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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.
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Saturday, December 31, 2016

For the Love of Spock

On this, our last day of 2016, I am posting a review of the fine documentary/biography feature film, For the Love of Spock. Originally a joint endeavor between father Leonard and son Adam Nimoy, it was unfinished at the time of Leonard’s passing. Adam subsequently completed it without his famous father at his side.

Adam persevered with the project, and we are the better for it. For anyone who is a Star Trek fan, this will illuminate the history and creativity of both Leonard Nimoy and all involved with bringing Star Trek to life.

Filled with interviews of those who knew Nimoy well, and interspersed with archival photos and footage of family films, it will give you insight into not just the character of Spock, but of the man who created him. Leonard Nimoy was an accomplished actor, ambitious where his acting was concerned, and creative in other ways. He recorded music, and his unique photography was featured in art shows.

For the Love of Spock explores the Star Trek phenomenon, the fans who kept the momentum going forward up until present day, resulting in three recent hit movies with the famous seven depicted when the crew was a younger age (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond). The documentary also explores the personal life of Leonard and how fame affected both himself and his family. It is an honest portrait of the struggles and challenges that his family endured, as well as their successes and ultimate healing.

I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in Star Trek. I have an understanding now of how Spock’s makeup evolved, how the nuances of his character were developed, and why Spock was the character who made the show a success and kept us all going after more of these unique voyages on the Enterprise.

You will see how the Vulcan mind meld, that telepathic sharing of two individual’s minds came about, and the genesis of the Vulcan nerve pinch that instantly rendered the victim unconscious. I particularly enjoyed learning about the distinctive Vulcan salute that Spock used with the famous phrase, “Live Long and Prosper,” that was used in greeting or when taking departure of someone. I will never think of it in the same way again now that I know where the original inspiration for it came from.

I knew that Nimoy had directed Star Trek films, and especially enjoyed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but he directed other films as well, including 3 Men and a Baby! Multi-talented does not begin to describe this man. We are all at a loss for losing him, his humor and sensitivity, but at least we have the memories of how he enriched our lives with his presence.

At this, the beginnings of 2017, may we all “Live Long and Prosper,” and carry forward with us a bit of Spock and of Leonard in our hearts, and especially in our intellects, as we go forward into a challenging new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The original animated short film of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! presented itself to us on the TV during an overnight trip. To my surprise, I discovered that my husband had never seen this classic from 1966. It was narrated by Boris Karloff and is a delightful little story.

I proceeded to tell him about the film from the year 2000 of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was directed by Ron Howard and stars Jim Carrey (one of his favorite actors) as the Grinch himself. We got it from Netflix and watched with wonder at the artistry of this film. It is rated PG for some crude humor.

The world of Whoville is brought to life with lots of inventive sets, along with some incredible makeup that make the Whos cute and distinctive. Rick Baker was listed among the credits, and so I didn’t expect anything less. He is an award winning makeup artist responsible for the likes of Men in Black and Ed Wood, and has won seven Academy Awards for Best Makeup, including one for his work in this film.

I particularly liked the facial makeup of the Whos; the noses they grow into as they mature, their hairdos and the long eyelashes on everyone. The costumes were brilliant as well.

The Grinch was delivered to Whoville as an infant and was adopted by two kind women. But as he grows, children being what they are, he is ridiculed for being different. He finally cannot stand it any longer and retreats to his mountain cave. The Grinch’s cave is strewn with a grotesque assortment of things you’d find in a garbage dump. He lives at the end of the tube that shoots the Whos garbage away from the village and up the mountain, so that is not such a mystery.

If I didn’t know it was Jim Carrey in that hairy, green costume and makeup, I would never have guessed the actor, although some of his vocalizations as the Grinch give away his comic genius.

How the Grinch steals Christmas is played out very well, with the expanded involvement of Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen), a precocious youngster with very cool hair. She is a budding investigator who grows curious about the Grinch, and her role adds so much to the story of the town and the Grinch.

Martha May (Christine Baranski) is the girl who grew up to be the woman all the men desire, but who has a soft spot for the Grinch. The songs are familiar from the original film with some new ones added into the mix.

