Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Movie Trailer – The Homesman

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, John Lithgow
Release: November 14th, 2014

As long as this movie stays on the sane side of cheesy, I think it has a chance for Oscars.  Tommy Lee Jones was perfection in Lonesome Dove, not so much in The Missing.  Which performance will The Homesman mirror?  And Hilary Swank I think looks horrible in You’re Not You but looks excellent here.  I guess the whole thing could turn out to be a crappy Western, but I have some hope.


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Movie Review – L.A. Confidential

Category : Movie Review


Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce
Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn
Year: 1997

Sometimes a movie is exactly as good as people say.  On the flip side, every once in a while your personal taste will get in the way and those supposed sure things are perfect bombs (Avatar, Gravity), but if you hear enough rave reviews from enough sources there’s a great chance the film will live up to the love.  L.A. Confidential is, fortunately, in the first group, a movie that I’ve always heard was excellent and hey it turns out it is.  On IMDB the film get’s a 9/10 from critics, an 8.3 from users, and on RottenTomatoes it gets an 8.7 from critics, a 7.6 from users.  Pretty solid ratings for a movie from the late 90s that was nominated for nine Oscars.  I guess I should have watched it sooner & should have seen its superiority coming.
Los Angeles.  The 1950s.  The battle between organized crime & the city cops is the biggest storyline behind which celebrity will appear in which picture.  Actually, cops are celebrities themselves, hitting the headlines of the local newspapers for each big drug bust, careers living & dying based on how much the public loves them.  In this confusing & exciting era, three very different policeman are about to get involved in the case of the decade.  Bud White the muscle, Jack Vincennes the smoothie, and Ed Exley the do-gooder; they all have a personal stake in the latest murder case and they all want to be the one who breaks it.  But they’ll have to work together to solve the puzzle, a mixed-up challenger if there ever was one, a crime that will rock the city to its foundation.
I don’t even like mobster/police movies, especially not from this time period.  The dialect, the verbage, the culture; never really grabbed my interest.  And I can’t help thinking about Gangster Squad when I think about this genre, or The Black Dahlia, two movies I definitely did not like.  So I was prejudiced coming it, but thankfully that was short lived.  L.A. Confidential did everything right when so many others of the same type do everything wrong.  The director stepped away, even the writer to some extent, and the film became about the actors.  They were all phenomenal, especially Crowe & Spacey, with Basinger even winning an Academy Award.  The characters were perfectly believable, and so their dialogue never felt stupid, their actions never corny.  Good acting will win me over every time, and it did here in a genre that will never be my favorite.  I easily became enmeshed in the story, started to care about the plot, and ending up enjoying myself way more than I thought I would.  Add me to the list of critics singing this film’s praises and recommending that you watch it if you care for quality cinema.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


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Movie Trailer – You’re Not You

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel
Release: September 27th, 2014

Are you kidding me?  A movie about a paraplegic Hilary Swank?  I can’t be expected to take this seriously, right?  I’m sure it’s a very touching movie about a very important topic, but I don’t think any 4th wall is thick enough for me to believe this film.


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DVD Review – Whitewash

Category : DVD Review

Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labreche
Year: 2013

The summary for Whitewash on the back of its DVD case says that it’s “a darkly comic noir in the vein of the Coen Brothers.”  A pretty specific claim, and a ballsy one at that.  I guess it doesn’t take much to be dark, just kill off a few characters and feature depressing aspects.  Darkly comic though, that’s something else entirely.  It takes talent to create a balance between funny & horrible, to manufacture a situation that forces audiences to laugh or go crazy.  And lastly, to emulate the Coen Brothers?  That’s something almost no one can do, a difficult task for even the most talented directors, let alone one who’s attempting his first feature length.  So going in I had my doubts about a film that claimed so much.  Turns out, they had a right to.

