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Archive for June, 2012

Review of Top Movies

Periodically in The Reasoned Society I like to review movies and share my perceptions with a cyberspace audience. All of the movies I report on I have seen in the last 12 months. All of us lead very busy lives, but if you have some time you can put aside to watch a few movies, you will be rewarded for your effort.

The following 12 movies are reported as among the very best I’ve seen during the last 12 months. I’ve categorized them into various genres to more precisely show how they fit into the scheme of movie reviews.

I’ve also added to this review other movies I have seen and liked, but I provide only a category and a title. It will be up to you to find out more about their storylines. I hope you enjoy this review. The next review will be in 2013 coming to a theater (or computer screen) near you.

Best Movie

Mao’s Last Dancer

 

2010 (PG)

I found this movie to be emotional, inspiring, but also very romantic. What makes this movie my best movie choice is that it is based on a book and shows an audience a piece of 20th century history in China, and shows the main characters as they play out their personal circumstances in the interplay between an Asian culture under a dictatorship that cannot escape a changing world, and an American culture where social change and freedom is more widely embraced in every period of history.

The main story line is this: A delegation from Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy selects 11-year-old peasant villager Li Cunxin to study ballet in far-off Beijing, where he trains for seven grueling years to become one of China’s greatest dancers. His efforts win him the opportunity to dance in America, opening his eyes to a new love and the possibility of a dramatic defection from China in this remarkable true story based on Cunxin’s autobiography.

I was at a loss for words to describe what I was feeling while watching this movie other than to say this was one of the finest movies I have ever seen. And, I hope you will take the time to see this world-class entertainment piece of history.

Best Action Movie

Warrior

 

2011 PG-13

Set in the violent world of mixed martial arts combat, this gritty drama follows two brothers who have pursued separate lives but remain at war with each other. But preparation for a championship bout soon leads the siblings back into each other’s paths.

This movie is both emotional and gritty. I selected this movie as Best Action Movie for its incredible fight scenes, but more importantly because I found the character development, character changes and performances to be superior where acting is concerned. I found Nick Nolte’s best supporting role of to be one of the most fantastic works of acting art I have ever seen. He should have won at the Academy Awards this year. His performance exceeded “brilliant.” The 72 year old actor just keeps showing all of us—he’s still got it, i.e. exceptional acting talent. For me, Nick Nolte is the American version of the very talented, British actor Anthony Hopkins.

 Best Family Entertainment Movies

The Big Year

2011 (PG-13)

I just as easily could have grouped this with the other feel good movies, but I selected to categorize it under Best Family Entertainment Movies instead. The reason I did this is because, if you have children, you might be able to tap into their natural curiosity, or perhaps inspire them to take up a new hobby a family can all participate in—Bird Watching.

The storyline is this: Inspired by Mark Obmascik’s nonfiction book of the same name, this high-flying comedy concerns a trio of competitive bird watchers who vow to win a contest by spotting and recording as many avian species as humanly possible. Added to the context of the movie are three fine comedian actors—Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. Brian Dennehy and Algelica Huston also handed in nice supporting roles as well. I believe this movie fell under the movie-going radar screen for many viewers. Too bad, because it really is a very entertaining movie the entire family can enjoy.

Moneyball

 

2011 (PG-13)

 

This is a drama and a sports movie based on real life events. And yes, the OaklandA’s have always been my favorite baseball team alongside the San Francisco Giants. What can I say?  I like both teams plus I played a lot of baseball as a kid. I always looked forward to playing Little League and Junior League baseball. The first dry day in February during those years one could find me outside, losing no opportunity to throw a baseball around and fantasizing that I might one day play professional baseball. And for me, of course, the fantasy and the reality never met up with one another.

This movie and its performances deserved to be among the best nominated movies for this last year’s Academy Awards. I had a chance to rate it 5 stars, and I did. Brad Pitt gives his usual outstanding performance, and newcomer Jonah Hill has a very bright future for his low-key, yet poignant role as a baseball analyst.

There are a lot of good performances in this movie when an all-star cast brings to life the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former jock turned general manager who uses unconventional methods to bring the best players to the Oakland A’s, a major league baseball team struggling against financial hardship. Even if you are not a sports fan, you will indeed enjoy this movie.

Real Steel

2011 (PG-13)

This movie was a delight to watch starring Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lily. Its genre covered a lot of movie types including: Action & Adventure, Sci-Fi, Sports Movies, Action Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and Boxing Movies. Special effects were sensational because there was a lot of creativity in cinematically showing robot, mechanical pugilists.

