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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Night Rises, The Expendables 2, Hop, Men in Black 3, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and 42 others

The Avengers   2012  143 minutes    I kind of liked “Ironman,” because I like Robert Downey Jr., but this agglomeration of superheroes was a bit too much.  If you like action and lots of thing blowing up, give it a try, but there are so many things to see. 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel   2011   124 minutes    A young Indian entrepreneur tries to revive the past glories of his family’s hotel in a small Indian city by offering it as a place for Europeans to “out-source” their retirees.  An English couple plus two men and two women accept the offer of free airfare and a trial stay at the hotel.  The hotel is a wreck, the young Indian doesn’t really have anything going for him except ambition and enthusiasm, and the English guests experience various levels of discomfort in adapting to life in India.  This is a fascinating film that explores the prejudices of all of the players, both English and Indian.  Judy Dench, a recent widow, is solid as a rock and goes out and gets a job as a social advisor at a call center, but maybe the best part is seeing Maggie Smith converted from racist curmudgeon to enthusiastic assistant manager of the hotel.

The Big Lebowski    1998   117 minutes    "Dude" Lebowski’s rug is ruined when some hit men force their way into his apartment looking for a millionaire also named Lebowski.   The Dude finds endless trouble seeking restitution for his ruined rug.  You wonder why he bothers since the apartment is a dump and he’s an unemployed slob.  His troubles are only compounded when he enlists his bowling buddies to help.  This is a Joel Coen movie with an amazing cast:  Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne More, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Buscemi.

The Bourne Legacy    2012   135 minutes   Jason Bourne didn’t leave anything behind but his picture.  This is science fiction that explains how Bourne and the other government assassins got and retained their almost super human physical and mental powers.  It’s a virus, but one that has to be maintained by booster pills.  No pills, you die and thus the agency in charge has complete control.  The agency decides to terminate the program, which means terminating all the agents.  Obviously, one agent finds a way around all this and lives happily ever after with Rachel Weisz, who handled the science side of the assassination program and was unaware of the agency’s plans to terminate everybody. The chase scene in Manila is pretty good, but, Jason, where are you when we need you?

Captive Hearts   1987   101 minutes   This is a low budget film by current standards but worth seeing for its look at village life in northern Japan during WW II.  A downed US pilot is captured and then practically adopted by the villagers after he makes the effort to learn their language and their ways.  Naturally he is somewhat motivated by the headman’s daughter.

The Dark Night Rises   2012  165 minutes   I guess I will have to give up on super hero movies.  With all the action in this one, it’s hard to understand why it was boring, but it was.  The only relief is the last scene, where Alfred sees Bruce Wayne and Catwoman in civvies having a tete a tete in a Florence café.

Don’t Tempt Me  (Sin noticias de Dios)   2001  107 minutes   Two angels, one from heaven (Victoria Abril) and one from hell (Penelope Cruz) are sent to earth to try to pick up the soul of a boxer named Manny.  The best scenes are the scenes in hell but then a scene anywhere with Penelope
Cruz is going to be fun.

 Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle:  The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes  2000   116 minutes      When Arthur Conan Doyle attended Edinburgh University, he really did clerk for Dr. Bell, a medical school professor who sometimes helped the police with their investigations.  It was from Bell that Doyle learned the importance of observation, which he made the basis for Holmes extraordinary abilities.  And Doyle and Bell solve a couple of interesting mysteries.

The Expendables 2   2012  103 minutes    When Sylvester Stallone and his cronies fly off on an impossible mission in a WW II era seaplane (maybe a PBM Mariner), a lot things are going to get blown up, including the seaplane.  This might have been better than “The Avengers,” if Stallone had not had a speaking part.  “Rocky” was enough Rocky.

Food Inc.   2008  A PBS Documentary    If you live in the US. you may want to stop eating after you see this one.  See the site below for a good summary.

Footloose   1984  107 minutes    Who knew Kevin Bacon could dance up a storm?  He plays a teen (and presumably was a teen in 1984), when he moves from Chicago to a small town where evangelicals seem to control everything.  Five years earlier there had been a tragic accident in which several teenagers from the town were killed in an auto accident, while returning from a dance.  Dancing was then banned.  He finds a way round it, and the town comes to its senses.  The theme seems more relevant now than it was in 1984.

