Monday, January 30, 2012



Liam Neeson: John Ottway, an oil refinery sharpshooter
Frank Grillo: oil rig worker John Diaz
Dermot Mulroney: a co-worker Talget
Dallas Roberts: another employees Pete Hendrick
Nonso Anozie: Burke
Jacob Blair: Cimoski

This “one-note” survival tale soon becomes repetitive: action then interlude, action then interlude. The entire thing is déjà-vu with its motley group of men reminiscing about better times while waiting for the inevitable.

The only thing that sets it apart from similar movies are the great shots of the Alaskan winter landscape.

for violence, disturbing content including bloody images and pervasive language.

• A drilling rig is a work-only environment; there are no amenities on site such as a bar.
• Just prior to taking off a passenger gets up and changes seats: that is not allowed on commercial airlines and he would have been told by the flight attendant to return to his assigned seat.
• John’s abrasion on his left cheek changes shape and location throughout the film.
• The Alaska Air National Guard would conduct a coordinated search to locate an overdue commercial aircraft and the 210th Rescue Squadron helicopters with two “Guardian Angels” would provide any necessary medical intervention so nobody in their right mind would leave a downed aircraft. But then we would not have a movie would we?
• Ottway explains that Burke is suffering from hypoxia: in fact hypoxia occurs in healthy people when they ascend to high altitudes (above 12,000’) but in this instance they not even above the tree line, the first visible indication of higher altitude.
• The plastic used for miniature bottles of alcoholic spirits does not shatter with jagged edges like a glass bottle would.

I don’t know why they bury an important piece of the plot in the end credits. But they do.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Biographical drama

Eddie Redmayne: 23-year-old Colin Clark
Kenneth Branagh: stage and screen star Sir Laurence Olivier
Julia Ormond: his wife Vivien Leigh
Michelle Williams: 30-year-old Marilyn Monroe
Dougray Scott: playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn’s third husband
Zoë Wanamaker: Marilyn's acting coach Paula Strasberg
Judi Dench: stage and screen star Dame Sybil Thorndike
Emma Watson: wardrobe girl Lucy
Dominic Cooper: Marilyn’s manager
Toby Jones: Marilyn’s press agent

Based on the memoirs of Colin Clark and his involvement in the making of the 1957 romantic comedy “The Prince and the Showgirl” this film encompasses more than a week. In addition to being an insider’s look at the production problems it is an insightful portrayal of the “goddess of sex” herself.

The stunning performance by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe outshines the rest of the cast, none of whom are slouches in their own right.

Production values are high with great attention to detail and some lovely cinemaphotography of the English countryside.

for profanity, sexual content and nudity.


84th Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Directing, Best Costume Design, Best Original score

English intertitles instead of spoken dialogue

Jean Dujardin: silent film star George Valentin
Missi Pyle: his costar Constance
Bérénice Bejo: aspiring actress Peppy Miller
John Goodman: Kinograph Studio boss Al Zimmer
Penelope Ann Miller: George’s wife Doris
James Cromwell: George’s chauffeur Clifton
George’s dog Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier

This modern version of a silent film is an odd combination: apart from one short sentence there is no spoken dialogue but there is sound with music and sound effects. Shot in black and white, the story is about the declining career of one film star and the rising fame of another.

With the intertitles kept to the bare minimum you have to rely upon your lip-reading skills to “catch” some of the dialogue. At times the actors use the exaggerated mugging technique typical of silent cinema but not always so it’s a bit of a hit and miss.

The acting is superb across-the-board and there are delightful dance sequences reminiscent of the musicals of the 1940’s. Overall a very entertaining movie with a bit of a novel twist to it.

for a disturbing image (must have missed it!) and a crude gesture (a quick one-finger salute).

