Tuesday, January 31, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 7: The Accused

Movie: The Accused
Year: 1989
Nominations:Best Actress - Jodie Foster
Wins/Snubs: Jodie Foster won her first Oscar for this.  Although looking back, her competition that year is ridiculous and any of them deserved to win: Melanie Griffith - Working Girl, Glenn Close - Dangerous Liaisons, Sigourney Weaver - Gorillas in the Mist, Meryl Streep - A Cry in the Dark.  I have seen all of these movies now, and given that The Accused isn't a great film overall, I'd give it to either Close or Streep for those performances.  

The Accused is fairly straightforward.  Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) is gang raped in a bar - the opening scene is her running out of the bar in distress while we overhear someone calling 911 to report the problem.  However, Sarah makes a terrible witness (she's got a record, and a reputation for drinking and smoking pot), and the district attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis, in her last big role) gives up on prosecuting and cuts a deal.  This pissed Sarah off, and when she's eventually harassed by one of the men who cheered on the rape, Sarah convinces Kathryn to go after them all and she does.  

Foster does do a great job playing a trashy character that its hard to fight for, until you see her lose it when she's taunted by the onlooker at the grocery store who recognizes her.  That's just when the movie gets you on her side.  However, McGillis is really really unlikeable.  When I first started watching, I couldn't figure out why they nominated Foster for Leading Actress and not McGillis since they have nearly equal screen time and importance to the story.  But since McGillis wouldn't win anything, it made sense.  The movie does contain one of the most difficult scenes to watch, the entire rape from start to finish - extremely uncomfortable.  I can also see why the movie wasn't nominated for anything, but in its day, it was just at the beginning of hearing the phrase "No means No" when it comes to women and agreeing to sex as the phrase.  You can see how people watching this movie in 1988 would look at Foster's Sarah Tobias and say "she was asking for it".  I know these concepts aren't gone, but I do remember hearing these things as a teen and trying to figure out what she was asking for.  So while the movie is dated and not particularly well made, it had its place in our cultural history.

Monday, January 30, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 6: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Movie: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Year: 2012
Nominations:Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor - Max von Sydow
Wins/Snubs: The movie is generally regarded as the one that squeaked into the Best Picture race.  Personally, I think Max von Sydow has an outside chance of beating Christopher Plummer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might only have gotten a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but on this one, I am firmly in the "Loved it" category.  Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) and his son Oscar (Thomas Horn) have a special relationship - they have adventures and Thomas tries really hard to create quests for his son that help him interact with people.  Oscar's mom Linda (Sandra Bullock) loves her boys, but can't really get a handle on the quests.  On "the worst day", Thomas is killed in the towers on 9/11.  Oscar obviously has trouble learning to deal with this - from finding clues to possible quests his dad might have left to hurting himself to not feel pain.  One day he breaks a vase and finds a key in an envelope with the name "Black" written on the back.  Oscar decides his father must have sent this clue to his son, and Oscar decides to find all the Blacks in the phone book to try to solve the puzzle.  He creates a map, and plans the route.  Along the way he meets some terrific characters, some of whom embrace him and share his pain, others who send him away.  One night he also gets to know The Renter (Max von Sydow), an old man staying with Oscar's grandmother.  The Renter doesn't speak - he even has YES and NO written on his palms for communication. But Oscar finds him easy to communicate with - he tells The Renter his secrets, unburdening his young soul.   They continuing look for the key's lock and the end of the quest to little success.  But Oscar can't give up, and continues his journey to complete his father's journey, slowly revealing the secrets that have prevented him from moving on with his life after the loss of his father.  

I loved this movie.  It started out slowly, and the dialogue didn't start great, but around the 20 minute mark, you start getting drawn into his journey - you start to care what connection to his dad can be maintained after such a devastating loss.  The way they portray a possible real-life story of 9/11 is both heartbreaking and uplifting.  On a personal note - I was living in Kenya on 9/11/01 and we only had a satellite radio, which meant when the satellite set, we had nothing.  So no TV, few magazines and because of that, I have consciously avoided ever seeing the video of the towers falling or the plans flying into them.  After seeing this movie, I can't say that anymore, and it made me cry both for loss in the film, and for finally seeing what the world has seen.  Yes, they do draw on your heartstrings.  It's probably manipulative.  But I don't think that it's done in a bad way - and it tells a story with a unique story that cannot be matched.  I think it deserved it's nomination for Best Picture, and von Sydow definitely deserved his for Supporting Actor.  I don't think Thomas Horn should supplant any of the current Best Actor nominees, but I think he did an amazing job for a young actor, carrying a huge load on his back. 5 of 5 star/lambs

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reel Insight Episode 72: Oscar Nominations!

