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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Bernie (2011)

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Bernie

Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, well-loved assistant funeral director in a small Texas town. Shirley MacLaine plays Marjorie Nugent, wealthy, cranky, unpopular widow. The way their paths cross is the meat of Bernie, a dark comedy based on a true story. The movie seems far-fetched, but, according to Marjorie’s nephew, the outlandish details were “ripped from the headlines“.

There are little things in “Bernie” that aren’t exactly true, bits of dialogue, a changed name here and there. But the big things, the weirdest things, the things you’d assume would have to be made up, happened exactly as the movie says they did.

Black gives one of his best performances to date, showing us the melancholy and heart in a man somehow driven to murder. MacLaine is an ideal choice as the cranky, crazy old codger fated to be folded into a freezer. The one weak link in casting is Matthew McConaughey playing a Texas lawyer (shocker, McConaughey cast as a lawyer!) set with the unpopular task of prosecuting the town’s favorite resident.

Interspersed throughout the movie, we get bits of local residents (some of them actual residents who knew the real Tiede & Nugent) talking about the couple and the case. It’s a device that can be cheesy if poorly executed, but it works quite well here.

Despite the subject matter, this movie will appeal to just about everyone in my circle. Even those who you wouldn’t expect to get a chuckle from a murder.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 76%

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Safe (2012)

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Safe

Full disclosure: I like my action movies with a lot of action. I like a high body count with minimal gratuitous blood. I like clever fight choreography that respects the laws of physics rather than relying on wires and/or CGI. I like Jason Statham as a good, but flawed, man who is willing to do what it takes to save the day – or the girl. Safe delivers on all those criteria. (note that a quality script doesn’t really factor – though it helps)

The story here finds Statham, a mediocre cage-fighter with big secrets in his past, suddenly thrust into a three way turf war that threatens to end the life of a young girl. Russians, Chinese, Police – all the ingredients for “a body count that rivals classic John Woo.

One of the bad reviews claims the movie is

…little more than an excuse for Statham to do what Statham does better than anyone else: look stern while punishing bad guys.

Don’t see how that is a bad thing. In fact, the reviewer claims ‘Safe’ is “everything that is wrong with action movies“, clearly missing the point of action movies.

A reviewer with a clearer understanding of the genre writes:

[Jason] Statham blasts his way through his biggest body count in this satisfying, one-note action film designed very specifically for Statham fans who know his acting limits as well as he does.

Indeed.

Because of the high body count, despite the relative lack of blood & gore, there are still several of my friends who would give this a pass – so only three on the WOM scale. However, if shoot ’em up action flicks float your boat, this one should satisfy.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 57%, Audience 62%

The Hunger Games (2012)

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete.

Confession: I never read the Hunger Games books. I knew only that Hunger Games readers seemed to enjoy making fun of Twilight readers, which is a positive in my book* 😉

Which is to say, my main interest in this flick was as the anti-Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence in the lead was a bonus, as I pegged her for a star when I first saw her in The Burning Plain (2008) On both of those fronts, this movie is a roaring success.

It is also fantastical and visually stunning. And sometimes quite a bit ridiculously over-the-top. That is where it falters for me. That…and Woody Harrelson. How he keeps getting cast is one of life’s great mysteries for me. He hasn’t been convincing or inhabited a character since Cheers, and so always takes me out of any movie he is in.

The Hunger Games was entertaining, but it didn’t leave me anticipating Catching Fire (2013). On the Word of Mouth Scale, I’ll give it a 2.5. The teens & young adults in my circle will likely enjoy it – the rest, not so much.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 84%; Audience 81%

* To be fair, I haven’t read those books, either. I am a bit old for the genre. However, using the movies as a gauge of quality, Twilight does not impress…but that may be the abominable acting

2016: Obama’s America (2012)

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2016: Obama’s America

A documentary that examines the question, “If Barack Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?”

When it comes to political movies of the Right, you can generally tell if they hit their mark by the critics’ reaction. The “independent” critics show their true colors by panning the movie for making points with which they disagree, not the quality of the film itself.

So it is with Dinesh D’Souza’s latest work, a documentary largely based on his successful book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”. Critics who gleefully embraced as “resourceful” & “skillful” Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 now find political documentaries “outrageous” and “simplistic”

For those, like me, who have been paying attention, the information here is not new. What is new is the framing, presenting plausible explanations for some of Obama’s most implausible actions. D’Souza presents a compelling narrative of Obama’s early life and the forces that shaped his world view.

For those who have not been especially curious about the candidate, this could serve as a primer on his life. Perhaps the most effective device for conveying the information are the words from Barack Obama’s books, read by Barack Obama himself for the audio releases. It is hard to dismiss as partisan spin what you hear the man say in his own voice.

It loses one star only because there are those in my circle who won’t see it under any circumstances. If you are one of those, I urge you to consider the tag line, “Love Him. Hate Him. You Don’t Know Him” and ask yourself if, in fact, there is more you could stand to learn.
_________________________

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 30%; Audience 77%

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The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

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The Five-Year Engagement

My first introduction to Jason Segel was in his movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he introduced us to 2 wieners – his penis, and Russel Brand’s persona. I have held those missteps against him ever since. Not that it keeps me from watching his films – he’s a funny guy. He just doesn’t know where to draw the line.

This movie was enjoyable; good script, good cast, good direction – to a point. At which point you are just left a bit disgusted, or disappointed, or embarrassed. Leading to losing 1.5 stars because, let’s face it, what could have been a charming story is now something I couldn’t recommend to my mom. Like many movies these days, it seems the over-the-top raunchiness is added merely for shock and cheap laughs.

The story is…sweet. And predictable. And not nearly interesting enough to justify a full 2 hour run time. Still, the quality cast gives us memorable moments. The chemistry between Segel and Blunt is warm and believable. The Elmo & Cookie Monster debate is goofy. There are some kind of lovely points about romance.

Worth seeing, as a rental. But be prepared for unnecessary raunch – you may not want to watch it with the kids. Or your parents.

Also of note, The Five-Year Engagement was even less popular with audiences than it was with critics.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 64%; Audience 58%

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

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