Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely spinster, a mute, who works as a janitor at a “black” government installation in the Cold War era circa 1962.

She discovers a “fishman” creature in a secret laboratory that is being abused by its keepers, headed by a sadistic government agent. She falls in love with the creature. When she finds out that they intend to kill it, she decides to launch a rescue effort.

Sally Hawkins plays an “odd” woman in the Elisa role, somewhat reminiscent of Maudie from last year, where she played a crippled artist.

The Shape of Water got very high reviews by the community. To me, it was a letdown. First, I don’t understand the title. I am not sure what the shape of water is supposed to mean, other than there is an amphibian man in the leading role.

Spoilers following:

The amphibian man is a human in a fish costume, who makes odd sounds, and supposedly can breathe air with lungs and water with gills. The movie makes no effort to explain if the creature is supposed to be an alien or an evolved human swamp creature. Through the course of the movie Elisa ends up in a sexual relationship with the amphibian man, so I assume he’s supposed to be human. But then, why are the government agents so stupid and act like they are not expecting the creature to be intelligent, or have feelings, like a human does. He sure looks like a human in a fish suit! The whole plot, and many of its components, just didn’t make sense to me, to a degree where I found it distracting.

But then, perhaps the whole story was meant to be a fairytale and I was not supposed to reason about it? Maybe I was supposed to just enjoy it?

I am not sure if The Shape of Water is a fairy tale, a science fiction thriller, or a mystery romance story. It has components of all of those.

In the end, I walked out of the movie somewhat unsatisfied.


Read Full Post »

Starting in the 1960s, and going forward through the decades, a serial killer, who picked seemingly random victims, raged in the San Francisco area. He wrote messages to the media in advance to “prove” he was the killer and took tokens of evidence at the crime scene.

This inspired an intense manhunt.

Zodiac is an intense crime thriller and includes great, talented performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo.


Read Full Post »

As I have done for pretty much all my life, when a new Star Wars movie comes out, I go see it within the first few days. It is a ritual, a rite, something I do, and I know it’s the same for many of my contemporaries.

As usual with Star Wars, I can’t really follow the plot. There are always people who are on far-away planets who are needed for help with some impossible task and emissaries go to find those people. Then there are the mysterious telepathic connections between the Jedi and his disciples, which transcend time and space. Luke, who is the protagonist of this movie, is not very satisfying as a character. He is the last Jedi, but a burned-out one, a reluctant one, and a lot of the movie’s energy is spent on making Luke just do the right thing. To me, that is not much of a plot.

My favorite and repeated complaint with Star Wars is about its disregard for physics. Spaceships don’t fly, they just wink in and out of ordinary space when they go into lightspeed seemingly without acceleration. Except when it’s the old Millennium Falcon, which seems to have superpowers and always flies like a fighter plane in the atmosphere, pulling tight curves, whether it’s in space or not. Fighters continue to fly like there is air, and orbital dynamics is completely ignored.

My most enjoyable experience with Star Wars is usually its depiction of aliens in ordinary settings. I can think of the classic bar scenes that seem to be customary in all episodes. This time, there is only a short sequence in a casino, where there are a few aliens, but they are all humanoids. It seems the entire Star Wars galaxy has devolved into humans with head masks. I am sure that’s to make production cheap, but it’s trite and uninspiring to me. Why isn’t there ever a real alien that is part of the mainline plot? No, I don’t mean another Jar Jar Binks, who himself was nothing but a human in an amphibious suit.

This episode does not tell much of a story and seems to exist only to set the stage for the sunsetting of the two characters most intimately associated with Star Wars: Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, of course) and Princess Lea (played for the last time by the late Carrie Fisher). We say our good byes to both of them, amid a story of fireballs of exploding ships, spaceships racing in tight spaces, comical droids, rubber-mask aliens, desert rust-bucket floater-ship races and a Wookie.

There is nothing new in this episode. The franchise has run out of original ideas and every movie is just a collection of old concepts and special effects, rendered on a new stage, in a slightly different story between good and evil.