The Movie

The story begins in the snow.  A plow operator named Bruce drives around in a blizzard, drinking & not really making an attempt to make a difference on the roads he’s speeding on.  We don’t know his story, don’t know exactly what he’s doing, and are not prepared when he suddenly runs into a man who is standing in the middle of the road.  Just like that the plot begins.  Bruce hides the body in the snow, drives off into the wilderness, crashes his plow, and wakes up the next morning almost as confused as we are.  At first he attempts to leave, but having no idea where he is and no supplies makes this a little tricky.  So he returns to the crash site, begins to forage for supplies, and creates a temporary home for himself in the woods.
And now, slowly, the story is revealed to us.  As Bruce focuses on survival, he also flashes back to the events that led him here, the catalysts that created this awful situation.  It’s all tied to a man named Paul, a man who stayed a few nights at Bruce’s house.  We begin to find out why, where he came from, how the two men became companions, and the problems both of them faced, problems that led them both to bad decisions and worse luck.  And meanwhile, Bruce is finding it harder & harder to leave his new living space.  Doing so would mean facing his issues, his crimes, the world; it would be much easier just to live in the woods with only his slowly deteriorating mind for company.  So the days march on, revealing more & more of the truth, driving Bruce further & further into his own head, a place that might be the most dangerous.

Surprisingly, Whitewash was everything it claimed to be.  It was very dark of course; after all, it was about killing someone with a snow plow.  And the darkness extended both ways, into the back story and forward into the woods.  It’s a heavy plot, made more so by Bruce’s constant introspection, his walking the edge between control and the life of an animal.  But the pleasantly surprising element here was the humor.  It’s not easy to create a depressing plot and then to cleverly lighten the mood, but the director was able to pull it off.  The comedy never felt silly, it was always appropriate, always tongue-in-cheek, and always well balanced with the darker elements.  It was so often one of those situations of laugh because what else are you gonna do, the world’s gone insane.  Credit to the entire crew for putting together complicated entertainment.
And maybe even more surprisingly, the film was a little Coen Brothers-esque.  You could say it mimicked Fargo just as tad, but is that such a bad thing?  As long as it doesn’t rip the movie off completely I’m all for an amateur director using a proven film as a guideline for the feel of his new project.  It didn’t copy it, didn’t seem like a Coen Brothers wannabe film, but did exhibit a bit of the same dark humor, cold calculation, and callus decision-making.  Thomas Haden Church was key to making the film a quality homage and not a poor attempt.  He was invested in every scene, quietly captivating, and perhaps presented his strongest character since Sideways.  He held back in a lot of different ways when he could have taken the story over-the-top, something I always appreciate.  Let me enjoy the film through my own eyes, don’t try to do too much, give us quality acting, and then let the story speak for itself.  Seems easy, but is anything but; Whitewash pulled it off.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video was very strong.  The scenes were all well-crafted, with a darkness that mirrored the plot and shooting that let the story tell itself.  The visuals were pretty cool; the snow, the woods, the plow.  And the picture quality held up throughout, with a nice balance of color and great clarity.
Audio – The DVD was done in Dolby Digital, with an option between Stereo and 5.1.  There is a choice of subtitles; English or English for the Hearing Impaired.  The audio was solid, with appropriately creepy music and good sound quality throughout.
Extras – The only extras on the disc are trailers: Whitewash, Wendy and Lucy, Terribly Happy, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedWhitewash isn’t a must-see perhaps, but it’s a film that pulls off an incredibly difficult challenge.  It’s a cold, hard, funny, black comedy/drama with a touch of Coen feel that presents a story starkly and without embellishment.  It’s entertaining while being heavy, solid & strong in ways that aren’t easy, and shouldn’t be under-appreciated.  The video quality is high, as is the audio, and there are a few extras on the DVD.  Overall, a good watch well made.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay


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Movie Trailer – The Rewrite

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney
Release: October 8th, 2014

This is pretty simple; did you like Music and Lyrics or not?  Do you melt every time Hugh Grant says something witty & British or not?  Me, I’m a sucker for the sap of these films.  And Marisa Tomei is still #1 on my List, even though she’ll be 50 this winter.


