FairyTale: A True Story (1997)

FairyTale

Fairy Tale: A True Story

Based on factual accounts, this is the story of two young girls that, somehow, have the ability to take pictures of winged beings… which certainly causes quite a stir throughout England during the time of the first World War. Everyone, except the girls who think it’s quite normal, is excited about this “photographic proof” that fairies exist… even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini pay the girls a visit. Written by BOB STEBBINS

I am familiar with the story of the Cottingley Fairies, and so I was quite keen to see this film. I find it fascinating that two children were able to perpetrate a hoax that fooled not just family & friends, but a nation – and several experts in photography…and spiritualism. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of their earliest, and most consistent, proponents.

Cottingley FairyThe movie presents our young fairy hunters as younger than the real Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, and slightly closer in age. It is a bit of understandable artistic license, hard for modern audiences to imagine a 16 year-old embracing the wonder of fairies.

The visuals are quite beautiful, colorful and deliciously saturated. I really enjoyed seeing two of my favorites, Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Peter O’Toole as Conan Doyle, among this fine cast.

It is a magical children’s movie with a more serious backdrop, so it remains entertaining for adults, as well.

Bonus: Paul McGann plays Elsie’s father, and it’s always nice to see him :-)


Rotten tomatoes: Critics 52%; Audience 62%

The Heat (2013)

The Heat

The Heat

Uptight FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and foul-mouthed Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) couldn’t be more incompatible. But when they join forces to bring down a ruthless drug lord, they become the last thing anyone expected: buddies. From Paul Feig, director of “Bridesmaids.” (c) Fox

Another movie I never intended to see. As much as I like both Bullock and McCarthy, the ads for The Heat just made it seem awful. (D disagrees, he thought the ads were fine) It was getting impressive reviews, though, and when friends saw and recommended it firsthand, we decided to give it a shot.

Funny. Laugh out loud in a lot of places. The script is iffy, the direction – eh. The movie is saved from mediocrity by the quality cast – especially Sandra Bullock who is as endearing & funny as she has ever been, and seems to be getting better looking with age.

Melissa McCarthy is a funny woman who, unfortunately, seems to believe more is never enough. Her roles just get more & more over the top, usually dampening my enjoyment – The Heat is no exception. However, if you enjoyed her character in Bridesmaids, you will enjoy her character here. She commits to the portrayal 100%, and you have to give her some respect for that.

It is a bit coarse (credit that to McCarthy) and so definitely not for everyone. Still for a movie that had some very unappealing advertisements, this ended up being quite appealing after all.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 66%; Audience 75%

Tabloid (2010)

Tabloid (2010)

Tabloid

A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming who is charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary.

This was not a great documentary, but that won’t detract from your enjoyment of the story. A story that seems unfathomable as fiction but, as they say, the truth is stranger.

A beauty queen meets the “love of her life” – then loses him. Rather than accept that life goes on, she decides to track him down, kidnap him, and ‘deprogram’ him with sex. I have actually heard people refer to Mormonism as a cult, but I have never heard that particular cure mentioned.

Sex Slave HeadlineThe details of the story would be enough for an entertaining biography. Errol Morris ups the ante by having the beauty queen and her “co-conspirators” discuss those details for the camera. Throw in the salacious photos and tabloid headlines of the time and you almost feel for the girl in her quest for everlasting love. At the very least, you have to admire her moxie.

The main failing of the movie is how the victim gets lost in the hoopla. I can understand his reluctance to participate, but I wish we could have been encouraged to feel for what he went through. I wish we could know what ‘rebuilding’ his life looked like – though I suppose that would have just violated him further.

Though the events Tabloid recounts took place in the pre-digital age, the film also functions as a kind of prehistory of modern celebrity culture and tabloid journalism. ~ Dana Stevens, Slate

Despite the decidedly sexual nature of the story, I think it is a film most in my circle could enjoy. 3.5 on the Word of Mouth Scale.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 91%; Audience 74%

Penny Serenade (1941)

Penny Serenade

Penny Serenade

As Julie prepares to leave her husband Roger, she begins to play through a stack of recordings, each of which reminds her of events in their lives together. One of them is the song that was playing when she and Roger first met in a music store. Other songs remind her of their courtship, their marriage, their desire for a child, and the joys and sorrows that they have shared. A flood of memories comes back to her as she ponders their present problems and how they arose.

One of my favorite tear-jerkers of all time, starring one of my favorite screen couples. “Penny Serenade” always puts me through the ringer, even though I have seen it a dozen or so times. It can still make me cry and, thankfully, it can still make me laugh.

The music-stirring-memories plot device makes for a lovely soundtrack, as well as our main characters’ meet-cute. We start the film knowing that Julie and Roger are ending their marriage. We learn through flashbacks everything they’ve faced and why they feel it is so hopeless now.

