Saturday, July 26, 2008


Fact based drama

In 1909 Dr. Leo Baekeland developed the first plastic ever, which he named after himself. Bakelite was used for its electrically non-conductive and heat-resistant properties in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators. It was also used in such diverse products as kitchenware, jewellery, pipe stems and children's toys. It made the inventor very rich.

Julianne Moore: Barbara Baekeland
Stephen Dillane: her wealthy husband Brooks
Eddie Redmayne: their 20-something-year old son Tony
Elena Anaya: his girlfriend Blanca

At the risk of giving away the plot any story about the incestuous relationship between a mother and her son to “cure him of his homosexuality” will probably be of interest to very few. Even if it is a true story.

I didn’t know anything about the main theme so I hung in as long as I could even though three people left the theatre before I did. Never a good sign.

For whatever reason the film does not have the usual MPAA rating so I gave it my own based on scenes of full frontal male and female nudity and several sex acts (both heterosexual and homosexual).



Matthew Goode: Captain Charles Ryder, official war artist
Patrick Malahide: his father
Ben Whishaw: an Oxford student, Sebastian Flyte
Emma Thompson: Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain
Hayley Atwell: her daughter Julia
Ed Stoppard: her son Bridley
Michael Gambon: her husband Lord Marchmain

With uncompromising attention to detail (costumes, makeup, hair etc), lush settings, great cinematography and stellar performances nobody does period pieces better than the British. Sometimes called God's Own County, the Yorkshire County of Northern England has never looked so good.

Despite covering a period of some twenty years or so, the manner in which the flashbacks are handled makes it easy to sort out. Fans of this genre will not mind the fact it is a tad too long at 2 hours and 13 minutes.

for for some sexual content (very little I might add).

Dipsomania: from the Greek dipsa thirst + the Latin mania which means “compulsive thirst”. This medical term is used to describe the uncontrollable craving for alcohol.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Musical comedy

A married couple, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus, went for a holiday on the island of Cyprus with friends and fellow singers Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Just for fun they began singing together on the beach and were invited to perform as a group for the United Nations troops stationed there. They came up with the idea of having the group’s name as an acronym of their first names: Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid. And so ABBA was born and their songs went on to top the charts worldwide from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.

Meryl Streep: single mother Donna Sheridan, owner of a small B&B
Amanda Seyfried: her 20-year-old daughter Sophie
Pierce Brosnan: businessman Sam Carmichael
Colin Firth: British banker Harry 'Headbanger' Bright
Stellan Skarsgård: Swedish adventurer and author Bill Andersen
Dominic Cooper: Sophie’s fiancé Sky
Julie Walters: Donna’s longtime friend Rosie, a cookbook author
Christine Baranski: another of Donna’s friends rich three-time divorcée Tanya

Anyone who has ever hummed one of the ABBA’s big hits will revel in hearing them sung amid the glorious setting of a lovely Greek island. Someone has wisely chosen to not change the musical arrangement from the original hits so they sound right. The additional songs first heard during the stage performance of Mamma Mia! fit in beautifully, not surprising given that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus collaborated to write them. Unlike some musicals where the songs seem to come from out of nowhere, these all meld in as part of the story narrative.

Given that the main reason everyone shows up is to celebrate a marriage, it is not surprising there’s a lot of joy and happiness throughout the movie. And some funny bits along the way.

Although Meryl Streep started her career as a singer, I cannot recall any previous role in which she sang. Consequently her singing talent came to me as a surprise. Perhaps you could quibble about the cast selection, that there are younger actors\actresses around, that there are better singers. Fine. But that doesn’t take away from the fact the ones in the movie do a heckuva job and that’s enough for me.

The dance numbers are well staged with unbounded energy, the costumes are great, the acting uniformly excellent. In short, it’s a must-see movie and a lot of fun.

for some sex-related comments.

