Category Archives: Drama

Million Dollar Arm

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I loved it. Great story, based on real-life events, of a sports agent holding a nationwide contest in India to find a couple of cricket players who could throw a baseball with “juice” (i.e. fast and accurate), awarding them with a trip to the US to get professional training and a major league tryout. Jon Hamm is pretty perfect as the down on his luck agent, kind of like a 2008 version of Don Draper gone out on his own: arrogant, but with likable potential if he slows down from his fast track business focus enough to appreciate the people around him. The scenes in India give just enough local flavor to keep it interesting, while the secondary characters stand out, especially Alan Arkin as the jaded scout, Bill Paxton as the coach Tom House, and Pitobash as the volunteer translator and gofer who’s got big baseball ambitions but tiny stature. Lake Bell is good as the tenant neighbor love interest and wise voice of reason, while the two potential pitchers are realistically quiet and intimidated by the fish out of water experience, and end up doing a realistic version of pitching so it doesn’t look like typical Hollywood actors trying to be athletes. Finally, I must mention that the film was inspired by my college friend, Will Chang, who in real life funded the contest and helped initiate the film. The character that portrays “Mr. Chang” is quite harsh, which is very unlike Will in real life, so I assume they needed it for dramatic impact. Some critics have called the film corny and boring. I agree it’s no Jerry McGuire, and no Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s very enjoyable and I was never bored. Bring kids of all ages and you will have fun.

 

Joe

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Joe is a character driven study set in the deep south.

Joe (Nicolas Cage), leads a tree clearing crew.  For the most part Joe is a lovable guy who helps everyone but he has anger issues which have gotten him into trouble/jail in the past.  He  hires and then befriends Gary (Tye Sheridan from The Tree of Life and Mud), a 15 year old with an alcoholic and violent father.

I liked the feel of this movie.  The setting in the deep south and the scenes in the woods with the tree clearing crew were great.  The interaction between Joe and his crew and the performance of his 2nd in command was excellent.  The performances by Cage and Sheridan were also very good.  Normally, you’d expect Cage to overact, especially when his anger issues are on display.  But he kept things under control.  Sheridan was excellent in Mud and he is also excellent here.

There’s a fair amount of tension throughout as Joe has plenty of enemies as well as friends and it’s not clear what path Gary will take.  This was worth seeing.

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Omar

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

This movie is many things: a romance (Omar and Nadia are teenagers, almost sweetly naive, making eyes and passing secret love notes), a thriller (Omar and his two Palestinian buddies are budding terrorists/freedom fighters – take your pick as one reviewer said – striking back at their Israel occupiers/overseers in the West Bank in an amateurish but lethal way) and ultimately a political statement that portrays the helplessness and brutality felt by these young men. It is fast moving, realistic, well made film that includes some great chase scenes, chaste love scenes and in your face confrontations between friends and between captor/prisoner. Religion and historical disputes are not discussed, only the reality of the sad situation. Well done.

Wadjda

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I believe it’s the first film by a female director in Saudi Arabia, and an excellent one. It’s centered on a 10 year old girl, Wadjda, in her middle class life going to a religious, all-girl school school (of course), so fascinating to see the everyday life. Wadjda is different from the norm however, although to our eyes she’s a typical pre-teen who listens to rock music, doesn’t care much about school work, and follows her own interests. Her main interest here is to earn enough money to buy a bike. Problem is that girls don’t ride bikes over there, as everyone tells her including her stern principal and distracted mother. Wadjda has such a determination and is so captivating that this seemingly simple plot carries the film, and in an understated way, shows how girls are second class people. At ten, they have to come to terms with that they can’t be seen in public by men without their veils, they can’t keep their husbands from taking a second wife, in fact they can’t control who they are married to. The actor playing Wadjda is fantastic, I highly recommend if you can find this film. It’s not overly dramatic, somewhat comedic, and ultimately inspiring.

Saving Mr. Banks

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

The ultimate Disney movie, produced by Disney, about the production of a Disney movie, with Walt Disney as a main character, some have objected that it’s an infomercial for the corporate giant but I had a different perception. I found it engrossing, enjoyable, and interesting, with excellent acting (Tom Hanks is very credible as Walt, but the dominant character is played by Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the auther of the Mary Poppins book whom Walt has been trying to convince to let him create the movie for 20 years). It’s set in 1963 during a couple of weeks when Mrs. Travers deigns to come to Hollywood and give Walt a chance, and is intertwined with flashbacks to the author’s childhood (alternating enchanting and tragic) in the Australia sticks. Parallels are drawn, and the Mr. Banks of the title, superbly played by Colin Powell, is a key figure in the author’s creative, social and emotional roadblocks. Paul Giamatti is excellent as her dedicated limo driver, and the Mad Men style of workplace is a backdrop to providing insights into the creative process, and helps you realize how great some of the original musical numbers are.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Saving Mr. Banks gives you two good movies for the price of one!  Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to cajole P. L. Travers  (Emma Thompson) into providing movie making rights and collaborating as Disney tries to turn Travers series of books into the Mary Poppins movie.  In a series of flashbacks  from Travers’ childhood, you see the key events and her relationship with her father (Colin Farrell) that influenced her work and outlook on life.

As portrayed in the film, Travers was demanding, the collaboration was difficult, and her giving rights to Disney was not a given until late in the process.  Some accounts say Travers was even more difficult to work with than portrayed in the movie, and ultimately she does come across as a sympathetic figure (with the help of a totally fictional character played by Paul Giamatti) that helps to humanize her. Despite the difficulties and some of her ridiculous requests (that lead to much of the comedy in the movie), the collaboration did result in a better movie.

