Category Archives: Movie, Television & Play Reviews

Reviews of Movies, T.V. shows and Plays

Becoming Carey Grant – the sad secrets of a movie star

Becoming Carey Grant documents the sad life that the movie star kept hidden from the public. It is based on Carey Grant’s own never-published autobiography, and the beautiful home movies he filmed. The world knows him as Carey Grant, but he never really got over being Archibald Leach, the poor cockney boy he once was.

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

Archibald Leach was born in 1904 in Bristol England. His parents were poor but extraordinarily beautiful. His mother was petite with long dark hair, and his father was rakishly handsome, sporting a fancy mustache.  However, his parents never seemed to be very happy. When Archie was 11, his mother Elsie went away, supposedly to “visit friends” It was many weeks before Archie figured out that she was never coming back. Soon after that Archie was shipped off to an even poorer section of the city to live with an aunt. Archie’s father moved away, remarried and started a new family.

Carey Grant's mother - Elsie Leach

Carey Grant’s mother – Elsie Leach

It was not until 20 years later, when Archibald Leach had become the famous movie star Carey Grant, that he discovered the truth. His mother had not run away, but had been committed to an insane asylum. Extraordinarily, she was committed only on the word of the husband Elias. He said that she sometimes felt she heard voices, but that she was not a danger to herself or others. The state of mental health medicine was so backward in those days , that instead of trying to treat her with psychotherapy, the “solution” was to   commit her for life.

Carey Grant's father- Elias James Leach

Carey Grant’s father- Elias James Leach

Abandoned by his family, Archibald Leach joined a new “family” by becoming part of a group of performing acrobats touring the vaudeville circuit. That’s why Carey Grant was able to do many of his own stunts in movies. He really was a trained acrobat.

The acrobats got a chance to perform in New York, and Archibald Leach fell in love with America. When it came time for them to return to England, Archibald decided to stay in America. All alone, and with very little money, he headed off to Hollywood, to try to get into the movies.

Carey Grant taking home movies

Carey Grant taking home movies

He was not in the film business very long before the studios decided that Archibald Leach is a terrible name for an actor; and the name “Carey Grant” was decided upon. Carey Grant’s amazing good looks soon got him into many films. In his early films, his parts were mainly just as a handsome prop, but soon his acting talent became apparent and he developed into the movie star we all know and love.

Becoming Carey Grant shows us the side of the movie star few people knew. After being abandoned by his parents, he had difficulty truly trusting anyone. Relationships with women were particularly difficult. Carey Grant was divorced three times. In later life he admitted that his wives were all wonderful women, but that he was always afraid to let them get too close. He naturally assumed that everyone would eventually let you down.

Carey Grant was an established movie star when he discovered that his mother was still alive and in a mental institution. He immediately got he out and set her up in a house in England. He visited his mother throughout his life, but she never moved to America. He always said it was because she would not come. However, the filmmakers speculate that he wanted to keep his two lives completely separate. By then, his mother was the last person in the world who still called him Archie. In America he was the great movie star Carey Grant. In England with his mother, he was still a scared little boy.

Becoming Carey Grant is a fascinating documentary. The details it has of Carey Grant’s life are astounding. For example, Carey Grant was a fan of “LSD therapy” being offered by a psychiatrist in the 1970’s. Unlike most patients who tried this radical treatment, Grant actually found it cathartic.

In the end Carey Grant found fame and fortune, but never true peace of mind. He was never the relaxed self-assured gentleman he played so well on screen. One of Carey Grant’s often repeated sayings was “Everyone wants to be Carey Grant. Even me.” People always laughed whenever Carey Grant said that, but he did not mean it as a joke. He was trying to tell the world that he was not really the perfect man he portrayed. However, people could not accept that. The public wanted Carey Grant to be perfect, and so to please them he was.

 

 

Baby Driver- fast, fantastic, LOUD and perfect. A rock concert on wheels.

Baby Driver is fast, fantastic, LOUD, and perfect! A rock concert on wheels, combined with an action movie, love story and bank heist film. Director Edgar Wright did an amazing job of blending the music and action so that the songs are basically an essential character in the film. Baby Driver is a unique concept, and we give it our highest rating of Five Stars.

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Fox, Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Fox, Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a driver who can outrun any police chase, all while listening to blasting rock music. His beautiful girlfriend is played by Lily James, who we last saw in Pride Prejudice and Zombies. This sweet and innocent couple, is trapped in a world of killers and maniacs controlled by criminal mastermind “Doc” played perfectly by Kevin Spacey.

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

Now we know that this plot sounds like hundreds of others, but what makes Baby Driver unique is the way in which Edgar Wright has put it all together with group of talented actors in all the parts. Unlike a lot of action movies, each of the characters has a unique personality and background story that makes them fascinating to watch.

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Doc controls a group of criminals that pulls off  a string of supposedly impossible robberies. The key to their success is Baby, who is the “wheel man” on all the heists. Baby is caught up in this dangerous game, since he has a debt to pay back to Doc. The key to Baby’s driving success is the way he perfectly times  his driving with the songs blasting in his ears. In fact, Baby is actually helpless without his music. However, when the music is blasting, Baby is like a machine, feeling no pressure or doubt.

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Jamie Fox is “Bats”, whose violent tendencies put the whole crew at risk. Rounding out the crew is an ex-Wall Street executive, (“Buddy” played by Jon Hamm) and his lap dancer girlfriend (“Darling”, played by Eiza Gonzalez).

Ansel Elgort is "Baby" in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort is “Baby” in Baby Driver

The action scenes have to be seen to be appreciated. There is no real way to describe them in print. In one scene Baby is running away fro the police, while the 1971 song Hocus Pocus by the Dutch band Focus is blasting. Baby Boomers will remember this as the “yodeling” rock song. If you are too young to remember this song, check it out – you will love it.

Anyway, during the chase scene, every step, every jump and every gunshot times perfectly with the beat of the music. It must have days for Edgar Wright to film this one scene. That attention to detail is what makes Baby Driver great.

 

 

The Beguiled- Civil War sex but no slaves

The Beguiled is a film of sex and betrayal set in an exclusive girls’ school in  the Civil War South. However, the film has been “whitewashed” to remove slavery from the plot. It is a huge  disappointment that Sophia Coppola completely  left out the character  of a female slave that was in the classic 1971 film.  By doing this, the modern version sidesteps the issue of slavery.

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

In the 1971 The Beguiled, Mae Mercer played the slave Hallie. Some African-Americans thought that Hallie was a token black character with a weak story line.  Instead of dropping that character completely Sophia Coppola should have expanded it. The dynamic, complex and intertwined relationships between educated White women and the female slaves they lived with is one of the most fascinating parts of American history.   In a story about  strong young women of the South under severe pressure, why leave out one of the strongest and most interesting simply because she is Black?

Sophia Coppola a great director but scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola a great director but too scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola has said that she did  “not want t brush over such an important topic in a light way,”  She expanded that to say,  “Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.” Of course, there is no reason why Sophia Coppola would have to handle slavery in a “light way.” She is the director and could handle it openly and honestly as the subject deserves.

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

We at East Coast Stories believe it was a huge mistake to leave slaves out of The Beguiled. The “young girls” that Sophia Coppola considers her audience are a lot smarter about race issues in The United States than she gives them credit for. How can we possibly deal with the racial issues of today, if we ignore that slaves were an integral part of America from the beginning?

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

The basic plot of The Beguiled is that the schoolgirls  find and take in John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier. It is their duty as Southerners to turn him over to the local Confederate patrols. However, McBurney is able to use his good looks and smooth talk to win over the young women one by one.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend "The Beguiled" photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend “The Beguiled” photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Beguiled can mean hypnotized, seduced or bewitched. All three meanings apply in this film. The Beguiled is a remake of the classic 1971 film of the same name in which Clint Eastwood played the wounded Union Soldier.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is the headmistress of the dying school. The slaves have all run away and most students and teachers have gone home to escape the war. Miss Farnsworth continues to hold classes and music lessons, despite the fact that smoke from battles can be seen in the distance. Prayer is often accompanied by the sound of cannons.

The one teacher left is Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). It is clear that her background is somehow different than that of the other women. She is used to fancier settings and more revealing clothing. We are never sure if this is because she comes from wealth, or if her background is something more scandalous.

Elle Fanning is Amy, a beautiful young woman with a rebellious streak, who is continually testing how much she can get away with.

This structured, stark world is thrown into chaos by the arrival of McBurney. For McBurney it is if he has arrived in heaven. He has escaped the war and is surrounded by women; each more beautiful than the next. If he had carefully chosen one woman to quietly and cautiously pursue, then heaven it might have remained. However, like a kid in a candy store, McBurney wants it all and ends up finding himself in Hell.

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

McBurney works his charm on Miss Danbey, Miss Farnsworth and Amy, instinctively knowing the separate needs of each. Amy wants excitement, Martha Farnsworth needs appreciation and educated courting and Edwina Dabney wants a knight in shining armor to save her. Despite his good looks and charming smile, McBurney is really a callous hunter of vulnerable women. A classic sexual predator.

The phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, is a fitting expression for what happens when the women discover the truth about McBurney and each other. We will not give away the plot other than to say it is exciting, unexpected and chilling.

The casting of the (all white) characters for  in The Beguiled is perfect. Every actor gives a powerful performance. Nicole Kidman is spellbinding. Miss Farnsworth is trying to maintain an icy exterior, yet it is clear that deep passions burn withing her soul. She is tormented between the choices of what is best for her and what is best for the school and the girls she has a duty to protect.

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney has the looks the charm and the arrogance to seduce three women simultaneously while only really loving himself.

Kirsten Dunst is wonderful as the beautiful and mysterious  Edwina Dabney. Director Sophia Coppola made the right choice in never fully revealing Edwina’s background. The mystery only adds to the tension. The 1971 version of  The Beguiled explained Edwina’s background, but it is more effective as a secret.

When Elle Fanning plays Alicia, audiences can see that she has graduated from little girl roles forever. She was superb as the dangerous young seductress, who may or may not truly understand her influence on a man or  the  damage she can do with the games she is playing.

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Young Oona Lawrence is Amy, the innocent  child who first discovers wounded Corporal McBurney in the woods. Unlike the adults in the film, Amy wants nothing for herself. Amy’s only motivation is to do what is kind and right.

In total, the The Beguiled was a very good film. If Sophia Coppola had taken the time to bring in complex African-American characters, it could have been a great film. It would have been harder to write and added a level of complexity to the plot, but it would have been worth the effort.

I’m Dying Up Here – where all comedy comes from pain

Showtime’s fantastic new series I’m Dying Up Here, is based on the old adage that “all comedy comes from pain.” Many comedians use jokes as a bizarre sort of therapy  to try to purge the demons from their souls. From the first slapstick comic who ever slipped on a banana peel, to modern-day jokers  who tell stories about their miserable childhoods, comedians invite audiences to laugh at the comedians’ suffering. Executive producer Jim Carrey drew from his own personal experiences to create I’m Dying Up Here.

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I'M Dying Up Here

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I’M Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here is about a group of young comedians in Hollywood in the 1970’s trying to reach the ultimate pinnacle of success – an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. Getting noticed in the 1970s was a much different process than it is today.  There was no YouTube or Facebook you could use to promote yourself. The gatekeepers to comedic fame and fortune were the owners of sleazy comedy clubs. If you were a comedian  just starting out, a comedy club owner might let you go on stage to tell jokes to a bunch of drunks at 2:30am.

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I'M DYING UP HERE

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I’M DYING UP HERE

The cast of I’m Dying Up Here is terrific. Melissa Leo is Goldie, the tough as nails owner of Goldie’s Comedy Club in Hollywood. She has connections with all the top T.V. producers including those at Johnny Carson. One word from Goldie can make or break a comedian’s career.

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I'M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I’M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor is a Cassie, a young Jewish comic from rural Texas. Because of her unusual background, audiences have a hard time relating to her. She is not the stereotype that audiences expect from a female comedian. She is very attractive, in a world where female comedians are “supposed” to be ugly and base their acts on  making fun of their physical failings. Instead, Cassie has a more sophisticated sense of humor that requires audiences to think. One of her jokes is “There are not very many Jews in my home town. Let’s just say that there are more Jews at a Walt Disney dinner party than in my home town.”

Andrew Santino is Cassie’s boyfriend Bill. All the other comedians hate Bill since his career is starting to be successful. He has developed his act to be in that perfect “middle ground”. Sharp enough to play in the comedy clubs, yet “safe” enough to appear on television. Bill feels the full hatred from the other comics, when he gets tapped to appear on the Midnight Special.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I'm Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I’m Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, an African-American comic, who is too young to be taken seriously by the other comedians. Just to make ends meet, he takes a job as a handyman at Goldie’s house, where he discovers she is much more complex and sensitive than most people believe.

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey 'I'm Dying Up Here' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles,

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey
‘I’m Dying Up Here’ TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 31 May 2017

I’m Dying Up Here is great. It has complex plots and character development, and gives a real feel for the 1970s. A lot of shows about the 1970’s overdo the cliches about afros, bell-bottom trousers and drugs. I’m Dying Up Here gives a much more realistic picture, and remembers that there was a lot of hatred in the country in the 1970s. Divisions over The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and Richard Nixon were pulling at the fabric of the country. It was a perfect time for the relief of comedy.

 

 

Baywatch – raunchy and silly and we loved it

The new Baywatch movie is a raunchy, silly comedy based on a cheesy old T.V. show, and we loved it. Come on, don’t be such a snob. When you go to see Baywatch, you know you aren’t going to be seeing Hamlet. Baywatch has action, comedy, an easy-to-follow plot, and beautiful women and men running around  in skimpy bathing suits on a gorgeous beach. Who could ask for more?

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

In other words, Baywatch is pure mindless escapism. With all the troubles and bad news in the world today, that is exactly what audiences need once and a while. Escapist movies have a long cinematic tradition. During The Great Depression, audiences flocked to see musicals about super wealthy people with yachts and mansions. During World War II, comedies were very popular. Winston Churchill would periodically block out the war by locking himself away for a few hours to watch a Marx Brothers film.

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

With the current news filled with nothing but terrorism, wars and bickering politicians, people need mindless entertainment more than ever. Baywatch fits that bill perfectly. Of course, be warned that Baywatch is not a kids’ movie. There are a lot of sexual jokes and extensive male nudity. That’s right, we said male nudity.  Female nudity has been on screen in main-stream movies even since Tarzan And His Mate in 1934. However, the penis has been taboo, except in hard core X-Rated films. Baywatch, on the other hand uses the male appendage as a comic tool (pun intended). Baywatch  has a hilarious scene in a morgue in which a corpse’s private parts play a prominent role.

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

The cast of Baywatch does a fantastic job with the script. It is obvious that the actors really had fun making the movie, and enjoyed each other’s company. Be sure to stay for the extra scenes after the closing credits, to see the out-takes and on-set jokes.

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson stars as  Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard who is not content with just saving people from drowning. He and his team of incredibly   gorgeous fellow lifeguards decide to go undercover to discover who is selling drugs that are so prevalent, bags of crack are washing up on the beach.  Dwayne Johnson, who at one time was the professional wrestler “The Rock”, has become well known as a respected comic actor. He also has the reputation of being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario is Summer Quinn,and Kelly Rohrbach is C.J. These two lifeguards  perform heroic rescues, fight bad guys, and solve crimes all while looking stunningly beautiful in every situation.

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron is Matt Brody, an ex-Olympic gold medal swimmer who thinks he is way too good to be just a lifeguard.  It is obvious that his character is based on Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who made a fool of himself at the Rio Olympics. Ryan Lochte, was the idiot who got drunk, vandalized a Rio gas station, and then claimed he had been robbed when he was forced to pay for the damages. Despite winning swimming medals, Ryan Lochte ended up being hated and ridiculed by his fellow Olympians. Zac Efron plays the part perfectly.

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron's character in Baywatch

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron’s character in Baywatch

Jon Bass is Ronnie, the only lifeguard who has what might be considered a “normal” body. He got on the lifeguard team, because he always  gives 100%, even though his body is no match for the Supermen and Superwomen physiques of the people around him.  This, of course, makes him one of the most likable characters in Baywatch. Ronnie is hopelessly in love with C.J. who is obviously completely out of his league. However, there is more to C.J. than meets the eye and she is also in love with Ronnie. This is an old and corny sub-plot, but it still works.

Of course, no Baywatch movie would be complete without cameo appearances from David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. They both still look great. Apparently all that swimming really does keep a body  in shape.

So stop feeling guilty and go to see Baywatch. Let your mind take a break for a few hours.

 

 

The Lost City Of Z – the best movie most people didn’t see

The Lost City of Z is the best movie in 2017 which most people didn’t see. The cinematography is  stunningly beautiful and the plot is moving and thoughtful. Filmed in the Amazon jungle, it is the story of a British explorer, whose main discovery is about his inner self.