True to Star Wars legacy, every conflict in the galaxy is eventually resolved by a swordfight between two humans. All the action stops, high-tech weaponry goes silent, armies of star troopers vanish, spaceships float inactively, the crescendo of the music rises, and the light sabers zap out of their handles. Plot resolved. Deus ex machina.

Will I go see the next episode in a year or so?

Probably.

 

 

Read Full Post »

The Disaster Artist is a pretty good movie about the making of the worst movie in the history of  the world, The Room, which I reviewed here.

I found it hilariously funny, and I must admit that I laughed more out loud than I remember laughing in a movie in a long time. Maybe it was because of the infectious laughs of my son, daughter and son-in-law who took me, maybe it’s because the rest of the theater was laughing, or, just maybe it’s because The Disaster Artist is just a great comedy by itself.

To understand The Disaster Artist, and to really enjoy it, I think you have to have watched The Room. I am not sure if the movie would be funny without knowing the background, the true story of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, a crackpot goof-ball who spent over six million dollars of his own money to make a vanity movie of epic badness.

Be that as it may, The Room is forever a cult classic, and The Disaster Artist may well generate some Oscars.

Read Full Post »

Movie Review: Lady Bird

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior in high school in Sacramento, California in 2002.  She does not like her name and gave herself the name Lady Bird. She signs as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is a strong-willed person but not very good at being a mother. She routinely and methodically puts down her daughter, denigrates her, and shows her with actions and words that she does not respect her. Yet, as mothers are wont to do, she loves her, and Lady Bird desperately needs her approval. Her father (Tracy Letts) is a computer programmer who lost his job. He is passive, beaten down but he loves his children and wants their best, yet, he knows he can’t help them. He suffers from depression. There is also her brother and his girlfriend who live with the family in the little three-bedroom house that the parents bought 25 years ago and never dreamed they would be stuck in all their lives.

Lady Bird copes with coming of age in a depressed family, during an economic downturn, desperately trying to have good friends, first love, and a future at a college in New York that will cost much more than her mother can afford working double shifts as a nurse. But life does not cooperate, at least most of the time.

The movie Lady Bird plays in Sacramento, California. I have, through my work, visited Sacramento often over the last two decades, and there are many scenes where I recognized the background down to the camera angle, particularly at the airport, and by the Tower Bride near Old Town. Sacramento looks romantically beautiful in this movie, much more so than it ever did to me in the real world. I enjoyed how the cinematographers pulled out the beauty and mood.

This film is the debut of director Greta Gerwig. It reminded me a bit of the 2008 movie Juno, another story of a young girl who asserts herself in an adversarial world.

With a score of 100% on the Tomatometer, you probably should not miss this film. It makes you think, it makes you remember your own youth and how hard it was to be accepted, to go your own way, and to overcome your own family and the yoke it can put on you.

Lady Bird is a really good movie.

Read Full Post »

Here we are, cashing in one of our Activity wedding presents from our friend Sheryl, aided by a compatriot friend and prop man, John. It was a mystery gift. She had us reserve the afternoon of Sunday, October 15, 2017 over three months ago and we did not know what to expect.

The instructions for us were: Trisha to show up wearing a long dress, and I should wear all black.

When we arrived at the AMC 20-plex in Mission Valley, she said we were going to start the Adventure by watching a movie.

As we turned into the theater door I saw the marquee say The Princess Bride. I gave a blank look, and Trisha gave a blank look, and Sheryl broke out into a joyful exclamation: “You’re Princes Bride Virgins!”

And so we were. We had no idea what this was all about.

Beers in hand, we found our seats, only to sit down next to a guy in the dark who said those seats were taken. It was our friend John, the prop accomplice.

This was the 30th anniversary showing of the movie, complete with an interview with Rob Reiner before the movie and an epilogue afterwards.

Directed by Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride is an enchanting, romantic, modern fairy tale, as corny as it gets. It’s the story of a princes named Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her farm boy lover and gallant hero Westley (Cary Elwes), where the dominant theme is True Love, the villains are mean and treacherous, and the good guys very smart and courageous.

