Category Archives: Movie

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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The Great Beauty

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

It’s surreal, there’s not much of a plot in the traditional sense, and the co-lead is a city (Rome). The cinematography is incredible, with many scenes that are pieces of art (including the closing credits, don’t rush out), and a perfect backdrop of music. There’s a message in this film, which is that there is beauty to be found in this life, and we should recognize it before it’s too late. Paolo Sorrentino is the director and writer, and he’s created an homage to Fellini. I remember seeing Roma years ago, and this film doesn’t seem to be quite such a masterpiece. The leading character, Jep, is the king of high life, with a day job as a journalist, having written a hit novel that he has never been able to duplicate. He lives in a cool apartment overlooking the Coliseum, and everyone seems to adore him, and ask him to write the next great novel. He turns 65 and has a fabulous party, but starts to reassess his sybaritic lifestyle, wondering what happened to his first (and apparently only) true love. The vignettes are extraordinary – a super high end botox parlor, a high end party (the only kind in this film) by a renowned modern art collector who forces his 10 year old daughter to perform for his guests (she splashes paint like a young Jackson Pollack on angel dust), a flock of resting flamingoes (?) that are seemingly at the beck and call of a Mother Theresa like figure. I could go on, but this is not a film that can be easily described. Don’t see it unless you are prepared to be dazzled and have the patience for 140 minutes while no one gets shot, screwed (at least on screen) or chased in a car. Oh, there’s some funny moments, of the absurd variety.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is a very rude and crude Candid Camera-type movie. It stars Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame along with the amazing 8-year-old, Jackson Nicoll. Probably the only thing more amazing than the great job he does is that his parents let him do it.

While some parts went over the line—even for me—for the most part I found this film very funny. This movie is very Borat-like.  If you liked Borat, there’s a good chance you’ll like this. If you didn’t like Borat or didn’t go because it offended your sensibilities, stay far, far away. I was trying to decide which movie was ruder and cruder. I was leaning towards Bad Grandpa, but then I remembered the nude wrestling scene in Borat….

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Agree with Bill’s review, I loved it. Very funny throughout, the kid is incredible, and I wondered while I was watching, but at the end during closing credits I was convinced that the “real people” who are pranked were not actors, and didn’t know what was coming. Very Borat-like, but with a touching story grounded in reality of a boy who needs his grandpa.

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Article on the kid

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

This review is not intended for those who are really into this series as all of those people have undoubtedly seen this already (probably twice). I had not seen the first movie, but I watched it on Netflix (what dedication!) once the sequel got such good reviews. I even looked up “dystopia” in the dictionary since everything I heard or read talked about the story set in a dystopian society (and they are right—an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives).

I was glad that I went back and watched the first movie to have a good context for this one. Overall I liked Catching Fire and thought it was better than the first. The movie is almost 2.5 hours long but it did fly by. The characters are interesting and the acting, good, with a surprisingly good cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and more. For the most part, the action was good although I found some of it hard to follow. I did have a couple of quibbles about the ending. It reminded me a little of The Empire Strikes Back--I didn’t think it had a real ending. It just sort of found a good point to stop, so the next film would have a good place to start. I have been told this is how the book ends too. I also didn’t like that they had to explain at the end what happened in the battle towards the end (since there’s no way to have figured it out just by watching), and what happened to some of the characters since they didn’t show that in the movie, but wanted you to know for the next movie.

Despite the quibbles with the last 15-20 minutes overall I enjoyed this.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I was not as diligent as Bill so I have not seen the first movie, thinking this one should be able to stand on its own. I think it does, but also am sure that I would have appreciated it more if I was familiar with the prior episode and the characters. I agree with everything Bill says in his review, including the excellent acting, the movie moving fast, and the abrupt ending, almost like it’s going to a long commercial. Very imaginative scenarios to go with a very depressing futuristic life under a powerful Donald Sutherland as “President”. The way the government thugs march in and torture and kill citizens without a second thought, much less a trial, reminds me of Syria and other hot spots in our current world. How powerless the citizenry must feel, which is the essence of this story. There’s enough humor to keep me from getting miserable watching, and some situations that stretch logic (OK, count how many arrows Katniss starts out with in her quiver, then count the number she ends up shooting, or firing, or whatever you do with arrows.). I’d be interested in reading comments of anyone who’s a fan of this series.