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

The Lost City of Z is the true story of Percival Fawcett, a British Army officer whose life is going nowhere in 1905. Advancement in the British Army was still very dependent upon social status, and unfortunately Percival’s father had been a drunk and a disgrace to the service.

Henry Costin & Charlie Hunnam in "The Lost City Of Z"

Henry Costin & Charlie Hunnam in “The Lost City Of Z”

Desperate to make a name for himself, Percival (played by Charlie Hunnam) agrees to lead an expedition to explore the length of the Amazon river. Amazingly, even by 1905, no European had yet traversed the complete length of the river. Percival really has no interest in the Amazon or the natives who live in the jungle around it, but he does think the trip will make him famous and help his career.

Percival Fawcett finds the South American natives to be kind and intelligent

Percival Fawcett finds the South American natives to be kind and intelligent

Percival is lucky enough to have an excellent team including Herny Costin (played by Robert Pattison) as his tough-as-nails second in command. The trip is excruciatingly exhausting  and dangerous and it changes the men profoundly. Their main discovery is that the South American Indians are not the “savages” the British had assumed. Despite being almost naked, these natives are intelligent, resourceful and kind. The explorers admire the way the natives are able to use the jungle to provide food, clothing and shelter, whereas the British almost starve to death despite bringing food supplies with them.

Fawcett and his team do find the end of the Amazon, and also discover a few pieces of ancient pottery. They hear stories from the natives that there was once a huge and advanced city in the jungle, that could rival the great European cities.

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

When Percival Fawcett returns to England he is hailed as a great explorer and becomes world famous. Despite achieving his dream, the victory is bittersweet. His statements that the South American natives are highly intelligent people are ridiculed. No one but other members of his team believe there is a Lost City of Z waiting to be discovered in the jungle. Percival Fawcett dedicates the rest of his life to finding the city and returns to the Amazon 2 more times.

The Lost City Of Z ambitiously covers the period from 1905-1925, including World War I. It is in many ways a “period piece” showing how difficult it is for even the most intelligent people to rise above the norms of their times. Percival’s wife Nina (played by Sienna Miller) helps him to do all the research and raise the funds for his expeditions. She excitedly wants to join him on his expeditions. Despite his advanced views about the South American natives, Percival still believes that the “proper place” for a British wife is at home. Percival absolutely refuses to let Nina come to South America.

Although it is a wonderful film, The Lost City Of Z did not bring in a big box office, making only  about $12.7 million in theaters in the U.S.  It was a direct theatrical release from Amazon, which is a completely new venture for the company. Apparently Amazon knows how to make a great film for the theaters, but has not yet mastered how to promote a theatrical release.

We highly recommend The Lost City Of Z. If it you cannot find it in the theaters there is no doubt it will be available on Amazon.

 

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – a beautiful Iranian vampire on a skateboard

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night  is about beautiful Iranian vampire who stalks men at night while cruising on her skateboard and wearing a burka. (We are not making this up). It is a terrific independent film that combines elements of Sin City, Dracula,  and High Plains Drifter

Sheila Vand as the vampire

Sheila Vand as the vampire

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is filmed in black & white and the actors all speak Farsi (Persian). They live in Bad City (paying homage to Sin City) which is filled with repugnant violent characters who peddle drugs and abuse women. The hero of the story is Arash (played by Arash Marandi) who is trying to work hard and lead a good life, despite the evil all around him.

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Then into the town comes a strange and beautiful girl who appears only at night. Despite being a “girl alone at night” she is completely unafraid of the men in the town.  This is because she is a vampire, who feeds on the men who disrespect women. No one is aware of her actions as she strikes only single targets late at night.

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash almost becomes one of her victims when he staggers home drunk one night after a party. He becomes lost in the city and runs into the girl. However, she can see that he is somehow different than the other men in Bad City. She takes care of him and, of course, Arash falls in love. Arash makes it his mission to find out who this girl really is, and to win her love.

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was written and directed by Lily Amirpour an Iranian-American film maker from California. She could have made the movie in English and in color, but it is so much cooler in Farsi and black & white. The whole idea is that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night takes place in a fantasy world. The strange language (for most of us) and the film noir imagery  give A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night a complete “other worldly” feel. It also has a fantastic sound track which adds to the overall experience.

We loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It is great to see a film where the writer/director has taken a real chance and where it all fits together perfectly.

 

Get Out – A Horror Movie, Comedy, Racial Commentary

Get Out is a combination Horror Movie, Comedy, and Documentary on American Race Relations. It sounds like an odd mix, but Get Out makes this a wonderful combination for a great movie. Producer/Director Jordan Peel has taken some old genres and mixed them together in a unique way to come up with an entirely new blend. Parts of Get Out are scary as Hell while other parts are uproariously funny. Mixed into all of this is the way Get Out makes us think about the odd sate of race relations in the United States.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Walsh, a young African-American with a beautiful White, wealthy girlfriend named Rose Armitage. Their life is great until they decide to leave the city and spend the weekend in the country  with Rose’s parents. This is where you expect the movie to take the traditional route of having the parents be prejudice. Instead, Get Out goes in the opposite direction. Some of the funniest parts of the film are the scenes where Rose’s parents desperately try to show they are not prejudice. The father (played by Bradley Whitford) constantly talks about how much he liked Barack Obama. Then he makes things worse by trying to talk using what the middle-aged White man thinks is black slang. Rose, of course, is dying from embarrassment.

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

The Horror part of the film begins when Chris meets the other African Americans associated with the Armitage family. The family is very wealthy and has a black gardener (Walter) and a black maid (Georgina). Of course, Mr. Armitage points out how well Walter and Georgina  are paid and that he respects them very much. Still, there is something very creepy about the two. Georgina always seems to be in a daze, and the very muscular Walter is constantly giving hostel looks to Chris.

Without giving anything away, we will say that Get Out does get very bloody and scary as it progresses. There is a reason why Walter and Georgina are so weird, and it is more frighting than can be imagined. Get Out is one of the few movies, where the audience will laugh one second and scream the next.

Milton "Lil Rel" Howery in Get Out

Milton “Lil Rel” Howery in Get Out

As the weekend gets stranger and stranger, Chris keeps calling his friend Rod in the city, to describe how weird everyone is. Rod (perfectly played by Milton “Lil Rel” Howery), is a TSA worker, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. He comes up with the bizarre (and totally incorrect) theory that these rich White people must have captured the African Americans in the community to make them sex slaves. His “proof” is that one young American American man in the community is married to an older White woman. Rod even goes to the police with his allegations assuming that he will be treated with respect as a “fellow law enforcement officer.” Rod is oblivious to the fact than no one in the United States has any respect for the TSA, and the police laugh him out of the building.

The acting throughout Get Out is perfect. Allison Williams is wonderful  as Rose,  the rich beautiful young White woman, who simply takes her privileged place in society for granted. In one scene, she is driving with Chris and accidentally hits a deer.  When the police arrive at the accident the White police officer immediately asks to see Chris’ identification even though Rose had already explained that she was the driver.

Chris meekly gets his I.D. to show to the police, but then Rose steps in.  She calmly refuses to let Chris show the identification to the police and explains to the police office that the police have no right whatsoever to ask to see Chris’s identification. The police officer eventually backs down.  As the police officer walks away, Rose flashes a gorgeous smile and cheerily thanks the officer for his help.

To Rose, police officers are servants working for her. To Chris, police are a force to be afraid of and never to challenge. Despite the fact that this scene comes in a Horror/Comedy movie, it is one of the best examples ever on film of the different attitudes that White and African Americans have towards law enforcement officers.  Allison Williams is best known for her role as Marnie on the HBO series Girls.

Get Out is not at all preachy about race relations. It is a fun Horror/Comedy film that happens to have a racial component to it.  The ending of Get Out is exciting and totally unexpected. There are twists within twists and the audience was clapping at the end of the film.

 

 

Happy Birthday Saoirse Ronan

East Coast Stories would like to wish a happy 23rd birthday to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Despite her young age, Saoiese Ronan is one of the best actors in a generation. She is also one of the hardest working. In just the past year, Saoirse starred in the film Brooklyn, and the Broadway play The Crucible.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

While some actors settle for playing the same type over and over, Saoirse Ronan continually hones her skills in small independent firms playing a wide variety of characters. Saoirse is especially known for her ability to instantly don any type of accent. In fact, the film Brooklyn was one of the few movies where Saoirse actually used her real accent, which is a beautiful Irish brogue.

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

In the independent film How I live Now, Saoirse played an American teenager. Not only did she perfectly capture the American accent, she nailed the sarcastic, condescending attitude of a certain type of overly-privileged American teen. In the quirky comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel , Saoirse Ronan was a baker of fine pastries. Saoirse said that the most difficult part of the film was that she actually had to learn how to make pastries.

Despite the Irish Brogue, Saoirse Ronan is a true East Coast girl, having been born in The Bronx, while her Irish parents were living there. Her parents moved back to Ireland when she was little, but she still holds dual American-Irish citizenship.

So from all of us at East Coast Stories Happy Birthday Saoirse! We look forward to watching all of your future performances.

 

Kong Skull Island- A combination of Apocalypse Now and Moby Dick set to rock music

The new Kong Skull Island movie is a combination of Apocalypse Now and Moby Dick, with a fantastic 1960’s & 1970’s soundtrack and wild action scenes. It is far better than any of the modern remakes of the  classic 1933 King Kong and even has  has some improvements.

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

For one thing, the female lead is a war correspondent/photo-journalist instead of a “damsel in distress”. In all other King Kong movies, including the 1933 original, the female lead does nothing but look beautiful and scream constantly.  In Kong Skull Island Mason Weaver (played by Brie Larson) never screams. She is an integral part of the action scenes, rather than being relegated to just watching the men do the action.

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

In fact, there is no damsel in distress in the movie. Tian Jing plays San, a shy scientist on the expedition, who ends up being excellent in combat when the time comes to fight.

Samuel L. Jackson as a modern day Captain Ahab who treats Kong as the White Whale

Samuel L. Jackson as a modern day Captain Ahab who treats Kong as the White Whale

Samuel L. Jackson is Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard but he really plays the role of Captain Ahab. Kong Skull Island takes place just at the end of the Vietnam war, and Packard is filled with rage that all the sacrifices he and his men have made have been for nothing. When he gets a chance to lead a military escort to Skull Island, he lets the full force of his anger out on the wild and innocent King Kong.

In  Moby Dick, written in 1851, Herman Melville understood this kind of rage when he described Captain Ahab by saying:

“He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down.”

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

Kong Skull Island also has a very Apocalypse Now vibe to it. There are helicopter assaults over a jungle, while rock music blasts from the choppers. The solders eagerly follow into battle a leader that, in their hearts, they know to be insane.

One of the best characters in Kong Skull Island is Lieutenant Hank Marlow, perfectly played by John C. Reilly. Marlow was a World War II pilot who was shot down on Skull Island and has been living there for over 30 years. Marlow lives peacefully with the natives, and has come to accept the power and beauty of Kong and the island.

John C. Reilly as a pilot trapped on Skull Island since World War II

John C. Reilly as a pilot trapped on Skull Island since World War II

Marlow’s main goal in life is to find a way to get back to his true love –  the woman he married in Chicago just before he shipped off to war. When this  new expedition arrives on the island Marlow realizes he might be able to finally get home.  However, first he has to guide the expedition and keep them all from getting killed.  Even though Marlow has seen the same violence of war that Packard has, Marlow’s motivating force in life is  love rather than hate.

The unstoppable King Kong

The unstoppable King Kong

Kong Skull Island is a fun movie that can be watched on many levels. Teenagers will love the action, while adults will understand that the film also has some deeper meaning as well. Be warned that it may be a little too intense for small kids. Along with the action scenes comes a huge body count.

 

Life Itself – Film Critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and final days

Life Itself is a beautiful movie about film critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and painful final days. Life Itself also delves into the the decades-long love-hate relationship between Robert Ebert and Gene Siskel. Both of them were strong personalities who were best known for their T.V. show Siskel & Ebert At The Movies.

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

We find that Roger Ebert was a much more complex character than most people realize. A brilliant writer from a young age, he brought film criticism to a new level at the Chicago Sun Times. Prior to Ebert, the film reviews were done by whoever happened to see a movie that weekend. Ebert turned it into a high art. He saw a movie every day, and took the time to write an in-depth analysis. In 1975, Roger Ebert was awarded a Pulitzer Price.

Ebert was proud of his Chicago working class roots. The Chicago Sun Times is the paper read by the every day people who ride mass transit. After Ebert won the Pulitzer, he was offered a huge amount of money to move to Washington D.C. and become the film critic for the Washington Post . He turned the offer down flat saying simply that he “did not want to have to learn new streets.”

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

However, there was a dark side to Roger Ebert as well. He was a hard drinker with the rest of the reporters, and for a number of years was a complete alcoholic. Then one day, he suddenly had enough. He took a last drink, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and never drank again.

Roger Ebert also had a huge ego. He loved being the center of attention and telling endless stories while a group listened.  Whenever he met anyone new, he somehow was able to work into the conversation that he had won a Pulitzer Prize. Roger wanted to be a wild celebrity with beautiful women at his side. However, the fact that he was about 300 pounds meant that he was never very successful with the ladies. At one point in his career, he wrote the screen play for the cheesy soft core porn film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. He later admitted that the only reason he participated in such trash was that he wanted a chance to meet some of the actresses. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is so bad that it actually became a cult film classic. People still watch it today to laugh at film making at its worst.

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Roger Ebert was not happy to have Gene Siskel come into his life. Both Siskel and Ebert wanted to do a movie review show alone. However, the T.V. producers rightly thought it would be more interesting to have two reviewers discussing a movie, instead of one guy lecturing the audience.

It was the conflict and disagreements between the two that made Siskel & Ebert At The Movies so much fun to watch.  The were both egotists and both convinced that their view was correct and anyone disagreeing with it was an idiot. Their arguments about films were not just for show. Often their fights and discussions about a particular film  would continue for hours even after the  cameras were turned off.

Life Itself has many parts that are difficult to watch, since it also documents the final days when Roger Ebert was dying from cancer.  In attempts to remove the cancer, Ebert’s lower jaw had been removed, and he could no longer speak or eat any solid foods.  However, he refused to give up on life. Roger Ebert became a prolific blogger and continued to review movies constantly. He also adapted his computer so that he could “speak” electronically. He communicated to the world this way for a number of years, and even attended movie conferences and “spoke” to crowds with his electronic keyboard voice.

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Life Itself is brilliantly directed by Steve James, who also created the stunning film Hoop Dreams. There are in-depth interviews with Gene Siskel’s widow, Marlene Iglitzen, as well as Robert’s wife Chaz Ebert. There are also touching interviews with fans ranging from everyday readers to famous movie people like Martin Scorsese. Steve James does not try to make Roger Ebert a larger than life celebrity. He shows Roger Ebert as a real multifaceted individual, whose passing was mourned by all film lovers.

 

Hoop Dreams- the film showing the evil side of “March Madness”

Hoop Dreams  is a documentary that shows how young  African American kids are used and abused by an athletic system that treats them as free labor whose only purpose is to play basketball so that schools can make money. The kids are told they will one day become millionaires playing in the NBA. They are not told that the chance of making  the NBA is about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Win at all costs

Win at all costs

Hoop Dreams takes place over a number of years and details the lives of two inner-city Chicago Kids who are recruited to play basketball for a wealthy suburban high school. St. Joseph High is a Catholic school that has a man scouting Chicago middle and grammar school playgrounds looking for good basketball players. He looks for kids who are athletic and who seem like they will become unusually tall. St. Joseph High then offers these kids a partial scholarship to play for St. Joseph.

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Of course the officials at St. Joseph High talk about how much they are helping the community. In fact, they thought that Hoop Dreams was going to show how great the school is. It did not turn out that way. After Hoop Dreams premiered, various St. Joseph High officials tried to sue the film makers.

St. Joseph High is in an all-White suburb and the African American scholarship kids are seen as only there to play basketball. The first thing you notice is what St. Joseph’s does not have. It does not have anyone looking for inner-city kids with great math or reading or artistic skills. It does not have academic scholarships. The message to kids in the ghetto is clear. Sports is the only way out. Academic skill is not useful.

William Gates in "Hoop Dreams"

William Gates in “Hoop Dreams”

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee who are both recruited and given partial scholarships. They end up being treated very differently at the school, completely based on their athletic skill. William continues to grow very tall and his basketball skills improve. A supporter of the school gives William a part time job to supplement the partial scholarship.

Arthur Agee in" Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee in” Hoop Dreams”

Arthur, on the other hand is not so lucky. He does not grow as tall, and he suffers a knee injury. Coach Pingatore pressures William to play even though the knee is not quite healed. William re-injures the knee and needs a second operation. The injuries and intense pressure the kids are under seems like something from the pros, but you have to keep reminding yourself that these are unpaid high school kids.

