Saturday, June 8, 2013

Promised Land

Watched It - June 7, 2013

Stars - Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook
Director - Gus Van Sant
Rating - R (for language)

In 20 Words or Less - A representative for a natural gas company faces a crisis of conscience while trying to "close" on a small town.
Themes - Materialism, Loyalty, Self-reliance, Tradition, Choices, Consequences, Integrity, Conscience
Pros - I thought this movie was very well-filmed and very well-cast.  The soundtrack was subtle and worked well at setting the mood.  The plot was just lean enough to keep the movie from plodding along.  There was a nice plot-twist near the end that caught my attention.
Cons - For some reason, I kept thinking of the Pixar film Cars while watching Promised Land.  There are more than just a few similarities between them which leads to the major drawback of the latter of the two--there's nothing groundbreaking here. (The intended-pun in that sentence will only make sense if you've watched the movie.)  The plot of Cars wasn't particularly novel and neither is the plot of Promised Land.  It's a well-worn script that has seen dozens of iterations over the years.  Add to that the political/environmental/economic baggage inherent to a story about drilling for natural gas in a small town on its last legs and a somewhat awkward and hurried love interest subplot, and what you get is a movie that is mildly interesting but not particularly outstanding.  Another aspect that diminished my enjoyment of this movie was the lack of nuance in the story.  Promised Land fell prey to the shortcoming that beguiles so many politically-motivated movies.  It reduced a complex series of issues into either/or scenarios where the big, rich, powerful corporation is the bad guy and the only ones who really get it right are the salt-of-the earth townsfolk who may not have the brains but they have the heart to solve the problem.  I know that sounds cynical (maybe it is), but I finished watching the film thinking it was a bit too preachy, simplistic, and condescending for my taste.
Movie Moment - Matt Damon's speech to the townsfolk at the climax of the movie was good, but not enough to rescue the film.
Genuineness - 4 out of 10

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Impossible

Watched It - April 27, 2013

Stars - Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts
Director - Juan Antonio Bayona
Rating - PG-13

In 20 Words or Less - A family torn apart by the 2004 tsunami must struggle to survive and reunite in the midst of overwhelming devastation.
Themes - Family unity, compassion, service to others, selflessness, the value of life, human suffering
Pros - Those who have or will watch this movie may think this is an odd word to describe it, but I would like to use the word--beautiful.  This was a beautiful movie.  The beauty comes, not from the scenery around the characters, but from within the characters themselves.  As this young family struggles their way through the chaos, the acts of compassion, kindness, and selflessness are beautiful and moving.  I was truly touched by watching this film.  The director's use of foreshadowing was very effective, as was his use of sound to immerse the viewer in the moment.  The young actors in this movie were quite engaging.
Cons - I list this as a "con" although I don't necessarily think it took away from the film.  I list it as more of a warning to those who have not yet watched it.  The movie provides a realistic, almost painstaking glimpse of the tsunami and its aftermath.  The graphic detail can make it difficult to watch at times.  (That being said, I think the director was fairly balanced in his restraint.  There is, undoubtedly, a lot more he could have shown.)  The pacing of the plot felt a bit rushed near the end.  (It was over way sooner than I expected!)  Again, I don't necessarily think this was terrible.  The story stayed focused and didn't wander into any unnecessary territory.  I can't really think of any points that truly made the movie less than it could have been.  It was very good.
Movie Moment - [Spoiler Alert] I loved the scene where the young boy Maria and Lucas saved from the flood is reunited with his family.  In fact, all of the scenes of reuniting were very, very good!
Genuineness - 10 out of 10

Parental Guidance

Watched It - April 26, 2013

Stars - Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei
Director - Andy Frickman
Rating - PG

In 20 Words or Less - Grandma and Grandpa have to learn "new school" parenting while staying with their grandkids for a week.
Themes - Parenting, self-esteem, growing up, family unity, dealing with change and challenges
Pros - Billy Crystal and Bette Midler (neither of whom I have seen on screen in a while) are just good, classy actors who bring something intangible but enjoyable to a film that is otherwise pretty run-of-the-mill.  I did appreciate the way the story incorporated some depth (not much) by allowing several of the characters to face the issues of self-doubt and the search for significance.
Cons - As I said, there is nothing particularly earth-shattering here.  We are presented with the typical slapstick comedy, adult-belittling, and predictable plot that normally comes with a film of this stripe, although I do have to say I was pleased that Mr. Frickman didn't feel the need to push the gross factor or level of inappropriateness very far at all.  He kept the movie in safe territory overall.
Movie Moment - When Billy Crystal's grandson impersonates the baseball commentator from a famous game in the 1950's.  It's cheesy, but it gave me goosebumps.
Genuineness - 5 out of 10

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Conspirator

Watched It - October 14, 2011

Stars - James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline
Director - Robert Redford
Rating - PG-13

In 20 Words or Less - A young lawyer from the North must defend a Southern woman accused of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln.
Themes - Loyalty, justice, family bonds, situational ethics, patriotism, conscience, truth
Pros - Mr. Redford, his cast, and crew have put together a compelling story here.  The parallels between the 1860's post-Civil War America and the 2000's post-9/11 America are obvious.  Although my conservative political roots wanted me to dismiss the film as being too politically charged and left-leaning, I couldn't get away from the feeling that this movie had, at its core, a genuinely patriotic heart.  Although I cannot personally verify the historical accuracy of many aspects of the screenplay, I can say that it presented several very powerful and thought-provoking ideas and questions about justice, loyalty, and ethics.  The pacing and underlying tone of the movie were well suited to the subject matter.
Cons - This will sound strange, but I really did not like the portrayal of the Lincoln assassination at the opening of the film.  For some reason, I found it somewhat awkward and unconvincing.  I really feel the movie would have been better if that moment were left to our imagination.  Several of the supporting performances were quite weak.
Movie Moment - Frederick Aiken's case summation at the close of the trial--"If his mother can be convicted on such insufficient evidence, I tell you, none of you are safe!"
Genuineness - 9 out of 10

