Welcome

Welcome to my website!
Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
Enjoy my reviews and please comment and come back frequently! Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mamma Mia! The Movie


Mamma Mia! I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this musical on stage yet and have always wanted to. I know it’s still playing around the country in live theaters. When my sister said let’s watch the movie, I said yes! The music is all ABBA, a great Swedish group from the 1970’s. It stars Meryl Streep as Donna, the woman who had trysts with three different men one summer resulting in daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). In the film Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard play her past loves. The film is rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments.

Sophie wants to know who her father is and after finding an old diary of her mother’s, sends letters inviting each of the suspects to her wedding, signing the letters as from Donna.

This makes for good comedy. Also in attendance are Sophie’s two best friends, and Donna’s BFFs as well. This is a high-energy film, not in the way of car chases and crash scenes, but in dancing and lots of movement. I found myself thinking about how every movement is exaggerated on stage in a musical. In the theater, this is vital as the actors are projecting to a large audience, some of whom are not going to be able to see them that well. In the film, it’s just annoying. Subtlety plays well in a film, probably because facial expressions can be seen clearly and so exaggeration is not necessary.

On the one hand, I enjoyed the setting, it being Greece, the blue ocean, the sun, the sand, lots of opportunity for water sports, swimsuits and fun. But I found myself thinking I’d rather see this performed on stage. The most recent live performance I attended was Legally Blonde:  The Musical. The film Legally Blonde (2001) is one of my favorites, and so when I heard this was a production at the Albuquerque Little Theater, I jumped on it. Two of my friends accompanied me, and we had a fantastic time. The important thing I found through attending that show, and now reflecting on Mamma Mia! The Movie is that a musical is meant to be on stage, and not shown as a movie. Legally Blonde: The Musical was created in 2007, after the non-musical film had endeared Elle Woods to us all. Unlike Mamma Mia! which was I assume filmed directly as how it would progress on stage.

I recommend you see the musical Mamma Mia! as live theater. I don’t recommend this movie. Maybe I’d feel differently about it if I had already seen the live production, but I think it would have played better if the film had just dropped the music altogether and become a comedy.

I recommend another film featuring ABBA’s music, Muriel’s Wedding. It stars Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. And a more recent film I have reviewed on this blog is Love Is All You Need. Also starring Pierce Brosnan, it has a wedding theme, and takes place on the beautiful coast of Italy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Frozen

Let It Go
It appears I am reviewing films having a theme of music lately. This is a bit of an accident, although a happy one.

This review is of Frozen, a Disney produced film from 2013 that won the Academy Award for Best Animated feature film. The screenplay is based on the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow Queen. I enjoy animation and the amazing fantasy and images it can create. I heard that the fjords of Scandinavia served as inspiration for the setting of Frozen, and intrigued, popped it in my DVD player.

Initially I thought the story would be about Queen Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) who has a power that she has not yet learned to control; everything she touches turns to ice. But the story turned out to be more about her younger sister Anna (voice of Kristen Bell). It’s more a story about sisters than a romance, although there are a couple of love interests.

The visual imagery of the snow, ice and snowflakes is what really makes this film stunning. Frozen also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, Let It Go. Queen Elsa sings this song after she flees the kingdom of Arendelle, unable to control her powers. She likes the cold and snow. I like snow. I miss it here in Albuquerque. We may live in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, but this is also desert, and the desert climate often wins out over the mountain snow.

So I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful, wintry, snowy landscapes that Elsa creates. As she matured, she continued to hide her powers from the world until she could no longer do so. I noted that at a crucial turning point, her icy powers made the world winter, and this only occurred when acting out of fear.

Her sister Anna is a young, na├»ve girl. They have both lived locked up in a castle for most of their lives, and she does not remember that her older sister has powers. After Elsa runs off, Anna goes searching for her and encounters along the way a young man named Kristoff and his reindeer Sven. They team up on Anna’s mission to find Elsa, and meet a snowman, Olaf. Meanwhile, her suitor back at the castle waits for her return.

All is not what it seems, and by the end of the film, both women have had a transformation. I liked the message that is sent to young fans of the film that love is what is important, and that it is a power that cannot be stopped. Elsa overcomes her fear, finally bringing under control her special gift through the power of love.

