Movie Watching (June 2015)

Halfway through the year.  The beginning of another month means some more movie reviews from what I have been watching.

Manhattan- Considered one of Woody Allen’s finest, “Manhattan” is certainly a sophisticated film.  Shot in black and white and featuring famous sights around New York City, Allen’s film centers on love and loss but mostly the latter.  The feeling this movie evokes on the audience is fascinating.  With Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing over the features of New York, we have the feeling of a classic Hollywood romance but the story is anything but that.  This is the classy, golden age of Hollywood mixed with Woody Allen cynicism.  That is not a knock.  This is a fine film.  Look for Meryl Streep as Allen’s former wife and Mariel Hemingway- the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway- in her first substantial role as the 17 year old lover of Allen’s 42 year old character.  Creepy and maybe too close to reality for the famed director.   ****

Son of God- Maybe this statement is blasphemy but the 2014 film that centers on the life of Jesus is not very good.  There have been many excellent movies made on the life of Christ:  Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew”, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and I even enjoy the “Jesus of Nazareth” mini-series done by Franco Zeffirelli.  “Son of God” comes nowhere near these movies.  What annoys me about Biblical epics on film these days, is a lot of them just have a wooden devotion to the text of Scripture.  I love Scripture and I highly encourage reading the Word of God…but when people are creating art based on the text, I don’t think imagination- moving into extra Biblical character development- is such a bad thing.  An artist can maintain faithfulness to the themes of Scripture while creating original work based on it.  This was disappointing.  **

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1- The strength of the third installment of “The Hunger Games” franchise is that the proceedings go a different direction than the previous two entries.  “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” focus on teenagers and kids fighting for survival in elaborate games for the entertainment value of a dystopian society.  “Mockingjay Part 1” dives right into the revolution against President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) authoritarian society.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is an unlikely leader in this movement and is a strong female heroine grappling with the destruction of her home, fighting with the resisting forces of the society and trying to decide between two young men (Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemsworth and Peeta played by Josh Hutcherson).  Peeta has been captured by the government’s forces and in a series of televised “interviews” is acting strangely.  Being that the next film will, I think, bring about a conclusion to the series, one cannot help but recognize this film as a filler to some degree.  Lawrence’s performance carries the story and the change of plot from the other movies helps the new entry feel fresher.  *** 1/2

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Theater)- Marvel’s movie universe expands with another Avengers movie bringing together a plethora of superheroes from their own individual films:  Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Thor, War Machine, Falcon and others.  An exciting sequence opens the film on a snowy battlefield and incorporating most of the above characters fighting against Hydra as they have been experimenting on human’s using a scepter previously wielded by Loki (from the Thor movies).   Upon recovering this scepter, Tony Stark (Iron Man as played by Robert Downey Jr) attempts to create an artificial intelligence, globalized defense system- apparently trying to work himself into retirement- that ends up turning against humanity as the artificial intelligence that is created deems that humanity should be wiped out for the sake of the planet.  The Avengers set out to fight against Ultron (voiced by James Spader) but also debate among themselves about this technology and that is the most interesting aspect of this film.  The divisions within the team.  The special effects are top notch and the ending climax is loaded with eye popping visuals and suspense.  Overall, this doesn’t feel as fresh as the original Avengers but there is still a lot of fun to be had.  *** 1/2

Blackhat- Michael Mann can be a filmmaker that is almost second to none.  His film “Heat” in the mid-90s is probably the best cops and robbers movie of all time.  Mann has created memorable films including “The Insider” and “The Last of the Mohicans”.  With “Blackhat”, I get the feeling that Mann could have had something really good but the mechanics of the story get in the way.  Sure, “Blackhat” has the sleek coolness of a Mann film and centers on a hot-button theme (cyber terrorism between nations) that seems borrowed from the headlines.  The execution becomes sketchy when the computer specialists including Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) show up to arrest the architects of the cyber terrorism with a SWAT team and get involved in a firefight.  There are other giant stretches of logic which ultimately, ruin the momentum of the film.  ** 1/2

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon)- Film is magical in the sense that a work of art can be a time capsule into a different era and time.  Watching this 12 minute film from 1902, directed by Georges Melies, was a truly transcendent moment.  The story centers on a group of astronomers taking a trip to the moon.  They build a vessel that resembles a bullet and in my favorite scene, get shot out of a long cannon toward our glowing heavenly body.  The moon has a face and the spaceship bullet lands in the moon’s right eye.  The adventurers discover a moon species called Selenites during their journey.  The movie is brimming with imagination, humor and the modernistic hopes of the advancement of science and exploration by human beings.  This is streaming on Netflix right now. Go check it out.  **** 1/2

Hector and the Search for Happiness- Simon Pegg’s acting skills are on display in this quirky comedy about a psychiatrist who travels the world to try and find out what makes people happy.  Is happiness based on wealth? Power?  How many lovers one has?  A lifelong love and commitment?  The premise is very interesting but borrowed.  There is definitely some sentimental schmaltz and I’m not sure that I go along with what he supposedly discovered at the end of the film.  This has been called “Eat, Pray, Love- the guy edition.”  ** 1/2