Friday, October 7, 2011

(500) Days of Summer

Watched It - October 7, 2011

Stars - Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Director - Marc Webb
Rating - PG-13

In 20 Words or Less - Tom must come to grips with a break-up that isn't a break-up and learn to let love
Pros - The screenplay is a welcome respite from Hollywood's typical Rom-Com formula.  This film has been described as "a post-modern love story."  Whatever it is, it was a quirky, intriguing movie that had some depth.  Zooey Deschanel's character was radiant, endearing and believable.
Cons - The couple's casual attitude about the depth of their relationship is reflective of many young people's aversion to genuine commitment.  (The film does, however, portray the damage such an attitude can create in the hearts of those involved.)
Movie Moment - The party scene that utilizes a split screen to show expectation vs. reality was creative and insightful.
Genuineness - 7 out of 10

The Italian Job (The New One)

Watched It - September 23, 2011

Stars - Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton
Director - F. Gary Gray
Rating - PG-13

In 20 Words or Less - A band of high-tech theives avenge one of their own and finish their biggest heist ever.
Themes - Betrayal, Revenge, Wealth, Happiness, Loyalty, Determination, Ingenuity
Pros - This is about as close to pure action that I get in a movie.  This film understands its identity.  It is what it is.  The director doesn't waste much time trying to make the movie into something deeper or more compelling.  It's just a fun, high-tech ride in a Mini-Cooper.  (3 of them, actually.)
Cons - I found the ending to be a bit anti-climactic.  It felt as if the writers didn't really know how to wrap it up in a big way.  It just...ended.  Seems like a bit of wasted momentum, in my opinion.
Movie Moment - It's a toss up between the boat chase in downtown Venice or the Mini-Coopers in downtown L.A.
Genuineness - 4 out of 10

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Watched It - August 14, 2011

Stars - Matt Damon, Emily Blunt
Director - George Nolfi
Rating - PG-13

In 20 Words or Less - A young senatorial candidate must overcome the ultimate obstacle (literally) to be with the woman of his dreams.
Themes - Love, Fate, the Future, Free Will, Choices, Destiny, God
Pros - The movie provides a unique blend of sci-fi excitement with a deep discussion about the nature of reality and the administration of the universe.  It also provides an interesting insight into a view of God that is probably quite common among the masses.
Cons - The underlying attitude about God (referred to as "the Chairman") that drives the film is cynical, cold, and (in my opinion) misguided.  The acting of most of the "Agents" is stiff and contrived.
Movie Moment - The climatic chase scene was creative and offered the viewer a brief but exciting tour of New York City.
Genuineness - 4 out of 10

The Company Men

Watched It - August 12, 2011

Stars - Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner
Director - John Wells
Rating - R (primarily for language)

In 20 Words or Less - Three men at different stages of life must cope with the loss of their well-paying, white-collar jobs.
Themes - Family, Career, Pride, Success, Happiness, Uncertainty, Choices
Pros - The movie takes a very realistic, down-to-earth approach and has an overall positive message to communicate about what really matters in life.
Cons - The strong language seemed extraneous and a bit overdone.
Movie Moment - The scene between Ben Affleck's character and his wife when Ben feels he is an utter failure and his wife lovingly disagrees.
Genuineness - 7 out of 10

Don't Read This Part

I like watching movies.  I do this almost every Friday night.

I like talking about movies.  I do that regularly as well.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I have decided to blog about movies.

The idea behind this blog is simple.  I want to be able to record my thoughts and impressions of the movies I watch so that I can go back and remember what I thought when I watched a particular film.  I also want anyone who may be interested to be able to look back and remember what I thought.  So, here is what I intend to do.  When I watch a movie, I will create a short post detailing some basic information about the movie and some of my thoughts about its quality and "genuineness."  Nothing fancy or detailed here.  Just short movie reviews from me and a few others I may ask to serve as contributors.

Now, I feel I must explain a few things at the outset:

1)  I am not a formally trained film critic and I probably never will be.  I am just a guy who likes movies and knows what movies I like.  I have been accused of being a "movie snob" and that moniker is probably rather appropriate for me.  The point is, don't take my opinion as anything more than that.  (That's the nice thing about criticizing things--it's an extremely subjective field of endeavor.)

2)  The inclusion of a film on this blog by me or any other contributor should not be considered an endorsement or even a recommendation.  You make your own choices about what you want to watch.  I am simply recording for posterity what I have watched.  For the record, I am fairly particular about the kind of content we allow into our home.  We do utilize a system called ClearPlay that allows us to enjoy films without all of the gratuitous objectionable content.  Purists will take issue with our use of this system, but that's what we do.

3)  This is not just an exercise in vanity.  I have come to realize that films have an incredible power to teach, motivate, enlighten, move, and convince those who watch them about timeless truths and themes.  Some films (I call them "Genuine Movies") can even change your life.  I hope to be able to include many examples of this type of film in the posts to follow.  I feel there is a certain measure of a redeeming quality in that.

So, with no further delay, let's get to the reviews...