Lady in The Van – A Movie Review

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Feb 202016
 

The Lady In The Van Movie PosterAn eccentric (and decidedly grubby) aged lady parks her decrepit old van (which appears to contain her entire world goods) outside writer Alan Bennett’s house in Camden. When the Council threatens to have it towed away, Bennett’s diffidence leads to it being parked in his drive, to the consternation of his neighbors, where it – and she – stay for 15 years. As time passes, an odd relationship develops between them, and he begins to discover elements of her past.

Director: Nicholas Hytner
Writer: Alan Bennett
Stars: Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Clare Hammond, George Fenton
Runtime: 104 min; Rated: PG-13; Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama; Released: 15 Jan 2016

Based on a 1970s biographical drama of the same name by noted British playwright Alan Bennett, The Lady in the Van is a “mostly true story” as mentioned at the beginning of the film. That’s because Bennett had to put up with an old homeless woman for 15 years by allowing her to live in her van in his driveway. Then in 1999, Bennett cast Maggie Smith as the titular hobo in his own play. Ironically, Smith plays the same character on screen little over 15 years later. Continue reading »

Spotlight – A Movie Review

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Dec 102015
 

Spotlight Movie PosterStarring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James and Stanley Tucci, SPOTLIGHT tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world. Directed by Academy Award-nominee Tom McCarthy, SPOTLIGHT is a tense investigative dramatic-thriller, tracing the steps to one of the biggest cover-ups in modern times.

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writer: Tom McCarthy (screenplay), Josh Singer (screenplay)
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber
Runtime: 128 min; Rated: R; Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Released: 31 Dec 2015 Continue reading »

Movie Review – Fox Catcher

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Jun 072015
 

Foxcatcher Movie PosterBased on true events, Foxcatcher tells the dark and fascinating story of the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two champion wrestlers. When Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to the du Pont estate and help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility, Schultz jumps at the opportunity, hoping to focus on his training and finally step out of the shadow of his revered brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Driven by hidden needs, du Pont sees backing Schultz’s bid for Gold and the chance to “coach” a world-class wrestling team as an opportunity to gain the elusive respect of his peers and, more importantly, his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Flattered by the attention and entranced by du Pont’s majestic world, Mark comes to see his benefactor as a father figure and grows increasingly dependent on him for approval. Though initially supportive, du Pont’s mercurial personality turns and he begins to lure Mark into an unhealthy lifestyle that threatens to undermine his training. Soon du Pont’s erratic behavior and cruel psychological game-play begin to erode the athlete’s already shaky self-esteem. Meanwhile du Pont becomes fixated on Dave, who exudes the confidence both he and Mark lack, knowing that these are things even his money cannot buy. Fueled by du Pont’s increasing paranoia and alienation from the brothers, the trio is propelled towards a tragedy no one could have foreseen.

Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller
Runtime: 134 min, Rated: R, Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport, Released: 16 Jan 2015

Yes, I am still catching up writing my reviews. Me and Lay watched this on Amazon Streaming over a month ago. Well worth watching. There’s not much to criticize. Continue reading »

Feb 162015
 

American_SniperChris Kyle was nothing more than a Texan man who wanted to become a cowboy, but in his thirties he found out that maybe his life needed something different, something where he could express his real talent, something that could help America in its fight against terrorism. So he joined the SEALs in order to become a sniper. After marrying, Kyle and the other members of the team are called for their first tour of Iraq. Kyle’s struggle isn’t with his missions, but about his relationship with the reality of the war and, once returned at home, how he manages to handle it with his urban life, his wife and kids.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Jason Hall, Chris Kyle (book), Scott McEwen (book), James Defelice (book)
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Cole Konis, Ben Reed
Runtime: 132 min; Rated: R; Genre: Action, Biography, Drama; Released: 16 Jan 2015

We watched this one in the theater a couple of weekends ago. I’m sorry to just now be getting around to writing my review. Me and Lay both thought this movie was OK. I suspect he liked it a bit more. I had some trouble separating the politics, the biography, and the movie. Continue reading »

The Imitation Game – A Movie Review

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Jan 112015
 

Imitation_GameBased on the real life story of legendary cryptologist Alan Turing, the film portrays the nail-biting race against time by Turing and his brilliant team of code-breakers at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, during the darkest days of World War II.

