Category Archives: Movies

Deathly Hallows Is Deathly Long

  The new Harry Potter installment is a must-see for fans of the books and movies.  However, if you don’t already know the story line, don’t bother seeing this film.  Knowing what has gone before is essential to understanding the story.

Also, it’s just too long.   The run-time is two and one-half hours.  They started losing me around the hour and forty-five minute mark when the feeling of prolonged screenwriting became palpable.  This is understandable, as they took the last book and broke it up into two movies to increase their profits.  Which they will.

So they decided to sacrifice quality for increased profitability.  What a shock.

Tony Curtis, Dead at 85

 photo: wiki commons  Tony Curtis, died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Nevada last night.  He was 85.  For those of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, this guy was the king of cool.   Mr. smooth.  His beginnings though, were humble.

Bernard Schwartz, was born in the Bronx in June of 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who emigrated to the U.S. following World War I.  His father was a tailor, the family moving frequently as he looked for work.

In 1959 Curtis recalled, “I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids…I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block.”

According to his profile on IMDB-

“Tony was to find this real-life experience a few years later when he enlisted in the Marines in 1942. Tony spent the next three years getting the life experience he desired, as he did everything from working as a crewman on a submarine to honing his future craft as an actor by performing as a sailor in a stage play at the Navy Signalman School in Illinois.”

After the war he used the GI Bill to study acting, eventually marrying Janet Leigh.

Tony Curtis appeared in more than 100 films, including Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.”  The movie co-starred Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, and was ranked by the AFI as the funniest film ever made.   As good as “Hot” was, Blake Edwards “Operation Petticoat,” which put Curtis together with Cary Grant, Gavin MacLeod and Dina Merrill, will always be one of my favorite films.  The hustling “procurement officer” for a beaten-up submarine limping its way through the war,  Lt. JG Nick Holden, was a role tailor made for the Curtis persona.

I had the pleasure of meeting  Mr. Curtis just once, during a promotion for his artwork at a gallery in West Los Angeles.  Off-screen, I found him to be pretty much the same smiling, congenial character he played in all those movies.  I recall being impressed with his painting, which has been described as “Matisse-like.”  I remember thinking, “I should probably buy one of these now, because one day this guy’s paintings will be worth a whole lot of money….”  I didn’t.  I wish I had.

Tony Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of an escaped convict in “The Defiant Ones” released in 1958.   He married six times and had five children, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Cameron Most Powerful Filmmaker In The U.K.

 With just two of his films, “Titanic” and “Avatar” bringing in more than $4 billion, the Guardian has named James Cameron “as the person wielding the most power over the UK film industry.” 

The newspaper puts Cameron at the very top of its first “Film Power 100” list.

“Cameron, whose films Avatar and Titanic have taken a total of $4.61bn (£2.94bn) at the box office, took the top spot ahead of fellow director Steven Spielberg and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has replaced Tom Cruise as the go-to leading man for big-budget movies. Cruise did not make the list.” -The Guardian

Finally, A Movie Worth Seeing

   Had some time to kill this afternoon, so I hit the local Archlight.    The movies with start times I needed were limited, so against my best judgment, I settled on “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”    I was afraid it was another kiddie flick, and I was right.  The opening shot sequence was brilliant.  After that, it fell to pieces.  It appears to be a fantasy designed to appeal to teenage girls with a Rambo complex.  Or teenage boys who have the hots for teenage girls with a Rambo complex.  I left after the first half hour or so.  Couldn’t take any more.   I was about to start laughing.

With some time left, I bought a ticket to “Takers.”  I’m glad I did.   This is the best cops and robbers flick since “Heat.”   It’s similar in style, although “Takers” is amped up a bit.  Great characters, great plot, and an outstanding use of cinema verite’.  Not so little that it feels superficial and not so much that it makes you seasick.  Just enough to make you feel like you’re actually in the middle of the action.  Kudos to director John Luessenhop and DP Michael Barrett, for pulling it all together.   I wasn’t just glued to my seat, I was riveted, and it was great to see all the Los Angeles locations.

The gunfight at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel may have been somewhat over the top, but by that time I was so carried away by the action that I no longer cared.

The critics on “Rotten Tomatoes” give it a 30% “fresh” rating.  I couldn’t disagree more.  I’d call it 80% fresh.

The folks over at IMDB call it “highly flawed but ultimately successful.”  Now there’s some masterful double-talk.

If you liked “Heat,” you’ll probably love “Takers.”  This is a heavy duty shoot em’ up action thriller.  It is not a sensitive touchy-feely film for persons who may be on the passive aggressive side or those who are faint of heart.

Bottom line:  This film is hugely underrated.

A Movie Or A Bad Joke?

