Category Archives: Movies

Movies You Should Miss

   Attempted to go to the movies today.  First, I laid down my money to see “J. Edgar.”  Plenty of great historical material, I thought.  This was a man who was feared by politicians all the way up to the White House because he had files on everybody.  He knew who was sleeping with whom. A guy who claimed America had no organized crime problem at a time when the Mafia was running New York, Chicago and Las Vegas.  A guy rumored to have worn a ballet tutu when no one was watching.  Must be an interesting film.  With so much to work with, there was no way they could screw this up.  Wrong.  As a former colleague used to say, it was “as dull as dishwater.”   Leo DiCaprio, was totally miscast as Hoover.  Didn’t work at all.  Just did not work.

I then tried visiting the horror that is “The Immortals.”  Nothing but a near non-stop special effects bloodbath, apparently targeting teenage boys, who are hopefully too bright to buy into this nonsensical bit of historical revisionism of Greek mythology.  The only character development, the only real acting of note, came from Mickey Rourke as the film’s antagonist.   But even Rourke’s outstanding job as a super-villain couldn’t pull this mess out of the trash-heap of American films that should never have been made in the first place.   I can only handle so many hi-tech decapitations, with the disembodied heads pausing in mid-air for effect, in any sixty-second period.

Save your money.  Stay home and watch a Republican debate.  Far more entertaining and less expensive.

“Margin Call” – A Perfect Storm Of Art And Reality

 photo:  workingreporter.com

Went to see the movie “Margin Call” today and I’m giving it eight stars out of ten.  At least.  Great story, great acting and more than that, an education for anyone who still doesn’t understand how raw greed practiced by those who care only for the game of moving money around to make more money and care nothing for the impact their actions have on vast numbers of people or the nation as a whole nearly brought us down in 2008 and continues to impact the country today.

Here in Los Angeles it’s playing a the Laemmle Theaters, not the bigger chains, probably because the big movie houses don’t think the subject will attract the numbers they’re after, particularly with the teen audience they seem to crave.   If so, they’re making the same mistake they made with “Midnight in Paris.”   I have to think that word of mouth will pull in a crowd for “Margin Call,” just as it eventually did for “Paris.”

Reality check:  There’s a place in the world for movies that attract a thinking adult audience.

While we’re on the subject, take a look at the Facebook page for “Bank Transfer Day.”  More than 71,000 people have now signed on to move their accounts out of the banks and into not-for-profit credit unions.  The call is for people to move their money away from the banks before November 5th.  Coupled with the “Occupy” movement, something’s definitely going on.  Apparently Bank of America is listening, as the Bank has announced that it’s dropping a plan to charge $5 a month for using B of A debit cards.  The other major bankers are following suit.  Do they really think that’ll be enough to improve their image while the American middle class continues to be devastated?

While all that’s going on, the feds have stepped up an investigation into the bankrupt brokerage firm, M.F. Global.  A report in the New York Times says that $600 million in customer’s money seems to be missing, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Comission.   The Times reports that the FBI has also joined the inquiry.  M.F. Global was run by Jon S. Corzine, the former Governor of New Jersey and a former top official at Goldman Sachs.   So far, the Times reports, no one “has been accused of any wrongdoing.” 

In Washington, the spineless Democrats on the so-called “Super Committee” have agreed to screw the nation’s elderly by cutting Medicare if only the big bad Republicans and their masters on Wall Street will conceed to a tax increase here and there.  Only they aren’t called them tax increases.  They can’t, because Republicans start foaming at the mouth and become dangerously flatulent at the mention of taxes.  Makes it impossible to try and get anything done.  Consequently, they are now referring to tax hikes as “revenue increases.”  It’s so much nicer, don’t you think?  I bring it up, only because the greed freak Republicans and any number of Democrats as well, answer not to the people of our fair land but to the call of their masters represented by the top 1% (or maybe 5 to 10%) of the wealthiest Americans and the brokers on Wall Street that handle their billions.  Which brings us back to “Margin Call.”  Go see it.  Or at least watch the trailer.  It’s just below-

“Bustin'” Still Makes You Feel Good

   Saw the original  “Ghostbusters” again last night but not via DVD on my tv set.  No, I watched the original from 1984 as it was intended to be seen, in a movie theater with accompanying boffo movie theater sound.  And kids, Ghostbusters, has still got it.  I’ve always loved the movie, the attitudes of the characters, the creative storyline and the smart writing, but it holds up on the big screen even better than I had imagined.  I had forgotten just how funny Rick Moranis is in his role as the nerdy accountant Louis Tully.  Here’s a bit of the dialogue following the dramatic final battle between the Ghostbusters and the demon Gozer the Gozerian, which leaves everyone covered in marshmallow sauce.

