Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Bridge of Spies" (2015) Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda

COMMENTS:   What I love about Steven Spielberg is he plants his characters right into the target zone of a moral dilemma.  Tom Hanks portrays Jim Donovan, who is jettisoned into such a target zone.  He is asked to use his rusty attorney skills to defend a Soviet spy.  The people who ask Donovan to do this, including the court judge, expect him to go through the motions efficiently enough to ensure that America is seen as acting with integrity, and at the same time making sure the spy is ultimately judged “guilty.”  Despite being targeted by popular opinion himself,  Donovan dances on the thin thread of this expectation with grace and agility.  Mark Rylan as the Soviet spy has his own brand of honor and he refuses to betray his country, which elicits respect from Hanks’ character. Meanwhile, an American pilot is captured by the Russians.  So rusty attorney Donovan is asked to go to Berlin and negotiate a prisoner exchange of the Soviet spy for the American pilot.  Once in Berlin, Donovan learns that an American student has been imprisoned in a Berlin jail on suspicion of espionage, and he is determined to rescue the student as well as the American pilot.  Once again, Donovan must perform his dance on a thin thread to effect the exchange successfully.

Hanks is magnificent as the “ordinary” man who must rise to the challenge of acting as a hero.  What makes him so credible is that he truly embodies an ordinary man who somehow reaches deep inside himself to find his inherent goodness of character and somehow make miracles happen.  He is driven by an ability to see, without compromise, what is the “right” thing to do despite whatever his country, his superiors, and his enemy want him to do.  And then he acts for his own reasons, which is what makes him a hero.  A splendid film.  Strong recommend.

IMDB Site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3682448/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Cold War, Spies, Soviet

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"THE MARTIAN" (2015) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean

Director:  Ridley Scott
Writers:  Drew Goddard (Screenplay); Andy Weir (Book)

COMMENTS:   This is a magnificent film, a tribute to the indomitable spirit of a man to survive under impossible circumstances.  What I love about this is the harmonious mix of science with spirituality.  Mark Watney (Damon’s character) is a botanist who uses his knowledge of science to overcome all the challenges of being alone in an alien planet which is absolutely unsustainable for humans.  His scientific self knows he’s dead already, but his spiritual self refuses to surrender hope or faith in the possibility of a miracle.  Matt Damon is excellent in portraying all the vulnerabilities of a doomed victim, and, in fact, acting is excellent all around.   The premise is a brilliant homage to scientific knowledge, and now I’m wishing I had paid more attention in science classes.

IMDB Site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3659388/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Mars, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Krisen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Ridley Scott,

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Man From Uncle" (2015) Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

Director:     Guy Ritchie
Writers:       Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram

STORYLINE:  A remake of the TV series

COMMENTS:   A fun, thrilling adventure with gorgeous, heroic stars.  Henry Cavill takes over the Peter Vaughn role – cool, calm, collected and “be-still-my-heart” so handsome.  Armie Hammer portrays David McCallum’s role – silent, stoic, rustic and unstoppable.  He’s tall and muscular and is undeniably a super-warrior, but Armie imbues his role with a certain innocence which lends charm and vulnerability to his character.  I love how they start out to be enemies, forced to work together, and end up being brothers to the cause. Alicia Vikander as damsel in distress is crazy-asskicking when she has to fight for her life.  Ultimately, not so much in distress after all.  I loved the sense of “English” humor threading its happy sparkle through the story.  If you want to laugh while hanging on to the edge of your seat, go see this one.

 IMDB Site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1638355/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, MAN FROM UNCLE, Alicia Vikander, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, CIA, KGB, spy

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Hit and Miss" (2012 British TV Drama) Chloё Sevigny, Jonas Armstrong, Vincent Regan

Creator:      Paul Abbott

STORYLINE:  When her ex-girlfriend dies, a transgender contract killer is forced to contend with her 11-year-old son conceived before his transition.

COMMENTS:   Chloё Sevigny is a magnificent actress.  From the first frame to the last, she was entirely credible as a transgender in mid-transition, complete with breasts, but pre-operational.  There is a scene where she is dancing to music, and her feminine grace is heartbreakingly a sensual counterpoint to her masculine angularity.  Though she kills with efficient  quickness, never once did I think she was a monster.  Her anguished heart is all too apparent behind the cold, calculating mask of her killer self. Co-star Jonas Armstrong conveys the conflicted emotions of a man who cannot admit to himself he has fallen in love with a… man?  The children act with disarming vulnerability and sweetness, and the teens, played by actors already in their 20’s, while lacking the true awkwardness of teenage years, nevertheless make teenage angst a real evolution towards adulthood.  Vincent Regan, as the villain, is hateful as the cruel and vengeful neighbor.