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Movie Review – Filth

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan
Year: 2013

James McAvoy is having himself a nice couple of years.  After bursting on to the American movie scene with The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), The Last King of Scotland (2006), and Atonement (2007), he’s been relatively quiet.  But recently this Scottish actor is back in business.  With roles in Trance, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Filth, Days of Future Past, and Frankenstein, he’s forcing himself back into the spotlight.  I’ve always considered McAvoy to be a good young actor, but not until Filth did he impress me as great.  It’s a film that takes a special kind of character actor to pull off, a lead man who’s both cool & detestable, and McAvoy delivers what might just be the best performance of his career.
There’s only one thing on Bruce’s mind and that’s a promotion.  He might be a Scottish detective who loves drugs & sex, who rarely showers, and hates everyone he works with, but man is this up-for-grabs promotion important to him.  He’s having some trouble at home and, in his mind, securing his police career will make everything right.  And so he goes on a mission, a terribly destructive mission to annihilate the chances of everyone else in the department in order to guarantee his own success.  It’s relatively easy to ruin the life of a supposed friend; lie to them, blackmail them, sleep with their wife, convince them to photocopy a picture of their small penis.  Bruce will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even drugging himself into a stupor in an attempt to conceal the truths of his awful life and the horrors that he’s run from for so long.
Never saw it coming, just had no idea.  The film started strong, I was interested, and then it never backed down.  It began with a very dark Snatch feel; some crime, think accents, clever direction, a cast of characters.  And then it turned into Trainspotting (same writer); drugs, hallucinations, a spiral downward that is hard to watch.  It was a shock of a film, a story that was both painful & hilarious, actors that gave every ounce of themselves despite a raw plot that didn’t ask to be excused.  And through it all, James McAvoy was brilliant.  He delivered an amazing performance made all the more impressive for being set against a backdrop of insanity.  He was believable, pathetic, disgusting, funny; a hero and an anti-hero all rolled into one.  Filth will be a lot to handle for a lot of audiences based solely on the material.  But if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you’ll be treated to an excellent film that could possibly push your Top Twenty.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


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Movie Trailer – Automata

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Gabe Ibanez
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith
Release: October 10th, 2014

This may be the first time I’ve ever been excited about an Antonio Banderas movie.  Why is nobody talking about this?  It looks like a better version of I Robot, a Fifth Element/Blade Runner sci-fi epic that will blow our minds and leave us speechless.  I’m in.


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Book Review – Number the Stars

Category : Book Review

Author: Lois Lowry
Year: 1989

Lois Lowry is also the author of the well-known novel The Giver.  The majority of American children read that at some point in school, and it’s a book I’ve read half a dozen times, a story that changes with each year that you age.  Recently I reviewed the movie version of the novel; you can link to it above.  Ultimately, it was an OK version of a great plot, a vision I didn’t share but one that didn’t totally upset me.  But I digress.  Lowry’s second most famous book is Number the Stars, another one directed at a younger audience.  It’s historical fiction, not sci-fi, but it also takes a look at mankind and how we treat one another, how we live in an imperfect world, and how we can be brave in the face of injustice.
The year is 1943, the place is Denmark.  The Danish people, having very little in the way of military might, have surrendered to Nazi Germany.  Soldiers occupy every street corner in the capitol city of Copenhagen, and although there is no bloodshed there, the native people are suffering.  Rations are limited, curfews are enforced, and the pride of a nation has seemingly vanished overnight.  But there is a secret undercurrent of Resistance moving beneath the boot of the Nazis.  These brave young men & women fight to protect the Danish people, especially the Jewish families.  And so when the Germans move to round up the Jewish community of Copenhagen, they find them mostly gone.  People like Annemarie Johansen and her family have taken in their friends, hidden them, spirited them away, all under the watchful eye of occupation.  Though still young, Annemarie begins to understand the danger facing her best friend Ellen Rosen and to face the evil that terrifies her so much with a bravery that not even she knew she possessed.
I wish I had read this book when I was young.  I think it would have meant more to me then and I also think it deserves that respect.  It is written for a young audience, perhaps for those learning about the Holocaust for the first time.  Though sad, it’s not gruesome, looking at the war through the eyes of a girl who saw hope & support, not death and terror.  It allows the reader to see the good that was done during this horrible time, the lives that were saved by the bravery of a few.  And so it comes off as a bit juvenile, but that’s not a negative to be held against the author.  I still enjoyed The Giver more; the sci-fi element, the depth of meaning, the ending that adapts to the age of the reader.  But Number the Stars is a story that should be read & shared, an important time capsule that shouldn’t be forgotten.  Although it is fiction & was written in the 80s, Lowry explains the true story behind her words at the end of the book.  I found this afterword to be the most moving part of the novel, so make sure to find a copy that includes this short description.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆


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Movie Trailer – Reclaim

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Alan White
Starring: John Cusack, Ryan Phillippe, Rachelle Lefevre
Release: September 19th, 2014

Has John Cusack ever met a script he didn’t like?  He’s a quality actor, a likeable guy, but I’m starting to think that he just got lucky stumbling across the great movies that have made his career.  Because, wow, has he been in his fair share of stinkers, this movie included.


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Movie Review – Baby Take a Bow

Category : Movie Review

Director: Harry Lachman
Starring: James Dunn, Shirley Temple, Claire Trevor
Year: 1934

I kinda watched this movie by mistake.  My wife wanted to revisit an old Shirley Temple film, a blast from her past, and I went along, vaguely remembering Heidi & Bright Eyes from my own youth, two of Temple’s more famous films.  Well something went weird, a mix-up at the library or user error or something, but Baby Take a Bow was the movie we accidentally ended up with instead of something a bit more iconic.  Still, it’s a Shirley Temple movie with a little bit of music and dancing, a melodrama from the 30s; how bad could it be?  And although that sounds like a set up for a let down, this isn’t a negative review.  With such a dated film and with so many early day flaws to forgive, it’s hard to pin down a rating.  But Baby Take a Bow is definitely not a classic that makes you forget the year it was made, nor is it a showcase for Temple’s talent.
Eddie might be a convict, but he’s not a bad guy.  He does his time, learns from his mistakes, and vows to become an honest man.  There beside him is the gal that never left, Kay, who believes her man really will go straight.  Eddie & Kay get married, have a little girl, and do stay out of trouble, even helping Eddie’s buddy Larry, an ex-con on the same road to redemption.  But there’s trouble brewing.  A detective name Welch has it out for the pair, won’t be convinced that they’re clean, and is ready to pounce at the first mistake.  And so when valuables go missing at Eddie’s employer, he’s the first suspect, a situation that’s especially fishy when little Shirley starts playing hide-and-seek with the stolen treasure.  A caper of ridiculous proportions ensues, and who knows who will come out on top.
It’s a silly plot, but one you gotta forgive a little, coming from 1934 when stories were a bit more simple.  There are villains, crooked cops, man servants; it’s a melodrama just short of the train tracks.  It’s entertaining at least, with some humor, some prat falls, a touch of song-and-dance.  But it’s nothing like what I was hoping to see from a Shirley Temple movie.  She wasn’t the star here, though she had a nice-sized part and shone in every scene.  There’s no doubt about it, she was an amazing talent, even at six years old.  The movie as a whole was just OK, disappointing if you’re looking for classic cinema, pleasant if you’re looking for a relaxing 70 minutes.  Now I’ve got to find a better Temple film, something with the great old songs, something with the magic that made her famous.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