The Ghostbusters and Louis Tully have narrowly escaped death, when Dr. Ray Stantz, played by Dan Aykroyd, says-

Dr. Stantz: Are you okay?

Louis:  Who are you guys?

Dr. Stantz:  We’re the Ghostbusters.

Louis:  Who does your taxes?

It’s an exchange worthy of the Marx Brothers, and a reminder of how lame so much of the current motion picture fare truly is, doing whatever they feel is necessary to draw in the teen audience while ignoring the rest of what once was the movie-going public.

Ghostbusters is a great film because it is…..well….just plain fun, without gratuitous doses of sex, violence, special effects or anything else.

Kudos to ArchLight Cinemas for bringing back some of the old films to their big screens.  My local ArchLight is also bringing back  “The Shining” and Hitchcock’s original “Psycho” with Janet Leigh and Tony Perkins.  If you haven’t seen it, go.

According to IMDB, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are currently working on the screenplay for “Ghostbusters III.”  Gonna be interesting to see what they come up with.  I hope they do a reprise of Ghostbusters I, letting the characters and the story dominate the film rather than making it just another experience that’s overwhelmed by special effects.   We’ve got enough of those as is.  After the phenomenal word-of-mouth success of “Midnight in Paris,” you’d think Hollywood might catch on?

FYI – Archlight Sherman Oaks will again offer the original “Ghostbusters” on All Hallows Eve,  October 31st., at 7:30PM.  Archlight theaters in Hollywood and Pasadena are offering their Halloween showings at 7:15.  I strongly recommend buying tickets in advance.

The Death And Rebirth Of Movies On Film

   Debra Kaufman, reports in Creative Cow Magazine, that movies made on film are going the way of IBM Seclectric typewriters and telegraph keys.   She reports that the companies that made the cameras that make the movies (or used to) are stopping production because nobody’s buying.

According to Kaufman, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. That’s right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”

It’s interesting that while the industry goes digital, the ArchLight theater chain is bringing back old movies.   I went over to see a film  – well, a digital movie, actually – and was informed by the Archlight greeter that the chain is bringing back old films starting with the musical “Funny Girl” starring Barbara Streisand, and “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson, for Halloween.   I see the ArchLight theaters in Sherman Oaks and Hollywood, are already running “Ghostbusters.”

One must presume that if these older films draw an audience, then the ArchLight chain will continue going part retro, leading to some interesting possibilities.  One, is that accomplished acting, good directing and creative writing actually trump special effects, even for teenage boys.  Another,  is that film gives a motion picture something the stark and sometimes overbearing reality of digital, simply does not have.  I don’t even want to get into the impact of 3-D, which will probably turn out to be exactly what it’s been in the past, a fad providing only limited draw.

You have to wonder how long it’ll take the industry to bring out a digital camera that exactly mimics the look of film?  Except that it won’t be.   That won’t matter though, because there will still be non-linear editing and all the other tricks digital brings to the table.  Can’t fight the inevitable.  Anyway, even if you don’t like it, “who ya gonna call?”

A Need To Reclaim Our Soul

   Never did care much for the “Blues Brothers 2000.”  It just didn’t have the snap of the Belushi/Aykroyd original.  Introducing the character of “Buster” didn’t help.  Should have left it to the adults.  Things do finally come together near the end though, with a battle of the bands at the home of a 130 year old voodoo queen deep in Louisiana.  It gets pretty hot as B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Billy Preston and a host of soul and blues legends take the stage.  The one other part of the film that merits attention is Elwood’s speech, delivered in an effort to keep his R&B band together, as they threaten to split up just prior to their arrival at Queen Moussette’s battle of the bands.

