Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

Hyde Park on Hudson

Bill Murray as FDR

Bill Murray as FDR

In June 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth became the first reigning British monarchs to visit the United States. The purpose of their visit was secure a closer relationship with the United States. They knew they would soon be at war with Germany, and they needed the support of the American people and the American government. For part of their visit, the monarchs were guests of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his home in Hyde Park, NY.

Hyde Park on Hudson is the story of that visit-from the frantic preparations to the dinner welcoming the royals and to the picnic which featured King George being served a hot dog. This story of international significance is anchored by a smaller, more personal story. As the movie begins, FDR begins an affair with Daisy, a distant cousin. Daisy is from a poorer branch of the Roosevelt family. She lives in the area with an elderly aunt, for whom she is caretaker.

Daisy is flattered by the attention from her distinguished cousin. She is excited to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the “Summer White House”, as FDR’s Springwood estate was considered.Daisy is at FDR’s beck and call. When he arrives in Hyde Park, he calls for her. When he is not there, she returns to her previous life, caring for her aunt.

Bill Murray is a convincing FDR. He is a confident and consummate politician. Laura Linney does a fine job playing the self-effacing Daisy. But  Samuel West and Olivia Colman really bring to life the King and Queen. They are perplexed at many of the things they encounter in Hyde Park. They are not sure if the Americans are trying to insult them, or are just oblivious to the affect that American informality and humor have .

This movie is only being shown in a few theaters. If it’s playing near you, I would definitely see it soon. Bill Murray has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor for his portrayal of FDR; perhaps if he wins it will keep this film around a bit more.


Les Miserables

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Director Tom Hooper’s movie version of Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway (and everywhere else) spectacular musical Les Miserables is an amazing film. Since I’m guessing that nearly everyone on the planet knows the story, I won’t rehash that.  But I will say that this movie is an amazing accomplishment.

Hooper has taken a familiar tale, and made it better and larger than life. Because the film is not confined to the size of the Broadway stage, there are no limits to the visual impact of many of the scenes.The opening scene shows Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean serving prison time at hard labor. He and other prisoners are hauling a huge ship into a harbor in the pouring rain. The prisoners are watched over by Russell Crowe’s Inspector Javert, an uncompromising and unforgiving man. This opening scene shows us the vast scale of human suffering in a way not possible on the stage.

As surely everyone on the planet also knows by now, this production is entirely sung. Unlike other movie musicals, it was not pre- or post-recorded, but filmed as the actors were singing. This gives the film the realism that most musicals lack. Most of the actors in Les Miserables are not known for their singing voices. There are many singers out there with better voices. But the emphasis here is on the acting, which is only enhanced by the sometimes rough and relatively untrained singing voices.

The casting is brilliant. Only Jackman and Crowe are in the entire movie, so the other performances are relatively limited, but are none-the-less stunning and moving. The hair, make-up and costumes seem over-the-top and theatrical, but they do not detract from the gritty reality of the story. I was concerned that Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would be their usual caricatures as the innkeeper Thenardier and his wife, but here they did not stand out as such.

This movie is very long by today’s standards (over 2-1/2 hours). We went to a 12 noon showing so we brought sandwiches and drinks with us-a good idea if I do say so myself! Last month Jay Weston in the Huffington Post proclaimed Les Miserables as possibly the best movie he’s ever seen. I’m still thinking about that, but it is a stunning accomplishment. Bring the snacks, bring the hankie, and absorb one of the most original productions to come along in a long time.

Hugh Jackman and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette)

Hugh Jackman and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette)

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is a great film that seems to have gotten a bit lost in the end of the year parade of good movies. I do think that the awkward name is a deterrent to the casual theatre-goer. What does the title mean? Is this a movie about football? Well, it’s not really about football. It’s about a man, Pat, just released from a mental institution. He has served eight months there because he violently assaulted someone. As a result of his temper, Pat has lost his job, his house, his wife. He returns to the home of his parents, determined to get his life back in order.

His family are rabid Philadelphia Eagles fans (is there another kind of Eagles fan? Don’t think so!) Pat is expected to spend his Sundays at home, watching the game on TV with his father-Pat Sr., played by Robert DeNiro. Pat Sr. has been been permanently banned from the stadium for fighting. While his wife cooks appetizers that no one seems to eat, Pat Sr. obsesses/compulses over everything surrounding football Sundays including, quite comically, the placement of the various remote controls.

While visiting a friend Pat meets Tiffany, a young widow who is also going through a difficult transition. Tiffany agrees to help Pat reach out to his wife in exchange for a favor, and Pat jumps at the chance. Connecting with Tiffany helps Pat to focus on something other than himself, and their growing friendship becomes an important factor in their lives.

