Category Archives: Drama

Redemption: For Robbing the Dead (2011)

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Redemption: For Robbing the Dead

Another small, independent movie D found. So small, in fact, that  Rotten Tomatoes has no reviews as of this writing. There is little information about the movie online, but according to the blurb on the movie’s official site, it is based on actual events. It also was filmed in the actual locations, including Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.

For Robbing the Dead is a story of compassion. It follows the story of Henry Heath, a law officer in 1862 Salt Lake City. Heath finds himself responsible for the well-being of a prisoner whom he despises – an impoverished French immigrant named Jean Baptiste who is convicted of robbing the graves of the recently deceased. Baptiste is exiled to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. With no one willing to look after this man, Henry Heath becomes Baptiste’s sole defense against the hostile isolation of Antelope Island and the contempt of an entire community.

Margot Kidder is a surprise here, as the condemned man’s slightly ‘tetched’ wife. Barry Corbin is a good choice for the wizened Judge and mentor to the lawman who catches – and cares for – “the ghoul Jean Baptiste”. The stars, John Freeman as Heath and David Stevens as Baptiste, are convincing in their pain and dysfunction.

It took me a while to decide whether I liked this movie or not (I did), and so I am not sure how much of a recommendation to give it. There are some unpleasant bits, but only so much as is necessary to convey the story. The subject matter itself is tough, we are talking about grave robbing & frontier justice, after all. However, the bigger story is about Grace and sometimes finding it in the most unlikely places. For that reason, I think I will recommend it to most in my circle – because this film is odd enough, and small enough, and quirky enough that I think they will all find something positive in it.

It isn’t a great movie, but I am giving it four stars.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 60%

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Atlas Shrugged – Part 1 (2011)

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Atlas Shrugged – Part 1

Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government of the United States.

I went to see this with a group; we had all levels of interest from “never read the book, no familiarity with Rand or Objectivism” to “read the book several times and have passages memorized” I am in the middle of that spectrum, having read the book 20-some years ago and being “Rand curious”. I am far right enough to embrace many, though not all, of her philosophies.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie almost since I read the book. Through the decades several casting choices were floated, some that seemed promising, some not so much. In the end, the lead roles went to “lesser known” actors (though you will recognize most of their faces).

Overall, I think they did well. I am gratified that Hank Rearden looks the part; truly a rugged individual, a man’s man. Some of the lesser characters were spot on; the sneering Lillian, the sniveling Phil, the snarling Ellis, the snakey Paul.

I was a slightly disappointed by Dagny. Regardless of her obvious hotness, her acting left something to be desired. A bit weak in her portrayal of such a strong woman, a bit wooden in her reactions to triumph & tragedy. The role would be a tough one to cast in the best of circumstances, but for a production with limited funds and even less acceptance by “Hollywood”, the actors willing to take part may have been scarce. Still, she did well and, should they decide to make the future installments, she may grow into the part.

Some worried the production would suffer from a low budget; in fact, many of the pre-opening ‘reviews’ made a great deal of snarky hay about that problem. The issues suffered by the final product seem to have little to do with funding and more to do with a novice director. The scenes involving dialogue are a bit cramped, even awkward on occasion. The scenes involving the great outdoors are beautiful, but those involving the disintegrating cities are not quite gritty enough. And the limos. *drink* Limos driving down the street. Conversations in limos. Limos pulling up to the curb. Limos pulling away from the curb. *drink*

As far as conveying the message, I thought perhaps it was a bit heavy-handed (not a lot, but a bit – and the book was, too). However, I already know big government is bad, I already know how prophetically Rand’s story parallels the path America is on. For someone unfamiliar with the grand ideas of personal responsibility and individual greatness, maybe they will need to be hit with a 2 X 4.

I definitely recommend it, and I recommend you see it in a theater. There is something to be said for seeing an experience film with an enthusiastic crowd. Saturday at the Valley Art brought audiences who waited in long lines before the movie and applauded after. A rare thing, indeed.

*…it’s the Atlas Shrugged drinking game

UPDATE: Danno points out that in all those limo scenes, it is only the business types – not the government fat cats who would clearly be indulging in the luxury, as well.

More of our AZ bloggers thoughts on the film after today’s viewing:
Great Satan, Inc
Exurban League
SandCastle Scrolls


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 10%; Audience 85%
 

Cross-posted at Vox

The Dark Knight (2008)

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The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

When Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent launch an assault on the mob, they let the clown out of the box, the Joker, bent on turning Gotham on itself and bringing any heroes down to his level.

Heath Ledger won The Golden Globe which reminds me of something. I’m sure this will get me no end of flaming comments, but here goes….

I saw The Dark Knight, and it was fine. It was a Batman movie, it was enjoyable – but it was nothing near what the hype suggested it would be.


* I can’t stand Katie Holmes. I think her acting is just fine, but her personal life has rendered her nearly intolerable. However, replacing her with Maggie Gyllenhaal was ridiculous. Gyllenhaal was nowhere near appealing enough to have us believing the major characters were both in love with her. Holmes is much more attractive physically and as Rachel Dawes.

* Christian Bale is one of my favorite actors, ever since his appearance in Empire of the Sun. He is a performer who you can count on to deliver a quality performance, and in Batman Begins, I think he did. For some reason, this time out, he decided to adopt an odd verbal style. While in the suit, he was nearly unintelligible. His first foray as Batman was great, this time I wanted to smack him upside the head and yell, “spit it out!”