The Gathering Storm   2002 96 minutes   This is based on Vol. I of Churchill’s six volume series on WW II.  It covers the years up to Britain’s declaration of war against Germany.  As Churchill languishes in the wilderness, i.e., out of power, he persuades a young official at the Foreign Ministry to feed him classified information, which Churchill uses to attack the government for its appeasement policies.   Alfred Finney does a great job as Churchill, but somehow the whole thing didn’t come off very well for me.

Hop   2012   147 minutes     This is an almost black and white Belgian film which should not be missed.  Justin, age about 13 or 14, and his father are undocumented aliens from Burundi living under the Immigration Service radar.  Justin is in school and getting all “A’s” and his father is illiterate.  After an incident with a neighbor about TV reception of a soccer game, Justin’s father is arrested and deported.  Justin flees and ends up with Frans, a farmer and intellectual and former dissident and terrorist bomber in the 1980s.  Justin and Frans along with Frans’s housemaid Gerda, launch a plot to get Justin’s father back and amnesty for all of them.  The way they do it is with the “hop,” a pygmy tactic explained by Justin in a presentation to his class as the film opens.  You’ll have to see the film to understand the hop.

The Human Stain   2003  106 minutes    I find the title repulsive, but the story is pretty good.  Anthony Hopkins plays a classics professor who has become dean of his small upscale college.   He is thought to be Jewish, but actually his parents were African American. He is light enough to pass. To enjoy an academic career where he is not dubbed “the African American professor.” he severs all connection with his family.  After he is wrongly accused of prejudice against two African American students, he resigns and tries to write a book.  He meets and falls madly in love with a cleaning woman, Nicole Kidman, who is probably 30 years his junior.   Kidman’s character had come from an upper middle class family but she ran away at 14 to escape her mother’s second husband.  She rejects everything related to her past, even a meal in an ordinary restaurant, but she enjoys her sexual liaison with Hopkins.  Unfortunately, she has an estranged sociopathic husband and the story doesn’t end well.  

I Wish  (Kiseki)   2011   128 minutes    Two boys conspire to reconcile their divorced parents and become a family again.  Koichi, the older boy, lives with his mother and her parents in Kumamoto, always under the shadow of Mount Aso, which rains down ash on them every day except when the wind blows the other way.  Ryunosuke, the younger brother lives with the father, a musician, in Fukuoka.  The boys think that if they see the two bullet trains pass each other during their maiden runs in Kyushu, their wish to be a family again will be granted.  Koichi and Ryu, each with some friends who also have wishes, manage to meet at the point where the trains pass each other.  It’s a good story, maybe a coming of age story, but the real value of this film for westerners is its realistic and sympathetic documentation of lower middle class life in Japan.

The Kid with a Bike  (Le Gamin au Velo)  2011  87 minutes    They make good movies in Belgium.  After Cyril is abandoned by his father, he is virtually adopted by a well-intentioned hairdresser.   Despite her efforts, Cyril joins up with a young drug peddler, who persuades him to rob a newspaper distributor.  Cyril injures the man and his son.  It’s a serious crime and Cyril flees.   Eventually things work out.  It is gratifying to see fine performances by actors you never heard of taking on the subject of alienation and delinquency in a plot that amuses and bemuses.

Lawless   2012   115 minutes    This profiles the Bondurant Gang, a family of Virginia bootleggers.  It is what you would expect and pretty grisly.  Seeing the old cars is nice.

Lonely Hearts  2006   107 minutes    Two homicide detectives are assigned to pursue notorious lovers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez -- a fugitive couple dubbed the "Lonely Hearts Killers."  It’s a docudrama that seems kind of spliced together.  There’s no trouble following the action, but why would one want to.   Everything about the killers and their crimes is repulsive.  Maybe it could be used for therapy to help someone overcome a movie addiction.

Match Point   2005   124 minutes   Woody Allen made this film in England because no one in the New York  wanted to finance it.  Chris, a recently retired tennis pro, meets and marries Chloe,the older sister of his friend Tom, and joins the family firm.  Later he gets Tom’s ex-girlfriend pregnant and figures the only way out is to kill her.  He fakes a robbery and kills her with one of many shotguns in the family hunting lodge.  One police detective suspects him, but he gets away with it.  The film ends with everyone gathered round to admire Chloe’s baby.  It was O.K., maybe a little sordid.

