Movie Watching (July)

In the dead of summer with a bulging disc in my back, I got to a fairly diverse away of films for the month.  Read on through and feel free to leave your own comments/reviews on this crop of pictures.

While We’re Young- I have not been really a fan of Noah Baumbach’s past work.  I hated “Margot at the Wedding”, thought “Greenburg” was OK as well as “Frances Ha”.  I thought this movie had promise when I saw the trailer.  Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a middle-aged couple, who befriend a younger hipster couple.  Josh is a documentary filmmaker who takes the young Jamie (Adam Driver) under his wing as protege.  While having some good moments, many characters seem underwritten and even after a couple of weeks after viewing, nothing really stands out about this film.  ***

Terminator: Genisys (Theater- He’s baaaaaaaaaack.  The fifth edition of the Terminator franchise is better than I thought it would be.  The movie stands above the 3rd and 4th installments respectively.  That being said, we have seen this movie before…over and over again.  In a horrid future, humanity is at war with the machines (AI that they have created).  John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle reese (Jai Courtney) back to the past again to try and stop a terminator from killing Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke who gives a fiery, solid performance).  Director Alan Taylor of Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World fame does throw some interesting twists into the storyline but at the end, we are left a crew trying to blowup Skynet and stop the invention of AI…again.  One would be better served by rewatching the superior first two installments.  They really should have stopped after Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Great to have Arnold Schwarzenegger back to a main role though.  ***

Kingsman: The Secret Service- An effective send-up of James Bond type spy movies, “Kingsman” focuses on the legendary agent of a super-secret spy organization in Britain.  Colin Firth is that agent (Harry Hart) and in a surprise, the veteran of the BBC Pride & Prejudice mini series really kicks ass here.  He begins the process of taking a rough around the edges street kid, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), as his protege.  Hart’s life had been saved by Eggsy’s father.  As Hart is training Eggsy, a twisted tech genius is plotting to wipe out a good chunk of humanity.  This would be Valentine played by Samuel L Jackson who was born to play a role like this one, a mega-villain in a Bond-esque movie that is incredibly squeamish around blood.  While the overall plot is recycled that is sort of the point.  “Kingsman” straddles a fine line between spoof and being its own action movie that ultimately travels its own course.  Funny, witty and entertaining.  *** 1/2

Ex Machina- A slow-burn, science fiction new classic, Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” is mesmerizing.  Michelle and I, during the early parts, were trying to guess where this story was going to go.  We were wrong.  The acting from Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac is pitch perfect.  A talented coder named Caleb (Gleeson) wins a competition to stay at the reclusive mountain retreat of the CEO of the company he works for.  Nathan (Isaac) is a hard-drinking partier who has succeeded in a revolutionary break through in artificial intelligence.  The gig is for Caleb to interact with this robot girl (Alicia Vikander) in attempts to see if she has her own volitional will.  The plot is strong and the work draped in feminist ideas (or are they?) that make for compelling conversation.  Strong movie.  ****

’71- Toward the beginning of the Troubles in 1971, a young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit in Ireland during a deadly riot.  The soldier, Gary Hook played by Jack O’Connell, proceeds to run from Irish forces willing to use violence to eject the British army from being in their land.  The film turns into one of the better cat-and-mouse thrillers I have seen.  Yann Demange, in his future film debut, goes to the Paul Greengrass playbook of handheld camera a little too often for my taste but this does not distract from the solid plotting and skillfully delivered suspense.  Another interesting aspect of this film is the blurred lines of who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy”.  The film allows us to see the motivations and understand why the characters are doing what they are doing.  There aren’t so much villains as the audience feels a tremendous amount of sadness over a crappy situation that all find themselves in.  ****

Jurassic World (Theater)- The giant, reptilian lizards are back.  I wrote a review of this film here.  ***