Check out our new episode - we discuss lots of things that annoy us and thrill us about the Oscars - and of course we never agree.  Lots of fun is had and TONS of movies discussed.  Send us feed back at reelinsight at gmail.com!

30 Days of Oscar Day 5: The Descendents

Movie: The Descendents
Year: 2012
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Alexander Payne, Best Actor - George Clooney, Film Editing (Kevin Tent), Adapted Screenplay (
Wins/Snubs: I'm guessing Clooney will win, but the others will go home empty handed.  Although based on other groups nominations, Editing has a good chance.  Also, if the Academy doesn't want to award Aaron Sorkin two years in a row for Moneyball, I could see this winning Adapted Screenplay as well.   As for snubs, now that I've seen it, I can get on the bandwagon for a Shailene Woodley nomination for supporting actress.  Personally, I'd trade her out for Jessica Chastain in The Help.  I think Chastain would deserve her nomination for Tree of Life but not The Help.  

There aren't a lot of movies that can stand up to a single-sentence description and rise above it, but The Descendants is one of the few.  The Descendants is the story of Matt King (Clooney), a man dealing with telling his loved ones about the impending death of his wife after finding out she was having an affair.  The movie is so much more than that.  I know Whitney (from Frankly, My Dear) hates it when a place is described as a character in a film, but Hawaii plays a particularly strong role in this film.  Matt is a lawyer who is the trustee of his family's land trust that is dissolving and selling off pristine land on Kauai.  The land has been in the family for more than a century and the concept of selling off paradise is examined throughout the film as strangers talk to Matt about his decision to sell.  This is horribly timing as Matt also has to deal with the unexpected and slow death of his wife from a boating accident.  She didn't want to be kept alive on machines, so the time has come and Matt wants to give friends and family the chance to say goodbye.  He has gone to the Big Island pick up his older daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) at private school and bring her home to help with his other daughter during this time.  She is the one who saw her mother having an affair and now knows it's time to tell her father.  His reaction is one of the best and most real moments of someone finding out about an affair I've ever seen.  He's obviously upset, but is balancing that with the idea that maybe it doesn't matter anymore, but he still wants to know.  This battle continues as he gets some details from Alex - then he runs out the door and runs (literally) to a friends house to get the rest of the details.  

The rest of the film plays out in unexpected ways - Matt is coming to grips with what he life actually was: his anger with his dying wife, the distance he has from his daughters, and the family legacy that he is guardian of for now.  I loved seeing them travel around Hawaii, from Oahu to the Big Island to Kauai and back.  It's a really gorgeous setting to put this unbelievably difficult story of lies and betrayal and family.  But the real winner is Clooney - he is in almost every scene of the film, and even though he's dressed in Hawaiian business dress (Hawaiian shirt and pants or shorts), he's really far from being "The Man in the Suit" he's done in the past.  There are no moments of acting with only his eyebrows or his "chin and grin".  He acts better than I've ever seen him with more authenticity than almost any actor has ever done.  

In addition to Shailene Woodley being Matt's best support during this crisis, there are some terrific supporting characters that only make an appearance for a scene or two - Beau Bridges as a cousin, Judy Greer in a non-comedic role, Robert Forster as Matt's father-in-law, and newcomer Nick Krause as "Sid", Alex's dopey friend who goes on this journey with them all.  Alexander Payne did a terrific job putting this film together and I know it won't leave the Oscar's empty handed this year.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, January 28, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 4: Ice Castles

Movie: Ice Castles
Year: 1980
Nominations: Best Original Song, "Theme from Ice Castles (Through the eyes of Love)", Marvin Hamlish and Carole Bayer Sager
Wins/Snubs: It lost the award to "It Goes Like it Goes" from Norma Rae, though it totally SHOULD have lost to "Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie

This movie requires a little explanation for why it ended up in my list at all.  I grew up in the 1980s in Northern New York.  Figure skating or hockey are all but required for children there.  So the skating part of this movie and the Olympics of 1980 drew me in.  But really, it's because I've heard of this stupid song since I first learned to play the piano as a kid.  I would buy popular music to learn to play - Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, lots of other 80s hits.  Well, the "Theme from Ice Castles" was ALWAYS in the compilations I bought.  But I'd never heard the song or seen the movie as it came out the year I was born.  It's not even rated R so I'm surprised this wasn't on TV all the time when I was a kid.  But until I watched it for this feature, I'd really never seen it.  