The cast, of course, is amazing. There is Robin Wright, who broke through to stardom as Buttercup, went on to play Jenny in Forrest Gump, and today is Claire Underwood in House of Cards. Of course, I knew none of this when I watched Buttercup. I just figured it out in my research for this review.

Then there is Inigo Montoya with the notorious line “you killed my father, prepare to die!” who was played by Mandy Patinkin, whom I know as Saul Berenson in Homeland. There is also Vizzini, played by Wallace Shawn, whom people still heckle today by asking him to say “inconceivable!”

To round things out, the movie is presented by a frame story, where a grandfather, played by Peter Falk, reads to his sick grandson in bed, played by Fred Savage of the Wonder Years.

Finally, every fairy tale must have a giant, and Andre the Giant serves quite well for that.

Rob Reiner created a cult classic with The Princess Bride.

Forty years ago I remember going to see the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show a few times, and I was always amazed how people would dress up to go to a movie, bring rice to throw in the theater during the wedding scene, and recite the lines as they occurred.

Yet here I was, dressed all in black, with a mask and a black bandana on my head sporting skull and crossbones, watching The Princess Bride. During the famous chocolate candy scene John doled out yummy chocolate balls. When the six-fingered scene came up, he held up his right hand and showed six fingers. The two ladies wore tiaras; after all, they were the princesses. When the rodents of unusual size attacked, John threw a large plastic rat at us. When we walked out of the theater we asked somebody to take our picture and she said: “As you wish…”

And that is how we spent Sunday afternoon.

Read Full Post »

A movie review by my reader and occasional guest blogger, Jean Claude Volgo:

The film Agora deals with the life and times of Hypatia of Alexandria, arguably the most illustrious woman in the history of Greek science.  The scant historical accounts of her life dwell on the gruesome death she is reported to have suffered in the hands of a Christian mob.  Yet this part of her story (tragic as it is) is less compelling than her reputation as a leading mathematician and astronomer at the twilight of ancient pagan culture.

A beacon of the Hellenistic Age, Alexandria in the late C4th was becoming the epicenter of escalating social tensions between various religious factions vying for political power. The authority of an impartial Roman governor was under constant challenge by Jews and Christians.  Yet in spite of the political turmoil, Greek science flourished in the Library of Alexandria under the mathematician, Theon.  Hypatia, his daughter, would have been well versed in Geometry and Astronomy under her father’s tutelage.  To understand how she became memorialized as a Martyr of Science, we need to step back to an earlier period.

Greek Astronomy was based on a geostatic and geocentric cosmology.  A complex system of interlocking circles had been proposed by Ptolemy (c. 150 AD) to explain what seemed to be erratic planetary orbits.  The system was designed to preserve the Greek geometric ideal of  uniform circular motion.  Although generally accepted, this astronomical model was weighed down by its unwieldy complexity.  Could Hypatia have raised doubts about the Ptolemaic system?  This is the intriguing question underlying a pivotal theme in Agora. The film speculates that Hypatia toyed with a simpler heliocentric model and may have even proposed elliptic orbits for the planets (a theory in keeping with her own publicized study on conic sections).  Furthermore, we know that she was schooled in Neoplatonism, which assigned a prominent role to the Sun in a universe guided by intelligent design.  In short,  could Hypatia — an avowed Neoplatonist — have been perplexed by the incongruity between Ptolemy’s inelegant theory and her own ideal image of a heliocentric system?

Agora is a courageous film: intellectually, for its bold imaginative leap; visually, for the meticulous depiction of ancient multicultural Alexandria with its famed Library.  Rachel Weisz is an intrepid Hypatia, unmoved by ardent suitors, and defying a superstitious mob. The film dramatizes the clash between pagans, Christians, and Jews.  Amenábar deserves credit for his unapologetic exposure of the savage horde that brought down the Library of Alexandria and extinguished the life of one of its most celebrated luminaries.