We both enjoyed watching this fantasy tale. The characters were well developed, and the sets, costumes and makeup, stay true to the original vision of Dr. Seuss without the need for animation. I am in great respect of the fine craftspeople that pulled this off. Thanks to Imagine Entertainment for taking on such a challenge and bringing this Dr. Seuss Christmas classic to life!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moonrise Kingdom

Easily my favorite Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) showcases his quirky inventiveness and ability to tell a good story. (He was nominated for best screenplay at the Academy Awards for Moonrise Kingdom.) Taking place in the 1960’s on a remote island in New England, two prepubescent teens disappear, much to the chagrin of their parents, scoutmaster, and the police chief. The film is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Star-studded performances enhance the two young people’s story. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) meet serendipitously at a local theatrical performance and become pen pals. Sam is a skilled khaki scout, very self sufficient, and the two set off on a cross-island trek to a secluded cove most adults would find romantic (if only there were a KOA cabin with a mattress in it.) Suzy is the kind of girl you wanted to be when you were young, a little bit dangerous, a risk taker, her own person.

Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy’s dysfunctional parents, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) is a maligned khaki scout leader turned hero, and Bruce Willis is Captain Sharp. Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman from other Anderson films) has a small role as another scout leader sympathetic to the young love of the two teens fleeing society.

The filming took place in Rhode Island, and the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of Anderson’s sets have a dollhouse like appearance (see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel for other examples). His screenplays are always inventive, creative, and with a fine, fine attention to detail. He really expects the viewer to be paying attention.

The film begins with Suzy’s brothers listening to The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra composed by Benjamin Britten. If you circumvent that so annoying streaming Netflix programming that minimizes the end of the film into a little square box on the upper left of the screen, you can get back to the credits full screen, where they should be watched in their entirety. Anderson inserts his own Young Person’s Guide to Alexandre Desplat’s orchestration of his film in the end credits, and it is delightful to watch.

I like Anderson’s directing his actors to be deadpan if you will, a comic touch that makes the film elicit smiles throughout. I have appreciated his sense of humor ever since Rushmore in 1998. His movies seem few and far between, but then you can’t rush excellence, something I will remember in my own work.

Would kids like this film? I’m not sure. Part of the attraction is how it hearkens back to the 1960’s, when I was just a pre-teen myself. That’s why adults like Wes Anderson’s movies so much. It’s refreshing to see a work of art like this that takes risks and doesn’t subscribe to any of the Hollywood set of rules for making a blockbuster, all action and violence, and no real redeeming story. Moonrise Kingdom has class and substance. Watch it when you need some cheering up.

The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited, a Wes Anderson dramedy from 2007, has an all-star cast, and takes place in India. Three brothers reunite to take a trip across India on the Darjeeling Limited, a train perhaps more fantasy than truth. It is rated R for language.

Francis (Owen Wilson) has organized the trip following the death of their father. He is a controlling and meticulous man, much to the chagrin of brothers Peter (Adrien Brody), and the youngest, Jack (Jason Schwartzman). All have skeletons in the closet, secrets they have kept from one another for years. The alliances among the three of them alternate between two confiding in each other, and then the other telling the secrets he’s just heard to the other one. Typical sibling dysfunction.

I had hoped to see more of India’s countryside during the film, but the action mainly takes place on the train. Jack has an eccentric ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) whom we first learn about while watching the short film Hotel Chevalier, a sort of prologue to The Darjeeling Limited. Lasting only 13 minutes, it was offered on the DVD I had of the film, and I’m glad I watched it first, as references to the relationship between Jack and his ex-girlfriend are made during the main film.

Their mother Patricia (Angelica Huston) has run off to a convent in India, and Francis reveals that the trip is really about going to find her and have a sort of family reunion. During the train ride and stops in towns, the three brothers have, shall we say, adventures. Very unexpected events that serve to bring them closer together, and in effect deal with the loss of their father.

This is not Wes Anderson’s best film. (Read my early review of Wes Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums on this site, and definitely see The Grand Budapest Hotel.) My favorite so far of the works I have seen by Wes is Moonrise Kingdom. Today I will also be posting my review of that delightful story, a kind of double feature for you. Instead of watching The Darjeeling Limited, instead I recommend you view a brief video on YouTube of an ad that Wes Anderson made for H&M. The setting takes place on a train and features the Academy Award winning actor Adrien Brody.

An aside here is that Adrien Brody first came to my attention in the Spike Lee film, Summer of Sam, playing a disturbed young man so brilliantly, it took his Best Actor role in The Pianist for me to forget that persona. He is a gifted actor, and films I have enjoyed him in include King Kong, where he played Jack Driscoll, and a small turn as Salvador Dali in Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson had the starring role. Those two films are well worth watching.