When Arthur’s athletic performance becomes bad, the money starts to be a problem.  Unlike William, the school does not find a wealthy supporter to help Arthur.  This is when the school suddenly  reminds Arthur that this is a partial scholarship, and that Arthur will not be able to stay at St. Joseph’s unless his family can pay the back tuition. They cannot come up with the money and Arthur is sent back to the public high school in the inner-city.

As a final insult to Arthur, St. Joseph’s high will not release his transcripts to the public high school, since the back tuition is not paid. This will keep Arthur from graduating high school unless his family comes up with the money.

Neither William or Arthur ever do make the NBA. Both did go to college but even there, the main function was just to play basketball. One went to a large rural college that only had 6 African American kids in the whole college. Five of those 6 kids were on the college basketball team.

Hoop Dreams shows the bad side of American sports that no one likes to talk about. For every one NBA star there are thousands of kids who made sacrifices for  a high school or a college and got nothing in return. Supposedly the kids got an education in return, but many schools were never really interested in trying to educate any of them or give them any real help in life .

At one point in Hoop Dreams Arthur tells the story of when he had some very personal issues with his family that were upsetting him deeply and impacting his schoolwork . He still considered the coach his mentor, so Arthur went to Coach Pingatore to ask for advice.  The coach’s “advice” was very simple. He told Arthur to completely cut ties with his family and girlfriend, since they were interfering  with his ability to play basketball. Thanks coach. Way to help a kid in trouble.

In the 22 years since Hoop Dreams premiered, unfortunately not much has changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In “Logan” The Wolverine’s final enemy is Trump

Logan is The Woverine’s final appearance and in the movie this X-Man hero battles the immigration policies of Donald Trump.  Of course, Trump is never mentioned, but any adults watching the film will get the message. Logan is far different from the proceeding X-Men movies, and covers subjects more geared towards adults than kids.  When a superhero gets old and senile do his powers become a danger to society? Is a simple peaceful life superior to that of a “hero”? Does the government have a right to break  hard-working families apart?

Dafne Keen & Hugh Jackman in "Logan"

Dafne Keen & Hugh Jackman in “Logan”

In Logan, The Wolverine is long retired from the superhero business, and is undercover trying to make a living as a limo driver. He is caring for a 90 year old Professor X, who is going senile and has periodic seizures.  Since Professor X has the most powerful mind in the universe, these seizures are dangerous for anyone around him.  In his demented states, Professor X’s mind can send out powerful waves that harm or kill innocent people.

Partick Stewart as the 90 year old semi-senile Professor X

Partick Stewart as the 90 year old semi-senile Professor X

Logan’s dream is to earn enough money to buy a yacht so that he and Professor X can live far out on the ocean where they will be of no danger to anyone. The Wolverine himself is feeling the effects of age. He still has superpowers, but now walks with a limp and has a chronic cough. He can heal if wounded, but this takes more and more time after each injury.

Dafne Keen give a mischievous smile in "Logan"

Dafne Keen gives a mischievous smile in “Logan”

Logan’s simple life is interrupted when a Hispanic woman recognizes him as The Wolverine and pleads for his help. She and her daughter are being chased by government agents who are trying to capture them and take them away. She offers Logan money to take them to Canada, which is giving sanctuary to undesirables the U.S. government is hunting. (Anyone not seeing the Trump connection at this point must have been living under a rock for the past 2 years).

The Hispanic woman is killed, and Logan is left caring for Laura, the little girl. But she is no ordinary little girl. She is, in fact a Wolverine, just like Logan. Laura is played by Dafne Keen, and she is absolutely the best part of the movie. Laura has superpowers and is great at fighting bad guys, but she is also a little kid with all of a kid’s funny quirks and infuriatingly annoying habits. Laura also desperately wants Logan to be a traditional father figure, despite the fact that he is completely unsuited to this task.

Hugh Jackman & Dafne Keen at the Berlin Film Festival screening of "Logan"

Hugh Jackman & Dafne Keen at the Berlin Film Festival screening of “Logan”

The acting throughout Logan is superb. Patrick Stewart gives a masterful performance as the aging Professor X. Hugh Jackman is perfect as Logan, the man who never wanted to be The Wolverine. Logan sees that with Laura he may have a way to find redemption for all the bad things he has done in his life. Dafne Keen is terrific, and we predict she will go on to become a major star.  She does not speak for most of the film, which means that she has to use her body language and facial expressions to get the meaning across to the audience. That would be a difficult task for even an adult actor, but Dafne Keen handles this challenge with ease.

There is a very moving scene in Logan in which the three superheros get a glimpse into the lives they might have had. They have dinner with a farm family, and the superheros pretend to be a family of their own. Professor X is the grandfather, Logan his son, and Laura is Logan’s daughter. For the only time in the film, they are completely relaxed and enjoy the simple pleasures of a good meal, friends and laughter. It is a picture of what they could be if the government had not labeled them as unwanted aliens.

Logan is an excellent film and despite being a superhero movie, it is not really for kids. It is R rated, has extreme violence and a very high body count.  It is also one of the best X-Men movies yet. It actually concludes a number of stories, and is not one of those films just trying to set up a sequel. We highly recommend Logan.

Fifty Shades Darker- Dull, Unimaginative, Not Erotic

Fifty Shades Darker is dull, unimaginative and not at all erotic. We saw it in an AMC Dine-In Theater, and what the people in front of us were eating was more interesting than the movie. It was a  pasta dish with extra cheese and lots of garlic. They were having a real hard time eating it in the dark. Oh- you want to hear about the movie? Let’s just say that the pasta was hotter and spicier than the sex scenes in Fifty Shades Darker.

Jamie Dornan & Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades Darker

Jamie Dornan & Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades Darker

This is, of course, the much anticipated sequel to Fifty Shades Of Grey.  However the advertising was completely misleading. Fifty Shades Of Grey ended with Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) walking out on Christian (Jamie Dornan) since she refused to be a “submissive” who was going to be brutalized by him. That was the best part of Fifty Shades Of Grey, when she stood up to this abusive creep.

The advertising for Fifty Shades Darker implied that in the sequel, Christian has changed and  they get back together as a regular normal romantic pair of equals. Then, someone from Christian’s dark past tries to stalk and murder the happy couple. Fifty Shades Darker was billed as a romantic mystery-thriller.

However, that is not what happens.  In  Fifty Shades Darker, Anastasia now suddenly  finds the controlling, abusive and stalking behavior of Christian somehow “romantic”.  It is a complete departure from the ending of the first film. Christian controls every aspect of her life. He  slaps her around, ties her up, tells her where to go , and even buys and picks out her clothing. Sorry, but this is not romantic. It is abusive.

There is no point in Fifty Shades Darker where Anastasia behaves at all like a real woman.  In the situations portrayed in Fifty Shades Darker any real woman would have been running for the door and calling the police.

Bella Heathcote as the world least frightening stalker in Fifty Shades Darker

Bella Heathcote as the world least frightening stalker in Fifty Shades Darker

There  is stalker in the film we are supposed to be scared of. Bella Heathcote plays Leila, an ex-submissive who used to be involved with Christian. She is now jealous of Christian and Anastasia and is stalking them. The problem is that she is so meek and mild mannered, that there is no point you ever get the feeling that she could really hurt anyone. She is about as scary as being stalked by a chipmunk.

Kim Basinger in Fifty Shades Darker

Kim Basinger in Fifty Shades Darker

Kim Basinger plays Leila, the older woman who first introduced Christian into the world of S&M. Kim Basinger always gives a terrific performance. The previews make it look like she is a main character in Fifty Shades Darker, but she is actually hardly ever on screen. In fact, the credits of the film just state “with Kim Basinger”.  The “with” connotation is what is traditionally used for someone who does a cameo appearance.

So lets, get back to the main story, about the people in front of us in the theater having their dinner. As Dakota Johnson cavorted naked on screen, there was a loud crash when the couple in front of us somehow knocked all of their silverware onto the floor. Instead of ringing a waiter for more, they decided to use their breadsticks as utensils to eat the rest of the pasta.

Can breadsticks be utensils?

Can breadsticks be utensils?

This creates a technical problem since breadsticks tend to snap if too much pressure is put on them. Perhaps at this point we should point out that as well as food, AMC Dine-In Theaters serve alcohol. Suffice it to say that the breadstick pasta eaters had consumed quite a few cocktails as the film progressed.

This is what people have at the movies now instead of popcorn

This is what people have at the movies now instead of popcorn

So, to wrap it up, we have two recommendations. The first is to skip Fifty Shades Darker. There are a lot of great movies playing right now, but Fifty Shades Darker is not one of them. The second piece of advice is more practical.  Please, if you do see a film in a dine in theater, skip the pasta and order a sandwich instead.

 

 

 

John Wick Chapter 2 – Humorous over-the-top violence and great acting

Saying  that you don’t like John Wick Chapter 2 because it is too violent, is like saying you don’t like the ocean because it is too wet. The violence in John Wick Chapter 2 is meant to be so over-the-top that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.  In many parts of the movie, the theater audiences laugh or break into cheers after a particularly absurd fight scene.

Keanu Reeves & Lawrence Fishburne joke around on the set of "John Wick Chapter 2"

Keanu Reeves & Lawrence Fishburne joke around on the set of “John Wick Chapter 2”

Keanu Reeves is perfect reprising his role as John Wick, the world’s most deadly assassin. John Wick is forced out of retirement to assassinate a Mafia princess (beautifully played by Italian film star Claudia Gerini). She is, of course, one of the world’s most protected people, surrounded by  hundreds of bodyguards that Wick must fight.

Claudia Gerini is the Mafia princess in "John Wick" chapter 2

Claudia Gerini is the Mafia princess in “John Wick” chapter 2

As in the original John Wick movie there are terrific scenes at The Continental, which is a hotel for professional assassins. At The Continental you can order guns, knives and bullet proof suits and have them delivered directly to your room. Ian McShane is the upper class manager of The Continental who provides every service a successful killer could desire.

Ian McShane as the man who runs The Continental in "John Wick Chapter 2"

Ian McShane as the man who runs The Continental in “John Wick Chapter 2”

The casting in John Wick Chapter 2 is excellent as are the locations. The film was beautifully shot at interesting locations in New York and Rome. Many of the fight scenes are in modern museums, or ancient Roman ruins.

Ruby Rose as the silent killer Ares in "John Wick Chapter 2"

Ruby Rose as the silent killer Ares in “John Wick Chapter 2”

Lawrence Fishburne is The Bowery King, who controls an army of homeless beggars throughout New York as a well-armed intelligence gathering network.  After seeing John Wick Chapter 2 you may look differently at the homeless people on the streets of New York.  Is it possible that they really have Uzis under those filthy blankets?

Common does a perfect performance in John Wick Chapter 2

Common does a perfect performance in John Wick Chapter 2

Ruby Rose is wonderful as the deaf-mute killer Ares. Ruby Rose is having an incredible acting year, with major roes in Resident Evil-the Final Chapter, and The Return of Xander Cage. Three key roles in three motion pictures in one year is an amazing accomplishment and must have been exhausting, since each one is a physically demanding action part.

Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., better known by his rap and stage name “Common”, excellently plays the Mafia bodyguard Cassian. Although he and Wick are friends, they are now on opposite sides of a deadly battle.

John Wick Chapter 2 is a fun movie if you are in the right mood for mindless entertainment.  Be aware that it  is rated R for violence. We literally lost count of how many people get killed in the movie, but it had to be well over a hundred.  However, we were in the right mood and thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  We eagerly await John Wick Chapter 3.

Primer- a terrific indie movie made for $7,000

Primer is a terrific independent film made on a budget of just $7,000. Primer is sort of a combination of Silicon Valley and The Time Machine. It starts out like a documentary with 4 techie guys in a garage trying to become the next Apple or Microsoft. Primer then  slowly changes into a story about the dark side of human nature, and forces that people are unprepared to explore.

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in "Primer"

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in “Primer”

It is incredible that Primer was made for $7,000, when you consider how many terrible Hollywood movies have costs hundreds of millions. There are no special effects and the people are all genuine, but it is definitely a Sci Fi film.

The techie guys start out with really stupid inventions, like a gas that makes refrigerators colder, but has the downside of possibly making the ice cubes poisonous.  Then two of the guys –  Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) – construct a machine that has some wondrous properties they don’t really understand. Aaron and Abe know they are onto something big, but they don’t know what.

Of course, the first thing Aaron and Abe do is to hide the machine from the other members of the team. Anyone who has ever worked in a startup company recognizes how real this scenario is. In startups, everyone is “an important part of the team” until it looks like the company might actually make some money. Then the knives come out.

The machine seems to be able to put out more electricity than it takes in. It also seems to make objects slightly  lighter. Most wondrous of all, it appears that The Machine might impact Time itself.  Adam and Abe don’t know if these events are really happening. The changes are so slight that maybe their instruments are just measuring things wrong. They decide to go the next step and build a huge version of The Machine.

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

People have been fascinated with the possibility of time travel, ever since H.G. Wells first published The Time Machine in 1895. Primer is one of a huge number of movies that explore the possibilities and pitfalls of trying to tinker with the natural order of time.

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie "The Time Machine"

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie “The Time Machine”

In Primer, the time machine does work, but only in a very limited way. Arron and Abe are brilliant scientists, and they are well aware of the risks of time travel. Therefore, they set up all sorts of fail-safe ways to protect themselves, the timeline and the world from this most dangerous of inventions. Of course, even the most brilliant scientists cannot think of every possibility.

We will not reveal any more of Primer’s plot, other than to say it has stories within stories and you have to watch very carefully to see exactly what is really going on.  Primer was written by Shane Carruth who also stars as Aaron. Primer first premiered in 2004, and despite its $7,000 budget, took in a Box Office gross of $424,780.  The film still holds up today. Primer shows how good a film can be when movie makers concentrate on great writing instead of car chases and special effects.

Don’t Bother To Knock – Marilyn Monroe shows her true acting skills

In the 1952 film   Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe showed the world that her acting skills deserved  better than the stupid ditzy blonde roles she was normally given. Don’t Bother To Knock is a thriller, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a mentally unstable woman who might kill an innocent child.

Knock" has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

The poster for “Don’t Bother To Knock” has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

Despite this tense  plot, Hollywood could just not resist promoting it as a sexy Marilyn Monroe movie rather than a thriller. The movie poster featured Marilyn Monroe in a skimpy outfit that was not part of the movie. The advertisements called her ” a wicked sensation as the lonely girl”.

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

In Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe is Nell Forbes, whose pilot boyfriend has been killed in a plane crash. Unable to deal with her loss, Nell attempts suicide and spends time in a mental institution.  After being released, she goes to New York to live with her uncle Eddie (played by Elisha Cook Jr.)

Elisha Cook Jr. in "Don't Bother to Knock"

Elisha Cook Jr. in “Don’t Bother to Knock”

Eddie finds Nell a baby sitting job in the hotel where he is a elevator operator. Nell seems fine and gets along well with Bunny, the little girl (played by Donna Corcoran). However, Nell is actually quite unbalanced. When she meets Jed (Richard Widmark), a pilot staying at the hotel, she believes he is actually her dead boyfriend. In her mind,  Nell creates a fantasy world. When Jed rejects her, Nell thinks it is because he does not want the little girl Bunny keeping them apart. That is when Nell decides to take action against Bunny.

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock, is a fantastic movie, whose plot and tension still hold up today. It is also the debut film for a stunningly beautiful Anne Bancroft as Lyn Lesley, a lounge singer. This was 15 years before Anne Bancroft would gain international fame as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock did well in the theaters and was a critical success. Although she was only 26 years old at the time of her brilliant performance, Marilyn Monroe never went on to a full career as  a true dramatic actor. Hollywood producers continued to  cast her in a series of very profitable “dumb blonde” movies. There were lots of actresses who could do drama, but directors knew that only Marilyn Monroe would be perfect for films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (1953)or Some Like It Hot (1959).

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Unfortunately, off-screen, Marilyn Monroe had much in common with the mentally troubled woman she played in Don’t Bother To Knock. Despite being a world-wide celebrity, Monroe was very unhappy, and  committed suicide in 1962 at the age of 36.  (Of course, rumors still swirl that The Kennedys actually killed Marilyn Monroe).

 

 

Riverdale – Archie Comics in an Alternate Universe

Baby Boomers who see Riverdale on the CW network will feel like they have entered into an alternate universe. Murder, intrigue and illicit sex have made their way into the Archie Comics town of Riverdale. Archie himself has been transformed from a goofy geek into a major hunk who shows off his six-pack abs every chance he gets.

Classic Archie joke

Classic Archie joke

Despite these changes, Riverdale is actually a good show with an interesting plot and excellent acting. We are just  not sure why the producers chose to base the show on a comic book that first came out in 1941.  The target audience for Riverdale is about 50 years younger than anyone who actually  remembers the classic Archie Comics.

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa is Archie, who like in the comics, is continually caught in the middle between Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). Both Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes really nail their characters. It is not easy to play a comic book character without going “over the top”, but both of these fine actors resist that temptation, and play the characters straight. Like in the comics, we always feel sorry for Betty, who despite being nice and beautiful is relegated to the “just friends” category by Archie.

