3/28/13

The Host - 2013

"An unseen enemy who can erase your memory." I HATE it when that happens! Also known as "La hu├ęsped," this story is based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer ("Twilight") so this PG-13 film should be a crowd pleaser. My problem was with the 3M dialogue: Murmur; Mutter; and Mumble (I missed 50% of what they said). The screenplay, by Andrew Niccol ("In Time") who also directed, confused me: I honestly couldn't tell when it was intentionally humorous or just plain laughable. I WILL say our screening audience laughed many, many times.

We start with a young woman so desperate to save her younger brother's life from "peaceful" alien invaders she makes a suicidal leap out a window but is soon restored to life by those same despicable beings. From then on, she has the icy blue eyes which tell us that she too, is one of "them." Problem is, the survivalist human she replaced has survived...as a pesky voice inside her head. Thus the humor.

I appreciate that all the men in the survivalist community are twenty-ish hunks, each with one good reason or another to be attracted to our heroine. Hey...It's a story by Stephanie Meyer!

Here we have:
  • Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") is Melanie/Wanda, both with distinct personalities, vying for control. As Melanie she was in love with Jared, but that doesn't stop Wanda from falling for Ian. Got that straight?
  • Max Irons ("Red Riding Hood") Yeah! ...Okay, so Jared is another survivalist; he lived with our heroine and her younger brother in a derelict mobile home before the aliens started imposing their peaceful ways on the planet.
  • Jake Abel ("I Am Number Four") is Ian, who falls for the alien Wanda with poor Melanie shouting her dismay inside Wanda's head.
  • Chandler Canterbury ("Repo Men") is indispensable as little brother Jamie who is the first to sort out where the spirit of his missing sister might be lurking.
  • Diane Kruger ("Inglorious Basterds") is relentless as The Seeker. She WILL capture that missing girl even if she has to resort to violence to do it! (...gasp...)
  • William Hurt ("Robin Hood" 2010) as Jeb, is the paterfamilias of a group of survivalist wheat farmers. Their field is hidden inside a mountain...trust me. He keeps the peace with a loaded shotgun.
  • Marcus Lyle Brown (Lots of TV) Healer Fords is the medical man who lives with the survivalists and tries to help our heroine.
At least the aliens are easy to spot: their various means of travel (a Ford Lotus, some motorcycles and a few helicopters) are all bright silver. Expect some gunfire, a little vehicular mayhem, no profanity, no sweaty bodies and no blowie uppie stuff. In addition, this movie passes the Bechdel Test because the women talk about the issues at hand, not about a man.

The message is: "Love conquers all," so look for a happy ending AND a theater with closed captions! (Or wait for the DVD.)
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Here's a little sample:
http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3568936729/
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3/27/13

25 Hill

Despite Hollywood's reluctance to acknowledge the smashing success of the recent miniseries "The Bible," there is a huge market for faithbased projects. Here is an unusual one from 2011 that focuses on patriotism, loss, and soapbox derbies. Sounds like an unlikely combination, doesn't it?

Corbin Bernsen is a Hollywood regular who isn't bashful about his beliefs. He not only wrote the screenplay for this movie, he also directed and starred in it. In the DVD extras he explains that he is personally alarmed by the decline of families, patriotism, and in the waning popularity of soapbox derbies, which he views as "pure Americana."

We see:
  • Corbin Bernsen ("Psyche") who plays Roy Gibbs, a firefighter whose son was killed in 9/11. He is bitter, sarcastic and dis- illusioned. He also drinks a bit too much.
  • Nathan Gamble ("Dolphin Tale") is Trey, a precocious 11-year-old boy (he reads a lot) whose Army Reservist father is sent to Afghanistan where he is killed. They had just started a project in the garage, building the boy's first soapbox racer.
  • Rolanda Watts (Lots of TV) is Mrs. Banner, the school principal who is concerned about Trey's recovery from his father's death. She engineers a meeting between Roy and Trey.
  • Maureen Flannigan (Lots of TV) is Trey's mom Maggie, she is a practical involved mother who allows her son the time and space to grow up.
  • Timothy Omundson ("Psyche") is Thomas, Trey's too-soon-dead dad. We see most of his role before the opening credits.
I belong to a blog for former Bisbee High School students. On the Fourth of July, Bisbee (Arizona) holds an annual soapbox derby that is decades old and is a well-loved tradition. It was in this blog where I first heard of this film. My thanks to that correspondent who shared her recommen- dation.

This is a G-rated film, so expect church attendance, prayers and a little preaching about alcohol, but NO vehicular mayhem (despite it being about racing), no sweaty bodies, no profanity, no violence or blowie uppie stuff. But the DVD has closed captions. Hallelujah!
There is no trailer, sorry...

3/21/13

Admission

Here is Maternal Instinct run amok! When Tina Fey's character was much, much younger, she secretly gave up a child for adoption. Now she might have run into him: She's an admissions officer at Princeton and he is a brilliant student from an alternative school, applying for admission.

