Current Events

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Death to Smoochy; Divergent; Double Jeopardy; Draft Day; Killing Kennedy; Kingdom of War: Part I and II; and The Secret life of Walter Mitty

Death to Smoochy   2002   109 minutes   Robin Williams is a tired and cynical host of a popular network show for kids.  He gets fired for taking a bribe from a father, who wants his kid featured on the show.  Smoochy played by Edward Norton in a purple rhinoceros suit is the idealistic young entertainer who replaces  Robin.  Smoochy is a real goody two shoes and so naïve that he starts taking advice from an unscrupulous agent played by Danny Devito.  He also manages to replace Robin in the affections of Nora, a hard-boiled network programming executive played by Catherine Keener – we need to see more of her.  By accident Smoochy befriends a punch drunk ex-boxer, and the boxer’s Irish crime family is so grateful that they protect Smoochy from the bad guys who want to exploit him, and the show goes on – idealistically.
Divergent   2014  139 minutes   Sometime in the future when, as usual in the film future, the world has been devastated, society in a city that looks a lot like the ruins of Chicago is divided into five factions, Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual.  Once a year at a coming of age ceremony called Choosing Day, 16 year olds must choose a faction, and the decision is irrevocable.  They usually choose the faction in which they grew up, but they may choose another.  Beforehand they are given an aptitude test.  Beatrice grew up in the Abnegation faction, but she doesn’t feel like she is a selfless person.  When her test results are inconclusive, the tester tells her never to share these results because it makes her a divergent .  Divergents are troublesome to this totally organized society and are killed or cast out to live in the streets without the support of a faction.  She chooses Dauntless and thus begins the path toward overthrow of the factional organization of society.  It’s based on a first novel, and while it may not be George Orwell, it’s pretty good.

Double Jeopardy   1999   105 minutes   Ashley Judd plays Libby, a happily married woman with a son about 5.  Her husband is a wheeler dealer who is about to go broke, so he fakes his own murder and makes it clear that Libby did him in.  There’s a payout from a million dollar life insurance policy, which Libby turns over to her son’s nanny and asks her to raise him, while she’s in prison.  While still in prison Libby figures out that her husband is still alive and that she was framed, tried and convicted for a murder that never happened.  When Libby is paroled to a halfway house in San Francisco run by Tommy Lee Jones, she tries to get in touch with the Nanny.  She’s disappeared with the boy and the husband.  Libby starts to search and soon figures out that her husband has murdered the nanny and changed his identity again.  In her search, she violates the conditions of her parole and becomes a fugitive with Jones in pursuit.  He catches up with her in New Orleans just as she has located her husband.  She threatens to shoot the husband if he doesn’t give her her son.  She can do this without repercussions because she has already been convicted of killing him.  He concedes, but as she turns to leave, he pulls a gun.  Jones shoots him.  (It was a clear case of self defense, but I was left wondering if it were otherwise, could Jones have been tried for shooting a dead man?)
Draft Day   2014   110 minutes   This is Kevin Costner at his best in a part he clearly loves.  He plays Sonny Weaver, the Cleveland Brown’s general manager, on draft day.  It’s the smartest wheeling and dealing you are ever going to see as he parlays the number 6 first pick into the number 1 pick plus two other first round picks.  He gets the defensive end and the running back he wants and passes on the quarterback who was supposed to go first.  Sonny had a good quarterback and he figured out that the new guy, despite his college record, wasn’t going to make it big in the NFL.  Among other things, he learned that none of the quarterback’s teammates came to his heavily publicized 21st birthday party. 
Killing Kennedy   2013   90 minutes   I haven’t read Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book, so I can’t blame them for this turkey.  It was shot for the National Geographic Channel in 18 days and looks it.  We all know the story, and I think it rates something better than a low budget film, so maybe this should have just stayed on TV.  Rob Lowe as Kennedy looks great, better than the original, but nothing else works.    I did learn a few things about Oswald.  No wonder the Soviets didn’t want him.

Kingdom of War: Part I   166 minutes and Part II  165 minutes   This was a lot to sit through but so strange it was almost worth it.  In production terms it looked a lot like epic films 50 or 60 years ago.  The scene is 16th C Burma where a young Siamese prince, Naresuan, spends his youth as a hostage learning the art of war.  He learns his lessons well and in Part II King Naresuan the Great leads the Siamese people in a revolt to free their country from Burmese control.
The Secret life of Walter Mitty   2013  114 minutes   Danny Kaye was great in the original and Ben Stiller is at least his equal in this remake, but very, very different.  Life Magazine is preparing its final weekly issue some 40 years after it actually shutdown in 1972, and the contractor who will fire most of the staff is already on site.  Stiller is a photo editor and for years has been the backup for a famous but reclusive life photographer played by Sean Penn, although he has never met him.  Penn has sent a message to management that no. 25 on the last role he sent in is his masterpiece which should go on the final cover.  Stiller can’t find it and sets off to find Penn.  Kristen Wiig, looking gorgeous and somewhat flaky, after all it’s Kristen Wiig, helps him figure out where to go to find Penn:  Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan and Tibet.  It’s a great trip involving a helicopter flight with a drunken pilot, a dip in the North Atlantic not far from an iceberg, Stiller showing his mastery of the skateboard, an escape from an erupting volcano, a telephoto shot of a snow leopard and a pickup game of soccer with some sherpas.  In Life’s offices in the movie, one sees framed blowups of Life covers.  They’re fakes.  And the real last weekly cover had no picture.  In large type it said “The Year in Pictures 1972.”  Instead it should have been something like the last picture in this movie.

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