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Archie himself is the biggest change from the comics. He is a bulked-up football star, who has an illicit sexual affair with a beautiful young teacher. What happened to the nerdy guy from the comics, who never quite got what was going on?  What made the original Archie great was that he was not cool.

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Archie was the average high school guy that kids could identify with. Archie was not a star athlete, or brilliant student. He did have a car, but it was a rattling piece of junk (as opposed to rich Reggie’s sports car).

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

In Riverale, Archie and his friends investigate what might or might not be a murder. To say much more would be to give away the mystery. Riverdale is actually a good show and teenage viewers will like it. Older viewers of a “certain age” can also have fun taking a look, just to see how times have changed in the sleepy, likable town. Still, Baby Boomers may get a twinge of nostalgic sadness seeing Riverdale.

The original Riverdale in Archie comics was a fantasy even when it was created in 1941. It was a place where nothing bad ever happened. No one ever got hurt, got sick,  changed or grew older.  Kids could read these comics and retreat from the “real world” that was being forced onto them. The CW network’s Riverdale is an interesting place, but if given a choice, we would still choose to live in the original Riverdale from the Archie comics. Let’s face it; the real world is highly overrated.

 

 

 

Split – classic horror intertwined with mystery and psychological drama

Split is the story of three teenage girls kidnapped by a  dangerous psychopath with multiple personalities.  Some of the personalities are kind, some stupid and some dangerous. All of the personalities are afraid of “the monster” which will be unleashed on the girls.

James McAvoy & Anya Taylor-Joy in "Split"

James McAvoy & Anya Taylor-Joy in “Split”

James McAvoy gives a masterful performance as the kidnapper, who becomes increasingly strange and dangerous as the film progresses. Intertwined with the classic horror elements, are themes of mystery and psychological drama.

Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson in "Split"

Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson in “Split”

The three girls kidnapped come from a privileged suburban background, and are completely unprepared for the violence and degradation they are suddenly thrust into.  Their natural tendency is to simply freeze from panic. This is, in fact, the normal response when everyday people are confronted with unexpected violence.   Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson are perfect as two young women trying to cope with a situation beyond their comprehension.

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Split"

Anya Taylor-Joy in “Split”

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey Cooke, the third kidnap victim.  Her background is far different from the other girls. She has had a childhood of sexual abuse, and holds a deep inner shame that she never fought back. Casey is determined that this time will be different.  Anya Taylor-Joy is a fantastic actor, and we noted her skills when she starred in The Witch.

Izzie Coffey plays an abused little girl in Split

Izzie Coffey plays an abused little girl in Split

Izzie Coffey plays 6 year old Casey. In flashbacks we see what she was subjected to, and understand why the teenage Casey is considered “strange” by the other girls. Her damaged childhood is a key to the plot of the film.  As a little girl, Casey was far too small to fight back. Can the teenage Casey now summon the strength and the will?

Betty Buckley as psychiatrist Karen Fletcher in "Split"

Betty Buckley as psychiatrist Karen Fletcher in “Split”

Betty Buckley is Psychiatrist Karen Fletcher who has been treating the multiple personalities of the kidnapper for years. So far, he has been able to successfully hide the violent and evil parts of himself from her. However, she knows there is something she is just not seeing. Something about “the monster”

Director M. Night Shyamalan has created a terrific horror film, with less gore and more mystery than most films of the genre.  It is exciting throughout, with a moving subtext touching on the issue of female vulnerability in a male-dominated world.

 

 

 

I Am Your Father – the man inside the Darth Vader helmet

I Am Your Father is a documentary about David Prowse, the man inside the Darth Vader helmet in the original Star Wars trilogy. He is also a pariah; hated by George Lucas, and  banned from any official Star Wars reunions or conventions.   Lucas believes that he was betrayed by Prowse.

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

By the time the first Star Wars movie was made in 1977, David Prowse was already known by film directors in England. He was the the former British weight lifting champion and stood 6 feet 7 inches tall. This physique made David Prowse the go-to actor to play bad guys and monsters. He was particularly popular as the Frankenstein monster.

David Prowse in "A Clockwork Orange"

David Prowse in “A Clockwork Orange”

Then in 1971 he was cast by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, showing that he could play more than grunting monsters. He was the perfect choice for the commanding presence needed for Darth Vader. David Prowse was Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return Of The Jedi (1983).

David Prowse today at age 80

David Prowse today at age 80

So after making 3 of the most successful films in history how did George Lucas and David Prowse end up hating each other?  Betrayal is the word that sums up the issue. Each man feels he was twice  betrayed by the other.

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

The two betrayals by Lucas have to do with Darth Vader’s voice and final death scene. We all know that James Earl Jones is the voice of Darth Vader.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell that to David Prowse ahead of time.  David was the voice of Darth Vader all the way through  the filming of Star Wars.  It was not until the movie premier that David found out his voice had been dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Imaging what it must have been like to sit in the premier and find that every one of your lines in a movie had been replaced by that of another actor.

Lou Ferrigno - friend and defender of David Prowse

Lou Ferrigno – friend and defender of David Prowse

However, David Prowse knew that he would finally get the recognition he deserved, when Darth Vader had his beautiful death scene in Return Of The Jedi. At last, the Darth Vader mask would be removed, and the world would see David. However, this was not to be. Sebastian Shaw was the actor who performed the Darth Vader death scene where Darth’s helmet is removed.

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader's death scene

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader’s death scene

Richard Marquand, the director of Return Of The Jedi was very worried about what David’s reaction to this news was going to be. After all, who wants to incur the wrath of a 6 foot 7 inch weight lifter? So the director took the cowardly path of just not telling David. The death scene was filmed in secret in one part of the studio while David was kept busy in another part.  Just in case, however, the director had hired lots of extra security for the day.

But why does George Lucas feel betrayed by David Prowse? Well, David was always a very friendly guy and loved taking to reporters. Somehow, two major secrets were leaked to the press just before the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.  The secret that Darth Vader is Luke Skwalker’s father hit the British tabloids before The Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters.  The fact that Darth Vader dies in Return Of The Jedi also hit the press before the movie came out. George Lucas was convinced, and apparently remains convinced, that it was talkative David Prowse who told the reporters. Almost 4 decades later, Lucas is not ready to forgive and forget.

I Am You Father researches the events and presents a very good case that David Prowse, in fact, was not responsible for either of these leaks to the press.  However, to this day, Prowse is banned from any official Star Wars conventions. Consequently, he is relegated to signing autographs at cheesy little “off-brand” conventions. One of Prowse’s good friends and defenders is Lou Ferrigno, best known for playing The Hulk on T.V. Lou knows first hand the struggle of being a weight lifter trying to be taken seriously as an actor.

Ironically, David Prowse’s most important acting gig had nothing to do with Star Wars. In 1975 he appeared in  a series of public service ads in the U.K. as the Green Cross Code Man. This was a superhero who taught kids about crossing the street safely. David went above and beyond what he was originally hired to do. He tirelessly campaigned for road safety and made personal appearances at schools talking to kids.

Statistics show that the deaths of children hit by automobiles in the U.K. went down by 50% as a direct result of David’s campaign. Thousands of kids lives were saved.  Later in life, David Prowse was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for this work. Darth Vader will always be remembered as one of the most evil men in the universe. It turns out that the man behind the mask was actually a good guy all along.

Monsieur Verdoux – Charlie Chaplin as a talkative murderer

In 1947 Charlie Chaplin shocked movie audiences by playing a talkative serial killer in the film Monsieur Verdoux.  It was completely against type for the man famous for playing the lovable little tramp in silent movies.

Martha Raye & Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux

Martha Raye & Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux

Monsieur Verdoux is a very dark comedy in which Charlie Chaplin plays a man who successively marries, then murders,  women so that he can steal their assets. His only redeeming quality is that he is using the money to support his real wife, who is suffering from polio. She thinks he is just a kind successful businessman who travels a lot for work.

Serial killer Henri Desire Landru - he was convicted and sent to the guillotine

Serial killer Henri Desire Landru – he was convicted and sent to the guillotine

Monsieur Verdoux was based on the real-life serial killer Henri Desire Landru. In France between 1914 and 1919, he married then killed 11 women.  Due to World War I, there were thousands of widows in France who were easy prey for Landru. He went undiscovered for a long time, since he would destroy the victims in an oven.

Some of the murder victims of Henri Desire Landru

Some of the murder victims of Henri Desire Landru

It is hard to understand why Charlie Chaplin thought this subject would make a good comedy. However, Monsieur Verdoux does have some amusing parts. The funniest person in the film is Martha Raye, who plays Annabella, one of the unsuspecting women Monsieur Verdoux has married. Unlike the other women, Annabella is basically indestructible. No matter what he tries Monsieur Verdoux simply cannot kill Annabella, but does succeed in almost poisoning  himself.

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp we all know and love

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp we all know and love

Audiences in 1947 did not like Monsieur Verdoux.  World War II has just ended. After years of war and millions of deaths, people wanted to see Chaplin in a light comedy.  No one wanted to be reminded of death and destruction and evil people in the world.

Charlie Chaplin & Marilyn Nash in Monsieur Verdoux

Charlie Chaplin & Marilyn Nash in Monsieur Verdoux

Monsieur Verdoux himself tries to defend his action by saying that what he is doing is nothing compared to the millions killed in war. Marilyn Nash plays a young woman who is lifted out a poverty by marring a weapons manufacturer. These anti-war themes seem grafted into and out of place in the movie.

Even watching the film today, it tends to fall flat. We can see what Chaplin was trying to accomplish, but it just does not come across. In order for the comedy to work, you have to like and root for Monsieur Verdoux. However, we  could not get over the fact that in the film, he does kill many of the woman and burn their bodies in an incinerator.  It would have been much funnier if Monsieur Verdoux was an unsuccessful murderer.  If all of his “wives” were as indestructible as Martha Raye, audience might have cheered for the bumbling little man trying to be a criminal. Instead, they were shocked to see that Charlie Chaplin had turned the lovable little tramp into a bad guy.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox who wrote" "Laugh and the World laugh with you; weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has troubles enough of its own."

Ella Wheeler Wilcox who wrote” “Laugh and the World laughs with you; weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has troubles enough of its own.”

Still, Monsieur Verdoux is a film worth seeing for two reasons. First of all, you get to hear Chaplin speak, which is unusual in itself. More importantly, it gives us a glimpse into the man that Chaplin usually kept hidden from the world. Like many comedians, Charlie Chaplin had a dark side which looked at the world as a place or cruelty and evil. Seeing him as the little tramp, audiences would never guess the depths of his depression. As the character Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin takes off the smiling mask and lets people see the pain beneath.  Chaplin should have realized that no one wanted to see that. He should have remembered the lines of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem Solitude.

“Laugh and the World laughs with you, weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has trouble enough of its own.”

Lovelace – the sad story behind the star of Deep Throat

Lovelace is the sad story of Linda Boreman, better known as “Linda Lovelace” from the infamous Deep Throat movie.  Based on her book Ordeal, it details how she was forced into adult films and prostitution by her abusive husband Chuck Traynor.  Linda later became a spokeswoman against pornography and for for women’s rights.

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace"

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in “Lovelace”

Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) came from a strict Catholic family that was shamed  when she had a child out of wedlock. After that, Linda’s parents became completely over-protective and monitored every aspect of her life. Linda rebelled by marrying Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) the dominating owner of a sleazy topless bar. At first, it seems like life with Chuck will be exciting and fun. However, when Chuck runs into financial problems, he forces Linda into prostitution. After that, the adult film industry actually seems like a step up.

Sharon Stone in "Lovelace"

Sharon Stone in “Lovelace”

Sharon Stone plays Linda’s mother Dorothy. Sharon Stone does such a good job as this uptight cruel woman that we honestly did not realize this was the same actress from Basic Instinct.

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in "Lovelace"

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in “Lovelace”

Robert Patrick is John Boreman, who is completely devastated when his daughter becomes a porn star.

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Deep Throat was a cultural phenomena in 1972. It was a porn film that somehow crossed over and attracted mainstream audiences. It was also one of the first porn films available on video tape which meant that people could see it without having to “be seen”. Supposedly Deep Throat made $600 million dollars. For her staring role, Linda Lovelace was paid $1,250.

One of the aspects only lightly touched on in Lovelace, is organized crime’s involvement in the pornographic film industry. Porn films are sleazy, but they are legal. Therefore, the mob funnels the profits from its illegal activities into those films. There is no way that Deep Throat actually grossed $600 million. The Oscar winning Best Picture in 1972 was The French Connection. It had a domestic gross box office of $51 million.

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace. Here the publisher of Ordeal has her take a lie detector test to make sure her story is true. She passed the test.

Amanda Seyfried was perfect as Linda Lovelace. Amanda took a real risk with her career on Lovelace, since prior to this Amanda has always played the sweet innocent girl. Peter Sarsgaard, as always, puts in a powerful performance. He is one of America’s best actors and continually challenges himself with new roles in independent films.

We recommend Lovelace, but be warned that it has strong sexual content. Parts of Lovelace are difficult to watch, with the graphic depiction of the abuses Linda was subjected to.

 

20th Century Women- a quirky comedy with excellent acting

20th Century Women is a wonderful film where Hollywood finally lets a middle aged woman be the star. Annette Bening gives a perfect performance as Dorothea Fields, a single mother trying to raise her teenage son amidst the turbulent changes of the 1970s.

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Annette Bening,  Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

If you ever get the feeling that real life has no plot, and that you don’t know what you are doing, then you will sympathize with Dorothea. She wants to be the perfect mom, have a fulfilling life, and make everyone around her happy and enlightened. She is a failure at all of these goals, but she never stops trying. You can’t help falling in love with Dorothea.

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Dorothea and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) live in a big old house surrounded by odd characters. There is William (Billy Crudup) a combination hippie/carpenter/car mechanic. Greta Gerwig plays Abbie, a sensitive artist, trying to cope with cervical cancer. The next door neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning) is a rebellious teenager who spends most of her time at Dorothea’s house.

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Somehow this odd mix of people becomes a family of sorts, helping each other through trials and changes in their own lives. Jamie never comes out and says he wishes he was in a “normal” family, but you know he has thought about it.

If you are expecting a structured plot and a lot of action then 20th Century Women is not the movie for you. 20th Century Women is more like real life than a movie. Things just happen to people. Sometimes they cope well and sometimes they don’t.

We loved 20th Century Women. Ever character is memorable and every actor gives a great performance.

 

 

The Founder- Ray Kroc builds McDonald’s by being a genius and a McPrick

The Founder is the fascinating story of McDonald’s. In 1954, McDonald’s consisted of 1 hamburger stand and Ray Kroc was a 52 year old milkshake-machine salesman. Today, McDonald’s has 36,615 locations and annual revenues of $24 billion.  Ray Kroc was the man who made that possible. He was a combination of genius, hustler, and smooth-talker. He was also a cold-blooded business shark ready to devour anything or anyone in his way.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

In 1954, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) by chance eats at the only McDonald’s in the country. Mac and Dick McDonald (played by Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch) have invented something entirely new.  The idea of “fast food” seems very routine to us now, but in 1954 it was revolutionary. Before McDonald’s, there was no way to get a quick lunch. At restaurants and drive-ins of the day it took 20-30 minutes to get even the simplest meal.

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Ray Kroc immediately understood the potential and was frustrated that the McDonald brothers did not realize what they had . Mac and Dick were perfectly happy running their successful little hamburger stand.  They finally let Ray Kroc talk them into the idea of franchising the system, mainly just to shut Ray up. They really didn’t think expansion would work.

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

The Founder is the story of how  Ray Kroc built the business and slowly pushed the McDonald brothers out. Ray Kroc wanted it all. The term “The Founder” is what Ray Kroc eventually put on his business cards, despite the fact that he obviously did not found McDonald’s.

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton is perfect as Ray Kroc. He is the smiling wolf in sheep’s clothing. B.J. Novak plays Harry J. Sonneborn, the financial wiz-kid who comes up with a revolutionary idea of his own. He shows Kroc that the real money  to be made is from the real estate, not the hamburgers.  He devises a plan for Kroc to own all the land that the franchises are built on, and then making a fortune leasing the land back to the McDonald’s stores.

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland plays June Martino, who was the loyal assistant to Ray Kroc from the beginning. Her hard work and loyalty paid off  and she eventually became a hugely successful businesswoman, trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

So who was the real Ray Kroc? Was he an American icon who built an empire through hard work, or was he a nasty McPrick willing to take credit for other people’s ideas? The truth is he was both. He did push out the McDonald brothers from their own business and told the world he had invented it all. However, he also made Mac and Dick McDonald rich men. In addition, Ray Kroc provided opportunities for thousands of small entrepreneurs  who did very well buying McDonald franchises.

