Monday, August 11, 2014

Music Class

Mr. Holland's Opus
Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Richard Dreyfus, Glenne Headly, William H. Macy, Olympia Dukakis, Jay Thomas, Terrance Howard, Alicia Witt
Released: December 29, 1995

Oscar nominations:
Best Actor - Richard Dryfus (lost to Nicholas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas)

This film, about a music teacher, expands a time span of 30 years. Richard Dreyfus plays Glenn Holland, an aspiring composer, who takes a job as a high school music teacher to make ends meet while he writes his composition in his spare time. He teaches at John F. Kennedy high school in Portland, Oregon. Okay, follow along with me here for a second: the first class he teaches in the class of '63, which means that he started in the autumn of 1962...JFK didn't die until November 1963 so they kind of jumped the gun on that! And I suppose they could have named the school after him while he was in office, but does that ever happen? I'm certainly not aware of any Barack Obama High School that may be lurking out there! And even if they did, the school would have to have been brand new since Kennedy began his Presidency in 1960. All I'm saying is that they should have chosen another president to name their fictional school after. The timeline just didn't match. 

He is not thrilled about being a teacher and is exasperated with his students because they fail the tests and are horrible at playing their instruments. His teaching method is just to have the students read the text book and give them a quiz at the end of each lesson, but soon realizes that's not working for them. He starts playing records for them and tells them that rock and roll music and classical music aren't so different from each other and plays cords from famous songs of both genres on the piano. His wife, Iris (Glenne Headly) tells him to hang in there for four years and then they'll access their situation to see if he can work on his compositions full time so he can become rich and famous, except it doesn't exactly happen like that. 

Iris becomes pregnant and gives birth to their son, Cole (his full name is Coltrane as he's named after John Coltrane and he's lucky they could shorten it to Cole because Coltrane is a horrible first name!) who is deaf. It's not until he's well into his first year that they don't notice there's something off about him when they're at a parade where a loud siren goes off and everyone is covering their ears and babies are crying, but young Cole remains oblivious in his stroller, asleep. Unless Cole became deaf right that second, I'm a little confused. Didn't they notice there was something wrong with his hearing within the first week of his life? Even though babies can't communicate, they usually look at you if you're talking to them. My cat looks at me when I make a noise! They take Cole to a specialist who tells them not to use hand gestures with him. Obviously this was a time when sign language was uncouth and that specialist was an idiot because Iris finds it very difficult and frustrating to try to communicate with Cole while her husband spends most of his time busy with his work and students. 

We see a few of the connections he makes with his students. The first ever was with a student from the first class he taught, the class of '63. Gertrude (speaking of horrible names...) is a redhead (played by Alicia Witt) who needs help with the clarinet. I think he gives her good advice and bad advice. The good advice is when he tells her to just have fun when she's playing the clarinet after he plays her a record of "Louie Louie" and asks her what's the first thing that comes to her mind and she says, "They're having fun." The bad advice (and bad screen writing) was when he asked her what her favorite thing about herself was and she replied her hair because her dad told her it reminded him of the sunset and he said, "Play the sunset." What does that even mean? That doesn't make any sense. But maybe it wasn't bad advice because as soon as he said that, she nailed her solo. It was still cheesy, though. 

Another one of the students he mentors is a football player who has trouble keeping the beat played by a very young Terrance Howard...who would later star in August Rush, another movie about love and appreciation for music. When the '80s roll around, his son is now a teenager (and attends a school for the hearing impaired) and there are hints that he and his wife are having marital problems. Rowena is a girl from the class of '80 who is part of the spring musical production. She has aspirations of going to New York after she graduates (like, literally right after) to make it big there and she and Mr. Holland develop a near bordering creepy relationship. She invites Holland to run away with her and while he does meet her at the bus stop and give her an incredibly awkward kiss, he declines the invitation. He is working on a new composition that he has named "Rowena" and when his wife sees it and asks who Rowena is he makes up something about her being a mythical goddess and when Iris is at the school's production she sees the name of the main singer is Rowena and how many people are named Rowena? Plus Rowena is looking right at Holland when she's singing "Someone to Watch Over Me" so it doesn't take much for Iris to put two and two together, but she never mentions it to her husband. The movie is 2 hours and 25 minutes and if they had dropped this entirely pointless plot line, it would have been two hours. 

The death of John Lennon brings Holland and his son closer together. I was listening to a podcast review of this guy had seen it before and the other hadn't. The guy who had never seen it made me laugh when he commented, "Did people really treat John Lennon's death like it was 9/11?" Obviously he was exaggerating a tad, but I do see where he was coming from. It was all over the news, which was understandable...I remember the next morning after Michael Jackson died, the radio was playing a tribute to him, but the characters in the movie acted like it was one of their own family members who had died. Cole wants to show his dad something when he comes home from work, but  Holland tells him he's not in the mood because somebody died and that Cole wouldn't understand and then Cole tells him he knows who John Lennon and the Beatles are and Holland realizes that despite his son being deaf, he can still understand and know about music. At a music function Holland puts on for his son's school, he sings a John Lennon and Yoko Ono song for Cole called Beautiful Boy. I had never heard of it until I listened to it on the soundtrack. Holland apologizes in advance for his singing ability and let's just say this song sounds better when John Lennon is singing it. It's a sweet sentiment, but I can't think of too many teenaged boys who would be thrilled to have their dad singing such a sappy song to them! At least Cole couldn't hear his dad's awful singing!

The make-up department did a great job with aging Richard Dreyfus. He was 48 when he made the film. At the end of the film, Mr. Holland was 60, so they aged him down and up for the role. They didn't do such a great job with aging William H. Macy (or W.H. Macy as the opening credits has his name) who plays the assistant principal to Olympia Dukakis's principal, then the principal when she retired - he has the same buzz cut and glasses throughout the entire movie. It's as though the entire movie's make up budget went into aging only Dreyfus! When the movie wants to skip a few years, it will show clips of famous events that happened in those years. The only jarring part is when it skips from 1980 to 1995 without any clips. This is the biggest gap that the movie passes through and apparently nothing happened in the entire decade of the '80s! Nothing at all! I also have to laugh at how hard they're trying to make the 1995 class look so cool. Oh, look, there's two boys holding hands - we have gay students at our school now! It just felt like they were trying to hard to try to be cool with the times. At least in '95 it makes sense to have a school called John F. Kennedy High School! 

Mr. Holland is forced to retire because the school is taking away the budget for the music and drama classes. The school has put on a warm reception for him where many of his students from pass classes - including Gertrude, who is now the mayor, have come to perform one of his musical oeuvres. 