The Pelican Brief- When someone really thinks deeply about the crucial aspects of this John Grisham plot, main threads begin to fall apart quickly.  Julia Roberts plays Darby Shaw, a go-getting law student (dating her professor Thomas Callahan portrayed by Sam Shepard) who concocts a brief based on a wild conspiracy theory regarding who recently assassinated two Supreme Court Justices.  Guess what?  The brief turns out to be true and Shaw goes on the run from dark forces and the government (maybe one and the same?) while placing her trust in a veteran reporter, Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington), to get her story out.  Several questions arise:  1)  How would a 24 year old law student come up with a theory that seems to have evaded the CIA and FBI?  2)  Why would the “bad guys” still be trying to kill Shaw when her brief was already out and leaked to several agencies of government?  What could possibly be gained by that action?  Normally, I would give a film like this a lower grade because of those lackluster plot elements but there is something about this movie:  the eerie orange dusk shots of pelicans down in Louisiana, the craft of Alan J. Pakula in slowly building a sense of Hitchcockian suspense, the cast, the simple but effective soundtrack which give it a needed lift.  The movie is an enjoyable escape.  *** 1/2

Melinda and Melinda- Not Woody Allen’s strongest offering, “Melinda and Melinda” recycles a lot of his ideas from previous movies and provides some confusion in how the work is edited.  A group of friends sit at a table discussing the fine line between tragedy and comedy (Allen’s specialty) and we see two story threads playing out before our eyes involving Melinda (Radha Mitchell) attempting to straighten out her life.  The initial version of the story is the comedy with Melinda showing up woebegone at a friend’s dinner party.  The tragic version of the plot comes next when Melinda shows up as a disturbed intruder.  Will Ferrell is in the comic version and does some surprisingly good work here.  Unfortunately, Allen has tackled these topics with more success elsewhere.  ** 1/2

Happy Valley- A strong documentary in which I went back and forth between feelings of profound sadness and swelling rage.  The subject of the film is the crimes, abuses, and sexual assault of Jerry Sandusky toward children.  He was an assistant coach for the Penn State Nittany Lions football program working under the legendary coach, Joe Paterno.  There certainly is coverage of the atrocities of Sandusky and how he used his charity “The Second Mile” to undoubtedly prey on kids.  However, a good chunk of the documentary is focused on the community and how they reacted to this sordid scandal.  Sandusky was actually caught in the showers on the Penn State campus doing things of a “sexual nature” to a child.  This was reported to Paterno who did not call the police but discussed the matter with higher level school officials.  When Joe Pa was forced out of his coaching position, there were riots in the community and anger continues among some at Penn State regarding how Joe Pa was treated.  If this documentary shows us anything, it is the god-like position that sports can occupy in our culture, transcending the most heinous of crimes.  Football brings colleges a lot of money.  Is this the main consideration when harboring, enabling and refusing to bring the authorities in when children are being sadistically raped by a high profile member of the community and football program?  This film is a damning indictment, not only of Penn State, but all across the world for organizations who consider their reputations of utmost importance before the well-being of children.  An outrageous shame.  ****

Crimes and Misdemeanors- I have been on somewhat of Woody Allen kick lately and I have not seen many films that almost perfectly walk the line between comedy and tragedy as “Crimes and Misdemeanors”.  This is one of the best Allen films I have seen yet.  The screenplay serves as an evangelistic tool for Allen’s certain existential absurdism.  A monologue near the beginning of the film states:  “the eyes of God are on us always.”  Martin Landau plays Judah Rosenthal, a successful ophthalmologist and pillar in the community.  He is carrying on an affair with Dolores who is portrayed by Anjelica Huston.  Has he made promises to her about leaving this wife, Miriam who is Claire Bloom?  Probably but he has no intention of leaving his wife.  Dolores is becoming desperate in her position. She writes letters to Miriam which are intercepted by Judah.  With a guilty aggervation, Judah decides to have Dolores killed. The scenario works right back into Allen’s worldview and perception of God.  If the eyes of God are watching, what does that say about Him that an evil like this is carried out and perhaps will go unpunished?  This is a haunting and at times, surprisingly funny movie.  ****1/2

Secondhand Lions- A family film that has a considerable degree of sentimentalism, “Secondhand Lions” follows Walter who is portrayed by “The Sixth Sense” kid Haley Joel Osment.  He is dropped by his mother, Kyra Sedgwick, at his uncle’s ranch in Texas.  The uncles are Robert Duvall and Michael Caine and the plot becomes a coming of age story.  The eccentricity of the uncles and their care for the boy turn this into a decent movie.  There are tales which we may not believe, giraffes and even a lion shows up.  Enjoyable, occasionally funny and yes, weird.  ***

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About dangeroushope

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