Men in Black 3   2012   106 minutes    To ward off an alien invasion of earth, Will Smith has to travel back in time to work with the young Tommy Lee Jones , played by Josh Brolin  --  there was no way to make Jones look 30 years younger.  It’s all great fun and one gets an up close look at a shuttle launch.

The Moderns   1988  126 minutes    It’s 1926 in Paris.  Hemingway is there and Gertrude Stein and her salon.  Nick is a 32 year old American painter with great skill and no sales.  In the café where everyone hangs out, he runs into his former lover, Rachel, and her unpleasant husband, who got rich by inventing a successful condom and is more gangster than businessman.  The husband has no taste in art but collects what other people say is good.  Geraldine Chaplin plays a woman, who plans to dump her rich husband, and take off for New York with three original paintings, a Picasso, a Matisse and a Modigliani.  She persuades Nick to make copies of them, which she will substitute for the originals, just before she takes off.  When her husband dies, she doesn’t want to pay Nick for the copies and swipes what she thinks are the originals from Nick’s studio.  Nick sells the originals to Rachel’s husband.  When their authenticity is challenged at a soiree, he pulls them off the walls and burns them in his fireplace.  The fakes end up at MOMA                .  It’s a romp.  I loved it.

Mrs. Henderson Presents   2005   103 minutes    I remember wandering around the streets of London on a beautiful summer day in 1955 with some other midshipmen.  A Brit we met suggested we visit the Windmill Theater to see the nude girls.  There was too much else to see.  There were Morris Dancers in the streets and when we visited Parliament, we meant an MP who guided us around and let us sit on the woolsack.   So we didn’t see Mrs. Henderson’s theater.    In the film, Judy Dench plays a respectable upper class widow who bought a small theater in 1930.  After trying plays and movies, she and her manager decided to put on a continuous review that would run from 2:30 PM to 11:30 PM.  The acts featured singing and dancing and comedy, much like vaudeville, I guess.  There was lots of competition and she needed a hook.  She found it when she persuaded the authorities that it would not be indecent for actresses to appear on stage nude if they didn’t move.  The traditional acts would go on and then the lights would go out and nudes posing and motionless would be lit for a few moments.  It was a great success and was around until 1964.

My Neighbor Totoro   1988   86 minutes   This is an animated kids’ film by Hayao Miyazaki. When the mother of two young girls is hospitalized, their father takes them to live in the country a short bus ride from the mother’s sanitarium.  Totoro is a mythical creature who lives in the woods near their house.  He is benign and can be helpful. We get a nice look at life in rural Japan, but the star of the show is the cat bus.  See it with your kids or grand kids.

Nine   2009   119 minutes   Daniel Day-Lewis plays director Guido Contini as he struggles to finish his latest film and deal with the various women in his life.  It’s based on a Broadway hit, and one only needs to look at the cast to know that this is a film to see:  Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard,  Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and three ?Italians? I never heard of: Giuseppe Spitaleri, Elio Germano and Maria Stella.  Penelope Cruz has a hot bump and grind number that is unforgettable.

North Country   2005   126 minutes   This is a first-rate film based on the true story of women working in Minnesota’s iron mines, who, in the 1970s, brought the first class action suit for sexual harassment and stayed with it until they got a settlement in the 1990s.  Charlize Theron plays Josey Aimes who led the class action effort.  The scenes of what these women had to endure at the mines and how they coped with it or didn’t are worth the price of admission.

Out of Sight   1998   123 minutes   A Florida bank robber played by George Clooney meets a federal marshal played by Jennifer Lopez in the trunk of a getaway car.  I don’t think I need to say more than that the film got an Oscar nomination for its adaptation of a novel by Elmore Leonard.

Oranges and Sunshine   2011   136 minutes   The film is based on the true story of Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker who uncovered a shocking scandal involving deportation of 1000s of “orphan” children to Australia, where they were exploited as child laborers.  Emily Watson plays Humphreys and does great credit to her heroic story.  It’s not a pleasant film to watch, but it is an important piece of history.

Picture Bride   1994   94 minutes   Riyo, a 16 year old Japanese girl accepts an offer of marriage from Matsuji, a Hawaiian sugarcane worker.  The hardship they both endured are painful to watch, but maybe it’s worth it to have a look at the origins of sugarcane cultivation and the first steps toward integration of Japanese immigrants into Hawaiian society.

Pina   2011   103 minutes   In this sometimes black and white film, Director Wim Wenders creates a tribute to the late Pina Bausch and her avant garde Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company.  The pieces performed include “Rite of Spring” on a stage entirely covered with dirt.  It’s all weird beyond belief.  It’s amazing how her dancers were totally dedicated to Pina and her art.

Possession   2002   103 minutes  It’s been a while since I saw this, so I had to go and look at reviews to refresh my memory.  The best of those is the link below.  In the film an American scholar (Aaron Eckhart) is in England researching, Randolph Ash, a 19th  poet.  Meanwhile Gwyneth Paltrow ;is researching Cristabel Lamotte, a chaste spinster, who is a contemporary of Ash.  The two scholars join forces after the American finds a love letter from Cristabel in Ash’s papers.  We get to meet the two fictional poets in flashbacks, and we note the growing bond between the two scholars despite their reluctance to get romantically involved.

Quills   2000  124 minutes   Geoffrey Rush; plays the Marquis de Sade after he was imprisoned in an insane asylum.  A doctor tries to prevent him from writing, but a laundress, Kate
Winslet, smuggles out his manuscripts.  According to Wiki, the whole thing is historically inaccurate, but the movie makers say they weren’t doing history; they were exploring issues such as censorship, pornography, sex, art, mental illness and religion.  

Radio Days   1987  88 minutes   Woody Allen’s nostalgic look at life in Brooklyn in the 1940s.

Random Hearts   1999   132 minutes    The title alone might have been enough to put me off, but it stars Harrison Ford.  A police officer and a congresswoman lose their spouses in a plane crash and after comparing notes realize the spouses had been having an affair.  Nobody had anything positive about the film other than that Harrison Ford gave a strong performance. 

Red Dust   2004   110 minutes   When you have a difficult role, call Hilary Swank.l.  She plays a human rights lawyer, who returns to South Africa to defend a police officer who has asked for amnesty for acts of atrocity he committed under apartheid.  See it.

Red Tails   2012   125 minutes    The only thing that would be better than a film featuring WW II fighter planes would be a film featuring WW I aircraft.  In this one, the 332nd Fighter Group, an all black unit, won a reputation as the best escort pilots of the war.  The bomber groups all wanted the Red Tails.  The Tuskegee airmen had to fight racism at home, the military’s reluctance to assign them up to date fighters – P-51s – once they got to Italy and then the Messerschmitts. .

Ronin   1998   121 minutes    For all of the players except the CIA agent undercover, the object is to steal a briefcase.  We never learn what’s in it, but the IRA and the Russian mob both want it.  There are wild chases from Nice to Paris, and it ends with a threat to shoot a Russian skater played by Katarina Witt, if the Russians don’t turn over the case.  This has enough action and enough plot twists and turns to please anyone who loves thrillers.

The Russia House   1990   123 minutes   When I can find them, I like to check in on movies with Sean Connery before and after he was James Bond.  In this one he is Barley Blair, a small-time British publisher.  After intercepting a manuscript enroute to Barley, the CIA asks him to follow up.  He feigns reluctance until he sees a photo of the book’s beautiful editor.  Barley plays his role well, and I did not see the double cross coming at the end.

Safe House   2012   115 minutes    Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, a rogue CIA agent who has a  microchip compiled by Mossad as a means to get leverage on key officials in CIA and its European counterparts from Moscow to London.  The data is a record of illegal operations.  Naturally CIA sends a team to capture Frost and get the chip. They do catch him and take him to a safe house and start water boarding him to find the chip.  A team of assassins breaks in and kills everyone except Frost and the “housekeeper,” Matt Weston, who escape, Frost as Weston’s prisoner.  Weston intends to bring Frost in but Frost escapes and Weston has to recover him and he does, although Frost is somewhat wounded in another attack.  While doing that he kills most of the assassination team and learns from one of them that the team was also CIA.  Weston does turn Frost in at a safe house but he is now wary.  When the housekeeper attacks him, he manages to kill him, but is badly wounded.  Before the last assault comes, Frost gives Weston the chip.  Frost is killed when Weston’s boss arrives.  Weston survives and is commended for bringing in Frost, but there is still the question of the chip.  After Weston leaves CIA, the documents are printed in the New York Times and arrests follow.  If you like action, this is it.

Sally Hemings:  An American Scandal   2000   171 minutes   This is a Hallmark miniseries.  It’s better than “Jefferson in Paris” and manages to leave us with some, but not much, sympathy for Jefferson.  Lots of interesting views of life at Monticello. 

Snow White and the Huntsman   2012   127 minutes   It’s dark, dark, dark.   Snow White learns fighting skills from the huntsman sent to kill her and uses them to fight the queen.  I missed the dwarfs and I couldn’t find anything to like about this movie.

Stage Beauty   2004   109 minutes   Billy Crudup plays Ned Kynaston, England’s most celebrated “actress,” until a young woman, Claire Danes, who aspires to be an actress persuades Charles II to allow women to perform on stage.  Ned becomes a non-entity overnight.  Danes, who had been his dresser, takes over to make him into a real man again.  All this film has to recommend it are a good story, a significant milestone in the history of the theater and great performances from the cast.  See it.

Total Recall   2012    118 minutes   Colin Farrell works in a factory and is happily married, but somehow he suspects that his memory has been wiped and that he used to be a spy.  He goes to a memory recovery shop and all hell breaks loose.  Wiki tells me it got mostly negative reviews and I can believe that.  Maybe the best thing with a Philip K. Dick story is to read it for yourself and let your imagination roam.

Trouble with the Curve   2012   111 minutes    Excerpt for the chair thing at the Republican Convention, maybe Clint Eastwood can do no wrong.  And that’s for sure if Amy Adams is around.  He’s an aging baseball scout with failing eyesight and she’s his sort of estranged daughter.  She used to travel with her father when she was a girl and learned the scouting game.   She’s now a successful lawyer about to make partner, but recognizes that he needs her and takes time off to accompany him on a scouting trip.  They put thumbs down on an arrogant young hitter, whom all the other scouts want to sign.  Eastwood’s club, the Braves, signs the kid anyway, relying on statistics instead of Eastwood’s judgment.  His job is in jeopardy.  Amy finds a hot pitching prospect, whom no one else has seen.  She and her dad take him to the park and ask that they give him a tryout.  The Braves are reluctant but figure they can get rid of him quickly by having him pitch to the new wonder kid.  The kid can’t touch anything he throws; he can’t hit a curve, something both Eastwood and Amy picked up when they scouted him.  It’s a good story, and the wisdom of experience scouts is certainly important, but there is the contrary experience of success based on numbers, the subject of “Moneyball.”  See them both.

The Universe of Keith Haring   2008   This documentary chronicles the life and works of Keith Haring. He was amazingly prolific and had a tremendous appeal for children as well as adults.  I hadn’t realized that some of his works were gigantic.  It’s a happy film until the last frames.  He lived the gay life and died of aids.

V for Vendetta   2005   133 minutes   I saw this a while ago and can’t remember a thing about it.  It’s based on a comic book series with a hero in a Guy Fawkes mask who takes on a future fascist government in Britain.  Read all about it in Wiki:

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill   2005  83 minutes   This documentary chronicles the story of Mark Bittner,  a homeless San Francisc0 street musician who adopts a flock of wild parrots, as he searches  for meaning in his life.  The birds are beautiful.  Worth a look.

Woman of Straw   1964   Connery learns his rich uncle Charles has written him out of his will and schemes with the old man’s Italian nurse, Gina Lollobrigida, to get at least part of the fortune.  He plans an elaborate scheme which will make her take the rap for the old man’s murder.  A clever detective sees through the plan, and Lollobrigida walks away with all the money, while Connery heads off to jail.  The plots the thing in this one, although one can also admire Lollobrigida in her prime.

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