It’s then that Elwood says-

“You may go if you wish.  Remember this: Walk away now and you walk away from your crafts, your skills, your vocations; leaving the next generation with nothing but recycled, digitally-sampled techno-grooves, quasi-synth rhythms, pseudo-songs of violence-laden gansta-rap, acid pop, and simpering, saccharine, soulless slush. Depart now and you forever separate yourselves from the vital American legacies of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jimmie Reed, Memphis Slim, Blind Boy Fuller, Louie Jordan, Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny-boy Williamson I (and II), Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Elvis Presley, Lieber and Stoller, and Robert K. Weiss.” -Elwood Blues, Blues Brothers 2000

I bring it up now, because Elwood’s soliloquy seems more prophetic than ever.  We seem to suffer from all the ills he warned against.  So many of the old blues artists are dying off and with them go bits and pieces of our uniquely American musical soul.

“My love is like a fire….yours is like a cigarette.  I watched you step down on it baby and crush it.  Tell me how blue, how blue can you get?”   -How Blue Can You Get?  (Leonard & Jane Feather)

HBO Hits A Bullseye With “Too Big to Fail”

   Just watched “Too Big to Fail” on HBO, and I recommend it.    Although each and every word may not be 100% factually accurate, the acting is outstanding, and the film is nothing short of a public service for thousands of Americans who have a vague feeling they’ve been ripped off, but aren’t sure exactly how it was done.   “Too Big to Fail” provides an education.  If there is a God, it will also result in an outcry for the prosecution of those who were heading criminal banking enterprises that nearly wrecked the economy — and continue to threaten to do so.

This is not a country of, by and for the bankers, who threaten to destroy our economy if we don’t give them exactly what they want.  It’s a country of, by and for the people, and we need to take it back.  Indictments would be an excellent place to start.

It isn’t like there aren’t enough lawyers in Washington to make it happen.   If they can take the time to go after John Edwards for the alleged misuse of campaign funding, they can also go after banking enterprises which may very well be in violation of criminal law and are surely far more egregious than anything Mr. Edwards might or might not have done.   Edwards, is penny-ante.  The ongoing banking scandal represents a threat to our national security that’s arguably potentially more dangerous than anything the Al Qaeda might dream up.

“The Kennedys” On Reelz Is A Real Snoozer

   Started watching “The Kennedys” on the Reelz Channel last night.   The first installment in the 8-part series was a huge disappointment.   There was just nothing there to hold my attention.  Maybe because I wasn’t seeing anything new and what I was seeing felt lukewarm instead of hot?  Except for brief flashes of intensity, it feels like the actors never really “got into” their parts?  There’s also the problem of not being able to watch more than a few minutes of the production without being interrupted by a promo for upcoming installments.   I mean, there you are, trying to get into this thing only to be blasted by another promo every few minutes.  It gave me the feeling that the folks at Reelz, are scared to death the series won’t be able to hold an audience.  They could be right.

Could also have something to do with the fact that it’s all been done before and with greater intensity, although Greg Kinnear’s resemblance to JFK is at times, remarkable.

Maybe the series will improve as it moves forward?  Hope so, although after what I saw last night, I don’t much feel like staying with it.  Might have been better if they’d cut to the chase and started off with the Cuban missile crisis?  Cut it down to a 6-parter?  Yawn….

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Went back for part three on the second night (first two parts aired on the first night) and instead found they were re-running part two.  A bit confusing (and disappointing, cause I wanted to see the next part).  Went back a day later and was able to watch part three.   Didn’t see anything that would change my opinion.  Part three confirmed my feeling that they would have been better off  eliminating the first two parts and starting the thing with the Cuban missile crisis.

Beyond that, except for Tom Wilkinson (Joe Kennedy, Sr.) and Diana Hardcastle (Rose Kennedy) the production still feels lukewarm – as if the actors were being held back – like thoroughbreds who weren’t allowed to stretch their legs and really run.

Caroline’s Pony

   I’ve been thinking about JFK and the so-called “Camelot” years a lot lately.  Can’t help it, with all the publicity in advance of “The Kennedys” being aired on the Reelz Channel.