The storyline is as follows: In a future world where flesh-and-blood boxers have been replaced by towering mechanized fighters, pugilist-turned-promoter Charlie Kenton reconnects with his estranged son, Max, to convert a discarded machine into a world robot boxing contender.

If you liked the Transformer movies and the recent release of the movie, Avengers—you are sure to like this. Given its PG-13 rating, it is the kind of movie most family members can see comfortably.

Best Dramatic Movies

 The Descendants

 

2011 R

Hawaii is the setting for the movie The Descendants. It is based on a novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The movie stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller. There are other supporting roles with actors Nick Krause, Beau Bridges and Robert Forster.

The storyline is this: The story follows Hawaii-based lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) on his painful, yet often comedic quest to reunite his family after his wife suffers a tragic accident. The accident leaves his wife on life support. During his effort to mend his relationship with his estranged daughters, he’s also trying to decide whether to let go of some valuable family real estate.

Complications arise when he soon learns his wife was having an affair prior to her accident. He then goes searching for, and stalking the man who was having the affair with his wife. He meets the man’s wife on one of the islands resort area beaches striking up a conversation whereby he ultimately uses false pretenses to enter their home, and confront the woman’s husband. George Clooney received a nomination for best male actor at the Academy Awards Ceremony in 2012. This movie shows all of us just how fragile our relationships can become if we neglect those we love.

The Ledge

2011 R

This is an emotional and suspenseful movie with several complex issues tormenting most of the characters. It is an unusual, character-driven thriller that follows a young hotel manager Gavin (Charlie Hunnam), who steps out onto a high ledge to commit suicide. Liv Tyler, whose relationship with Gavin spells danger, co-stars. Flash backs tell the circumstances of what led the hotel manager to step out onto a ledge.

Once on the ledge, world-weary police officer Hollis (Terrence Howard) is assigned to talk him down but is terribly troubled by traumatic issues of his own. The men find themselves debating atheism, faith and the meaning of life, and soon are embroiled in a battle of wills that has each man questioning his commitment to his chosen path. The ending of the movie is powerful and worth spending time to watch. Overall, this was one of the most dramatic soul-searching movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

A Better Life

2011 (PG-13)

Directed by Chris Weitz, this movie is an emotional drama which takes place in East Los Angeles, California. It is gritty and candid and heartfelt as it showcases the life of a struggling and good-intentioned Mexican immigrant gardener, Carlos.

The movie tracks the relationship and conflicts between Carlos and his teenage son, Luis. One of the biggest conflicts relates to Carlos trying to interest his son in earning an honest living rather than drifting into the East L.A. gang scene.

The movie sports a number of talented actors including Demian Bichir, Jose Julian, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio, Nancy Lennnehan, Isabelle Rae Thomas, Rolando Molina, Magi Avila, and Chelsea Rendon.

Given the social poignancy of the story and the real life conflicts being dealt with, I personally would give this movie 4 stars by itself. But since the character development and the acting quality were far and away superior in delivery to a movie audience, I am very comfortable in giving this movie—5 Stars.

J. Edgar

2011 R

This is another contribution to the movie industry and cinematic history by outstanding film director Clint Eastwood. The iconic figure as an actor, director, and producer, has created a multiplicity of highly popular and engaging movies during the last four decades. Clint Eastwood continues to give an audience fine, outstanding, entertaining movies of the highest quality. With the movie J. Edgar he delivers again. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this riveting biopic as J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime FBI director, as notorious for his overzealous methods of law enforcement as for the rumors regarding his cross-dressing and close relationship with protégé Clyde Tolson.

J. Edgar Hoover was a very complex person being petulant in his dealings with other government officials and, at times, was jealous of his own staff.  He was a bit of a rattlesnake when it came to keeping dossiers of presidents of the United States, people in Congress, and other high level officials. The movie depicts Hoover as an egotistical, self-serving, narcissistic product of an over-controlling mother who fostered a momma boy’s syndrome on her son for most of his life.

Nevertheless, Hoover transformed for the better law enforcement at all levels in this country with his desire to bring the scientific study of crime into the 20th Century. As a result he elevated the status of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the top, most renowned law enforcement agency in the country.