 Donna attempts to repair a broken shutter using a cordless drill. Trouble is she’s forgotten to put a bit in the chuck.
 While trying to fix the crack in the ceramic floor Donna snaps off the end of the tube of caulking. Moments later when she stands up and points to something with the caulking gun, the white end of the tube has been magically restored.

Stick around for the end credits, it’s worthwhile.

By the way it’s rare that I plan to go see a movie for a second time. This is one of them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008



The Fulton surface-to-air recovery system was developed by R. E. Fulton for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA) in the early 1950s. Designed for retrieving people on the ground (or in the water) the first step was sending up a self-inflating balloon with a lift line attached to it. A specially equipped aircraft would then snag this line and haul the person up.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simple RICO pronounced as ree-ko) is a United States federal law enacted in 1970 that provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. It was intended to make it easier to prosecute crime figures who were members of groups such as the Mafia.

Christian Bale: billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman)
Michael Caine: the family butler Alfred
Heath Ledger: criminal mastermind The Joker
Gary Oldman: Gothman City Police Department Lieutenant Jim Gordon
Aaron Eckhart: District Attorney Harvey Dent
Maggie Gyllenhaal: Assistant DA Rachel Dawes
Morgan Freeman: Wayne Enterprise's resident inventor Lucius Fox

Two thirty-two. Remember that number. That’s how long you have to sit in your seat to see the entire movie. Not everybody will want to set aside two hours and thirty-two minutes to watch a film that soon becomes repetitive: fast-paced action, great special effects, quiet time, fast-paced action etc. Only the truly dedicated fan of Batman will put up with being held captive by at least 45 minutes too long in order to be there for the ending. With some editing to come in under two hours it gets another star.

Although based on a comic book hero, the horror factor has been upped to the point many will be frightened with some of the images (I was) and the degree of violence including the terrorising of Gordon’s children can be unsettling.

The music is an important element throughout the movie. This is Hans Zimmer at his best. Speaking of best: the performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker is bound to be an Academy Award nominee.

for intense sequences of violence and some menace.

 While zooming in towards the black building in the opening scene the roof top of the adjacent building is brightly lit with strong shadows. The POV changes to the black building looking out at the roof top but now the sky is overcast.
 Although no one approachs the televison set in the basement meeting place it changes location slightly when viewed from different points of view.

Gotham City looks a lot like Chicago: multiple bridges across a downtown river, an elevated transit system (Chicago calls theirs the “El”), a place for the performing arts on a main downtown street called the Harris Theatre and an edifice just like the Chicago landmark called the One North LaSalle Building.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Action adventure

Brendan Frasier: Professor Trevor Anderson
Josh Hutcherson: his 13-year-old nephew Sean
Anita Briem: mountain guide Hannah Ásgeirsson

Summer time brings warm weather, lovely bright days and lightweight inconsequential movies that requires no more of us than to sit there and be entertained. This is one of them.

For an hour and half we are taken along on a ride from one crisis situation to another. But the parties involved don’t seem to feel the sense of doom and handle each problem with aplomb and adeptness few of us have mastered.

As would be expected the special effects are first rate. But the rest of the movie is not.

for intense adventure action and some scary moments (particularly in the 3D version).

 When I visited the country a couple of years ago, I learned that Iceland is the only remaining patronymic society in the world whereby a person’s last name is based on the first name of his or her father. For example the offspring of Pétur Marteinsson would have different last names: his son’s last name would be Pétursson (the son of Pétur) and his daughter’s last name would be Pétursdóttir (the daughter of Pétur). So someone named Hannah Ásgeirsson would be the son of Ásgeir and Hanna definitely is not a man.
 An initially stationary object, which is allowed to fall freely under gravity, drops a distance that is proportional to the square of the elapsed time. Expressed mathematically then for time t the distance travelled d = ½gt2 where g is the gravitational constant of 32 feet per second per second. The flare dropped by Trevor took 3 seconds to hit the object below. He tells the others that is 200’ below them whereas it is only 144’ based on the above formula.
 Then the professor compounds his error by saying, “That’s equivalent to a 26 story building”. GPS analysis of downtown high-rise buildings indicates that, on average, the ground floor of a building is 15’ high and each floor above is 13’ high. So a 26 story building would be 15’ + 325’ = 340’ high not 200’. Even in a city with a low-height limit such as Washington D.C. it would be 65’ higher than his 200’.

