Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" (2014) - starring Christian Bale

Maybe it's because this story has been told so many times, but this version didn't leave me with awe and wonder as previous versions have.  There were flaws in it which distracted my immersion into the story.  I could never forget this was just a movie.  For instance, the woman who plays the prophet reading entrails -- her British accent was so strong there was no way I could believe she was really an Egyptian.  At least she looked Egyptian.  That wasn't true for Joel Edgerton in the role of Ramses. His blue eyes jarred me, and while I can believe there exist blue-eyed Egyptians, in this instance it didn't work for me.  Then there's the scene when we first meet Moses' wife.  She's working at the well in the fields, and her Hollywood makeup is perfect... no smudges, no sweat and brilliant red lipstick newly applied.  When Moses returns home after the Red Sea event, her clothing and makeup are fresh from the dressing room, and Christian Bale is appropriately dirty, unkempt and I totally believed he had just experienced incredible miracles of God.  I suspect director Ridley Scott didn't give enough supervision to the casting because he's simply too good to let inconsistent accents and appearances to ruin the credibility of the movie.  At least if EVERYONE had British accents it wouldn't have jarred me so much.  As it is, we're reminded these are just actors from different parts of the world playing their assigned roles.

Spectacular Events:  They are brilliantly envisioned.  The fish, the waters turning into blood, the locusts, the horses and cattle dying... excellently rendered.  And while the red sea parts in a realistic, rather than in a dramatic Godly way, the powerful force of nature is still an awesome sight.  The director is magnificent in special effects magic.  Still, this story is about a religion's view about their God, and to reduce the miracles of God's deeds is to take away the glory and wonder of that God's power.  If a literal darkness can pass over Egypt and kill the firstborn child of each Egyptian family, then why not the red sea literally parting as in previous depictions?  This is more an ethical comment than a criticism.  It's not right or wrong or bad or good... just an opinion.

Acting:  It broke my heart to watch Christian Bale doing his superb acting surrounded by elements which did not support his own credibility.   Sigourney Weaver was featured, but I think she had one line... what a waste of an excellent actress.  Ben Kingsley had more lines but his role barely featured to be crucial to the storyline.  Added to the fact that Edgerton was simply not believable as an Egyptian, his tender moments with his son were barely strong enough to overcome his general despotic ruthlessness.  I wished his scenes with Moses had more honest moments of true love in it rather than acts for his own selfish agenda.  His every scene with Moses should have been driven by a deep underlying awareness that this man has been loyal to him all his life, saved his life, and would have died for him at any moment.  To be fair, it's possible Ridley Scott had many such fine scenes for all these actors which ended up on the cutting floor... simply to keep the movie at a reasonable length. He did have to cover a lot of pages from the Bible.

Summary:  Basically, because the director wanted to give a realistic slant to this movie, it sacrificed the wonder and majesty of the Biblical God's might.  Religions are an essential component of many people's lives.  People want to believe in a higher power.  If the ebbing of the Red Sea is simply a force of nature, then what force of nature would kill Egyptian firstborns but not Hebrew firstborns?  A darkness (air virus?) wouldn't be selective enough to do it.   If  the director wanted to make a realistic movie, then why not focus on the emotional interactions of the people involved, the story behind the story, the personal sacrifices made by Moses and Ramses to be true to their love and loyalty for each other and still do their jobs.  Have less chariots and chasing scenes, and more people scenes.  As it was,while this ended up as great "movie-MAKING", it was still just a movie.  By contrast, for example, I walked out of  "Blade Runner" thinking, "Wow!  What a great movie."

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Tags:  Ridley Scott, Moses, Exodus,  , 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Hunger Games - Mockinjay" (2014) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth

"Hunger Gamess - Mockinjay" Jennifer Lawrence is a magnificent actress. She's gifted with the ability to find a character's truth, absorb it deep, deep, deep within herself... until it becomes her truth. When she opens her mouth, you feel her passion and your heart breaks along with hers. When she speaks that inner truth, your heart exults with commitment to her cause. It is her acting which makes this movie so transcendant. The storyline is direct and simple... nothing circuitous to confuse you. You get the message loud and clear. It doesn't hurt to have the wonderful Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman in strong supporting roles and Liam Hemsworth as sidekick and loyal friend to Katniss. For a great suspense/thriller/adventure movie, recommend.

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TAGS:  Francis Lawrence,  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The Equalizer" (2014) starring Denzel Washington

The best thing about this movie is, without question, Denzel Washington. First of all, though it wouldn't be wrong to call him a "senior citizen" at this point in his life, there is nothing about him in this movie that would justify this appellation. Denzel plays a character who works at a superdepot kind of store and when he needs to rescue his co-workers in the third act of the movie, he uses the size of the store and its products to take out the bad guys with inventive and lethal expertise. His inherent skill is to appraise the enemy at a glance and figure out how to take them out. In one scene, he figures it would take about 16 seconds to take out five guys, and it takes a little bit longer, but his moves are like an unstoppable ballet as he dances in and out between his assailants . The editing is also brilliantly conceived and executed. Then, too, Denzel is a superb actor. In one scene, after he has decimated the enemy, he is framed walking towards us, and every line of his face depicts the suffering and remorse he feels for his actions, etched between the determination that he cannot allow evil to prevail. I wouldn't mind watching sequels to this movie. It sports an excellent director, film editor, great acting and the inimitable Denzel.