Saturday, January 14, 2012


84th Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Makeup


Margaret Hilda Thatcher (née Roberts) born 13 October 1925 served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

Meryl Streep: Margaret Thatcher
Olivia Colman: her daughter Carol
Jim Broadbent: her husband Denis
Alexandra Roac: young Margaret in her ‘20’s
Harry Llyod: young Denis Thatcher
Anthony Head: Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe

The film takes place over a 24 hour period while former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is clearing out her husband's belongings. Her life unfolds through a series of flashbacks sometimes with actual period television footage. It’s a huge undertaking as it covers almost her entire life chronologically from when she was a teenager at the outbreak of WWII up to the year 2005. That’s a huge undertaking but the producers have wisely chosen not to dwell too long on any of the key events that took place during her career. To have done so would have resulted in a film three or four times longer than it is and who wants that?

Another good choice is to have Meryl Streep portray the Prime Minister. Streep's performance is nothing short of remarkable. She really nailed it this time, not only in the voice (and accent) but with the mannerisms and facial expressions. Streep holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor with sixteen. There is no doubt in my mind she will up that count by one.

Production values are top notch including costume design, set decoration, makeup (the best I’ve seen in years) and cinemaphotography all contributing to its elegant look.

for some violent images and brief nudity (nudity = one scene in which a topless lady is on screen for perhaps 1 second, maybe 2).

She was nicknamed the Iron Lady in 1976 by Soviet media for her staunch opposition to communism.

Friday, January 13, 2012


84th Academy Award for Best Film Editing

Murder mystery

Rooney Mara: Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker & researcher for Milton Security
Steven Berkoff: Henrik Vanger's lawyer Dirch Frode
Ulf Friberg: wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström
Daniel Craig: Mikael Blomkvist, co-owner and writer for Millennium magazine
Robin Wright: Blomkvist's co-worker and lover Erika Berger
Christopher Plummer: Henrik Vanger, retired CEO of Vanger Industries
Yorick van Wageningen: Lisbeth’s state-appointed guardian, lawyer Nils Bjurman
Geraldine James: Harriet's cousin Cecila Vanger
Joely Richardson: Harriet’s sister Anita Vanger
Donald Sumpter: retired policeman Gustav Morell
Stellan Skarsgård: Martin Vanger, current CEO of Vanger Industries

Despite being a disgraced journalist (found guilty of libelling an industrialist), Mikael Blomkvist is called upon to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy patriarch's niece from 40 years ago. As with any good murder mystery there are red herrings (the phone call before the opening credits being one?) and lots of clues. But some of them come unexpectedly and with the background noise somewhat difficult to discern.

At the risk of giving away anything please note there are two key moments and without the luxury of being able to go back and reread sections in the novel from which the movie was adapted, you have to pay attention to be sure not to miss what is being said:
• When Blomkvist is talking to Anita on the bench in London
• When Blomkvist and Martin are in the basement of his house

Chockablock with A-List actors the one who outshines them all is Rooney Mara: her performance is worth the price of admission alone.

However at 2 hours and 38 minutes it is too long and the pace would have benefitted from some careful editing of the middle section.

for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.

Blomkvist buys a pack of cigarettes along with a coffee. The sale of tobacco products in Sweden is not permitted in cafés.

Lisbeth would have known better than to take photos using flash of the panel behind a glass door as the result would be pictures with big white hotspots lacking any detail and therefore useless.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012



Matt Damon: Benjamin Mee
Colin Ford: his 14-year-old son Dylan
Maggie Jones: Dylan’s 7-year-old sister Rosie
Scarlett Johansson: head zookeeper Kelly Foster
Elle Fanning: Kelly`s 13-year-old cousin Lily Miska
Thomas Church: Benjamin’s older brother Duncan

Based on a true story the title pretty much says it all. This charming tale is very much an outing for the entire family with lots to like: a variety of animals, simple straight-forward plot, the sullen teenager, his cute sister, a love interest, arguments and reconciliations. It has it all.

You won’t be disappointed as long as you don’t set your expectations too high as there are no real surprises and everything works out according to plan, well almost everything.

However it is too long, running well in excess of two hours and there is no reason to do so. There are ample opportunities to edit out some of the slower bits and at the same time rethink the way in which Benjamin gets out of a jam. That’s a key element and shouldn’t be left to chance because there are any number of ways of handling that situation better.

for language and some thematic elements.

