Monthly Archives: November 2016

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.

High Tech/Low Cost/Made In America – TIPS Sticker Stylus

The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ is a unique new tech product.  It sticks on to the end of a pen or pencil and allows you to use it as a computer stylus.  Apple calls its stylus the Apple Pencil™ and sells it for $99.00.  TIPS™ converts a pencil into a stylus at a cost of $1.99.

TIPS Sticker Stylus comes in a flat envelope

TIPS Sticker Stylus comes in a flat envelope. A pack of 6 costs $11.94, which comes to only $1.99 each.

The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ was designed in the United States and is 100% made in the U.S. by a new entrepreneurial company based on the East Coast. (That’s right –  not all tech entrepreneurs live in California)

TIPS Sticker Stylus

TIPS Sticker Stylus

This innovative yet cost-effective new product has a number of really cool features:

  • Turns any pen or pencil into a capacitive (touchscreen stylus)
  • If you want to, you can use it as a screen stylus and write on  paper simultaneously. Even the Apple Pencil™ cannot do that.  It is  ironic that the Apple Pencil™ cannot function as an actual pencil. The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ can.
TIPS Sticker Stylus fits into a Smartphone case

TIPS Sticker Stylus easily Fits into a Smartphone case

The fact that the TIPS Sticker Stylus™ fits into a smartphone case, means it is easy to carry around without losing it.

If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift  at a reasonable price East Coast Stories recommends the TIPS Sticker Stylus™.

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.

The Suicide Tree

Alex hiked deep into the woods looking for the perfect place to kill himself. He carried no food or water. He would be dead long before thirst or hunger became a problem. He had no suicide note and had posted no video with final words. Alex knew that there was no point. As far as the rest of the world was concerned he had died long ago.

Christmas decoration in the deep woods

The suicide tree in the deep woods

At the busy mall where Alex worked he was completely invisible to everyone. He was the old guy behind the counter. He was of no more importance than the napkin dispenser or the soda machine. Alex was just an object. Alex could not remember the last time anyone  had looked him in the eye as he handed them the food. People did not even bother to glance up from their iPhones.

It had not always been like this. In what now seemed like a different lifetime, Alex had been the gorgeous guy all the girls turned their heads to see. Two hundred sit-ups every morning had given him the washboard stomach he had shown off at the pool every summer. Now he was almost out of breath from his long hike, and the days past when he had a perfect body seemed like something out of a dream.

Alex looked up and in the distance saw the place where he was meant to die. It was a dead cedar tree, denuded of bark, with a soft carpet of leaves and dirt under it. Alex reached in his pocket to make sure his suicide device was still with him. He pulled out a clear plastic bag, and a long length of twine.

Alex had thought for a long time about exactly how to commit suicide. He had no way to get a gun, and knives seemed so painful. Then he came up with the idea that was so simple he was amazed he had not thought of it before. He would put the plastic bag over his head, and use the twine to make sure it was air-tight.  Then he would lie down and let the peaceful sleep come to him.  In just minutes it would be over.

The weather was cold and there was supposed to be a deep snowfall that night. Alex had chosen this day on purpose. He wanted the deep snow to cover his body. He was hoping he would never be discovered.  Alex wondered about wolves, but then realized that no wolves had been in these woods for more than a century. Nothing left now but some deer and hundreds of chipmunks.

Alex reached the tree and lay down under it, exhausted by his hike. He lay flat on a pile of leaves and stared up at the cedar tree and the sky. Then he  noticed something odd. There was something blue and shiny on the tree. Alex stood up and saw it was a Christmas ball.

Alex looked around to see who might have put the decoration there, but he was alone in the woods. It had taken Alex  three hours of driving and two hours of hiking to reach this spot. Why was this decoration on this exact tree in this exact spot on the last day of his life?

He reached up and took the ball off the tree, and saw there was a tiny hand written note taped to the back. In beautiful cursive writing the note read;

“The woods are lovely dark and deep.

But you have miles to go before you sleep”

A shudder ran through Alex’s body. Who had written the note and why had the words of the Frost poem been changed? When Alex was a boy the old folks has told stories about witches in these woods. Had the stories been true all along?

Alex carefully replaced the Christmas ball on the tree. Then he searched through the woods until he found three lovely pine cones. He took the twine from his pocket, tied the pine cones together and hung them on the tree as another decoration.  He steeped back and admired his work. The pine cones  looked good next to the blue Christmas ball.

Alex was very tired and it took him almost three hours to hike back to his car. When he got back to the parking lot he took the plastic bag out of his pocket and threw it in a trash receptacle.

Alex got in his car and started him motor.  He looked at his watch and realized he had just enough time to go home, take a shower and then get to his night shift at the mall.

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.

Tracy Ullman is back and better than ever

Comedian Tracy  Ullman is back on HBO with her own show and is better than ever. The more you know about European politics the funnier you will find it.  It is basically a skit show making fun of European politicians and various British stereotypes. One of the funniest is when Tracy Ullman plays Angela Merkel trying to pick out what to wear to a meeting of European Union ministers. Prime Minister Merkel’s closet contains nothing but frumpy pants suits, all in various shades of beige. However, Merkel  is worried that she will look too sexy in them and that will be  distracting for the male members of the EU.

Tracey Ullman as Angela Merkel

Tracey Ullman as Angela Merkel

There is also a dark humor skit of a Very British job interview at a major bank where Tracy is being considered for the position of project manager. Partway through the interview, the bank managers bring up the fact that Tracy had previously  been convicted of “crimes against humanity”  when she worked for an African dictator. Tracey turns that into a favorable attribute, pointing out that it took tremendous project management skills to organize the transportation, imprisonment and execution of huge numbers of people. The bank executives agree, and offer her a high level position.

The Real Angela Merkel

The Real Angela Merkel

Tracey Ullman has the incredible to skill to be able to completely transform into various public figures from Maggie Smith to Angela Merkel to Dame Judi Dench. It feels like you are actually watching the public figure doing strange things, rather than an actor pretending.

Tracey Ullman as Dame Judi Dench

Tracey Ullman as Dame Judi Dench

We are not sure if The Tracey Ullman Show will catch on in the U.S. It may just be too European for American tastes. However, we loved it and give it our highest rating.

The Real Dame Judi Dench

The Real Dame Judi Dench

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.