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Nebraska

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

A very well-done film, with an overall depressing motif, from the people to the environment to the black and white cinematography. Bruce Dern, in a tour de force, plays an old codger who has had it with everything: his wife, his sons, his relatives, neighbors, and just life in general. He latches onto a glimmer of hope when a sweepstakes junk mailer promises him one million dollars, so he sets his mind on getting to the mailer’s headquarters in Lincoln Nebraska to get the money in person. (“I wouldn’t trust a million dollars in the mail!”) There are several themes that resonate: 1) caring for elderly parents as they slip to the end of their lives, often into dementia first; 2) questioning what are we living for, more money, family, friends; 3) regret about past loves, decisions made, favors made; 4) how money changes people’s outlook, bringing out their nastiest; 5) finally, and what makes this ultimately a lovely film, a love for one’s parents regardless of how nasty they may become. Will Forte plays the loving son, and it’s his patience, innate sadness and humaneness that makes this a touching film. By the way, June Squibb is wonderful as the long suffering wife of Dern’s codger, who suffers no fools and is quick to curse out anyone who crosses her path. By the way, there’s some very funny parts to this, including a pair of cousins who together probably don’t total an IQ of 100.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the first review from movies I saw at last week’s Austin film festival. I’ll write a few more reviews in the next few days.

Nebraska is the latest movie from Alexander Payne, the director of Sideways and The Descendants. Bruce Dern gives an exceptional performance as Woody, an aging alcoholic trying to get to Nebraska to claim his $1 million marketing sweepstakes prize (which, of course, is not real). His son David (Will Forte) offers to take him, and a road trip ensues. Woody and David have had a rocky past, and the road trip gives them an opportunity to work through some of their issues. A stop in Woody’s old home town also gives David a chance to gain more insight into his father (and mother) and the relationship they had with some of their relatives and others from the town.

The film has a good mix of humor and drama. While you don’t get to understand all that made Woody the way he is/was, you do end up pretty sympathetic to all the characters. In addition to Dern’s great performance, Forte was also surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.  June Squibb was as Woody’s wife stole just about every scene she was in.

I liked this a lot and definitely recommend it. Nebraska opens in a couple of weeks.

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The Armstrong Lie

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Documentarian Alex Gibney started out to make a film about Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009. As often happens for good documentaries, film makers need to be at the right place at the right time. In this case, as Gibney was finishing his original film, the final exposure of Armstrong as a cheat and liar evolved, and it was back to the drawing board for Gibney.

He did additional interviews with some of the people that Armstrong destroyed over the years as well as with Armstrong (including as recently as this year). While no new major revelations are made, this is an interesting portrait that sheds some additional insight in what shaped Armstrong, including his early days as a triathlete, his battle with cancer, and the incredible pressure to cheat in cycling in the 90s and stay one step ahead of the testing. This film also uses good archival footage of old Tour de France races as well as Armstrong’s winning years and his comeback in 2009/2010.

I’ve been a big fan of Armstrong since his first Tour win and he has been a well-known presence in Austin with the Livestrong Foundation and the annual charity rides (that I still participate in). Austin is probably the only place that still has something named after him: The Lance Armstrong Bikeway. After watching the recent interviews with Armstrong, it is sad to see he is still rationalizing his behavior and doesn’t really own up to his past mistakes.

For those who have found the Armstrong saga interesting, this is an informative addition.