The Founder is an excellent movie. It is a fascinating look at what has become a worldwide institution. From its lowly beginnings, McDonald’s now feeds 1% of the world’s population every day.

Son of Kong – the classic 1933 bad sequel

If you think the Hollywood “bad sequel” phenomenon is something new, just take a look at the 1933 Son Of Kong. It is so ridiculously bad and cheaply made, it is fun to watch. The 1933 King Kong was such a blockbuster, that RKO rushed out the sequel Son Of Kong the same year.

Today, everyone in  Hollywood knows that  the “magic formula” to a successful sequel is “more sex”, “more violence” and “more spectacular special effects”. Apparently in 1933, RKO had not yet figured this out. Son Of Kong has less of all those elements than the original King Kong.

Helen Mack & Robert Armstrong in "Son Of Kong"

Helen Mack & Robert Armstrong in “Son Of Kong”

Everything about Son Of Kong screams quickly made sequel. For one thing, it is not even a full-length movie . At 1 hour and 10 minutes it is only about 1/2 as long as King Kong.  Despite its short length, Son Of Kong is very slow moving. The film is more than half over before Kong even appears. The special effects are terrible, even by 1933 standards. You never get the feeling that your are watching anything more than tiny models.

Terrible special effects "in Son Of Kong"

Terrible special effects “in Son Of Kong”

People (especially men) loved Fay Wray in the 1933 King Kong. In fact, many “moral authorities” considered Fay Wray’s portal of the damsel in distress just a little too sexy.

Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray in "King Kong" 1933

Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray in “King Kong” 1933

However, Fay Wray is not in Son Of Kong, even in a cameo. Robert Armstrong reprises his role as Carl Denham the promoter, and Frank Reicher returns as Captain Englehorn. So what happened to Fay Wray? Some people say RKO didn’t offer her the part since it did not want the revisit the controversy surrounding her revealing outfits. However, most movie buffs believe that Fay Wray was just too smart to damage her reputation by appearing in this bomb.

"Son Of Kong" - not exactly frightening compared to his father the King

“Son Of Kong” – not exactly frightening compared to his father the King

The biggest disappointment is the Son Of Kong himself. Instead of going for bigger and fiercer than King Kong, RKO went for smaller and clown-like The Son Of Kong is only 11 feet tall, and never attacks people at all. It is mostly like a big friendly dog. There is also no proof ever offered that this creature is in any way actually related to King Kong.

The 1933 Original, and still the best "King Kong"

The 1933 Original, and still the best “King Kong”

Sometimes we wish  there was a law that if a movie has a perfect ending, no one is ever allowed to make a sequel. The original 1933 King Kong had that perfect ending. Kong is shot off the Empire State Building by biplanes and Robert Armstrong says, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Fay Wray

Fay Wray

So how does Son Of Kong end? Well, Skull Island sinks (that’s right sinks). Son Of Kong gets his foot stuck in a rock and drowns. Not exactly a great moment in film history.

So, if you have a hour to kill and want to have a little fun watching a really bad sequel, check out Son Of Kong. However we recommend you spend the full 2 hours sometime and watch the original King himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Patriots Day – a tribute to the people of Boston

Patriots Day was so moving, that when the film was over, a number of people in the theater were openly crying.  The final scenes in the film are interviews with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Some of these people had lost limbs and others mourned the death of loved ones.  All of the victims spoke of hope and courage and love. Not a single one had a message of hatred or revenge.

Boston Marathon bombing - April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon bombing – April 15, 2013

We had not actually planned on seeing Patriots Day. We we going to watch another movie, but when we got to theater the projector showing our movie was broken. Patriots Day was the only other movie playing at the same time, so we got tickets for it.  The reason we did not plan on seeing Patriots Day was that we were afraid that it would  be too exploitative. After all, the Boston Marathon bombing was on April 15, 2013. It seemed too soon to make a movie about it. The wounds were perhaps too fresh to be reopened.

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and Dzhokhar (right)

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and his brother  Dzhokhar (right)

However, Patriots Day is not at all exploitative. It follows the events of the bombing and brings to life the tension,  terror and courage of the people of Boston. Like many Americans, we were aware of the basic facts, but did not know all of the details.

The courage of many individuals was amazing. There was Dun Meng (played by Jimmy O. Yang). He is a young  Chinese businessman living in Boston, who was car-jacked by the bombers at gunpoint. After being driven around and threatened repeatedly, he was able to escape from the car and call the police. Most people would have been paralyzed with fear, but somehow Dun Meng had the nerve to open the door and run, when six inches away sat a man with a gun.

Little Martin Richards (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Little Martin Richard (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Sean Collier (played by Jake Picking) was an MIT police officer killed by the bombers who were trying to get his gun. Despite being shot multiple times, he never gave up the gun and the bombers had to flee without it.

There was one very shocking act after the bombing. The younger bomber’s college roommates recognized his picture on T.V. Instead of immediately calling the police to say they knew the bomber, they hid items from his dorm room that would have implicated him in the crime. They later received between 3 and 6 years in prison for obstructing the investigation. That does not seem nearly a long enough punishment.

Marl Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Patriots Day could have been improved slightly by focusing less on Mark Wahlberg.  He plays Tommy Saunders, a fictional  character who is a compilation of numerous  Boston Police officers. The problem with combining all those officers into one character is that it made him too much of a Superman.  In the movie, Tommy Saunders was at the finish line when the bombs went off. He also met with Dun Meng, and helped the FBI and was at two separate shootouts with the bombers.  The movie would have been better if the director had used a number of different actors, instead of making this such a star vehicle for Mark Wahlberg.

However, in total, Patriots Day is a great film. It is much too intense for children, and be warned that even many adults will find parts hard to watch.  The film intersperses actual news and surveillance camera footage into the movie, so at some points you feel as if you are watching the events in real time.

Patriots Day is a tribute to all the people of Boston, and they deserve it.

 

HBO’s “The Young Pope” is so bad it’s a sin

The Young Pope commits the worst sin any T.V. show can make. It is boring. The dullness beings with the opening credits of the first episode, which take 6 minutes to roll by while the New Pope walks in silent slow motion past scowling Cardinals and Nuns. After that, the “action” never really begins. It feels like the whole show is in slow motion, with one interminably long scene after another.

Jude Law as The Young Pope

Jude Law as The Young Pope

The basic concept of The Young Pope is good. The Cardinals select what they think will be a “telegenic puppet” as pope. The old guard at the Vatican thinks they will be able to maintain control of the Roman Catholic Church through this puppet. However, the young pope turns out to be completely uncontrollable, and moves the Church in unexpected directions.Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It should have been. However, the terrible writing and the monotone line delivery by Jude Law (the pope) make the show almost  unwatchable.

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

The bad guy in the series is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who tries unsuccessfully to control the pope. He is a ridiculous stereotype of an evil church figure. He has lustful thought about a naked statue in the pope’s chambers. He is ugly. The makeup people  gave this character an ugly facial mole that is so large it should be credited as it’s own character.  By making this Cardinal bad in every way, the writers have made him very uninteresting. The best bad guys are the most complex and multi-faceted.

The worst character is the Young Pope himself. For one thing, it is inconceivable that this person ever would have been elected pope under any circumstances.  He is supposed to be  47 year-old American Lenny Belardo. (Despite being played by English actor Jude law, who sounds very British in this role).

Lenny Belardo would never have risen in the ranks of the Catholic Church. He is rude to everyone around him, does not seem at all pious, hates being near the general public and has no political skills.

The Catholic Church is one of the world’s oldest and most complex  political institutions. To move up in the ranks takes tremendous skill.  You have to be able to smoothly work with everyone from local parishioners to Bishops to Archbishops and  Cardinals. You have to be able to impress everyone along the way with your skills without ever outwardly seeming ambitious. (Since church officials are supposed to be “humble”).  Lenny Belardo has  none of these abilities . He never would have made it to Monsignor, much less pope.

 

 

 

Live By Night – Ben Affleck’s disappointing gangster film

Live By Night is a disjointed gangster film that is a lot of different movies all mashed together with no main plot. Elle Fanning is superb, but unfortunately her character is only in the movie for about 15 minutes.  Ben Affleck seems to think that just having a lot of Tommy-gun shootouts, car crashes and goons in fancy suits makes a good gangster film.  However, the audience also has to know enough about a character to care who gets killed.

It feels like Live by Night is a series of short movies that don’t really connect to each other. In this 2 hour film, there are at least  5 different plots. As a result, the movie does not spend enough time on any of them. As soon as the audience starts to get interested in one subject, Live By Night suddenly switches gears and goes in a different direction.  Just for fun, let’s list the plots in order of appearance.

  • Ben Affleck is Boston native Joe Coughlin, the son of the Assistant Police Commissioner.  Joe goes off the fight in World War I and comes home violent and disillusioned. He therefore turns to crime. The jaded WWI vet idea  has been done much better in other venues, most recently in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking bored in "Live By Night".

Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking as  bored as the audience  in “Live By Night”.

  • Joe Coughlin becomes a Boston gangster. The Irish and Italian mobs are at war, and Joe is being recruited by both sides. At the same time, he is having an affair with the Irish mobster’s girlfriend Sienna (played by Emma Gould).  This is compete plagiarism of the plot of Miller’s Crossing.
Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in "Live By Night"

Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in “Live By Night”

  • Just when you get set to watch the rest of the Miller’s Crossing remake, Live By Night suddenly changes venues to Florida. It becomes a love story with Joe seducing the beautiful sister of the Cuban crime boss who controls the rum business. Zoe Saldana is Graciela, who says she has no interest in Joe, then immediately goes to bed with him.  Their love story is completely rushed and the two of them seem to have no on-screen chemistry.
Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in "Live by Night"

Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in “Live by Night”

  • Then, out of nowhere, the KKK shows up and Joe becomes a freedom fighter. He is no longer a murdering gangster, but actually a guy who is really just providing good jobs  for African and Cuban Americans. Apparently this is not a gangster film but actually a story about civil rights in the 1930s. Joe makes a number of pious speeches about giving hard working people a break.  However, these lectures  all fall flat when we know that he is a ruthless killer who has never felt a second of remorse for anyone he murdered.
Elle Fanning in "Live By Night"

Elle Fanning in “Live By Night”

  • The final and most interesting foe which Joe has to face is the young Evangelical preacher Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning) . She is a “fallen woman” who has come back to Florida to fight the evils of Liquor, Drugs and Gambling. Of course, these are all the industries that make money for Joe Coughlin. He finds that she is much tougher than anyone he has fought before. If he simply kills Loretta it will only make her a martyr and the backlash will destroy his empire. Joe also likes and admires Loretta very much. Despite her past, there is a pure an innocent beauty about her. She is probably the only person Joe has ever met who is completely honest and who wants nothing for herself. She genuinely believes in her cause.

Live By Night should have skipped the other plot lines and focused entirely on the contest between the gangster and the beautiful evangelical preacher.  There is one wonderful scene in the movie where Joe Coughlin and Loretta meet by chance in a cafe, and Loretta honestly shares her deepest thoughts with Joe. He realizes that Loretta is something he has never known existed before. A genuinely good person.

However, we see Loretta for only a fraction of the film. The rest of Live by Night is filled up with car chases and exceedingly long gun battles. There is so much machine gun fire between guys wearing fancy suits that it quickly becomes impossible to tell who is who. They just become anonymous gangsters that we don’t care about.

We know that Ben Affleck can make a great movie. Unfortunately Live by Night is not one of them.

 

 

 

 

Fences – a good play but a mediocre movie

Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences turned a good play into a mediocre movie. Ironically, the problem is that he did not change the play  enough. He simply “filmed a play”. Fences does not come across well on the big screen. A small set and extended soliloquies work well on a stage, where an audience feels it is  sharing an intimate moment with the actors. However, on a huge screen, extreme close-ups, long speeches and no movement makes the audience feel bored and claustrophobic. Movies work best when the audience is shown a story instead of just having actors tell a story.

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Fences is set in  Pittsburgh in 1956 and is the story of Troy  (Denzel Washington), a middle-age garbage man who is bitter with the way his his life has turned out. Supposedly he was a great baseball player in the Negro League, but was too old to make the transition to the Major Leagues when they became desegregated. As the film progresses we learn that this is not exactly the whole truth.

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Almost all of the movie takes place in the backyard. Troy is supposedly building a fence, but spends most of his time lecturing his family and friends about how hard he works and how they are not living their lives properly. The main target of Troy’s wrath is is his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) Cory has the chance to get a football scholarship to college, but Troy is against that.

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Troy is not capable of accepting that things have changed for African-Americans. Troy wants Cory to forget about college and instead learn a trade. Throughout Fences, it is never really clear if Troy is just trying to give advice, or if he is jealous that Cory is being given opportunities that Troy never had. The basic plot is good and the acting is superb.  We learn about Troy’s history in bits and pieces, and the more we learn the more complex a character he becomes.

However, you never get over the feeling that you are just watching a videotape of a play. There are far too many long speeches, and it feels like the entire movie is about 15 minutes too long. Fences should have had  scenes showing us what was happening to Troy instead of having Troy talk about them after the fact.

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

For example, we hear that Troy complained to the union that all the men lifting up the trashcans were black and all the drivers of the garbage trucks were white. Troy  was then ordered  to come before the bosses of the company. Troy  thought he was going to get fired, but instead he was promoted to be a truck driver.  That would have been a powerful scene to see. However, we don’t see it. We just get Troy standing in the backyard telling us about it.

The movie also drops some plot lines for no reason. When Troy gets promoted to driver, Troy’s friend Jim (Stephen Henderson) asks Troy how he will be able to drive when Troy does not have  driver’s license and does not know how to read.  But Troy becomes a driver with no problem and the issue is never brought up again. So why was it even mentioned in the first place?

Viola Davis plays Troy’s long suffering wife Rose, who faces each day with intense dignity. Mykelti Williamson is Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel and gives an award-worthy performance.

Overall Fences in an interesting film, but could could have been so much better. The writer of the play, August Wilson also did the movie script, but did not live to see the completed film.  Perhaps Denzel Washington felt it would be disrespectful to make too many changes. But film is a different medium than the stage, and requires a different technique for the audience to get the most out of the work.

 

 

 

Young Ones – Jake Paltrow’s powerful Sci-Fi film

Young Ones, written and directed by Jake Paltrow , is a vision of a drought-stricken future in  which water has become a precious commodity worth killing for.  There have been many sci-films of people struggling in a bleak future, but what makes Young Ones superior is the superb acting of the mostly young cast.

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning is Mary Holm, miserably  stuck on the dust bowel farm her father refuses to leave. She and her brother Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lead a bleak existence in a desert that was once beautiful farmland. Their father Ernest (Michael Shannon) pig-headily believes that he will somehow be able to earn  enough money to get  irrigation to the property.

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Mary dreams of running away with her boyfriend Flem (Nicholas Hoult). Mary hates her father so much that she is blind to the fact that Flem is really nothing more than a self-centered evil person.  Mary’s father sees right through Flem but, of course, Mary does not want to hear anything from her father. (Apparently even in the future young women still do not listen to their father’s advice when it comes to men).

Aimee Mulling & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

Aimee Mullins & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

One of the best performances in the Young Ones is from Aimee Mullins who plays the kids’ quadriplegic mother Katherine. She can only move with the help of machines, yet she provides the tenderness that is so desperately missing in the lives of her children. She can only speak in a whisper, yet you can see how much it pains her that she does not have the physical strength to help her children.

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Of course, Aimee Mullins herself is no stranger to physical adversity. She was born with Fibular Hemifelia (missing fibula bones) and had both legs amputated below the knees at age one. Despite this, Aimee went on to athletic success, with specially designed running legs. Aimee also is a fashion model and an actress in many films.

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Alex McGregor is “Sooz” a young mother who might have to make the ultimate sacrifice to sell her own baby just to get enough food and water to survive.

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Kodi Smit-McPhee is Jerome, the youngest member of the family. Despite his young age and slight build, Jerome takes on the responsibility of becoming the tough leader. His character is heroic in the true sense of the word. Jerome’s only goal is to do what is needed for the family.

We recommend Young Ones, even for people who do not normally watch science fiction. Even in the future, after all, the character of the people and the choices they make  will still matter far more than the technology of the machines.

6 reasons Channel Awesome Is Great

Channel Awesome is a low budget internet “network” with original shows like The Nostalgic Critic, Some Jerk With A Camera, The Angry Joe Show, The Cinema Snob. As the names indicate, these are not exactly high- budget Hollywood productions, or even independent “artistic”  films. For the most part, the shows on Channel Awesome are people talking into a video camera about things they like and don’t like. Despite that, here are the reasons we think Channel Awesome is great.