While a bit saccharine at times, it's an uplifting story. I would recommend watching it, but feel free to fast forward through all the scenes with Rowena! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sail Solo

All is Lost
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Released: November 7, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound Editing (lost to Gravity)

Back in 2010, I started reading the blog of Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian who sailed around the world by herself. She started her voyage from Sydney in October 2009 and returned the next year in May. It was really interesting to read her blogs (which took me a few weeks to get through them; after all she had seven months of entries!) She talked about everything from describing how things worked on her boat to writing about her food supply and what she had for dinner and she often put up photos she took. Now while she sailed by herself, she wasn't exactly unassisted as she could call her family or the people who were assisting her with this journey on her radio and she often talked with them everyday. Of course, if she did get in any trouble, it would still be a pretty scary thing because she's out in the middle of nowhere! She roughed a few storms, but she made it home safely. 

While watching this movie, I was reminded of her, although it seems she didn't have as rough of a time as Robert Redford's nameless character...who is the only character in the entire movie. We as an audience don't know anything about him, except he is out sailing the ocean. I presume he's a retired man with a dream to sail the open seas. The film shows us he is an experienced sailor as he is shown doing everyday maintenance with the boat and knows how to pump out the water when his boat becomes flooded (which looks like a tedious and painful process!) 

Redford's character encounters a violent storm which results in his boat turning over a couple times, which, for me, was just scary watching...I can't imagine being in a scenario like that! He has to resort to using his lifeboat with his survival supplies because his boat is ruined and he watches his boat that you know he put a lot of time and effort (and money!) into sink beneath the water as he sits in his raft.  

This is real-life Survivor...there is no Jeff Probst, no tribal council, and no hidden immunity idols! And there is definitely no food reward challenges as he has to ration his canned foods and use his fishing gear in his survival pack. When he sees a large cargo ship, he uses a flair to catch their attention, but it doesn't work. He does this until he only has one flair left which you know is worth life or death. There was one scene where, when he's fishing, a shark pops up and grabs his line and Redford falls back into the raft. I was a little worried, that, excuse the pun, the film was going to jump the shark at this point and have a shark attack which wouldn't fit the tone of the film. Luckily, such a scene didn't happen. There are no attacking sharks, sorry to ruin that for you. We just see a swarm of sharks under his raft at one point, but nothing becomes of it. 

The movie is very sparse on dialogue. The most amount spoken by Redford is at the beginning when he's giving a voice over monologue. We later learn that's what he wrote in a letter he put in a glass bottle that he tossed out for somebody to find. Other than that, the only time he speaks is when he's calling for help on the radio and when he curses when everything goes to hell. And he says the word that anybody would say in that situation! There is something very cathartic about dropping the f bomb when you're really furious! Even with his near-mute acting, Redford gives a very riveting and captivating performance and you definitely feel for him when he is desperate to survive. If you were to ask me, I would have taken out Christian Bale for American Hustle from the Oscar nominees and put in Redford. It's been awhile since I've seen Redford in a movie (I think the last one was the movie he made with Brad Pitt?) and I couldn't help thinking, He looks like such an old man! But he is 77, so he is up there in age! I remember watching All the President's Men in my government class in high school and the girl who sat next to me and I both agreed he was pretty hot "for an older guy", lol.

In elementary school, we all learned the three major literary conflicts: man v. himself, man v. man, and man v nature. The last one is a definite theme in the movie, but I would also say man v. himself is prevalent as well. In the end, it's up to him about whether he wants to survive or not. I won't give away the ending, but it's not an ambiguous one where you're not sure what happens to know for sure whether he lives or dies, but it does keep you guessing to the very end.

I actually think it would be kind of fun to sail around the world...only if I knew what I was doing and only if the weather was perfect the whole way through. (Like that would happen...doesn't it storm in the ocean like 99% of the time?) I think a lot of people would balk at the idea because the solidarity would drive them crazy (even if they did have a phone and Internet access). But Jessica Watson said there was always some maintenance or cleaning to do and she would blog, watch a DVD, or read books in her space time. See, that's what I would like: I have a pile of books I need (and want!) to read, but I don't always have time to just settle down and read them. I would love to have seven months of solitaire just to read books and watch movies and catch up on TV shows. Of course, I'd probably think, This is great! for the first week or so, then I'd probably want to get back to land! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Make Lots of Money

The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey
Released: December 25, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to 12 Years a Slave)
Best Director - Martin Scorsese (lost to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity)
Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio (lost to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actor - Jonah Hill (lost to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Terence Winter (lost to John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave)

My city's newspaper movie reviewer liked this movie, but he commented that he saw a few walkouts and the article got a few feedback letters from readers saying they walked out of the theater. Now I have seen a few movies in the theater I wish I had walked out on mainly because they were long and boring. This movie is long (three hours) but it is not boring. But I'm doubting its the length that made those people walk out. This movie is not for everyone. Let's just say it earns its R rating. There is plenty of vulgar language, nudity, and drug use. If people are going to be bothered by that, then they shouldn't see an R rated movie about a self-centered rich guy! What are they expecting?!

Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) adopts the Gordon Gekko motto of "Greed is good" and makes riches as a stockbroker earning something like $49 million a year. I had never heard of this Belfort character and didn't realize he was a real person until this movie came out. I enjoyed DiCaprio's performance of him, but would not like him if I ever met him in real life. He was a bit of a smug jerk, but I suppose most rich people are smug jerks...I would probably be a smug jerk if I were rich! The film breaks the fourth wall with Belfort talking to the audience. I love the bit at the beginning where he's  walking out of his mansion, talking to the camera as he sips on a mimosa and tosses the glass flute and the rest of the unfinished drink in a bush behind him. I thought little moments like those were great.

Belfort tells the audience that that he made $49 million last year, but it pissed him off because "it was just 3 shy of a million a week." Now the line delivery is hilarious, I won't deny that, but seriously? If you're complaining that you're not making a million a week, you really need a tall glass of STFU. I would be happy if I made one percent of what he made!

Matthew McConaughey has a small cameo as the executive who takes a young Belfort under his wing and molds him into the stockbroker he will eventually become. When he is forced to quit his job because of Black Monday, Belfort, desperate for anything, takes a job at a small Long Island firm that sells penny stocks. He impresses the crew there with his charming salesman tactics...he was someone who could sell ice to an eskimo. There's a great scene where he's making a big sell to some unassuming schmuck and everyone is gathered around him as he's making the deal. Belfort teaches the others how to scam people out of their money and soon they are lucrative and Belfort starts his own firm called Stratton Oakmont where they make even more money...because now they're conning rich people into paying lots of money for worthless stocks instead of average Joes. One of the people who Belfort takes under his own wing is Donnie (Jonah Hill), this socially awkward weird guy who lives in the same building as Belfort but notices that Belfort drives a nice car and wants to know what he does.