We enjoy:
  • Tina Fey ("Date Night") is the admissions officer, up for a big promotion and down for the count with her 10-year live-in lover.
  • Nat Wolff ("New Year's Eve") is that would-be student, an autodidact (self-taught) candidate under the scrutiny of the admissions committee.
  • Paul Rudd ("This is 40") is the student's faculty adviser, a much-traveled do-gooder who will be off for Uruguay next.
  • Lily Tomlin (Lots of TV) is Tina Fey's mom, a militant feminist. If you don't believe me, just watch her with a gun!
  • Wallace Shawn ("A Late Quartet") is the Dean of Admissions, dangling that possible promotion over our heroine's head.
  • Gloria Reuben ("Lincoln") as an admissions officer...she's a paragon, practically perfect in every way. She is our heroine's main competition for that promotion.
  • Michael Sheen ("Frost Nixon") is that 10-year live-in lover. He bails in the first few scenes, so he had very little to do other than treat her like a pet puppy.
This goofy little bit of social commentary is directed by Paul Weitz ("About a Boy") so you can expect a better than average comedy, no sweaty bodies, love-making only alluded to, no gunshots (Lily Tomlin never fires that gun), and absolutely no blowie uppie stuff.

Be prepared for an unexpected twist or two and a pleasant time.
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Here is a peek at a preview:
http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3382945561/
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On the Road

I haven't felt this soiled since "The Rum Diaries!" This tawdry, drug- riddled, chain-smoking mumble-fest is confusing; the geography makes my head spin; the orgies, the threesomes, the shoplifting and car stealing are NOT funny; while the reckless driving and the survival with no visible means of support just strike me as irresponsible, NOT as a juvenile lark!

Yes, Jack Kerouac's ground-breaking novel is back On the Road again. This time we have an R-rated, two-hour (mumbled) talkathon. We see:
  • Sam Riley ("Brighton Rock") as Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac, a vaguely disengaged author in search of a story; he documents every move, every misdeed and every meal, but the sum total of all that labor is stultifyingly boring. (Yeah, that's probably not a word, but I don't care.)
  • Garrett Hedlund ("Country Strong") as Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady is a good-looking omni-sexual legend who isn't above doing a little hooking to earn a ride.
  • Kristen Stewart ("Snow White and the Huntsman") as Mary- lou/LuAnne Henderson personifies one of the many women who are used and discarded like soiled tissues.
  • Amy Adams ("Trouble With the Curve") as Jane/Joan Vollmer lives at one of the many stops along the way. At least she can give marital tips to an unhappy young bride.
  • Tom Surridge ("Waiting For Forever") as Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg is a Beat poet and iconoclast, ultimately revered as the Grand Old Man of his generation. I'm afraid I was always too grounded to relate to his toked-up brand of philosophy.
  • Kirsten Dunst ("Melancholia") as Camille/Caroline Cassady who at least has sense enough to kick the guy out.
  • Viggo Mortensen ("A Dangerous Method") as Old Bull Lee/William S. Burroughs. Mortensen threatens to replace Sam Shepard as Hollywood's favorite grizzled curmudgeon.
As you can see, this story that gives birth to a book was confusing, repugnant and endless (124 minutes), but I was impressed once again by Garrett Hedlund. We will see more of this guy as time passes. He is handsome, appealing, has a wonderful body, AND he can act! This movie proves it. I did NOT like this movie, but Hedlund, even as a repugnant character, is very watchable.
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In case you want to see a preview:
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3/16/13

The Call

Ever wondered what it looks like on the OTHER side of those 911 calls? The 911 Call Center is one of the two interesting things we see in this dreadful R-rated movie. The second is an aerial view of a major Los Angeles freeway intersection. Both are jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately for me, after these two interesting bits, there is an entire movie to sit through, punctuated by hysterical women, women in jeopardy, women being stripped, women being drugged, women under duress, women being tortured, women being scalped, pieces of women, corpses of women and other horrific scenes.

The last third of the movie is based on an absurd assumption that a 911 operator (a woman) would make a solo trip to a wooded area in the L.A. vicinity in the middle of the night and stumble upon a well-concealed chamber of horrors maintained by a serial killer. I found myself muttering "Oh, come ONNNN!" Brace yourself for at least 20 full minutes of "DON'T GO IN THE BASEMENT!"-type suspense and horror.

We see:
  • Halle Berry ("Cloud Atlas") gorgeous as ever, portrays that laughably intuitive 911 operator, traumatized by her failure to save an earlier victim of that same sadistic serial killer.
  • Abigail Breslin ("Rango") is the second victim of that notorious killer. She was born a Capricorn though, which means she is a fighter.
  • Morris Chestnut ("Identity Thief") is a frustrated LA cop, trying desperately to locate that car carrying a kidnapping (and potential murder) victim in the trunk. His character and Berry's just happen to be in relationship.
  • David Otunga (Lots of TV) is another one of L.A.'s finest, fran- tically trying to gather enough clues to discover where that poor doomed girl might be.
  • Michael Eklund (Lots of TV) is chilling as the first Norman Bates type in this year's roster of horror films.
  • Michael Imperioli ("The Lovely Bones") is wonderful as the sharp-eyed motorist who spots something wrong with that vehicle which (we know) has a kidnapping victim in the trunk.
This is an excellent primer on what an abducted person should do if locked in an automobile trunk: Break out a tail-light and wave your arm: dump stuff (in this case, paint) out through that same hole; do anything to attract attention. We are reminded how important it is for average citizens to take the initiative and report things that "just don't look right."