The cast is full of top-notch talent, the writing is solid, the direction stellar. As melodramatic a film as this, though, would have floundered with lesser performers in the main roles. Cary Grant is at his charming best, Irene Dunne could tell the entire story with just her face. Together, in this movie and others, they have a chemistry so winning, you can’t help but be drawn in to their world.

There are some standout scenes; baby’s first bath, Roger’s impassioned plea to the judge… However, it is the whole of the movie that makes it great.

If you enjoy an old movie now & then, and you don’t mind your companions seeing you cry, do yourself a favor and catch “Penny Serenade” It is available at many libraries – and even on YouTube.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 93%; Audience 74%

Speaking of the Cary Grant / Irene Dunne chemistry, I found this video that was made for a contemporary song, using some of the sweetest, kissiest moments from Penny Serenade

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow. — (C) Magnolia

Who would have thought a film about a man making sushi could be so intriguing. Jiro’s singular focus on perfection is fascinating and inspiring. He is revered and respected, and perhaps a bit feared, by his apprentices, his children, his vendors, his customers…

At the start of the film he tells us, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.” We see that is exactly what he has done, and he is both successful and honorable.

The film covers more than sushi, obviously, but in my non-sushi eating mind, I expected to see the creation of complicated and creative rolls. After all, I enjoy watching that process when we visit our local sushi bar. What Jiro makes is sushi in its purest form; rice, fish, serve. Apparently that is enough – when you do it so well.

The lessons of life, the insight into Japanese culture, the idea of “perfection”…all make this a worthwhile film. There were a few scenes that were tough for me, though. For instance, some of the sushi (the mackerel?) is cut from the fish while it is still alive, pinned to the cutting board through his gills. Only after removing all the filets is his head cut from his body, an unnecessarily painful end, I imagine.

For that reason, and the need to read subtitles which turns off some potential viewers, Jiro Dreams of Sushi gets just 4 of 5 on the Word of Mouth Scale. It is a thoughtful, engrossing documentary, but it isn’t for everyone.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 99%; Audience 92%

Brave (2012)

Pixar's Brave

Brave

Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a skilled archer and the impetuous daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Witch (Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late. — (C) Disney

I must confess I was predisposed to enjoy this movie. Adorable, feisty red-head making her mark in medieval Scotland — what’s not to like? As it turns out, not much. The story is intriguing, the animation is charming, the casting was spot-on.

Some bits were slightly over-the-top silly, like the appalling suitors who come to compete for her hand, but the kids will probably love it. The mix of fantasy & folklore makes for a richer background than some recent animated fare. It is fun, with a message or two. Quite enjoyable.

Since D enjoyed it, too, I can be confident scoring it higher on the Word of Mouth Scale. 4½

UPDATE: The Academy seems to approve of Brave, as well. It is nominated for Animated Feature Film


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 78%; Audience 79%

Magic Mike (2012)

Magic Mike

Magic Mike

Set in the world of male strippers, Magic Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Channing Tatum in a story inspired by his real life. The film follows Mike (Tatum) as he takes a young dancer called The Kid (Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the fine arts of partying, picking up women, and making easy money. — (C) Warner Bros.

I figured I’d watch this one eventually, though I was in no hurry. Still, it got some great reviews so I assumed it would be worth the time. I was wrong.

There is not enough dancing to make this a fun, musical romp. Were it to focus more on the club & dance routines, I could at least appreciate it on that level. By trying to add some deeper, dramatic narrative, they set the bar higher . . .

. . . and fell far short.

This is not a convincing drama. It is not compelling love story. Perhaps if they had spent less time on the club & dance routines, they could have focused on telling a good story.

In far too many scenes the dialogue just d-r-a-g-s along, as if the actors are doing a lazy table-reading and keep losing their places on the page. There are some fine actors in this cast, yet they are so poorly used that McConaughey (who built his career on wooden, one-dimensional characters) actually gives the most convincing performance.

The major players in this drama repeatedly make bad decisions, making it very difficult to care what happens to them in the end. Even our “hero” is unlovable for any reason beyond his ripped body and accomplished dance moves.

We are supposed to care that Mike wants to make furniture out of junk, but we never see enough of that side of him to believe it – and the finished pieces they show are pretty blah. We are to feel for his plight trying to save money for, and get a loan toward, this dream – but we don’t know what he actually needs money for. More junk? We are to just accept that while he is alley catting around, he is somehow finding love with a chick that he repeatedly disappoints – and with whom he has zero in common.

Can’t really imagine recommending it to many folks, so based on the Word of Mouth Scale it get half a star.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 80%; Audience 63%

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