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Blue is the Warmest Color

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

What relevance does the title have? I don’t know. At some point I thought it might be because Emma (the “older” women in this love affair, although only a college student when we meet her) sports blue streaks in her punky hairstyle. But that’s not it. The original title, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 – “The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2, makes more sense, as it focuses on the younger lover, Adele, in a spectacular breakout performance by Adele Exarchopoulos. Adele the actress was 18 when she played Adele the character, who is a high school junior when we first meet her. This is a love story, with its tender, exploratory beginnings to its explosive sexual  and emotional dynamics and ulitimately its (spoiler alert, sorry) typical demise. I wondered how great this film is, given its biggest publicity has surrounded the lesbian aspect – is it exploitive, is it genuine or just titilating? Certainly the plot is nothing special: girl meets boy, girl meets the love of her life and forgets the boy, they have a fight and break up. And it takes 3 hours to do so. But it held my attention, and I really liked it. I attribute that to one main factor, which is the beauty and geniuneness of Adele playing Adele. Her captivating screen presence grew on me. She starts out looking like a typical high schooler, rushing off to catch the bus, hair a mess, dumpy clothes, nothing special about her. But you see her beauty, and her face is so expressive, in an understated way, that you can tell how she is feelling, from bored, to excited, to love, to vulnerable and to miserable. There’s some great scenes: with her classmates freaking out ’cause she’s hanging out with a butch girl; with her family around the dinner table; with her nursery school class as she rejoices in teaching the kids; with a party when she plays host/chef/server to Emma’s upper class artistic friends. And of course, the 1 on 1 scenes between the women show true love, show how routine life interferes and then how one intense fight can destroy it all. A lot has been written about the 10 minute explicit sex scene, and as a typical hetero male I certainly enjoyed it. Probably not as genuine as what I’ve seen in The L Word, or in actual porno films, but as close to real sex as you will see in mainstream movies. I mean, you can’t fake kissing and biting someone’s ass. But you can legitimately tell your spouse and friends that you are going to see an excellent foreign film, and mean it.

Dallas Buyers Club

Bill I’s Review – 4.25 out of 5

Matthew McConaughey shows once again what a tremendous actor he is, and with his role as HIV afflicted Texan good ole boy, Ron Woodroof, he deploys an unbelievable physical presence to great effect. His character is gaunt in the extreme, even before he’s diagnosed, and almost unrecognizable, certainly the polar opposite from his Magic Mike character. Based on a true story, set starting in 1985, he’s shocked by the diagnosis, in denial, because in his mind it’s a disease limited to c**suckers like Rock Hudson. He’s not an admirable person, and given 30 days to live, he’s desperate for any cure. AZT is just starting clinical trials and while he loves gambling on cards he doesn’t like the odds of getting the real drug vs a placebo in the double blind trial so he goes off on his own to get experimental, unapproved drugs from around the world. The film is a great character study as Ron starts to find some good as well as profit in helping others find a cure, and it’s almost documentary like in showing the medical establishment struggling to find a cure while hordes are dying. It is also shocking to see, and to be reminded of, the reaction of most people when confronted with friends and co-workers who have the HIV death sentence proclaimed. I flashbacked to Magic Johnson and his earth shaking press conference announcing his diagnosis, then to the reaction of some of his NBA colleagues (Karl Malone, for one) when Magic decides to try a comeback, while they fear bumping into him, getting blood, sweat or other bodily fluids onto their masculinity. With Jennifer Gardner playing a thankless role as doctor, the real second star is his hospital roommate, Rayon, a cross dressing, drug using, HIV infected presence, played by Jared Leto (I had no idea until checking the credits just now). Leto also molded his body into his character so that you are not watching a movie with a script but genuine people who are living, and dying, their real lives. It’s not a fun movie to watch, but never lost my attention or bogged down, humorous at times, carried by the wonderful McConaughey and Leto. Definite Oscar nominees, both.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I need to start reviewing movies before Bill as he leaves me nothing to say.

This is another movie that shows how quickly the world has changed, from the effectiveness of treating this disease to the way gay people were treated in this country.  The film hilights the transformation of Woodruff from a self-centered, gay-hating person to a crusader fighting for those who had no hope.

The physical transformations and performances by both McConaughey and Leto are amazing. It’s also amazing to think of how McConaughey’s career has evolved from his early days to his recent choices of interesting movies/performances, including Tropic Thunder, Bernie, Killer Joe, and Mud. Jared Leto was a revelation in this role. It will be interesting to see how he splits his time between acting, which he has dabbled in, and as lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars.