Sadly, it really doesn't live up to the hype in my head.  Ice Castles is very TV-Movie of the week about a girl with natural skating ability who is recruited to train for the Olympics.  She makes it pretty far, but can't take the pressure and in a moment of pique makes a big mistake on the ice and is injured and loses her sight.  Her ex-boyfriend, who gave up med school to try to play hockey, forces her to learn to skate again, and she returns to competition.  It's not as good as The Cutting Edge for skating fun, and almost any other sports movie is more moving, and any movie about a person overcoming a disability will move you more.  However, as a movie that was nominated for it's song and theme, this movie does a great job.  The theme plays over the opening credits with lyrics.  That's the first introduction to the song and it really sets the tone and feeling for the film.  Throughout the rest of it, particularly when Lexie is skating, the theme plays without lyrics.  It's integral to the movie, which many nominated songs are not anymore.  So for that alone, I can support this nomination.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 3: The Bishop's Wife

Movie: The Bishop's Wife
Year: 1948
Nominations: Best Picture, Director (Henry Koster - went on to direct Harvey and My Man Godfrey), Sound, Recording, Editing and Score
Wins/Snubs: This film won Sound, Recording.  It lost Best Picture to Gentleman's Agreement, which I'd never heard of and now really want to see based on this win and the fact that it's directed by Elia Kazan who took the directing prize.  While Loretta Young was NOT nominated for her performance in The Bishop's Wife, she did win the Best Actress Oscar in 1948 for The Farmer's Daughter. Also nominated for Best Picture that year was Miracle on 34th Street.  

I had never seen The Bishop's Wife before now, though I had seen the remake The Preacher's Wife from 1995 starring Whitney Houston in Loretta Young's titular role and Denzel Washington in the role Cary Grant plays in The Bishop's Wife.  While not a horrible film, the original outshines the remake on all fronts.   I noted above that Miracle on 34th Street was also nominated for Best Picture in 1948.  That makes two Christmas movies nominated for Best Picture in the same year.  I'm not sure I can name a third Christmas movie after It's a Wonderful Life that would get nominated for an Oscar.  

This is a wonderfully sweet movie that follows an angel's intervention in a Bishop's marriage at Christmas.  Dudley (Cary Grant) arrives to help Henry (David Nevin), the bishop, who has been ignoring his wife and daughter in the effort to get the funding to get a cathedral built.  Dudley makes Henry's wife, Julia (Loretta Young), remember why she should be happy about being the Bishop's wife.  Meanwhile Dudley has told Henry that he is an angel coming to help him out during the holidays.  We see Dudley manipulate different situations with a bit of magic to help open people's eyes.  He does have to deal with some ruffled feathers when people think he's having an affair with Julia, which he does particularly well.  I loved watching Cary Grant in this role - he often plays the man in charge, who knows more than the viewer, and more than the leading lady at least. But this time, he knows more than everyone in the film - he's totally in charge of directing the story.  He plays it really well.  There are some funny/cute dated moments when you can really obviously seen stunt doubles ice skating.  It's incredibly heart warming, and if you're looking for a new Christmas movie next season, definitely check this one out.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 2: In a Better World

Movie: In a Better World
Year: 2010
Nominations: Best Foreign film (Denmark)
Wins/Snubs: Won Best Foreign film.  Beat out Dogtooth, Biutiful, Incendies, and Outside the Law

I saw Biutiful in theaters and heard and read a lot about both Dogtooth and Incendies.  This is probably the most of a foreign language category I've ever known.  Now that I've seen In a Better World, I'm pretty sure they got it right.  I really liked this film.  

It's two intersecting stories linked by one character.  The first follows two boys who live a really crappy existence (though both have successful parents who barely leave them alone).  Christian has just lost his mother and been brought by his dad from London to Denmark to live with this grandmother.  He meets Elias, who has been taunted ("Rat Face") every day and his bike tires flattened every day.  Christian has a lot of rage and decides to do something to stop the bullying.  The bullying does stop, but it does show something about Christian that Elias is a little unsure about (*cough* sociopath).  

The parallel story follows Elias' father, Anton, who is a doctor working in a refugee camp in Africa (I don't think they say, but it looks like Sudan).  He sees the worst kinds of tragedies - particularly the victims of a "warlord" who likes to bet on the sex of pregnant women's babies and cuts them open to find out.  Anton is trying to be a good doctor and help this.  And this work has given him perspective on the world that makes it hard for him to relate to his family when he goes back to Denmark.  He tries to impart to his sons, and Christian what it is to rise above bullies, but Christian can only see hurting them so they won't hurt you.  