The episodes are well-written, well-directed and well-produced, pulling its audience in with suspenseful promise.  Kudos to the creator who came up with the idea of throwing a cold-blooded killer into an environment which must inevitably reveal her vulnerable, broken heart.

IMDB Site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2232345/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  HIT & MISS, transgender, transexual, Chloё Sevigny, Jonas Armstrong, Vincent Regan, Carla Crome, Reese Noi, Sheree Folkson, Hattie Macdonald, Paul Abbott, Sean Conway

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015) Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Director:   George Miller
Writers:    George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris

STORYLINE:  In the apocalyptic future, Mad Max and Furiosa rebel against the despotic warlord who controls all the food, water and gas in a community of desperate people.

COMMENTS:   This is a remake of the original Mel Gibson classic, and in so many ways it’s much better, and in other ways, less satisfying.  What was powerful about the original Gibson classic is the single-minded focus of Mad Max to survive the harsh conditions of his life.  To survive, Mad Max must be ruthless, violent and implacable.  Gibson’s tortured eyes engage us in his lonely odyssey, and we understand and root for his survival, because what generates his tortured soul is his inherent compassion which pulls at him with every act of violence.  We know this poor guy doesn’t really want to kill anyone… he just wants to be left alone to survive on his own terms.

In the remake version, Tom Hardy is as ruthless and violent and resourceful; however, Charlize Theron, as Furiosa, is so powerful that she nearly takes over the movie. Because an underlying story is added to this remake where Furiosa wants to save the Imperator’s wives from their abused-victim lives, it immediately humanizes the legend and becomes more contemporary.  Today, women are rising out of the quicksand of victimization.  I LOVE this added sub-story.  In fact, this is what engaged me most in this movie.  The environment in this version is more realistic in that now we actually see how a community can survive in an otherwise bleak, unrelenting desert.   Charlize is magnificent as Furiosa… in fact, now, she is the one with the tortured eyes weighed down by compassion.  Mad Max’s single-minded focus is weakened, because in this new version, he’s there to support Furiosa in her mad struggle against the Imperator. 

The choreography of the battles are brilliant, implacable and clever, but just too much of it.  I could have done with less tactical battles, and more personal scenes depicting how Furiosa and those wonderful women fight with all their passionate beings to evade the Imperator’s capture.  That’s where the heart of this remake is… with Furiosa and the Imperator’s wives.  The scene where the pregnant wife pits herself against the Imperator is forever imprinted in my memory.  The sacrifice of adding this sub-story is that it’s no longer about Mad Max, an iconic symbol of Man vs. the World, Society and himself.  In fact, the title should have been “Mad Max and the Magnificent Women.”

IMDB Site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392190/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Mad Max, apocalyptic, Furiosa, Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Age of Adaline" (2015) Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker

Director:     Lee Toland Krieger
Writers:      J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz,
Actors:       Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker

STORYLINE:  A bizarre phenomenon of nature infuses a woman with a form of immortality, wherein she doesn’t age beyond 29 years old.

COMMENTS:   This is a gentle romantic story laced with the many different types of love which permeate human consciousness.  Adaline has denied herself from falling in love, knowing her lover will age while she remains 29, and she is unwilling to risk the complicated repercussions of that choice.  And yet, the time comes when she can’t help it.  She falls in love and decides to risk herself.  The twists and turns of this choice pay homage to the concepts of how fate conspires with destiny to manifest its own inevitability.

Blake Lively embodies the quintessential quality of elegance and grace, very reminiscent of legendary actress Grace Kelly.  There is a tender fatality to her character and whenever she responds “okay” to whatever course of action her lover suggests, we feel her lingering regret and fear… because she knows where this “okay” will end.  Actor Michiel Huisman, whose television credits are strong, is totally credible as the lover whose passion can sweep aside all the reluctance Adaline feels towards love.  Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn and Kathy Baker are wonderful in their respective roles, and the whole movie becomes a bittersweet testament to the miracles which love can generate.

