Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

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

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Skyfall

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.

Ted

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

Catching Up-Two Movies and a Novel

I’ve been busy reading, and I’ve seen a few movies, but just haven’t been able to sit down and blog. I had to get a new computer, and have devoted most of my spare time to getting that in order. I made the switch from a PC to a Mac, and the transition has been a bit bumpy.

Anyway-I saw Men in Black 3 and Snow White and the Huntsman. MIB 3 was exactly as I would have predicted, a fairly silly follow-up to a bad sequel. This involved time travel, as well as the usual and unusual cast of aliens, both friendly and hostile. Will Smith was not at his best. Tommy Lee Jones was creaky and cranky. Bright spots included Josh Brolin as the young Agent K, and Emma Thompson as Agent O.  Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) is the over the top villain Boris the Animal. Not a movie to be taken seriously, but a fun night out.

Snow White and the Huntsman-well very different. It is a dark and sinister take on the familiar Snow White story. Lots of  special effects and CGI, including fairies who look suspiciously like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Charlize Theron is evil personified as the wicked stepmother who stays young forever, a la Dorian Gray. Kristen Stewart is a modern Snow White. Very willing to take up arms and lead the people of the kingdom in their fight for freedom.

And for the novel. It took a while, but I finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to her Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall. Once again, we are welcomed into the world of Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell. This time, Cromwell is leading the effort to remove Anne Boleyn from the throne and from Henry’ s life. Anne has failed to produce a male heir, and Henry has become smitten with the young Jane Seymour. Fortunately for Henry his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, dies from natural causes, leaving Anne the only obstacle between him and Jane. Anne has never been popular, and Cromwell himself has some scores to settle. So the task of trying Anne and her lovers becomes simple for Cromwell. Bring Up the Bodies brings us to the day of Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour. Mantel is currently at work on the final volume of this trilogy.

Bring Up the Bodies is long, but well worth the effort. Mantel does extensive research, but the books in this series are definitely novels, not even historical fiction. She delves deeply into the inner thoughts of her characters, particularly Cromwell, and there is a great deal of dialog, all of it obviously invented. Anyway-I highly recommend this book.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Henry Holt & Co., 2012

Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel (John Macrae Book)