The film is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. It was a different sort of princess film than most. It was more about finding one’s own personal strength and gifts and less about finding the right man. This was refreshing and I recommend it for young and old alike.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love & Mercy


Love & Mercy, a film from 2015, is the story of Brian Wilson, the gifted musician behind much of the Beach Boys best music. I was curious to know his story, having heard that a struggle with mental illness had impacted his life significantly. I had also heard that his father was severely abusive to his sons, and this fact was in the film as well, heart wrenching to watch. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content, and language.

The story of Brian’s life is shown by transporting us back and forth between two significant periods in his life, during the 1980’s, and in the 1960’s. Two actors portray Brian in the film to show these time periods. John Cusack is Brian in the 80’s, and Paul Dano the younger Brian in the 60’s. Paul Dano has been featured in such films as Little Miss Sunshine, and There Will Be Blood, and he does a fantastic job; even his singing sounds like Brian’s and you forget it’s not really Brian. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in this film.

John Cusack (if you don’t know who he is, you must not watch many movies) is convincing as the older Brian who struggles with the voices in his head, the label of paranoid schizophrenic, and the loneliness that he lives with daily. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) plays the psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, who effectively isolated Brian from his family and any normalcy in his life, and he is one scary dude.

Brian meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) in a car dealership, and begins to have a relationship with her. This must have been destiny as Dr. Landy controls every aspect of his life, and interferes with their developing relationship. I felt that Melinda must have been one strong woman to see beneath the struggles of Brian to connect with the sensitive soul within, while enduring the constant intrusions of Dr. Landy.

I also really enjoyed the lengthy scenes of Brian with his studio musicians creating such innovative songs as Good Vibrations, probably their most well known hit. I was intrigued by the perseverance it took to record, the musicians never depicted as losing their cool with an eccentric and perfectionist Brian.

The features on the DVD offered behind the scenes looks into making the film and were quite fascinating. I enjoy seeing how a movie is made, and it shed even more light onto Brian and Melinda as they appeared in the interviews in the features section also.

I was reminded hearing these Beach Boys songs of how romantic many of them were. The way we get to see the songs take form serves to emphasize the lyrics. Brian is a very sensitive soul, and it really made me appreciate even more the magic of connection between lovers that he sung about.

I highly recommend this film. It’s a compassionate look at a genius with a touch of madness that gave us some deeply beautiful music.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sing Street

Sing Street trailer


I’m a member of the Regal Crown Club, one of those many rewards programs where you get free movie tickets or popcorn after so many points accrued. Recently, they have been inviting me to attend special screenings of films a few days prior to their official release. So it was I went to see Sing Street last week, an Irish film by John Carney, the force behind the well loved movie Once.

The story takes place in the 1980’s, when the music was all about such innovators as Duran Duran, Ah-Ha and The Cure, along with the advent of the music video. I liked the music of the 80’s, when MTV was getting a foothold and video paired with music first caught on.

Prior to attending the movie, I played the trailer and was leery of the plot. A 15-year-old teen decides to form a band in order to impress a 16-year-old girl. This plot device is one I’ve seen in other films, most notably in Love Actually, and in a similar vein in About a Boy. So I was skeptical that this would be an old worn out plot.

But to my delight, this film rocked! It worked right from the beginning. The characters were well developed, the story engaging, and the music was fabulous. I especially liked the song Drive It Like You Stole It. The movie is often funny, a bit heart wrenching in places, and their tribute to prom night ala Back to the Future, that classic 80’s film, was great.

Synge Street is the name of a school in Dublin, thus the film’s name Sing Street. Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is enamored with Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and when he asks her to be in a video, hastily goes about finding other boys to form a band. Cosmo’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) schools him in contemporary music. Cosmo takes it all to heart, and they come up with a unique sound. The band members each add individual flavor to the film, and work well together. How Cosmo eventually deals with the school bully is ingenious, and shows just how much he’s grown.

Jack Reynor commands the screen every time he appears in a scene, and in some ways, even carries the movie, his character is so strongly and authentically portrayed. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo has a great voice and is believable as the love-struck teen who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking. Sing Street is a movie for all ages, primarily because it is more than just a “boy meets girl, gets girl” type of plot. It’s about going after your dreams, living up to your potential, taking risks, and all to a really great soundtrack.

I highly recommend Sing Street. The audience I viewed it with did too, given their laughter and comments about the film as we were filing out of the theater. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hitchcock/Truffaut


When I was in my teens, my parents allowed me to stay up late after everyone else had gone to bed and watch Alfred Hitchcock movies on TV. I have since wondered about their leniency over my watching films where horror and suspense were the keywords for every movie poster.

