Author Archives: ochippie

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Movie Review – Ladies in Lavender

Category : Movie Review

Director: Charles Dance

Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Brühl

Year: 2004

Charles Dance, with 148 screen credits, only directed one film, and that would be Ladies in Lavender.  Not a bad idea if you’re only going to do it once, to direct two of the most talented women in British cinema/television/theatre history in Dench & Smith, two amazing actresses who anyone would be lucky to work with.  I recently watched them, along with Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright, in Tea with the Dames, a documentary about these four famous ladies, and a chance to hear their stories in a candid and unprecedented manner.  I would recommend giving that movie a glance, but you don’t need me to tell you to always perk up your ears a bit whenever you hear these particular names, because you will always find strong performances and fascinating characters wherever Dench & Smith choose to pop up.

Sisters Ursula and Janet live in a quiet Cornwall village with their maid and their garden, sharing a room after all these years and spending each day together as they appreciate the autumn of their years.  Their idyllic existence is shaken when a young man washes up on the beach outside their cottage, and they take him in until he gains his strength.  The stranger’s name is Andrea, he’s Polish, a musician, and doesn’t speak English, so communication is slow, but steady, and eventually the sisters begin to count on his presence in their guest room, especially Ursula, who never married, never was in love, and may finally be awake to her emotions, though far too late in life to do anything about them.  When Andrea mends and the time for him to leave grows closer, letting go might be the most painful experience Ursula has ever had to endure.

Ladies in Lavender is a simple film with a classic feel that could have gone in any number of dramatic directions, but chose instead to dwell on emotion instead of action, and was all the better for that decision.  It feels much, much older than it is, and not only because the pre-WWII period was so well-represented, and not only because Dench & Smith are pillars of the industry, but because the director kept to an old-school style that felt like classic BBC, not modern romance.  The Dames were spectacular of course, playing sisters so well, and keeping the story moving even when not much was happening.  And the side cast was solid too: David Warner (who I’ll always love for Time Bandits and Tron), Natascha McElhone (who used to be a sex symbol, as in Truman Show), Toby Jones (who is seemingly in every movie ever made).  But Daniel Bruhl may have stolen the show, starting a career that is currently exploding; he’s one of my favorite actors working today.  This film is an easy watch, a touching drama, and features great acting; what more could you want.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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DVD Review – On the Basis of Sex

Category : DVD Review

Director: Mimi Leder

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

Year: 2018

There are a large number of us who are constantly worried about the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as she sits in a powerful seat among a turbulent government that can’t take another hit just now.  We monitor her safety, we worry about her longevity, and we pray for the future; what we wouldn’t give for a handful more RBGs.  No wonder Hollywood has currently turned its collective attention to this powerful woman, with a documentary and then a drama sharing this lady’s life story with curious audiences and invested fans.  I was worried coming in that On the Basis of Sex would be too heavy-handed, too over-dramatic, to depict this woman sufficiently and succinctly, to do justice to this Justice.  But the film worked in all the right places, delivering something smooth and consumable and safeguarded perhaps, but none the worse for care.

The Movie

One of the select few women accepted into the prestigious Harvard Law School in the 50s, Ruth Ginsburg fought every day to be seen, heard, and taken seriously.  A wife and mother as well, she juggled text books and classes and home life with a dexterity driven by her desire to become a lawyer, to make a difference in a world that desperately needed changing.  She even attended her husband’s classes as well when he was recovering from cancer, showing a passion for learning and a refusal to give up that would become her trademark and her badge of honor.  Eventually, Ruth would graduate from Columbia and pursue law, only to be told that women didn’t need such jobs, that a mother couldn’t find the time to be a lawyer as well, and that her sex would always count against her no matter where she went.

Years later, in the 70s, now with two children and working as a professor at Rutgers, Ruth returned to the idea of fighting for the rights of others, especially women, when a fascinating case fell into her husband’s lap, and promised to lead the way to equality down a very unusual path.  The case was a man suing the IRS to receive a caregiver tax credit for staying with his ailing mother.  At issue was the law’s language, which stated that only women could receive the credit, because it was assumed that only women were capable of caring for a relative.  This case opened the door to women’s right because it demanded that the courts say that gender inequality is illegal for either gender, and Ruth jumped at the chance to take this fight as high as it could possibly go.  The rest is history, as is the entire life of this woman, a soldier in the battle against oppression who will go down in history as one who led the charge.