Runtime: 114 min; Rated: PG-13; Genre: Biography, Drama, Thriller; Released: 25 Dec 2014

Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Andrew Hodges (book), Graham Moore (screenplay)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear

As the movie begins we hear Alan Turing saying, “Are you paying attention? Good. If you’re not listening carefully, you will miss things. Important things. I will not pause, I will not repeat myself, and you will not interrupt me. You think that because you’re sitting where you are and I am sitting where I am, that you are in control of what is about to happen. You are mistaken. I am in control. Because I know things that you do not know. What I need from you now is a commitment. You will listen closely and you will not judge me until I am finished. If you cannot commit to this, then please leave the room. But if you choose to stay, remember that you chose to be here. What happens from this moment forward is not my responsibility. It’s yours. Pay attention.” Continue reading »

The Monuments Men-A Movie Review

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Jun 042014
 
The Monuments Men (2014)
The Monuments Men poster Rating: 6.1/10 (106,463 votes)
Director: George Clooney
Writer: George Clooney (screenplay), Grant Heslov (screenplay), Robert M. Edsel (book), Bret Witter (book)
Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett
Runtime: 118 min
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Drama, War
Released: 07 Feb 2014
Plot: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.

We watched this from Redbox on May 24.

Yet another movie I was really looking forward to seeing, but was disappointed. It wasn’t terrible, but it was like an attempt at a noble documentary. I think it would have been better as a documentary.

As far as the storyline, I had no idea that Hitler amassed such a monumental collection of the world’s masterpieces while conquering Europe. When I initially saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it would be an interesting flick of war intrigue. To my horror, about half way through I kept fiddling with the stop button on my TV wanting to escape.

I cannot put my finger on any one thing as to why this movie doesn’t work. Since George Clooney and Matt Damon star in the film, maybe I was hoping for a WWII version of Oceans 11 where the gang steals back valuable artwork from the bad guys. All the actors are people who’s work I enjoy. These are great actors, but mediocre performances, likely because the screenplay just didn’t give anyone any great scenes. But that could be cause the work itself, while vitally important, just wasn’t that exciting. Continue reading »

Philomena-A Movie Review

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Jun 032014
 
Philomena (2013)
Philomena poster Rating: 7.6/10 (79,684 votes)
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Steve Coogan (screenplay), Jeff Pope (screenplay), Martin Sixsmith (book)
Stars: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham
Runtime: 98 min
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Biography, Drama
Released: 27 Nov 2013
Plot: A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

We watched this from Redbox on April 21

Both me and Lay thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was certainly very sad, and I must admit, it made me angry, but it was a good story well told. You definitely need to watch this movie.

Judi Dench plays Philomena, and although we are used to seeing her in more commanding regal roles or as James Bonds no-nonsense boss ‘M’, don’t be fooled, this is her most complex role to date and her performance is nothing short of sensational and worthy of an Academy award.

The film begins with a series of flashbacks, interlaced with close ups of Dench’s aging facial features. Each wrinkle adjusts slowly each time Philomena relives an emotion, It’s through these scenes that we get a glimpse of Philomena’s pain and it is as strong now as it was all those years ago.

In the flashbacks, Sophie Kennedy-Clark plays the heavily pregnant young Philomena who is abandoned by her family at Sean Ross Abbey. The nuns are obstructive and damn right mean “you are the cause of your shame. You and your own indecency” lectures mother superior, before reluctantly admitting Philomena into their care. Furthermore they refuse any pain relief when Philomena goes into a labour “The pain is her penance, It will help absolve her of her sin”.

Worse yet – the convent sells the children to wealthy Americans looking to adopt, and after four years of being forced to work in the convent laundry Philomena is helpless as she watches her Anthony being removed from the convent by an American couple.

After 50 years of keeping quiet about Anthony, the anniversary of his birth causes Philomena to speak up and share her story. “I’d like to know what he thought of me”, explains Philomena to reporter Martin Sixsmith “I’ve thought about him every day.” Martin Sixsmith is played Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay), He is a well educated former political journalist. Who initially believes human-interest stories are for “vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people”. Nevertheless Sixsmith at his own crossroads can’t ignore the potential in this story and invests in the operation of tracking down Philomena’s boy.

Coogan and Dench’s on-screen chemistry is undeniably charming, Coogan is a well known British funny-man, last seen in one of this years best comedies ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ but in this role he takes a comedic backseat to Dench who provides most of the best chuckles and Coogan gives the film the thoughtful and serious balance that is needed.

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The ‘road trip’ Philomena and Martin take is full of amusing exchanges with Philomena having a healthy frankness when it comes to discussing sexuality and her constant marveling at the first class lifestyle she’s experiencing. It is Martin who has to keep Philomena motivated with the task at hand when she gets side-tracked by the possibility of renting something called “Big Momma’s House” from the comfort of their hotel room.

As with most journeys, you need to come a full circle to get the perspective you’re looking for and Martin (And the film itself) does just that. After traveling to the United States we return back to Ireland to the Sean Ross Abbey and it is here where we find our answers.

