Sunday, November 24, 2013

Delivery Man

Writer/Director Ken Scott’s Delivery Man is his American remake of the French Canadian film Starbuck he made in 2011.  Using the same Co-Writer Martin Petit and the same Producer André Rouleau, this is the first remake into another language I can think of that was done by the same people.  So, it’s true to the original spirit.  The only thing missing is the Canadian star Patrick Huard.  Instead, we have the well-cast Vince Vaughn, who is able to show more heart than has been evidenced in his strictly comic roles to date.
The premise is one of the most unique of this or any other year.  All-around screw-up David Wozniak (Vaughn) had made 693 sperm donations in the ‘80s and learns that he is the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are bringing suit against the clinic to find out who he is.

The film is funny and heartfelt as David surreptitiously involves himself in the lives of several of his offspring while he is trying to get in the good graces of his pregnant girlfriend (Cobie Smulders), who is a cop, as well as keep from the clutches of loan sharks to whom he owes $80,000.

If the ending doesn’t bring tears of joy to your eyes, God help you.

As I did for Starbuck, I give Delivery Man a 4 out of 5.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Philomena is the bittersweet story of a simple Irish woman, who, 50 years ago, had suffered the cruelty of the type of nuns, who operated the infamous Magdalene asylums from the mid-18th century until 1996.   These were institutions where young Irish girls, who were orphaned, abandoned or “shamed,” were indentured to work in laundries and whose children were sold to mostly American couples.  Truly, the shame of a religion and a nation.

When Philomena (Dame Judy Dench) comes out to her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) that she has a half-brother, who was stolen from her in infancy, Jane entreats journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her mother find him.

The journey the odd pair take is full of pathos and charm. 

Director Steven Frears worked from a script by Coogan and Jeff Pope that was based on the book by the real Martin Sixsmith.  Yes, this film is based on a real life story.

What I really liked was the fact the absolute horror Philomena Lee and countless women suffered was unmasked in a story where the victim of fake Christianity becomes the true Christ-like character.
I give Philomena a 4+ out of 5.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The second segment of a trilogy is, typically, the most difficult to construct.  The audience has already been introduced to the main characters and the world they inhabit.  The struggle between protagonist and antagonist has been set.  And, you know the story won’t end with this chapter.  Such is the case with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. 

Here are some of the problems…  If you’re not part of the fan base and haven’t seen the first installment, you may not be able to follow what’s going on.  There isn’t an adequate explanation of how the original games work.  So, the audience is pretty much limited to the fan base, which, admittedly, is huge.
Next, the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) killed a lot of people in the first episode, so, to her credit, she is going through a lot of angst over that.  However, that makes for a slow start to the action for us.  She’s proved herself a champion and that’s what we want to see.  Director Francis Lawrence and his writing team of Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn don’t move the story along fast enough and without the talent of Lawrence this would have been a bigger problem than it is.

As it is, Katniss’ spirited sister Primrose (Willow Shields) becomes a, potentially, more interesting character, which I’m hoping will be borne out in the third installment.

This episode, also, brings out the absolute evilness of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), so the film has a much darker tone than the original, as well.  Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just another reason why we want to get into the action.

When the action does pick up, it is, of course, exciting.  However, there is the almost absolute certitude that nothing is going to happen to Katniss.  The stakes never seem high enough and it becomes disturbing that she, somehow, never runs out of arrows.  In fact, they, magically, multiply from scene to scene.

Bottom line, the movie seems like a nearly2 ½ hour trailer for the third episode. 

I expected more from this film, but I’m sure the fan base will love it.  Overall, I did, too.

I give The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a 4 out of 5 for fans and a 3+ for anyone else, who happens to buy in.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Book Thief

Flawless.  That’s the reaction I had last year, when I saw Argo.  Although it would be up against “big” films like Lincoln, I felt it should get the Academy Award for Best Picture…and I was right.  As good as the other contenders were, they all had flaws.

                             Today, I saw The Book Thief and I had the same reaction.  Director Brian Percival’s work is flawless, with an excellent screenplay by Writer Michael Petroni, based on Markus Zusak’s wonderful novel, Michael Ballhaus’s superb Cinematography, Simon Elliot’s extraordinary Production Design, John Wilson’s perfect Editing and amazing acting by Sophie Nélisse in the lead role as Liesel, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as her foster parents Hans and Rosa, Nico Liersch as her young boyfriend Rudy Steiner and Ben Schnetzer as the Jewish refugee, Max.

I’m sure there will be other fabulous films opening over the Holidays, but this is the one they will have to beat for the major Awards.

The story is about Hitler’s horrendously repressive regime that tried to destroy words through the burning of books and the young girl, who, not only literally stole them back, but created her own words that outlived the fundamentalist vermin.
It’s a noble, heartwarming and uplifting film on the nobility of the human spirit and should be seen by young and old alike.

I give The Book Thief a well-deserved 5 out of 5.

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor is one of the best science-fiction/adventure films of the year.  Not only is there great action and fabulous sets by Production Designer Charles Wood, but the script by the writing team of Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely provides humor and well as thrills.
The nine worlds are coming into an alignment that occurs only once in thousands of years, including our world, as well. 

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has quelled all the rebellious forces and has brought all the worlds under the control of Asgard where his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) rules. 

But, the dark elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) have escaped their captivity and are searching for the ether that will turn the universe back into the darkness that existed before light.

Through one of the anomalies in nature created by the convergence of the worlds, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been transported to the place where the ether has been hidden and it becomes trapped inside her.  This brings Thor back into her life, but it, also, brings Malekith after her, as well.

Everyone mentioned does his/her part well, including Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s duplicitous brother Loki and Jaimie Alexander as Sif, the warrior who wants Thor for herself.   

And the above-mentioned humor is thanks to Stellan Skarskård as the mad scientist and Kat Dennings, who is on Dr. Foster’s team.

It’s getting cold, so grab a box of hot popcorn and go see Thor: The Dark World.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

About Time

Writer/Director Richard Curtis is England’s Nancy Meyers (The Holiday/The Parent Trap)…and vice versa.  I mean that as a compliment to both.  They create, arguably, the most heartfelt films in the English language on both sides of the Atlantic.  

I confess to keeping Curtis’s Love Actually on my DVR as an emergency pick-me-up for whenever I’m down.   That’s why I was anxiously awaiting About Time.   And, while it’s not quite up to Love Actually, it does have some scenes of absolute brilliance thanks mostly to Bill Nighy and the beautiful Rachel McAdams.  They both are impeccable actors.

For why it’s not a Love Actually, I refer to that film for my point and must put on my old distributor’s hat.  To me, the one “flaw” in Love Actually was the casting of Hugh Grant’s love interest.  Not that she was bad in any way.  She was quite charming, in fact,. It’s just that I wished someone more appealing had been given the part…appealing in the way of box office draw, if nothing else. 

In About Time, it’s the casting of Domhnall Gleeson in the main role that brought up the same feeling.  He gives a fine performance, but, again, I wish someone with more box office appeal had been given the part because I believe it would draw more people to this worthwhile film.

However, I would point out that in American Indian rug-weaving, the masters purposely make a flaw in their work which is known as the Spirit Line.  The reason is an expression of humility, since only the Great Spirit can make a perfect work.  

While I have no idea whether Curtis is aware of this, I’m beginning to think he may unconsciously be creating Spirit Lines in his work.
Nevertheless, there is so much to enjoy in this film about relishing our time of life that I urge you to see it.  And, I may go see it again, myself.

I give About Time a 4 out of 5.

P.S.: After a fairly stressful day, I needed something uplifting and did go to see About Time again.  Not only did I enjoy it even more than the first viewing, I felt I might have been a bit unfair with my rating.  While Domhnall Gleeson may not be a young Hugh Grant, he does grow on you and I’m revising my rating to 4+ out of 5.  If it weren’t for some annoying and unnecessary hand-held shots in a few scenes that I didn’t mention before, the film would get a full 5 out of 5.