The story of RBG should inspire us all.  Here is a woman, smarter than basically anyone, who had to work harder than almost everyone, who was told no at every corner, but who never gave up, and of course went on to become one of the most famous women in American history.  Not only that, but she spearheaded the legal battles that would change the unjust laws of our nation, that would allow meaningful change to take place, and for that we all owe her a debt, male or female.  Now we cheer for her to keep her place on a panel of judges who seem to be leaning further and further toward power, farther and farther away from common decency, as the amoral politicians of the nationalist movement try to subvert what she and so many others have attempted to build; a country in which all are equal.

Returning to the film, I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and its ability to stay away from the cheese.  There were times that felt produced, sure, but the movie’s heart was obviously in the right place from the beginning, it wins audiences over with ease, and so we forgive tiny flaws, because the greater work is what matters and what we end up soaking in.  I do wish they had found a New Yorker, a Jew, someone more authentic, to play RBG; I like Felicity Jones, she was strong in both The Theory of Everything and Rogue One, but she’s a Brit, and her hidden accent pops up at the most inopportune moments.  Kathy Bates as also an odd choice for a small part; she’s a strange actress who no longer really fits.  Hammer was brilliant though, and Theroux was strong, the rest of the side characters not adding much to the mosaic, so the casting was a bit of a mixed bag.  But the story shone through and dimmed any production flaws into mere background, allowing the reason audiences were watching in the first place to shine very brightly.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (1o80p HD Widescreen) and shot using Arri Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa SXT cameras with Panavision Primo lenses, the video quality of the film is strong enough for a biography, with a touch of nice cinematography usually overshadowed by the sets/costumes/stylings of the time period.  The disc watches smoothly, with an eye toward color and wardrobe, not exactly toward stunning visuals.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of either Spanish or French, both in 5.1 DTS Digital Surround.  Also, the audio is available in Descriptive Video Service 2.0.  Subtitle choices include English SDH, Spanish, and French.  There is also an option to turn menu button sounds on or off.  The sound quality of the film is solid, with a nice backing track and a fine balance between dialogue and music.

Extras – There are three special features on the Blu-ray: A Supreme Team: Making On the Basis of Sex (a 6-minute behind-the-scenes segment), Legacy of Justice (a 3-minute character study), and Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership (a 3-minute featurette).

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. I was pleasantly surprised by the tenacity of this true story, both in its telling of history and its attention to detail.  The filmmaking team also held back from taking the plot somewhere melodramatic; I thought the drama of the moment was, more often than not, skillfully handled.  There were a few weak points; Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor, and I would have liked a different RBG, though Jones was fine.  But the film’s strengths proved more important and more compelling, as the tale was told with clarity and with an eye towards current, relevant events.  The video is solid, the audio the same, and there are a few extras on the disc, so the technical features stand up on their own, and they support an important story about a extraordinary life that we all need to hear, learn from, and remember.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay



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Movie Review – Stranded

Category : Movie Review

Director: Luna

Starring: Maria Lidon, Joaquin de Almeida, Maria de Medeiros

Year: 2001

I’ve always been fascinated by Mars missions, and so have American audiences; we want to see them try and we want to see them fail.  Mission to Mars started the modern movement, Red Planet followed and was equally terrible, Doom to some extent, John Carter not really, The Last Days on Mars was good, The Martian was a big deal but not that great of a film other than the fact that Matt Damon is an incredible actor; we’re always ready for a Mars mission to go wrong.  But apparently it’s hard to do the movie version right, which is perfectly exemplified in Stranded, one of the worst genre flicks I have ever seen, void of anything that would have saved the day and without a reason to root for survival.

Humanity has finally reached the point in its technology that we can reach the next goal in near-space travel; Mars.  The first manned mission is launched and, after two years, the team reaches the planet, but that’s where things go wrong.  Their shuttle crash lands, leaving one dead and five marooned, without the necessary resources (food, water, air, fuel) to survive more than a year, which is nowhere near enough time for a rescue mission to come get them.  In order to survive, only two can stay in the shuttle; the other three must take a short walk outside, where they will experience the surface before dying.  But what they find out there makes the sacrifice worth it, because something strange lies beneath the bedrock, something not from Earth.

Stranded hails from Spain, with a director who is in the movie, and it is her first attempt at either acting or directing.  What could possibly go wrong?!  Your first try at acting and you decide to direct yourself, when you’ve never directed anyone, and you expect it all to work out?  What in god’s name was anyone involved in this film thinking.  It’s horrible, obviously, absolutely horrible, like a skit given money but gone terribly wrong.  The acting is so bad you’ll want to be stranded on a planet with no chance of rescue too, just so you’d have to conserve power and wouldn’t be allowed to turn on your DVD player.  I swear some of the actors were dubbed and some weren’t, it was a mess, I don’t know what was going on, and the plot is so stupid that you’ll have to cradle your brain after watching it unfold.  I, unfortunately, already saw this film; learn from my mistake and make sure you never do.

My rating: ☆



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Movie Review – The Fifth Element

Category : Movie Review

Director: Luc Besson

Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker

Year: 1997

Luc Besson’s filmography is like a murder scene; a bloody but curious mess through which you search for clues and end up finding not that much.  La Femme Nikita (I used to watch the USA Network show), Leon: The Professional (great), The Fifth Element (weird), The Messenger (I was pretty psyched for this movie when I was 15 and into history), The Family, Lucy, Valerian; that last one is his closest to Fifth Element, not as good, but at least in a wacky sci-fi style he seems comfortable with.  I guess The Professional is his best, but I’m not sure how much of the credit goes to the director there, and if you take that away, what’s he left with?  Because, on a re-watch, Fifth Element isn’t as amazing as I remember; fun, but not incredible.  And without it, Besson starts to look really questionable.

For years, a race of peaceful aliens have protected an ultimate weapon that will someday be used to save Earth from an ultimate evil, a force that only cares for destruction.  The aliens have in their possession a group of four stones, each representing an element, and also a fifth element, a supreme being, that will be needed to unite the stones into forming the weapon.  When the evil entity finally arrives, our protectors bring us the precious cargo, only to crash land and destroy any hope of our survival.  But wait, the stones weren’t on the ship, and the supreme being lives, recreated by a machine in the form of a beautiful woman named Leeloo.  With the help of a reluctant, rugged, ex-military cab driver named Korben Dallas, she must recover the stones, bring them to an ancient temple, and discover her elemental power, so that humanity can live to see another day.

It’s wild, much too wild to put into words, and if you haven’t already seen Fifth Element I’m not sure I can recommend it now; I think you might have to be a teenager to really appreciate the insanity that is this film.  Aliens, guns, comedy, farce, Bruce Willis & Chris Tucker; it’s a lot.  I remember enjoying it a lot when I was younger, but this time around it fell flat, or, more accurately, jumped so high over the shark that it circled the globe and crash landed on the opposite side of normal.  I respect what Besson tried to do here, how bold he was to attempt this, but apart from a few fun facets, the film as a whole is a gigantic mess.  I’ve concluded that he’s not a very good director, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few pieces of this bizarre space adventure to enjoy.  Jovovich is cool, Tucker is funny, it’s nice to see something that doesn’t play it safe, and I can see how, if you look at it as pure entertainment, you could have a blast watching actors permitted to be ridiculous.  But a plot that bounces off the walls and acting that’s suspect at best combine to make this movie mostly mediocre; I wonder if it would watch better if audiences were high, because that seems to be how it was made.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – Dumbo (2019)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Year: 2019

The modern Disney remakes of classic Disney animation are entirely unnecessary; I hope we call all agree on that point.  We grew up with these musical gems, we pass them on to our children in their original, white, cracked plastic boxes, but we never asked for them to be turned into live-action knockoffs that shadow what we used to love and can’t possibly create the same magic a second time around.  We also still watch, because the pull of Disney is just too great, and because our children deserve to have their own set of hallmark entertainers, even if they won’t be able to reach the level of quality their predecessors were able to pull off.  So here we go again, with another re-do that’s re-done for family fun.  What’s important is that it reaches its entertainment goals; what’s worth remembering is that it shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Returning to a traveling circus from the Great War, Holt Farrier soon realizes that his old life will never be the same.  He lost an arm in battle, a wife to influenza, and the circus is about to fold under financial pressure.  Holt’s children, Milly and Joe, have been taking care of themselves, with the help of the family of fellow performers and trainers, who are all at risk of losing their jobs.  Max Medici, the owner, hopes that the birth of a new baby elephant in his menagerie will bring life back to the show, and kick start ticket sales.  But when he sees Baby Jumbo’s gigantic ears, he’s not so sure.  Soon Mrs. Jumbo is sold and the legend of the flying elephant is born, attracting the attention of renowned entertainer V.A. Vandevere, who wants Dumbo for his own, and who can’t be trusted an inch.