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Tags:  Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

"Interstellar" (2014) starring Matthew McConaughey

There is a powerful message in this movie... one which invites us to open our minds to the concept of alternate realities which defy the constraints of time, space, and location. For me, the movie tried too hard to explain the quantum physics of it all, and it didn't quite succeed because it went beyond what I was interested in and so I lost involvement in the movie at crucial times. For example, there is a sequence with a remote-controlled plane which eluded me as to what the scene was trying to establish. If it was trying to establish how passionate McConaughey felt about flying, I got that elsewhere. If it was trying to establish his son's infinite loyalty to his cause, I got that elsewhere too. So this was a wasted interlude for me. The film could have been at least half an hour shorter. Having said all that, the acting is superb on all fronts. McConaughey might just have earned himself another Oscar nom. The premise is brilliant, and while Chris Nolan has proven himself to be an extraordinary director, for me he was too indulgent on this one. Still, because of so many excellent elements, this has to get at least four stars.

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Tags: Ellen Burstyn, Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Adventure, Sci-Fi

"Gone Girl" (2014) starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

MOVIE REVIEW - "GONE GIRL" - I had read a few reviews on this movie so I knew it wasn't a Disney feel-good movie. And it wasn't. I saw it two weeks ago and I had to think about it before writing my thoughts. It's a competent work -- director, actors, writer, production values, etc. -- but it may one day be considered a "film noir" classic because of the twists and turns that take place in the movie. Being a senior lady who has worked in the motion picture industry for over 35 years, I have seen a lot of movies and read a lot of scripts and even submitted a few of my own to various studios. I even had a gig writing script reviews for several years. This movie isn't perfect, but one of the twists it takes is such a powerful commentary on the nature of marriage that it took me several weeks to process the message. There's a shadowed view of the main characters' marriage seen through a harsh filter of reality which is haunting. And no, that's not a spoiler alert... the other reviews said much the same thing. And, yep, I agree with them.

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Tags: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

"John Wick" (2014) starring Keanu Reeves

MOVIE REVIEW : "JOHN WICK" -- I love Keanu Reeves movies. He's directed in this one by his ex-double and ex-stuntman, and this movie for sure provided employment for many stuntmen and even a few stuntwomen. The action is non-stop and fully comprises about 90% of the movie. In fact, a more definitive title would have been "ASSASSINS UNLEASHED" or maybe "ASSASSIN BLITZKRIEG". Having said this, I have to add that Keanu has a great emotional arc, from vulnerable man to raging, steely-eyed vigilante. One has to view this movie in the genre of video games... where the point is to take out as much of the enemy as possible. There isn't time to ponder the moral boundaries of vengeance. The action sequences are brilliantly choreographed, and Keanu handles his weapons with the familiarity of a long-lost lover.

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Tags:  Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Action, Thriller

"The Judge" (2014) starring Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall

This is a powerful provocative love story... love of parent to child, brother to brother, child to parent. It's tightly written, directed with sensitivity and superbly acted. For me, it was heartbreakingly real. The heartbreak (and superb acting) is in what's NOT spoken by the characters. The lump in my throat began when I understood Robert Downey Jr's (the son) dilemma. His father has rejected him for most of his adult life, and he feels loyalty and love for his father (Duvall), except his father does not want him around... or his help... though he's now in dire need of a brilliant lawyer to defend him in a murder trial. His father tells Downey to get lost, and Downey's face depicts his anguish... wanting nothing more than to disappear from his father's apparent hatred of him... but knowing he cannot... simply cannot abandon his father to a trial which will find him guilty of murder. So he stays, even when it means his father's psychological abuse beats him again and again to an emotional pulp. An hour after the end of the movie, my lump has grown to rock size... hauntingly real. I wouldn't be surprised if both Downey and Duvall get Oscar nominations. I hope they do. If your family acts out the many powerful emotional conflicts born out of love, in all its twisted and untethered extremes, you will understand this movie. And yet, it's a beautiful movie, because the darkness is all the more precious when cast against the powerful illumination of love.

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Tags: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Drama

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Noah (2014)" starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly

Am predicting Oscar Nom for Best Picture; and nom for Russel Crowe as Best Actor. What made this special for me was where it went the last ten minutes. I didn't expect it, and that's what made it extraordinary for me. It elevated it to a higher vibrational message. Without the last 10 minutes, it still would have been a powerful picture, but with it... I left feeling good.

IMDB page:
Tags: Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Darren Aronofsky, Tessie Jayme, Action, Adventure, Drama

"Way of Kings" written by Brandon Sanderson, published August 31, 2010

I've completed the first volume of Brandon Sanderson's WAY OF KINGS series. This guy knows how to generate suspense, create wonderful main characters, and keep you involved. Vol. 1 has over 1000 pages, and it took me two weeks to complete... read a few chapters each night before going to sleep Actually, I had already read it several years ago but the 2nd volume wasn't ready, so I had to read it again. 