5000 Iceland Kronur is worth approximatly $65.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


In Malayalam and English with English subtitles.

Beginning in the 16th century several European countries started arriving as traders in India. By 1856 most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nation-wide insurrection of rebelling military units seriously challenged the British company’s control. As a consequence India came under the direct rule of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire. During the first half of the 20th century the Indian National Congress and other political organisations launched a nation-wide struggle for independence. Starting in the 1920s a movement led by Mahatma Gandhi saw millions of protestors engaged in campaigns of civil disobedience. It was not until 1947 that India gained independence when it was partitioned into two dominions, India and Pakistan. Three years later Indian became a republic.

Linus Roache: British spice entrepreneur Henry Moores
Nandita Das: Sajani, the family’s housemaid
Rahul Bose: Henry’s right-hand man T.K. Neelan
Jennifer Ehle: Henry’s wife Laura

A beautifully photographed period piece set in India in 1937 with particular attention to the costumes. There’s nothing wrong with the pacing or the length of the movie. The acting is fine but the story is just a variation of one we’ve all seen before. Consequently not too many will put it on their “must-see” list.

for violent content and a scene of sexuality.

Malayalam is the language used predominantly in the Southern India state of Kerala. It is one of the 22 official languages of India and spoken by approximately 36 million people.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Historical drama
In Mongolian with English subtitles.

The Mongols were an illiterate, religiously shamanistic and sparsely populated nomadic group of herdsmen, perhaps no more than 700,000 in number, that lived on the grassy plains north of the Gobi Desert and south of the Siberian forests. Before the year 1200, the Mongols were fragmented, moving about in small bands and living in portable dwellings.

Khan (alternately spelled in lowercase as khan) is a Central Asian title for a chief, a sovereign or military ruler. For the most part khans only headed relatively minor tribal entities, generally in or near the vast Eurasian Steppe. Some managed to establish principalities of some importance as they expanded the territory under their control.

In geography a steppe is a flat and arid land. The Eurasian Steppe is the world’s largest zone of steppes and is found in southwest Russia and neighbouring countries of Central Asia. Another large steppe is located in central United States and western Canada.

Odnyam Odsuren: 9-year-old Temüjin
Bavertsetseg Erdenebat: 10-year-old Börte
Asano Tadanobu: the adult Temüjin who later was given the title of Genghis Khan meaning "emperor of all emperors"
Khulan Chuluun: the adult Börte
Honglei Sun: Temüjin’s brother, the Mongol chieftain Jamukha

Just mention the name Genghis Khan and most everyone thinks of the cruel Mongol war-chief who became leader of a vast empire. Well he was that and more.

As the movie would have it Temüjin was a clever man, a visionary, a lover and superb horseman. But that’s not always easy to perceive because the story is far too convoluted and disjointed with more than a few unanswered questions.

Too much time is devoted to the battles, which is the main reason the film is more than two hours long. Few of us need to see so many and not quite so graphically with blood flying around in slow motion, spattering the camera lens and everything else around. Not since Braveheart with Mel Gibson did I so frequently have to avert my eyes to the bloodshed and violence. It’s a wonder I stuck it out.