Besides Leonardo DiCaprio the cast includes: Naomi Watts, Arnie Hammer, Josh Lucus (The Firm), Judi Dench, Dermot Mulroney, Lea Thompson, Miles Fischer, Ed Westwick, Jeffery Donovan (Burn Notice), and Stephen Root. If you like movies with a 20th century background and context—this is your movie.

The Confession

 

2011 NR

This movie stars Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt in one of the most compelling, stimulating movies to come along in a very long time. It is cerebral, gritty, and suspenseful. The movie bears a similarity in character to a movie made many years ago called, “My Dinner with Andre (1981).”  Although the issues are different between these two movies, the “talking heads” nature of the dialogue makes it seem like an onstage theatre production.

In the Confession, issues of religion and faith, e.g., reality versus the superstitious cultural beliefs of religion, are explored and played out in a drama between an angst-ridden hit man who confesses his bloody sins to an astonished priest, and their urgent debate about the ethics of his profession prompts the hired killer to reflect on the many violent episodes of his life. Directed by Brad Mirman, this movie fits into many categories including Action & Adventure, Thrillers, Crime Action & Adventure, and Crime Thriller. There are several twists in this movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you are looking for something very different, yet entertaining, you will enjoy this movie.

Best Independent Movie

The Visitor

2007 PG-13

This is a heartfelt, feel good drama of great social significance and is played out in the City of New York. The storyline goes like this:

A poignant human drama, The Visitor stars the unheralded Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale, a college professor and recent widower, who discovers a pair of illegal aliens living in his New York apartment. After the mix-up is cleared up, Vale invites the couple–a young, Syrian musician (Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend (Danai Gurira) to stay with him for a few days. An unlikely friendship develops between the withdrawn Vale and the lively Tarek. Through Tarek’s drumming lessons, the former begins to find excitement in his life once again, as if something in him was waiting to be liberated had finally arrived.

One day, Tarek is arrested by immigration authorities and threatened with deportation. Vale soon realizes his unexpected capacity for anger over Tarek’s plight. Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor is a wonderful story about change and renewal. Hiam Abbass co-stars as Tarek’s mother, who forges an unlikely connection with Walter when Tarek is thrown into a detention center. Richard Jenkin’s performance was brilliant in his low key performance.

Part of being an adult in this society is to constantly re-examine one’s own biases and convictions regarding any topic or current event. Many people are fixated unfortunately in the abstract what they would never consider where actual flesh and blood people are concerned. Let us all remember that there is a very human side with consequences for those who break our national laws of sovereignty.

What makes this movie so good is that it shows the very real side of the immigration issue. The movie places immigration as a social issue under the microscope through the lives of the movie’s characters. Bravo!!!

 Best Foreign Movie

City of Life and Death

 

 2009 R

Be forewarned—this movie is violent, emotional, and dark. It is also my recommendation as the best foreign film that I watched during the last 12 months. It reveals a part of world history few Americans have a full understanding of or appreciation.  Director Chuan Lu pulls off a rare feat by providing a clear-eyed drama about an event in Chinese-Japanese history — the 1937 Rape of Nanking following that city’s capture by Japan– that still casts a shadow over relations between the countries.

Shot in black and white, the film chronicles the six-week period through the eyes of multiple characters — including a Japanese soldier, a refugee camp supervisor, a resistance fighter and others. Some 70 years after it made world news, the story of Nanjing (formerly NanKing) has begun to re-emerge in fiction and nonfiction books and films, including Iris Chang’s 1997, “Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” the first full-length history in English.

Written and directed by Lu Chaun, “City of Life and Death” hews close to the account that Ms. Chang (an American whose grandparents fled Nanjing before the siege) culled from survivors and other sources.

This is a powerful movie not to be taken lightly. It will produce anguish in you the viewer. Sometimes movies can seem very real. But remember this—the actual traumatic barbaric events depicted in City of Life and Death were probably even worse than the movie reveals itself.

Other Highly Recommended Movies

Feel Good Movies

Soul Surfer

Dolphin Tale

We Bought a Zoo

Drama

The Double

Hanna

Margin Call

Five Days of War
Quality Foreign Films

Max Manus

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Circumstance
Recommended Guy Flicks

Fast Five

Tactical Force

Super 8

S.W.A.T.: Fire Fight

Pirates of the Caribbean

Sinners and Saints

Assassination Games

Straw Dogs

Arena

Killer Elite

Hard Wired

Last Man Standing

Recommended Chic Flicks

One Day

The Other Woman
Fine Family Entertainment Movies

Hugo

Zookeeper

Rango

Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Adventures of Tin Tin

 

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