  • Channel Awesome directly challenges YouTube. For a long time,  people who  wanted to post videos online and try to make some money found that YouTube was the only game in town. Play by their rules or YouTube pulls your video.  YouTube is famous for taking down videos for “copyright infringement” of a movie, even though it is perfectly legal for a reviewer to show a short clip of a film. Rumors are that major movie studios secretly pay YouTube to delete videos that give bad reviews to a film.
Brad Jones - The Cinema Snob

Brad Jones – The Cinema Snob

  • The shows are so silly they are fun. For example, Brad Jones has a series where he reviews foods. However, Brad is not The Master Chef. Brad is not filming the latest creation in an upscale Soho restaurant.  Instead, Brad reviews foods like The Halloween Burger at Burger King, or the world’s spiciest potato chip.  A lot of his reviews are filmed in his car in the parking lot of whatever fast food place he is reviewing. The honesty of his food reviews  is refreshing. Let’s face it, most Americans eat a lot of their meals at fast food places, and often consume the food in the car. It’s about time we had a show reviewing the junk most of us regularly eat.
Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

  • New Talent gets presented.  Talented, but unknown, actors get to appear in skits or movie spoofs and have their skills seen by thousands of viewers. For example, Malcolm Ray has a recurring  comedy role as the Devil on The Nostalgic Critic. He is joined by Tamara Chambers who has spoofed a number of characters including Wonder Woman.
Malcolm Ray - actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

Malcolm Ray – actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

  • Channel Awesome gives us all hope of becoming video stars. The shows are so low budget and sometimes so stupid that you just have to say, “Hell I could have done that!” In fact, after some episodes you will be tempted to run down to Best Buy and get your own video camera to start a show. Instead of sitting at a desk reviewing invoices, wouldn’t you like to make money filming yourself eating cheese fries and reviewing them online?
Tamara Chambers - actress on Channel Awesome

Tamara Chambers – actress on Channel Awesome

  • Channel Awesome is an American Success Story. It is great to see a new idea succeed. The three founders, Mike Michaud, Mike Ellis and Bhargav Dronamraju, started the company in  2008 when they all lost their jobs at Circuit City.  The demise of Circuit City turned out to be the push they needed to try doing something new. Creating success out of a failure is, after all, the classic Horatio Alger story. It is made even better by the fact that the internet vehicle  they created now allows many other people to try to succeed at their own dreams.
Doug Walker - The Nostalgia Critic - (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

Doug Walker – The Nostalgia Critic – (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

  • The viewers are a part of the shows. Channel Awesome is still in its infancy and we predict that in 10 years it may have morphed into a major power on the internet. But we love watching it now, when it is still low-budget and ridiculous. The fact that sometimes the people don’t actually know what they are doing  adds to the enjoyment. It makes the people on the shows seem more like our  friends than “celebrities” we are watching.  This must be how audiences felt  in the early days of Television.  Viewers can comment and get a personal response from the actor or show creator. Shows are changed due to viewer’s responses. Its like watching a minor league baseball team. They may not be the best athletes in the world but they are your team.

 

 

Passengers- a terrific Sci-Fi movie but you may hate the ending and despise 1 character you are supposed to like

Passengers is a terrific Sci-Fi movie, but you may hate the ending and despise one character you are supposed to like. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are wonderful together, but the writer Jon Spaihts took the easy path at every turn.  As you can see, we are trying to review Passengers  without spoiling it, which is difficult to achieve. We liked Passengers, and it is definitely  worth seeing on the big screen to get the full impact of the scenes in outer space.

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

In Passengers, the spaceship Avalon is taking a  120 year journey to another world (Homestead II). There are 5,000 passengers and 250 crew members in suspended animation. After a malfunction, Chris Pratt (Jim) comes out of hibernation. Once year later Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is also awake.  There is no way to go back into suspended animation and the ship will not arrive that the new planet for another 80 years.

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

For the year that Chris is the only one awake on the huge space ship he spends half his time trying to figure out how to get back into hibernation and the rest of the time trying to keep busy to not go insane. His only companion is a bar-tending robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen) This part of the film has some very funny scenes, reminiscent of the T.V. show The Last Man On Earth, complete with Jim growing a ridiculous beard.

nnifer Lawrence in Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

When Aurora is awakened, Passengers becomes a sort of Adam and Eve love story.  Of course, it is very convenient that the only two people awake are probably the two best looking people on the entire ship.  Still, it does have romantic quality. Jim and Aurora take advantage of all the ship has to offer, from lavish meals served by robots, to spacewalks outside the ship.

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

However, the spaceship continues to deteriorate and a crew member also wakes up. Gus (Lawrence Fishburn) is a technical chief and diagnoses how quickly  the ship is dying and what must be done to save it.

This is where we must stop so as to not ruin the movie. Passengers does have many astoundingly good scenes the make it worth going to see.  At one point Aurora is swimming in a pool when the artificial gravity fails. She suddenly finds herself trapped and drowning in the center of a floating ball of water.

The acting is great and despite being a big budget Sci-Fi film, it really only has four characters. This allows for in depth character development.  There is also very obvious on-screen chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  They are excellent as a couple in love.

However, there is a very disturbing moral choice made by one of the characters, and the ending is also unsatisfying. We wish that the writer, Jon Spaihts,  had taken more risks instead of going so “Hollywood” . The initial concept is great, but then he takes too many shortcuts.

 

 

 

Natalie Portman Is “Jackie”

In Jackie, Natalie Portman give an astoundingly accurate portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the days just after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jackie Kennedy was a quiet beauty with an inner strength and stubbornness that people continually underestimated.

Natalie Portman perfectly captures the stylized,  precise, almost-a-whisper  way in which Jackie Kennedy spoke . Director Pablo Larrain intersperses actual newsreel footage into the movie with incredible effect.

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Despite being in a state of shock after the assasination, Jackie Kennedy fought to make sure that her husband’s place in history would always be remembered. While others wanted a small family funeral in Massachusetts, Jackie insisted on a grand state funeral, modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln.

Caroline, Jackie & "John John" Kennedy at President Kennedy's funeral

Caroline, Jackie & “John John” Kennedy at President Kennedy’s funeral

Jackie shows how Jacqueline Kennedy also managed the press after JFKs death to create the “Camelot” myth of the Kennedy years. Billy Crudup is perfect as LIFE Magazine  reporter Theodore H. White whose lengthy interview with Jackie was read by every person in America.

1964 Issue of Life magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

1964 Issue of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

Much of the film is the interaction between the reporter and Jackie, and shows how she was able to manipulate the press in a way that no politician or celebrity would ever be able to do today.  Jackie essentially wrote and edited the LIFE story, including the references to Camelot. Amazingly, Mrs. Kennedy gave this lengthy interview only 1 week after her husband was gunned down in Dallas.

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Peter Sarsgaard is Robert Kennedy who tries to protect Jackie and also unsuccessfully tries to control her.  As always, Peter Sarsgaard gives a masterful performance.

Caspar Phillipson as "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" and Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE.

Caspar Phillipson as “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and Natalie Portman as “Jackie Kennedy” in JACKIE.

Casper Phillipson is Jack Kennedy, and accurately captures the smooth confidence  of JFK.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

The script by Noah Oppenheim and the acting of Natalie Portman bring Jackie Kennedy alive as a real person. Not as just a legend or a caricature, but as a actual woman, who despite her youth, was able to show dignity and strength when America needed it the most.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Many First ladies have come and gone without being remembered, but people will never forget Jackie Kennedy.

 

 

 

Starz “Power” – Sexy, Raw Adrenaline-Pumping Excitement

Power on Starz, is the perfect show to binge watch to get your heart pounding and your adrenaline flowing.  It is a raw, sexy series that somehow is a combination of The Godfather, American Gangster and The Great GatsbyThe story line is terrific and keeps getting better each season. It beings together an exciting mix of actors, many of whom were not well known before this series.

Omari Harwick & Lela Loren on Power

Omari Harwick & Lela Loren on Power

In  Power, the drug lord “Ghost”, like  Gatsby, tries to use his illegally gotten money to fabricate a place in legitimate society and win back the woman whose family rejected him in his youth for  not being “good enough”. Like The Great Gatsby, James St. Patrick (Ghost) discovers that you can’t have it all and that denying who you really are can result in ripping you apart and destroying all those around you.

Courtney Kemp Agboth creator of Power

Courtney Kemp Agboth creator of Power

Power was created by Courtney Kemp Agboth who,  at the the end of each episode, gives a fascinating look into the minds of the writers. For example, she points out that throughout the series there is a  use of mirrors to reveal the true Ghost. Every time James St. Patrick begins to believe he really is a legitimate night club owner, his reflection in the mirror will reveal that his true self is the murdering drug dealer known as Ghost. In one episode he comes home from a successful party at his nightclub, looking like a typical New York businessman. However, if you look at his reflection in the mirror, you will see that his white shirt is stained with a tiny drop of blood from when he had killed an enemy. The subtle touches like that make Power so much fun to watch.

A show with the street violence, rough sex scenes and gang warfare of Power is completely opposite to the upbringing of Courtney Kemp Agboth. She is an African-American who grew up in Westport Connecticut, graduated from Brown University and earned a Masters Degree in English from Columbia University. Still, she was always fascinated with the “other side” of the  African-American experience. The side that her parents had taken great pains to keep her away from.

Joseph Silkora & Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson on Power

Joseph Silkora & Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson on Power

Someone who does have first hand knowledge of life on the streets is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson who is not only an Executive Producer on Power, but also one of the main actors in the series. He plays Kanan, one of the  most frighting gangsters ever to appear on screen. Kanan is an “old school” thug, and hates the way Ghost is trying to walk away from his past.

Naturi Naughton is Tasha St. Patrick on Power

Naturi Naughton is Tasha St. Patrick on Power

Omari Harwick is perfect as “Ghost”James St. Partick as is Naturi Naughton as his beautiful wife Tasha. Ghost ad Tasha were married young and built the illegal drug business together. Now Tasha is furious that he husband wants to pretend to be a legitimate businessman and leave her for another woman. The “other woman” is Angela Valdes (played by Lela Loren) who also happens to be an assistant district attorney investigating the illegal drug trade in New York.

Lucy Walters is Holly on Power

Lucy Walters is Holly on Power

Ghost’s partner in crime is Tommy Egan (Joseph Silkora) an Irish-American thug who has been like a brother to Ghost since childhood. Unlike Ghost, Tommy understands that there is no way out of their life of crime other than jail or death. Even’s Tommy’s domestic life with his beautiful girlfriend Holly (Lucy Walters) is only possible because she is just as crazy and violent as he is.

In case you have not caught up with Power, we will not spoil the Season 3 season finale. We will say that it is as exciting as it is unexpected. For a time there were rumors that Power was cancelled and there would be no Season 4.  Fans of Power, of course,  went crazy on the internet until the rumors were put to rest and it was announced that there will be a Season 4 of Power.

 

St. Vincent – a moving film about unexpected heroes

St. Vincent is a moving film about suffering and goodness in a cruel world. It is billed as a comedy, but is much more than that. St. Vincent stars Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, whose combined talents make them perfect for this movie. St. Vincent is a bittersweet story  that shows that when life is at its worst, there can be heroism in just making it through another day.

Melissa McCarthy is Maggie Bronstein, a newly divorced mother who is struggling to make ends meet while caring for her 12 year old son. They move to a small house in Brooklyn and have the misfortune to find Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is their new neighbor. Vincent is a nasty old guy whose life consists of drinking at a bar, seeing a prostitute and being alone in his house with his cat.

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital and desperately  needs someone to watch her son Oliver and prepare food for him. With no other choice, she finally hires Vincent as the babysitter.

This is where most films would have just turned into silly slapstick comedies. Instead, St. Vincent delves much deeper into the complexities of human nature.  Oliver (perfectly played by Jaeden Lieberher) finds that there is much more to Vincent than meets the eye. Vincent becomes a sort of very flawed father figure to Oliver. Vincent teaches Oliver how to defend himself and stand up for himself against bullies.

Oliver finds that Vincent also has reasons for his depression. Oliver and Vincent make weekly trips to a nursing home to visit Vincent’s wife, who is suffering  from the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Unlike his attitude with most people, Vincent is always kind, patient and loving with his wife, despite the fact that she no longer even recognizes who he is.

Chris O'Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Oliver attends a private Catholic school and is mentored By Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). The school has an annual assembly called “living saints”, in which each child is to give a presentation about  a person still alive but  who has all the attributes of a saint.  Brother Geraghty points out that saints are not perfect people, but people who have done great things despite their own imperfections.

Oliver chooses as his living saint Vincent and decides to secretly research who this old man really is and what his life has been like.

ST. VINCENT (L-R) MELISSA McCARTHY, JAEDEN LIEBERHER and NAOMI WATTS

ST. VINCENT
(L-R) MELISSA McCARTHY, JAEDEN LIEBERHER and NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts is Dakota, a tough as nails, pregnant Russian prostitute. Despite her tough exterior she does like Vincent and Oliver and tries to help them in her own strange ways.

Cris O’Dowd is fantastic as  Brother Geraghty, who has some of the best lines in the movie. Our favorite is that “Catholicism is the best religion because we have the most rules.”

Even the small parts are filled with wonderful actors. Greta Lee is great as a harried bank teller who has the misfortune to become the focus of Vincent’s wrath. Greta Lee is known to most people as Homeless Hannah in the HBO Show High Maintenance.

St. Vincent is a wonderful film and we loved it.

 

 

Rogue One a Star Wars Story – All Action- No Plot or Character Development

In Rogue One – A Star Wars Story  – all the new characters are so dull that director Gareth Edwards resorted to using CGI to bring back people who actually knew how to act. He was basically admitting the story of Rogue One was so bad that part of prior Star Wars movies had to be spliced in to make it watchable.

Rogue One consists of 2 absurdly long battle scenes, 1 cameo appearance by Princess Leia, and a couple of cameos by Darth Vader. The rest of the movie is just  a sketchy plot filler with one-dimensional characters designed to get us to the battle scenes as fast as possible.

Ingvild Deila provides the body for a CGI superimposed Princess Leia in Rogue One

Ingvild Deila provides the body for a CGI superimposed Princess Leia in Rogue One

A young Princess Leia makes an appearance, with the CGI face of Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher herself did not get any work out of this gig. Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila supplied the svelte body for Princess Leia and computers were used to superimpose the young Carrie Fisher’s face from the original Star Wars film.

A dead actor also make an appearance. Peter Cushing reprises his role as the evil empire’s Grand Moff Tarkin. This is quite a feat, since Peter Cushing died in 1994. Actor Guy Henry played Grand Moff Tarkin and Peter Cushing’s image was superimposed.

Guy Henry provides the movement for Peter Cushing who died in 1994

Guy Henry provides the movement for Peter Cushing who died in 1994

At least James Earl Jones does play Darth Vader with his beautiful and powerful voice. Unfortunately, Darth Vader is not in the movie for very long and we don’t learn anything about him we did not know before.

In the original Stars Wars movies, time was taken for the audience to get to know and care about each character. We loved the action scenes since we loved the people who were in them. Who can ever forget the wise cracking Hans Solo or the scene where Darth Vader tells Luke “I am you father.”

Kids do seem to like Rogue One, especially really young kids. Over the years, the Star Wars movies have morphed from Sci-Fi films exploring the meaning of good and evil in the future, into  action based kids movies whose main goal is to sell toys. Even before the movie started there were a number of commercials in the theater for a multitude of Star War Toys.

So, if your kids are clamoring to see Rogue One, go ahead and bring them. They will love the action and the noise. However, if you are expecting to see anything at all  like the original Star Wars films you remember, you will sadly be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

The Hateful Eight – Cinematic Masterpiece or Disgusting Blood-fest?

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is either a cinematic masterpiece or a disgusting blood-fest depending on your tolerance for extreme violence. The dialogue and ever-increasing  tension is spellbinding. However, like many Tarantino’s movies, the violence becomes absurdly graphic.

The Hateful Eight takes place in large stage coach way-station, a few years after the Civil War.  A  group of very different and very dangerous people are stranded by a blizzard.  The group includes a bounty hunter. “The Hangman”  (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The Hangman is convinced that the other stranded people are going to try to either steal his prisoner for the bounty, or else free her. He may or may not be paranoid.

The Civil War is be over but the hatred from the war is not. Some of the men were confederate soldiers,  and others Union. It does not help that one of the stranded men was a Negro Union Officer. Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) was famous for the number of Confederates he killed. Major Warren’s prize possession is a letter hand-written to him by Abraham Lincoln.

Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell

Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell

Quentin Tarantino is undoubtedly the best writer of dialogue in the film industry. From the very beginning of the film we know that some of the people are innocent travelers and others are lying murderers. Through the long and complex conversations, the movie slowly reveals who the people really are and what each of them is trying to hide.

The Hateful Eight also has fascinating side conversations about violence, justice and passion. In one scene the characters discuss that the fact that the very dispassion of a hangman is what makes executing someone justice rather than revenge. If a hangman cared one way or another it would not be justice.

Jennifer Lawrence was turned down for a role in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Lawrence was turned down for a role in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfect as the psychotic Daisy , who is being brought to her execution. Every time you think it will be impossible for her to act any more insane, she actually brings it a notch higher.   Jennifer Lawrence really wanted this part, but Tarantino felt she just would not be able to be this “over the top” wacko.