This movie is really powerful, and well crafted.  You don't have too much handed to you or spelled out, but the message comes across well and the parallels are there to be drawn.  I can see how it wouldn't work for some people, but I really enjoyed it and think it deserved it's Golden Globe and Oscar.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 1: City Lights

I had so much fun running this feature last year (and got a LAMMY nomination for it) that I decided to run it again.  The point was to fill some gaps in my knowledge of award nominated films.  However, I also used the opportunity to look at films I've already seen through the lens of an Oscar nomination.  You can take a look at the movies I saw last year here.  The point was just to try to see what they saw that made them award worthy and to see who they lost to or ultimately beat for the award.

Movie: City Lights
Year: 1931
Nominations: None
Wins/Snubs: Best Picture nomination should have been a given, but silent films were already over.

I'm breaking my own "rules" right off the bat.  In honor of The Artist I wanted to watch Charlie Chaplin's best silent film.  According to Wikipedia, Hollywood had embrace talking films in 1928 and by 1931 they were almost obsolete.  Chaplin had lots of his own money and managed to get City Lights made.  Following his most famous character, simply "The Tramp", it's a romantic comedy with all the best slap-stick, mistaken identity, and humor tinged with romance and really terrific acting.  

The plot is remarkably basic - a Tramp meets a blind woman selling flowers.  He is intrigued and thinks about her all day.  At the water he meets a drunk millionaire about to kill himself.  The Tramp saves his life and they become fast friends.  However, when the millionaire wakes up sober, he doesn't remember anything.  Hijinks ensue and of course the Tramp does very well and gets the girl. The hijinks are laugh out loud funny (though if you've never seen this, they may seem overly cliched - so try to put them in context while watching it).  Virginia Cherrill plays the blind woman and is famous for this role, but also for becoming Mrs. Cary Grant.  Her interaction with The Tramp is funny and sweet.  

If you've never seen a silent movie, definitely check this one out.  If you've already seen The Artist and want another one, this is terrific.  With a wonderful score (written by Chaplin) and intertitle dialogue, it's easy to follow without getting bored.  The story is complex, but it does make you see how great a film-maker Chaplin was given the restraint he exhibits, but not filming this with speaking and limiting the actual dialogue to the necessary.  Modern filmmakers and particularly actors could learn a lot from this film. 5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Release: Animal Edition

This is a special occasion.  Two new releases at once.  And both deal with animals, War Horse and We Bought a Zoo.  I won't be surprised if War Horse gets nominated for some Oscars next week, but I doubt anything will be said about We Bought a Zoo until it gets released on DVD in a few months.  But really, these movies aren't terribly far apart in content or appeal to the average viewer.  One treads a bit more on the comedic side, and the other takes advantage of spectacular visuals to tell its story.  And while their triumphs differ quite a bit, the faults with both films are remarkably similar.

I'll start with the faults and the describe what I liked about each film individually.  The fault lies mostly with the great big gaps in the story-telling.  I'm not saying they should have held me by the hand to get from point A through the end, but I think both films fall short by setting up a rich, deep structure and then failing to follow through on the promise that the film begins.  Both films end with heart lifting triumph (though not as perfect and sweet as you might expect, there are deaths that will upset you) and overcome implausible scenarios.  But, the second act in both films, once we've left the original premise, flounders around a bit, unsure of exactly where to go.  But in neither film is this horribly problematic, it just keeps the film from being really great.

Okay, War Horse.  The story of Joey, a thoroughbred bought to be a plow horse. The bond between Joey and the little boy who buys him is the driving force for the film - will they be able to stay together.  When WWI is declared, Joey is sold to be an officer's horse.  We follow Joey through the war, changing hands and enduring horror, watching him be afraid and know fun and even joy.  I won't spoil the ending, just to say it's really a beautifully shot scene, which unfortunately doesn't fit well with the coloring of the rest of the film.  As a stand alone scene it's pretty amazing, but it just seems out of place.  I really, really liked Joey.  If it's possible for a horse to be a good actor, he is.  Spielberg did a great job getting the horse to show human-like emotion throughout.  There aren't a lot of stand out human actors, particularly in the middle of the film, but as a group they do keep the story going.

As a film about the horrors of war, it's very successful - this war SUCKED.  Does that make for a good film - I'm conflicted about that.  There was something better done about showing the problems of war in Saving Private Ryan and War Horse, for all it's softness about following a horse, tips the balance a bit far in the wrong direction about how awful humans can be during war.  Watching that kind of terror in the eyes of the soldiers and horror watching what they do and what is done to them might not be something everyone needs to see more than once.  I tend to enjoy my films best if I can't wait to see them again.  In that respect, War Horse was unsuccessful.  So I'd give the film a 3.5 of 5.  Very very good in some respects, but a near zero rewatchability.  But that's just me.