The performances are good, especially Emma Thompson. The basic facts of the movie are pretty accurate, although how they portray various characters is open for debate (this is a Disney movie, so there is some conflict of interest). This is a moving movie and worth seeing.

Article About Authenticity of Film

IMDB

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Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Alternating between the drab reality of life at the bottom of the office food chain and unable to take any sort of initiative other than do his job exceedingly well (managing the photo negatives of a soon to be defunct Life magazine), and an incredibly realistic fantasy life, Walter (well played by Ben Stiller) goes into a trance while he fantasizes what he would really like to do at the moment, whether that be a super hero or romantic player. He paralyzes in the simplest act of asking out a cute office colleague, played straight by Kristen Wiig. I found this film enthralling, aided in great part by the fantastic photography and action scenes, some of which are imagined, and some of which are real. Wait for the skateboarding down a mountain road scene. Sean Penn and Shirley Mclain are perfect as a famed photographer and Walter’s mom (repspectively, do I need to say?). Family friendly, with a life affirming message, I recommend it for all ages.

American Hustle

Bill I’s Review: 4.5 out of 5

This is a perfect movie. Not perfect technically, as it has some questionable plot points and diversions. Perfect in that it enthralled me throughout and I left the theater smiling. It’s like going to your neighborhood restaurant and experiencing a transcendent gourmet meal. You don’t expect it, since it’s a typical dish (plot about some con men, corrupt politicians and FBI sting), but the ingredients are high quality (top actors, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, all great), the atmosphere and lighting are perfect (the music, the cinematography), the service impeccable (David O. Russell directing) and by the end you walk out realizing that everything combined so that you had the best meal (film) experience you can remember. It’s based on the Abscam sting of congressmen taking bribes, aided and trapped by the FBI, but it takes liberties so that it poses as fiction. Reminiscent of Goodfellas (the 70’s style, the voice over, the mobsters getting in and out of trouble. and of course Robert Deniro), it carries you along from scene to scene while you watch in glee as Bradley Cooper goes from obsessive love to mamma’s boy to batshit on his boss, Christian Bale as the con man with the comb-over and pot belly fast talks his marks into giving him money for nothing, Jennifer Lawrence goes from nagging wife to manipulating, drunk bombshell. It’s a comedy, one of the best of the year. I want to see it again!

Bill C’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

This is a very entertaining movie and becomes only the second movie to get a  coveted 4.5 rating from both of us.

There’s not much to add to Bill’s review.   I loved the directing of Russell and his use of music from the period (It added to the Scorsese feel of the film).  All the actors were great.  In addition to the ones Bill called out Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner were right up there with the others.

This is one you shouldn’t miss.

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Christian Bale (left) as Irving, Amy Adams as Sydney, and Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso make Abscam-era fireworks.

Out of the Furnace

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

Out of the Furnace is a mediocre film (at best) with a really good cast. Any movie with Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker should be better than this. Bale, Harrelson and Affleck were excellent and probably got this up to a mediocre rating.

The film centers around two brothers, played by Bale and Affleck. They live in a dying steel mill town and their lives are spiraling out of control. After Affleck’s character disappears,  Bale decides to take matters into his own hands and seek revenge.

This film clearly had high aspirations. I think director Scott Cooper was emulating The Godfather and going heavy on the symbolism during one sequence when he kept cutting between a deer hunting sequence and a pivotal scene for two characters. This also had a heavy Deer Hunter-feel as a story about a couple of lost souls.  But this film didn’t live up to those aspirations. I thought the movie was slow and didn’t think the plot was very good.  While most of the plot was straight-forward, the last frame of the movie (as pointed out by one of our readers) was really confusing and lacked clarity. There are many movies where ambiguous endings work, but this was not one of them.

Bottom line is if you haven’t seen this movie yet, skip it. There are a ton of other movies just opening that look a lot better.

IMDB

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Best Man Holiday

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

I didn’t expect much, but was pleasantly surprised. The story is straightforward, with a conventional message that friends, family and faith conquers all. What makes it worth watching is the excellent actors and occasionally outrageous scenarios. Most of the characters have a secret, or a flaw that needs to be fixed, no one is as perfect as they look, and I was tempted to not care for most of them when they act at their worst. But when the cute kids chime in with the Christmas songs in front of the decorated tree, it’s touching and the family bonds help everyone to swallow their pride and value their friends. So, not a waste of time, but careful about bringing kids under 13 to this occasionally raunchy film.

Best Man Holiday: Regina Hall and Harold Perrineau

Philomena

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Philomena is based on the true story of Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench). As a Catholic in Ireland in the 1950’s, she was forced to give up her son for adoption, promise never to search for him, AND work for the church for no pay for four years. Helping her on her search is Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former reporter and government spokesman who has recent been forced from office in a political scandal.

The film recounts her time working for the nuns and when they took her son, and fifty years later deciding once again to search for him despite the nuns’ denial of any knowledge of what happened to him.

The performances by Dench and Coogan are excellent. Besides their search, what makes the movie interesting is the interaction between the two characters. Despite the horrific things the church has done to her, Philomena still has her faith and is much more forgiving. Sixsmith take a much harsher view of their actions.

This is a well-written movie; Coogan co-wrote the script. I expected this to be a real tearjerker, but due to her faith, the humor in the script, and the bonding between the two main characters, this had a much different feel than I expected.

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