IMDB page:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1655441/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Tags:  Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, romance, fantasy, J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz,  Lee Toland Krieger

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Kingsman" (2014) - Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Colin Firth is a la James Bond in this one and surprisingly believable.  I had always viewed him as more intellectual than physical... but he pulls it off wonderfully.  There's a scene where he decimates a roomful of people, and it's brilliantly edited.  I totally believed he done really did it.  The first James Bond movies relied greatly on Sean Connery's unending charm, wit and manliness, as well as the superbabes he dallied with.  Then they became techno focused.  Then other actors took over the role and more recent ones became more suspense thrillers than techno wizardry.  What I loved about "Kingsman" is that it filters its "spy" adventure through a very humane view.  It becomes about the moral and emotional challenges a teacher experiences while training a new recruit, and the values the new recruit must discover and incorporate in order to become a "Kingsman."  Because it requires intellectual and moral journeys as well as physical, Colin Firth portrays his role superbly.  Michael Caine and Sam Jackson are dependably excellent in their roles, and I'd definitely watch Taron Egerton as a Kingsman any day.  This movie is as much emotionally satisfying as adrenalin-inciting.  AND... it has humane comedy as opposed to the caustic comedy which James Bond was famous for.  James Bond movies are wonderful and entertaining.  So is "Kingsman."  Recommend.

IMDB Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2802144/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, , Action, Adventure, Comedy 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Insurgent" (2015) - Kate Winslett, Naomi Watts, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort

Directed  by Robert Schwentke 
Written by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman 

What a brilliant concept.  It creates a visual world of down-to-earth reality with video-game CGI effects.  It's like a sim world within a sim world.  It forces you to ponder the nature of reality as God's chess game and humankind becomes the chess pieces.  Not necessarily a new concept, but what makes it brilliant is the techno flavor... is life just a video game and "God" is the geek player?Hmmmmm.   Nevertheless, the acting is well done.  Winslett is an excellent villain, and Woodley the reluctant but inevitable heroine.  I love how young women are the heroes of the New Age... Katniss in Hunger Games and Tris in the Divergent series.  It lends credence to the New Age pundits who say that the New Millennium has launched us into a new Matriarchal paradigm.  The world is no longer a cut-and-dried duality...black and white, good and bad.  We are leaving behind the Patriarchal view of one system dominating over all where countries and people must battle for supremacy, and the issue is settled with war and destruction.  In the Matriarchal paradigm, the process becomes more womblike: The sperm of new ideas merges with the egg of tradition, and the result is a combination of both to create something uniquely different, yet familiar.  This film exemplifies that idea brilliantly.  Change can be slow and evolutionary a la Darwin's principle.  Or... it can be quick and violent. While this film isn't perfect, it does depict perfectly the quick and violent way of effecting change.  It's an engrossing movie, filled with adventure, romance and heroism. If that's what you like in a movie, this is a must-watch.

IMDB page:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2908446/?ref_=nv_sr_1

TAGS:  Sci-Fi, Thriller, Adventure, Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslett, Naomi Watts, Ansel Elgort, Theo James, Akiva Goldsman, Robert Schwentke, Brian Duffield 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

TV SERIES: "The Moon Embracing the Sun" (2012)

Available on Netflix.  Basic Setup:  Two brothers are in love with the same woman, and she reciprocates the love of one brother and becomes friends with the other. But, of course, there are complications. One brother is the King of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, and his older brother cannot become Crown Prince because he's illegitimate, but nevertheless, unless there's an heir, the prince is still next in line to inherit the throne. The teenaged Crown Prince's beloved is chosen to become the Crown Princess, but royal political intrigues cause her "death," which is actually faked by the Chief Shaman to protect the destiny of the Joseon Dynasty. In short, it's a Korean version of "GAME OF THRONES". There are no dragons, but there are demonic possessions, murders and politics. The struggles and pains the royal brothers experience generate passions beyond endurance, and I found myself sobbing along with them. I couldn't help loving them both as, eight years after the "demise" of the crown princess, beset by amnesia, she returns to the royal court as a shaman, and is caught up once more in the court political intrigues. The Crown Prince is now King, and while he has a Queen, he cannot bear to consummate the marriage, and so there's still no heir. Absorbing, emotionally involving, filled with high jinx and conflicting moralistic choices which the royally-restricted King must make, this is a "must-see" for those who enjoy good old-fashioned drama. The acting is top-notch, and I admired how men could sob openly and still retain a strength of character and "manhood" that absolutely captured my heart. I truly loved the #1 advisor to the King, who, contrary to most Top Advisors, is filled with comedic charm, warmth, and human frailties... all exceeded only by his passionate loyalty to the king. Yes, It's melodramatic, but, ah, so well-done.

