Category Archives: 3.5 of 5

Son of Rambow (2007)


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Son Of Rambow, poster

Son of Rambow

During a long English summer in the early 1980s, two schoolboys from differing backgrounds set out to make a film inspired by First Blood (1982).


A sweet little romp with more depth than I was expecting, as well as a bit of side-eyed commentary on popularity.

As our heroes attempt to emulate theirs, we see them discover family, loyalty, and true friendship. There are some rough bits, after all, life isn’t all sunshine & rainbows, but the sterner stuff doesn’t diminish the story’s overall charm.

I would say this will be suitable for most on my list, though there is a bit of salty language

From Heather Huntington at
“As a general rule, I’m not a fan of kids, their movies, or Rambo, but this movie absolutely won me over. And — I’m going to say it — if you can stomach the idea of your kids hearing a (not too terrible) curse word or two, this could very well be a good movie for the whole family.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 74%; Audience 79%
Vox AZ

Maleficent (2014)


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A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. ~Walt Disney Pictures

This one is tough for me. I am a huge fan of Sleeping Beauty; the fairy tale, the ballet..and the Disney animated feature. Maleficent has long been my favorite of the Disney villains so I am a bit protective of “her” story.

I am admittedly a fan of alternate histories, and not such a fan of alternate fairy tales (or alternate fiction of any kind, really. I guess because, “What if Hitler didn’t make it into Poland?” is an interesting study but “What if this author who wrote this story didn’t really mean to have this thing they wrote actually happen?” seems a bit of an insult to the author.*) Now you know my bias going in to this film.

That said: It is a gorgeous film. They create a world that is every bit as magical as you would expect from a big-budget Disney outing. You can see several instances where the filmmakers were aiming at shot-for-shot replication of the animated scenes, which I really enjoyed.

Maleficent, animated

Angelina Jolie is delicious. Delightfully wicked and charmingly vindictive, qualities one hopes for in a villain. (Also charming was real-life daughter, Vivienne, as a very young Princess Aurora.) I appreciate Jolie’s commitment to preserving Maleficent’s “look”, if not her original evil

The story, however, is a letdown. I hoped to come away with greater affection for all the characters, especially Maleficent, whom I have adored for so long. I was disappointed. In an attempt to “humanize” or soften or simply bend Maleficent’s story, they ruined her. If not for Angelina Jolie’s performance, there would be nothing left of her at all.

My boyfriend, being male and having only sons, was not especially familiar with the Sleeping Beauty story. He also has no problem with changes to well-loved children’s tales. Therefore, he would give it 4 stars on a standard scale.

So there is your yardstick: If you are not familiar with the original source material, you will find this a much more enjoyable story. If you love the tale of a cursed Sleeping Beauty and her handsome prince, you may find it less so.

My Word of Mouth Scale rating reflects the number of old Disney fans I have in my circles.

* Yes, I realize the original story was tweaked for both the ballet & the Disney cartoon. Those changes were mostly ‘cosmetic’ and didn’t alter the general theme

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 49%; Audience 75%

FairyTale: A True Story (1997)


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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.



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)


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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)


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Tabloid (2010)


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%

Skyfall (2012)


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Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

I will preface this with a disclaimer: I am a fan of Daniel Craig. I am a fan of Bond movies. I am not a fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond.

I enjoyed Casino Royale as an action movie, but not as a Bond film – it just didn’t have the right elements. Because of that, I never even bothered with Quantum of Solace.

Skyfall starts with a bang, literally, killing James Bond on a failed mission. Then the opening credits start. The theme music, performed by Adele, didn’t impress me on its own, but works quite well to set the mood. You get a sense from the slightly psychedelic 70s vibe that the movie will give a nod or two to the classic Bond movies of old.

The ‘theme’ of this caper is meant to be “old ways” versus “new ways”, I know this because several characters actually tell us so. The script makes several forays into the Bond canon*, perhaps in an attempt to ensure we fully accept Craig as Bond, once and for all. Unfortunately, though I enjoyed the “see, we remember where Bond came from” parts, what comes after the opening credits pales in comparison to those opening scenes.

For one, Javier Bardem, so juicily evil in No Country For Old Men, is sadly flat in Skyfall. Though Bond villains are historically cheesy and one-dimensional, Silva (Bardem) is just…blah. He has the requisite isolated lair, the army of loyal minions, the frightened beauty who betrays him to Bond – and delivers Bond to him. He just has no real menace.

Naomie Harris is a bright spot as Eve, and likely to be around for a few more installments of the franchise. Albert Finney is a happy moment as Kincade. Ralph Fiennes, always reliable, certainly doesn’t disappoint as Gareth Mallory, the new boss intent on securing the resignation of M (Judi Dench). A good cast, overall.

Like Casino Royale, this movie works as an action movie, but not as a Bond movie – unless you are new to Bond. An old fogey like me, still be hung up on the previous winning formula, would easily accept Daniel Craig as any other MI6 officer . . . just not 007.

It was an enjoyable film, full of gunfights and espionage, so it will do well with my friends. I’ll give it a 3.5, and it has inspired me to add Quantum of Solace to my queue so I can give it a whirl.

* They also end this movie having put a decisive end to some iconic Bond bits, which seems a winking way of saying, “Get over it, Sean Connery isn’t coming back”

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 89%

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Red Lights (2012)


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Red Lights

Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.

I know D picked this off the shelf because of the stellar cast; Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver (generally reliable in everything they do), Cillian Murphy (I’ve been a fan since 28 Days Later…), Toby Jones (you may not recognize the name, but you’ll know his face), and the adorable Elizabeth Olsen (Younger sister of the Olsen twins, cuter, better actress. She’s been making a splash lately. That’s her->)

The Seattle Times seems to appreciate that cast, too:

Weaver is forbiddingly grim and focused as Matheson, and Murphy is the personification of haunted unease as her colleague. De Niro, in one of his most effective performances in years, is at once diabolical and silken in manner as Silver. His character may be blind, but he gives the impression of being able to see into the souls of his adversaries.

I was not blown away by De Niro’s performance but, considering some of the roles he has tackled lately, it may well be “one of his most effective performances in years

There has been a glut of movies celebrating paranormal activity recently, whether to scare us or enlighten us. What sets this film apart is the skeptical focus it puts on psychics and faith healers, pulling back the curtain on their “gifts”.

Perhaps this viewpoint held extra intrigue for me, a longtime fan of The Amazing Randi and his skeptics shows. As much as I enjoy as good magician, and prefer not to know their tricks, I appreciate being reminded that it doesn’t hurt to maintain a healthy skepticism in life.

I wish they had given us a bit more along that line but, once they set the debunking premise, I suppose we didn’t need more. They also give us enough of Simon Silver to know he is creepy, and could be dangerous – at least to our heroes. Though the reason for the ‘danger’ is merely glossed over.

One of the highlights early in the movie is Eugenio Mira doing an over-the-top, cabaret impression of Robert De Niro in a flashback scene of the young Simon Silver. It’s as if director Rodrigo Cortés wanted to give us a bit of fun so found a nightclub impressionist and turned him loose. I found it an amusing nod to his star’s stature.

Red Lights manages to entertain and hold your attention to nearly the end, when it all goes horribly wrong.

The ending, alas, erases much of what was good in the movie. In attempting to pull off a clever twist, they expose the flaws & weakness in the story. To steal a quote, “The only way to pull a rabbit out of a hat is to put it there first.

Spoilers may be in the rest of my review, so don’t scroll if you don’t want to know…

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 29%; Audience 36%

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