Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2014)

Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Release Date: 25 December 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Production Co: Weinstein Company,
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
Rating: ***

Not sure to make of this one.  The basic story is that Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent some time in a mental institution after being diagnosed as bipolar  following a vicious attack on the man having a fling with his wife.  Pat moves in with his parents adopting a “silver linings” philosophy in hopes of getting himself in shape to win back his wife (and his failures to stick to his new ideal veer between the comic and terrifying).  Along the way he meets a young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and agrees to join her in a dance performance in exchange for Tiffany delivering a letter to his wife.  It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that Pat and Tiffany will end up together by the end of the film (and along the way they spend a lot of time talking in the middle of streets without ever getting honked at).

I don’t think the depiction of mental illness in the film is very accurate and I’m sensitive to the problems that causes.  On the other hand, the acting in this movie is strong as Cooper, Lawrence, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Anupam Kher all put in excellent performance and sell the interpersonal dynamics.  Even Robert Deniro who I don’t usually like because he always plays Robert Deniro puts in a convincing performance as a man obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles with OCD and a gambling problem, but under that all really trying to make a connection with his son.  So I give this a mixed review, as the story is largely hard-to-believe, but the acting and the relationships are terrific.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

Title:  Pitch Perfect
Release Date: 5 October 2012
Director:Jason Moore
Production Co:Brownstone Productions
Country:USA
Language:English
Genre:Comedy | Musical
Rating: ***1/2

Recently, I’ve been seeing references to Anna Kendrick everywhere, as if the universe wishes for me to know of her existence.  So I decided to watch this musical comedy which has a reputation as a cult classic.  I went to a college with a big a cappella scene, but the fictional college in this film takes it to a new level, where vocal groups are the highly competitive center of campus life (and apparently members have incredible recall for song lyrics and instant harmonies).  The plot leaves a lot of questions (“why if the Bellas routines are so stale & boring do they keep finishing in the top 3?” “does anyone realize that Beca’s plan to use mashups as the basis of their new performance is something already called a medley?”), but this isn’t a movie you watch for the plot.  Instead you watch it for the funny dialogue, the showstopping musical numbers, and strong comic performances from Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt.  It’s kind of Animal House with harmony, but with the heart of an 80s John Hughes film (with a very obvious shout-out to The Breakfast Club as a plot point).  So, put me down as a fan of Kendrick and Pitch Perfect.  I’m ready for the sequel.

Movie Review: Selma (2014)

TitleSelma
Release Date: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
Rating: ****

The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights for black Americans is dramatized in this excellent biographical film.  The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. after he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) are invited to Selma, AL to help with their campaign to register black voters.  In addition to the conflict with violent police and racist whites, the film captures the tensions between the SCLC and leaders of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), tensions within the SCLC leadership, tensions between King and President Lyndon Johnson, and tensions within King’s family.  The brilliant acting in this film draws out how all these competing tensions affected the historic people and their motivations and desires.  I was also impressed with the directing of the film, particularly in the unusual way the camera conversations among individuals.  There has been criticism of this film for not being historically accurate, but while not being the documentary truth of the period of time it depicts, I think it compresses real historical truths for dramatic effect.  For example, while Johnson may not have been has nakedly antagonistic to King’s plans in 1965, it is true that the President had conflicting goals and did not wish to move forward as swiftly as the Movement.  I hope people will go and see this film which is both a work of art and an introduction to an important event in American history.  And once you’ve seen Selma, check out the documentary Eyes on the Prize and the many excellent books about the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Movie Review: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage (1999)

Title: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage
Release Date: 1999
Director: David Clark, Al Giddings
Production Co: IMAX, Mandalay Media Arts, National Science Foundation
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Nature | IMAX
Rating: *** 1/2

Another great IMAX film experience at the Boston Museum of Science.  The film immerses one in the lunar landscape of the Galapagos Islands with it’s many uniquely-evolved creatures and plants.  Then it takes you deep beneath the sea to explore newly-discovered aquatic creatures.  The star of the film is zoologist Carol Baldwin (and fellow William & Mary alum) who among other things takes a submersible into the deep ocean and sucks up specimens of sea life with a nifty vacuum tube.  My 7-year-old son gave the movie a thumbs up as well.

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

TitleFrozen
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Production Co: Walt Disney Company
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation | Family | Musical
Rating: ****

As of yesterday, I’ve ended my reign as the last middle class American parent of young children to have not see Frozen.  My daughter and I watched it on DVD.  Despite all the hype and attention to the movie, it wasn’t quite what I expected, which means I somehow wasn’t spoiled.  It was a good mix of musical set pieces, humor, adventure, and a story of sisterly love.  I liked Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer the best.  Yep, I liked it.  So, I guess it was worth the wait.

 

Movie Review: Prohibition (2011)

Title: Prohibition
Release Date: 2 October 2011
Director: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Production Co: Florentine Films
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | History
Rating: ****

This Ken Burns documentary illustrates the United States’ experiment with banning alcoholic beverages. The story is told in three parts.

Part I documents the adverse effect alcohol consumption had on Americans, especially men, who drank away their pay while women and children suffered poverty and abuse.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union organized to successfully (albeit temporarily) shut down saloons, and inadvertently providing a political outlet for women that helped the suffrage movement. On the other hand, alcohol played an important social role, especially in immigrant communities.  The dark side of the temperance movement is that it was made up of rural and small-town Protestants from the mid-west and south who were prejudice against the immigrant groups in the big cities.  The strongest opponents to prohibition were German-American brewers, so it was no surprise that anti-German sentiment during WWI helped sway the national opinion towards Prohibition.

Part II shows America under Prohibition.  Interestingly enough, many people (including politicians who voted for the amendment) expected beer and wine to be permitted under Prohibition.  The Anti-Saloon League under Wayne Wheeler are able to influence the drafting of the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition by banning all beverages with more than one-half of one-percent alcohol.  There were many loopholes such as people who stocked up before the ban or those who could get prescriptions for medicinal alcohol.  While many in the heartland were pleased to abstain, places like New York City exploded with illegal importation and distilling of liquors.  These illegal activities were soon consolidated under organized crime bosses whose territorial battles contributed to notorious violence.

Part III illustrates the growing awareness that the levels of hypocrisy and unintended consequences of Prohibition, ultimately leading to repeal.

An interesting aspect of this documentary is it shows how the Prohibition story accompanies the increased role of women in American public life.  The temperance movement was led by women.  Mabel Walker Willebrandt enforced the Volstead Act in her duties as U.S. Assistant Attorney General.  Lois Long documented the glamour and sexual liberation of speakeasy nightlife in her articles for the The New Yorker.  And Pauline Sabin lead the political movement for repeal as head of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.

Like Ken Burn’s other works, this was an excellent and informative documentary, richly illustrated with period photographs and films and words read from primary documents by actors and narrators.  I learned a lot from this film.

 

Movie Review: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories

Title: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories
Production Co:ESPN Films
Country: United States
Language: English (and other languages in interviews and archival footage)
Genre: Documentary | Sports | History

In preparation for this year’s World Cup tournament, I watched this series of ESPN films about football/futbol/soccer on Netflix. They all touch upon themes beyond sports and into the realms of politics and human drama.

Title:Hillsborough
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Director: Daniel Gordon
The feature-length documentary tells the story of the 1989 FA Cup Semifinal where 96 supporters of Liverpool FC were crushed to death, and the ongoing story of survivors and family to find justice. I knew a fair bit about the disaster coming in, but the film filled me in on some startling details. For example, the Hillsborough stadium had experienced crushing incidents at previous games. Then there is the extent the police went to slander the victims, ranging from the coroner’s unprecedented decision to take blood alcohol samples from all of the dead (including children) to editing and sanitizing over a hundred reports written by police officers on the scene. The documentary features interviews with survivors, family of the dead, police, and legal experts as well as television and close-circuit camera film of the events of the day. One deficit of the film is the use of dramatic reenactments which are confusing and unnecessary (for example, the story of some police officers playing a cruel hazing prank a few weeks before the match and leading to the transfer of a police chief experienced with crowd control did not need to be acted out). Of all the films in the series this one is the most effective and a must see although very disturbing to watch.

Rating: ****1/2

Title: The Opposition
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Ezra Edelman and Jeffrey Plunkett
Another disturbing film where politics intrudes into sport focuses on the Chilean national team attempting to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. When the democratically elected government is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s national stadium is turned into a prison and torture camp for those deemed dissidents by the new regime. When the USSR boycotts a qualifier game, the Chilean team is forced to participate in a farce of scoring a goal against no opposition in the same stadium. The United States, for supporting the coup, and FIFA, for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in their midst, come off looking very bad. It’s all very grim, and it feels like this story deserved more than 22 minutes.

Rating:***

Title: Maradona ’86
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Sam Blair
This is more of a traditional sports documentary focusing on Diego Maradona’s magnificent performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. A divisive figure, he’s able to capture the appreciation of the world in these games. The documentary excels in its use of archival footage to tell the story, especially the clips from Argentina and the poetic descriptions of Maradona’s goals.

Rating:***

Title: Ceasefire Massacre
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Alex Gibney and Trevor Birney
In 1994, Ireland won a surprising World Cup group match over Italy in front of a fervent crowd of Irish-American supporters in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. This great moment for a perennially poor team came after qualifying in a game over Northern Ireland, earning respect and admiration for the team across the island. But during half-time of this World Cup match, a bar in the tiny of Loughisland was targeted by Protestant terrorists, who opened fire killing six and wounding five. Both stories are interesting, but seem tenuously connected, even as the documentary suggests that the players learning of the massacre affected their play in the rest of the tournament.

Rating:**1/2

Title: The Myth of Garrincha
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Marcos Horacio Azevedo

Mané Garrincha, knees bent by childhood illness, should not have been a professional athlete, but turned out to be an unpredictable and entertaining goal-scorer. He gained great fame from leading Brazil to World Cup Championships in 1958 and 1962. This documentary has a “Behind the Music” feel as it goes into the effect of the “price of fame” that manifested in Garrincha in severe alcoholism and the public turning against him when he marries a samba singer who had been married before. He died bankrupt and alone in 1983, but his funeral turns out to be another big change in public perception as there’s an outpouring of affection for the forgotten hero.

Rating:**1/2

Title: Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Brett Ratner

This is the weakest of the bunch, a hodge-podge of stories of people trying to steal the World Cup trophy (well, some are successful as it is still missing to this day). It feels like a cheezy History Channel doc from the 1990s, complete with archival footage of parading Nazis.

Rating:*1/2

Title: Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Loch Phillipps

The goalkeeper for Brazil’s 1950 World Cup team, Barbosa was unfairly blamed for the loss to Uruquay at the Maracanã in Rio. Like Garrincha, he lives out his life treated as a villain in Brazil, but unlike Garrincha is a gentle soul who never deserved any reprobation. It’s an interesting glimpse into the 1950 World Cup and it’s long-lasting after affects, although I still have trouble buying into the mourning that continues over this loss in Brazil when the country subsequently won five World Cups (and counting).

Rating:***

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