November 30, 2015

Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2  Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2

The long awaited fourth film from the three book series starring Jennifer Lawrence, Julianna Moore, Donald Sutherland and Josh Hutcherson gets off to a great start with a new energy and focus on the series roots, absolute power corrupts and the character Katniss is the underdog symbol of hope.

Ultimately, the story defaults to a sputtering series of misfires including mutants, fire bombs, and intelligent boiling oil. The character development is equally flawed to the point where the viewers may come away from the theater with a yawn and a shrug as did our party of eight spanning ages 20+ to 83.

Perhaps expectations by the audience were just too high. Overall, as a body of work, the series will probably fall into the classics category. Collectively it should. Hunger Games 1 and 2 were groundbreaking. Three was a so so setup for the finale that turned out to be a big balloon that ran out of air, not unlike the love interests that seems to all but evaporate in this final episode.

Note: I was impressed how the late Philip Seymour Hoffman character as gamemaster survived the editing process with the clever use of a letter. Kudos to the Writers, Director and Producers.

Rating: 2 GlobesPeggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

This documentary film tries to explain the complex life, personality and passion for Peggy Guggenheim’s thirst and appreciation for the emerging Modern Art movement of the 20th Century. Now recognized globally as a priceless collection reflective of dozens of “then emerging” artists, this film zeros in on the life and times of Ms. Guggenheim herself; her childhood and life history unfold, her strengths and flaws all there for critical examination.

Having seen the collection in New York and Venice first hand, I sat mesmerized by her monumental achievement, how she accomplished her vision, and equally important, how she lived her life, her way, critics notwithstanding. I am so pleased she chose to share her life’s work with the world.

If you like modern art, if you like strong individuals with vision, if you respect out-of-the-box thinking, I cannot imagine not liking this story.

Rating: 4 GlobesLegend

Legend

First and foremost, Tom Hardy pulls off the almost impossible task of portraying both of the true to life leading character twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the notorious and ruthless crime bosses of East End, London of the 1960s. Add the exceptional cinematography and set production and I wondered why this film just didn’t work for me.

One, it took a while to differentiate one twin from the other. Two, these are not nice people and yet there is a huge effort for the audience to like them. Three, the violence is excessive and brutal then sandwiched with an attempt to legitimize their behaviors and actions.

On the bright side, Emily Browning’s role as Reggie’s love interest and wife gives a believable performance albeit a roller coaster ride. The sets are stunning. You feel like you are in the period. That’s great work but I still cannot recommend it, maybe pay per view…just make sure you are in the mood.

Rating: 1 Globe

November 24, 2015

 Secret Secret in Their Eyes

This was an interesting film about the homicide of the daughter of a policewomen played by Julia Roberts. Nicole Kidman gives a noteworthy performance as a District Attorney along with Chiwetel Ejiofor as an investigator. Interesting until it becomes confusing as it toggles back and forth in time to the point the viewer is lost as to what is happening or the context. I came away disappointed and frustrated.
Rating: 1 Globe
_______________Spotlight

Spotlight

An exceptional journalism drama about the 2001 Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of systemic sexual abuse. Liev Shreiber, as editor-in-chief will likely garner Oscar chatter for his portrayal. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachael McAdams all deliver powerful performances as investigative reporters. Stanley Tucci is also a standout as an attorney.

True stories about real events can be an enormously difficult undertaking, especially for difficult subject matter and powerful institutions. This movie gets it right.
Rating: 4 Globes
__________________By the Sea

By The Sea

I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It was interesting in style and tone. Was it a romance, tragedy, mystery?

When we finally saw the movie this last weekend, the Mediterranean scenery and cinematography were an appealing hook. They had me in the opening scene with the iconic ’70s French convertible rambling along a barren stark coast. But that was the highlight.

Angelina Jolie’s moody brooding character was intriguing but annoying. Brad Pitt’s character was a stalled writer seeking inspiration for his next book. Of course he would be, he was pickled most of the time. But it was the extensive peep show they shared together of the young sexually active neighbors that was just plain creepy. By the time we learned why, I didn’t really care.
Rating: 1 Globe

November 17, 2015

 Specter  Spectre 007

The latest James Bond 007 spectacle does not disappoint. It is big, brawny, clever and relentless. Let’s start with the opening credits highlighted by the opening song sung by the incredible Sam Smith. Where do some of those notes come from? Look for an Oscar nomination for Best Song. But I digress.

The story line is dynamic. The cinematography is unbelievable, like you are on the set for the entire ride. More Oscar fodder here too. Plenty of bad guys, some really good bad guys. Christoph Waltz is at his best. And let’s not forget the requisite Bond girls, this time two and they are really good. All modes of transportation, virtually non-stop action with more twists and turns than the Hollywood freeway. Daniel Craig has never been better.

Rating: 4 GlobesTrumbo

Trumbo

Depending on your age, you may or may not recall the Hollywood Blacklist of suspected Communists from 1946 until 1960. In this film, Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter, and then the most highly compensated writer in the industry, is called before the “House Un-American Activities Committee” to testify before Congress as to his political beliefs and the beliefs of others in the entertainment industry. He refused, was held in contempt and was imprisoned for 11 months.

After his release, he was unable to find employment and was shunned by most everyone in the industry. He, and his associates, began writing scripts for low budget movie producers and finally authored a couple of Oscar winning scripts. Eventually, times changed and Mr. Trumbo was finally recognized for his tenacity and perseverance.
Bryan Cranston plays the lead character with zeal. Director Jay Roach carefully recreates the period and the political climate of the day. Helen Mirren’s portrayal as Hedda Harper alone is worth seeing this movie.