 

Well, a couple of movies, actually.  I’ll get to the bad joke in a minute.  First let’s do “Toy Story 3.”

I don’t normally see kid flicks, but this one was recommended to me by an adult.  A sane, intelligent, fully functioning adult.  We were talking at a party and she did such a selling job on this film, saying “It’s a fantastic film for adults too!”  “You’ll absolutely love it!”   So I went.  I sat through the whole thing.  It’s a great movie for kids age 5 through….maybe….12.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of  99% “fresh.”  Yes!  99%!  That was another reason I wanted to see it.  I think it’s just a really good kid flick.  For little kids only.  And adults who collect stuffed animals.  For themselves.  And name each and every one.

Then came the super-hyped “Inception” with Leo DiCaprio.   I love good science fiction.  Something with a story that grabs you and never lets go.  Edge of the seat stuff with writing that comes from out of nowhere and smacks you in the head.  Films with a subtlety that carries the ability to surprise and even shock.  This, sadly, has none of that.

It has ear-splitting, gut-shaking audio and a plot that reminded me of one of the latter episodes of  “Lost.”  Remember “Lost?”  When it hit a point where the writers were so lost that there was nothing resembling a story left to even try and follow?  Remember that feeling of being played by a sucker by a group of stoned-out writers?  Well, that’s what I felt like I had been sucked into with “Inception.”  You don’t know if you are watching a dream or a dream within a dream wrapped in a riddle.  You don’t don’t really know what the hell’s going on, except that it’s loud and the graphical engineering is impressive.   Painful loudness and great graphics do not constitute entertainment.  This movie sent me screaming for the exits after only 45 minutes.  I was the third person to leave the theater.

You may condemn me for passing  judgment without sitting through the entire film, but after more than 30 minutes of such horribly confused and tangled writing and deafening sound with no plot in sight, I was certain that from its inception this was nothing but a huge bore.   Nevertheless,  the critics on “Tomatoes” give this one a rating of 87% “fresh.”  I’ve gotta think that somewhere the guys who wrote the screenplay are sitting around counting their money and having a good laugh.   87% “fresh?”  Some of the critics must be going along with the crowd out of fear of being ridiculed for losing their chops for reviewing contemporary films.   Fear of being scorned by your peers can be a tremendous motivator.  Or maybe there are so many of us spaced out on anti-depressants these days that none of it really matters.

The Ghost Writer

 The Ghost Writer - Summit Entertainment

It usually takes me a while to process movies.   A few hours at least, although sometimes I need to sleep on it.   And so, I have no shame in telling you that after viewing “Ghost Writer” it took me few minutes before the bulb went on and I realized that Roman Polanski made a movie on location in Cape Cod, without leaving Europe.

Cute trick, if you can pull it off.   Polanski did.

I was sitting there, totally sucked in by the illusion that everything had been shot on location.  I made a mental note to email my sister just outside of Boston, telling her to be sure and see the film.  A few hours later it occurred to me that Polanski was the director.

My in-depth and thoughtful analysis is that it’s pretty good.  Better than many.  Maybe even better than most.   Yes, I’m going with that.  Better than most.  I have a couple of issues with the plot and things slowed down a bit in spots, but not enough to stop me from recommending the film which has a sort of contemporized film noir sinister darkness about it.

Without giving it all away, it deals with the question of why a British Prime Minister would back the moves of a U.S. President when the rest of the world refuses to go along for the ride.   Ring any bells?  Like Tony Blair and Dubya Bush?

I just sent that email to my sister.

The Mind Of Michael Moore

An interesting piece on Michael Moore by Chris McGreal in the Guardian looks at documentarian’s most recent film, “Capitalism: A Love Story” and the mind behind the movie.

“One movie maybe can’t make a difference,” Moore says. “I’ll say, what’s the point of this? What do I want [my audiences] to do? Obviously I want them to be engaged in their democracy. I want them to get off the bench and become active.” -The Guardian

Avatar – A Morality Play For The 21st Century?

 Avatar Movie Poster  Sat through all 2 hours and 40 minutes of “Avatar” the other day and was initially struck by the same attributes the critics are praising.   It’s a wonderful combination of amazing hi-tech visuals coupled with an entertaining story.  It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me.   James Cameron has done much more than make a movie that entertains by setting a new standard for marrying live actors with animation.  He’s put together a film that teaches, much like the movies I saw as a kid in the 50’s and 60’s.

The motion pictures of my youth, starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Audie Murphy and the rest carried a message.  It was always pretty much the same.  Given half a chance and a lot of courage, good, will triumph over evil.   Gene, never drew his gun without good reason.  He and his contemporary good guy heroes pulled their weapons only after being threatened and never because of hubris, avarice or any other generally disgusting human trait.   They drew their  weapons only to defend themselves or others, and even then, only when justice absolutely demanded the use of deadly force.

They were on the side of right, fighting bad guys who often represented greedy people out to impose their will through the use of violence because, well, somebody had to do the right thing.   The strong were supposed to look out for the weak, not take advantage of them.   Our heroes up there on the big screen were the good guys.  They exemplified the American way.  Parents could give their kids money to go to the movies knowing their youngsters would be entertained and get a lesson in decency all in the same package.  Right was might, not the other way around.  You didn’t do something just because you could, you did it because it was the right thing to do.

I was also reminded of Robert Mitchum portraying Brigadier General Norman Cota,  a fearless giant of a man walking the sands of Normandy in “The Longest Day.”  Nazi bullets whizzed by his head as he barked out to his men who had taken cover, “There are only two types of people that are going to stay on this beach, those already dead and those who are yet to die.”   Taking heart from his display of courage, his men grabbed their weapons, got back up, and got back into the fight.  A fight the good guys would eventually win.

Thousands would die in World War II, but America and its allies would save the world from the Nazi threat.  We were the good guys, and that’s what we did.  And this wasn’t fiction.  This had all actually happened.  Our troops were out to do the right thing come hell or high water and they were our real life heroes.  They had walked the walk.  Many had died with their boots on and a gun in their hands to preserve the America we were all continuing to enjoy.  They did it not because there would be economic payback.  They did it because they were confronted by an overwhelming evil and it was the right thing to do.  They did it because it was their duty.  And we learned about it from the movies.

All of it tied into Avatar for me as I was driving home.  Like the cowboy films of the 50’s,  it’s a classic struggle of good vs. evil.  It’s also a love story.  It’s also about the equality of male and female.  Equality between those with physical disabilities and those who are not physically disabled.   The top scientist in the movie is a woman.  The movie’s protagonist is a paraplegic.  Cameron’s got a lot going on here.

The struggle between good an evil is represented by a multi-planetary corporation backed by a mercenary army of former soldiers, out to steal the mineral rights of a people who want the invaders to go away and leave them alone.  Sound vaguely familiar?   But the filmmaker goes way beyond corporate greed driven lust for profit and the obvious parallel between the minerals on a distant moon named “Pandora” and oil lying beneath the sands of the Middle East.

The native humanoid creatures on this moon aren’t just living there.  The entire moon is connected by one big nervous system.   The humanoids, the plants, the trees, the animals.  It’s all one big interconnected organic system with a culture the corporate invaders can’t understand and don’t really care to.  Not when there’s money to be made by stealing the wealth that lies beneath the ground.  Better to blow them all away in the cause of short-term profits than to try and understand the wonders of their moon (opening Pandora’s box)  that could turn out to be far more valuable over the long haul.   Kinda like the short term profits vs. the long term problems of…global warming?

And so the evil mercenaries backed by corporate sponsorship go on the attack with helicopter gunships in the air and robotic armor on the ground.  The Avatar people,  armed only with bows and arrows don’t have a chance.  Or do they?   Will the might of the mercenary army driven by corporate greed overcome right, or will a hero come along to lead the fight to prove that right makes might?

Maybe I just long for the simpler movies of days gone by, before they turned Batman into a psychotic.  Or perhaps James Cameron has gone beyond the norm and there’s a lot more to this film than is generally being recognized.   Avatar’s numbers at the box office would seem to indicated the American people approve.  Even if this film is a tad on the long side and I wish they could have taken the cigarette out of Sigourney Weaver’s mouth.  I think Gene and Roy would have approved.  Not of the cigarette, but of pretty much everything else.

Happy trails to you….

An Outstanding Film

Invictus Movie  With “Invictus,” director Clint Eastwood has again stepped up to the plate and knocked the cover off the ball.  Or in this case, I should probably  say he’s kicked it squarely over the goalpost.  The story about Nelson Mandela using South Africa’s fervor for rugby to pull the country together following the end of apartheid really needs no metaphorical boost and is nothing short of inspirational.

This time the critics got it right.  This is one of the best films to come along in some time.    Could be talking Oscar nominations for best picture and best director.  Also for Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela and possibly for Matt Damon who plays rugby team captain  Francois Pienaar.   The movie is based upon the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation,” by John Carlin.   South Africa went from being a non-contender to winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

And don’t be overly concerned about not understanding the game of rugby.   The film shows the South African national rugby team going out into a township to teach the basics of the game to kids as part of a public relations effort.   The movie’s audience gets a brief rugby lesson in the process.  Clint Eastwood’s a clever guy.  Or maybe it was screenwriter Anthony Peckham.  Either way it was a smart move.