Everyday is a party and spectacle at Stratton Oakmont. They bring in strippers, monkeys, marching bands, bet people to shave their heads, and don't forget the drugs. There were a lot of people who worked there and they all seemed to be making millions of dollars which I didn't really get. How are all these people making so much money? Wouldn't Belfort want all that money? I have no idea how stockbroker firms work anyway...which is probably why I'm not rich! There's an amusing scene where Belfort's dad (Rob Reiner), who manages the firm's expenses yells at Belfort for spending thousands of dollars on a business meeting dinner.

Before he acquired his riches, Belfort was married to a woman named Theresa. Having already seen his future, you know they do not stay together because he's married to a blonde bombshell. I figured he was going to dump Theresa as soon as he started raking in the dough, but that's not the case. He meets Naomi, the blonde (Margot Robbie) and cheats on his wife with her. His wife catches them together and they get a divorce. I think he does feel bad for hurting his wife, but after five seconds he realizes he has a more beautiful woman and marries her...then starts cheating on Naomi!

If there's anything that Belfort loves more than women (well, then besides his money), it's his drugs. He is a hard core drug user and one of the most memorable scenes involves him and Donnie taking something called lemons which is a quaalude that doesn't exist on the market anymore. They both take one, but after thirty minutes (and watching an entire episode of Family Matters without laughing), they decide the drugs have lost their effect and take a second one...and after that they take a third! Well, turns out these drugs need 90 minutes to kick in...which seems like an awful long time to wait! Or maybe it was 60 minutes, I don't remember...that's still a long time. Belfort gets a call from his dad telling him to use a different phone because the feds (led by Kyle Chandler) are onto his scam and have tapped his phone. He drives to the country club in his Lamborghini and the drugs don't kick in until he's talking to his dad on the pay phone and suddenly can't speak and looses all function of his muscles. He wants to get home quickly to warn Donnie and his wife and thus begins a hilarious segment of him having to crawl down stairs and into his car. I heard this scene lasts about 25 minutes! It does go on for awhile, but I guess since I was so entertained by it, it didn't seem that long to me. I felt a little unsure whether I should by laughing or not because here was this guy who was totally impaired by drugs and could have killed someone by getting into the car. Luckily he didn't. In fact, he's so out of it, he only remembers driving very slowly and not hitting a thing and his car being in perfect shape, when in fact, later a police man comes to give him a ticket for reckless driving and we see his car as being totaled and wrecked beyond ruin.

I knew that scene was played for laughs when later we get a very serious scene involving Naomi telling  Jordan she wants a divorce and he tells her he's not going to take his children away from him (I didn't know why he said "children" when I think they only had one daughter...?) and he then attempts to kidnap his daughter and nearly kills both of them when he almost crashes his car.

Eventually Jordan's scam catches up with him and he is caught by the FBI (while filming an infomercial, no less) and is sentenced to two years in prison. With all his extravagant things, Belfort didn't do a very good job of hiding his money from the IRS...even though he tried to put it in a Swiss Bank (although that did not go over very well), but I couldn't really blame him. If I had all that money, I would want to buy nice things too...even if that money was obtained illegally! I think that would be anyone's first impulse. Look at poor Walter White: he had enough money to last a lifetime (several lifetimes!) but the only things he ever bought with it was a nice bottle of champagne and a new car for his son. At least his money will go to his kids under the disguise of rich benefactors. But that would suck to have all that money and never get to spend it! So I can't blame Belfort for going a little crazy with it. So don't obtain money illegally!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remember when terrorism was funny?

True Lies
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku
Released: July 15, 1994

Oscar nominations:
Best Visual Effects (lost to Forrest Gump)

True Lies is the James Cameron movie sandwiched between arguably two of his most well-known movies, Terminator 2 (1991) and Titanic (1997).  True Lies leans more towards T2 than Titanic, though. They both star Arnold and are action flicks, though True Lies is an action-comedy while T2 is a little more serious.

While a fun action movie, True Lies is a bit of a hot mess. It doesn't have a coherent storyline. It's like there's three different stories in one movie.  A lot of stuff that happens in this movie is really dumb. This movie was made for and intended for the male population, but you can still get a kick out of it if you are not of that camp. You just may roll your eyes more often!

Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) works as an undercover agent for the government in the anti-terrorism department called the Omega Sector. Because this is so top secret, his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and 13 year old daughter, Dana (Eliza "You gotta have Faith" Dushku) don't know about his real job and thinks he is a computer salesman who goes on a lot of business trips.

"Dad, this snow globe is totally not five by five!" 
There's a running joke throughout the first part of the movie that Helen thinks her husband's job is boring and she tells one of her co-workers whenever she needs to fall asleep, she'll ask her husband about his day and that will do the trick. Dana, the rebellious daughter, thinks her dad is really lame. Oh, if only they knew of what he really did and the exciting life he led when he was away.

Before and after:
Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger
Harry's partner is Albert (Tom Arnold) who accompanies him on all his missions. He's the brains behind the operations working with the computers and sound equipment. Harry is the guy who beats everyone up. Makes sense to me! In the first part of the movie they are after a terrorist. There's a big shootout in a public restroom, then Harry is on a horse chasing the guy on a motorcycle. They go through the hotel and into the kitchen, then the guy gets on one glass elevator (still on the motorcycle) and Harry gets on another glass elevator (still on the horse). You think this whole scenario is ridiculous? Just wait, it gets even more ridiculous! The terrorist, now on the roof, sees another hotel across the street and drives the motorcycle across the room, flies across the sky and lands in the pool. Uh-huh. Then Harry tries to do the same with the horse, but being a smart animal, the horse stops short of jumping off the roof and flings Harry off the side of the building, still holding onto the reins.

The terrorist guy is pretty much all forgotten about as we go into the second part of the movie. While going to his wife's work to see if she wants to have lunch with him, Harry stops short when her co-worker tells Helen she has a call from her "mystery guy". Harry eavesdrops and can only conclude that she's cheating on him. He tells this to Albert who in turn tells him, "Welcome to the club." He and Albert put a bug in Helen's purse, then spy on her the next day when she's suppose to meet her mystery man. He is Simon (Bill Paxton) a used cars salesman who is pretending to be a spy so he can hook up with lonely housewives. He invites Helen over to his trailer and tells her he has to fly to Paris on a mission and wants her to pretend to be his wife. By this time, Harry and a whole task force are surrounding the place and blow the roof off the trailer. It's a little ridiculous he has all this hoopla to rescue his wife from a smarmy cars salesman.  After Harry and Albert give Simon a good scare, we never see him again. I know Bill Paxton is a Jimmy C favorite, but I don't think he was really necessary in this movie. Yes, we do get some funny moments (like when Harry imagines punching him in the face) and it does help set up the next (kinda pointless but still needed) scene, but it just seemed to be totally thrown in randomly.

Then we get to part two of the second section)which is still focused on Helen. She is brought to an interrogation room where her husband and Albert are on the other side of the mirror and their voices are disguised. They ask her questions about her relationship with Simon and whether or not she slept with him and what her relationship with her husband is like. She understandably becomes angry and asks what that has to do with anything. They tell her to avoid going to jail, she must work for them and complete an assignment when she's called. Of course, this is all a ploy, but it spirals out of control as we'll get to in a minute.

We next get the sexy dancing scene which is in the movie to have an attractive woman dancing in lingerie. I don't know. It's a guy movie so you gotta have something like that in there. Helen gets her "assignment" where she's suppose to go to a hotel and pretend to be a hooker for a guy who just "likes to watch". After she bugs the phone in his room, they will be set. Now they have made up Jamie Lee Curtis as very conservative, wearing frumpy clothes, pearls, and glasses and has a "Mom" haircut. Her idea of a dress a prostitute would wear is that awful black taffeta number a you would find a bridesmaid wearing, but she gets some sense and cuts off the sleeves and ruffles until it's a little black dress, shows some cleavage, wets her hair, puts on some lipstick and she is instantly changed. Who knew Harry was married to such a hot woman? He sure didn't when she stars sexy dancing for him. Yes, Harry is the guy she's dancing for (he's sitting in the shadows), so it's not so creepy that at least it's her husband watching her, although she doesn't know that, so it still it a tad weird. She's wearing black lingerie when she's dancing and I'm sorry, but no woman who dresses like June Cleaver would own underwear like that! She lays on the bed and Harry tells her to close her eyes. She does and he kisses her and she, thinking it's some perverted guy, grabs the telephone and smacks him in the head with it. She would think she would be able to tell her husband's kiss (but I guess it's been awhile since they've been intimate!) This is the moment when she finds out her husband is a spy and as it so happens, at that exact moment the terrorist guy, along with Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere), the villain of the movie, capture them.

In the next part of the movie (which is part 3 of second 2 - the longest section of the movie) we get these gems:
-Harry, who is tied up and been given truth serum tells a guard that he is going to kill him by stabbing him in the throat, then taking his gun and shoot the other guards, and I don't know, it's this elaborate plan he has, but he's telling the truth because he does exactly what he says he's going to do.
- Helen sees a bad guy about to aim a gun at Harry who is preoccupied with other bad guys, so she takes a gun and starts shooting it, but she ends up dropping it and it falls down the stairs and every time it hits the ground and it pointed at the bad guy, it shoots and hits them, but she is miraculously never hit!
-Juno escapes and kidnaps Helen and they are driving across a long bridge over the water. Harry gets  the National Guard - or something like that - and they blow up a section of the bridge to stop the bad guys. Really? We're going to blow up the bridge? The guy driving the car Helen and Juno are in is shot, but his feet are still on the gas, so the two women have a catfight in the car and Harry, who is on a helicopter, has to rescue Helen before the car dives off of the bridge. Luckily, he does.
-There's a funny scene where the terrorist is making a video and the guy recording him sees that the battery is low, but the terrorist doesn't want to be interrupted and has to do his speech again when he is told the battery died.

So now we get to the third - and final - segment of the movie. I don't know about you, but I'm already exhausted and feel like this movie has a satisfying ending with Harry saving his wife's life, but nope! Now he's gotta save his daughter's life! Remember Dana, who we saw a few times in the first part of the movie, but had no screen time in the entire middle section? Well, the terrorists have found her and have kidnapped her. So Harry takes a jet (which of course he knows how to fly) and flies to the hotel she's at. Dana has escaped with the key that is meant to detonate the bomb (did I mention there's a bomb in all this?) and goes to the roof (why do people go to the roof when they're trying to ESCAPE?) and crosses some scaffolding. She's just like that little girl from Adventures in Baby-Sitting who escapes the bad guy by going out the top floor of a Chicago skyscraper. Smart, girls, smart. Meanwhile, Harry is in his jet and destroying everything in his wake....he is going to have one large bill to pay! He sees Dana on the scaffolding and tells her to "jump on the plane". Right. She does and the bad guy also does the same and and he and Harry get into a fight. The bad guy somehow gets strapped onto a missile and Harry says, "You're fired" before releasing the missile where it then flies right into the path of a helicopter that more bad guys are flying and they all burn in a fiery ball. It is so absurd. Harry manages to get himself and Dana down safety and the Tasker family lives happily ever after and Helen even becomes a spy.

There was suppose to be a sequel in 2002, but then 9/11 happened and Cameron scraped the project saying that terrorism just wasn't funny anymore and it's like, Huh? When was terrorism ever funny? But I do kind of get what he's saying. Obviously that was a sensitive time in our history and making an action-comedy about terrorism wouldn't be the best idea. But sometimes the best medicine is laughter in times like those, so who knows, maybe the public would have welcomed it. Or...maybe not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beloved Novel of Our Time? Seriously?

The Prince of Tides
Director: Barbra Streisand
Cast: Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, George Carlin
Released: December 25, 1991

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (what? - lost to The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Actor - Nick Nolte (huh? - lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Supporting Actress - Kate Nelligan (who? - lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston (lost to Ted Tally for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Score - James Newton Howard (lost to Alan Menken for Beauty and the Beast)
Best Art Direction (lost to Bugsy)
Best Cinematography (lost to JFK)

As you can tell from my snide remarks, I wasn't a huge fan of this movie. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but I was expecting something different. To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was expecting. I only knew two things about this movie: it starred Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte and it was based on a novel. When I saw the name "Pat Conroy" I assumed that was a woman, but no, it's a man. I'm probably being sexist because my mind immediately assumed it was a woman since while not a romance, it has elements of romance in it. Plus it just seemed like the kind of story a woman would write. (There I am being sexist again). The movie is melodramatic and schmaltzy, but even after two and a half hours I was left saying, "That's it?" According to Goodreads, the book is 679 pages so they obviously left a lot of material out or didn't embellish on it. Apparently the book spans forty years while the movie is maybe a few months with flashbacks. The DVD I had skipped at one point and I missed a good twelve minutes of the movie. This happened the first time Nolte's character goes back to South Carolina. But I'll back up a minute here..

Nolte plays Tom Wingo, a forty something Southern man with an unhappy childhood. He is so over the top and overacts in this and his Southern accent is just the worst! Don't get me wrong, he sounds Southern, but it almost sounds like he's doing a parody of someone with a southern accent. It has that stereotypical vibe to it. I knew this movie took place by the ocean, hence the title, but for some reason, I thought it was Cape Cod or Nantucket, I don't know, I was just getting this Massachusetts vibes, I guess, but no, I was way too north. It's South Carolina. Where, I have no idea, although he does mention he has to drive through Charleston to get home. The Goodreads summary says it takes place in the South Carolina low country wherever that is. But the majority of the movie takes place in New York anyway. Why? Well, because Tom's twin sister, Savannah, lives in New York as a writer and tried to commit suicide. (Not her first time). Her psychologist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Streisand), wants to talk to a family member to "fill in the missing pieces of [Savannah's] life" since she has blocked out many of her memories because a lot of them were pretty horrific. Now I am no psychologist, but isn't that a breach of confidentiality? Can a therapist just call a patient's family member and discuss things with them, even if (especially if!) the patient in question is unable to speak for themselves? (Savannah was in the hospital while Tom was talking to Dr. Lowenstein). I'm sure this is better explained in the book.