It’s great to Jennifer Lawrence really act, without some sort of weapon in her hand. And Bradley Cooper is funny and sensitive and vulnerable. This film is original, funny, and touching. It is definitely worth seeing.

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as Tiffany and Pat in Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as Tiffany and Pat in Silver Linings Playbook


Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln, with David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward

This has been a busy movie weekend for us! We actually saw Life of Pi last night since Lincoln was sold out. So off we went this morning to see the earliest showing of Lincoln.

In making this film, director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner decided to focus on a small portion of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. In January 1865, the Civil War was winding down. Lincoln had just been re-elected to a second term, and his popularity was soaring. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had previously been ratified by the Senate, but it needed approval by a 2/3 majority of the House of Representatives in order to be enacted. In early January, Lincoln gave his Cabinet the mission of persuading the members of the House (including many lame-duck Democrats) to pass the amendment by the end of the month.

The task fell mostly to Secretary of State William Seward (later best known for engineering the purchase of Alaska from the Russians). Seward authorized his minions to do nearly anything to secure the necessary votes. Their most promising form of persuasion was in the form of government jobs at the conclusion of Congressional terms.

The machinations of Lincoln and Seward are interspersed with the everyday life of the Lincoln family, as well as scenes from the War. Many of the War scenes are brutal and graphic, and not for the faint of heart. Since we know of Lincoln’s fate, the vignettes of the Lincoln family daily life are poignant and sad.

Spielberg has assembled a most outstanding cast. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones; the list goes on. All of them deliver stellar performances in this stunning film.

And as a bonus, the iTunes store has available for free downloading a short book about the making of the film, with interviews from the major players who made this film happen.


Life of Pi

Suraj Sharma as Pi, with “Richard Parker”

Life of Pi is a visually stunning and riveting movie, based on the book by Yann Martel. Director Ang Lee has done what I thought might be impossible: taken a moving, inspiring novel and translated it into an amazing film.

Life of Pi is the story of a young man, Pi Patel. He was raised in India, the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry. When the political climate changes, Pi’s father decides to give up the zoo, sell the animals, and move the family to Canada. Most of the zoo animals are destined for homes in zoos in North America. The family and the animals travel aboard a Japanese freighter bound for Canada. The ship sinks in a storm in the Pacific, and the only survivors are Pi, the zebra, the orangutan, the hyena and “Richard Parker”, the zoo’s Bengal tiger. Adrift on a life boat, three of the animals die, leaving only Pi and Richard Parker.

Pi makes a raft for himself so he does not have to share the lifeboat with the starving tiger. Surviving initially on biscuits and tinned water from the lifeboat, Pi learns to catch fish and provide a meager existence for himself and the tiger. It is not a spoiler to write that Pi survives his ordeal, since the movie opens with the adult Pi telling his story to a novelist. After nine months on the raft, a starving Pi and Richard Parker land on a beach in Mexico. There, Richard Parker disappears into the jungle, while Pi is rescued by locals. Pi eventually becomes a university professor in Canada.

Novice actor Suraj Sharma has the task of carrying this entire movie. His accomplishment is outstanding and noteworthy. Director Ang Lee, cinematographer Claudio Miranda and the entire art direction team  have produced one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time. We saw it in 3-D, and I would recommend that if you see this film, you pay the extra for 3-D.

I see lots of Oscar nominations for Life of Pi, including an adapted screenplay nod for writer David Magee. I was so skeptical that Life of Pi would translate to the big screen, but this crew has done it. When I’m wrong, I’m the first to admit it!

Life of Pi


Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Where would James Bond be without all of his gadgets? Well-it’s the twenty-first century, even for Ian Fleming’s hero who was originally conceived in 1952. Daniel Craig’s James Bond has little need for gadgets, as all major criminal and terrorist activity is conducted in cyberspace. So in Skyfall, when Bond is outfitted for his latest assignment by the new Q, he is only issued  a new gun and a radio transmitter.

Unfortunately, this lack of fun gadgets leaves little awe or surprise in this movie. The action sequences and special effects are fairly ordinary by today’s standards. The plot is very thin. It is refreshing, however, to see Daniel Craig looking as Bond should look; older, craggier, and with diminishing physical skills. The real bright spot is Ben Whishaw as Q. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and his Q is smart and funny.

Javier Bardem as the villain is creepy looking, but his acting is stilted and unbelievable. Albert Finney and Judi Dench live up to their reputations as extraordinary actors. They both bring real acting skills to their roles.

Skyfall has an interesting premise and a great cast, but the execution of this movie is too uneven. I guess Bond movies are really not my style.Can a movie that has already grossed nearly $90 million be all bad? The bottom line: if this is the type of movie you enjoy, go see it. If it’s not your cup of tea, don’t bother.