imdb site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3143378/?ref_=nv_sr_2
TAGS:  Fantasy, Romance, History, South Korea, Soo Hyan Kim, Ga-in Han, Il Woo Jung

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Jupiter Ascending" (2014) Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean

Directed and Written by Andy and Lana Wachowski

Incredible CGI scenes. A really hot Channing Tatum as a Lycan (human whose DNA has been spliced with wolf DNA). The costumes are gorgeous and truly worthy of Sci-Fi fantasy. Sean Bean makes a great hero mentor for young Channing Tatum.  Mila Kunis is humble and beautiful as a beleaguered princess catapaulted to royalty who must save the people of Earth.  Eddie Redmayne is a villain in this one and brings vulnerability to his role. This feels like a potential franchise film. A little too much exposition which distracts from the flow of action, but ultimately it's an entertaining and fun Sci-Fi movie.

IMDB Page:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1617661/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, The Wachowskis, Sci-Fi movie,  Fantasy

Friday, February 13, 2015

“Imitation Game” (2014) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

Directed  by Morten Tyldum
Written by Andrew Hodges and Graham Moore

This is an educational movie, with a powerful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays mathematician Alan Turing during his World War II code-breaking years.  To witness how a team of geniuses break down the structure of the enigma code is fascinating.  We share the frustration of the team, and Turing’s obsessional passion to solve the impossible puzzle of the code.  It’s mind-blowing to realize that chances are one in millions to break a code which changes every 24 hours.  We watch as Turing’s brilliant mind creates a mechanical mind to process possibilities.  In fact, this machine shows us the beginnings of computer technology.  What makes it all work is that it’s an emotional journey, told through the framework of human frailties and challenges.  We sympathize powerfully with Cumberbatch’s character, and admire Keira Knightly’s glowing kindness and loyalty to him.  A wonderful story of geek heroes, beautifully told.  A definite recommend.

IMDB page:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084970/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Morten Tyldum, Enigma, World War II, Code-Breaking 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Into the Woods" (2014) - Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine; directed by Rob Marshall

 I can see why Meryl Streep was nominated as Best Actress in this one.  There are always two or three moments when Meryl does something that WOWS us.  In this one, despite being a witchy villainess, when she sings and begs her daughter not to leave her, it's heartbreakingly real and you feel her desperate pain.  This is a movie with visual and musical delight!  Emily Blunt can SING!  It would have been a stronger movie if the fairy tale wonder had remained whimsical and fun!  Unfortunately, towards the end, we suddenly realize that the title, "INTO THE WOODS," is an allegory about REAL life... about entering that dark, shadowed place where life isn't happily ever after and daily events lead to the eventual loss of the "wonder" in fairy tales.  I admire why the director chooses to do this, but, ultimately, it weakens the impact of the film.

IMDB SITE:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2180411/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, Rob Marshall, Fairy Tale, Jack in the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Unbroken" (2014) - starring Jack O'Connell; directed by Angelina Jolie

This is an absorbing motion picture, and director Angelina Jolie has accomplished in this film what many more seasoned directors have been unable to do in their biographical epics.  She has refused to surrender to the Hollywood manipulations of true stories and has crafted a great movie which honors and reveres Louis Zamperini, the man.  Where other directors might have tweaked the truth to generate a more sensational and dramatic movie, she has used admirable restraint by focusing on the man rather than the atrocities he endures.  This is integrity which is admirable in an industry which prioritizes the dollar sales of a movie rather than honoring the spirit of the man featured in the movie.

Notwithstanding Scott Rudin's alleged derogatory comments about Angelina Jolie's talents as a filmmaker and actress, UNBROKEN is a masterpiece of storytelling and a work which she can be proud of.

Jack O'Connell is an actor destined for many future great roles.  His portrayal of a man who refuses to be broken by circumstances and the ugly realities of war is breathtakingly real and genuine.  A strong recommend.

imdb site:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809398/?ref_=nv_sr_1
TAGS:  Angelina Jolie, "Unbroken", Legendary Films, Universal Pictures, Jack O'Connell, Louis Zamperini, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson