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Some Good Movies

For Your Entertainment Pleasure

Introduction

It has been almost a year since I posted a Blog of movie reviews. Last time I selected Mao’s Last Dancer as my selection for Best Movie, and Warrior as Best Action Movie. I hope my cyberspace audience has had a chance by now to see these two outstanding movies.

Every movie I’m about to report on I have seen in the last 12 months. In my review I found a “real sleeper” that may have eluded audiences everywhere; however I found the movie to be a catch-your-breath, heart pounding, and a very entertaining movie. This movie sleeper is Premium Rush; it’s a better watch than a lot of other action-packed movies. So get your popcorn and soda and join me now as I review my movie selections for this year. Hollywood producers and a few movie-makers elsewhere in the world deserve a great deal of credit for creating and bringing to the screen a lot of very good movies—all in such a short period of time. Kudos to Hollywood’s brightest and most talented. Who are the most talented, best actors in Hollywood or on TV these days? In my humble opinion—it is Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Damian Lewis, Josh Lucas, and Johnny Lee Miller. Unlike our Congress recently, these people actually get something of value done right.

 

Best Movie

Les Misérables

2012

 

PG-13

Les Miserables, first produced for the stage in 1985, is the dramatic musical version of Victor Hugo’s epic tale of love and sacrifice. It now receives the big-screen treatment that was par excellence. The bloody era of the French Revolution is the backdrop to Jean Valjean’s long struggle for redemption. Hugh Jackman plays the role of Valjean supported by a cast of top-flight actors including Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkenson, Bertie Carveir and Tom Hooper.  

The music in this film is without equal, and the performances were brilliantly played out with plot and story line. Each actor’s singing ability was also simply outstanding. The cast was an excellent blend and each actor/singer shined in every way. One could argue that no movie ever meets a perfect standard for excellence. And such argument would be wrong because Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, and Amanda Seyfried’s performances, along with the movie’s directorial genius and superb casting, created a picture that redefines what a perfect standard of excellence really is all about. In fact, this movie is far and away better than any musical I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a number of good ones). And, it is clear that newcomer actor/singer Eddie Redmayne has a bright future indeed. See this movie and judge for yourself. My judgment is that this is one very outstanding movie. Bravo!

 

Best Action Movies

There are two movies this year I have selected for this category. Both were equally outstanding movies.

 

The Expendables II

2012

R

In this high-octane thriller, Mr. Church brings the Expendables back together for an easy job — but things go wrong, and one of the mercenaries is brutally murdered. Now the band of hired guns goes on a mission of revenge in hostile territory. This action Thriller is a real delight for movie-goers who like action-packed movies with an all-cast of super heroes including Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Liam Hemsworth. Simon West directed this movie that is both violent and exciting. If you like special effects and great fight scenes this movie is right for you.

Skyfall

 

2012

PG-13

When a serious menace threatens MI6, James Bond is on the case — putting aside his own life and personal issues to hunt and obliterate the perpetrators. Meanwhile, secrets arise from M’s past that strain Bond’s loyalty to his longtime boss. The cast in this movie include: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, and Ola Rapace. The movie is directed by Sam Mendes. The opening scene in this movie is exciting and catches your attention right away. It was used in the trailer precisely because it is tense, exciting, violent, and captures the long tradition in Bond movies of great special effects, heart-pounding action, mixed with the particular uniqueness of the James Bond character. Every actor who has ever played James Bond has left his own indelible fingerprints on all the action and excitement in every Bond Flick. Daniel Craig is no exception. His uniqueness gives a harder edge to most Bond characters. I’m not going to give away the ending of the movie, but rest assured James Bond’s relationship with his longtime boss M will change forever.

 

Best Family Entertainment Movies

Everybody loves a good family entertainment movie. This last year three such movies caught my attention. They are Red Dog, Trouble with the Curve, and the Magic of Belle Island.

 

Red Dog

2012

PG

Are you sentimental and love dogs? If you do, this is a really fine Australian movie for the entire family to watch. Kids will especially love this movie. This is the emotional story of a legendary, lovable canine that roams the outback and finds his way into the hearts of each and every person he meets along the way. He brings people together, helping some find love and others to find themselves. Toward the end of this movie you may find yourself misty-eyed and sad. I say “Good.” It means you share something in common with Red Dog: You are as human as Red Dog and he is as human as you.

The cast include: Rachael Taylor, Josh Lucas, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Eamon Farren, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Luke Ford, Paul Blackwell, Bill Hunter, and John Batchelor.

Trouble with the Curve

2012

PG-13

Slowed by age and failing eyesight, crack baseball scout Gus Lobel takes his grown daughter along as he checks out the final prospect of his career. Along the way, the two renew their bond, and she catches the eye of a young player-turned-scout. The cast includes the iconic Clint Eastwood as scout Gus Lobel. Other actors include: Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Scott Eastwood, Joe Massingill, Matt Bush, and Chelcie Ross. Robert Lorenz directed. Who is my favorite Hollywood person of all time? It is Clint Eastwood who is an American actor, director, producer, and composer. I have this opinion of Clint primarily because of his lifetime legacy of acting/and or directing in such great  movies as: Escape from Alcatraz, In the Line of Fire, Heartbreak Ridge, Firefox, Honkytonk Man, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Crime,  Play  Misty for Me (the first movie he ever directed as well as acted in), Grand Torino, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Hang ‘Em High, Million Dollar Baby, Blood Work, Unforgiven, (Dirty Harry, of course) and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (and folks, this last movie was not named after the Republican Party).

 I also liked Invictus, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, and Mystic River. I first became aware of Clint in his uncredited minor roles in the 1955 movie’s Tarantula and Revenge of the Creature. His first minor credited role was in Francis in the Navy (also 1955). He is now in his 7th decade as a Hollywood icon, legend and superstar.