As for We Bought a Zoo, Matt Damon is the recently widowed father of a 14-year old boy, Dylan, and a 7-year old girl Rosie (scene stealer Mackenzie Elizabeth Jones).  After Dylan gets expelled from school for creating artwork that depicts death and stealing, Damon decides to move the kids out of the city.  He also needs to escape all of the memories of his late wife.  They end up buying a perfect house, that also comes with an Animal Park that is nearly kaput.  Damon's character is an adventure writer and thinks getting this park back on track will be an adventure, and Rosie of course loves it.  Dylan is still struggling but befriends the niece, Lily (an remarkably annoying Elle Fanning, see her in Super 8 instead) of the head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johannsen).  The movie does a good job giving us a goal to cheer for - passing the upcoming inspection before they can open, and keeping it all from becoming ridiculous.

I've always been a fan of zoos.  I've visited small zoos in Panama, Mexico, Kenya, and Zanzibar.  We Bought a Zoo didn't do anything improbable and kept well within all the kooky standards of animal welfare for my very critical eye.  I was nervous going in that they'd pretend that this tiny zoo could have all kinds of exotic species and be really cheap.  But the movie makes everything really clear and above board - acknowledging their struggles, and not pretending too much.  The supporting cast isn't as strong as the story really requires - they have some good actors - Thomas Hadyn Church as Damon's accountant brother (the funniest character besides the animals), Patrick Fugit as the handyman, Angus McFadyn as another keeper, Carla Gallo (from "Bones") as the nosy bookkeeper and John Michael Higgins as the Inspector.  But sadly, the story isn't written well enough for any of them to really shine.  Overall, still a pleasure to watch.  4 of 5 stars/lambs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 57

Wow - the single win streak continues.  Congrats to Dave from KL5-Film for guessing last week. 

Last week's clue:  A rapper is a "rebel without a cause" who lives in 1970s suburbia and does a bit of swinging, even with lots of teenagers around.

Answer: Cool as The Ice Storm

SDG, Ryan, Dylan, Andrew, Keith, Dave - 1

New clue:  A son feels responsible for his father's death in Africa while a crusading knight tries to save a city from the Saracen king Saladin.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reel Insight Episode 71: Ewan McGregor

Our first episode of 2012 was so much fun to record. I hope you have as good a time listening - might I recommend some alcohol?  We talk about what we've been up to (Any suggestions for my upcoming 30 days of Oscar posts are most welcome) and what we've seen lately (Larry Crowne and Wild Target).  Our random segment this week is because Rachel "has a burr in her ass" about some of the new technology issues that are pissing her off.  Let us know what you think about them.  Then we get into a pretty funny star of the week discussion about Ewan McGregor (the young Obi-Wan himself).  Let us know what you think - send us an e-mail at Reel Insight at gmail.

New movies with Ewan McGregor
The Island - This movie sticks in your head.  The basic premise is that society has evolved to a point where we can create clones to provide organs when aging or accident strips humans of health.  However, the company that promises organs to the very wealthy can't just grow organs without the person around them, which is against society's rules.  So these clones are raised in secret and in order to keep them complacent underground, they are told that the world has been contaminated and they must live underground and stay away from one another.  However, they can win the lottery and go to "The Island", a preserved paradise.  McGregor and Scarlett Johanssen live in this society, and when ScarJo wins the lottery, McGregor has to figure out what to do - go with her or break out.  Lots of questions about what it means to be a clone or to create "slaves", and quite a few really good action sequences.  I liked this much more than I thought I would.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Brassed Off - A very British indie-type love story drama about a brass band made up of coal miners in England.  They're in danger of the Tories closing their mine and being out of work, and the town closing up.  But they play on. McGregor is the romantic lead, but Pete Postlethwaite is the band's conductor and is the main driver of the story.  Charming, and terrific soundtrack of Brass Band music.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Trainspotting - I remember watching this in college a LOT.  But I can't say I remembered it.  And now I can't figure out why I would watch this many many times over. Every few decades, definitely, but several times in a year?  It's so bizarre - and I know that's the point.  Danny Boyle's heroin-induced look at a group of losers who are trying to make their way in the world.  McGregor narrates the story (which definitely inspired Aranofsky's Requiem for a Dream) of him trying to get off drugs, and then the strong desire to get back on them.  There are a lot of amazing actors I would never have known back then, but are common now (Johnny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly McDonald among many others you'll recognize).  A really terrific beginning (whether it was or not) for them all, strong acting, insanity, and a wonderfully crafted movie that sticks with you for ages. 5 of 5 stars, for being awesome, not because I liked it.

Beginners - I have heard a lot about this movie, particularly Christopher Plummer's performance.  But other than than I have trouble understanding what they loved about this movie.  McGregor is the son of a man who after his wife's death tells his son he's gay, and goes into the lifestyle with a vengeance.  Sadly, that exploration is cut short by cancer.  The movie is told in flashbacks, with the current story a romance between McGregor and Melanie Laurent (who I really want to be my friend, she seems awesome!).  The continuity between the two stories is the terrier, Arthur, that is particularly needy and cannot be left alone, so he's in most scenes.  If the dog hadn't been there, I would have had a hard time enjoying the film.  It's fairly slowly paced, and ultimately is pretty depressing when you think about this man who raised a son and had a wife for so much of his life living a lie about himself.  They try to explore that dichotomy - it seems McGregor's obsession for much of the film - but it ultimately didn't get very far.  Good, but not great.  3 of 5 stars/lambs

Deception - Very odd thriller co-starring Hugh Jackman as a bad guy, and Michelle Williams as the love interest.  Lots of stolen identities, an anonymous sex-club and thievery.  I don't want to give too much away, but it's nice to see Jackman as a bad guy.

Incendiary - More with Michelle Williams, though this time she's British.  While she's having an affair with McGregor (a journalist), her husband and son are killed when a terrorist bombs a soccer stadium in London.  This of course screws her up quite a bit.  And with his help she investigates it a bit and finds the family of one of the terrorists and befriends them (they have no idea where their father/son has gone or that he was one of the bombers).  Her dead husband was also, ironically, on the bomb squad, and his boss knew that her family was in danger and she gets pissed that he didn't do more to protect them.  I really liked Williams playing British, it worked well.  Not a great movie subject though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 56

I can't believe it.  We still have a 5 way tie on the leaderboard.  Welcome Keith from Kano's Lay-Z-Boy Theater.  He got one even having never seen one of the movies!

Last week's clue: A little girl can talk to dogs but develops an unhealthy best friendship and ends up killing her mom. 

Answer: All Dogs Go to Heavenly Creatures

SDG, Ryan, Dylan, Andrew, Keith - 1

New clue:  A rapper is a "rebel without a cause" who lives in 1970s suburbia and does a bit of swinging, even with lots of teenagers around.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DVD Roundup: Larry Crowne and Giveaway

First, the giveaway.  There are still 8 DVDs that I would really like to give away.  A few have been claimed and mailed away.  I'll mail anywhere in the world (in case that was the reason you didn't ask, but whether it works on your DVD player is up to you).  These will be available until next Friday, January 20, then I'm giving them to the library.  Take your pick and leave it in the comments.  

1. Something's Gotta Give - Widescreen
2. Precious - Widescreen
3. America's Sweethearts - Both
4. Center Stage - Special Edition
5. Men in Black II - Widescreen Special Edition
6. X-Men 3: The Last Stand - Widescreen
7.  Far From Heaven - Widescreen
8. Stepmom - Full screen

Second, a review of Larry Crowne, new on DVD not too long ago, but finally came to my house.  Our new recording schedule for RI leaves some time in the schedule that makes getting new movies really nice.  Anyway - Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is a middle-aged guy who is being let go from his retail position because he can no longer advance in the company because he doesn't have a college degree (he was in the Navy for 20 years).  Now this plot device bothered me for about 10 minutes and then it doesn't matter at all, it's just a reason to make Larry go back to school.  Why would ANY company fire a terrific employee just because their mantra is that everyone can advance, and he actually can't.  He isn't asking to move up, just stay employed.  

But Larry enrolls at a local community college in at least 2 classes, Economics 101 (taught but a really funny George Takai) and Communication 217 - Informal Remarks or something like that, taught by Mrs. Mercedes "Merry" Tainot (Julia Roberts, married to porn-addicted writer Bryan Cranston).  She is really burned out by teaching, particularly 8am classes.  And there's a rule that if a class has fewer than 10 enrolled students, it's not cost effective to continue, which pleases Merry a lot until Larry arrives and makes it 10, which puts a strike against Larry from the first.  

The semester rolls along and Larry has to find ways to cut costs now that he's not working.  His neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson) run a continuous yard sale and have a scooter he can buy to save on gas.  From this, he's asked to join a "scooter gang", led by Talia and Dell (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wilmer Valderama).  Talia is unsure about school, but likes the look of Larry and wants to help him be cool.  Larry goes through a few transformations and stays friends with the "scooter gang".  Merry sees Larry out with Talia and assumes the worst.  