• While having breakfast with his brother, Benjamin's sunny side up eggs change position on the plate from one shot to another.
• His brother has a little silver container that comes and goes from one cut to another.
• Dylan speaks to Lily while it is raining and looks pathetic with his hair plastered to his forehead. After a brief cut to Lily and back to him, his forehead is no longer wet until one more cut to Lily and back to Dylan and once again his hair is plastered down.
• On more than one occasion reference is made to the zoo’s opening going to be on Saturday July 7, 2010. In actual fact July 7, 2010 was a Wednesday.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Wartime drama

Jeremy Irvine: Albert Narracott
Emily Watson: his mother Rose
Peter Mullan: his tenant farmer father Ted
David Thewlis: their landlord Mr. Lyons
Tom Hiddleston: Captain Nicholls
Celine Buckens: an orphaned young French girl Emilie
Niels Arestrup: her grandfather

Set before the beginning of the First World War this is the story of a boy and his horse.

While the film includes scenes of war, there is no bloodshed. Men get knocked down or fall from being hit by bullets but there is no gory aftermath. Even in the army field hospital we get to visit it only after all the soldiers have been bandaged up and there’s not a drop of blood to be seen anywhere. And as far as suffering goes, well there isn’t any. Realistic? No. Easy to take? Yes.

Production values are first rate, the sets just right, the battle scenes beautifully staged and the costumes are perfect (maybe too perfect as they look like they just came from the dry cleaners) which lends to its look of authenticity. The acting is strictly "by the book" so it will garner no awards for anyone.

However the main problem with the movie is this: it is overlong at almost two-and-a-half hours. There simply is not enough story to run for that length of time so most everything proceeds at a snail’s pace (the battles scenes being the exception) as though the director is trying to wring out every precious moment to its max.

One final thought: as I was walking out I overhead one member of the audience say to her friend “I should have brought a whole box of Kleenex”.

for intense sequences of war violence.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Top Ten or so

A very unconventional film, by turns funny and moving, yet it is also somewhat disturbing and leaves a few questions unanswered. At the heart of it is the central theme that it’s never too late to start anew as a beginner. It is definitely a film for the more discerning movie-goer.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks to Oliver’s youth and the more recent past using readily identifiable cues to keep things sorted out. The acting is uniformly good with superb performances from Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent.
for language and some sexual content.

The beginning stages of the couple’s relationship is revealed in flashback but done so seamlessly the first few times you’re not sure what’s going on. After a while you get to recognize that the younger Dean is not wearing glasses and the younger Cindy always wears her hair long. Two things set this one apart from similar films: there is an air of authenticity about it and the excellent performances of the two protagonists. That’s a winning combination. One other thing: I haven’t been at a movie and heard so much sniffling and blowing of noses for years. Just a word of warning: there are several steamy, very explicit sex scenes that some would deem as soft-core pornography.
for strong graphic sexual content and language.

A family affair best seen in 3-D, this fairy tale about a boy who lives alone in a Paris train station is but half the story. Midway through we get to find out about one of history’s original filmmakers. Some of the old movie recreations are repetitive with the result the running time exceeds two hours, about a half hour too long in my view. Apart from that interlude there is a magical quality about the film in keeping with traditional storytelling and engaging enough to keep even the youngest movie-goer attentive throughout.
for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.

In a series of flashbacks this biographical film covers the career of the longest serving Director of the F.B.I. including some speculative details of his private life. But that aspect of the man is not the real focus of the movie. Instead we follow his total dedication and uncompromising approach to the job, as he sees it. Production values are first rate with particular attention paid to period detail. One thing though, I’m not sure why so much of it is shot in sepia-tones which lessens the visual impact somewhat. The acting is uniformly good with Leonardo DiCaprio the best of the lot. However typical of Clint Eastwood’s productions it is overlong running in excess of two hours. If only they had spent a little more time editing out the few tedious segments and spent less time on desaturating the film of its colour.
for brief strong language (brief it is with only two instances of any vulgar words).