With the Kennedy family, there’s a lot to think about .  But it wasn’t JFK, or his affair with Marilyn Monroe, or Joe Kennedy’s whisky running and alleged Mafia ties or fixing the ballot in Illinois, or the story of PT-109 that popped into my head.  No, it was none of that.  It was Caroline’s pony.

Long ago,  when I was 13 or 14, my parents took my brother and me to visit the White House.   I had all but forgotten the visit, until my mother mentioned it years later.    I remembered seeing the house, especially the Lincoln bedroom, but had forgotten the little girl riding her pony across the lawn and the toddler down on the ground scrambling to keep up with her.   The little girl was Caroline Kennedy.  The toddler, was her brother, John Jr.

After my mother brought it up, my memory was sufficiently jolted to brush back some of the cerebral cobwebs revealing long forgotten pictures in my mind.  But were my memories real?  The journalist in me questions nearly everything.  Particularly something in the distant past.

That a time existed when the daughter of the President of the United States could ride her pony across the White House lawn is almost beyond belief.  Can you imagine President Obama’s daughters riding ponies on the White House lawn?   Oh sure, the kid’s safety would be an issue, but for any variety of reasons people would probably go nuts.  They went after Michelle Obama for planting a vegetable garden, didn’t they?  A vegetable garden?  We seem to have arrived at a time where you can’t do anything, without somebody, some splinter group somewhere, going crazy about it.  The thought that a little girl would be denied having a pony is just plain sad.

Anyway, I was having trouble convincing myself that I had actually seen what my mother told me I had seen.   My memory, once again sparked  (this time by a tv series), I googled “Caroline Kennedy – horse – White House lawn,” and found this photo.  Would love to know who shot it and when.  Would have been somewhere between 1961 and 1963.  The pony’s name was “Macaroni.”

When thinking about the Kennedys, it’s easy to fall into a sentimental trap.  Still, there was but one American Camelot.  They owned it, and forever will.   To date, there has been but one Cuban missile crisis and JFK prevented it from destroying the world.  Together JFK and his brother Robert, helped put the country on the road to desegregation.    And yes, there was also an overbearing father and Marilyn Monroe and all the rest of it, and still, what a time it was.  They may have been imperfect human beings but they gave a great deal to the country.  JFK and Bobby, gave us all they had.

I continue to have difficulty believing I was there watching Caroline ride that pony across the White House lawn.  In a time and place before her father and uncle were assassinated, denying an entire nation the promise of a new tomorrow.

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“The Kennedys,” an eight-part series, begins airing on the Reelz Channel on Sunday, April 3.  It was originally scheduled to be aired on the History Channel, which dropped the series due to questions about its historical accuracy.   The producer, Joel Surnow, is a conservative.  Questions were raised by liberals, questioning its authenticity.  There was apparently considerable consternation over issues of whether the filmmaker took undue creative license with regard to the Kennedy’s sex lives and whether they had a proclivity for popping pills.  Things apparently went downhill from there, and now it’s airing on “Reelz” rather than “History.”   Which only makes sense.  The History Channel is currently home to “Ancient Aliens” and “Larry the Cable Guy,” so they do have a standard to maintain.

Coming Soon To A Reactor Near You – Total Meltdown

   Went to a movie yesterday.  I went to see “The Lincoln Lawyer,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei.   Good movie, although the director was a little obsessive with his extreme closeups.  I’m really not comfortable with dermatological facial exams on the big screen.  I know it’s done for effect, but the examination of someone’s pores and facial blemishes makes me downright uncomfortable.  Makes we want to leave the theater, even if its a good film, and “Lincoln Lawyer” is a good film.  Even with a prolonged commercial product placement for KTLA-TV near the beginning of the movie.  They could have made it a little less obvious, but the reflection of the old KTLA tower on Sunset Boulevard in the glass wall of an elevator McConaughey is riding in goes on and on and on.  See the movie.  You’ll see what I mean.   Refuse to be distracted by the commercial for my former employer, KTLA, and squirm through  the closeups on McConaughey and Tomei, and just keep watching.  I think it’s worth it.  You may disagree.  But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing this, because of two elderly people (could have been husband and wife), who were sitting a row in front of me at the theater.  They had somehow become engaged in a conversation with a younger man, possibly in his late twenties or early thirties.   The younger guy was complaining about how bad things are, telling the older folks that things went downhill when the Mafia went out of business, ceding control of the country to the corporations.   “Those Mafia guys were real people” the young man argued.  “They were working class guys, and there were jobs.  Now, with the corporations in charge, all the jobs are gone.”  Ergo, he said, we were better off under the Mafia.