Like I mentioned, there are flashback, but there's only a handful and they only last about five minutes. It seems like most movies that go back and forth between present day and a flashback will have the flashback for several scenes. A good recent example of this is Saving Mr. Banks. Another good example is Fried Green Tomatoes. Those flashbacks actually seemed part of the movies and not just random clips they threw in at the last minute. The flashbacks in The Prince of Tides were just very quick vignettes; it all felt very jarring. From them, we learn that Tom and Savannah and their older brother Luke had an abusive and alcoholic father and a mother who copes with her husband's incessant screaming by feeding him dog food (clever, I'll admit) and sweeping things under the rug. It is mentioned that Luke is deceased but, unless it was mentioned in the 12 minutes of film I wasn't able to see, we never find out when or how he died. 

There's a flashback (that jumps to and from the present) that Tom tells Dr. Lowenstein and it's the first time he's ever told anybody about it. One evening when he and his sister were 13 years old and at home with their mom, three convicts who had escaped from a prison came in and raped all of them. Now I was not expecting this at all. The dark things about this movie had been a father who screamed at his family and a suicide attempt and then comes this very disturbing scene where little kids are getting raped? Where the hell did this come from?  And I was did these men get out of jail? Was this the first house they came across and it just so happened to be occupied by one defenseless woman and two defenseless children? It just seemed so...random. I have a feeling there's more to this story in the book. At least I hope so! Luke wasn't there when it happened, but he came home while it was happening and luckily he had a shotgun so he was able to kill two of the men while his mother stabbed her assailant. They buried the bodies and the mother told them to never speak of this incident. I can understand why they didn't tell the father (not sure where he was during all this) because he wouldn't care, but I don't understand why they never told the police. A few days later, this is the first time Savannah tries to kill herself. She moved to New York because she wanted to get away from the South (understandably!) and became a poet and author to express her pain through writing...or something like that.

I looked up the book's synopsis on Wikipedia and there was a  paragraph about the rape scene. Tom and Savannah were 18 when it happened, which is still horrible, but it seems like the movie had them be 13 for the shock value. It sounds like they knew one of the guys who assaulted them before he went to prison so there is some history there and the older brother doesn't kill the men with his shotgun, but instead the family apparently owns a pet tiger and he released it on the men and they were mauled to death instead of shot to death. I'm almost kind of intrigued to read the book now.  It's gotten a lot of good reviews on Goodreads and not surprisingly everyone says it's better than the movie. (Well, duh!) 

Tom's wife back in South Carolina (Blythe Danner) is having an affair and Susan's famous concert violinist husband is having an affair and eventually Tom and Susan will have an affair with each other.  He stars flirting with her first, but she wants to keep things strictly professional. So she does this by inviting him to dinner at the most expensive, most fancy, most romantic French restaurant. Because that screams "business meeting". She also invites him to one of her and her husband's pretentious dinner parties at their fancy penthouse and the film doesn't even try to make the husband have any depth. He was just a one-dimensional jerk. I can only hope he's better written in the novel! He acts like he's better than Tom and insults him being Southern until Tom takes his one million dollar violin and threatens to drop it from the balcony unless he apologizes to him for the way he treated him and his wife for cheating on her. This is the last we see of the husband and when Tom and Susan's passionate love affair begins. Now I thought this is what the movie was centered around (from reading the back of the DVD box), but the entire romance lasts about ten minutes (maybe it was longer, but it seemed like ten minutes) and it's all done as a cliched montage: there they are making love in bed, there they are making love in front of the fireplace, there they are making love in a bubble bath, there they are having a picnic, there they are having fun outside playing football, there they are horseback riding. And end montage. (Okay, maybe some of those scenes didn't happen, but I can't remember if they did or not!) Then we get the scene where Tom goes back home and says good-bye to Susan and she cries and hugs him and then they go on with their lives. He returns to his wife and three daughters in South Carolina and I don't know what happened to Susan. She probably went back to her jerk of a husband for all I know. And then the movie ended and I was like, "Seriously? That's it?" 

Here's some other random tidbits about the movie: George Carlin plays a gay man who is a friend of Susan's and throws fabulous parties. It was really weird seeing him in this because I knew him as a comedian and while the movie may try to attempt to throw a funny line or two in there, it is no way a comedy. It just felt like very random casting.

There's a lot of screaming and yelling and shouting in this movie. My God, EVERYBODY SCREAMS AT EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME! IT'S SO OVERDRAMATIC! Tom screams at Dr. Lowenstein, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his mother, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his wife, she screams back at him; his father screams at everyone in the flashbacks. I bet that 75% of Nolte's acting is just shouting at someone! 

I cannot believe this movie was nominated for Best Picture. It is a hot mess! And Nick Nolte nominated for Best Actor is laughable too as he overacts in pretty much every scene. Skip this one. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Lupita Nyong'o
Released: February 28, 2014

I'll first write this review with no spoilers, then give a huge warning when I'm about to go into that territory because I don't want to spoil this movie for anyone who hasn't seen it and may want to. 

I love my air disaster movies (Air Force One, Executive Decision, Flight) and this was no exception. It was a lot of fun although there were many scenes where you would be left wondering, "Huh...that seems implausible." 

Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a federal air marshall who is an alcoholic with a depressing family history. He's on a flight from New York to London when he starts getting texts from someone who claims they're on the plane and tell him they're going to kill someone every 20 minutes unless he puts $150 million into an account number he is given. He knows the person isn't fibbing he's on the flight because he told Bill he saw him smoking in the bathroom. The kicker is that the account number is in Marks name so it looks suspicious and that he's behind the whole thing.

For a movie called Non-Stop, you think of non-stop action and it makes me laugh a bit because there are several scenes of long stretches where it's just Neeson texting and reading his received texts. This is just another movie in a string of films I've watched where texts messages or e-mails or Tweets will be typed out on the screen instead of them just showing a shot of the phone and what's being written on it. The other text happy movies have been The Fault in Our Stars, Chef, and Fruitvale Station and I'm sure there have been others as texting is a huge way of communicating. Don't get me wrong: the texts are threatening and there's eerie music, but they're not the most action-packed scenes. 

And every twenty minutes someone does die, but we never see who's behind it and it's always either a set-up or made to look like an accident like when the pilot dies of what looks to be a heart attack, but he was actually poisoned. 