Things were different back in the late ‘60’s when women were paid lower wages than men for the same work. In Britian the Labour government along with the company’s union agreed with this practice. The film is about what ensued when the women finally took a stand against this injustice. An entertaining film in part because I suspect that the screen writers took some liberty with the actual facts. However, great attention to detail has gone into the costuming that lends it an air of authenticity. The acting is uniformly good with more than a few humourous moments, some of which went over my head because of the strong British accents.
for language and brief sexuality.

In the span of 24 hours we witness the inside workings of a large investment firm as some key employees discover back in 2008 what they have on their hands: what we now know as toxic assets. I can’t be sure how factual it is but it sure rings true. And you don’t have to be an investment wiz to understand what is taking place. Helping to keep things relatively clean is the chief executive officer who asks them “to speak in simple terms” so he can understand the problem. The rest of us can benefit from that as well. As usual Kevin Spacey puts in a believable performance and young star Zachary Quinto does an even better job but Jeremy Irons outshines them all. It is probably his best performance ever. And that’s saying a lot.
for coarse language.

At the risk of spoiling the pleasure of having the events unfold at their own pace just let me say that this is a clever and entertaining movie with more than a few well considered bits of dialogue and some astute observations. Good romantic comedies are hard to come by but this one is definitely for the discerning audience and not the usual “made for the masses” light-weight forgettable ones too often foisted on the public. Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the romantic with his laid back childlike outlook on life. Also turning in excellent performances are Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody to name but a few.
for some sexual references and smoking.

Sport teams rely upon scouts to check out players at the development level and assess their ability to move up to the big leagues. That is until a new unorthodox scouting method was developed. And that’s what the story is all about. As one movie-goer leaving the theatre was overheard to say “even as a non-sports fan I enjoyed the movie and understood most of what they were talking about”. In fact the movie is more about the force of personalities and methods used than what the players actually do on the field. Although Brad Pitt is terrific in his portrayal of Billy Beane, the rest of the supporting cast is also outstanding. Despite a running time of over two hours what with its snappy dialog, quick cuts and intriguing story line it does not seem a minute too long.
for some strong language.

Too often films about people reacting differently to tragedy quickly become maudlin resulting in the whole experience being a downer. This one is neither primarily because it is a character study and not the usual over-emotional treatment of the subject material. The paucity of the usual sickly-sentimental musical pieces attests to the emphasis being on a well-told story instead. Nicole Kidman really nails her role in this one and Aaron Eckhart handles his part beautifully. They both give convincing performances.
for mature thematic material, some drug use and language.

Carefully balancing comedy with family drama provides for a very enjoyable film experience that mirrors real life. And so we buy into it. With a well developed story line, the complexities of the situation never get muddled nor confusing. It’s nice to see George Clooney actually do some real acting for a change rather than just being himself in some mindless caper with his buddies. The man can do it. However the supporting cast are no slouches either, especially Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the future. As an added bonus we get to see the real Hawaii, not just the stunning locations such as the iconic Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background but also the more mundane downtown Honolulu, surburbia and the undeveloped rural areas. You can see why it’s called “paradise”.
for language including some sexual references.

Set in Mississippi in 1962 right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, this story of how white people viewed their black domestic help is insightful. At times it is touching, frequently funny, often inspirational. With great attention to detail the costumes, hair, makeup and sets are all bang on. The acting is uniformly good but Viola Davis excels with her performance: she steals every scene she’s in. Her role is pivotal to the storyline and she pulls it off beautifully. It’s a tad too long for my liking, coming in at just under two-and-a-half hours, but there’s a lot to be said and little that could be edited out.
for thematic material.

I don’t know if there are street-smart wise-guy lawyers like Mick in LA but there should be. It’s refreshing to see a lawyer who comes across as somebody you’d like to sit down and have a drink with. Perhaps it’s the way Matthew McConaughey plays it but it makes for an entertaining outing. The well written story plays out quickly with enough clues for solving the mystery rather than leaving the viewer totally befuddled; that’s worth the price of admission alone. The acting is uniformly very good and the characters more-or-less believable. Something you don’t see too often in movies of this sort.
for some violence, sexual content and language.