While Dallas Buyers Club is tough to watch, it is definitely worth seeing.

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12 Years a Slave

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

It’s a rare film that is so powerful and moving that I know I will remember not only the plot but how I felt after watching it: The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, The Excorcist (OK, not all of them are about killing), and now 12 Years a Slave. I said after I saw Django Unchained that while it had some typical Tarantino stylistic exaggerations, graphic violence and revenge fantasy, it served as a necessary reminder of how terrifyingly brutal slavery was in reality. 12 Years a Slave takes this to another level, where you see the human evil, of one man owning others, treating them much worse than he treated his animals, rapes at the drop of a hat, whips to near death at a whim, separates families without a second thought, and preaches the gospel without even considering that what he’s doing every day is a worse sin than anything mentioned in the ten commandments. What elevates this film above documentaries and other films of this subject is the magic of the director, cinematographer and the actors. Ever see a lynching on film? Not like here, you didn’t, where Solomon (the main character played by a soon to be Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up just high enough so his toes can support him on the ground, and they let him hang in the midday sun, gasping for breath, under the watch of the overseer and the occasional glance of the master’s wife while his fellow slaves continue their daily business, and some of their kids play in the field. No dialogue is necessary as the only sound is Solomon’s desperate breathing, a scene that seemed to last hours but is probably 4-5 minutes of just in your face reality you can’t avoid. Made me think am I really of the same species as these people? Was it only 160 years ago that this happened in our country? My grandfather’s parents (maybe) and grandparents (definitely) were living during this time, so it’s really not that long ago. Now flash back to the present time, where apparently 60,000 people are modern day versions of slaves right here in the US (read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/07/opinion/slavery-isnt-a-thing-of-the-past.html)

I won’t get into the plot, which is a perfect vehicle to tell this story, and it’s based on a real person and his real hellish experience. You can read about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Northup

What a film!

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I don’t have much to add to Bill’s excellent review. The movie shows the brutality of slavery, how some people coped and others didn’t, and how it never occurred to many slave-owners that they were doing anything wrong. The movie is well-written, beautifully directed, and has an excellent cast. In addition to the great performance by Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender as a religious but cruel slave-owner, and Lupita Nyong as a slave in one of her first roles were standouts.

As Bill says, this is one of those movies that will definitely stick with you long after you’ve seen it.

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Thor The Dark World

Bill I’s Review – 2 out of 5

This sequel fell short of my already low expectations, and I couldn’t wait for the closing credits.  When I find myself squirming in my seat, closing my eyes and not worrying I am missing something then I know it’s not a great movie for me. It started out OK, with the same characters as the first Thor, but then towards the end got more preposterous and boring. The actors are fine (Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Natalie Portman as the brainy beauty scientist, and Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s bad bro Loki), some of the repartee is witty, but oh, the plot. I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert because I don’t think I understood enough to explain what exactly happens. I can say that someone wants to destroy the universe, and they need to capture the “ether” from Natalie (she has absorbed it somehow, while pining away for her dream beauty Thor who said he’d be right back two years ago, while he had to go back to his world in another galaxy, deal with his father and unruly brother, and save his world), then wait for the precise moment when convergence happens (don’t remember convergence from your high school physics class? Well it’s when all the planets line up in a row and gravity goes nuts causing havoc – my wife says it causes worm holes but I don’t recall them using that terminology), and only at that moment can the ether be deployed to destroy everything. Unless, of course, the brainy beauteous Natalie is wielding her iPad with knobs to zap the bad guys into another dimension. Some minor questions arose in my mind along the way. Such as, when and how did Natalie, or her mentor wacky scientist who runs around in his underwear (or less), figure out how to create this super iPad without even asking Apple? Or why do the good guys on Thor’s world use swords to fight the bad guys even though they have super advanced technology that allows them to travel through worm holes and to fly super fast ships with great ray guns and automated ray canons? And how do the bad guys, who have been exciled in some type of remote prison since the first Thor, come back armed with super AK-47 type ray guns and grenades that suck into thin air anyone within 50 feet? Let this be a warning to all of you, not to snooze so you can figure out these puzzlers. Or not.