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen) manages to make this sedate tale of a woman searching for her son thought provoking and sensitive but it also takes a cynical glance towards the institutions of journalism, politics and religion. We are reminded once again before the end credits that it is a true story and a remarkable one at that. As Philomena would say this film is “One in a million”.

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In The Realms of the Unreal – A Movie Review

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Apr 082009
 

Cover for In The Realms of The UnrealHenry Darger, an elderly recluse, spent his childhood in Illinois’s asylum for feeble-minded children and his adulthood working as a janitor. He lived a quiet, nearly solitary existence, but his imaginary life was exciting, colorful and sexually provocative. When he died in Chicago in 1973, his landlady discovered in his room 300 paintings, some over 10 feet long, and a 15,000-page illustrated novel (The Realms of the Unreal), which told the epic story of the virtuous Vivian Girls leading a child slave revolt against the evil Glandelinians. Featuring Dakota Fanning (Hide and Seek) and Larry Pine (The Royal Tenenbaums) as narrators and imaginative animation of Darger’s work, Oscar® winner Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons) brings to life one of the twentieth century’s greatest self-taught artists.

Genres: Documentary; Running Time: 1 hr. 21 min.; Release Date: December 22nd, 2004 (limited); MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Larry Pine, Henry Darger

Directed by: Jessica Yu

I admit this was a movie I stumbled across because of the colorful DVD case. When I read the description, I was intrigued by the story line of the reclusive man who created this beautiful body of work. Henry Darger (1892-1973)  created an amazing collection of illustrations with absolutely no contact with the formal art world. Darger, a native of Chicago, suffered an extremely abusive childhood … in which he was institutionalised in an asylum for feeble-minded children, even though he may have been of above-average intelligence.

Jessica Yu’s documentary ‘In the Realms of the Unreal’ (a shortened version of the title of Darger’s novel) attempts to make sense of Darger’s life, art and obsessions. Yu interviews a surprisingly large number of the very few people who actually knew Darger.

The movie uses several gimmicky visual devices. The decision to make animated cartoons from several Darger murals is a good one, and the stiff-legged ‘lazy’ animation technique used here is appropriate to the material. Less commendable is Yu’s decision at several points to use new artwork that paraphrases Darger’s themes; audiences will mistake these images for actual Darger artwork.

This is a very interesting story with a surprising dose of an undercurrent of suspense about what will happen next. It was worth watching.

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Pursuit of Happyness, The

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Jan 222007
 

The Pursuit of HappinessA struggling salesman (Will Smith) takes custody of his son (Jaden Smith) as he’s poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor.

Directed by
Gabriele Muccino

Genres
Biography, Drama

Cast
Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta, Kurt Fuller, Takayo Fischer, Kevin West, George Cheung, David Michael Silverman, Domenic Bove, Geoff Callan, Joyful Raven, Scott Klace

Here’s the deal: It’s real, it’s heavy, and it’s inspirational, but NOT AT ALL cheesy. Don’t like that? Don’t see it. I won’t say much else. I will say that Will Smith was shockingly good now that he’s paid his dues with “Men in Black” and “Bad Boys.”

I was very happy that this film never got political and blamed Reagan for the number of “down on their luck” people that were shown, nor was the race card ever pulled out. It was also refreshing that Smith’s character never blamed anybody for his troubles.

On one hand, the film reinforces the great American myth of the self-made man and equal opportunity. Myths are not necessarily false simply for being myths–we can make some of them true by choice, and our belief in this myth still helps make America great. Free-market capitalism is not the cure to all ills–surely it is the source of many ills–but it does open social doors that nothing else can even budge. On the other hand, if you can leave this movie without a burning indignation that any American child of any race should have to struggle just to have a place to sleep, you must be cynical indeed. This movie doesn’t get on a soapbox, not even for a second–it just tells a real-life story that owns you before you know it.

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Walk the Line

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Nov 302005
 

Walk the Line (2005)

A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Directed by
James Mangold

Genres
Biography, Drama, Music

Cast
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Dan Beene, Clay Steakley, Johnathan Rice

Lay and I went to see this film Wednesday night before Thanksgiving up in North Carolina. Lay was too excited about, but I thought it was very well done.

First, this is an excellent film. Second, it is formulaic, but not to a fault. The film is two great performances. Luckily, they’re the right two. Phoenix has done an excellent job capturing Cash, the man. Not the legend and not what everyone thought he would be. What made Johnny Cash such an icon was that he was an “everyman” and Phoenix gives his all to not only capture every subtle nuance but also to make him believable as a flawed human being. Watch, in particular, the performance sequences, and I’d argue that it’s equal to Foxx’s Ray Charles without nearly as much caricature.

