Movie Reviews

Promised Land is a small movie that tackles a big subject

Promised Land #2


Promised Land is a small movie currently in limited release that should get more publicity than it has. It is about the controversial topic of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” as it is commonly called.

Promised Land written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski (of The Office) also stars these two men who oppose each other in the battle for or against fracking in a small Pennsylvania town. Matt Damon as Steve Butler and his partner Frances McDormand as Sue Thomason are sales reps for Global Crosspower Solutions, an energy company specializing in retrieving natural gas through the controversial method of fracking. They convince the farmers to sign over the drilling rights in this small depressed farm town by promising them they will be millionaires. All they have to do is sign on the dotted line.

Damon, the smooth operator dressed down in jeans and flannel shirt, feels this will be a quick job and they will be out of the town in a few days when the town decides to put the decision up to a vote. This decision is encouraged by the town’s local high school science teacher (played by Hal Holbrook) who is also an internationally renowned geologist. He brings up the question of the safety of fracking causing the town’s people who have already signed to rethink their decision.

To further muddy the picture for Global’s reps (Damon and McDormand) Dustin Noble (Krasinski) as a grassroots environmentalist comes to town. He tells the people how his family’s dairy farm cows all died due to Global’s fracking.

As expected, tensions mount building up to the big vote. At this point the plot takes a twist that blind sides everyone.

This is an excellent movie that examines the pros, cons, and dangers of natural gas retrieval through hydraulic fracturing without being preachy. Anyone who has followed this blog knows I have cautioned about the dangers of fracking and have written against it in the past. In some ways I wish the movie were more forceful about the dangers of fracking but it does point out one problem I have been fearful of from the beginning. That is, I have been afraid government, business, and struggling families may be too eager to jump on the bandwagon without considering the consequences. Can we trust these gas companies when billions of dollars are at stake? Will we sacrifice our environment, safe drinking water, and our health for more energy?

Promised Land is an interesting movie about a very hot topic. It has an excellent cast and is well written and acted. Hal Holbrook gives a forceful and touching performance, Matt Damon and John Krasinski are great playing against each not only for the loyalty of the town but also for the same girl, and Fances McDormand enlivens the movie with her usual quirkiness.

This is a must-see movie if you are concerned about our environment or want to know more about fracking.

I give Promised Land a B+.


NOTE–here are links to previous posts regarding fracking.,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ,d.dmQ


Movie Review: Parental Guidance is misunderstood by the critics

Parental Guidance #2

Parental Guidance is a cute little movie about generational differences and parenting styles. The movie encompasses three generations which include the modern techie parents, the out-of-date grandparents, and three hyper bratty kids.

The movie stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as the grandparents and Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott as the tech savvy parents. Some of the jokes are predictable when you throw social media and computer terms at dinosaurs but it still evokes a chuckle or two. (Unless you are a dinosaur yourself and don’t understand the new age technical terms.) The movie also has some typical slapstick moments but that isn’t all bad.

If you are not familiar with the computer lingo you will at least recognize the discrepancies in parenting styles. The grandparents are from the old school of believing kids must face defeat and hardships in order to toughen them up for life’s experiences. The grandparents also believe in discipline coupled with time for play for the kids. Above all, the grandparents believe a generous dose of love should accompany all activities.

The parents are the typical helicopter parents who constantly hover over their kids and protect them from any negativity. They don’t believe in saying “no” or raising their voices at their kids. Their baseball team allows a kid to continually swing at a ball until he gets on base—no three strikes and you’re out rule.

If you are a grandparent or “of a certain age” you will probably recognize someone you know in the characters. You might even recognize yourself.

Parental Guidance has received mixed to poor reviews from the critics but in spite of that it has done well at the box office. My personal opinion is that most of the reviewers have been young 20 to 30 somethings and have missed the point all together.

You won’t find Parental Guidance at any awards shows. You won’t hear any profanity, loud car crashes, or guns blazing. You won’t see any nudity, sex scenes, blood and gore. But, if you want an enjoyable night out go see Parental Guidance. It might restore your faith in “the family of man”.

I give Parental Guidance a C.


Les Miserables Has Many Virtues



Les Miserables is a complicated movie to review because Victor Hugo wrote a very broad and far reaching book in 1862 upon which the movie and stage play are based. The book is populated with a multitude of characters from many different backgrounds. There are so many plots and subplots running throughout a long time span that it is difficult to keep everything straight. However, this is not entirely Victor Hugo’s fault as this was typical of novels during that time.