On May 31st, 2013 Clint Eastwood will be 83 years old. Trouble with the Curve is his latest acting/directorial contribution to Hollywood, and to all of us movie-goers. If longevity and tenacity were one and the same, one thing would be for certain, Trouble with the Curve is his latest movie, but I seriously doubt it will be his last.         

 

The Magic of Belle Isle

2012

PG

After alcoholism depletes his enthusiasm for writing, celebrated author Monte Wildhorn finds his creative passion renewed when he moves to quaint Belle Isle and gets to know his next door neighbors — a single mother (played by Virginia Madsen) and her three daughters. The relationship Monte Wildhom has with the middle daughter is special and touching. This is the best feel good movie in the last 12 months.

It is also one of the best family entertainment films as well. Morgan Freeman (otherwise known as God or Mr. President from some of his prior roles) is the consummate “good guy” whose laid-back, yet highly intelligent mature view of the world in his characters endears himself to audiences everywhere. We love Morgan Freeman in his role when he plays a writer coming to grips with his own dormant, yet highly respected and acclaimed successful career as one of the finest authors or writers of his generation. Insights into the human condition abound everywhere in this movie.

Enjoy your visit to Belle Isle and see first-hand the magic unfold as engaging characters interact with one another with love, and personal triumph of the spirit. This movie was directed by Rob Reiner. This is definitely a feel good movie that will appeal to all family members over the age of 8.   

The cast include: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Emma Fuhrmann, Nicolette Pierini, Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard, Ash Christian, Jessica Hecht, Boyd Holbrook, Debargo Sanyal, and  Kevin Pollack

 

 

Best Dramatic Movies

Argo

2012

R

In 1979, when Iranian militants seize the American embassy, six Americans slip into the Canadian embassy for protection, prompting the CIA to concoct an elaborate plot to rescue them by pretending that they are filmmakers rather than diplomats.

As a movie experience this is one of the most intensely dramatic portrayals of what actually took place in Iran the mass imprisonment of staff from American Embassy. The tension watching this movie will cause you to sit on the edge of your seat throughout the entire movie.

This movie is very exciting as a political thriller (despite the fact most of the audience know the outcome of the story in real life). Ben Affleck does a really outstanding performance as a CIA operative, and John Goodman and Alan Arkin give a real nice acting touch to the events surrounding the creation of a “Fake” movie. In real life the script used for the Fake movie was called (you guessed it), not surprisingly—Argo.

I watched this movie and enjoyed it very much; I think you will too. I don’t care what the Academy did or didn’t do. Ben Affleck has certainly proven himself as both an actor and as a director, and it’s time Hollywood accord him the respect he certainly has earned. The cast include: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Keith Szarabajka, Bob Gunton, Richard Kind, Taylor Schilling, Adrienne Barbeau

Lincoln

2012

PG-13

Director Steven Spielberg takes on the towering legacy of Abraham Lincoln, focusing on his stewardship of the Union during the Civil War years. The biographical saga also reveals the conflicts within Lincoln’s cabinet regarding the war and abolition.

This movie is a political drama that certainly drove home the message that things got done in Congress in the 1860s by extreme patronage (i.e., said another way—votes were simply bought and paid for). And President Lincoln was very much the driving force for such patronage when it came to guaranteeing that the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution to end slavery would not simply fall by the wayside just because the South was about to surrender and hostilities come to an end. The war that was supposed to last just six weeks lasted four years. The country was tired of the war, and there was a terrible loss of more than 600,000 soldiers on both sides.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the finest actors of our time and I think casting him in the role of Abraham Lincoln was a very smart choice. Daniel Day-Lewis deserved to win Best Actor in 2013 and Tommy Lee Jones certainly earned his nomination as Best Supporting Actor as well. Sally Field also gave to her Best Actress nomination role as Mary Lincoln an outstanding performance. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this movie. All audiences will enjoy this movie. There are no huge battleground scenes in the movie. The primary thrust of the movie (like talking heads in a stage play) was character interaction and Lincoln’s determination to do the right thing by the country by ending the evil of slavery. The cast include: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, John Hawkes, Jared Harris, Joseph Cross, Tim Blake Nelson, David Oyelowo, and Bruce McGill.

 

Life of Pi

2012

PG

This movie is based on Yann Martel’s best-selling novel. It is a coming-of-age tale that recounts the adventures of Pi, an Indian boy who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with only some zoo animals for company. Pi shares his boat with another main character in the movie—a huge Bengal Tiger that licks his chops all the time hoping to eat Pi.

This movie was directed by Ang Lee and you will find it very exciting, imaginative, and suspenseful throughout the entire movie. There are many plot twists and the story unravels in such a way as to produce the feeling that there is sometimes a really fine line between reality and hallucination.

I won’t reveal the ending, but think about the effect of lengthy extreme deprivation on a person who is trying to survive at sea. The Cinematography in this movie was also breath-taking at times.

The cast include: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli, Vibish Sivakumar, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu

Best Sleeper Movie

Premium Rush

2012

PG-13

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger whose routine “premium rush” run turns into a life or death chase through the streets of Manhattan after a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) becomes desperate to get his hands on the package.

Split second timing doesn’t begin to describe the harrowing accident-prevention mindset of the lead character (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he navigates through the outlandishly busy streets of Manhattan. There are no rush hours in New York because busy streets everywhere operate and congest practically 24/7.

I’ve been to the Big Apple twice in my life, and my reaction was the same both times: Like a human being “A City that never sleeps” is always one that is perpetually too tired and cranky all the time (Thus undesirable as a place anyone would seriously consider living).Sorry New Yorkers! But one would have to be out of their mind to actually want to live there.

Strangely enough, Manhattan is a character in this movie. Beyond the story line (which was well written) the City itself is the backdrop for all the action. Without revealing too much, I want to say that Chinese immigration issues and criminal activity have a bearing on the various plot twists in the story.

Like I said, as a movie-goer, you will find yourself glued to this movie once it starts. It is my recommendation for “Sleeper movie” of this last year. The movie was directed by David Koepp. The cast include: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jamie Chung, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Aasif Mandvi, Aaron Tveit

Best Animated Movie

Brave

2012

PG

Scottish princess Merida uses her archery skills to establish her independence, but when she accidentally angers the ancient land’s three powerful lords and is granted a poorly conceived wish by a witch, she must go on a quest to repair the damage.

You might think that animated features these days like Brave are made primarily for children. Nothing could be further from the truth; these movies are rated PG but intended for an adult-paying movie-goer. That’s alright! Animated features are some of the very best movies made today.  This particular animated feature is exciting, imaginative, and also falls into the category of a “feel Good” movie.

The cast include: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Eilidh Fraser, and Sally Kinghom.

 

Best Foreign Movies

The Big Picture

(L’homme Qui Voulait Vivre Sa Vie)

2010

NR

This rather dark movie, directed by Eric Lartigau, is best described as a French psychological thriller. Put your sub-titles on as the language is French. There is lots of suspense and many plot twists during this movie that will keep you wondering what will happen next. What sets this movie apart as one of my two choices for Best Foreign movie is the clever use of dialogue mixed with a storyline that weaves in and out between truthfulness and outright lying   The basic story line is this: Successful Paris attorney Paul Exben (Romain Duris) has everything going for him, including power, wealth and a picture-perfect family. But the mirror suddenly cracks when Paul discovers that his wife, Sarah, is carrying on an affair with a photographer. After a tragic error closes the door on all that he’s achieved, Paul makes a fateful decision to escape, fleeing abroad to try and begin a new life as someone else altogether.

The cast include: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Eilidh Fraser, and Sally Kinghom.

A Separation

(Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)

2011

PG-13

This movie, spoken in Farsi, gives one a modern-day “look-see” into the emotional lives of an Iranian husband and wife. She wants to leave the country with the family but he does not. The husband and wife cannot come to an agreement and end up splitting over his decision to stay and care for his aging father instead of leaving the country with his family.

However, his fateful choice to hire a stranger to do most of the caretaking breeds unexpected consequences. One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is how individual Iranians handle conflict with the legal system. There are no heroes or villains in this movie, only the complex interplay of personalities that clash with one another, against the backdrop of Iranian social and legal customs. Were it not for the fact that The Big Picture above was such an equally engrossing movie, I would have picked A Separation as Best Foreign Movie this last year.

The cast includes: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Merila Zarei, Ali-Asghar Shahbaz, Babak Karimi, Kimia Hosseini, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, and Sahabanu Zolghadr. The film is directed by Asghar Farhadi.

Other Highly Recommended Movies

 

Fine Family Entertainment Movies

The First Time

The Ultimate Gift

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

Dramas

Django Unchained

Flight

Alex Cross

Assassin’s Bullets

A Dark Truth

End of Watch

The Dark Night Rises

Quality Foreign Films

In the Land of Blood and Honey

The Flowers of War

Recommended Guy Flicks

Death Race 3: Inferno

The Bourne Legacy

Dredd

Taken 2

John Carter

Soldiers of Fortune

Recommended Chic Flicks

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Water for Elephants

Recommended Historical Flicks

The Impressionists, Disc 1, 2006

The Impressionists, Disc 2, 2006

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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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More Recommended Movies

For many of us movies are an important part of our entertainment. Consequently, from time-to-time, I like to review movies I’ve seen that I think other people might find worthwhile and entertaining. At this time I am reviewing and commenting on 11 movies for your consideration.

Some of these movies may have fallen below your radar screen, while others you may have already seen. If you’ve seen some of my recommended movies you might want to pass them along to your friends and family. I watch a lot more movies than I should, but the following movies I consider worth your time to watch:

My Name is Kahn

Marmaduke

Secret of the Grain

Freud (Volume 1 and 2, BBC America)

Extraordinary Measures

The Pacific (TV Mini Series)

Knight and Day

Secretariat

Cowboys and Aliens

John Adams

The Way Back

 

MY NAME IS KAHN (2010)

 

My Name is Kahn is a great eye-opening movie. It reveals many truths American society has difficulty facing. We are the greatest country
on earth, but we seem to have a conservative “political blindness” that seems to mar and denigrate the dignity, honor, and integrity of American society.

The plot is as follows:  Rizwan Kahn is a Muslim man (Shahrukh Khan), with Asperger syndrome; He lives happily with his wife, Mandira (Kajol), in San Francisco until a tragedy drives her away after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He then goes on a quest to recapture the heart of the woman he loves. Traveling across America, Rizwan faces prejudice because of his religion and unusual behavior, but he also inspires the people he meets with his unique outlook on life.

This was one of the most interesting movies on the paranoia that can follow tragic events in a society. In a larger context it reminded me of the total suspension of civil rights of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. History does unfortunately seem to repeat itself, implying that institutions and people fail to put continuously into action the highest ideals of a freedom-loving democratic society.

This movie reflects just one more account of the many failures of the Bush Administration during both Katrina and the War on Terror. Similar parallels to the movie My Name is Kahn can be found in Dave Eggers book, zeitoun.One day there will be an accounting of the Crimes against Humanity committed during the Bush Administration and by the CIA going back nearly 65 years. Let’s all hope that the day of judgment and retribution for those involved in such crimes comes sooner rather than later.

 

Marmaduke (2010)

The animated character Marmaduke is based on a comic strip drawn by Brad Anderson (and creatively helped by Phil Leeming) going back to 1954. The plot goes something like this: When Phil and Debbie Winslow (Lee Pace and Judy Greer) relocate from their native Kansas to the sunny climes of Orange County, their big-hearted, havoc-wreaking Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) gets a taste of the dog’s life, california-style.

Featuring the voices of Emma Stone, George Lopez and Steve Coogan, this family comedy blends live action and computer animation to bring the-beloved, if slobbery, comic-strip mutt to life. I really enjoyed this movie and, if you have small children, this makes for great
entertainment.

When my kids were young we’d all watch cartoons regularly on a Saturday morning, like Scooby-Doo. When my kids would leave the room I’d still sit there watching the cartoons. There is something very amusing about animated features and other make-believe movie creations that I enjoy. I can’t figure out what it is—-maybe unless it’s because I’m really a big kid at heart. That must be the reason. How do I know
this? After more than 60+ years—I still hum and sing musical tunes from “The Wizard of Oz.”

 

SECRET OF THE GRAIN (2007)

 

This was a very entertaining foreign movie. The plot goes something like this:After working in the shipyard for 35 years in the French port town of Sète, Tunisian immigrant Slimane (Habib Boufares) takes his severance pay and pursues his impossibly expensive dream of opening a couscous restaurant.

His only hope lies in his fractured family, including his mistress, Lilia (Leila D’Issernio), her entrepreneurial daughter, Rym (Hafsia Herzi), and his ex-wife and ace couscous cook, Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk). in this César-winning drama.

From an American point of view it is rewarding to watch a movie that reveals just how similar people really are from one culture to
another. We all have our dreams, and we are all very human in our abilities and our frailties. I enjoyed this movie very much; I hope you will too.

Awards and nominations for
this movie:

 

César Award,
2008:

  • Best French Film
  • Best Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Best Original Screenplay: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Most Promising Actress: Hafsia Herzi

Antalya Golden
Orange Film Festival, 2007

  • Best Director (Eurasia Film Festival): Abdellatif Kechiche

Venice Film
Festival, 2007:

  • Special Jury Prize (ex-æquo / tie, with I’M Not There)
  • Marcello Mastroianni Prize (for actor or actress in a début role): Hafsia
    Herzi
  • SIGNIS Award – Honorable Mention: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Nominated: Golden Lion

Louis Delluc
Prize, 2007

 

FREUD (VOLUME 1 AND 2)
—BBC
AMERICA (TV Series, 1984)

David Suchet (who is absolutely brilliant) offers up an award-winning performance with his portrayal of Dr. Sigmund Freud in this 1984
BBC miniseries tracing the life and career of the founder of psychoanalysis, from his early professional days until his death.

The production also features Michael Pennington as Freud’s nemesis, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung; Helen Bourne as his wife, Martha
Bernays; Suzanne Bertish as his sister-in-law; and Alison Key as his daughter, Anna.

People with some knowledge of Sigmund Freud must be aware that Freud’s daughter, Anna, not only followed in her father’s footsteps, but
distinguished herself as a pioneer in her own right in the field of child psychiatry and psychology. People may disagree with this but Anna, like her father before her, created knowledge and insights into human behavior that have withstood the test of time.

For those less interested in the intellectual nature of Freud’s work will nevertheless be entertained by the complex personal life of
Freud the man. In addition, watching this movie once again helps people become aware of the sheer excitement that science and discovery itself generates. Whatever your movie watching expectations are, believe me when I say—there is something for everyone in this BBC miniseries.

 

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES
(2010)

After their two young children are diagnosed with a rare genetic disease for which conventional medicine has no cure, John (Brendan
Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) pin their hopes on the work of unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford). Director Tom Vaughan’s heartfelt drama is based on the true story of the Crowley family, as chronicled by journalist Geeta Anand in her book The Cure.

I think anyone who has children can identify with the struggles people sometimes have to endure when their children are sick. This
movie is more than entertainment; it will make you feel deeply about what is going on emotionally in each of the characters. I’d say it’s best to keep a Kleenex box close by while watching this movie.

 

THE PACIFIC (TV Mini
Series, 2010)

 

This companion piece to HBO’s hit Band of Brothers follows three World War II Marines — Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), Robert Leckie
(James Badge Dale) and John Basilone (Jon Seda) — through harrowing battles in the Pacific theater, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Based on memoirs by Sledge and Leckie and produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, the miniseries racked up eight Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe nod. This was one of the finest mini series I have ever seen whose equals might include Roots, Shogun, and The Winds of War.

The Pacific TV Mini Series was created in exacting detail, and gives a clear message to younger generations why it was Americans during
the Depression Era and World War II just might really be—The Greatest Generation.

 

KNIGHT AND DAY (2010)

Perpetually unlucky in love, June (Cameron Diaz) becomes intrigued by a mysterious man (Tom Cruise), who unexpectedly drags her into a
whirlwind adventure involving devious enemies, life-threatening confrontations and a major discovery that may alter the future of humankind. Directed by James Mangold, this exhilarating action-comedy also features Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Maggie Grace and Viola Davis.

A movie really needs to be evaluated for its cleverness of plot, how well actors “act,” impact on the audience, historical importance if
applicable, and that “X” factor that can’t be quantified. Whether you think an actor is a complete and total moron in his personal life (not you Cameron) shouldn’t cloud your judgment when evaluating movies. Therefore, I have to say that the acting was very good, action was fast-paced, and the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz really worked. This was a fun-to-watch escapist movie. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are really outstanding as actors. For several of these reasons I do recommend people see the movie.

 

SECRETARIAT (2010)

When Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father’s thoroughbred stable, she transforms from housewife to horse breeder — and owner of the colt that will take the 1973 Triple Crown — in this dramatic biopic. The film explores Chenery’s bond
with “Big Red” and depicts her rise to greatness as the “first lady of racing.” John Malkovich plays trainer Lucien Laurin, and Fred Dalton
Thompson co-stars as big-shot breeder Bull Hancock. People are often stumped when asked, “Who is the greatest athlete of all time?” They say things like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jim Brown, or Michael Jordon. Wrong! Wrong! The greatest athlete of all time was the four-legged racing horse—Secretariat. I watched that day in June 1973 when Secretariat won the Triple Crown. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
This horse didn’t win by a nose or a much faster 1-2 lengths. Secretariat won by 31 lengths—a nearly impossible feat. I remember jumping up and down with excitement in my living room as this occurred. This would be the equivalent of an Olympic athlete running the 100 yard dash in 7 and a half seconds. Incredible, just incredible.

Even if you don’t like horse racing this movie is a triumph of the spirit. It is entertaining and is my pick as one of the very best entertaining
movies of 2010. 

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011)

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel series leaps to the screen as amnesiac gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the
Wild West town of Absolution, where he’s confronted by potent enemy Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and a terrifying problem: invading aliens. Aided by the lovely Ella (Olivia Wilde), Jake rallies a posse of the townspeople, Dolarhyde’s minions and local Apache warriors to
fight off the extraterrestrial threat. Before watching this movie I thought “Cowboys and Aliens”—is this some sort of joke?  Well, far from it. I saw this on the large screen in a theater (which I recommend you do) and thought to myself this movie is again a graphic visual testimony to the genius of Steven Spielberg. Special effects were fantastic.

 

JOHN ADAMS (2008)

Paul Giamatti shines in the title role of this epic Emmy and Golden Globe winner that recounts the life of founding father John Adams
as revolutionary leader, America’s first ambassador to England, the first vice president and the second president. The iconic cast of
characters includes Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), George Washington (David Morse), Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) and Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson).

This is a mini-series that constantly reminds one just how incredibly lucky we are today to have had the kind of Founding Fathers who influenced our becoming the greatest democracy in the world. You don’t have to be a history buff to love this mini-series. Watch it; you’ll like it very much.

 

The Way Back (2010)

 

After narrowly escaping from a wretched World War II Siberian labor camp, a small band of multinational soldiers desperately
undertakes a harrowing journey to traverse Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas  on foot. This movie has a great cast including Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Dragos Bucur, Gustaf Shargard, Sebastian Urzendowsky, and Alexandru   Potocean.

The best way to watch this movie is from the comfort of your own home. Have food and drink nearby as you watch the horrendous conditions
people sometimes have to endure in life. I hate the extremes of cold or heat. This movie can make you feel uncomfortable to the extreme. Nevertheless, it is exciting, realistic, and is based on a true story from World War II. You might like to have a fan next to you as you
watch the characters cross the Gobi Desert and cover yourself with a blanket when they cross out of Siberia and later trek across the Himalayas. I never thought I could be so “suggestible” as an adult while watching a make-believe movie. Perhaps it is a real tribute to those who created The Way Back that I now have to reconsider my position on that.

Early in 2012, I’ll bring you again more movies to consider. In the meantime, enjoy your time at the movies.

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In this Blog I’m making a recommendation for eleven movies to see and a couple of really neat places to visit. If you can take time from your busy schedule I’m sure you will be thoroughly rewarded for time well spent. 

 

Back in June, 2010 I recommended a few great movies including: Uncle Nino, Somewhere in Time, Where the Heart is, and Taking Chance. I hope you’ve had a chance to see them. From time-to-time I plan to share with you other movies I think you would really enjoy and find entertaining. Recently, I watched all of the movies I’ve listed below. They are very much worth your taking the time to see them. These movies are all 4-star plus movies in my book.

 

Three out of these eleven movies I recommend are about artists. Yeah! It’s true. I really identify with the artists of this world and have a real undying respect for their work. When some producer is willing to do a movie (usually some form of biography about an artist) I’m always one of the firsts to watch it. I like to see movies on the “Big Screen” but the last few years I do that less often because movie houses like to charge a trillion dollars for a bag of popcorn, not including a diet coke.

 

My Recommendations

 

Serious Drama 

 

Stolen

 

A detective deals with the loss of his own son while trying to uncover the identity of a boy whose mummified remains are found in a box buried for fifty years (2008). Josh Lucas is outstanding in his role, as are James Van Der Beek and Jon Hamm. This is a powerful, emotional movie that will cause you to feel the fear a parent would have with a child who has been kidnapped.

 

Bordertown

 

The film (2006) is based upon a true story surrounding the multiple murders of young women in Juarez, Chihuahua. Those of you who read my Blog on the Hidden Side of Immigration will immediately recognize the infamous nature of the city of Juarez, Mexico. In the movie two men brutally rape a young woman by the name of Eva Jimenez (Maya Zapata) and leave her for dead. She wakes up in, and crawls out of, her own grave.

Lauren Adrian who is played by Jennifer Lopez is an American journalist from the Chicago Sentinel who is assigned to cover the story of the murders in Juarez. Lauren is haunted by terrible memories of her own while she helps Eva, the only surviving victim.

Lauren is determined to catch Eva’s rapist. With the help of Eva and a Mexican newspaper editor Alfonso Diaz, (Antonio Banderas), Lauren goes undercover and poses as a Mexican worker to identify and trap the rapists. As she discovers hundreds of victims, she gains the trust of local factory workers but becomes a target herself. They catch one of the rapists, but the other escapes.  Then, only days before Eva is to testify against the rapist, Lauren is forced to leave Juarez to try to have her story published.

With Lauren gone, Eva flees to the United States but is caught by the border police and returned to Juarez. Lauren returns and while looking for Eva, encounters the rapist instead.

 

 

The Stoning of Soraya M.

 

This is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I’ve seen in a very long time. It is a drama set in Iran in 1986 and is centered on a man, Sahebjam, whose car breaks down in a remote village and enters into a conversation with Zahra, who tells him a story about her niece, Soraya, whose arranged marriage to an abusive tyrant led to a tragic ending. Without reading the credits, see if you can recognize at the beginning of the movie the actor who plays Sahebjam. I was not aware of who he was until the end credits; see if you can do better.

 

Green Zone

 

This movie is about discovering covert and faulty intelligence information. It causes a U.S. Army Officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in an unstable region.

The 2010 movie stars Matt Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson who plays Baghdad CIA Bureau Chief, Martin Brown. There are many good performances in this movie but Damon and Gleeson really stand out as two terrific actors. The recent historical back story to the movie’s plot makes it both intriguing and thought provoking. If you like action movies as I do you’ll find watching this movie very rewarding, and sobering at the same time in terms of its recent historical content.

 

Gran Torino

 

Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed) is an embittered Korean War veteran who just lost his wife. He finds himself in the middle of a changing world. The formerly all-white neighborhood he once lived in is now mostly Southeast Asian and he has a Hmong family living next door. On his own family front he doesn’t get along with his sons, and is out of touch with his grandchildren, all of whom seem more interested in getting his house than anything else.

But Walt’s greatest interest is in his mint condition, 1972 Gran Torino. When the Hmong teenager next door, Thao, is challenged in a gang initiation ritual by his cousin and other gang members, to steal the Gran Torino, Walt nearly shoots him.

Soon, however, Walt realizes that he has more in common with his neighbors than with his own family, he becomes something of a neighborhood hero when he prevents gangbangers from forcing Thao into their car. He gradually takes Thao under his wing, teaching him a few things about life and helps get him a job.

Walt’s intervention has a price when the gang shoots up Thao’s house, and attacks his sister. Walt is determined to take action.

The script writing is fabulous and the script’s unexpected ending testifies to that fact. I’ve always liked Clint Eastwood for all his many roles and movies he directed and acted in. Clint Eastwood is now 80, and has seen and done it all in Hollywood.

 I like him best as an actor; others appreciate his ability as a movie director.  But by far his greatest talent is his uncanny ability to sniff out what makes a good story, and his story-telling genius that helps him translate a good story (David Baldacci’s Absolute Power comes to mind) into a great movie. And, for that reason above all else, I think you will see what makes Gran Torini a great movie, and top-notch entertainment.

 

 

Georgia O’Keefe

 

This movie is about American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (2009). Joan Allen gives a nice performance in the movie as her subtle acting qualities gives the movie a nice handling touch to her dialogue in the script. There is an underlying tone of sadness to the story of Georgia O’Keefe.

You may come away with a different assessment than I did, but I felt that Stieglitz and O’Keefe absolutely loved each other but whose inner self-directed personalities made it impossible for them to live together. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not all that uncommon today. Opposite her (playing Stieglitz) is Jeremy Irons, who has always been a first rate actor and is very convincing in his role as the self-centered jackass.

 

Little Ashes

 

In the years that followed after World War I, life and values were changing in Europe. Spain during the decade of the 1920s was no exception. In 1922, Madrid was wavering on the edge of change as traditional values were challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde. During this year Salvador Dali arrived at the university. He was 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracted the attention of two of the university’s social elite – Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunel. Dali is absorbed into their youthfully decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico became a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However, as time passed, Salvador felt an increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico – who is himself oblivious of the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Magdalena. In the face of his friends’ preoccupations – and Federico’s growing renown as a poet – Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. There are twists and turns in the lives of these three friends, but one of the turns made was totally unexpected for the famous Poet Lorca (2008).

 

 

Broken Trail (2 Discs—TV Miniseries)

 

Set in 1898, Print Ritter and his estranged nephew Tom Harte become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls. Ritter and Harte’s attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals who are intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes (2006).

In todays urban modern life most of us don’t even know our neighbors and seldom interact, positively or negatively. What I was struck by in this movie was the stark contrast in temperament in relationships during social interaction despite living in a rather harsh and sometimes dangerous violent environment. In 1898, there was a rather formal politeness and gentility (even unexpected tenderness) between men and women as reflected in language and custom. However, getting someone to talk about their inner feelings (usually for one another) was just as difficult a hundred plus years ago as it is now. Broken Trail was an award-winning miniseries on TV. As soon as you start watching it you’ll see why.

 

 

Feel Good Movies and Fine Family Entertainment

 

Blind Side

 

A homeless black teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) has drifted in and out of the school system for years. Then Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), take him in, transforming Michael’s life and theirs (2009).

This was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron are outstanding in their roles. This is one movie where I think the casting director was an unsung hero. All of the actors, including supporting actors, mesh very well together producing a kind of human chemistry that goes way beyond people coming together to act. All the characters in this movie really make the entire movie work extremely well.

 

 

My Kid Can Paint That

 

Don’t bet your life on that! Your kid can’t paint the way Marla Olmstead does today as a 10-year old, much less the way she did as a 4 year old when she became such a national sensation. I’ve reviewed the film, evaluated the controversy, and looked at her paintings. As an abstract artist myself I came away from this movie convinced that Marla Olmstead is indeed the real McCoy —Yes, Marla Olmstead is the real McCoy. She is a true prodigy of color, form, composition and line. Her abilities are not a function of learning how to do it; they are a function of her feeling how to do it. What Marla Olmstead composes with paint is like a great symphony; what most children do with a paint brush in their hands is a lot more like playing chop sticks, not a symphony. Innate abilities are in some of us. I have a close 70-year old friend who possesses natural gifts. He has the uncanny ability to draw cartoons with pen and ink, draw landscapes with a pencil, and do oil painting with tremendous visual clarity. Unfortunately, oil painting doesn’t come that easy to me. I don’t have natural gifts in art like my friend; I have to work very hard at my craft. Marla Olmstead, like my friend, does have innate natural abilities. Go to Marla Olmstead’s website and see her paintings, and painting style, firsthand. You will be rewarded many times over.  

 

 

Leap Year

 

A woman who has an elaborate scheme to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day, an Irish tradition which occurs every time the date February 29 rolls around, faces a major setback when bad weather threatens to derail her planned trip to Dublin. With the help of an innkeeper, however, her cross-country odyssey just might result in her getting engaged (2010). In many ways this movie reflects the age-old notion that opposites really do attract. This is a delightful movie and Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are a good match for these roles. I found Amy Adams, a red headed beauty, to be one actress worth watching. Her quirky yet innocent outlook on life and her adorable personality was very appealing in Leap Year. She has played other excellent roles in such movies as Enchanted (2007), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), Night at the Museum, (2009), Julie and Julia (2009), and Moonlight Serenade (2009).    

 

 

In Memoriam

 

Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

 

Tony Curtis passed away on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at the age of 85. He will be remembered for a long time and he will be missed by those among us who enjoy movies and what breathes life into any movie or book—great characters.

Tony Curtis was an American Icon of the Hollywood Movie Industry. I enjoyed watching him act and in fact first saw him while I was in High School. I enjoyed his seedy role as Sydney Falco in the drama, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) in which Actor Burt Lancaster also was very convincing as the “sleeze-ball” New York City Columnist, J.J. Hunsucker.

I later bought the music from the movie in an old vinyl 78 RPM album format. That album I still own today, having kept every record (all 500 of them) I ever owned. Two other favorites of mine are, Some Like it Hot (with Jack Lemmon), and The Pink Submarine where Tony Curtis played opposite another favorite actor of mine, Cary Grant.

During his career Tony Curtis was nominated for Best Actor in 1958 for The Defiant Ones opposite Sydney Portier, who also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe in 1968 for his role as Albert De Salvo in a very chilling movie, The Boston Strangler. The role he played as a psychopath was brilliant and demonstrated his great versatility as an actor for serious drama in addition to his outstanding performances in comedy roles.  How many of you remember his role as The Great Houdini with Janet Lee in 1953? I was 10 years old at the time and was captivated by all the stunts the real Houdini was capable of doing.   There are, and were, many great actors in Hollywood and elsewhere. For me, Tony Curtis has to be worldwide among those at the very top of the list.  

 

Full biographies of Tony Curtis’ film career can be found on the Internet if you are interested in more detail.

 

 

 

Some Fine Places to Visit

 

Two places I visited this year worthy of your time are the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California and the Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg along the California coast. These places are different venues but both are very enjoyable to see.

 

Charles M. Schultz Museum

 

Have you ever enjoyed the Peanuts comic strip and wondered about the cartoonist who could so easily translate all your feelings into a funny comment?  Then the Charles M. Schultz Museum will be worth a visit or two.  This museum used Schultz’s own comics to help chronicle his life and ideas.

 

In the museum are two scrapbooks which you can spend a lot of time reading. One scrapbook chronicles his life and family and one shows the history of his career.  It seems he wasn’t an overnight success.  This is amazing for a man who eventually won the Reuben Award for cartoonists not once, but twice.

 

Schultz once said that, “Drawing cartoons is a great way to share your ideas. A cartoonist is no different from any other type of artisthe or she wants to express him/herself. There is a joy in playing the piano or painting a wonderful watercolor. There is also a joy in communicating a thought, whether serious or funny, to another person (1996).” This museum is an enjoyable visit to the world of Schultz’s art.

 

Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge. On the north side of Santa Rosa, exit at Guerneville Road/Steele Lane. Turn left onto Steele Lane, then get into the right lane and stay there. Where the street splits, go straight ahead on West Steele Lane. After you cross Range Avenue and past the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, you’ll find the museum at the corner of West Steele Lane and Hardies Lane.

 

 

Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, California

 

 

Garden by the Sea…
A Rare Botanical Jewel on the
Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, California is one of the most beautiful, relaxing spots on this earth.  It has had many years to flourish since being founded in 1961. Financed through grants from the California Coastal Conservancy these gardens now have one of the best collections of coastal flora.

If you’ve always wanted to grow rhododendrons this is the place to visit. Here you can see almost limitless possibilities and varieties.  The rhododendrons grown here are species that are unique to Southeast Asia and the Himalyas and require a foggy coastal climate such as the one California has.  Take the time to enjoy these fabulous plants because many are rare and difficult to find in nurseries today.

One of my favorite spots is the cactus and succulent garden.  These are plants that can be grown in the dry inner valleys of California but evidently they can grow along the coast as well.  This section always makes me want to go home and plant a cactus.

A short walk will take you to the bluffs overlooking the ocean.  On a beautiful day the breeze and sunshine along the ocean can make the prairie grasses and stunted pine trees seem like the most beautiful view you’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing like a walk along the California coast, and if you keep your ears open, you can enjoy the bird sounds of over 150 bird species; more than you can spot.

I highly recommend an afternoon at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens even on a foggy dreary day.  It can lift your spirits and bring out the sunshine a little. But, above all, just enjoy yourself and soak up the ambience of a truly beautiful place on earth.

Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens yourself at:

http://www.gardenbythesea.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.home/index.htm 

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      Every once in a while I like to make recommendations to family and friends on movies I think they might really like. However, this is the very first time I’ve made such recommendations for movies on my blog. One of the movies recommended was released just last year; others were released in the last decade while one was released more than 30 years ago. Soon I’ll be embarking on a five-part series on Immigration, a very serious topic. Before getting personally wrapped up with that issue I’d like to recommend the following movies for your viewing pleasure:

Taking Chance

Uncle Nino

Where the Heart Is

Somewhere in Time

 

 Taking Chance

 Plot Summary for Taking Chance (2009)

     In April, 2004, casualties mount in Iraq. At Quantico, choices focus on increasing troop strength or only replacing casualties. Lt. Col. Mike Strobl (played by Kevin Bacon) crunches numbers. Stung by his superior’s rejection of his recommendation because he lacks recent combat experience, Strobl volunteers for escort duty, accompanying the remains of Pfc. Chance Phelps, killed at 19. From Dover to Philadelphia by hearse, from there to Minneapolis and on to Billings by plane, and then by car to Phelps’ Wyoming home – person after person pays respects. Kind words, small gifts, and gratitude are given Strobl to deliver to the family on this soul-searching journey. What are his own discoveries? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

 Uncle Nino

 Plot Summary for  Uncle Nino (2005)

      An elderly Italian peasant, Uncle Nino (Pierrino Mascarino) comes to America for the first time to spend some time with his nephew, Robert Micelli (Joan of Arcadia’s Joe Mantegna), and his family. With his violin, a suitcase full of homemade wine, and a photo of his hero, Abraham Lincoln, in tow, Nino expects to be embraced by the country of his dreams. What he discovers instead is a place of take-out food, manicured lawns, teen smoking, processed vegetables, and a barely communicative family—each disconnected from the others, caught up in lives of multi-tasking.

      While Robert works round-the-clock to ensure a much-deserved promotion, Marie (Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Anne Archer) fills her time working, organizing the household, and growing increasingly lonelier. Fourteen-year-old Bobby (Trevor Morgan) devotes more time to his garage band and petty acts of neighbourhood vandalism than his schoolwork, and twelve-year-old Gina (Gina Mantegna, making her film debut) spends most of her time at her friend’s house.

      Though barely conversant in English, Uncle Nino slowly begins to connect with Gina through her love of dogs and Bobby through his passion for music. It isn’t until Uncle Nino and the kids tear up the entire front yard and plant an elaborate garden, however, that Robert confronts the uncle he hasn’t seen in thirty years. Finally learning the true reason for his uncle’s visit, Robert reflects on his life and reconsiders the things that are truly important to him.

      A work of deep sentiment that avoids sentimentality, “Uncle Nino” is a film about the lost art of living. A fable-like story grounded in realism, Uncle Nino is a feel-good, Capra-esque tale, whose magical lead character teaches others how to slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures: good food and drink, music, and most important, La Famiglia!

      “Uncle Nino” is the winner of the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival, an Audience Choice Award from the Marco Island Film Festival, and the recipient of the Dove Family-Approved Seal from The Dove Foundation, a non-profit organization that encourages and promoted the production and distribution of wholesome entertainment for all ages.

 

 Where the Heart Is

 Plot Summary for Where the Heart Is (2000)

     Having lived her entire life in a trailer, Novalee Nation (played by Natalie Portman) is a pregnant, superstitious and uneducated seventeen year old. With the exception of her boyfriend and the unborn baby’s father Willie Jack Pickens, she is all alone in the world with no money of her own. On the drive from their current home in Tennessee to Bakersfield, California where they are planning on moving, Willie Jack abandons Novalee in the small town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. With no food or money, Novalee ends up secretly living in the town’s Wal-Mart. As her stay in Sequoyah is extended, Novalee is befriended and ultimately assisted by a variety of townsfolk, including a recovering alcoholic named Sister Husband, single mother and nurse Lexi Coop who names her children after snack foods, WalMart’s contract photographer named Moses Whitecotten, and the temporary librarian named Forney Hull, an academically brilliant man originally from New England. As much as they help Novalee, she in turn has a profound affect on them as each is dealing with an issue which stops them from having a truly fulfilled life. Forney ends up falling in love with Novalee, who feels she has to make a decision of how she can best help him. She is assisted in this decision by an unlikely source. Written by Huggo

Somewhere in Time

 Plot Summary for Somewhere in Time (1980)

     The movie opens with college student Richard Collier gathering rave reviews for his new play. At the party, he comes face to face with an old woman who presses something in his hand and whispers, “Come back to me.” He opens his hand to find an old pocket watch. Cut to several years later. Playwright Collier is in the midst of a break-up and writers block. He leaves the city for awhile to think things out and finds himself near his alma mater at the Grand Hotel. While wandering around the hotel, he finds a photograph of a beautiful young woman. Richard is entranced, and tries to find out all he can about her. During the course of his research he learns she was Elise McKenna, an actress from the turn of the century. He also discovers that she was the mysterious old woman who gave him the watch. Finally determining that he must meet her somehow, he employs self-hypnosis and wills himself back to 1912. He meets Elise and they fall in love, which does not make her manager, William Fawcett Robinson, happy at all. Will their love survive Robinson’s disapproval? Will Richard be able to stay in 1912? Written by Kathy Chelsen

  Final Comments

      I hope you take the opportunity to watch these movies. In the case of Taking Chance it is a dramatic way to comprehend the real impact of a young military person killed (taking away everything he is, or everything he might’ve been). And, those left behind as family and friends may in fact suffer a lifetime over such a loss. By comparison, Uncle Nino, Where the Heart Is, and Somewhere in Time are all feel-good movies. But I have to warn you, for all four movies you must keep a box of Kleenex close by. Enjoy.

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