It’s that time again — more movie reviews! I have to admit I take pleasure in sharing my passion for movies with the world (or at least the 20 or 30 readers of this blog . . . most of whom are likely political interested people looking to see if I have anything mildly interesting to say or more likely political gossip to share….sorry). I have always had a passion for movies and for the first time in many years I have had the time to actually see a lot of movies. So without further introduction here we go!
Hitchcock covers the period of the great suspense director’s life during the time he made the classic movie Psycho. It largely examines the relationship between Hitchcock and his longtime wife and collaborator Alma. Anthony Hopkins was good, but not great. Occasionally his “Hitchcock” sounded a lot like his “Nixon” in the movie of the same name. The movie uses some interesting plot devices, including fantasy sequences between Hitchcock and famous Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, who was the inspiration for Psycho. Helen Mirren’s performance is definitely Oscar bait, and they also take advantage of Mirren’s current reputation as the hottest 67-year-old in Hollywood (the bathing suit scene in the movie seems inspired by her now famous internet bikini shots). Overall a movie well worth seeing, especially for those interested in movies about making movies (which includes me). 4 out of 5 stars.
I never thought I would say this, but Skyfall really is one of the best Bond movies ever, right up there with Dr. No and Goldfinger. My favorite Bond is Sean Connery (the rest really pale in comparison), however, Daniel Craig is getting really close to overtaking him. The film is well shot, with a tight story line. Lots of action, but not overdone. Has the real look and feel of a true Bond movie (and we all know what that means — the Bond movies from the Connery era). No story spoilers here, but Javier Bardem also plays one of the best Bond villains ever. He is delightfully wicked and humorously arrogant. The only weakness in the movie is Judi Dench as “M”. This is not a sexist comment, but she has just never been convincing in that role (fortunately we won’t have to worry about that anymore . . oops, spoiler). 5 out of 5 stars.
The race for best actor is over — the Oscar goes to Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of Lincoln. Lewis was amazing. For the first time in movies (at least for me) Abraham Lincoln really seemed to come to life as a human being. The movie says it is based on the book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Goodwin, but it is mostly about the timeframe surrounding the passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is of course, well shot and a beautiful looking period piece. It’s nice because it seems as though it does NOT rely on re-enactors for background shots. Many recent Civil War movies rely on re-enactors, and let’s just say some groups of re-enactors are better than others. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens does a good job, but like most of his recent work (let’s say the last 20 years) he basically just plays himself. Sally Field’s does well as Mary Todd Lincoln, but it’s still a little hard to get passed her perky persona (I still think of her as frozen in time as Burt Reynolds love interest in “Smokey and the Bandit”). However, Daniel Day-Lewis performance is so powerful it doesn’t matter. Seeing this movie for that reason alone is enough. I also have to admit seeing this movie made me feel proud to be an American and a Republican (a Party founded on the principle that ALL people should be free). But see it any way, even if you hate Republicans . . . 5 out of 5 stars.
As someone with a real fear of flying, the opening scenes were very intense (white knuckles on the movie theater arm rests). It’s not a story spoiler to point out that the plane crashes. The real story of the movie is about the pilot who is the “hero” for how he landed the plane and saved most of the passengers lives. We like our hero’s clean-cut and straight forward (Captain Sully of the Hudson River plane crash comes to mind). Flight shows us that life is usually more complex than public or media perceptions, and real people are not perfect. As the pilot Denzel Washington does an amazing job playing a complex character; a good man, but a flawed man who really is a hero, but also is guilty of really bad judgement. The movie drags in spots, and there is some predictability to the formula of a character who needs to hit absolute rock bottom before redemption. However, Washington’s portrayal makes it work and makes it a movie worth seeing. 4 out of 5 stars.
WRECK IT RALPH
I have to admit I went to this movie only because the kids wanted to go . . . and I have to admit I kind of liked it. It is better than most kids movies that have just enough humor for the parents to stay awake (or sane, or both). A nice, if predictable story, the pace is fast and the characters sympathetic. The best celebrity character voices come from Jane Lynch (of Glee fame) and Sarah Silverman. As someone who grew up with classic video games it is a trip down memory lane. The movie centers around a video game that closely resembles Donkey Kong; which for the record, is my favorite classic arcade game. Ah, the memories of thousands of quarters played and many joyful hours wasted, but I digress. Overall, it’s a movie for people with kids or people with a need to relive their arcade days of the 1980′s. 3 out of 5 stars.
END OF WATCH
End of Watch is a very intense police drama that deals with two Los Angeles police department officers patrolling South Central LA. Idealistic and very close, the characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña stumble onto a super violent Mexican drug and human trafficking gang. In a story “ripped from the headlines” it has the violence that plagues Mexico moving north. This is a far cry from the LAPD portrayed in reruns of Adam-12 I grew up on. The story is gritty and tense. However, at the same time you get the sense that these cops really believe that they are the good guys and they believe they can, and do, make a difference (maybe it’s close in spirit to Adam-12 after all). Shot in a sort of documentary style, it gives the action on the screen a sense of realism rarely achieved in police dramas. It’s rated R for a reason, so it’s not one for the kiddies. However, I liked it, and I think you will too. 4 out of 5 stars.