Mention should be made of the cinemaphotography: some of it is stunning. The panoramic shots of the steppes and surrounding area make you want to get up and go see it for yourself.

for sequences of bloody warfare (and they ain’t kiddin’)

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Family entertainment

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn beginning in some countries as early as 1928 in some countries stuggling to overcome the effects of the First World War. It hit the United States following the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 (so-called Black Tuesday) and continued until the onset of World War II in 1939. Scholars cannot agree on the exact causes and their relative importance except for one thing: debt.
For years consumers and businesses relied on cheap credit, the former to purchase consumer goods such as automobiles and furniture and the latter for capital investment to increase production. This fuelled strong short-term growth but created consumer and commercial debt. People and businesses that were deeply in debt when called upon to repay found they could not. Many drastically cut current spending to make payments, thus lowering demand for new products. Factory orders plunged and some 86,000 businesses ultimately went bankrupt. Massive layoffs occurred, unemployment rates soared from 9% to over 25% (about 15 million in the USA alone). More than 9,000 US banks that had financed this debt failed as debtors defaulted on debt. The savings accounts of 9 million people were wiped out.

Hobo is a term that refers to a subculture of wandering travellers who are homeless and willing to do work (whereas a tramp travels but will not work and a bum does neither). No one is sure of the origin of the term but it may have come from the term hoe-boy meaning "farmhand", or a greeting such as “Ho, boy”.

Abigail Breslin: 10-year-old aspiring reporter Kit Kittredge
Julia Ormond: her mother Margaret
Chris O’Donnell: her father, the owner of a car dealership
Wallace Shawn: Editor of the local paper
Max Thieriot: 16 or 17-year-old hobo Will
Willow Smith: his younger sidekick Countee
Zach Mills: Stirling, one of Kit’s school chums
Glenne Headly: his mother
Stanley Tucci: Mr. Berk, an itinerant magician
Jane Krakowski: a dance instructor
Joan Cusack: driver of the mobile library truck

Although the target audience would certainly be pre-and-teenaged girls it will appeal to anyone who likes a good story, told in a staightforward manner involving a likeable bunch of characters (well most of them anyways) all of whom are perfectly cast.

The acting is uniformly good and Breslin comes across as believable and entirely charming. The producers have gone to great length to recreate the period: the costumes are bang on and so are the autos (even to the point of having the correct 1934 Ohio license plate on all vehicles).

Not one swear word. How refreshing!

In 1934 a loaf of bread cost 9 cents not 5 as shown on the sign outside the grocery store.

It’s unlikely a young boy could have saved $40 just by doing odd jobs: that is equivalent to $636 in today’s currency.

The American hobo communicated to others using a basic system of symbols hand drawn in chalk or coal on a trestle, fence, building or sidewalk. Mostly they provided information such as “these people are rich” or “ill-tempered man lives here”. Other signs were warnings such as “dangerous neighbourhood” or “bad water”.

Thursday, July 3, 2008



James McAvoy: 25-year-old Account Manager Wesley Gibson
Angelina Jolie: Fox
Morgan Freeman:Sloan, leader of the Fraternity

With the target audience being young adult males, the movie panders to their base emotions and/or less noble desires such as having sex with their best friend’s girl, beating someone to a pulp just to toughen them up, telling the boss where to stuff it. Frequent use of the f-word, fast cars, gratuitous sex, lots of gadgets and gizmos serves only camouflage the fact the story line is practically non existent.

As far as acting goes, forget it. Jolie has little to say and so her acting is mostly pouting and sometimes demurely blinking her eyes. Her most significant contribution to the film is a lingering backside view of her as she leaves the hot tub.

For the first half of the film McAvoy is mostly called upon to grimace and make distorted facial expressions of terror. The other scenes with him at home and at work are pathetic.

I might have stuck it out to the end but frankly I just got fed up seeing one bloody brutal scene after another. We all have our limits hey?

for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.

Mr. X’s tie is somewhat askew while standing in the elevator but then he quickly leaves and winds up to the roof of the Memorial Building. And now his tie is perfectly in place.

Wesley picks up his prescription medicine at the drug store and when he places the bottle on his desk we can see that it is not his name on the label (instead it’s a Jeremy something).

At one point Wesley gets a sharp crack across the bridge of his nose leaving a red cut. Several scenes later it has disappeared only to reappear a couple of scenes later on.