Agora broke box office records in Spain, but failed to get wide distribution in the USA.

 

Read Full Post »

The name Al Gore is synonymous with Climate Change (capitalized on purpose). Gore started a popular uprising more than ten years ago with the movie An Inconvenient Truth and with this sequel he continues his fight.

He has been vilified by deniers and the far right lobby in the United States, and he has suffered setback after setback in his mission to get the message out.

Living in the United States in the age of Trump and the dumbing down of America, we tend to forget that we are pretty unique in the world. Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, and the far right is a small, albeit powerful slice of that 5%, but they seem to be the loudest criers. Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. This makes no sense. 95% percent of the people of the world are scratching their heads.

I know people all over the world, Europeans, South Africans, Japanese, Brazilians, Indians, to name just a few. And I could not name a single one of them who would be what we call in the United States a climate denier. Denying climate change seems to be a uniquely American malaise.

Al Gore has the work cut out for himself in this country, and I am grateful for his leadership and tenacity.

You don’t have to “believe” in climate change to watch An Inconvenient Sequel and learn from it. The movie is full of facts and astonishing imagery about how our world has been changing and is continuing to change.

The most important experience for me, however, was as I walked out of the movie, stunned, but inspired. We have got this. There is no stopping that movement. People have turned their backs on coal and oil, no matter what the coal and oil lobby, and our own government, that is supposed to protect us, tells us. People are installing solar energy systems at an ever escalating pace. Solar will be cheaper and easier to use. Coal and oil will be inconvenient, and the planet will heal.

This didn’t happen by accident. This happened because of the tireless leadership of thousands of people, one of which is Al Gore.

Oh, no, we’re not done yet with the fight, far from it. But oh, yes, we will choose to take the baton so we can march toward a better world.

Read Full Post »

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful lawyer in New York City who commutes to the suburbs by subway. One night in spring, when there is a power outage on the train, he is delayed and by the time he gets home it’s dark. As he approaches his house, he sees a raccoon in the yard and as he scares it away, it runs into the door to the attic above his separate garage. He follows it upstairs and chases it out of the attic.

As he looks out of the attic window he sees his wife (Jennifer Garner) and twin teenage daughters in the lit up kitchen in the house. Covered by darkness, he sits down in an old dusty chair and looks out the window. He does not want to go inside. Eventually, he falls asleep.

When he awakes the next morning, he decides not to go to work, or go home. He just watches his family go about their day as they report him as missing. Now that he has been gone for a full 24 hours, he can’t bring himself to return. He stays in the attic another day, and another.

Wakefield is almost a one man show, with Bryan Cranston doing an excellent job as the actor. He narrates the story in a subdued voice, almost just thinking to himself. Some flashbacks illustrate his lackluster marriage and his burned out life.

The movie is very slow and at times I found it hard to remain engaged. As the story progressed, I found myself interested in how it would eventually end. Adapted from a short story by E.L. Doctorow, this is not really a movie, but a long monologue. It would work great as a one man play.

This would be a dud, were it not for Bryan Cranston’s excellent acting. As it is, it’s a study on life, marriage and identity.

Read Full Post »

We went to see The Big Sick because I heard from a friend that she “had laughed so hard” and it was one of the funniest movies in a long time. In addition, it was rated 98% in the Tomatometer. Look, the poster says “gut-bustingly funny!”

So we went and knew nothing about what we were going to see. Usually I check the reviews, or at least a trailer, but not this time.

It wasn’t funny. I didn’t think it was a romantic comedy. I didn’t think it was a comedy at all.

It is a film about a true story of culture clashes. Kumail Nanjiani (played by the writer of the movie Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself) is a budding stand-up comedian, Uber driver, and son of Pakistani immigrants who first meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) when she heckles him at a gig in a bar. After a one-night-stand they decide to meet again.

Kumail’s mother is trying to arrange a marriage for him and invites an endless stream of women to dinner for him to meet and hopefully pick for marriage. Emily is a graduate student in psychology, with bigoted parents and no idea what she is getting into when she gets involved with Kumail. The unlikely pair slowly, steadily and delightfully falls in love.

But as it is with courtships across cultures and races, they sometimes come apart, and the two break up. Then Emily, unexpectedly, gets very sick with a strange illness that nobody seems to be able to identify. She is in a medically induced coma for a good part of the story, while Kumail and Emily’s parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) form an unexpected bond while they spend their time in hospital waiting rooms.

While it wasn’t gut-bustingly funny at all, I did chuckle from time to time and I was amused. The Big Sick is a timely movie, as it addresses some of the Islamophobia that we experience now. It shows that these strange people from Pakistan are not all terrorists, but people with feelings, with emotions, with love and dedication, like all of us. It brings us all a bit closer.

The two main actors do a wonderful job, and Ray Romano makes a great hapless dad for Emily.

We enjoyed two hours away from our world in a story of culture clashes and the rise of the human spirit.

Read Full Post »

Maud (Sally Hawkins) is afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and has been since she was a child. Her fingers are twisted, her legs misshapen, and she has a hunchback. When her parents died, her brother sold their home and put Maud up to live with her overbearing aunt. Nobody takes her seriously.

Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) is a local fish peddler in a village in Nova Scotia. He is a socially challenged, extremely reclusive, and verbally and physically abusive. When he puts up an ad for a housemaid, Maud sees it and applies for the job. She comes to live with him in his very small house out in the country.

Maud starts cleaning up around the place and decorating it with her own little paintings. By chance, one of Everett’s customers sees the artwork and starts commissioning works from her. Over time, Maud’s work gets the attention of the folk art scene in New York City.

Gradually the unlikely couple develops a bond of love.

Maudie is based on the life story of painter Maud Lewis, who lived in Nova Scotia with her husband Everett Lewis. They lived in poverty for most of their lives in a famously small house. You can google “Paintings by Maud Lewis” and find many of her paintings, her house, herself and her husband.

Maudie is a movie of unusual circumstances and deep emotions. It’s a story about life, its simplicity, and its cruel reality. Watching it made my eyes tear from time to time, and most of all, it made me go home and pick up my paint brushes again, which have been lying idle for too long lately.

Maudie is a celebration of the human spirit and life. In one of the scenes, when asked what painting means to her, she looks out the window and says:

The Whole of Life, Already Framed, Right There!

Read Full Post »

Rose (Allison Williams) thinks it’s time to take her boyfriend of five months, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), to meet her parents and family upstate over the weekend. “Do they know I’m black” Chris asks her when they pack. “No. But don’t worry. My father would have voted for Obama for a third time if he could have” she responds.

When they arrive, her parents, Missy and Dean Armitage, seem almost overly accommodating. There isn’t a moment of hesitation, an “oh” reflex of any type. It’s as if it was the most normal thing ever. But it turns out to be an unusual family. Dean is a neurosurgeon, Missy a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist. Soon she offers to break Chris’ habit of smoking by administering a ten-minute hypnosis session. But he declines.

Chris is well adjusted and secure, and he deals with the complicated and stressful situation remarkably well. Soon, however, small discoveries reveal that all is not quite what it seems. The black servants of the Armitages are exhibiting slightly “off” behavior, which he finds puzzling. And telltale signs of something not quite right start escalating when party guests arrive.

Get Out is not a movie about racism or race relations at all, even though it looks that way. Get Out is a thriller and its objective is not to educate us, or make us think. It’s to entertain. There is very little more I can say without spoiling things, so I won’t.

The critics on the Tomatometer gave this a 99, the audience an 88. This is a high rating for a movie where I recognized none of the actors, a movie which I watched not because I was interested about the subject, but because of the rating, and because it was highly recommended to me.

I was thoroughly entertained. I enjoyed the suspense. I appreciated the plot and its crescendo. And when it was done, I said “oh well” and knew I would soon forget all about it.