At any rate, I developed an appreciation of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking ability through all those late night movies, viewing such films as The Birds, Psycho, and Marnie. Later, I purchased a book by Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of his Motion Pictures, and devoured it, marking each film in the Table of Contents as I had the opportunity to see it. I’ve seen all of them, beginning with The Thirty-Nine Steps, making me a fan you might say.

So when I saw the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut advertised at my local art cinema, I made sure to drop by to watch it. The film is based on the 1966 book Cinema According to Hitchcock that French film director Francois Truffaut published about his interviews with Hitchcock during the 1960’s. It is a mix of archival footage of the two of them and Truffaut’s assistant, and present day interviews with directors speaking about how Hitchcock’s brand of storytelling influenced their cinematic endeavors.

It was fascinating. The film is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and violent images. Directors interviewed included Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher among others.

The interviews between Hitchcock and Truffaut especially focused on Vertigo and Psycho. The narrator comments that while Hitchcock’s movies of the 1940’s were good, in the 1950’s he was on fire. Those are the ones I recall watching late at night lying on the carpet in front of the old tele, spellbound (grin).

Since the movies back then couldn’t show sexual encounters as they do today, much was done as metaphor. It was fascinating to hear Hitchcock talk about the symbolism of the encounters between Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo, and how racy it was for Janet Leigh and her lover to be only partially clothed in their hotel room in Psycho.

He also shares some things about working with actors. He didn’t give much artistic license to them, if any, yet his results on screen were astonishing.

Hitchcock dug deep into his fears for subject matter for his films, and even if you are not writing that type of story for filmmaking, a lot can be learned from watching his films. He is likened to an artist, painting on the screen, and his films were so visual, so like art, the images linger in one’s mind long after the closing credits. To say he is the master of suspense is simply a fact. One that the directors interviewed attests to.

This was a worthwhile film to see. Ask for it at your local art house theater, or hope it comes to Netflix soon. If you’re a film buff like I am, you don’t want to miss it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Best Offer


The Best Offer is a 2013 drama/romantic mystery, filmed in Italy, and written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (known for Cinema Paradiso, a brilliant, now classic film). Ennio Morricone, the composer who won this year’s Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight, composed the beautiful musical score. It is rated R for some sexuality and graphic nudity, and is in English. An artist friend of ours recommended the film to us, and I’m glad it was brought to my attention.

A thinking person’s movie, this is a subtle, romantic tale that will keep you wondering what is really going on. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush, Academy Award Best Actor winner for Shine) is a successful and highly regarded managing director of an auction house, also serving as the auctioneer for high priced art and antiques from estates that sell to cultured and wealthy art lovers. With his friend Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland) serving as buyer and silent partner, he amasses a fortune of hundreds of portraits of women, kept for himself in a vault at his home. For those of you who are knowledgeable of art, you will recognize some familiar faces amongst the many paintings in Virgil’s private vault.

Virgil keeps others aloof until he encounters Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks), a woman who wants him to represent her deceased parents’ estate. She too has her own idiosyncrasies, an apparent agoraphobic who will not allow Virgil to see her as they go about agreeing on the details of the sale of an entire estate of furniture and art. Claire and Virgil slowly connect and open up to each other, despite their failings.

As Virgil goes about cataloguing the sizable estate, he frequents the shop of Robert (Jim Sturgess, whose credits include Across the Universe, and The Way Back). Some mechanical parts Virgil finds at the estate intrigue him, and he shows them to Robert, who delights in putting them together for him, piece by piece as each is delivered. The mechanical parts appear to belong to an automaton, the inclusion of which is the one thing about this film that I never quite thought fit in with the story.

As Virgil and Claire come out of their shells, for me a bit too easily, the storyteller pulls you along and you wonder what is really going on here? What mystery is unfolding that each subtle clue will lead you to solving? Is Virgil being taken? Who is really involved? Why is Claire hiding herself?

I was surprised as the mystery unraveled. Tornatore wrote an intriguing story and it was filmed and scored beautifully. At one point, Virgil makes a comment that the forger of a piece of art can’t resist putting in something of himself, even while striving to copy the master completely, and thus reveals something of his own authenticity. Everything can be faked, even emotions, by a good enough actor. But who amongst the players is not being their authentic self? Watch it and decide for yourself.