You can guess how this movie ends.  The trailer does give you some of the funny moments, but in context they're much funnier (when she's riding on the back of his scooter they drive by her husband getting arrested).  Tom Hanks is particularly charming, much in the way he is during The Terminal, but without the accent, just the confusion.  Having just taught at a community college myself, I found a lot to like about this film.  They captured the mix of students really really well - you have older people trying to hang on to their lives or single moms eager to improve their lots under staggering odds.  Then you have the young students who have no idea what they want to do, and they're pretty sure goofing off and being loud is all that will ever be required of them in life.  Overall, it's a very cute movie - though if either Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts actively annoy you, it's not for you.  If not, you'll really enjoy it's charming nature.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Want to ask Angelina Jolie a question?

Okay, this isn't meant to brag at all, mostly since it's never come to anything before this, but I get a few e-mails a week from various people promoting films that want me to participate in promotion in some way.  Often I've never heard of the film, and have no idea what they're promoting so I just ignore them (this has bitten me in the ass. I finally saw the movie City Island, AFTER having passed up a chance to chat with the cast).  But this one seems for real, so I'm going to promote it.

Angelina Jolie took the two big parts of her life (no, not her family) and put them together - she wrote and directed a film about the war in Bosnia in the 1990s - In the Land of Blood and Honey.  It's been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film since it's all in Bosnian and Croatian based on the trailer.  A company handling the film's marketing has offered my readers a chance to ask her a question about the film.  Just leave your question in the comments section and I'll submit it to her for the "Live Q & A" next Wednesday night.

Also, there's a prize opportunity.  The prize is a poster of the film.  All you have to do is leave a good question in the comments over the next few days.

Okay, this is pretty random too - I saw her on Anderson - Anderson Cooper's talk show, and she said her hubby Brad Pitt did all the stills photography for the film.  Below is the "behind the scenes" photo they sent me, and he might have taken it, which is pretty cool.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 55

We have ANOTHER addition to the new leaderboard.  Well done, Andrew from Gman Reviews.  With the holidays over I'll have to go back to plain mashups.  Still can't believe we've passed 50.  

Last week's clue: A couple of entertainers band together to save a friend's Inn in Vermont while a crazy family drives each other nuts and burns down the Christmas tree. 

Answer: White Christmas Vacation

SDG, Ryan, Dylan, Andrew - 1

New clue:  A little girl can talk to dogs but develops an unhealthy best friendship and ends up killing her mom.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Release: Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

It wouldn't be all that difficult to take almost all of Tom Cruise's characters and believe they are all actually the same person if you could ignore the fact that they were made at different times.  For example: Brian Flanagan (Cocktail) gets his life together and goes to law school.  He graduates and joins The Firm (Mitch McDeere).  However, since that doesn't work out, he joins the navy, becomes a pilot (Maverick, Top Gun) but realizes his legal career might be put to better use and he defends some murderers (Lt. Daniel Kaffee, A Few Good Men).  After he's released from military service, the intelligence community decides he's worth the investment since he's already a lawyer (Ethan Hunt, Mission: Impossible series, Roy Miller Knight and Day).  Once that's over, he decides politics might be the way to go and he becomes a Senator (Jasper Irving, Lions for Lambs).  Of course, you can't be a politician forever, and he goes becomes a music mogul (uncredited, Tropic Thunder).  If you can add to this let me know, but it's always struck me as odd that his characters seem to be living out some parallel life to Tom Cruise.

Anyway, his newest movie, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a good continuation on that parallel life. He's been within the intelligence agency for a while now, but the world has changed a bit and the technology with it.  There are new people to fight and lots of people to disavow when they screw up.  He works with Paula Patton (the teacher from Precious), Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner to fix some of those screw ups.  He's much more of a loner than Ethan Hunt was in any of the previous movies.  It's pretty unusual for a fictional character to actually learn from his mistakes in previous incarnations of a franchise (I'm looking at you, James Bond), but Ethan seems to have a wisdom and knowledge about him that gives you confidence he knows what he's doing.  

I wasn't surprised when I learned a man known for animation (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), Brad Bird did a terrific job with the action and in particular with the visual aspects of the film.  You are seriously scared when Hunt is hanging on the outside of a building relying only on one of Simon Pegg's inventions.  He doesn't rely solely on dramatic music to create the tension, but from wonderfully scary visuals.  This is true throughout the film, which also has more daytime, international scenery than any other action film I've seen in years.  All of the usual toys of a Mission Impossible film are present: from hot women in beautiful dresses, to masks, to disavowed rogue agents.  Really terrific holiday fare.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It's been a little more than the most recent, and final, Harry Potter movies appeared in my house on DVD.  I have also watched them, out of order, and it inspired some more thoughts that I thought I would share.  First, and foremost, I really liked them, please don't misunderstand anything I say after this, I do really like them.  But seeing them nearly back to back (7.2 last night and 7.1 today), it inspired a few thoughts I hadn't considered when I first saw them in theaters.