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad- Who doesn’t like an incompetent cop attempting to bring about justice even if it is brought about accidently?  Who also doesn’t like an appearance by OJ Simpson as Nordberg where he gets shot multiple times by bad guys, runs into a door frame, into walls and steps into a bear trap which puts him in the hospital (as a miraculous survivor)?  There are some big laughs here and Leslie Nielsen gives his signature performance as Frank Drebin.  Extra points as the setting of the climax involves a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels.  ***

Crocodile Dundee- Probably, I first viewed this movie when I was 7 or 8.  I’m not sure I watched the entire picture as most of the story would have been dull to my boyhood self.  I noticed this streaming on Netflix and decided to reintroduce myself to Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee to see what has changed in 30 years.  Well…I can’t say I was a big fan. The story is stocked full of clichés.  A reporter (Linda Kozlowski) goes down to Australia to interview an eccentric crocodile poacher.  She ends up bringing him back to New York City.  So, one sees, this is the ultimate fish out of water story.  Of course, there also has to be romance between the two as virtually anyone could have predicted.  I still really like the scene where the would-be muggers pull a knife on Dundee and he pulls out a bigger knife.  That is as close to classic as one will get with this film.  **

Nashville- “Nashville”, the film by the legendary director Robert Altman, is a highly regarded movie.  The work is on the American Film Institutes Top 100 American Films of all Time and is a part of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies collection and was highly praised by Pauline Kael and is even found in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  That being said, I did not care for this movie.  Now, there may be some very important bias here to consider.  1-  I’m not a fan of country music and the setting is, obviously, set in Nashville among country crooners and country stars singing painful patriot cheese.  2- Altman famously called this movie a “musical” and I’m not, in general, a fan of musicals.  There are a few I enjoy, classics, but on a whole, this is not my favorite genre.  3- As far as I could detect, there was not much of a story or main point.  Altman is after a theme of an America in the post-Watergate years.  He is attempting to make a political parable around a politician running for office named Hal Phillip Walker.  There are interlocking stories among many characters and over an hour of music.  There is an assassination.  Well made but I just did not find this film that compelling.  ** 1/2

American Sniper- Finally, I saw Clint Eastwood’s latest tracing the character of Chris Kyle through his tours in Iraq.  As we all know, this movie became one of those partisan dividing posts.  Many liberals hated it and a lot of conservatives praised it.  Trying to put all that aside, this is a very good film.  I can see the issue that some people have with the work.  Eastwood tries to be true to who Kyle was and what he did during his war tours as the most prolific sniper in American history.  This includes racist language and references to Iraqi’s as “savages”.  However, I do not think that anyone can deny the profound sadness that hangs over every frame of this film.  What killed Chris Kyle was not an enemy on the battlefield but the unaddressed psychological monster that followed him and his comrades back home.  They do not show the death of Kyle at the end of the movie but the last frame injects all the tragic feeling of this story right into the viewer, as Eastwood probably intended.  ****

Dark Passage- This is the third of four films that the husband and wife team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together.  The result is a solid film noir that takes a huge change.  “Dark Passage” was made in 1947 when Bogart was a massive star.  For a good chunk of the first part of the movie, Bogart’s face is not seen. Director Delmer Daves shoots from a first person point of view of Bogart playing Vincent Parry, a man who breaks out of jail.  He was in prison for murdering his wife.  Bogart assumes the identity of another man which involves facial surgery.  We finally see Bogart’s face about 62 minutes into the film.  Lauren Bacall plays Irene Jansen, an artist interested in Parry, and they soon fall in love.  A fun classic.  *** 1/2

Fast Food Nation- Richard Linklater is an impressive, under-the-radar filmmaker whose credits include:  Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, School of Rock and Boyhood among others.  “Fast Food Nation” is unfocused Linklater.  The film opens with a shot of a family in a fast food restaurant.  The lighting is high contrast with white light around the edges.  The family seems happy and the camera zooms in on the hamburger patty as if to ask the audience:  how did this become a piece of “meat” on a bun in this restaurant? That is the theme of the film as Don Anderson (played by Greg Kinnear) wants to answer that question amid rumors that there are problems at the processing plant.  If the film would have stayed focused on fast food, this could have really been something.  However, Linklater veers off into taking on all corporations in America rather than just dealing with the powerful theme he had set up.   He also offers commentary on immigration that seems distracted again from his main point.  Look for a very funny cameo by Bruce Willis.  ***

The Grapes of Wrath- I have never read the book but “The Grapes of Wrath” is a wonderful film about the migration of a dust bowl family during the 1930s to California.  This stands as a picture of the poor, suffering in the Great Depression, and the hope and dreams of seeking out a better life.  Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad in a classic performance.  An important and great movie.  ****

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About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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