Got Volume 2 yesterday. Oboy... the story continues. Brandon was the author who took over writing the last volumes of WHEEL OF TIME (out of 14) after Robert Jordan passed away. WAY OF KINGS is just as good, folks.

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Tags: Epic fantasy, Tor books, The Stormlight Archive,

"Edge of Tomorrow (2014)" starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt

It's a brilliant concept.. the beginning reminiscent of Groundhog Day but with a much more sinister plot line. What's great is that Tom starts out a namby-pamby coward who has no clue how to be a soldier in a computer-mechanized body suit fighting an incredibly fast and dangerous alien enemy. 

Emily Blunt's beauty is not fragile nor soft, but tough, strong and ruthlessly military. She is one of the best partners Tom has had in a long time. The evolution of their love story is mature and wonderfully credible. Together, they make a fantastic do-or-die heroic team, kicking ass to save the world, in that infamous all-or-nothing Tom Cruise way. 

The direction is tight, taut and suspenseful, somehow making sense despite the convolutions of the plot. The ending is (sigh) absolutely satisfying and beautifully wrought... both in a romantic and soulful way. Recommend.

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Tags: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Doug Liman, Action, Sci-Fi, Tessie Jayme

"Imprint (2007)" starring Tonantzin Carmelo

Just watched IMPRINT, a 2007 movie now available for view on Netflix. It was produced, directed, and written by Michael Linn. He also did some editing, wrote the score and acted as DP. This guy is a cinema talent in one package. 

The movie is lovely, a story about an American Indian woman who has lost touch with her heritage and rediscovers her inherent Native American spirituality while trying to deal with her father's impending death. 

There is a murder mystery entwined in the story as well. An excellent film. Apparently many of his family members helped in the making of and completion of this wonderful film. RECOMMEND.

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Tags: Tonantzin Carmelo, Drama, Thriller, Tessie Jayme, Netflix, Michael Linn

"Homefront (2013)" starring Jason Statham

Just saw HOMEFRONT on Netflix, starring Jason Statham and script written by Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is brilliant at setting up a storyline where HERO becomes UNDERDOG and then has to fight against incredible odds to become HERO again. And that's what Statham does. 

In this actioner, he's ex-DEA retiring to be a father for his little girl, and then everything goes to hell. Statham is as badass as anyone can get when fighting for those he loves... him and Bruce Willis...greatest badasses around. What makes them wonderful to watch is that as tough as they are, they know how to come from the heart and be the most tender badasses imaginable. I'll watch anything they're in. RECOMMEND.

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Tags: Jason Statham, Action, Crime, Thriller, Tessie Jayme, Netflix

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)" starring Gary Oldman

This is a classic masterpiece. It's a metaphor of the human condition. Caesar, head Ape, embodies the highest level of integrity humans are capable of, and Kado, a lab victim of abuse, represents the basest instincts humans feel when survival becomes the prime directive. The merging of real-time scenes to CGI effects is seamless and brilliant. 

The storyline generates suspense and provokes profound thoughts which challenge us all to recognize that, yes, while we have supposedly evolved from Apes, did the evolution take us to ugly depths instead of noble heights? 

If you aren't afraid of looking into a mirror which shows you the darkest truth about yourself, go see this one. And if you're just interested in a thrilling adventure, which engages your emotions, then go see this one. Either way, it's a recommend.

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Tags: Gary Oldman, Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis, Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Tessie Jayme

"Lucy (2014)" starring Scarlett Johansson, directed by Luc Besson

Luc Besson is a writer/director who likes to break through the traditional box... he takes you so out there that for me, anyway, my mind has a hard time coming back to the traditional-thinking world. 

LUCY starts out as a suspense/adventure thriller, and in the first 10 minutes, we see what a really wonderful actress Scarlett can be. She does more acting in the first 10-15 minutes than I've seen actresses do in their whole career. 

The second act could have gone in a dozen different directions... and traditionally, thrillers maintain the action/adventure trajectory. But that ain't Luc's style... he goes into quantum physics territory and challenges us to rethink the nature of reality. The MATRIX movies did the same thing, but by the third movie, Matrix was pure action/adventure. Not so LUCY. 

Besson presents his complex theories in an entertaining way that makes sense. Since more of us today know the basic workings of a computer, Besson uses that framework to expound his concept of the nature of reality. Man, I'm sold! 

If I have a complaint, it's that Besson had to bring back the action/adventure energy in the third act (gotta sell this movie) and the way he did it begs the question: If Lucy at 20% brain capacity can use her mind to take out 20 villains in a single thought, why, at 100% capacity, can't she take out a whole building full of assassins. As Besson has written it, dozens of bad and good guys die in an all-out kill fest while Lucy saves the world by creating a computer to store the information in her head. Nah... at 100% capacity, her brain is five times more powerful than at 20%, so nah, that part I didn't buy. 

Still, solid entertainment, thought-provoking concept, great directing and acting. Recommend.

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Tags:  Luc Besson, movie review, Scarlett Johansson,  Action, Sci-Fi, Tessie Jayme