The argument is full of holes and can easily be taken down, but it got me thinking.  Or more correctly, the response of the elderly couple, got me thinking.  “This too shall pass” they told the younger man.  “This too shall pass.”  It was a favorite phrase of my late mother.  “Oh ya, it’ll pass” I thought to myself.  “But how many people’s lives will be unnecessarily destroyed by avarice before it passes?  And after that won’t this maddening cycle just begin all over again?  Will we ever be evolved enough to get beyond this silly greed-driven economic engine that wrecks so many lives?”  My wheels were turning.  Just before the movie started I reached the inevitable conclusion that it’s more and more difficult to be optimistic.  About anything, what with the economy, Russia backsliding into fascism, Libya and the rest of  North Africa, the Middle East and the absolutely unbelievable disaster in Japan.  It just goes on and on…

And then I got up this morning and looked at the paper.  And it got even worse.

“The federal government’s radiation alert network in California is not fully functional, leaving the stretch of coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco without the crucial real-time warning system in the event of a nuclear emergency.

Six of the Environmental Protection Agency‘s 12 California sensors — including the three closest to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo — are sending data with “anomalies” to the agency’s laboratory in Montgomery, Ala., said Mike Bandrowski, manager of the EPA’s radiation program.”-LA Times

Suppose this is covered under the category of our crumbling national infrastructure?

Not that any of this should trouble you, but here in California we may really need it.

“The Daily Beast” has rated the vulnerability of nuclear power plants in America, and guess what?  Out of 65 nuclear facilities on the list, San Onofre is ranked as the second most vulnerable in the nation.  Only Indian Point in Buchanan, New York is rated as being more dangerous.  Diablo Canyon isn’t far behind, coming in at fifth place.

So we have two out of the top five and the government’s radiation alert network isn’t working.

It’s difficult to find any reason for optimism.

Go see a movie.  It’ll help take your mind off of things.

Filmmakers Lose the “Battle of Los Angeles”

   I generally don’t go in for this genre, but being an Angelino I decided to suck it up and give it a shot.  Sorry that I did.

“Battle: Los Angeles” is  “The War of the Worlds” all over again but this time the aliens are after our water.   However, this take on the same old theme lacks the personal and emotional draw of the story by H.G. Wells and the subsequent adaptations of his book by Hollywood.  “Los Angeles,” has lots of gunfire, explosions, some excellent special effects and that’s about it.   If you like combat video games (15/16 and younger), you’ll probably like this film.   The Marine Corps might find it has some value as a recruiting tool.  But if you’re not into an audio/visual assault on your senses and not much more, then save your money.    At one point the script was so weak and the directing so bad that the audience burst out laughing during what was supposed to be a key moment of heavy drama.

The critics at Rotten Tomatoes are giving it 33%.  I think that’s about right.

High-def TV Hates Hollywood

   For a number of years now something’s been missing.   Apart from there being an inadequate number of really good films to merit even watching the show, I mean.  However, this year there were some great motion pictures with fine acting and so I decided to give it another chance.   Consequently, this year, once again, I watched the……(wait for it)……Tah dah!…. Academy Awards!

Something is still radically wrong.  It’s just so far removed from the days of Sophia Loren, James Dean, Robert Mitchum and Audrey Hepburn.  The days of Bogart and Bacall.  The show just doesn’t feel right, from the arrivals on the red carpet to the tearful acceptance speeches in the hall. And it’s not the giddy interplay of young starlets lacking the sophistication of yesteryear, when both men and women were “groomed” by the studios to fill the roles they play when parading before the public.  Although that’s definitely a part of it.  No, something more is going on.

For quite some time, Hollywood forgot how to dress.  I fantasized that Louie B. Mayer would come back from the grave, the ghost of moguls past, and haunt those who were pushing themselves off as fashion designers into coming to their senses.   Following several years of doing all they could to force the stars into dressing down to the point that some looked downright laughable,  the designers finally came back to their senses (Blackwell, may have had something to do with it-RIP) and once again appear to be doing what they can to make some of the most attractive people on the planet look like stars.  Except for the unshaven men.   Get over it and shave.  But there’s more to it than that.