Rating: 4 GlobesBrooklyn

Brooklyn

This is a classic immigrant story set in 1951 about a young Irish girl who journeys to America for a new life leaving her Mom and sister behind. The poor thing is at first naive and unhappy, lives in a boarding house with other Irish women and struggles as a salesclerk in a department store.

She meets a young Italian man at a dance, they fall in love… She gets a call one day and feels compelled to go back to Ireland. You can probably fill in the blanks so I won’t tell you anymore, but there is a reason it is called “Brooklyn”.

All that said, it is a beautifully crafted film. Just the right amount of everything. It is well acted,visually satisfying, just the right mix of angst and humor even though it logs in just over two hours.

Rating: 3 Globessuffragette

Suffragette

Set in England of the late 1930s, this is based on true events about the movement to win the women’s right to vote. What came as a surprise was how violent and oppressive the culture was in that period. While the movement spanned all socio-economic classes, this story has a focus toward the lower labor class and the huge challenges as a result.
Directed by Sarah Gavron, starring Helena Bottom Carter and an extraordinary Carey Mulligan. Meryl Steep has a brief appearance as Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement forced underground.

Overall, it was an interesting glimpse at history and a reminder of a very different time less than a hundred years ago. Tidbit Fact: woman in Switzerland didn’t get to vote until 1971!

Rating: 2 Globes

Steve Jobs

First, I must confess. I was not interested in seeing this movie. I saw the documentary shortly after Job’s death and chose not to see the rendition staring Ashton Kutcher because it just didn’t sound realistic. That said, after hearing good things about the current film and seeking a second movie on a double feature day thanks to rain, I acquiesced and I am so glad I did.

This was more like a play than a movie. Michael Fassbender is exceptional as Jobs. And a big surprise, Kate Winslet is almost as extraordinary as Job’s Marketing Director. It is the combination of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and the delivery by Fassbender and the rest of the cast that makes this movie great.

I will also admit, I did not like Mr. Jobs or the way he conducted himself. There can be no denying his deficiencies or his genius. There just might be another Oscar or two when the season comes around.

Rating: 4 Globes

November 1, 2015

     sicario Sicario

Sicario is a film about the war on drugs, specifically focused on Mexico and its biggest drug kingpin. What makes this story exciting is Benicio Del Toro as the Mexico “insider done wrong, hell bent on revenge” working with off-the-grid US undercover agencies? The pace of this film is intense and relentless thanks to Director Denis Villeneuve’s portrayal of drug war’s operating landscape. Great acting, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin are perfectly cast. Superb storytelling, but not always easy to watch (and not recommended for young children).
English and some Spanish with English subtitles.

Rating: 4 Globes
________________________________martian

The Martian

If, like me, you thought you could figure out the whole movie from the previews, guess again. This was an amazing film, suspense filled story, another home run for Matt Damon, and another spectacle for Director Ridley Scott. As you probably know by now, the Matt Damon character is left behind and presumed dead by his fellow astronauts during a freak storm forced an emergency takeoff in order to avoid disaster. But it is the rest of what happens on Earth, space, and Mars that makes this story interesting. It gets a little weak at the end, granted. But overall, great fun movie to watch.

Rating: 4 Globes
________________________________bridge of spies

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks is once again at the top of his game. This movie was created as a throw back to so many great suspense espionage movies of the cold war era. There are more twists and turns than a pretzel. Secret Agents galore, US, German, Russian. Lots of angst and tension to make you squirm a bit but nothing over the top. Another good solid Oscar likely movie from Spielberg and team. Must see if you are a Hanks or spy movie fan.
Minimal German and Russian with English subtitles.
Rating: 4 Globes
_______________________________Truth

Truth

This was are-enactment of the CBS 60 Minutes, Dan Rather story about President George W. Bush and his military service. The critics hated this film. Robert Redford stars as Rather along with Cate Blanchet as Mary Mapes as the news producer. I thought both performances were very good. I was also intrigued by the premise of the legions of conservative operatives running defense for the then President. “Me think you protest too much!”

Rating: 2 Globes
_______________________________labyrinthoflies

Labyrinth of Lies

This was a fascinating film about German society in the post WW2 1960s, less than 20 years since the war ended. A young prosecutor discovers a social pattern ignoring or overlooking the presence of former Nazi wartime criminals wholly integrated in German society. Against the then social tide, the young official was finally granted approval to investigate and ultimately prosecute 22 Germans in the 1963-65 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. This is a true story, intelligently crafted and ultimately powerful and compelling. It is an incredible peek behind the curtain of history.

German with English Subtitles

Rating: 3 Globes
_______________________________room

Room

Never heard of this film? Well, it is not to be missed! It starts very confusing, then it takes on a quirky inquisitive quality. Ah, finally making a little sense, this is a different kind of reality for this mother and child. Then more and more information is revealed until you realize what the story is really all about. I won’t tell you here because it would ruin the disturbing discovery and possibly the rest of the movie. This is truly groundbreaking movie making and it will be interesting to see Hollywood’s reaction. Excellent performances especially from the 5 year old boy. Where did that depth come from? Seek this one out and see for yourself. I found myself thinking about this one long after the movie ended.

Rating: 4 Globes
_______________________________coming home

Coming Home

Here is another great film we almost missed. It has limited distribution and until very recently little visibility. It is a Sony Classics release and will probably only last a week or two depending on your local film market. Do seek it out. You will be rewarded with a peek into the China of the Mao era, and maybe something to think about.

It is a heart wrenching story about a young couple torn away from each, the husband to a labor camp, the wife, injured in an accident loses some of her memory. The husband is released toward the end of China’s Cultural Revolution only to discover his wife does not recognize him.
Mandarin with English Subtitles

Rating: 4 Globes