Read Full Post »

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a blue-collar single man in a coastal town in Florida. He fixes boats at the local marina, and lives in a small apartment – with his 7-year-old nice Mary (Mckenna Grace). The little girl’s mother, Frank’s sister, committed suicide when her daughter was an infant, and with the child’s father nowhere to be found, she made sure that Frank would raise her.

Mary turned out to be a child prodigy in mathematics, just like her mother was. Frank is trying hard to make sure the girl has a normal life, goes to a normal school and grows up as a normal child. That is difficult in their family background, and when Frank’s mother Evelyn steps into the picture, things get acrimonious. Evelyn wants Mary to be what her mother was not, and she plans to take her away from Frank.

Gifted is a study of character. It explores the morality of raising children as we want to raise them, rather than how the children want to grow up. Anyone with a child prodigy, whether that be an Olympian, a chess master, a world-class musician or an academic superstar faces this problem: Should we sponsor the talent, or should we let the child decide and live her life?

One thing is for sure, Mckenna Grace, the little girl, does a remarkable and marvelous job of acting in this film. She is completely convincing, all the way through, when posing as a smart-aleck mathematical genius in school, when dealing with the adults around her, and when – in the course of the plot – she is hurt to the core, and the deep pain and utter feeling of abandonment oozes out of her.

There is a bit of tearjerker in Gifted, just enough to get us thoroughly involved, and at the end, I asked myself whether this was a true story — it felt like it was.

It wasn’t.

But it was a rewarding movie to watch.

Read Full Post »

A movie review by my reader and occasional guest blogger, Jean Claude Volgo:

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

United Artists, 1950, B & W, 112 minutes

Directed by Michael Gordon

Stanley Kramer Productions

This film adaptation of a celebrated French play features the inimitable José Ferrer in the leading role as the swashbuckling hero. His brilliant performance as Cyrano garnered him a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. The plot, largely fictional, draws freely on anecdotes loosely based on a real historical figure: a 17th century French nobleman, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, who dabbled in drama and science fiction, and eventually fell out of favor with the French authorities on account of his satirical jibes at the clergy and politicians. Cyrano’s fierce independence (jealously guarded with his dreaded épée) was legendary.   His swordsmanship, his poetic gift and (need we mention?) his notorious nose are reported attributes which are immortalized in the play. But what about Cyrano’s love interest, Roxanne? She was indeed his cousin in real life, but the romantic story line of unrequited love is dramatized fiction.

What sets this production apart from “costume dramas” of the same Hollywood era is the highly polished diction of the protagonist. The dialogue liberally borrows from the blank verse of Brian Hooker’s translation (1923), which strives to capture the cadence of the original French, composed in heroic hexameter by Edmond Rostand (1897). Rostand himself set out to emulate the poetic style of an earlier era, the Classical Age (1600’s).

The digitally-restored print of this artistic tour-de-force (which has fallen into undeserved neglect) is a crisp copy that projects the look of a newly released film in black-&-white.

Read Full Post »

Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain) is the zookeeper’s wife. With her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) they run the Warsaw zoo in the late 1930s. The story starts in the summer of 1939. The zoo is very successful, due to the loving care of the Żabińskis.

Then, in September 1939, Hitler invades Poland and overruns the country within just a few days. The zoo is bombed. Many animals are shot by soldiers. The Żabińskis do whatever they can to keep the zoo and  the animals safe.

In the process of saving some Jewish friends by hiding them in their basement, they discover that they can help many others.  Pretty soon there is a veritable “underground railroad” passing through the Warsaw zoo. But eventually, the Nazis close in.

The Nazis made it a crime, punishable by death, to help another human being out of misery, if that human being was of a category they had arbitrarily and unilaterally labeled undesirable. We all know how that all ended.

Yet, in our country, we are starting to do the very same thing today. We choose a religion we don’t like, and we start harassing members of that religion. We try to ban them from our country. Hooligans attack them on the street, knowing that the government tacitly backs them up.

Folks, there are movies about this kind of thing! Like the Zookeeper’s Wife! Don’t we ever learn?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: