Category Archives: Movies


Okay, everybody can act. I mean, this is Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson and even Anthony Hopkins. Three Academy Awards out of the four top-billed actors isn’t bad, especially since Emma Watson is too young to really make her mark yet. So when things get all intense and angsty, they can twist up their faces pretty good and make you believe they’re crazy upset.

And we’ve got these great Hollywood production values (though my friends spotted a rubber sole on Russell Crowe–I mean Noah’s– boot. We won’t talk about that.) The special effects are pretty cool and go way beyond making a really big boat (exception: the reoccurring vision of the snake and the apple is pretty cheesy).

But there’s a lot of stuff on there that never came up in Sunday school. Like these prehistoric transformers made out of lava-encrusted, fallen angels called ‘watchers.’ Good thing they’re around. The whole movie would have been over before it started without them on the job, and you and I would not be here.

Then there’s these cool little rocks that you can make fire bombs out of. This guy  says he’s King of the World and he has a thing that looks like a bazooka that shoots these rocks right out, and wow! Ka-BAM!

They use magic smoke to put all the animals asleep for about a year. You don’t have to feed them and there’s no manure to shovel. I’ve got to figure that one out for my dogs. It would be great if I could go on vacation without having to board them.

Did you know they saved a skin shed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and they like to perform rituals with the snakeskin and it glows? Or that Methuselah was alive when Noah needed some advice? I can’t figure out why Noah left Grandpa out in the rain like that. I mean, they had room. And Grandpa could pull some really wicked tricks out of his, well, he didn’t have a hat, but, you know.

Good thing they can act, because it gets pretty ugly when Noah decides that the evil God wishes to erase from the Earth, well he decides that evil resides in him and his family, and no one is exempt. I’m glad they didn’t have chainsaws back then.

Yes, there was a big boat full of animals and a flood. Past that point, it was a bunch of guys in Hollywood, sitting around a table saying, “How can we sex this thing up?” I had more WTF moments during this movie than I’ve had in, well, years, because, like, I don’t say WTF,” like, ever.

If the Bible isn’t exciting enough for you as it is, you should leave well enough alone.

Save this one for DVD. Then you can toss popcorn at the screen when it gets too silly. But skip the butter, it’s hell to get off.



#WoofWednesday – Dr. Zhivago Redux 2



Pulling for Gravity

Angie bought the large popcorn. I don’t know why, she only ate a few handfuls. I plowed through most of the rest of it during the movie and gained a pound and a half. Gravity is made for nervous munching.

I was exhausted when the it was over. This is no feel good movie full of cinematic manipulations that leave you exhilarated. Instead, I felt like I had struggled each graceless, torturous minute along with Sandra Bullock. At the end, all I wanted to do was sleep for a week. Which is why I’m writing this morning instead of last night.

Gravity is a what-if based on little things that become astronomical in space. There is no war. Only a botched disposal of a satellite that ends in a chain reaction that sends shrapnel blowing by the Hubble telescope at 20,000 miles per hour. There is no enemy except the environment and one’s own fears.

I lived and died by inches while watching Bullock, a scientist barely-competent in space, cope with the worst scenario possible: what do you do if your spaceship is destroyed and you’re running low on oxygen? As Bullock faces her own imminent death and struggles with each tiny mishap, she also struggles with her own will to live. As spectators we are confronted with larger questions about life.

Tragedies destroy. They also build, through gritty persistence of the human spirit.

Sandra Bullock give the performance of her life in Gavity, far outstripping her Oscar winning turn in The Blind Side. Geroge Clooney is her superb counterpoint. Both of them are sure for Oscar nods, and I find it hard to believe that they won’t win. Despite the exotic background, it is acting that carries Gravity.

Production values are excellent and the special effects seamless and believable. The photography is stunning. Their excellence is that of a good servant, working efficiently and silently so as not to distract from the story.

Go see Gravity. And be sure to take lots of popcorn. You’re going to need it.

Grade: A+

Mud in Your Eye

Mud is the one movie I wanted to see this spring, and of course I missed it. Which is why this review is several months too late.

Fourteen year-old Ellis is a romantic in a hard-scrabble life that offers him none. He lives on a houseboat on a river in Arkansas, his family supported by the the fish his father catches, that he and Ellis sell in town. When we meet Ellis, the impending breakup of his parent’s marriage threatens his way of life.

Ellis is not concerned. While pursuing his first kiss, Ellis and his friend, Neckbone, stumble across a fugitive (Mud) who needs their help. Like Pip in Great Expectations, Ellis obliges. With the reluctant assistance of Neckbone, he staves off disillusionment by devoting himself to Mud’s reunion with the love of his life.

Director Jeff Nichols is understated and matter-of-fact in the way he portrays a small town that prosperity has passed by. He neither ennobles nor dramatizes the lower-class denizens, humanizing them as people pursuing life the best they can and allowing the story to shine through. He errs in creating a tone that is suitable for a Disney adventure, presumably to assure a family friendly offering. Mud is an engaging film. With a little more grit, it would be compelling.

Tye Sheridan as Ellis is a heart-felt knight errant and Jacob Lofland is utterly convincing as Ellis’s loyal and pragmatic follower, Neckbone. I would not be surprised to see both Lofland and Ray McKinnon (as Ellis’s Father) receive Oscar nods for supporting actor.

Sam Shepard is a bit too affable for a man who has never spoken to his neighbors. This I lay on Nichol’s direction. Shepard has been brilliant in the past as tough, lonely men. He could have easily shined here. As it is, we are more afraid of Ellis’s taciturn dad than we are of the hermit marine sniper or the fugitive.

Matthew McConaughey is competent playing himself. The rough, uneducated, river rat poetry of Mud’s dialogue is lost in McConaughey’s slick elocution. We would better understand Juniper’s dilemma if we could see Mud as he was surely intended: a simple man who thinks no more than three days ahead, and whose whole life’s ambition is to serve his love for Juniper. (I would have picked Christian Bale for this role)

Reece Witherspoon’s is spot-on as the beguiling and troubled Juniper, for whom Mud’s love is not quite enough enough even while she refuses to let it go. Her small part carries the heavy weight of convincing us that a man would ruin his life over her. Without this conviction, Mud’s dedication would be merely pathetic.

Ellis is navigating troubled waters in this coming of age story, in which no adult has a happy relationship. The real question is, who is going to grow up?

I give it a nice, solid “B”

Blue Jasmine: Blanche Dubois Lives!

As my stepmother and I were waiting for the matinee crowd to disperse, the nice woman sitting on the other side of her asked me how I liked the movie.

I said,”I don’t think wives in the Hamptons deserve that much of our attention.”

She said, “It’s supposed to be funny.”

OH. I guess I’d forgotten that this is a Woody Allen film. I’ve made a point not to watch Woody Allen films since he made that one, the title of which I forget, about his relationship with Mia Farrow’s seventeen year-old adopted daughter.

Not because I’m a moralist. Because I refuse to justify the narcissism of many New Yorkers, that those of us who are not privileged to live in the Big Apple are endlessly fascinated by the neuroses of those who do.

That said, Blue Jasmine is a compelling character study of a woman who has held her blue chip life together with daily doses of denial and a husband who feeds her narcissism. Cate Blanchett (whom I love) gives possibly the best performance of her career. This film is worth seeing simply to watch her fall apart in a genteel version of The Bad Lieutenant (The Harvy Keitel version, not the Nicholas Cage remake).

Jasmine’s (nee Jeanette) fall from grace is occasioned by the arrest of her husband for financial crimes which bilked investors out of millions. We see her as she arrives in San Francisco with her Louis Vitton luggage to live with her grocery cashier sister,Ginger, in a situation borrowed heavily from Tenneessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

Correspondences to the classic play include Ginger’s Stanley Kowaski type boyfriend, Chili, Jasmine’s dependence on alcohol and Xanax to get her through the day, and even a mild sexual assault (though not perpetrated by Stanley).

Jasmine’s attempts to reinvent herself are interspersed with glimpses of her former life with Hal (played by Alec Baldwin, in the smug operator persona he has perfected over the course of his career).

Perhaps the film is an attempt to give those of us whose lives were affected by financial hocus pocus such as that perpetrated by Hal, an opportunity to feel superior to the 1%.

But funny? Since when is Blanche Dubois funny?

Elysium: An Unfortunate Waste of Talent

Science fiction is supposed to be the triumph of thought-provoking story concepts, where an author’s imagination is rich enough to extrapolate the future out of bits of the present. Such scrutiny applies a magnifying glass to current social issues, weighing them against technological advances and tossing the mix with human nature.

Elysium’s battle of the haves against the have-nots chose to drown out its premise with so-called action, consisting of a nauseating amount of jiggle-cam and exploding body parts.

If you like gore, you’ll leave the theater fully satiated.

As an action film, it’s okay. My disappointment stems from a potential that was not fulfilled. It is the smaller moments in Elysium which are most successful and most affecting, and there are too few of them: Matt Damon trying to explain himself to a robot parole officer; a friend’s charming attempt to lure Matt Damon back into criminal activity; the whipped-dog look on an evil supervisor’s face when the more-evil company founder berates him for a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t decision. Matt Damon’s distress when his childhood friend begs for help while he knows that every second he spends near her is putting her in more danger.

The lines drawn between the haves and have-nots are a bit black and white for my taste. All poor people are good, even the criminals understand honor and friendship. All the wealthy elite are evil. At their very best, they are willfully ignorant.

The only exception is the team of covert operatives Jodie Foster sends after Matt Damon. They don’t count because they are privileged in their own way, having advanced toys and license to carry out their psychopathic tendencies.

We see the touching struggles of the people of Earth. I wish we had been given a more human face of those born to privileged Elysium.