The Possession

I was eagerly anticipating The Possession, the new horror/thriller produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Ole Bornedal. The basis of this movie lies in the Jewish mythology of the dybbuk and the dybbuk box. A dybbuk is a malevolent spirit, actually the dispossessed soul of a dead person. The dybbuk can be trapped in a dybbuk box but, when the box is opened, the dybbuk can possess a living person. This requires a ritual exorcism.

In this movie, a family purchases an odd box from a yard sale. The younger daughter becomes obsessed with the box. When she opens it, the dybbuk is set free. As the dybbuk begins to possess her soul, her behavior changes. Eventually, her family’s search for answers leads to the realization of the possession, and that an exorcism must occur.

The best performance in the movie belongs to Matisyahu, the Jewish reggae singer. He plays Tzadok, who travels from Brooklyn to upstate New York to perform the exorcism.

The Possession is not particularly scary, but I like that it presents a  view of  Judaism and Jewish mysticism not generally seen today. It was a bit interesting and fun, but I would prefer a scarier movie with a more original story, not just a Jewish Exorcist.

A Dybbuk Box
(not the one from the movie)

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a small, quirky film that showcases the talents of its two young stars, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, at the expense of the bigger names involved in the production. The writing (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola) is intelligent and humorous.

This film also stars Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and the always deadpan Bob Balaban. The rest of the cast is a roster of equally stellar names, including the almost unrecognizable Harvey Keitel.

The story takes place in 1965 near the end of summer on a small island off the coast of New England. A member of a scout troop encamped on the island runs away with a girl who is a resident of the island. With the troop leader (Norton), sheriff (Willis) and her attorney parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) in pursuit, Suzy and Sam make their way across the island. A big storm is brewing, and even Sam’s outstanding wilderness skills may not be enough to protect the couple.

Moonrise Kingdom is funny, sad, and ironic all at once. If you get a chance, go see it.


Yes-I admit it. I saw the movie Ted, the infantile, comedy with Mark Walhberg, Mila Kunis, and the voice of Seth McFarlane as Ted. Unless you just arrived from three months on the moon, you probably know that Ted is the story of a grown man who has a teddy bear who talks. I know this seems totally not my style, but it was 95 degrees out, and I’m trying to stay busy while keeping cool and out of the sun.

Anyway, this movie is a hoot! I can’t remember when I laughed so much at a movie. It is chock full of cultural references, and I’m sure I missed plenty of them. It’s also chock full of well known actors  in very small roles-Norah Jones, Giovanni Ribisi, Bill Smitrovich, and Tom Skerritt to name a few.

So-the story goes like this. When John Bennett (Wahlberg) was a little boy, he received a teddy bear for Christmas. Before going to bed, he wished that his bear were alive. Upon awakening, he saw that his wish had come true. And Ted became his best friend. And instead of keeping this magical bear a secret, he let everyone know. In a truly hysterical scene, Ted even appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Well, now John is all grown with a girlfriend named Lori (Kunis). The only problem is, Ted is still his best friend. They get high together, drink beer, and are generally slackers. Lori of course wants more from the 35 year old John and tries to convince him to grow up and be less involved with Ted and more involved with her.

If you are ready for a good laugh and are not easily offended by scatological humor, sexual and other stereotypes, and four letter words, go see Ted and have fun.

Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx

Tom Cruise can rock! I have not been his biggest fan, but he does a great job as the aging, dissolute rocker Stacee Jaxx in this fun movie. Rock of Ages opens with Julianne Hough (Sherrie) on a Greyhound bus out of Oklahoma, bound for fame and fortune in Hollywood.The tone of the movie is set immediately, as she begins singing, and is soon joined by the bus driver and the rest of the passengers.

Yes-this is a musical, based on the Broadway musical, and not just a movie about rock and roll with music. The characters don’t speak when they can sing.

Anyway Sherrie lands in Hollywood, is mugged, meets Drew (another small town kid chasing a dream), and lands a job waitressing at the Bourbon Club. The club is run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin). Dupree is in financial trouble and is banking on the upcoming appearance of Stacee Jaxx and his band Arsenal to keep the club afloat.

Rock of Ages is full of subplots, which makes for many small roles for lots of famous actors. Will the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) succeed in closing down the Bourbon Club in an effort to clean up Hollywood? Will Sherrie and Drew get together? Why is Mary J. Blige running a “gentlemen’s club”? Will Dennis and his assistant (Russell Brand) raise enough money to pay the back taxes on the club? Will Stacee Jaxx stay sober long enough to perform? Will he keep his sleazy manager (Paul Giamatti)?

To the nasty critics of this movie I say-this is a fun summer movie. It is a musical fantasy and a love letter to rock and roll. Lighten up!

My favorite bit-Can’t Fight this Feeling, sung as a duet by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. Fabulous!

Rock of Ages: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack