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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Movie Recommendations

Movies from Netflix
The movies reviewed here were all seen on Netflix DVDs or Netflix Instant View (streaming video from the internet).  For information on how that works, see my post Jan. 15, 2011 under the heading "The 21st Century." 

This post was updated May 11, 2011

Harrry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I   2010  146 minutes    Not as much fun as any of its predecessors, maybe even boring.  It’s so dark that I thought something was wrong with my TV.  There’s no Hogwarts, no quidditch, no flying on brooms that you can see.  It’s mostly Harry, Hermione and Ron hanging around in a tent in the woods trying to figure out how to destroy a horcrux they swiped from the Ministry of Magic.
Casino Jack   2010  124 minutes       Kevin Spacey is a genius and George Hickenlooper, the director, probably is too.  The story is well told and the effects are amazing.  The bonus materials show how John McCain’s real image is inserted into a recreation of Abramoff’s hearing on the Hill and how huge green screens were used to transfer scenes shot outdoors in Canada to Washington.  The best scene in the movie takes place in Abramhoff’s imagination as he tells the Senators, all of whom had taken money from him, what he really thinks of them.

Unstoppable   2010   98 minutes    An unmanned train with lethal chemicals aboard cruises through the Pennsylvania countryside toward a curve in Scranton which will certainly derail it.  Denzel Washington, RR veteran, and new guy Chris Pine are in hot pursuit.  Based on a true story.  So what’s great is to see all these pictures of trains and their awesome power.  We forget because these days railroads are invisible.
John Rabe  2009 134 minutes    Rabe was the head of the Siemens plant in Nanking in 1937 when the Japanese took the city.  At great risk to his life and his health he led an effort to establish a zone of safety which protected more that 200,000 people from the Japanese.  His reward for his act of courage was arrest in Germany and an early death in obscurity.

The Tourist   2010   103 minutes    It doesn’t really matter what Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie do, but in this case the unlikely plot has some interesting twist and turns and some great views of Venice.
The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner   1974  I thought I was going to see an art film, but Steiner was also a ski jumper or ski flyer as they say in this movie.  I don’t know if anyone today can “fly” the distances he did, but in is time, as this film shows, he was a phenomenon and unbeatable.   When the director is Werner Herzog you can’t go wrong.
Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion  2003  100 minutes    A documentary on the Chinese takeover of Tibet.  Spectacular photography – both natural beauty and traditional Tibetan architecture and costumes.
The Fast and the Furious   2001  107 minutes.    Corny plot about an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang that is using fast cars and amazing driving techniques to hijack semis.  If you love fast cars, you might want to watch.  Otherwise forgedaboutit.
 In the Electric Mist (with Confederate Dead)   2008  102 minutes   Tommy Lee Jones makes a fine Dave Robicheaux in this screen adaptation of James Lee Burke’s 6th novel about this reformed alcoholic detective.  There’s some loony business involving apparitions that talk to Robicheaux but don’t let that deter you.
The Art of the Steal   2009  101 minutes    A documentary about how big money in big foundations broke Albert Barnes will and got his amazing collection of late 19th and early 20th C art moved from the building and art school Barnes created in Merion PA to new quarters in downtown Philadelphia.  I found myself conflicted, because I twice had the pleasure of seeing the collection as he had intended, but I also feel that the paintings are so important that there should be a way for them to be seen by more viewers than could possibly pass through the galleries in Merion.   If it had been up to me, I would have maintained the collection in Merion and held the visitor traffic there to tolerable levels and then loaned out some paintings for special exhibitions so that they could both earn money to support the Barnes and also be seen by a much wider public.
Alice Neel  2007  82 minutes   A competent documentary on a portrait artist who received almost no recognition until close to the end of her life and then became a feminist icon.  She spent a lifetime in poverty and out of step with artistic trends, all the while making great art.
Mesrine: Part 1: Killer Instinct  2008  113 minutes   No one does noir like the French.  This is a biopic about a really nasty bank robber and killer.  Gerard Depardieu is the gangster boss.  He’s gotten fat.
The Way Back    2010  133 minutes    This is a true story about a Polish officer who was sent to a Siberian camp above Lake Baikal in 1940 (somehow he wasn’t in the right place to be murdered at Katyn).  He escaped with several other people and walked to Tibet and then on to India.  He was not able to return to Poland and his wife until after communist rule came to an end.  This film is very well done.  As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me 2003 120 minutes is German film about a soldier who escaped in far northern Siberia, walked 8000 miles and finally managed to cross the border into Iran and was later reunited with his family.
Black Swan  2010  108 minutes    I understand why the film and Natalie Portman received so much recognition, but I didn’t like it – starting with the creepy director of the ballet.  “Go home and touch yourself.”  Give me a break!
What’s the Matter with Kansas?   2009  90 minutes      I was expecting more.  The director decided to let the interviews speak for themselves without adding any commentary.  I think that was a mistake.
The King’s Speech   2010  119 minutes   It’s as good as they say it is, right up there with Helen Mirren and The Queen.  Colin Firth and Geoffrey will have a hard time topping their performances in this film.
Veer-Zaara   2004   192 minutes  A Muslim/ Sikh India/Pakistan love story.  It’s different and I liked it.
Herb & Dorothy  2008  87 minutes   How the Vogels, a postal clerk and a librarian, built an amazing collection of late 20th C art.
Hereafter   2010  129 minutes     It’s Matt Damon directed by Clint Eastwood.  I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I can’t remember a thing.
Burlesque  2010  100 minutes    Ali (Christina Aguilera) leaves Iowa looking for a singing career in Hollywood.  She walks into a burlesque lounge where the girls dance and lip-sync famous singers.  Cher won’t even bother to audition her, so Ali just picks up a tray and starts serving customers.  She’s so good at it that they hire her and eventually she gets a chance to dance.  When another girl pulls the plug on the song she is lip-syncing, Ali just sings it herself and better than the original.  So she’s launched but the club’s huge bank loan is coming due.  Ali figures a way to pay it off.  I hate floor shows in night clubs, but I loved this movie.
A Secret  2007  102 minutes      A Jewish boy in post WW II Paris finds a toy in the attic which revives memories of the families escape into Spain at the beginning of the war.
The Proposal   2009  108 minutes     The basic story line – boss forces employee to marry her to avoid deportation is so stupid that I almost skipped this one.  Always a mistake with Sandra Bullock on the playbill.  I am getting tired of Betty White playing Betty White.
F is for Fakes   1973  87 minutes    I was fascinated by Elmyr de Hory who makes a pretty good living forging Picassos.
Tron: Legacy   2010  125 minutes    Well I guess we do have to find out what these things are.  How do people spend all that time with computer games?
The Next Three Days   2010  133 minutes     Russell Crowe breaks his wife out of prison.  I liked it.
Fair Game   2010  108 minutes     Here’s one of those times when the real people are better looking and more interesting than the people who play them.  I guess there was some bending of events to make this dramatic, but it is effective and it is a story that needed to be told.
A Good Year  2006  114 minutes     This is a very pleasant way to spend 114 minutes.  How could it not be when a single failed English banker inherits a vineyard in Provence?
Due Date  2010 95 minutes     I got this because it had Robert Downey Jr.  I won’t make the same mistake again.
Princess Kaiulani    2009  97 minutes     A biopic that covers the US takeover of Hawaii.  The Peruvian actress, Q’Orianka Kilcher, who plays the princess displays a whole different kind of beauty.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  2004   106 minutes     How can you go wrong with Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie – unfortunately AJ is in a totally buttoned up uniform.  The motif is art deco and the story and technology is 1930s science fiction.  I thought it was fun.
Moll Flanders  1995   122 minutes   Pretty depressing, just like the novel.
Sudden Impact  1983  117 minutes      This is the fourth of the Dirty Harry movies.  The plot is more than a little improbable, but who cares.
Law Abiding Citizen   2009  109 minutes     When the courts set free the killers of his wife and daughter, a man seeks vengeance, going aft r not only the killers but also the principles in the Philadelphia justice system
Oceans   2009  84 minutes    A French documentary made for Disney.  Beautiful photography
Amarcord  (I Remember)   1974  123 minutes     Frederico Fellini brings to life the Italian east coast twon of Rimini during Mussolini’s times
The Road Home   2000  89 minutes     An illiterate village girl, Ziyi Zhang, falls in love with the new teacher at the one room school.  Ziyi Zhang is very beautiful as always, but that’s not the point here and we get to see here act a beautiful and sympathetic role as communist doings in the city complicate her love story.  Director Yimou Zhang tells this story without resorting to any of the kind of stunts we saw in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  A very beautiful film – yes I already said “beautiful” 3 time and now 4.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood   2002  116    I think maybe I’m becoming leery of films that have a long roster of famous names.  I didn’t like this much.
Le Cercle Rouge    1970   140 minutes      I’ve long wanted opportunity to go back and see some of the French film noir from the 1960s and 1970s.   It’s hard to take your eyes off Alain Delon, but the plot is simplistic and it becomes more a film history lesson than entertainment

Winter’s Bone   2010  100  minutes   Sorry to give away the plot, but what’s more important here is director  Debra Granik’s realization of  pickup truck society in rural Missouri where the men mostly cook meth and grow weed and the women somehow get by.  Ree’s father has put up the family’s cabin and timber land as bail and then disappeared.  Ree has to find him, but he’s been murdered by his clan for being a snitch.  Finally they agree to help Ree by giving her the hands from his corpse so she can prove he’s dead and save the cabin.  Jennifer Lawrence as Ree is just fantastic.
Collision  2009  5 episodes  It weaves together the stories of people involved in a 6 car crash on the M-12 and of the investigating officers.  Among other things a couple of murders turn up as a result of the accident investigation.  Pretty good, not great.
Red  2010  111 minutes.  A high official wants everyone whacked who saw him shoot down a bunch of people in Guatemala.  When they come after Bruce Willis, he signs up some of his old team and links with an old Soviet foe to fight back.  Morgan Freeman goes down before the final shoot ‘em up, but he gets to do it in a powder blue faux gemeral’s uniform of an African president.  Malkovich is appropriately crazy but what makes it all worth while is watching career assassin Helen Mirren firing all sorts of automatic weapons.
High Crimes  2002  115 minutes.  It would be nice to see Ashley Judd get through a whole movie without getting the hell beaten out of her.   She teams up with a retired military attorney to defend her husband against charges of desertion and a mass killing in El Salvador 14 years earlier.  Pretty interesting plot and who can resist Morgan Freeman.
Gone Baby Gone  2007 114 minutes.  Ben Affleck does a good job of bringing a gritty Boston neighborhood to life.  The novel is by Dennis Lehane who also wrote Mystic River and Shutter Island, so one can expect a plot with many twists and turns.  It’s all laid out in Wikipedia, but just see the film instead.  It’s not a feel good film, but if Morgan Freeman was willing to take a part in it, that’s almost a guarantee it’s worth seeing.
Something’s Gotta Give  2003  128 minutes.  I’m tired of watching Jack Nicholson playing himself.  The idea that Diane Keaton, in or out of the character she plays, could be attracted to him is absurd.  See something else.
Get Low  2009  100 minutes.   Robert Duvall has a dark secret that has caused him to live a whole life as a recluse.  He plans his own funeral so that he can be there, and he eventually divulges the secret.  It’s catharsis time, and Sissy Spacek, the sister of Duvall’s lost love, is there to hold his hand.
Rough Magic  1995 104 minutes.   It’s sort of a fantasy.  Bridget Fonda demonstrates that she can completely change character at will and this is a chance to see Russell Crowe as a younger actor, maybe Russell Crowe before he became Russell Crowe.  As acting goes, it’s pretty thin.  There’s a magic elixir, a Mexican witch and a crooked senator.  What more could you want?
Together  2002  118 minutes.  Again it’s a movie about a kid, this time a super-talented violinist who goes to Beijing from the country with his father to get advanced lessons and become famous.  They get some help from a nightclub hostess, and eventually he succeeds, but the real story is the mystery of his birth and the source of his talent and the adjustments he has to make to adapt to his new life and to maintain his bonds with his father.

Europa Europa  1990  113 minutes.  This is based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel, who changed his name and joined the Hitler Youth to avoid being identified as a Jew and sent to a death camp.  He has to avoid discovery of his circumcision in an army field unit, at a boy’s school and during a couple of sexual encounters.  It’s one more Holocaust movie, but a good one.
Contact.  1997  149 minutes   Jodie Foster is put down by other scientists because she continues to hold out hope that we may receive intelligible messages from outer space.  When she finally does receive a message, it is instructions from an alien society for how someone could visit them.  Now everybody believes, and her superior makes sure he’s nominated to take the trip.  A fanatic  destroys him and the space ship, but it turns out there is a duplicate in Hokkaido.  Foster now gets the assignment.  She goes through many wormholes and meets an alien in the form of her deceased father.  He tells her that this is earth’s first contact and not much more.  She faints and wakes up on the floor of her capsule.  To all appearances she has gone nowhere and no time has passed.  She thinks she has been gone for 18 hours.  It’s determined that the whole thing was a hoax, until someone finds 18 hours of static on her tape recorder.
The Legend of 1900  1998  121 minutes.  “1900” is found as a baby aboard the SS Virginian by a crew member.  The crew raises him and he never leaves the ship.  He has an incredible talent for the piano and his job becomes playing for the guests.  He becomes so famous that Jelly Roll Morton makes a crossing on the ship so that he can challenge 1900 to a competition.  Morton starts out very confident, but acknowledges defeat.  1900 never leaves the ship and presumably dies when it is blown up and scrapped.
Archangel  2005  3 episodes.   Daniel Craig is always interesting including in this series where he is a professor trying to track down Stalin’s diary.  Lots of people don’t want him to find it.  Finally he finds a diary and it reveals that Stalin had a child.  He tracks the child down in Archangel.  It was a boy and is now a man, a younger version of Stalin, just getting ready to begin his political career.
Year of the Dragon  1985  134 minutes.   I don’t remember seeing Mickey Rourke before he became old, fat and ugly.  This is pulp fiction which becomes the movie you might expect.  Drug dealers are not nice.  Great views of China Town.

THE PRESTIGE 2006 130 minutes.  Around 1900 two magicians played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman compete to create the most mystifying illusion.  Michael Caine is the machine builder and Scarlett Johansson and Piper Perabo are the love interests.  It’s complex with surprise after surprise right to the fatal end.  Directed by Christopher Nolan.

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH  2010 8 episodes.  (Available on instant view)  The miniseries about the construction of a fictional 12th century English cathedral and the strife that led to the succession of Henry II, the first of the Angevin or Plantagenet kings of England, is as dark as Ken Follett’s novel.  Henry succeeded a grandson of William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, who was king from 1135 to 1154.  Whether all of the evil plots in the series are based on fact is probably in Wikipedia, but the kings are historical.  Matthew MacFadyen (Remember Tom in the first two seasons of MI-5) plays Prior Philip.  Eddie Redmayne is memorable as a young sculptor who becomes the final builder of the cathedral.
AKEELAH AND THE BEE  2006 112 Minutes.  There’s no getting away from the fact that the best movies are about kids, especially if you get two great actors like Laurfence Fishburne and Angela Bassett and put them together with the child star discovery of at least the decade, Keke Palmer, along with a truly great script.  A whole slew of issues are addressed, in particular the ambivalence minority young people feel about excelling in “white” culture.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice    2010   109 minutes          While Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Drake (Toby Kebbell) plot to restore Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige) to power, master sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) makes physics student Dave Stutle (Jay Baruchel) his apprentice, teaching him enough magic to save the world from sure ruin. Also featuring Monica Bellucci, Teresa Palmer and Toby Kebbell, this whimsical fantasy is a live-action update of the beloved animated short from the 1940s, "Fantasia."  Director: Jon Turteltaub
If you don’t like fantasy, don’t see it.  I enjoyed this although the physics student is such a nerd that it’s impossible to believe he gets the girl. The Social Network
The Social Network    2010  120 minutes  Director David Fincher's biographical drama chronicles the meteoric rise of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from Harvard sophomore to Internet superstar, examining his relationships with co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Winning Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director, the film also racked up Oscar nods in the same categories and for lead actor Eisenberg.  Director:  David Fincher  A sordid story well enough told.  It’s hard to decide in what proportions Zuckerberg is evil, repulsive and just plain boring.

Innocent Voices

(Voces Inocentes) 2004 110 minutes  Based on the true story of a now-grown Oscar Torres, this moving film (set in El Salvador in the mid-1980s) follows the drama of a young boy who must choose between enlisting in the Salvadoran army or joining up with a band of guerrillas. Director Luis Mandoki presents a society of innocent victims who are caught in a blinding cross fire, a life-or-death environment in which survival is a daily struggle.  It will rip your heart out.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

2010 116 minutes  Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Prince Dastan, who pairs with spunky Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) to keep the Sands of Time -- a mystical dagger that gives its holder control over the flow of time -- from falling into the wrong hands and putting the world in peril. Mike Newell directs this sweeping live-action adventure based on the popular video game series, co-starring Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.
It’s another fantasy.  It has absolutely everything you’ve ever seen in a central or south Asian horse opera except an impaling.

Salt   2010 104 minutes  After she's accused of being a Russian sleeper spy, rogue CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) goes on the run, using every tactic, accent and disguise she knows to elude her pursuers, clear her name and protect her husband. Her supervisor, Winter (Liev Schreiber), buys her story, while counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) decidedly does not and will do anything to stop her in this fast-paced, intrigue-filled spy adventure.  Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block, Andre Braugher, Olek Krupa  Director: Phillip Noyce  The Netflix summary is misleading, but who cares when it’s Angelina Jolie punching out everyone four at a time.  She wanted to play Bond movie in a Bond movie and got her wish.  Daniel Olbrychski, whom I knew when I served in Warsaw, makes a great villain.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps .  2010 138 minutes   “Centered on the 2008 financial crisis, director Oliver Stone's follow-up is a modern-day ode to unfettered capitalism and… greed.”   After seeing “A Solitary Man,” it’s hard to think of Michael Douglas as anything but a hard drinking, womanizing sleaze bag car dealer, and he comes through with exactly that image, except it’s money not cars.  It was fun.  Oh, yes there were some other people in the movie too.

The American  Jan. 29, 2011
2010 105 minutes  On the heels of a rough assignment, assassin Jack (George Clooney) declares that his next job will be his last. Dispatched to a small Italian town to await further orders, Jack embarks on a double life that may be more relaxing than is good for him. Although duty will surely call, Jack becomes friends with Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and falls for villager Clara (Violante Placido) in this suspense thriller directed by Anton Corbijn.
You can skip this one.  No plot, no character development, no nothin’.  The presence of George Clooney isn’t enough to carry a film.  It starts like an old Bond movie with Clooney killing two assassins sent to get him plus the girl he’s been sleeping with, who apparently set him up.  Then it’s off to Italy where he assembles a rifle, builds a suppressor for it, kills another assassin and hooks up with a hooker.  He delivers the rifle as instructed and then we see the woman to whom he delivers it get shot as she tries to shoot him from a rooftop with that same rifle.  If we’re told who shoots her, I missed it, but apparently it’s the wrinkled old guy who is the boss of both of them.  He meets up with the boss in a side street and shoots him in the forehead, but the boss get off a shot which hits him in the gut.  He drives off to meet the hooker and passes out as he gets to their rendezvous.  The end.  Just the night before I saw Three Days of the Condor from  1975.  Robert Redford stars as Joe Turner, a New York-based CIA researcher who returns from lunch to find all his co-workers murdered. In the next 72 hours, everyone Turner trusts will try to kill him, in this conspiracy thriller by director Sydney Pollack. Double-crossed and forced to go underground, Turner kidnaps a Faye Dunaway and holds her hostage and elicits her help as he unravels the mystery. Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson co-star.  It’s a real movie, and it was fun to see the technology of 1975 as if it were the latest stuff.  The only downer was Redford’s shaggy sideburns.  Too bad. It’s just now being pulled off of instant view.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest    Jan. 27, 2011
(Luftslottet Som Sprängdes)  2009 147 minutes   Third in a trio of films inspired by Swedish author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy," this thriller follows feisty computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) as she finds herself hospitalized, suspected of murder and targeted for death by thugs. Meanwhile, Lisbeth's journalist pal, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), crusades to prove her innocence. Daniel Alfredson directs this film that also stars Lena Endre and Jacob Ericksson. Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Anders Ahlbom, Micke Spreitz, Georgi Staykov, Mirja Turestedt, Hans Alfredson  Director: Daniel Alfredson  The first in the trilogy is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second is The Girl Who Played with Fire. All three are on Netflix instant view (Jan.2011) and one should see them in order.  The material is not pleasant, but Lisbeth is a character not to be missed and so is Mikael Blomkvist.

The Lake House    2006 98 minutes  Speed co-stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves reteam for romance in director Alejandro Agresti's remake of the Korean film Il Mare, exploring a mysterious mailbox that somehow bridges time. After moving away from her peaceful lakeside home, a lonely physician (Bullock) begins writing letters to the frustrated architect (Reeves) who now occupies the building, only to discover that they're living two years apart. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Christopher Plummer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dylan Walsh, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Diane Frances Fisher, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Lori Ann Gerdisch, Brandon DeShazer Director: Alejandro Agresti  I had reservations about spending my time on this, but who can resist Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves is growing on me.  Another character, the lake house, is also very interesting.  I just wish the director had given us more views of it, especially inside.

Arn: the Knight Templar   2007 133 minutes
Based on Jan Guillou's Crusades trilogy about Swedish Knight Templar Arn Magnusson (Joakim Nätterqvist), this adventure saga follows the son of nobility from his monastic education to his return to the family to help fight for the crown of Sweden. That mission is interrupted, however, when Arn impregnates his lover and is sent to the Holy Land, where as penance he must become a warrior for Christ in the battles of the Crusades. Cast: Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Stellan Skarsgård, Michael Nyqvist, Mirja Turestedt, Morgan Alling, Sven-Bertil Taube, Bibi Andersson, Fanny Risberg, Milind Soman, Simon Callow, Vincent Perez, Jakob Cedergren Director: Peter Flinth  I enjoyed, but I wasn’t able to pin down the history behind it.  The best thing I found was a write up on this site: which says that Arn and his love, Cecilia are fictional characters, but that they fit well with the real history of the period.  There is a Wikipedia article on Cecilia Algotsdatter, but it’s in Swedish and I didn’t find a translation button.  It probably discusses Cecilia Rosa, who is mentioned in the site I referred to. 
The Sicilian Girl     2009 113 minutes
In this taut drama based on a true story, 17-year-old Rita (Veronica D'Agostino) is leading a privileged life when her father and brother are slain by rival Mafiosi. Bent on revenge, she turns to a sympathetic magistrate (Gérard Jugnot) and breaks the code of silence. In her journey from self-centered teenager to fearless advocate for justice, Rita enrages Sicily's most powerful men, putting her life in jeopardy. Cast: Veronica D'Agostino, Gérard Jugnot, Giulia Andò, Roberto Bonura, Paolo Briguglia, Francesco Casisa, Giusi Cataldo, Miriana Faja, Lollo Franco, Marcello Mazzarella Director: Marco Amenta  Not pleasant to see but it dramatizes an important step in taming the Mafia in Sicily.  Rita keeps a journal from age 12 when her Mafia father was murdered. The purpose is revenge. It documents what the Mafia did over the next five years, but before her testimony can be believed, she has to accept that her own father and brother were murderers.

Mi Mejor Enemigo  Jan. 20, 2011

2005 101 minutes
After losing their bearings, a group of Chilean soldiers learns some lessons about their enemy's humanity in this dark comedy set during the 1970s war between Chile and Argentina. Digging in where they are, the troop soon discovers a nearby Argentinean platoon. Unsure how to handle the situation, the two groups start passing notes via a stray dog, and eventually achieve a wary camaraderie. Nicolas Saavedra, Erto Pantoja and Victor Montero co-star. Cast: Erto Pantoja, Nicolas Saavedra, Felipe Braun, Miguel Dedovich, Juan Pablo Miranda, Fernanda Urrejola, Andres Olea, Pablo Valledor, Jorge Roman, Victor Montero  Director: Alex Bowen
The description above says almost enough.  Another chunk of gritty and disillusioning history.  They are about to start shooting each other when word comes that the Pope had mediated and they are to withdraw.  They don’t get court-martialed for consorting with the enemy.  Better to watch Singing in the Rain unless you are into this sort of thing.
The Other Guys  Jan. 15, 2011
2010 116 minutes
While an elite pair of New York City cops (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) nabs headlines for their amazing heroics, fellow boys in blue Allen (Will Ferrell) and Terry (Mark Wahlberg) toil in obscurity as lowly desk jockeys, until a big break finally gives them a chance to tackle real police work. Rob Riggle, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton and Steve Coogan co-star in this action-packed comedy directed by Adam McKay.  Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Ray Stevenson, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr. Director: Adam McKay
If you like Will Ferrell and nutty movies with Hollywood making fun of itself, you’ll like this. Otherwise not. Who knew Mark Wahlberg is so short.
Inception  Jan. 15, 2011
2010 148 minutes
Nominated for two Golden Globes, this unnerving sci-fi thriller stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, who earns a tidy sum infiltrating the dreams of corporate titans to steal their most closely held secrets. Tapped by a rich industrialist (Ken Watanabe) for a job involving a rival's heir, Cobb marshals a team of specialists that includes his right-hand man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architecture student (Ellen Page) and a chemist (Dileep Rao).  Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas  Director: Christopher Nolan
What a waste of great talent.  Start with a really stupid premise, keep it dark and confusing.  Shoot a lot of people.  Forgedaboudit.  Even with Ellen Page.

Charge of the Light Brigade  Jan. 15, 2011

1936 115 minutes
When barracks built for the British army's 27th Bengal Lancers regiment are attacked by the unscrupulous Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon), who massacres the women and children living there, an English officer (Errol Flynn) vows to exact revenge. Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles co-star in this sweeping action adventure set in the wilds of the Indian frontier, re-created Hollywood-style using California's rocky landscape. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Patric Knowles, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce, Donald Crisp, David Niven, C. Henry Gordon, G.P. Huntley, Robert Barrat, Spring Byington, J. Carrol Naish Director: Michael Curtiz
I just read The Great Escape which chronicles the influence nine Hungarian Jews who fled Fascism had on events of the 20th C.  One of them was Michael Curtiz who directed Casablanca.  I wanted to see some of his other works and this was but no longer is available on instant view.  Everything is completely predictable and it wouldn’t be fair to say one is seeing movie making invented but certainly this is invention being implemented, sort of movie making “under construction.”  I made sure I didn’t get caught up in the story – not difficult – and concentrated on how he moved from scene to scene, the lighting, and his use of horses.  It’s a shame he didn’t kill of Errol Flynn early.  Worth seeing if this stuff interests you, otherwise not.
Bird  Jan. 9, 2011
1988 160 minutes
Clint Eastwood labored for years to raise the money needed to bring this biography of Charlie Parker to the big screen. Nicknamed "Yardbird," Parker was a virtuoso saxophonist whose innovations revolutionized jazz. Despite his musical genius, Parker was hopelessly addicted to drugs. At the film's center looms the hulking presence of Forest Whitaker, who delivers a great performance in a complex role.  Cast: Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker, Samuel E. Wright, Arlen Dean Snyder, Keith David, Michael McGuire, James Handy, Damon Whitaker, Sam Robards, Morgan Nagler Director: Clint Eastwood
An old movie, rather dark literally and figuratively.  I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are a diehard fan of Forest Whitaker or trying to view “The Compleat Eastwood.”  For me it was both and I’m glad I saw it.  I learned a lot about Charlie Parker, the saxophone, bebop and heroin addiction.  Unfortunately it’s not on instant view

Exit Through the Gift Shop  Jan. 4 2011
2010 86 minutes Filmmaker Thierry Guetta had been casually documenting the underground world of street art for years, but when he encounters Banksy, an elusive British stencil artist, his project takes a fascinating twist. Unimpressed with Guetta's footage, Banksy takes over filmmaking duties and Guetta reinvents himself as a street artist named Mr. Brainwash -- and, much to Banksy's surprise, immediately becomes a darling of the Los Angeles art scene.  Cast: Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Thierry Guetta, Rhys Ifans, Space Invader, Jay Leno, Joshua Levine Director: Banksy
That’s the Netflix summary.  If you want to know what’s going on in street art, you should see this film.  But there’s another level here. It seems to be a documentary, but maybe it’s a Banksy hoax.  The first url below takes you to a denial of the hoax and the second has a sample of Banksy.  The film is available on Netflix instant view, so you can watch it on your computer if you subscribe to Netflix.

Hero  Jan. 4 2011
(Ying Xiong)
2002 99 minutes
The Qin King has long been obsessed with conquering all of China and becoming her first Emperor, which makes him the target of three legendary assassins. As a result, he promises great power to anyone who can defeat them. Jet Li heads the stellar cast as Nameless, the enigmatic county sheriff who earns his audience with the mighty King and stands to win mountains of gold in the process. Zhang Yimou directs this lush, Oscar-nominated epic.  Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen, Daoming Chen, Ziyi Zhang
This is an exercise in storytelling.  One version is presented and then another.  It is complex and one must stay with it to the end to get the whole story.  Color is used to distinguish among versions.  It’s a little disturbing to see the martial arts people flying around, but this is a convention in Chinese film making that we seem to have to live with if we are going to see the other splendid effects.  And when the women fly around in their flowing robes, just think of it as dance.

 The Affair of the Necklace  Jan. 4 2011

2001 117 minutes

When she and her family have their royal titles stripped by the crown, 18th-century French countess Jeanne de la Motte Valois (Hilary Swank) schemes with her lover (Simon Baker), her husband (Adrien Brody) and a mysterious Italian count (Christopher Walken) to obtain a diamond necklace worth millions. Joely Richardson co-stars as French queen Marie Antoinette in this period drama that earned an Oscar nod for its lavish costumes. Director: Charles Shyer
Somewhere around the house I have a French novel, not Dumas’s, that I have been meaning to read for the last 20 years which tells this story.  The movie follows actual events fairly closely.  It’s worth reading Wikipedia before or after seeing the film.  Major differences are that in the film Jeanne de Saint-Remy de Valois, a descendant of an illegitimate son of Henry II is not the mistress of Cardinal Rohan (nearly everyone else is) and in real life Jeanne escaped the branding and beating imposed by the court and spend only about a year in the prison for prostitutes where she was sent after her trial.  Her husband was sent to the galleys for life and did not live off the largesse of the Rohan family after the Revolution by threatening to publish his memoirs, contrary to what it says at the end of the film.  Anything with Hilary Swank is worth watching.  And seeing the cardinal, after from a rebuke by Louis XVI, retreating down a Versailles corridor with his robes flowing around him is worth the price of admission..
Lean on Me  Jan. 4 2011
1989 109 minutes
When tough-talking principal Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) takes over decaying Eastside High School, he's faced with graffiti-covered walls and students wearing gang colors. But he's determined to do anything in his power to turn the school around. He begins by expelling drug dealers and padlocking the doors to keep the riffraff out. But he also demands maximum effort from the students and staff inside in this uplifting drama based on a true story. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Beverly Todd, Robert Guillaume, Alan North, Lynne Thigpen, Robin Bartlett, Michael Beach, Ethan Phillips, Sandra Reaves-Phillips, Sloane Shelton  Director: John G. Avildsen
An old movie that is relevant to our current school problems.  Morgan Freeman is an absolute wild man as he works to straighten out a NJ school.
Lady Jane  Jan. 4 2011
1986 141 minutes
For nine politically charged days in 1553, protestant martyr Lady Jane Grey (Helena Bonham Carter) rules England against her will, thanks to a conspiracy concocted by a band of men bent on keeping the crown away from the Church of Rome. But when Princess Mary, the daughter of King Henry, assumes the throne, Lady Jane and her husband, Guilford Dudley (Cary Elwes), are imprisoned and sentenced to die. Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Cary Elwes, John Wood, Michael Hordern, Jill Bennett, Jane Lapotaire, Sara Kestelman, Patrick Stewart, Warren Saire, Joss Ackland, Ian Hogg, Lee Montague, Richard Vernon, Richard Johnson Director: Trevor Nunn
I didn’t remember the “Nine Day Queen” from my seminar in Tudor England 55 years ago, so in was a pleasure to watch this.  Here’s the Wikipedia summary of the real events:  Lady Jane Grey (1536/1537 – 12 February 1554), also known as The Nine Days' Queen,[2] was an English noblewoman who occupied the English throne from 10 until 19 July 1553 and was executed for high treason. A great-granddaughter of Henry VII by his younger daughter Mary, Jane was a first-cousin-once-removed of Edward VI. In May 1553 Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, a younger son of Edward's chief minister, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. When the 15-year-old King lay dying in June 1553, he nominated Jane as successor to the Crown in his will, thus subverting the claims of his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth under the Third Succession Act. During her short reign, Jane resided in the Tower of London. She became a prisoner there when the Privy Council decided to change sides and proclaim Mary as queen on 19 July 1553. Wyatt's rebellion in January and February 1554 against Queen Mary's plans of a Spanish match was the direct cause of Jane's and her husband's execution.
Lady Jane Grey had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the most learned women of her day.[3] A committed Protestant, she was posthumously regarded not only as a political victim but also as a martyr.

Greenfingers  Jan. 4 2011
2000R 91 minutes
It's one big (green) thumbs-up for this affecting true-life tale about hardened con Colin Briggs (Clive Owen), a small-time criminal who gets a new lease on life -- behind prison bars -- as an award-winning gardener. Standing out in supporting roles are David Kelly as a prisoner chum of Briggs's who coaxes him out of his shell and Helen Mirren as a world-class horticulturalist who worries when her daughter falls for Briggs. Cast: Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, Warren Clarke, Danny Dyer, Paterson Joseph, Lucy Punch, Peter Guinness Director: Joel Hershman
The Netflix summary might not pull you in, but just go with Clive Owen and Helen Mirren and enjoy a story that is much deeper than it first appears.
Eat Pray Love  Dec. 24, 2010
2010  140 minutes
Julia Roberts stars in this adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir about coping with a depressing divorce. After deciding to reshape her life, Liz (Roberts) travels the world in search of direction. She heads to Italy, India and Bali, indulging in delicious cuisine while seeking the true meaning of self-love, family, friendship and forgiveness. Along the way, she meets a bevy of characters and, possibly, her true love.
Let’s face it, the reason to watch this movie is that Julia Roberts is on screen every minute of every scene.   She has problems with her husband and an actor she picks up to sleep with and you just want to tell her to suck it up.   To find her poor lost self, she takes a year off to eat in Rome for four months – for some reasons this lost soul is able to find some pleasant folks to pal around with and enjoy the food.  Then it’s on to India where we get to see salvation thru meditation and scrubbing floors as a nice business for the guru lady who runs it.  Julia seems to benefit most from some lost American guy in his 50s who in effect tells her to just suck it up and get on with her life.  It’s on to Bali where a guru and a healer are able to help her some, but on her own she finds the answer to all of her problems --  Javier Bardem. 

Knowing   Dec. 16, 2010  Nicolas Cage.  You can pass on this one.  Dang, the world ends again but at least some of the kids get away to a better place, thanks to some iridescent aliens. 

Wings of Desire  Dec. 15, 2010
(Der Himmel über Berlin / Les ailes du désir)
1987 127 minutes
Wim Wenders won the award for Best Director at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival for this captivating vision about an angel (Bruno Ganz) who falls in love with a beautiful circus performer while drifting unnoticed through West Berlin. Overcome by the girl's beauty, the angel decides he wants to become human. Peter Falk also stars, as himself, and aids the angel in his decision-making process. Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk, Hans Martin Stier, Elmar Wilms, Sigurd Rachman, Beartice Manowski Director: Wim Wenders
This is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen and kind of boring – 30 minutes would have been just right.  I had put it in my queue because I wanted to see more of Bruno Ganz after seeing him as the grandfather in Vitus (see it if you haven’t) and as Hitler in Der Untergang / The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (see it if you haven’t). There are all these figures with little pony tails and dressed in overcoats and scarves standing around watching people.  They report on what they have seen.  Peter Falk playing himself used to be an angel so he can sense that they are around and talk to them even though he can no longer see them.  When Ganz crosses over he no longer needs the armor he wore under his overcoat and sells it at a pawnshop to get some cash to get started.  The film shows the world seen from an angel’s perspective in black and white and shifts to color when it’s about people.  Apparently angels have so sense of color or taste or smell and have to learn these if they cross over and become mortal.  Much of the dialog seems intended as poetry; the girl circus performer mostly talks in “lines.” 

The Illusionist.  Edward Norton and Jessica Biel.  It’s the ultimate use of illusion.  The evil Austrian crown prince and pretender played by Rufus Sewell comes a little too close to caricature.  He meets a suitable end.  I hate to look at Paul Giamatti but he makes a fine secret policeman.
12  Dec. 15, 2010
(12 Razgnevannyh Muzhchin)
2007 160 minutes
In Moscow, 12 jurors weigh the fate of a teenager (Apti Magamaev) accused of murdering his stepfather. They represent a cross-section of modern Russia's fractured society: an indecisive television producer, a flashy musician, a bigoted cabbie, a Holocaust survivor. Inside the jury room, as in the streets, the battle for peace and tolerance plays out. Nikita Mikhalkov directs this Oscar-nominated twist on 12 Angry Men
Yes, the rational Henry Fonda guy produces an “unusual” knife just like the murder weapon, but from there on things are quite different from what I rememberfrom the American version.  Among other things, you get some slices of current Russian life.  One problem I had was that the rationale for some of the vote changes from guilty to not guilty didn’t seem to have anything to do with the case at hand.  I don’t recall that problem in the original.  Maybe my memory is imperfect.  That happens. 

 Paris 36  Dec. 15, 2010
(Faubourg 36)
2008 120 minutes
When a neighborhood music hall closes down, a trio of unemployed friends (Gérard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac and Kad Merad) vow to bring the business back from the dead by staging a musical they hope will be a hit. If their gamble pays off, they'll have the money to buy the theater for themselves -- and the power to control their own destinies. Christophe Barratier directs this Berlin Film Festival selection set in 1930s Paris.
This was just fun to watch.  You get a taste of the conflict between the reds and the fascists, anti-Semitism, a general strike, and just how lame some of the music hall acts could be. 
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child  Dec. 15, 2010
2009 93 minutes
Controversial, charismatic artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is the subject of this insightful documentary from director Tamra Davis, who has uncovered a never-before-seen interview with the artist conducted before his untimely death at the age of 27. Also featured are numerous interviews with people who knew and loved Basquiat, a survey of his thought-provoking artworks, little-seen archival materials and footage of the artist at work in his studio.
Not to be confused with Basquiat (1996), a biopic in which Basquiat is played by an actor.  I saw it and it was o.k.  This one is a documentary and has footage of the real Basquiat.  What’s mind blowing is the extent to which his work penetrated the NY art market.  I don’t see it as I look quickly and impressionistically at one picture flashed on the screen after another, but apparently with study one finds depth and meaning in his work.  There is another film I haven’t seen yet, Downtown 81, with footage of Basquiat. 

The Count of Monte Cristo  Dec. 15, 2010
2002PG-13 131 minutes
In this beautifully photographed rekindling of the classic Alexandre Dumas story. Edmond Dantés's (Jim Caviezel) life and plans to marry the beautiful Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) are shattered when his best friend, Fernand (Guy Pearce), deceives him. After spending 13 miserable years in prison, Dantés escapes with the help of a fellow inmate (Richard Harris) and plots his revenge, cleverly insinuating himself into the French nobility.
We have all seen various versions of the story.  This one is very nice visually. 
Cautiva  Dec. 15, 2010
2005 108 minutes
An Argentinean teen's (Bárbara Lombardo) life turns upside down when a judge reveals that her real parents had "disappeared" for political reasons years ago. Suddenly, she's ordered to leave the couple who raised her and move in with a grandmother (Susana Campos) she's never known. But understanding the long-hidden truth about her origins isn't easy. First-time filmmaker Gaston Biraben directs this poignant, award-winning drama.
I hadn’t thought about the children of the “disappeared.”  This is very well done and the effort that is going into the recovery is heartening.  The downer is that the perps have been able to use the law to shield themselves from retribution – just like Bush and his torture team, but on a larger scale. 
Facing Windows  Dec. 15, 2010
(La Finestra di Fronte)
2004 107 minutes
Feeling overwhelmed and stuck in a dull marriage, Giovanna begins refocusing her attention (or repressing her emotions) by caring for the Jewish Holocaust survivor her husband brings home one day. As Giovanna reflects on her life, she turns to the man who lives across from her and whose window faces hers. Stars Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Massimo Girotti, Raoul Bova, Filippo Nigro and Serra Yilmaz. Directed by Verzan Ozpetek.
It’s a couple of love stories, one straight and one gay.  I’m glad I saw it. 
Machuca  Dec. 15, 2010
2005NR 120 minutes
Seeking escape from his stormy home life, well-to-do youngster Gonzalo (Matias Quer) befriends Pedro (Ariel Mateluna), a poor, bullied pupil who's attending his school on scholarship. The two grow close despite class hierarchy, but politics threaten to destroy their friendship. Set in 1973 Santiago amid political unrest, this tale centers on the friendship of two schoolboys from vastly different backgrounds.
It’s a great film about life at the end of Allende’s regime and would be worth seeing just for the argument among parents as they meet with the headmaster to protest against or support the presence of scholarship students in this elite school.  You can hear the same debate here anytime.  It’s crypto-racism at work. 
When the Last Sword Is Drawn
(Mibu Gishiden)
2003 137 minutes
Employing flashbacks as a narrative device, Yôjirô Takita's period drama recounts the life of samurai Kanichiro Yoshimura (Kiichi Nakai) -- a controversial character -- and the waning days of feudal Japan. His memory triggered by a photograph of the expert swordsman, the elderly Saito (Kôichi Satô) reminisces about his past association with Yoshimura, whose loyalty to both the shogunate and the emperor causes outer conflict and inner turmoil.  Cast: Kiichi Nakai, Kôichi Satô, Yui Natsukawa, Takehiro Murata, Miki Nakatani, Yuji Miyake, Hideaki Ito, Ryo Kase, Eugene Nomura, Masato Sakai  Director Yojiro Takita
This is taken from a novel by Jiro Asada about the Shinsengumi, a group of  samurai who were estranged from their feudal lords and of ambitious peasants who had learned swordmanship.  They were employed as enforcers by the Tokugawa Shogunate in its last years to try to resist the changes being wrought by the opening of Japan after Perry's visit in the 1850s.  There are many such novels.  The characters are actual historical figures and the general outline of their battles and other conflicts is a matter of historical record.  Yoshimura is a minor figure from a remote province. The novelist imagines him as something of a bumpkin whose dialect is repulsive to his more sophisticated colleagues, but also as a gifted swordsman.  He seeks employment with the Shinsengumi to keep his family from starving to death, and his constant interest in getting money whenever and wherever he can is resented, because it is un-samurai like behaviour.  It is Yoshimura's interaction with Saito, the nihilist and murderer, which makes this a great story and a great film.  If you get the disk by mail, watch the interview with the novelist in the bonus features.

More Netflix Movies
Of the many, many movies I saw in 2008 and 2009, these are the ones I would recommend – apologies if my memory fails and some dogs are included.  You can check out the summaries on the Netflix website.  Some are available for instant viewing.

Movies about kids
For some reason I seem to keep getting films about kids and young people, which are quite wonderful; some I saw quite a while ago and I'm hazy on just why it was I liked them so much: 

Vitus***** - he's a genius, musical and otherwise, and able to protect himself from exploitation. His grandfather is played by Bruno Ganz, which alone is worth the price of admission.

Bridge to Terabithia

Pan’s Labyrinth
Son of Rambow
August Rush
Butterfly  (Spanish Civil War)*****
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Edges of the Lord
I Am David
The Man without a Face
Is Anybody There?
Hearts in Atlantis
Machuco - see review above

WW I & II,  Holocaust & Vietnam
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
The Counterfeiters
Rescue Dawn
Letters from Iwo Jima*****
Sophie Scholl, the Final Days
The Killing Fields
Black Book
Shining Through
The Garden of the Finzi Contini
Tea with Mussolini
The White Countess
Charlotte Gray
Best Spy Thriller Ever *****
MI-5        All nine seasons on instant view. 
Charlie Wilson’s War
The Kite Runner
Historical & Period Pieces
The Leopard.  I’ve seen it about  5 times.  Get the longer Italian version.  (English version is on  
     instant view
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Lives of Others
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Illusionist
Goya’s Ghosts
Copying Beethoven
The Mission
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Greatest Game ever Played (golf)
Contemporary Themes
The Mistress of Spices
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Great Debaters
Factory Girl  (Andy Warhol et al)
Once *****
The Reader
The Secret Life of Bees
I’ve Loved You so Long
Tell No One
Capote & Synecdoche New York – both of these     
   with Philip Seymour Hoffman

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
The Visitor
Good Night and Good Luck*****
A Very Long Engagement
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
Central Station
Coyote Ugly
Smart People
Crossing Over
The Class (almost a documentary)
Being Julia
The  Soloist
Julie and Julia

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