I’m getting more than a little tired of these Disney reboots, often because they suck me right in emotionally without my permission.  They know I can’t resist, they know my kids will ask, and they know I’ll be at the theatre; it’s really unfair to my heart.  Some you can see coming a mile away and you know to steer clear of (cou*Aladdin*gh), but some seem downright wonderful in the trailers, and although you know they can’t be as good, you long for them anyway, because, basically, nostalgia.  On a serious note, I think it’s sad that these films aren’t being made for art, they are being made for money, and I know all film companies want to make a buck, but I feel like there used to be more love poured in, especially when it comes to Disney, where as now it’s all about the box office.  These remakes don’t need to be made, there have to be original ideas out there, we’ve seen them in Pixar form, and we deserve more.  Laika and Ghibli are looking better and better by the season; Disney needs to step it up.

That all said, I watch the re-dos, and often I like them, I don’t think they’re completely horrible, I just grow tired of their annual presence.  Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, Beauty and the Beast; I enjoyed some more than others, but there are positives to glean from the bunch.  Cinderella was rather strong, Beauty and the Beast had some good original music, and I think Dumbo has pieces that succeed as well, if obviously not the entirety.  The baby elephant himself is completely adorable, and basically saves the film, because audiences are constantly rooting for him, always aww-ing over this big, blue, tear-filled eyes.  Colin Farrell worked, he’s a great actor, and the side cast delivered some top names; Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin.  The story was fully directed at children, which is fine, and it’s a nice family film, which is also something to its credit.  But there were also flaws; the kids were terrible, especially the girl, there were far too many inconsequential characters, the action was silly, and the animation wasn’t even that great.  I noticed a few nods to the classic version, the new story went its own direction, Burton has imagination, my kids had fun, it wasn’t a complete loss, but, again, these films aren’t necessary, we’re growing tired of them, and they are mostly problematic, so just stop already.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – The Highwaymen

Category : Movie Review

Director: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson

Year: 2019

With a Road to Perdition feel but a McFarland USA simplicity, The Highwaymen debuts on Netflix to a smattering of applause, which is exactly the lukewarm sentiment it deserves.  Hancock is the director of mediocre movies and he cast his two leads with mediocre actors, setting this film up not to fail, most assuredly, but definitely not to succeed either.  The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder; I’d say that Hancock has been improving over the years, but slowly and safely, not with any sort of daring that would make his skill stand out, which is a strategy I guess, but not one I would like to think that I would administer if I were in his shoes.  His actors match his fervor, or lack thereof, and the result is something solid, but in no way spectacular.

The legend of Bonnie & Clyde is well known, two young criminals on the run during the Great Depression, and their reputation became celebrity, earning them a following, some fandom, and even, perhaps, forgiveness.  But these were cold-blooded killers, make no mistake, and their crime spree left many dead in their dust, often including police officers doing their duty, protecting the civil order and the community.  When the pair of outlaws crossed a violent line one too many times, the governor of Texas, Ma Ferguson, recalled a retired Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer, tasking him and his longtime partner Maney Gault with catching Bonnie & Clyde before they killed again.  So began a hunt that would end in a blaze of gunfire, as these infamous and uncatchable killers finally met their match.

Hancock plays it safe, with solid stories and stolid actors, a recipe for good but not great.  Like I said, he’s been improving, but his ceiling is low, because he doesn’t take risks and he doesn’t hire polarizing talent.  Costner and Harrelson were able to do the job of playing Texas lawmen just fine, of course they were, but they won’t surprise, and they definitely won’t often make you do anything but yawn.  The entire film was a bit sleepy, a bit long and slow, heading to a finale that you knew was coming, either because you knew the story or because you could simply feel it.  I will say, however, that the slow burn grew on me after a while, and I felt myself drawn in rather than shut off; I give some credit to the music, the cinematography, the art, the scenery, all the periphery, because it worked when the people putting on the show were simply there saying their lines, not elevating in any way.  But I did get into a groove by the end, I did learn to appreciate some of the smaller details, so for that I give The Highwaymen its due.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆


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Movie Review – Papillon (2018)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Noer

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek

Year: 2018

If ever there was a remake of a classic film that definitely did not need to be made, Papillon is it.  The original is so great, has such wide scope, experiments a ton, and features a performance by Dustin Hoffman as Dega that will just blow you away.  The do-over is below average, trims off everything that was enjoyable about the first, plays it safe with every scene, and asks two actors who aren’t up to it to carry a weak feature, that got a nice head start, across a distance finish line.  This film was destined to fail; neither its director nor its cast were set up for success, nor to they have the talent to surprise.  The result is weak sauce, when what the 1973 version had to offer was bite after bite of fascinating flavor.