Ben Affleck is at his best in Argo, both as a director and as an actor. The movie is based on the true story of the CIA rescue of six American diplomats who escaped the initial take over of the US Embassy in Iran in 1979. In a scheme so crazy it just might work, Affleck leads a team of CIA operatives that are able to rescue the diplomats by disguising them as a part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction film call “Argo”. It is a well shot movie, with interesting characters, and a story that is plotted out like a “heist” movie (intro the problem, intro the team, develop the crazy scheme, execute said scheme — kind of like the original Ocean’s 11, with Affleck as a CIA version of Frank Sinatra’s Danny Ocean). Given our current problems with Iran this is a reminder that these problems have been around for a while. What was really refreshing is the CIA are the good guys (not usually the case in a Hollywood movie). It’s got action, suspense, humor, and it also has the benefit of being true. 4 out of 5 stars.
Another movie I went to see because of the kids and this time I did not like it. As a Tim Burton vehicle I have to admit my expectations were pretty high. I was hoping to see something on the scale of Nightmare Before Christmas. Instead this was a convoluted story about a kid who brings pets back to life. It was a downbeat movie that had my kids in absolute tears at the end [SPOILER ALERT: the dog dies . . . several times in fact. . . not fun if you have three animal loving girls under 10 years old]. Also, the movie is in black and white. Look, I love old black and white movies, and even new movies where back and white is used for dramatic effect. However, in an animated film it actually takes away from the film and it would have been a better movie in color (see Bridget, I don’t love EVERY black and white movie). This is a real dog (pun intended) that needs to be put to sleep (pun not intended). 1 out of 5 stars
Looking at the box office for this movie I think there where about a dozen people across the country who like this film . . . and I was one of them. Based on the comic book “Judge Dredd” (which, for the record, I have never seen), the story takes place in a postapocalyptic future in which society is breaking down (doesn’t it always) and where the police are also judge, jury and in many cases executioner. This movie is not related to the Sylvester Stallone version from years ago (thank God) and I am told is more faithful to the comic book. So much so that actor playing Judge Dredd, Karl Urban (the new Dr. McCoy in the Star Trek reboot), never removes his helmet or face plate during the movie (just like the character in the comic book). This means, other than his mouth, we never see his face. The movie is full of action, and yes, the good guys win in the end. It is a pure popcorn movie and if you accept it for what it is you’ll enjoy the ride. I hope they make another one. 4 out of 5 stars
Yet another animated kids movie with LOTS of celebrity voices (what can I say, I have kids who share my love of going to the movies). This one is set in Transylvania and has the Count (played by Adam Sandler) in a losing battle to protect his daughter from the perils of the outside world. I ended up seeing this twice as I took two of my kids and then had to take the other two (or else!). While the story is VERY predictable (she comes of age and dad has to get used to it – how many times will you see movies/TV shows with this plot line before you die???), the situations are humorous and it’s a great movie to see with kids. However, if you see this movie without kids everyone else in the theater will likely think you are a pedophile and/or a stalker. 3 out of 5 stars
HIT AND RUN
If you actually see this movie you should be hit and run over. You have been warned. This is a horrible movie. Dax Sheppard, who actually has done a decent comedic job is smaller character roles, is a total flop in a movie he wrote and co-directed (maybe that was the problem). A train wreck from beginning to end, the only humor comes from Tom Arnold (yes, Tom Arnold was the funniest thing about this movie . . . like I said, run!!). This movie is not worthy of renting, or even of watching for a few minutes while channel surfing. If you do, you will start to feel drool coming out of the corner of your mouth as your IQ drops. The old cliché about “that was 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back” applies here. I don’t know why I went . . .please forgive me. 0 out of 5 stars.
I am a sucker for period pieces. Any movie about the past usually gets my attention. Movies about the 1920′s and 1930′s especially because it was such an interesting time in our nation’s history (prohibition, the great depression, etc. — BTW, I am really looking forward to The Great Gatsby). The movie is set in rural Virginia and is about a family that gets by on moonshining. Tom Hardy does a good job as the tough but simple patriarch of the family. His ambitious younger brother is played by Shia Labeouf of Transformers fame. The family fights to be more successful, fights the law, fights corruption, etc. This movie had great potential and it certainly has its moments, with Guy Pearce playing a sadistic villain you will love to hate. Frankly, the primary weakness is Labeouf, who is convincing as the “wanna be” early in the movie, but less convincing once he achieves “success”. Also, the “happy” ending is almost too happy, so they add a really unnecessary downbeat twist, which was a very clunky plot device. A rentable flick for a snowy winter afternoon. 3 out of 5 stars
Retro Review — THE THIRD MAN
This is one of the top five movies in the history of film making. Set in post-war Vienna it follows Joseph Cotton’s character (Holly Martins) around the ruins of that city in search of the truth behind the “death” of his friend Harry Lime (played by the amazing genius Orson Welles). Shot in gorgeous black and white with a musical score that is instantly recognizable, the movie is a masterpiece of film making. The story is no slouch either. If you have not yet seen this movie, it has to be on your movie bucket list (see it soon, you never know when you may die and it would be a real shame to miss this one). If you have seen it and do not like it, I recommend Jersey Shore, Buckwild, and the Jerry Springer show are likely more to your taste. 10 out of 5 stars
In the coming weeks I’ll be reviewing The Hobbit and other holiday releases. Coming soon, the first annual “Trenchie” Awards!!