patch, fix, and dry out. And that works...for a while.
This outstanding survival movie has just one character, Our Man, played by Robert Redford. He utters only a handful of words, there is no sentimental subplot or corny flashbacks to pluck at our heartstrings. Our Man is stoic and smart, and though the repair-the-boat scenes border on documentary-style, it's all riveting, and I gasped and sighed aloud often. We hear very little music but a lot of the relentless, all-powerful water and wind.
Going in, I thought this was a true story and was disappointed to learn it wasn't. It's intense and exciting and Redford is perfect in it. Highly recommended, especially for anyone who is considering going boating on the open sea.
The Station Agent (2003)
Sweet look at the human spirit
Fin (Peter Dinklage) is a middle-aged train buff and a dwarf who has been ridiculed his whole life and has no friends. He moves into an abandoned train station, ready to spend the rest of his life alone, but slowly forms friendships with a grieving woman (Patricia Clarkson), an outgoing hot dog man (Bobby Cannavale), and a young librarian (Michelle Williams).
What a wonderful movie this is! The story is heartwarming and the strong cast is excellent in well-developed roles. Fin's evolution from morose loner to affable pal is realistic and touching and I enjoyed every bit of his journey (except for the unnecessary profanity, for which I deleted one star).
Highly recommended for those who enjoy character-driven, quirky indie films, for train fans, and for anyone who has ever felt completely alone and hopeless.
Den skaldede frisør (2012)
When the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie...
Pierce Brosnan plays a wealthy but grouchy businessman whose son is getting married in Italy. When he first meets the bride's mother, they instantly loathe each other, but the magic of Sorrento changes all that.
I love this movie! It is bilingual (Danish/English) and everyone (except Brosnan) switches between the two, often during a single conversation. Even the credits switch languages. The subtitles are fine, though, and Danish is a beautiful language.
Brosnan and costar Trine Dyrholm are wonderful together, playing heartbroken middle-agers who still want to be loved. There is a strong supporting Danish cast with well-developed characters and interesting story lines for all of them.
The story is more romance than comedy with lots of people falling in and out of love. It's heartwarming and engrossing and the Sorrento location is incredibly picturesque. Highly recommended.
A Late Quartet (2012)
Maybe you have to be a music lover
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener star as members of a famous string quartet that is celebrating its 25th year. One of the members is suddenly diagnosed with a catastrophic disease, but this is just the first of many revelations that rock the group and threaten its existence.
Before I saw this movie, I was indifferent to chamber music; now I can saw that I truly dislike it. Well, I dislike the movie, anyway. The characters were all self-absorbed, obsessed, and unlikable prigs who acted as though the world revolved around them. Their problems were life-changing for them, but I didn't care and found them boring.
Classical music lovers will enjoy the music and musicians will be able to relate to the quartet's all-consuming passion for their work, but I found it tedious.
See No Evil (1971)
Terror at the manor house
Mia Farrow stars as Sarah, an English horsewoman who was recently blinded. When she comes home after rehabilitation, a mysterious maniac starts stalking her family and she must fight the unseen killer for her life.
There are several shockingly scary scenes that definitely made me gasp; one feels Sarah's helplessness and terror. I found it odd, however, that in some of the most dramatic moments, there was no music. This gave the movie an unfinished feeling; music would, no doubt, have increased the thrill level.
Farrow is convincing as a blind woman but has affected a little-girl voice and bleating scream that gets old fast. She shrieks a lot, but it doesn't sounds real.
Another negative is that the killer's motive is so incredibly insignificant, I was left scratching my head and wondering, "Is that it?" It's a good story with a pretty setting in a horsey manor house. Despite its few flaws, I was entertained and frightened.
Two fourteen-year old boys befriend a stranger (Matthew McConaughey) who has been living on their secret island in the Mississippi River. His name is "Mud," he's wanted for murder, and he's being followed by some very dangerous men.
This movie is a real gem; it's smart, honest, and edge-of-your-seat exciting. It portrays the boys' hardscrabble life in their backwater town with uncompromising violence and grit and is also filled with decency, understanding, and many forms of love.
The two newcomers who play the boys are natural actors, both expressive and sympathetic. McConaughey plays a tough guy who never had a break; he's an anti-hero to root for. Reese Witherspoon has a small but important role as Mud's trampy girlfriend and Sam Shepherd and Joe Don Baker round out the excellent cast.
All of the characters are well-developed and the audience comes to really care about them. The story blends good bits from "Stand By Me," "A Perfect World," "Whistle Down the Wind," and even "Tom Sawyer" and is still unique. It pulls no punches and is truly enjoyable. Recommended.
The Paperboy (2012)
In a small Florida town, a sleezy woman (Nicole Kidman) asks a reporter (Matthew McConaughy) and his young brother (Zac Efron) to help free her boyfriend from prison. Their quest leads them to the swamps where they find life means very little.
This was the most repulsive movie I have seen in a long time. The characters were all low-life scum, the story was disgusting, and the dialogue was nonstop profanity. I can't imagine what the stars were thinking when they signed on for this film; surely none of them are bragging about it now.
It could be argued that the movie succeeds because it seems so real, but its view of life as utter garbage isn't entertaining to me.
The Bling Ring (2013)
Unpleasant teen story
Sophia Coppola's film is based on the true story of some jaded, amoral LA teens who stole millions of dollars worth of designer goods from celebrities they admired. They get high, take a lot of selfies, burglarize celeb homes and then do it all again and again. Their complete lack of regret is disgusting and the story left me feeling very sad for our fame-obsessed society.
The ensemble cast is made of mostly newcomers and they are all convincing in fairly undemanding roles. The story is shocking but somehow manages to be predictable and boring at times. All in all, it's interesting but off-putting; not great cinema by any means.