Bruce Dern as a Confeterate General

Bruce Dern as a Confederate General

Bruce Dern is a Confederate General who is not exactly pleased to be sharing lodgings with a Negro Union Officer. The General also has secrets and an agenda of his own.

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren

Of course, nobody does over-the-top crazy better than Samuel L. Jackson. He is a combination of Civil War hero, stone cold killer, and revengeful maniac. He is forced to team up with Southerner  Cris Mannix (Walton Goggons) who may or not be the local Sheriff.

So this is where our reviewers have a split decision on the movie. Adam rates it Five Stars for its perfect dialogue, last  minute twists and action scenes. Greg gives it only Two Stars since he feels the violence takes away from the rest of the movie.  If you are thinking of renting the movie, be advised that it has an arm chopped off, a head exploding, people vomiting blood after being poisoned, and of course many many people being shot.

That being said, we leave it to you our readers to make your own decision according to your personal taste.

 

The Gift – a superb thriller with unexpected plot twists

The Gift  is the  2015 thriller in which the insults and hurts from childhood come back to sabotage the happy marriage of a successful couple. As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have moved from Chicago to Simon’s home town in California, where Simon has taken a new high-powered job. By chance they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old school acquaintance of Simon’s.  Gordo is thrilled to see them and begins showering them with housewarming gifts.

Gordo is obviously a lonely soul, and takes an immediate liking to the kind and gentle Robyn. He helps Robyn with the house, sets up the cable T.V. and continually stops by to lend a hand or just chat. At first it is nice, but after a while he begins to seem just a little too clingy and creepy.

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Finally, Simon has had enough, and in a very cruel way tells Gordo  he doesn’t want him around anymore. That’s when bad things start to happen to Simon and Robyn. Their dog disappears, the fish in their Coy pond all die, and strange noises are heard at night.`

At this point, it seems like the movie is just going to morph into a  traditional horror movie, but then, exciting  plot twists occur. Robyn had liked Gordo and thought that Simon was unnecessarily brutal in dumping Gordo as a friend. She begins doing some detective work to find out what was the real nature of the past relationship between Simon and Gordo, and why Simon was so eager to force Gordo out of their lives The more she digs the more bizarre and frighting the past becomes.

It is difficult to describe just how good The Gift is without giving too much away and ruining the ending. When you see it, you will be glad we did not spoil anything.

We will simply say that The Gift is a a great mystery movie (NOT a horror movie), that has a completely unexpected double twist ending. The acting is fantastic. Rebecca Hall is perfect as the kind but fragile Robyn who begins to worry about the moral cost of success. Jason Bateman’s acting is superb  as her controlling husband.

Joel Edgerton is the complex Gordo who keeps us guessing as to whether or not he is a misunderstood nice guy or a psychopath. Joel Edgerton was also the writer, director and co-producer of The Gift. His talents are exceptional in all three fields.

Dana DeLorenzo- The hardest working actress on Television

Dana DeLorenzo looks beautiful and stylish in an evening gown. However, in Ash vs Evil Dead she spends most of her time covered in blood, rolling around in the mud and  fighting demons from Hell.

Dana DeLorenzo hen she is not covered in blood

Dana DeLorenzo when she is not covered in blood

If you have never seen Ash vs. Evil Dead, the only way to describe it is as a horror gore-fest comedy. In it, Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash Williams  from the low budget 1983 horror film The Evil Dead.

The original 1983 movie was not a comedy. It was a typical “cabin in the woods movie. A group of college students takes a vacation at an isolated and creepy cabin and things go downhill from there.  Ash is one of the students and finds an old “book of the dead” in the cabin. Of course, he is stupid enough to read from it, thereby releasing demons and deadites (zombies) on the world.

Now, 33 years later,  the plot is played purely for laughs. Ash vs Evil Dead is a spoof of all bad horror movies, with its completely over-the-top monsters, and  excessive amounts of blood and guts.

Ash vs Evil Dead's Dana DeLorenzo

Ash vs Evil Dead’s Dana DeLorenzo

The cast of Ash vs Evil Dead is great and you can tell they enjoy working with each other. The actors often joke that this is the only T.V. show where they literally have to get hosed off after a scene, in order to wash off the fake blood and guts.

Dana DeLorenzo shows off her b;ood soaked outfit

Dana DeLorenzo shows off her” blood” soaked outfit

Dana DeLorenzo plays Kelly Maxwell, a sort of surrogate daughter for Ash. However, unlike the women in the 1983 movie, Kelly does not spend her time screaming and running away.  Instead, she is a real kick-ass zombie (deadite) fighter, who is always willing to grab an Uzi and attack the Evil Dead.

Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago

Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago

The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Ray Santiago is Pablo Simon, who has to fight the walking dead as well as the prejudices of everyone continually assuming he is an illegal immigrant. In the last episode, he gave his life to save the others, and now they are going back in time to try to keep that from happening.

Bruce Campbell & Lucy Lawless

Bruce Campbell & Lucy Lawless

Lucy Lawless is Ruby, an immortal from the underworld, who starts out as bad, but then becomes somewhat good as she becomes mortal.  Of course, Lucy Lawless is known for her action roles, going back to when she was Zena the Warrior Princess.

Bruce Campbell is great as both Ash, and the leader of this ensemble of actors. He is perfect as the arrogant, but not too bright, demon killer with a chain saw instead of a right hand.

Sloshing around waste deep in fake blood is probably not what Dana DeLorenzo pictured herself doing when she was studying Media Communications  at DePaul University. But anyone who has ever watched Ash vs Evil Dead knows that when it comes time to chop the head off a creature from Hell Dana DeLorenzo is the perfect choice for the job.

 

 

The Nostalgic T.V. Show quiz – 4 quick questions

Think you know a lot about the old time T.V. shows? Take the East Coast Stories 4 quick questions quiz and test your knowledge.

Q. Why did the Skipper put up with anything from Gilligan and always forgive him?

The Skipper & Gilligan

The Skipper & Gilligan

A. Gilligan saved the Skipper’s life in World War II when they both served on a U.S. destroyer. A depth charge had broken loose on deck. It was about to roll into the Skipper and crush him, when Gillian raced across the deck and pushed the Skipper out of the way.

Q: Who was the most successful female impersonator ever on television?

Who was T.V's most famout female impersonator?

Who was T.V’s most famous female impersonator?

A: Lassie. That’s right. Although Lassie was a female Collie on the show, the actual dog was a male. Dog trainers claim that male dogs are easier to train. (No angry comments please. This is not our opinion but the opinion of Lassie’s trainers.)

Q: What type of cigarettes did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

A: This is a trick question. Lucy Riccardo supposedly smoked Phillip Morris cigarettes since that was the show’s sponsor. You can clearly see the label on the pack. However, Lucille Ball preferred Chesterfields. In fact,  she always threw out the Phillip Morris cigarettes in the Phillip Morris pack and refilled the pack with Chesterfields. Therefore, Lucy Riccardo was actually smoking Chesterfields.

Q: How many times did Captain Kirk die on Star Trek?

Star Trek's transporter

Star Trek’s transporter

A: Most people will answer zero, but that Kirk faked his death at least once (when he fought Spock on Vulcan). However, the correct answer is that Kirk died every time he went into the transporter. The original people do not actually go through the transporter, any more than the original piece of paper goes through a fax machine. The originals are destroyed by the “transporter” and a copy of those people appear at the other end of the transporter. It is, in effect, a very long distance fax machine that also happens to destroy the original. This is why Doctor McCoy tried to go by shuttle instead of transporter whenever possible.

Allied is no Casablanca and Brad Pitt is no Humphrey Bogart

Allied is a story of love, spies and the French Resistance set against the backdrop of World War II and evil Nazis in Casablanca. Sound familiar? Brad Pitt even walks around in a white suit . We kept waiting for him to say “Here’s looking at you kid.”

Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard in Allied

Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard in Allied

Allied does have some very good qualities, but just does not come across as the dramatic love story it tries much too hard to be.  There are some very beautiful scenes.  The best part of the movie does take place in Casablanca. Brad Pitt is Max Vatan, an undercover Canadian officer, working with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) a beautiful French Resistance fighter. Of course they fall in love.

Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard make love in a sandstorm

Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard make love in a sandstorm

There is a wonderfully romantic scene where Max and Marianne make love in a car in the desert while a sandstorm rages outside. Allied steals liberally from the film Casablanca.  At one point, a French Resistance fighter talks about how Marianne once was in a cafe and sat at the piano and played “La Marseillaise” in front of a group of Nazis. This, of course, was one of the most famous scenes in Casablanca. We are surprised the  resistance fighter didn’t just say it was Rick’s Cafe Americain.

Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

If Allied had stayed in Casablanca it would have been a much better movie. However, Max and Marianne move to London and marry. The war is still going on and Max is a Flight Leader while Marianne is a housewife. This is where Allied starts using every World War II movie cliche ever invented.  Max and Marianne have a a party during the Blitz and a German plane crashes in the backyard. During another air raid, Marianne gives birth while the Germans bomb the hospital. She is wheeled into the street where she gives birth while planes roar overhead.

Then comes the shocker. Max is informed that the British suspect that Marianne is a German spy and always has been. His assignment is to discover the truth. If  she is a spy  is orders are to kill her. (We are not spoiling anything. This part of the story is in the movie trailer).

Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson & Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson & Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca

Overall Allied is good but not great. One of the problems is that the supporting characters are just not interesting. In Casablanca there was a multitude of interesting characters and sub plots. Dooley Wilson and Sidney Greenstreet had their own stories that linked with Bogart’s but were also  interesting by themselves.

In Allied, the only interesting characters are Max and Marianne. The audience just does not care what happens to anyone else. The plot twists are also not as astounding as the producers think they are. The movie’s ending is easy to guess and not very satisfying.

East Cost Stories recommends that if you are really in the mood for a World War II love story with spies and plot twists, rent the original 1942 Casablanca.  Here’s looking at you kid.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – an unfocused mess of a movie

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is about a fictional Iraq war hero.  It is like the Iraq war itself. It starts with hope and promise, and then becomes a misdirected mess that feels like it is never going to end. Billy Lynnn’s Long Halftime Walk somehow combines an anti-war theme with a clumsily pro-military propaganda film and tops that off with an absurdly over-the-top football halftime show. The combination is as bad as it sounds.

Kirsten Stewart- The best part of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Kirsten Stewart- The best part of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

There are some good moments in the film. Kirsten Stewart is excellent as Bill Lynn’s sister Kathryn. She is the only one who seems to notice the toll the war has taken on her brother. Everyone else just sees him as a hero but she is concerned about him as a person. Unfortunately, despite getting top billing, Kirsten Stewart is not on screen for most of the movie.

Vin Diesel as the philosophical Sergeant Shroom in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Vin Diesel as the philosophical Sergeant Shroom in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

The scenes in Iraq  are also excellent. Vin Diesel is terrific as the combat Sergeant they all call “Shroom” since his philosophy of life is so odd. He is a man trying to live the life of a Hindu philosopher in a combat zone.  He believes there is no point in fearing death since  the bullet that is going to kill you “has already been fired.”

Steve Martin & Joe Alwyn. Steve Martin has the worst Texas accent ever on film

Steve Martin & Joe Alwyn. Steve Martin plays a stereotype of an evil  Texas businessman

But most of the movie take place in a football stadium where Billy Lynn and the rest of Bravo Squad are being honored at the halftime show. The team is obviously supposed to be the Dallas Cowboys but the producers use a fictional team name and stadium. The team owner (Norm) is played by Steve Martin and this is the only bad performance we have ever seen him give.

Steve Martin’s Texas accent is just awful and he completely overplays the stereotype of an aggressive, evil Texas businessman. That is very strange, considering that Steve Martin was actually born in Waco Texas. However, he did move to California when he was five.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is insulting to Texans in general. They are portrayed as ignorant fools who praise the soldiers but in fact have no real respect for the soldier’s sacrifices.

The worst part of the movie is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

The worst part of the movie is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Then comes the actual halftime walk. The big moment the film has been leading up to. Bravo company stands on stage while fireworks go off, scantly clad girls dance around them,  bands play etc. This scene goes on and on and on. It is loud, badly filmed and is supposed to drill home that civilians do not understand the real sacrifices that soldiers make.  But the movie has already made that point, over and over and over.

Makenzie Leigh spends all of Billy Lynn's Log Halftime Walk in a skimpy cheerleader outfit

Makenzie Leigh spends all of Billy Lynn’s Log Halftime Walk in a skimpy cheerleader outfit

There is also a ridiculously rushed love story between Billy (Joe Alwyn) and a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh).  The main purpose of these scenes seems to be to show a beautiful  actress in her skimpy cheerleader outfit as much as possible.

Director Ang Lee

Director Ang Lee

The camera work was also awful. There are several times where the actors  are talking directly to the camera which is about three inches from their faces. Supposedly  the movie was originally  going to be in 3D but then was changed to 2D. That  may account for the strange cinematography. This bad camera work is very unfortunate,  considering that director Ang Lee is known for his beautiful movies like Life of Pi.

We are not sure exactly what Ang Lee was trying for with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Whatever it was did not work.

 

 

Atari Game Over- the myth and mystery of the E.T. Game

The documentary Atari – Game Over on Showtime is a fascinating look at  the urban legend of Atari’s “E.T. game” which is considered to be the worst video game ever made. The E.T. game was supposedly so bad that it destroyed Atari and almost the entire video game industry with it. Part of the legend is that Atari was so ashamed of the E.T. Game that it buried millions of copies of it in the desert outside Almagordo New Mexico

Atari E.T. Game considered the worst game of all time

Atari E.T. Game considered the worst game of all tim

Atari started in the coin operated video game industry.  The founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney changed the world when they came up with a method to bring games onto your home T.V. set. “Changed the world” may sound like complete hyperbole, but it is not. This was in the early 1970s and people did not have home computers and iPhones were still decades in the future. The Atari system made an ordinary television set an interactive medium.  It gave kids a glimpse into what the future could be. Thousands of geeky kids who played the early Atari games went on to become computer programmers, game and web designers and internet entrepreneurs. The Atari games were not great, but they stimulated the imaginations of kids who envisioned a universe of great computer applications.

Like many companies, Atari was actually destroyed by its own success. Early in its history it became part of Warner Communications, which saw Atari as a never ending cash cow. At one point Atari had 80% of the computer game market world wide.

Howard Warshaw - creater of Atari's E.T.

Howard Warshaw – creator of Atari’s E.T.

One of the top game designers at Atari was Howard Warshaw. He pioneered features that are part of all computer games today. He invented the use of “Easter Eggs” which are hidden levels inside games where you can find secret messages if you unlock something. He also gave games backstories. He made a hit game Yar’s Revenge about intelligent ants attacking from outer space. Before the game was released he wrote an entire comic book explaining who the ants were, where they were from and how they had come to power.

Atari E.T. Yes, that square green thing is supposed to be E.T.

Atari E.T. Yes, that square green thing is supposed to be E.T.

Then in 1982, Howard Warshaw was given an impossible task. Atari paid $22 million for the rights to use E.T. in a video game. But the deal had been finalized so late in the year that making the Christmas season was ridiculously tight. Atari gave Howard Warshaw only 5 weeks to design, program and complete E.T. the video game.

To Warshaw’s credit he actually came up with a game. The problem was it was awful. Basically the little E.T. character did nothing but wander around a mostly blank landscape, and occasionally fell down holes that were hard to get out of.  A little FBI agent and a scientist tried to capture him. E.T. could “phone” Elliott to help get him out of the holes. That’s the whole game.

The game had a beautiful picture of E.T. on the cover and millions of people who had loved the movie E.T. bought them. Then people played the actual game and hated it. Hated it like they had never hated a game before. Millions and millions of games were returned to stores for refunds.

Atari games at the Almagordo dump

Atari games at the Almagordo dump

Atari -Game Over focuses much of its running time on the search for the dumped games in the New Mexico landfill. This is actually the least interesting part of the film. Watching a bunch of machines dig in a dump is not exciting.  However, the interviews with the people who worked at Atari during its heyday are great. They tell stories of the wild times and drugs that were a part of the everyday scene.

Howard Warshaw himself comes across as a very likable person.  He had a rough time after the failure of E.T. He became a pariah  in the industry and left it completely. He tried being a real estate agent, and eventually got a masters in Psychology and became a clinical psychologist.

The truth is that the senior officers at Warner Communications, which owned Atari, made a strategic mistake and then blamed the failure on the young game designer. They should never have spent  $22 million to get the rights to use the E.T. name, and then ordered 1 guy to whip up a game in 5 weeks. Instead, they should have used $5 and spent a year having an entire team of people develop something original, even if it was not based on a movie.  The executives at Warner had no respect for the Atari  customers and failure was the result. Warner did not understand that the “geeks” buying Atari products expected value for their money the same as any other customer.