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, a Frenchman nicknamed Papillon is taken to the infamous penal colony in French Guiana to serve his time. Hard labor awaits him amid the crocodile-ridden and malaria-invested swamps of the colony, and Papi knows that his only chance at survival lies in escape. Among his fellow prisoners is infamous (and very wealthy) counterfeiter Louis Dega, who hopes to buy his way out of jail, but needs to survive long enough to do so. The money he swallowed is simply begging to be cut out by an opportunistic thief, so he and Papillon strike a deal; protection for Dega and a funded escape for Papi. The two become close allies and friends as their stay at the colony, in solitary confinement, and on Devil’s Island grows longer and longer. As their hope dwindles and their bodies age, each man will have to accept his fate, or go mad trying to fight it.

So Charlie Hunnam is a Brit doing an American accent playing a famous Frenchman.  Why exactly?  Why did they have him and everyone else do American accents?  The director is Danish, Hunnam is English, Malek is from California, born of Egyptian parents; what were they thinking?  Everything about this movie feels fake and forced, and it’s no wonder; it literally is.  They took the original concept, dumbed it down, removed all the heart, and then tried to pretend that what we were being fed was choice meat.  Audiences can tell the difference, even if filmmakers can’t, or think we’re too stupid to know what’s honest and what’s crap, and this remake is crap, from beginning to end.  The script is awful, the action is muted, Hunnam, who I like on occasion, can’t do the job, and I’m really starting to get pissed off by Malek, especially after Bohemian Rhapsody.  I even liked him enough in it, but the more awards it won the grumpier I became, and now, after this performance, I don’t think I’ll be watching him much anymore.  He’s no Hoffman, that’s for sure, and that is a major reason to recommend & to watch the first Papillon; there’s nothing much to say to defend this version, it’s simply a bad try.

My rating: ☆ ☆



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Movie Trailer – Joker

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Todd Phillips

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix

Release: October 4th, 2019

I trust JoPho to play this part better than it has ever been played before.  I’m in.

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Movie Trailer – The Dead Don’t Die

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton

Release: June 14th, 2019

I look forward to this being the best zombie movie ever made.  The end.

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Movie Review – Synecdoche, New York

Category : Movie Review

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams

Year: 2008

Charlie Kaufman is known for his writing (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but he also directed one and only one of his screenplays (not including the animated Anomalisa), and that of course is the darkly brilliant Synecdoche, New York.  Darkness and brilliance are hallmarks of Kaufman’s writing, but they were also hallmarks of Hoffman’s acting, his talent gone from this world way too soon.  The combination of the two for this film is something that we simply can’t take for granted, because it will never come again, and because this movie is an unparalleled, original idea that comes to life with tremendously painful acting in a way that leaves an impact that you just don’t see coming.

Caden Cotard is a theatre director who knows that his life has absolutely no meaning.  His young daughter is his only joy, his wife despises him, his talent is being wasted off-Broadway, and he’s pretty sure he’s dying in any number of painful, cancerous, unusual ways.  After his wife leaves him and he falls for his box office manager and he receives a MacArthur genius grant, Caden begins his magnum opus; a city-sized art installation composed of actors who play out the ongoing events of the depressed director’s own life.  Caden directs a man portraying Caden, his fears come to life before his very eyes, and the set morphs into a miniature world in which actors live & die, loves come & go, and nothing makes any more sense than real life does, because, after all, art is only a reflection.

I may have, especially in my younger days, been impressed more by John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine, because those films have deep messages to deliver, especially to teenagers who are forming their cinematic taste.  But watching Synecdoche now, a little older and hopefully more mature, I was moved by the bizarre intensity of its story, and it could easily become my favorite Kaufman film were I to give it some more time to marinade, and perhaps if I was able to review his filmography with an unbiased eye.  It’s so sad, so existential, so all-encompassing, that it’s hard to put into words the effect it can have on audiences.  It’s a fictional dysfunctional life story, doubled down by the theatre that Cotard creates, giving us a glimpse of melancholy from two different angles, taking us down into the depths of despair that much quicker.  There are so many tiny details you can’t possibly grasp them all the first time, and I can’t wait to go back and watch this one again, a film I’m sure has and will affect me greatly.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