* And, this will really get me in trouble, Heath Ledger . . . not that great. Much like his performance in Brokeback Mountain, where he did a poor imitation of Karl Childers, Ledger relies on affectation rather than acting. It is tragic that he died, but that doesn’t make his performance better – it makes it poignant and sad, but not better. I didn’t feel anything for this Joker but confusion – as to whether it would have gotten anywhere near the positive press if Ledger hadn’t died. I have nothing against the guy, but seriously, if you watch that performance objectively, does it truly deserve to effusive praise that has been heaped upon it?

All in all, The Dark Knight was full up to the brim with overacting. The early Batman films were big, cartoony movies – overacting fit. These latest films seemed to be aiming at more grown-up, more serious – the performances should be tailored to fit.

In the words of another comic book hero, “Flame on”


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 94%, Users 93%

UPDATE: I seem to agree with this guy

Shirley Valentine (1989)

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Shirley Valentine

Shirley’s a middle-aged Liverpool housewife, who finds herself talking to the wall while she prepares her husband’s chip’n’egg, wondering what happened to her life. She compares scenes in her current life with what she used to be like and feels she’s stagnated and in a rut. But when her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece for two, Shirley begins to see the world, and herself, in a different light.

One of my favorite flicks for many reasons. It completely reinforces my trip to Greece fantasy. It illuminates the drawbacks of a small life, and highlights the options. It makes being “of a certain age” seem a bit more palatable. It has several laugh out loud lines, along with all the chuckles. It also has a great message and some very touching moments. It has gorgeous scenery. It has Tom Conti 😀

Shirley Valentine is an anthem to the freedom of the soul–with a generous dose of salt of the earth.

I have yet to see Mamma Mia, but I doubt it will replace Shirley Valentine on my “chick flick set in Greece” list. The only reason it doesn’t get the full five stars is because of the chick-flickiness….and some bad language…and nudity.

If you haven’t yet seen it, rent it soon. You may not love it as much as I do, but you are sure to be entertained.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 73%; Users 76%

Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

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Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith stars in the inspirational true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman who’s struggling to make ends meet. When his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) walks out, Chris is left to raise their 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith) on his own. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the street, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. With self- confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.

~ from Amazon

 

One of my favorite movies from 2006, and one of the best performances from that year, as well. Truly, if not for The Last King of Scotland, Will Smith would have been the clear favorite at Oscar time. I loved the plot driven movie with a strong message of hope and personal responsibility, and the interaction between Smith and his real life son was quite believable and moving. Perhaps a bit too syrupy for some, I non-the-less recommended this to almost everyone in my circle.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 65%; Users 88%

No Country for Old Men (2007)

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No Country for Old Men

Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.

One of the best movies I have seen in quite a while. From the story to the setting, everything here works.

I was unsure going in whether the choice of Josh Brolin in the lead role was wise, but he seemed custom fit as hapless protagonist Llewelyn Moss. There was no question Tommy Lee Jones would deliver, he always gives solid, understated performances. I had heard (who hadn’t) that Javier Bardem gave a stellar performance as contract killer Anton Chigurh – what an understatement. The guy took creepy to a whole new level.

There were several other wonderful performances, but a huge standout for me was Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife. Her portrayal of the loyal, and seemingly meek, Carla Jean was every bit as impressive in it’s ‘smallness’ as was Bardem’s. Their inevitable meeting was one of the classic moments in film.

There were two casting errors to my mind; Beth Grant as Carla Jean’s mother was a bit over the top, and Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, one of Chigurgh’s rivals, was glaringly out of his league.

However, the choice to forgo a musical score was genius. Rather than directing our emotions and reactions via orchestration, the Coens allow the silence to increase the tension. It was a Hitchcockian decision that makes for some edge-of-your seat moments.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Users 87%

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood

A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

Bill Goodykoontz says on AZ Central:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s instant classic features a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as an early 20th Century oilman as brilliant as any you’ll ever see. A bleak study of the capitalism and religion, the film is a masterpiece. (R – 158 minutes)

He gives a more detailed review here, and a perfect 5 star rating

This did not strike me as a movie about capitalism & religion, rather it examines greed & corruption. The only untainted characters in this character study are the children. The ‘religion’ is a perversion of some sort of ancient revivalism. Plainview’s quest can only be a study of capitalism if you buy the rhetoric of the left, who would have you believe anyone who sets out to make a better life (and more money) is this type of ruthless, irredeemable monster. But, let’s skip away from Goodykoontz…

Also in The Republic (the old media, printed version of AZ Central) was a review from Marty Richelsoph, a moviegoer in Surprise, who gave it 2 1/2 stars:

…It was nearly painful to watch, with an overwrought musical score and visual set ups to scenes that left me feeling empty. Part of the problem is that the main character is irredeemable as a human being. He is an ambitious sociopath whose actions seemed based solely on ego and avarice…

I agree. Certainly the score was not well conceived. Where the complete lack of music in No Country For Old Men contributed to the tension and overall creepiness of that flick, the overwhelming and ill-fitting music chosen here takes you out of the film.

Day-Lewis gives a fine performance, as he always does, though early on I was wondering what sort of vocal affectation he was working on. As he descends deeper into madness, his skill as an actor becomes more evident. I have often said that playing crazy amid the sane is easy, while playing sane amid the crazy is hard. Here, Day-Lewis’ Plainview is both. The full scope of his derangement always threatening to break through his tenuous facade of ‘normalcy’.

There Will Be Blood was also overlong, incorporating plot lines and characters we have no interest in. This was an adapted screenplay that could have benefited from a bit of judicious editing.

In spite of these flaws, it was still a good movie. Perhaps not the “great” movie I was expecting, I imagine it suffered from too much hype. It may have scored higher on the Word of Mouth Scale if more of my circle were into the type of story told here.

Rated R for some violence, though I don’t recall anything worse than you could see on prime time TV.

Rotten Tomatoes: critics 91%; users 82%

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