Atari Game Over is an interesting look at a bygone era when computer technology was just beginning its leap to the future.

 

 

Arrival – audiences love it or hate it

Audiences seem to love or hate the new Sci-Fi film Arrival. We loved it. People who hate it complain that it does not have enough action. Those people are missing the point. Arrival is not trying to be an action movie. Arrival  tries to explore one possibility of what might really happen if intelligent beings from outer space suddenly came to earth.

Alian ship hovers in Arrival

Alien ship hovers in Arrival

In many Sci-Fi movies, beings from outer space  are beautiful men and women who happen to speak perfect English. Even in movies where they are strange looking creatures, they still speak English. Communication is never a problem.  Arrival shows that communication would be the main issue. Creatures from another world would not just speak a different language. They would have a completely different communication structure. In fact, their idea of what communication is would be almost incomprehensible to us.

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams in Arrival

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams in Arrival

Arrival begins when huge ships from another world come to Earth and hover menacingly over various locations around the globe. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a brilliant linguistics professor who is brought in to try to ask the aliens one question. “Why are you here?”

Tzi Ma as General Shang in Arrival

Tzi Ma as General Shang in Arrival

Thousands of scientists throughout the world are trying to ask the same question.  As the weeks drag on and very little progress is made, General Shang, the head of the Chinese military ,urges other world leaders that we must assume the aliens are hostel.  Chan (played by Tzi Ma) urges a military attack against the aliens.

Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber in Arrival

Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber in Arrival

Aliens does not try to have “good guys” or “bad guys.” It avoids the usual Sci-Fi cliche of having the scientists as good and the military as bad. The groups are working together to try to do what is best, even if they have different points of view. Forest Whitaker is American Colonel Weber.

At one point Professor Banks urges patience and points out how difficult it was for the Europeans to originally communicate with the Australian Aborigines. Colonel Weber asks her to remember that the Europeans ended up almost completely wiping out the Aborigines.  In fact, every time in history an “advanced civilization” has come into contact with a more “primitive” one, the primitive people have suffered horrible consequences. The military leaders have good reason to be worried. Humans are now the primitive civilization.

Abigail Pniowsky as Hannah in Arrival

Abigail Pniowsky as Hannah in Arrival

The acting throughout Arrival is excellent  Jeremy Renner is physicist Ian Donnelly, who is working with Louise Banks and trying to use mathematics to crack the code of alien communication. Abigail Pniowsky is Hannah, Louise Banks’ daughter. Dr. Banks is plagued by bittersweet memories of Hannah, who eventually died of cancer. However, Dr. Banks knows that the key to learning the Alien language is somehow the same as the way Hannah originally learned to communicate as a child.

There are ways Arrival could be better. It verges on being a little too preachy.  All of the countries on Earth only have a piece of the puzzle , and must work together to solve it. The fact that the world is a mess and people cannot get along has been a theme in Sci-Fi movies since film was invented. The way the aliens look is also a little cheesy. They are kind of a mix between a giant elephant and a giant octopus. They also wear no clothing, which drives us crazy about many Sci-Fi movies. Why is it always assumed that creatures from other planets never have clothing?

However, these flaws are minor and do not take away from the general uplifting theme of the movie.

Hush – a new horror movie in the classic style

Hush is a heart pounding horror movie in which a deaf-mute young woman is forced to fight off a psychotic killer. Hush is crafted in the classic style allowing the audience to get to know and like the character before she is suddenly thrust into a life or death battle.  It is an amazingly well done film, using only four characters.

Hush Killer

Maddie peacefully reviews her emails unaware of the killer approaching

Kate Siegal stars as Maddie, a deaf-mute writer who lives alone in a rural community and works obsessively  on her novels. Her only contact with the outside world comes from an occasional visit from her neighbor, and from emails. It is a peaceful, if lonely existence.

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

We get to know and like Maddie and her neighbor Sarah (played by Samantha Sloyan), when Sarah comes to visit. Sarah has been learning sign language, and she and Maddie happily converse about cooking, boyfriends and Maddie’s latest novel.  It seems like the beginning of a romantic “chick flick”.

But the tone suddenly changes after Sarah leaves. Maddie is in the kitchen happily cooking, while outside the window we see Sarah come running up, perused by a man with a knife.  As Maddie concentrates on cooking, Sarah is screaming while the man repeatedly plunges a large hunting knife into Sarah’s back. Maddie, despite only being a few feet away, is unaware of the screams.  The killer then turns his attentions on Maddie, who at first, does not even know she is being targeted.

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

The rest of the movie is Maddie trying to get away from the Killer. When he steals her cell phone and cuts the internet service, Maddie is truly alone.  Hush, of course,  pays homage to the classic play and movie  Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman fighting off a killer. Maddie, realizes that she cannot run from or reason with the killer.  She comes  up with ways to use her very deafness against the killer.

Hush is an independent film where Kate Siegel is not only the main actor, but also the co-writer. Mike Flanagan directed and co-wrote the film. John Gallagher Jr. is excellent as the cold  psychopath.

Hush will keep you on the edge of your seat, frightened as this vulnerable gentle woman struggles to survive against unfathomable evil.

 

Tamara Drewe – a perfect little comedy that takes you Far From The Madding Crowd

Tamara Drewe is a perfect little comedy of intrigue and infidelity at a writers’ retreat in rural England.  It is told through the eyes of two 15 year old schoolgirls who are so bored in their dull country town that they spend their days spying on the adults and causing mischief. Tamara Drewe premiered in 2010 but is just as amusing today, and worth watching if you are in the mood for a bawdy comedy

The setting is the sleepy bucolic fictional  English town of Ewedown, where a successful crime novelist and his wife earn extra money by hosting a “writers camp” on their country estate. They encourage a small group of earnest but spectacularly  unsuccessful would- be writers, who spend their days composing truly awful literature while looking out at the English countryside.

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

This peaceful routine is thrown into chaos by the arrival of the beautiful Tamara Drewe (wonderfully played by Gemma Arterton). Tamara is soon perused by three very different  men, with the whole village guessing as to which one she will chose. In fact, Tamara Drewe is based on the Thomas Hardy novel Far From The Madding Crowd.  A hint to this is that one of the writers is a Professor Bill Camp (played by Glen McCreavy) who is writing a book about Thomas Hardy.

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara DreweCasey Shaw & Jody Long in Tamara Drewe

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara Drewe

However, unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, this village has two 15 year old schoolgirls spying on everything and, in fact, messing with the plot.  The real stars of Tamara Drewe are Jessica Barden as Jody Long, ans Charlotte Christie as Casey Shaw.

Dominic Cooper

Dominic Cooper as the Rock Star drummer Ben Sergeant

Jody & Casey spend their days sneaking cigarettes and reading magazines about pop stars. Fifteen year old Jody has a mad schoolgirl crush on the rock star Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper.) By chance, Sergeant comes to town and begins dating Tamara. Jody becomes insanely jealous.  She comes up with a bizarre plan to disgrace Tamara and win Sergeant for herself, despite the fact that Sergeant has never even met Jody. At one point, she hacks Tamara’s email account and then, posing as Tamara, sends out a lewd email to the three men interested in Tamara.

All the actors in Tamara Drewe are great, but Jessica Barden is fantastic. After this film she went on to become a well known  British actor, and also had a major role in the movie Hannah with Saoirse Ronan.

Jody and her friend Casey see and hear all that is going on in the village and allow us to see the world anew through the eyes of 15 year olds. Their shock and amazement at the infidelities, hypocrisies and general foolishness of so-called “adults” is what makes Tamada Drewe great. We realize that for teenagers, the great love stories of “older people” just seem ridiculous.

Jody’s absolute  love for her Rock Star idol far surpasses the superficial love adults feel for each other. The fantasy scenes in which Jody imagines what will happen when she finally meets him are hysterical in their “over the top” imagery.  When the Rock Star finally  comes to town, Jody actually does get to interact with him, but not at all in the way she had imagined.

Tamara Drewe is a fun movie  that combines a classic 1874 love story with the unexpected chaos and capaciousness of modern-day life.  We found it a joy to watch.

 

Camp X-Ray – an enthralling psychological drama

Camp X-Ray is an enthralling psychological drama about the interaction between the detainees  and guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Kirsten Stewart gives an amazing performance as a Private Amy  Cole, a new  guard assigned to watch over the “hard core” detainees. The “hard core” prisoners are those  who refuse to accept the rules, and there is a constant grueling psychological  warfare between them and the Army guards.

Although the guards are not supposed to converse or interact with the prisoners, it is almost impossible not to. The guards are stuck in a small windowless hallway for 12 hour shifts,  with their only function to walk back and forth and watch the prisoners.

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

A prisoner names Ali (played by Peyman Moaadi) constantly tries to strike up conversations with Cole.  Finally out of sheer boredom and loneliness, Cole begins to answer him. Ali is intelligent, fanatical and somewhat crazy.  He has already been at Guantanamo for 6 years.

Camp X-Ray does not try to take a political position  about whether or not the Guantanamo Bay prison should exist.  It’s focus is simply on two people trying to survive while at the same time remaining true to themselves.

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

At one point Private Cole asks Ali why he doesn’t just follow the rules, since that would make everything easier for him. Ali’s answer is that “if we followed the rules, we would be accepting that you have the right to give us the rules.”

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

The punishments for infractions are severe. Prisoners who refuse to eat are force fed through tubes. Those who scream in their cells are brought down and shackled by a 5  soldier team.

The prisoners are allowed to choose books to read, which the guards bring to the cells. Ali is obsessed with Harry Potter and is enraged that for 6 years he has been unable to get the final book. He is convinced that that the Americans purposely withheld the final book to punish him. Is he right, or is he just going crazy?  Kirsten Stewart and Payman Moaadi are amazingly talented actors, and their interactions are riveting.

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

Payman Moaadi is an Iranian-American actor who has also starred in A Separation, and The Night Of.  His intensity always brings out the best in all the other actors he performs with.

Marco Kahn is Mahmoud, the most violent of all the hard core prisoners. His sheer size makes difficult for even 5 guards to control him during  his rages. The other prisoners respect his resistance, but also feel he is a bit of a an arrogant jerk.  At one point he forces the prisoners to go on a hunger strike to demand a piece of exercise equipment. When the Colonel finally  caves in and gives them the equipment, the prisoners never use it.  The strike was, of course, never about the equipment, but about a test of will.

John Carroll Lynch is Colonel Drummond, the commander of the prison. He openly admits that he hates the assignment.  Col. Drummond points out it is the type of job that if you do it perfectly no one notices, but if you make a mistake it is a major international incident.

Lane Garrison is the tough as nails Corporal Ransdell. At one point, he makes Private Cole guard Ali while Ali is taking a shower. Ransdell knows that for  a Muslim, having a strange woman see you naked is humiliating.

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Ransdell gives Cole the assignment anyway, asking her “Are you a soldier, or a Female soldier?”.   The question of people trying to decide who they really are is main focus of Camp X-Ray. In a sense Colonel Drummond, Private Cole and Prisoner Ali are all trying to see if in their insane violent world they can somehow also remain Human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Jane Austen would have loved it

Jane Austen would have loved the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It takes the plot, characters and time period of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the Zombie Apocalypse. Mr.and Mrs. Bennet are trying to find suitable husbands of wealth and breeding for their 5 unmarried daughters, despite the fact that England is overrun with zombies.

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

The upper classes are stoically maintaining their traditions, while at the same time desperately  fighting for their very survival.  What Jane Austen would love about  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, is that the women are the expert zombie fighters. Mr. Bennet made sure that all of his daughters were trained in martial arts, swordplay and firearms.

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

When zombies attack; the women do not stand by meekly and watch the men fight. The women take the forefront in the assault, and wield swords. Of course, they do this while still attired in  the type of long gowns that a proper young lady would wear.

The movie did not do very well at the box office. Probably because most people who watch zombie movies have never read any of Jane Austen’s works. Regular zombie movie lovers may find the plot too complex to follow. At the same time, Jane Austen readers may find the blood and gore of the zombie scenes a little too much to take.

On the other hand, we loved it. You know exactly from the title what the movie is going to be about. We found that it added a fun new twist to the tired old zombie genre.  The acting is also very good. The movie is never played as a spoof and never tires to be camp.

Even with the zombies present, the movie keeps the gist of the novel’s plot and characters. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcey pursue their tumultuous relationship. Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley fall in and out an in love.

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

The actors are all superb. Lily James is terrific as the sword swinging Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote is great as her sister Jane. Sam Riley is perfect as the brooding Mr. Darcey, and Doughlas Both is wonderful as the handsome and wealthy Mr. Bingley.

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

There is even a mini Game Of Thrones reunion. Lena Headey (Better known as Cersie Lannister) is Mr. Darcey’s zombie-fighting aunt. In Price & Prejudice & Zombies Charles Dance is now head of the Bennet family instead of being head of the Lannisters. Even Wilko Johnson, who plays The Executioner on Game Of Thrones, shows up as a henchman in Price & Prejudice & Zombies.  It seems like a bunch of the actors from Game Of Thrones said, “Hey, we have some time off, let’s go make a zombie movie.”

Still, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is not for everyone. Some people may think that combing a classic novel by Jane Austen with a silly zombie movie is like having a fine bottle of French Chardonnay with a bowl of Fruit Loops.  But why not give it a try? You may find they go together better that you imagined.

 

Children Of Heaven – A loving look at ordinary Iranians

The 1997 film Children Of Heaven is a beautiful movie about an ordinary poor family in Tehran, Iran. It has no political agenda. Watching it may give you a different perspective on people who many Americans view as nothing more than “enemies”.

Children of Heaven revolves around a lost pair of shoes, and the adventures  of two kids trying to get them back. A middle-school boy named Ali has been given the task to bring his younger sister’s shoes to be repaired by the local cobbler. Through a series of mishaps he ends up losing them on the way home.

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The kids  do not want to tell their father since they know he is too poor to buy a new pair. The brother and sister (Zahra) end up secretly sharing one pair of sneakers between them while desperately searching for the lost shoes

What makes this film so beautiful is that it is not played for pathos. Children of Heaven is not about how poor the family is. The film is about a loving family that cares for each other despite happening to be poor.  Ali’s father is a hard worker and his mother is too ill to work. Despite their problems  the family unit remains strong and caring.

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven is also about the natural resilience of children. In one scene Ali and Zahra are washing their one pair of sneakers, and begin playing with the soap bubbles. Their laughter and happiness are wonderful to watch.

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven also shows parts of Iran that we never see on American T.V. Ali and his father bicycle to the wealthy section of Tehran to look for jobs as gardeners. The houses and gardens shown would be the envy of many rich American suburbanites. There is also a running race in a beautiful park around a huge crystal clear lake.

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

In 1997, Children of Heaven was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film . (The first Iranian film to earn that honor). It came in second to the Italian film Life Is Good.  The acting in the film is perfect. Mir Farrokh Hashemian is Ali and Resa Naji is the little sister. It never feels like they are acting.  It seems as if you are truly watching  the everyday life of kids. Bahare Seddiqi is the hard working, but not too bright father, and Fereshteh Sarabandi is the loving mother.

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Director Majid Majidi made Children Of Heaven for only $180,000. He filmed the  movie  surreptitiously in Tehran so that he could get natural shots of everyday street  and crowd scenes.

We found Children of Heaven a pleasure to watch and give it our highest rating.

 

 

 

 

Election – the 1999 comedy that is better than our current election mess

If, like everyone else in America, you can’t wait for this horrible Presidential election to be over, take a break and watch the 1999 movie Election.  This hilarious comedy stars Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a hyper over-achiever running for Student Council President at a high school in Omaha Nebraska. Tracy is so much smarter, more ambitious and driven than the other students that she assumes there will be no contest.

Reese Witherspoop as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

The problem is that the friendly and popular teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) secretly hates her and is doing everything in his power to sabotage her election. While pretending to help her, he goes behind her back and persuades Paul, a nice but dumb football quarterback to run against her. Chris Klein is perfect as the likable but moronic Paul.

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

As Election continues  Tracy and Mr. McAllister turn to ever more devious and underhanded tactics.  Despite the fact that Student Council President is a completely meaningless office, Tracy and Mr. McAllister are willing to do anything to win, including fixing the results.

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Be warned that this is sort of a raunchy comedy and not intended for little kids. Mr. McAllister hates Tracy  because Tracy had a secret affair with another teacher. The affair did not become known to the student body, but it ruined the other teacher’s career and his marriage.

There are also quite a few sex jokes. One scene shows each of the main character praying to God before going to bed.  Tracy and Mr. McAllister both pray for things they want. On the other hand, Paul the quarterback gives the following heartfelt prayer.

” Dear God- Thank you for all your blessings. You’ve given me so many good things, like good health, nice parents, a nice truck, and what I’m told is a large penis.”

So, if you are in the mood for a raunchy fun comedy about an Election where the results don’t really matter, take a look at this 1999 film. Perhaps for a short time it can make you forget  the real election mess we are being subjected to right now.