There were many people who could have been the suspect because they looked suspicious or Marks had had an earlier encounter with them so all through the movie I was wondering who it was. At one point, I was pretty sure I knew who it was (and I'll get to that in my spoilers), but I was wrong. The movie had me guessing the entire time and by the third act I was dying to know who was behind it. This person (or persons...don't want to  spoil it) put a bomb on the plane because they wanted to prove how dangerous flying was and how crap airport security is. 

Marks finds the bomb and puts it in the back of the plane with a bunch of luggage covering it and demands the pilot (the one who didn't die!) to fly to an altitude of 8,000 feet because somehow that will....I don't know, do something so the entire plane won't explode. The bomb does goes off and there's a huge hole in the plane and the landing is a little bumpy but everyone survives (except for the bad guy (or guys!). Please. There is no way in hell anybody could survive a plane crash like that. It was so ridiculous. At one point this young girl sitting next to Marks begins to fly out (because the entire ceiling of the fuselage is gone!) and he hangs onto her and pulls her back in. If this happened in real life, everyone would be dead. But despite that, it was a fun movie and I enjoyed it a lot. Now for the spoilers...


Okay, so at one point I was pretty sure Julianne Moore was the bad guy, or at least working for the bad guy since we never see her text him. She's sleeping right next to him when he receives his first set of texts and then later she and a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) are looking at a screen for anyone using their phone to see if they can see who's texting Marks. So I thought it was her husband or someone who was texting Marks and she was keeping an eye on Marks. There are a few suspicious things like she is insistent about sitting in a window seat and sits next to him and she doesn't answer him when he asks what she does for a living. There is a scene in the movie where she does become a suspect and he questions her, but it was all a red-herring. Or you could say a red-hairing. Sadly, I can't take credit for that joke...I heard it on a podcast of a review of this film. 

There is a man Marks bumps into when he's getting out of the taxi at the airport and the man asks him where he's flying and I'm thinking, "Hmm, this could be a suspect" and then we are introduced to a bunch more people that could be potential suspects, but in the end, he was one of the two bad guys! So it was the first guy Marks has any dialogue with in the whole movie. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Deja Vu

Groundhog Day
Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Stephen Tobolowsky, Chris Elliot
Released: February 12, 1993

Before I get into my review, I just had to mention that I saw Edge of Tomorrow about a month ago, which is like a sci-fi Groundhog Day where Tom Cruise lives the same day over and over again to figure out how to win the war against aliens. His co-star, Emily Blunt, plays a character named Rita, which is Andie MacDowell's character's name in Groundhog Day. Now it had been awhile since I last saw Groundhog Day, so I didn't remember her name in the movie, but I was listening to a podcast movie review of Edge of Tomorrow and one of the hosts mentioned that Blunt's character was named Rita as a shoutout to Groundhog Day which I thought was really cool. It's just too bad I couldn't appreciate that while I was watching the movie! And if you want to go deeper, Tom Cruise's character's name is William, which can be shortened to Bill, which rhymes with Phil, which is Bill Murray's character's name....except that Cruise goes by Cage, his character's last name.

Edge of Tomorrow is just one of many narratives where the same day is repeated over and over. I'm sure Groundhog Day wasn't the first to do that plot line, but I'm willing to bet it's the most famous. And whenever someone mentions Groundhog Day, you think of the movie, not the actual holiday which is probably the stupidest holiday ever. (Sorry Groundhog Day fans!) I can never remember if it's six more weeks of winter if the groundhog sees his shadow or not...and let's be honest...there's ALWAYS at least six more weeks (if not more!) of winter when it's only February 2nd...duh! 

So we all know the basic plot: Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors is sent to Punxsutawney, PA, home of Groundhog Day and the actual groundhog (also named Phil) who does the predicting. He goes with his producer, Rita, and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliot). Phil thinks the job is beneath him and just wants to get it over with and go home. Only he can't because they get stranded there when a blizzard hits. The next morning, he wakes up to the same song playing from the previous morning ("I Got You, Babe", the Sonny and Cher classic) and thinks the radio station accidently put on the broadcast from yesterday, but when he looks out the window, there is no snow and he  has the same interactions with the same people from yesterday. There's a funny scene when he asks a woman where everyone is going and she says, "The Groundhog Day festival" and he says, "Is Groundhog Day everyday now?" He then repeats the same day over and over for who knows how long. Another funny exchange is when he acts the woman who works at the inn he's staying at if she ever has deju vu and she tells him she'll check with the kitchen.

At first, understandably, he is annoyed and confused, but then he just learns to accept it because there's nothing he can do about it. He learns small details to watch out for. The first few days, he keeps stepping into a deep puddle when he's crossing the street, then remembers it's there and jumps over it. 

He goes through different phases of how he reacts to his time loop. He feels invincible because whatever he does, will be erased when he starts anew the next "day". He recklessly drives a car and ends up in jail, only to wake up in his B&B room, he steals money and goes shopping, he eats a bunch of fattening food and desserts just because he can. (Hey, why not!) He asks an attractive woman where she went to school and what her English teacher's name was and the next day pretends to be an old classmate and sleeps with her and doesn't have to worry about her calling him the next "day" because she won't remember him.

Then he starts being interested in Rita and takes her out to a fancy dinner. She tells him she studied French poetry in college and he comments how useless that was, then the next "day", he takes her out again and this time when she tells him what she studied, he fluently says something in French, impressing her very much. They have a near perfect evening until the end when she suspects that he's only interested in sleeping with her and storms off. He tries to repeat this perfect day over and over, but to no avail and ends up getting slapped by her many times in a montage. 

This makes him depressed and he's tired of being in his constant time loop, so he decides to kill himself...many times. He runs his car off a cliff, he jumps from a building, he electrocutes himself...only to find himself waking up in the same bed again each morning. 

He then goes into an almost existential phase when he gives a homeless man money who's been there since day one and he's always ignored. He later finds the man passed out on the sidewalk and takes him to the hospital where the nurse tells him he's passed away. The next few times, he tries to help the man by giving him lots to eat, but whatever he does, the man still dies because that was his time and Phil no longer feels like he's in control of everything. 

One of the most memorable characters and sequence of events is when he meets an old classmate, Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) who is an annoying insurance salesman. They filmed the five or six scenes one right after the other so they would have the same cars in the background. It's fun and interesting to see how Phil reacts to Ned each time. The very first time, before the time loop begins, he's annoyed and wants to get away from him. The first few times after the time loop, he's still annoyed and tries to avoid him, but whatever he does, Ned still finds him. He punches him one time, he becomes the annoying one and scares Ned off, then towards the end, he befriends Ned and gives him a hug and buys insurance from him. 

Of course when Phil realizes what's important in life (and wins Rita's heart), he is freed from his repeating day. I'm sure everyone, after seeing this film, has pondered what would they do if they were in a situation like Phil's. It would drive me crazy if I was repeating the same day over and over again, but on the other hand, it would be a great way to read more books and watch more movies and just do and learn more things. (Phil learns French, how to play the piano, and reads some classic books). It would be nice to have more time to do things and not have to worry about a deadline. And if you screwed up on something, it would disappear the next day when you would get a clean slate. On the other hand, any relationships you might make would not last as the person(s) would not remember you the next day. I would definitely not want to be stuck in a small town with no way to escape like Phil was because, for one thing, I would miss my cat!, and I would rather just be home where I have everything I need and can go forever repeating the same day! Well, maybe not forever! 

I started this by bringing up Edge of Tomorrow, so I'll end with another thought concerning it. Groundhog Day will always be the go-to repeating-the-same-day movie and I like it better than Tomorrow, although that was a good movie, but there is something I loved about Tomorrow that didn't happen in Groundhog Day and made the movie a little different: there were several times where the audience would be in a new scene with Cruise and Blunt and you figured this was their first time there too, but then you learned that they had already been in that situation several times before. I thought that was nicely done and always kept me wondering. Just add Run, Lola, Run (although her repetition only lasts a mere three times!) and you have the perfect trifecta of time loop movies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


How To Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Voice talent: Jay Baruchel, Gerald Butler, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Dijmon Hounsou, Craig Ferguson, Kristin Wiig, Jonah Hill
Released: June 13, 2014
Viewed in theaters: June 29, 2014

Spoilers ahoy!

Much like the first movie, I loved this one too, and much like the first movie, I cried during this one as well. Also, like the first one, I saw this one at nine in the evening to avoid young children talking or crying or kicking the back of my seat. Unlike the first one, I did not see this one in 3-D, but that's only because the theater I saw it at wasn't showing it in 3-D! Otherwise I would have as I kept seeing the obvious scenes that were meant for the 3-D viewers and how cool it would have been to be able to see it that way.

I probably should have seen the first movie before seeing this one, but I thought I didn't need to since I saw How To Train Your Dragon twice, but I sure couldn't remember how Hiccup lost his leg...or even that he did lose his leg!

 The sequel takes place five years later (I thought they should have made it four years since it's been four years since the first movie!) and the village where our hero, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Barachel) lives has become littered with dragons now that everyone owns one. The town, once fearful of dragons, now has a dragon feeding-station, a large stable for the dragons to sleep, and a fire prevention device.

Besides Hiccup and Toothless, his fiercely loyal dragon, we are re-introduced to some old familiar characters such as Stoic (voiced by Gerald Butler), Hiccup's father and the town's chief; Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), Hiccup's girlfriend; Hiccup's ragtag team of misfit friends (voiced by many including Kristin Wiig and Jonah Hill); and Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson), the chief's right hand man. We are also introduced to some new characters, mainly the film's villain, Drago (voiced by Dijmon Hounsou) who wants to control all the dragons. I guess because his name is "Dragon" without the N, that gives him the right. I first heard his name as "Draco" and was thinking, "Harry Potter already did it!" And we are introduced to Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett), Hiccup's mother who he thought was deceased all these years. She has a Scottish accent (by the way, I love that both Hiccup's parents have strong Scottish accents and he doesn't) and when I first heard her in the trailer, I was curious to see who voiced her.

We learn of her backstory where she has become a savior for dragons who have become hurt or neglected and need care. Everyone thinks she was killed by a dragon because the last time anyone saw her (when Hiccup was a baby), she was cornered by a dragon and carried off by it, but it never had any intentions of hurting her. Valka is reunited with her family (complete with a cute Scottish ditty she sings with her husband) and they're off to stop Drago from controlling all the dragons. There's a huge fight between his alpha, a humongous black dragon, and Valka's alpha, a humongous white dragon and Drago's dragon wins, thus making him in control of all the other dragons. This is yet another reason why I wished I had seen the first movie because I remember a huge dragon being in the movie, but don't recall if it was the same kind.

Toothless, under Drago's control, is ordered to kill Stoic, which he does and that was the scene I cried at (and several scenes after I was still crying!) It would be bad enough to have our main character lose his father, but have him die at the cost of his beloved friend is really a punch to the gut! Like Hiccup, I was even angry at Toothless for what he did, but Valka, being the voice of reason tells her son that it's not Toothless's fault; that he was tricked into doing it.

Now the town has no chief and no dragons, but Hiccup steps up to take his dad's place and defeat Drago and free the dragons from the hypnotized state they're all in. Not only does Hiccup become a hero, but so does Toothless, who fights through the mind control of the alpha and defeats the alpha, thus becoming the new alpha. Now Toothless doesn't kill the ex-alpha since he is a million times smaller, but the ex-alpha retreats into the water like a whimpering puppy.

The first movie came out the same year as Toy Story 3 (2010), so I knew it had no chance of winning the Best Animated Movie Oscar, but I hope it can win it next year for this movie because it's such a great movie and deserves to! I'll see you in another couple years for How To Train Your Dragon 3

Sunday, July 6, 2014

This time we're saving Mr. Banks, not Private Ryan

Saving Mr. Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Collin Farrell
Released: December 20, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Score - Thomas Newman (lost to Steven Price for Gravity)

This is the story of how Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) got the rights to P.L. Travers' (portrayed by Emma Thompson) beloved book that the movie Mary Poppins is based upon. Now I had no idea Mary Poppins was based on a book. I always figured it was an original script. It's been a long, long, LONG time since I've seen it, but I would have figured I would have read the book or at least heard of it, right? In fact, it's been such a long time since I've seen it that I had no idea who the "Mr. Banks" in question was until I realized it's the father from the book she wrote. 

I suppose no other studio could have made this movie other than Disney since they have the rights to Mary Poppins, the songs from it (you hear a lot of familiar classics!), and Walt Disney himself. I have a feeling this movie would have gone into darker territory if another studio had made it. It sounds like Disney (the studio) took a few liberates with Saving Mr Banks. True, they do make P.L. Travers very unlikeable, but they do give her a few moments of redemption and scenes where you kind of feel sorry for her, but it sounds like she was a lot worse in real life than how they portrayed her in the movie. Disney wants the rights to her book, but she will have final word in the script. I can understand an author wanting to protect her script, but some of the demands she bestows upon them is a little ridiculous. For one thing, she insists the color red not being present in the movie. And she just doesn't mean wardrobe, but anything that is red. The movie never tells us why she has such an aversion to the color red, like she does with pears. Since it's been so long since I've seen Mary Poppins, I don't know if they caved in to that ridiculous demand, but I'm guessing not since she also insist that there be no animation or musical numbers and, well, I know for a fact that both of those are in the movie! I'm guessing the scenes where she's dancing and singing along to Let's Go Fly a Kite with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and the Sherman brothers, the music composers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) did not actually happen in real life! In fact, she disliked them so much that when they made the stage production of Mary Poppins, she insisted only that British writers and composers be part of the team so she wouldn't have to work with the people from the film.

We see a scene where it's mentioned that Dick Van Dyke is being mentioned for the role of Bert and Travers is just appalled at this and we all know he got the role. There's another scene where they sing a song for her (and of course she hates it) and there's a made up word in it and she mentions how she hates it because it's not a word and we see one of the composers quickly cover the sheet music with the title "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious". There's cute little scenes like that.

The movie flips back and forth between writing the script for Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers' childhood in Queensland, Australia, where she was known as Helen Goff before adopting her pen name and we can kind of see why she ended up the way she did. Both her parents were pretty horrible at being parents. Her mother, despite having three young children, tried to commit suicide (but didn't) and her father (played by Collin Farrell) was a drunk who could never keep a job and that caused the family to have money problems. He loved Helen very much and told her to always keep her active imagination and Helen returned his adoration and was crushed when he died. Travers was her father's name and thus the reason she used it as her surname for her writing.

The movie shows her more tender side by having her befriend her driver (Paul Giamatti) who takes her to and from the studio and her hotel while she was in L.A. She's cold to him at first, but overtime they develop a very nice friendship, which surprise, never happened in real life! And I mean that Giamatti's character did not exist in real life.

Travers was not invited by Walt to the premier of the movie (which I guess really happened in real life - in fact, I heard that Walt was on vacation the two weeks she was there to help work on the script because he couldn't stand her!), but she attends it anyway because it is her book being made into a movie. She watches the movie and cries because she's just so overwhelmed by emotion, and Walt, who is sitting behind her, puts a tender hand on her shoulder, and again I can guarantee this never happened in real life. I don't know if it's true, but I'm willing to bet it is, I heard that Travers hated the movie! It's too bad she was such an unpleasant woman because I remember being charmed by Mary Poppins and now that I know it was written by her, it kind of tarnishes the movie for me. Looking at her Wikipedia page, I found a lovely quote that pretty much confirms how much a horrible person she was: "Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96. According to her grandchildren, Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her." Yikes! How can a woman like that write a charming story like Mary Poppins! Good thing when I think of Mary Poppins, I think of Julie Andrews!  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Top Chef

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr.
Released: May 30, 2014
Viewed in theaters: June 17, 2014

I'm a big fan of Top Chef and since I don't have Bravo, I have to buy the season pass from iTunes and while watching last season, they had an episode where Jon Favreau was a guest and he was there to promote his upcoming film, Chef. I am also a fan of Master Chef (US version is great, but the Aussie version blows it out of the water and sadly I have not been able to see the past couple of seasons because I can't find them on YouTube!) and I knew I would enjoy this movie about a chef who quits his job at a fancy restaurant to follow his dream of owning a food truck. 

Before I get into the movie, let me tell you something a little irritating that happened at the theater. I went on a Tuesday afternoon because movies cost $5 on Tuesdays and I was the only one in the theater when I arrived which didn't surprise me since it had been open for a month. I was thinking I would be the only one in the theater (and it has happened before) as I took my seat in the middle of the theater in the middle of the row. Then, a few minutes later, a guy comes in and out of ALL the empty seats in the theater, where does he choose to sit? Right behind me! I mean, not in the chair directly behind me, but he was sitting in the one next to it. Seriously, out of all the seats he could have chosen, he had to sit in that row? Sheesh, he could have at least put a row in between us. Yes, I am the kind of person who likes to have my own space especially when there are all those empty seats! Then, during the previews, the guy's wife comes in with the popcorn and drinks and I'm sure she thought her husband was there first and that I chose to sit right in front of them! 

Luckily they didn't talk or do anything annoying so I was able to enjoy the movie and forget that two people were sitting right behind me. 

Favreau plays Carl Casper, an acclaimed chef at a Los Angeles restaurant where he clashes with the owner (Dustin Hoffman). When a well-known critic, Ramsay Michael (Oliver Platt), is set to review their restaurant, Carl wants to cook something special, but his boss tells him he can't and stick to the regular everyday menu the restaurant is known for. 

When Carl reads the review the next day, he and the food are slammed and after getting a Twitter lesson from his ten year old son, Percy, he writes a not so nice message to the critic thinking he sent it as a private message, but instead Tweeted it so anyone could see it. His son is amazed that he has so many followers the next day then has to set his dad straight that anyone can read the messages he tweets. This starts a Tweeting war between Carl and Ramsay and soon things get out of hand and Carl is fired and blows up in front of Ramsay which results in an unfortunate YouTube video. 

Deciding that he needs to lie low for awhile and spend time with his son and get out of L.A., his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) suggests he come to Miami with her and Percy. There he gets in contact with his wife's other ex-husband (played by Robert Downey Jr. - when you're the director of Iron Man, it's easy to get him and Scarlett Johansson (who plays the hostess of the restaurant) to have small parts in your other movies!) who hooks him up with a food truck. The thing is a mess, though, so he and his son spend a day fixing it up - throwing junk out and buying a new stove and other necessities. He is pleasantly surprised when his sous chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), has quit his job to come down to help him. (Good thing too because he needed all the help he could get!) 

Carl and Martin are going to drive the truck all the way from Miami to L.A. (that makes the road trip I took from Omaha to Charleston, SC sound not so bad!) and Carl invites Percy to join them since he's out of school for the summer. Percy tells him that he'll ask his mom to see if it's okay and two seconds later he says, "She says it's okay." That was a cute running joke in the movie because he would just text his mom to ask her permission for things. Percy, being the tech savvy kid he is, promotes the food truck online with pictures and videos posted on Facebook and Vine and this gets them a lot of press and word of mouth.

While driving they see a sign for Disney World and Carl asks his son if he wants to stop there, but Percy tells him he'd rather to go New Orleans, a place they discussed going to earlier in the movie. I don't know what kid wouldn't want to go to Disney World, especially if you are right there anyway! At each locale they visit, they serve food that is familiar to that particular region. In Miami, it's Cuban sandwiches; in New Orleans, it's po'boys; in Texas it's pork sandwiches, etc. I have to say the food in the movie does look good, but the food they fix on the food truck looks really delicious. I have never ordered food from a food truck (I have never seen a food truck in real life - I don't think they have them where I live! ) I would not recommend seeing this movie on an empty stomach because it will just make you hungry! Hell, it will probably make you hungry even if you are full!

Of course, being that they are getting a lot of press out there, Ramsay decides to check out the food truck when they return to L.A. and tells Carl he would like to back him and have him open his own restaurant. The movie's ending was a little weak because Carl and his ex-wife get back together and while there were little hints of that, it seemed tacked on. 

If you are a fan of Top Chef or Master Chef, I would recommend this movie! And if you're not, I still think you might enjoy it.