There’s no attempts on behalf of the filmmakers at the predestination of Cash as a superstar. They simply show how he learned to sing with a radio and a hymnal. The back story given before his career started is essential to the way his life unfolds and, for the most part, is kept in well-shot and brief sequences. There are few attempts to over-glamourize or over-dramatize the events that shaped Cash’s life and career.

Reese Witherspoon’s performance, as well, is surprisingly good. There are precious few points in the film where you remember she was in Legally Blonde, and her vocals and live performances are stronger than many I’ve seen from Hollywood actresses in recent years.

So, with all this greatness, what could be wrong? Nothing, really. This is a solid film, but it is completely conventional. It doesn’t go for the weepy Oscar moments that drown many films and it doesn’t try to cover too much of the man’s life focusing mostly on his years between his Sun Records contract and his “At Folsom Prison” album. If you have no love for the man himself, or his music, you may walk away underwhelmed, but otherwise you’ll be pleased.

“Walk the Line” is a well-made movie. Mangold’s direction is capable, and the script stays fairly true to the biographies upon which it was based. It does have excellent performances, but barring a groundswell of support for Cash’s legacy (which could arise) I don’t see it running away with any awards. It will contend for some due to excellent performances. Considering “Ray” was about a half-hour too long, I’d even go so far as to say it has an excellent shot at a Best Picture nomination. But a win may be difficult.

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Capote

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Nov 132005
 

Capote (2005)

Truman Capote (Hoffman), during his research for his book In Cold Blood, an account of the murder of a Kansas family, the writer develops a close relationship with Perry Smith, one of the killers.

Directed by
Bennett Miller

Genres
Biography, Drama

Cast
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson, Marshall Bell, Araby Lockhart, Robert Huculak, R.D. Reid, Rob McLaughlin, Harry Nelken

Busy weekend for us for movies. Lay and I went to watch Capote last night. The 7:30 show was sold out by the time we arrived, so we came back for the 10:30 show. There were only about a dozen people in that show. The movie is currently showing at only one theater in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg. I really liked the film, but Lay thought it sucked.

The film is certainly stark, and Lay thought it moved slowly. I thought it moved deliberately and with intensity.

The direction by the relatively unknown Bennett Miller is personal, evocative and affecting, but without being over-dramatic. This is helped immensely by Philip Seymour Hoffmann’s incredible performance as Capote, as well as solid acting from Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chris Cooper. Cooper plays K.B.I. Agent Alvin Dewey. His portrayal is intense, but not over-done.

The cinematography by Adam Kimmel is suitably gray and moody, with many evocative views of the flat Kansas plains, but most of the screen time is spent with the camera focused on Hoffmann – all of it time well spent. The film focuses on Capote’s research on the book “In Cold Blood” and the personal journey that his relationship and identification with killer Perry Smith became (Capote says at one point that it was like they grew up in the same house, and he went out the front door while Perry went out the back), a compelling and complicated relationship that this uncompromising film presents in moving detail. I picked up on this, along with some other comments, that seemed to show how Capote like to make things all about himself, and how he fancied that he’d had some terrible life experiences.

After exploding to meteoric fame with his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote became the New York caf? society’s darling, quite the gay-man-child-bon-vivant. He drank and held court with the best of New York, which just also happened to be the nexus of television in the early 60s. Before long Capote was the quintessential modern celebrity, famous for being famous. And he did it all before our eyes.

Philip Seymour Hoffman does not so much play Capote as become him. And not just in mannerism, no mean feat, but in personality, because we are convinced that Hoffman feels what Capote felt, cries over the lies, accepts his moral failings. For a short story writer-raconteur from New Orleans, Capote found himself at the center of a nationally enthralling multiple homicide, facing the ultimate journalist’s Faustian dilemma: if he perpetrates a lie for the sake of exposing the truth, is he ever worthy of redemption. Capote, in the end, concluded that he wasn’t; he never wrote another book. He descended into drunkenness and died a lonely soul. This is not the stuff of Holly Golightly.

While I haven’t read the biography by Gerald Clarke on which it’s based, the script seems to hit enough salient details to evoke Capote’s frame of mind, without inundating the audience with more than would fit in a feature-length film. I suppose one of my only complaints about the film would be that at times the conversations take on a sheen of Hollywood, saying things for dramatic impact that perhaps might not have been said in real life. But then again, I never met Capote, so who knows for sure.

All in all, this was a deeply engrossing film, and one I would highly recommend, especially if you’re a fan of Truman Capote.

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