Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

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.


Published in hardcover-Henry Holt & Co., 2012

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

Tribeca Film Festival: Two Reviews

The joy of living in New York! The Tribeca Film Festival is one of my favorite New York things to do. This year, we were able to schedule screening of two very different films, a narrative and a documentary.

First-the narrative. While We Were Here is small budget, independent film starring Kate Bosworth. Written, directed, and produced by actress Kat Coiro, it also stars the voice of the estimable Claire Bloom. Bloom is the grandmother of Bosworth’s character, Jane. Jane has taped her grandmother’s stories, and is listening to them in order to write a book of her grandmother’s experiences. Jane and her husband Leonard are in Naples, Italy, where Leonard is rehearsing with a local orchestra for an upcoming concert. His days are consumed with practicing and reading scores, leaving Jane on her own.

While listening to her grandmother’s life stories, Jane takes the ferry to Ischia, the island in the Bay of Naples. She asks directions from what she presumes to be a local, but turns out to be an American teenager, Caleb,  drifting through Europe. He pursues Jane relentlessly. Lonely and unhappy in her marriage, Jane succumbs to his dubious charms.

This film was ponderous and took itself far too seriously. I kept hoping that on one of their excursions around Ischia, Jane or Caleb would try to murder the other, or at least have some kind of knock down, drag out fight. Or maybe Leonard and Jane would really fight. But no one so much as raises their voice.

Even the after-film Q and A with Coiro did not elicit any really interesting questions. The most interesting thing I learned is that Ischia was also the location for the filming of the original The Talented Mr. Ripley, known by the title Purple Noon. No wonder I kept waiting for a murder-I guess I had already seen one at the same place!

And for the documentary. Don’t Stop Believin’:Everyman’s Journey was entertaining, moving and inspiring. And if you are a fan of the band Journey, you’ll go crazy for this story.

In 2007, members of Journey were looking for a new lead singer. Finally, on YouTube, guitarist Neal Schon saw and heard Arnel Pineda.  The band arranged for Pineda to come from Manila to San Francisco for a week-long audition with the band. They offered Pineda the job, and he accepted.

Now a full-fledged member of Journey, Pineda began a grueling world tour with the band. Some Journey fans despised him for replacing the popular Steve Perry. But many fans adored him, particularly the Philipinos. Pineda’s personal story is fascinating. During his teen years Pineda was, mostly, homeless. As began to earn some money singing, he supported his family, but they were still very poor. When his best friend began uploading videos of Pineda’s  band onto YouTube, none of them even owned a computer. They used all their money to purchase computer time at an internet cafe. And due to the slow speed of the connection, each video took hours to uplaod.

This inspiring movie follows Pineda and Journey on tour. Pineda learns to cope with the emotional demands of rock stardom, and with the physical toll that touring takes on his body and his voice. When Journey travels to Manila to perform, we meet Pineda’s family.

If you ever get the chance to see Don’t Stop Believin’ you must see it.

Safe House

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington

I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.  Rogue CIA agent meets MI6 agent in a restaurant in Cape Town. Some information is passed. One of them doesn’t make it out alive. And the other is hunted down by some sinister looking dudes with heavy artillery.

What is this valuable information? Why are people being killed for it? If Denzel is really on the run from the CIA, why does he show up at the U.S. Embassy?

Well, you get the picture. Ryan Reynolds is Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent who has the most boring job in the agency, it seems. He is the “housekeeper” for a safe house in Cape Town. For the twelve months of his posting, he has not had any “house guests”.  When his first guest appears, it is none other than Tobin Frost (Denzel), the CIA’s most wanted rogue agent. When the safe house itself is attacked, Matt takes Tobin and runs. As the housekeeper, his number one priority is the safety of his guest.He doesn’t know who is after Tobin, or why, but he resolves to complete his mission.