Last night, while watching Anne Hathaway going all giddy over just being there, and James Franco continually stumbling over the words he was attempting to read from the prompter (studio grooming wasn’t such a bad thing after all),  it popped into my head.  It’s the high-def tv.  It makes movie stars appear less star-like and more like everybody else.  The harsh, cold reality of high definition exposes every wrinkle, overdone makeup job and out of place hair.   It makes our movie stars look more like people you’d bump into at the supermarket.  Here in L.A., anyway.  Except that they’re all dressed up and wearing a lot of makeup and borrowed jewelry.  When compared to the much softer and more forgiving video of days gone by, it’s just too real.  It’s turned the glamorous fantasyland of Hollywood into a reality show that can’t hope to live up to the image it once had.   The image it’s still trying to achieve.  The image those of us who have been around for a while came to expect.  An image that was in the industry’s best interest.

People don’t turn to the movies for reality.   In Hollywood, image is more important than reality.    High-definition kills the image, tearing it away from the soft, inviting world of fantasy and serving it to us all undercooked and bloody, as stark, cold, realism.   With nothing left to hide behind, except too much makeup, high-def tv has turned the once unattainable perfection of our movie stars into real people.  What a shame.  It’s over.   High-def tv killed it.  Generations to come will never know the illusion of perfection our movie stars once were.

Technology has taken us one step forward and three steps back.

“Cedar Rapids” Fails The Smell Test

   The fact that the alleged comedy “Cedar Rapids” is getting some good reviews (86% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) only proves how standards have plummeted.   Considering the subject matter and some of the cast (Stephen Root, Anne Heche and Kurtwood Smith)  I had high hopes.  However, any hint of sophisticated humor is once again out the door to be replaced by another Dumb and Dumber slide into the world of crude.   Although sorely tempted, I didn’t walk out, even after John C. Reilly set a match to a plume of flatulence, because I thought it was going to turn the corner.  The movie, not the flaming plume of flatulence.  It never did.

Have any of the people putting these films together seen any of the work done by Preston Sturgis, Blake Edwards or Billy Wilder?

When did the American film industry decide to abandon comedic quality?

I’ll tell you when (he said, answering his own question) – when studio execs decided bathroom humor that attracts crowds of teenagers and promotes the continued dumbing down is easier to do and makes more money than sophisticated humor for adults, that’s when.   Their mistake, is they’ve forgotten there’s a ton of money to be made on  great comedies like “10,” which pulled in a big audience without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

Chances are, many of those who “get it” are gone from the business.  And Ed Helms, is no Dudley Moore.  Not even close.  Whether Russell Brand is, remains to be seen.  The remake of “Arthur” starring Brand in the lead and co-starring Helen Mirren in the role of “Hobson” originally played by John Gielgud, is due to be released in April.   Feels like a huge mistake to me.  Like they’re leaning on the skills of Helen Mirren to save it?  We’ll see.

True Grit = Wonderful Western

Finally went to see the Coen Bros. take on “True Grit.”  I’ll brand it a “Twin-W” for wonderful western.  The film comes loaded with a raw edge of reality factor reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.”

Go see it.   Unless you hate westerns.

However, even if you don’t care for westerns, it’s an interesting study in the bonding that takes place between people during times of extreme stress.  In this case, the stress is provided by a 14 year old girl (played by Hailee Steinfeld) setting out to apprehend her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin).  Unable to go it alone, she pays for the help of a crusty old battle scarred U.S. Marshall by the name of Rooster Cogburn.  Turns out a Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoeuf (played by Matt Damon) is also after Chaney, but for a different murder, so all three hook up and head out into Indian country in pursuit of the killer and the gang he’s riding with.

Along the trail there are twists and turns, significant tension between Cogburn and LaBoeuf over the presence of the young girl,  and an ending that provides an unexpected kick in the pants.