I am NOT a big fan of suspense movies, but the folks who like these type films were highly entertained. YOYO! (You're On Your Own.)
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Here's a link to a preview:
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3/7/13

Dead Man Down

A crime lord and a betrayal. Sounds like pretty standard R-rated stuff, but this cast is a cut above and as a result, it slipped up on my blind side. After a pretty standard shoot-em-up opening scene, to my surprise, I soon had people to root for and very much wanted them to survive to the final curtain.

Danish director Niels Arden Oplev ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") skillfully manipulates us into caring about two damaged people, one physically and one emotionally, as each tries to cope with the aftermath of a personal catastrophe.

These folks made it happen:
  • Colin Farrell ("Seven Psychopaths") is an immigrant, a bright Hungarian engineer who is carrying emotional scars that demand payback. Of course, it's always interesting to watch a smart person tackle a tough problem and we often forget that Mr. Farrell is a wonderful actor.
  • Noomi Rapace ("Prometheus") is a (formerly) lovely beautician whose life changed instantly when she was hit by a drunken driver. Rapace is one of those amazing international stars who simply asks where her character is from and takes it from there.
  • Terrence Howard ("The Ledge") plays icy threats very, very well. This kingpin is being harried by some anonymous gangster and he wants it to stop!
  • Dominic Cooper ("My Week With Marilyn") is one of the violent gang who owes fealty to his leader, but also has a wife and child at home. London-born Mr. C. plays American so often, he may lose his natural accent.
Make no mistake, there is a lot of gunfire, profanity and cruelty, but the audience was deeply invested in the outcome. In fact, at the conclusion there was a spatter of applause, which is rare in a screening.
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Here is a peek at a preview:
http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1455728409/
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Oz the Great and Powerful

L. Frank Baum would have a conniption fit! Never in his wildest dreams (and I'll bet his were pretty wild) could he have imagined such a mind- bending, visual orgy! We are treated to a combination of PG-rated, Computer Generated overkill, truly scary flying monsters (waaaay worse than those flying monkeys in the original), a pep talk on teamwork and a lovely homage to the MGM classic (the title sequence and the first scenes set in a two-bit Kansas carnival are in black and white).

As you probably already know, this prequel shows how a cheesy con man became the man behind the curtain.

We see:
  • James Franco ("127 Hours") is Oscar Diggs, otherwise known as Oz, who is described as a "small-time magician with dubious ethics." I liked his Scrooge McDuck dive into that tempting pile of gold.
  • Zach Braff ("Garden State") is our hero's sidekick, both as a much-abused human assistant in the black and white carnival and as a (cute but much-abused) flying monkey instructed to "Show up. Keep up. Shut up!" in Oz.
  • Mila Kunis ("Black Swan") eventually becomes Theodora, the Wicked Witch of the West. They worked it out so her profile is the same as Margaret Hamilton's in the original.
  • Rachel Weisz ("Agora") is Evanora, a witch I don't recall from the earlier movie, but I'm sure she must be in the Baum series. Somehow I skipped reading them when I was a child.
  • Michelle Williams ("My Week With Marilyn") is Annie, a young woman our hero is infatuated with in Kansas, but when she shows up as Glinda in Oz, he is confused.
  • Bill Cobbs ("The Muppets") is the handyman/tinkerer who becomes essential to The Plan.
  • Joey King ("Ramona and Beezus") is the little crippled Kansas girl in the wheelchair (sad), and in Oz, the China doll with the broken legs (get it?).
This is entertaining and colorful, but those flying beasts have fangs, the two evil witches shoot flaming missiles from their hands and the balloon ride is pretty scary. On the other hand, I appreciate the tribute to Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park.
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Here is a link to a preview:
http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1066968345/
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Emperor

At the conclusion of the War in the Pacific ("V J Day," for those of us old enough to remember), the Allied forces had a dilemma: Should the Emperor of Japan (the Emperor of the Chrysanthemum Throne) be tried (and hung) for war crimes? Few of us gave it a moment's consideration at the time, but here is a thought-provoking drama that examines the issue.

It stars:
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") as General Douglas MacArthur, tasked with reconstructing Japan, writing a constitution and restoring the economy. (Plus MacArthur really wants to run for President of the United States.) Is Jones getting all the good parts lately, or does he just make his parts seem that good?
  • Matthew Fox ("Alex Cross") as General Bonner Fellers, the guy who understands that if Emperor Hirohito is hung, an insurrection will be inevitable and the war will NOT be over. Fox does great suppressed rage. Watch for it!
  • Eriko Hatsune ("Norwegian Wood") as Aya, the sweetheart Fellers met in college where she was an exchange student, but now long missing in the tumult of war.
The political issues are clearly stated, the situation is engrossing, the PG-13 dialogue is realistic, and a key statement in Japanese, by a Japanese official, has very legible captions in English. Whew!
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Here is a preview:
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