Safe House is extremely loud and violent, as are all the action thrillers out there these days. Everyone seems to carry multiple weapons at all times. And they use them without regard to innocent bystanders. The actions is fast-paced, and much of the camera work is (deliberately) choppy and disjointed.

If you’re in the mood for a  shoot-em-up that doesn’t involve much thinking, then this is the movie for you. If you’re feeling romantic or serious or thoughtful, then stay away. Overall, it was a fun diversion on a cold winter’s day.

The Artist

So-the quest to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture Oscars begins in earnest. I don’t actually expect to accomplish this goal, but I’ll have fun trying.

The Artist is a mostly silent film about, yes, the end of the era of silent films. I was afraid that Jean Dujardin’s character, George Valentin, would descend into Norma Desmond territory, but fortunately not.

Valentin is the swash-buckling star of the silent film era. Accompanied everywhere by his charming dog, played convincingly by Uggie, Valentin appeals to all. He is suave, charming, and sophisticated-everything we need in a silent film star.

When Valentin’s studio, headed by Al Zimmer (John Goodman), decides to produce only talking pictures, Valentin is let go. He produces his own silent film, which opens the same week the stock market crashes. Things go from bad to worse for this unlucky star.

Valentin’s dog and his loyal chauffeur stand by him through his dark days. Also watching out for him is the rising film star Peppy Miller.

The acting in The Artist is pitch perfect. The silent film stars mug for the camera. The original score is lovely. John Goodman, the most familiar actor in this production, has amazing facial expressions . He really doesn’t need to say anything.

I highly recommend this very original film for anyone who likes movies.

The Artist

War Horse

Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott, with Joey

Yes, this tearjerker of a movie has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. And oddly enough, I think, it’s the only Best Picture nominee that I’ve seen this year. I guess I better get myself out to the movies!

But I digress. War Horse is based on a book written by Michael Morpurgo about 30 years ago for young adults. The story is predictable and soppy, but I totally fell for it.

The movie begins in rural England prior to World War I. Ted and Rose Narracott are poor tenant farmers. They live with their son Albert on a hardscrabble piece of land. Ted goes to a local horse auction to purchase a plow horse to help with the brutal work of clearing the stony fields. He comes home, instead, with a beautiful thoroughbred deemed totally unsuitable for farm work. Albert takes on the task of training Joey, who proves himself incredibly strong and determined.

When World War I breaks out, the Tarracotts sell Joey to the army. War Horse follows Joey through a succession of owners and battles. Joey’s strength and intelligence shine through and he survives the war. What happens then, I won’t say. But if you don’t cry at least a little, there is something wrong with you!

War Horse: (Movie Cover)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John le Carre

It’s been many years since I read John le Carre’s master work Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the other  novels that comprise his  “Smiley Series”.  In these novels, le Carre constructed a complex and realistic world centered on MI6, the British intelligence organization.  Most of the novels in the series take place during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was the largest threat to Western civilization.

Of course it’s odd that it took nearly 40 years for this movie to be made. There was a British TV adaptation starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley, but that was many years ago. I was concerned that this story is dated and irrelevant to today’s world.  And it is hard to understand how the Russians were so feared by those of us in the West.

Anyway, I found this film to be truly excellent. It was faithful to the book in most ways, of course simplifying and compressing much of the action. The casting is remarkable, and so many familiar actors actually become British spies. The story is intriguing and the viewer really needs to pay attention in order to follow the action.

The head of the MI 6 section known as “The Circus” is Control, played by John Hurt. Believing there is a mole highly placed in the circus, Control sets up an operation in Hungary. When things go very badly, Control and Smiley (Gary Oldman) are forced into retirement. Control dies shortly thereafter, and Smiley is approached by a highly placed government official. He is asked to conduct an independent investigation to discover the mole. With few resources beyond his own knowledge and reasoning, Smiley patiently reconstructs events of the past to deduce who the traitor is.

Although this film is a spy thriller and people do get killed, it is tame by today’s standards. It is really for the thinking film-goer, and anyone who hasn’t read the book will be trying to figure out who the the mole is. So, whether you’ve read the book or not, I recommend this film.