Jeff Bridges is outstanding as Rooster Cogburn, but there still is, and always will be, only one John Wayne.  Kudos to Bridges for having the courage to follow Wayne in the roll.  Those are some mighty big boots to fill pardner, but you did one hell of a job.   Damn fine.

Review: The King’s Speech

   The story is the historical drama that kicks off with the abdication of King Edward to marry Wallis Simpson of Baltimore, who was already married.  It was a combo didn’t sit well with the Bits, meaning Edward had to choose between the throne of England and Mrs. Simpson.  He chose Mrs. Simpson and walked away from the throne as Hitler was gearing up to march into Poland, kicking off World War II.

Edward’s abdication meant his brother, “Albert Frederick Arthur George,” became King by default.   He took the name of George VI, and reluctantly accepted the reigns of government.   However, the man clearly wasn’t cut out to be a king.   A stammering problem made public speaking all but impossible and with radio having come on the scene along with the approach of war, lots of public speaking would be called for.

According to the BBC:  “A diffident, even painfully shy, figure who battled throughout his life with a nervous stammer, George VI was the unlikeliest of sovereigns, thrust on to the throne when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936.”

The stammering had to be corrected.

After all the people with “Dr.” in front of their names had tried and failed to correct the King’s speaking difficulties, his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, seeks out a speech therapist by the name of Lionel Logue, an Australian who had been recommended to her even though his methods were said to be somewhat unorthodox.

The story is about how the two men, one the King of England, the other, a commoner, set out on a quest to resolve the King’s speaking problems, both knowing the entire British Empire will be in need of strong well-spoken figurehead for the upcoming fight with Germany.

All of it had to be very hush-hush, as it just wouldn’t do for anyone to know that the King was undergoing therapy.  That sets up one of the film’s best scenes, as Logue’s wife comes home to their modest flat in London, to find both the King and Queen Mother are in the house.

The film stars Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey  Rush as Lionel Logue.  You may remember Rush for his wonderful portrayal of the character “Barbossa” in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

There are no car crashes or ear-splitting gunfire.  There is no gratuitous sex.  Not a single digital video rush designed to short circuit your synaptic sensors. There is however, plenty of outstanding acting coupled with a fascinating story that serves to educate as well as entertain.

I went to a matinee showing.  The audience, which was on the older side, applauded at film’s end.

This will be one of the best movies of the year.

“Fair Game” – Go See It

    Two thumbs up and at least eight out of ten stars for the movie “Fair Game.”  It’s based upon Valerie Plame’s book by the same title, as well as her husband Joe Wilson’s book “The Politics of Truth:  Inside the Lies That Led To War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity.”

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are brilliant as Plame and Wilson.   Beyond that, the action of Plame’s job as a CIA operative and the difficulty she and her husband had in preserving their marriage with two kids as their world fell apart, sucks you in, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.   There’s also the the fact that the film is historically relevant with regard to Ms. Plame’s outing as a CIA operative by members of the Bush Administration.  Details on the way that same Administration fashioned intelligence to suit their own purposes in the runup to war are particularly revealing (and I think, accurate), for anyone who might still be wondering how it all went down with Saddam’s aluminum tubes, “yellowcake” from Niger and the threat of “mushroom clouds” over American cities.

Mostly left out, is the question of the mainstream media’s failure to adequately confront these issues as they were unfolding and to then fulfill their obligation to the American people by holding the Administration’s feet to the fire.  The media, at that time, continued to mostly cower in fear when confronted by the rhetorical machinations of the Rove/Bush PR machine.  There was also a general feeling that it was okay for the nation’s leaders to do whatever might be necessary to protect lives and property.  Anyone who pushed back was deemed un-American.  Bringing that into the film would have done more to emphasize the unusual courage of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.  However, it might also have made an otherwise excellent screenplay far less entertaining by making it longer and giving it the feel of a documentary as opposed to the real life adventure that it was.

That said, the film does contains lessons on on what it means to be an American and continuing the fight to preserve Democracy, even when faced by seemingly impossible odds.  Like taking on the White House.  For that reason alone, it should be screened and discussed in every schoolroom in America.

This is not a film for those who can’t handle the truth.   It isn’t laden with the sex, drugs, gratuitous violence and dumbed-down comedy that pulls in the youth audience.  Consequently, it probably won’t do all that well at the box office.