This short ad has a delightful ending that I really loved. Give it a watch and may your holidays be filled with peace: Come Together-H&M directed by Wes Anderson

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Doctor Strange

The main reason my husband and I went to see the film Doctor Strange, which is currently showing in theaters, was to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Doctor Strange is a Marvel Comics film, and we don’t usually go to see those types of movies. But this one seemed to have a spiritual basis to the story, and this intrigued us.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an arrogant and self-involved neurosurgeon. He is condescending to his colleagues, and his expertise, that is apparently quite extraordinary, has led to the money and prestige he covets, but at the expense of love with his former girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams).

An unfortunate car accident leaves him with severe injuries, particularly to his hands, the tool of the surgeon. Desperate for the healing that is evading him, he follows a lead and travels to Nepal in search of solutions to his infirmities.

Here is where the film takes off in a supernatural direction. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) finally agrees to school him in the ways of mysticism and energy. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a kind mentor to Stephen as well. Stephen is drawn into this world and proves to be a ready and industrious student. His humor eases the tension that we feel in the austere surroundings of the school.

Where there is good there is also evil, especially in the supernatural realm, and Stephen soon finds himself in the throes of a battle between those who use the energy for their own selfish desires and those who want to keep the universe safe for all. The special effects remind me of those in the film Inception, buildings and surroundings folding into a sort of block puzzle. This is to signify the layers of dimensions that Stephen can now travel to and from.

The special effects throughout this film are really very good. The portals of fire where dimensions are accessed, and time stopped on a busy street in Hong Kong, are two of my favorites.

The film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. I liked this film. I like the actors, and Tilda Swinton played the role of the wise seer quite well. Benedict Cumberbatch goes through transformations that are believable in a fantasy world, growing into the hero he always has been, but just didn’t realize he was. I liked the cape, the weapon that chose him. Quite dashing he is, striding assuredly about with this protective and useful accouterment.

I’d recommend this film to be seen while in the theaters. It is big screen entertainment on a grand scale. I enjoyed the emphasis on spirituality and energy, even if the mystical bent soon morphed into the comic book universe that we knew we were in for.

I thought they left it open for a sequel, due to an interesting exchange Doctor Strange has with someone during the closing credits. Doctor Strange will not be fading away anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I wasn’t all that interested in the film Philomena when it first came out, despite Judi Dench’s nomination for an Academy Award for her performance in the leading role. But my husband started to watch it on Netflix, and I was soon drawn into this fascinating film inspired by a true story.

Philomena (Judi Dench) has a secret. A big secret. Having given birth as a teen in a convent, and then subsequently losing her child to adoption, she finally discloses the existence of a son to her adult daughter. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a journalist recently unemployed, decides to take on her human-interest story for a magazine feature, and together, they proceed to follow the clues leading to Philomena’s lost son.

The way the film was structured, using flashbacks to Philomena’s youth alternating to present day searching, effectively shows us Philomena’s emotions which vacillate back and forth in an approach/avoidance fashion as she moves ever closer to the truth of what happened with her son. Martin makes a good detective as he has the drive to ask the tough questions and not give up until they are answered.

The two make an unlikely pair, and grate on one another endlessly. The chemistry between them is good, and I don’t mean that in a romantic way. The friendship they develop feels real, as does the compassion they have for each other as well. The two trot across the globe all the way to America, a first for Philomena, as one lost piece of information after another is revealed that helps fill in the blanks.

Philomena is rated PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references. I recommend this film. It may make you angry, or it may make you sad; either way, it will make an impression on you. I admire the screenwriting by Steve Coogan (who starred as journalist Martin) and Jeff Pope, as well as the directing by Stephen Frears.

There always seems to be young girls na├»ve and in love who “get into trouble,” and then with no way to support the child, find adoption or some other arrangement the only solution open to them. Back when Philomena had her baby, the social mores were even more rigid than they are now. Shamed and humiliated, the family rejects the young girl when they should really be hunting down the man who impregnated her and making him pay.

For an alternate view on girls in trouble, watch The Cider House Rules, an excellent film (story by John Irving) that was released in 1999. Watching the talents of Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine, you may compare how different times and cultures deal with the problem of accidental conception, a child unwanted and unable to be cared for. I have read that teenage girls become pregnant not by other teenage boys, but by older men the majority of the time. This problem won’t stop until the culture of men feeling entitled to sex, especially with minors, is addressed.