John Le Carré : Three Complete Novels ( Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy / The Honourable Schoolboy / Smiley’s People )

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I read all the books, I saw all the original Swedish movies, and now I’m starting all over with the English language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This version is faithful in spirit to Stieg Larsson’s novel. The books are so dense and so full of subplots, the movie would have to be incredibly long to fit it all in.

So I would say that director David Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian did a really good job of distilling the essence of the book. At nearly two and a half hours, this movie is long by today’s standards, but it is not too long.

Daniel Craig is too fit and good looking to portray Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist. But he is such an excellent actor that if you hadn’t read the book you wouldn’t know that he is supposed to be an ungainly, chain-smoking, coffee swilling middle aged man.

Rooney Mara has won the coveted role of Lisbeth Salander. From what I’ve read, she really did get all of Salander’s body piercings. And she had her hair cut and dyed. Lisbeth Salander bears almost no resemblance to Rooney Mara!

So-yes this movie violent and action packed. For me it was not really suspenseful because I have read the book and seen the Swedish language version of the movie. But my two movie companions seemed to be on the edge of their seats. So that seems to be a good recommendation.  I also recommend TGWTDT. And the next movie, The Girl Who Played With Fire, in currently in development, with the same cast. But I’ll have to wait until 2013 for that.

GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO TRILOGY BUNDLE: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The best that I can say about the latest entry into the Sherlock Holmes canon of adaptations is that it is better than the previous Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. There is lots of action and great special effects.

Unfortunately, all this nonsense has little to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original super sleuth. For the most part, that Holmes solved his criminal cases using clues that he alone was able to spot and interpret. His importance also lay as a forerunner to many of the great modern detectives of literature, such as Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Nero Wolfe.

If you’re looking for cinematic escapism, see Sherlock Holmes. If you’re looking to exercise your “little grey cells” (a la Poirot), read one of Doyle’s books.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories

J. Edgar

I really wanted to like this movie. After all-it was directed by Clint Eastwood, and has two amazing stars. Leonardo DiCaprio-a perennial favorite, and the relatively new star Armie Hammer. And the subject! J. Edgar Hoover was a fascinating man. Highly intelligent and ambitious, he brought the FBI into the modern era of crime detection. He instituted the first real modern crime lab, and pioneered crime fighting techniques such as fingerprint technology.

But-and this is a big but-he was suspicious and paranoid. He supposedly kept private confidential files on U.S. Presidents and their families, as well as many other figures, both private and public.

I would have preferred that J. Edgar focus more on the people whose lives and careers he affected, and not so much on his supposed homosexual tendencies and cross-dressing. There is enough that was true of Hoover that the speculation into that aspect of his private life was really not necessary.

DiCaprio and Hammer were both amazing in their physical transformation over the years. Hammer plays Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s long time friend and the first Deputy Director of the FBI. Hammer is only 25, but he plays the ill and elderly Tolson so convincingly. Hoover died at the age of 77, and DiCaprio moves and speaks like a sick old man.

J. Edgar is somewhat convoluted, bouncing between time periods. And Naomi Watts was, I think, not a good choice to play Helen Gandy, an early love interest for Hoover and his long-time secretary. There is no explanation for her continued devotion to Hoover, as she seemed to recognize some of his serious lapses in judgment.

So-to see or not to see? Overall I’d say yes, but remember that it is a movie-and it is (mostly) fiction!

The Ides of March

I saw The Ides of March almost three weeks ago on its opening weekend. I just never got around to writing the review, so I’ll make it quick and short so I can get this off my conscience! I know I’ve been down on George Clooney before; I seem to be the only one in the universe not impressed by his acting skills. But The Ides of March was the perfect vehicle for him.

I really enjoyed The Ides of March. I don’t take it as seriously as it takes itself, but I would definitely recommend it, especially as Presidential election season is upon us!