First - how do they stack up as separate films?
The short answer is: they don't.  There is a lot in both films that, I imagine, would be hard to understand if you haven't read the book.  And because of the detail of J.K. Rowling's work, there is a lot that is left out or rearranged in order to make it into 2 films.  But the longer answer is that 7.2 could, with about 20 more minutes of introduction, be a film all on its own.  7.1 tells us a LOT of information and does a fair amount of character development and fills a lot of holes, but doesn't build to a particularly good ending.

Second - is one better than the other?
I wouldn't have guessed this, but I really liked 7.2 much better than 7.1.  I think a lot more happens and that action usually contains a fair amount of building the plot forward so that it makes for a more cohesive film.  However, there are scenes from 7.1 that I really enjoy - particularly the scene when 3 gifted actors other than Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have to play Harry, Hermione and Ron in the Ministry of Magic.  That scene works wonderfully for humor, tension, and building the story.  I think 7.1 could have used more editing (trimming the time in the tent) and a stronger ending scene - the whole scene at Malfoy mansion is very strong in the book, and somehow wasn't brought to the proper climax on film - seriously we should have been crying and it just doesn't quite get there.

Third - other gripes?
Yes, 7.1 works visually on a large screen.  On my smallish TV during the day there were more than a few scenes where I could barely see anything on screen.  The whole scene where Ron fights the horcrux is nearly invisible.  For such a powerful scene, it was disappointing to have it disappear.  I don't know if the color scheme was completely deliberate, but it makes for a dull trudge through almost anything dark or in the woods.
Yes, 7.2 has some really terrific moments, but, in general, the dialogue (when it differs from the book, which much of the battle of Hogwarts does) is not great.  It's hard to tell if it's the acting ability of the cast or just bad acting moments, but in general the dialogue or lack thereof is not great - particularly when they're trying to get across something already known (ex - Ron and Hermione's relationship being exposed to Harry before he goes to the forest, or Neville's speech to Voldemort).

Last - is the epilogue worth the effort?
No.  The make-up, hair and costumes fails miserably to live up to the spectacular 8 movies that precede that final 7 minutes.  None of them actually look measurably older or specifically 19 years older.  Harry looks sick, Ron looks fat, Hermione looks busy, and Ginny looks chic, but none of them look older.  C'mon, they had all the money in the world and they seriously produced that?   As a completion of the film, it's okay since it's so short, but looking at it on it's own, I have to agree with Rachel - they should have put it AFTER the credits for those would might have wanted it.

I'm sure I'll have more and more thoughts as I watch this many times over the next many years, but these are my first set of thoughts on the movies seen within 24 hours, out of sequence.  Perhaps I need to try them again in order.  Since I have another 3 weeks before the spring semester starts, maybe I'll try that.  Advice?  Thoughts?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reel Insight 2011 wrap up

I'll get back to my computer soon but you'll have to give me a bit. But I didn't want you to wait to find out about our 2011 wrap up on Reel Insight. Check it out on iTunes or podimatic. Either way enjoy your New Years Day!

Our 70th Episode does a wrap-up of our Top 5 movies of 2011, the worst 5 of 2011, and our most anticipated movies of 2012.  Some very interesting discussion.   Just to give you some background, below is the list of 2011 movies I've seen.

An * denotes a film I saw in theaters.  The others I saw on DVD.

  1. Country Strong*
  2. The Green Hornet
  3. Barney’s Version
  4. No Strings Attached*
  5. The Company Men
  6. Gnomeo & Juliet
  7. Just Go With It*
  8. Cedar Rapids
  9. Unknown*
  10. The Adjustment Bureau*
  11. Beastly*
  12. Rango*
  13. Jane Eyre
  14. Limitless*
  15. The Lincoln Lawyer*
  16. Paul*
  17. Source Code*
  18. Arthur
  19. Soul Surfer
  20. The Conspirator
  21. Water for Elephants
  22. Something Borrowed
  23. Thor
  24. Bridesmaids*
  25. Pirates of the Caribbean 4*
  26. Midnight in Paris*
  27. X-men First Class*
  28. Super 8*
  29. Bad Teacher*
  30. Horrible Bosses*
  31. Harry Potter 7.2 *
  32. Captain America*
  33. Friends with Benefits
  34. The Change-up*
  35. Rise of the Planet of the Apes*
  36. The Help*
  37. Contagion*
  38. The Lion King 3D*
  39. 50/50*
  40. Moneyball*
  41. Red State
  42. Tower Heist*
  43. Melancholia
  44. Breaking Dawn Part 1*
  45. The Muppets*
  46. Sherlock Holmes 2*
  47. Mission Impossible 4*
  48. Crazy, Stupid Love