In addition to the complex plot the story is told almost entirely through song. So what is it that keeps readers and audiences captivated over the last 150 years? Perhaps it is because it touches on so many principles and emotions that affect us all. The story explores love, hate, redemption, passion, loss, sacrifice, patriotism, right versus wrong, and survival of the human spirit. All of these themes are expressed through moving lyrics and emotionally engulfing music. I dare anyone to sit through the movie and not experience a lump in the throat, a tear in the eye, or even a chuckle at times.

As I said, the plot is too complicated to go into depth here but I will break it down to its very simplest form.

Plot Summary

Les Miserable, or Les Mis as it is commonly called, translates from French to mean The Miserable, The Miserable Ones, The Poor or Poor Ones, The Wretched Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims. The drama covers the time period of 1815 to the June Rebellion of 1832.

The main character is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who has been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. Valjean vows to make a new life for himself after his parole and help from a compassionate priest. He becomes a factory owner and mayor of a town in France; however, he is constantly hunted and harassed by his nemesis and former prison guard, Javert (Russell Crow) for breaking parole.

Hugh Jackman and Russell Crow

I liked the movie but after having seen it as a stage play several times I can’t help but make comparisons. A couple of things stand out. First, I have to agree with many critics that the singing is not as good as it should be. The roles are demanding and the stage actors are mostly classically trained singers. Although Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) is a good singer, I didn’t feel his voice is as strong as it should be for this rigorous role. Also, criticism has been directed toward Russell Crow’s (Javert) performance. Here, I disagree with the critics. True, Russell Crow is not a great singer (he is a rock singer) compared to those who have filled the role in the past, but I like the down-to-earth ruggedness he brings to the role. How many prison guards do you know who are classically trained singers?

Secondly, something I found annoying is the way some scenes were edited. Many of the songs are very emotionally charged and in a theatre you have an opportunity after a musical number to applaud and soak in the emotional atmosphere. In the movie it jumps from scene to scene without that break to reflect on what just happened. A simple fade to black after some of the production numbers would give the viewer time to digest the scene. I felt robbed of that emotional experience.

A new approach tried by the director and one which was successful was recording the singers live rather than dubbing it in afterwards. This allowed the actor/singer to put more emphasis and interpretation into the scene. By using this technique the singing is not perfect all the time but it adds more realism and emotion to the movie.

Mixed reviews and 8 Academy Award Nominations

Les Miserables has received mixed reviews by the critics but received eight Academy Award nominations including best picture, lead actor (Hugh Jackman), supporting actress (Anne Hathaway), production design, costumes, makeup and hairstyling, original song and sound mixing. Anne Hathaway is thought to be the front runner in her category and may very well win it. This role is a stretch for her and she is a wonderful Fantine.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne play Cosette and Marius the love interests of the story. They are great together and their voices blend beautifully. Redmayne is fairly new to the scene but I predict you will be seeing much more of him in the future.

I must also comment on my favorite couple of the show, the Thenardier’s. They provide the comic relief with their famous number, Master of the House. They are sleazy owners of an inn where they feed their guests less than edible food and even charge them “extra for the lice.” The Thenardier’s are played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonaham Carter. They are outrageously funny however I had a little difficulty understanding Carter’s lyrics. You could say Carter was typecast for the role as her hair and makeup could have come from her own closet.

Les Mis will stir your soul

If you haven’t seen the stage play of Les Mis then you must see the movie. It is a classic that will stir you down to your soul in spite of its few flaws. I know of no other play that captures such a wide range of the human condition from life and death struggles to the many kinds of love. There is a line that comes at the end of the play when Jean Valjean is dying that says so much in such few words and it hits me like a lightning strike every time I hear it. It is—to love a person is to know the face of God. This gives you an idea of the genius of the play.

Overall, I enjoyed Les Miserables and expect it to win many awards, however I don’t anticipate it winning best picture.

I give Les Miserables a B.

Skyfall is a visit with an old friend and a glimpse into the future


The latest installment of the James Bond series, Skyfall, is a perfect piece to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series. It looks back to established characters and gadgets and forward to the future with new characters and more state-of-the-art gadgets.

The movie also gives us more background information on the James Bond character by taking us to the estate, Skyfall, where Bond grew up. Skyfall is a transition piece where we pay homage to and bid farewell to the past and are introduced to new characters. This reassures us that those behind the Bond franchise intend to keep it going even though the studio and others have had some rocky times.

The tone of Skyfall is a little different from other Bond movies in the past but it has enough of the familiar elements to make us feel comfortable with the new format. Bond still has the quiet sophistication and exotic locations we have come to love; and, the movie has the thrilling chases and explosions that always mark a Bond film. And, of course, there are the Bond girls and sex. Oh yes, and he still looks great in his tux.

Daniel Craig as agent 007, James Bond, is every woman’s dream—a handsome, tough but sensitive guy. This is Craig’s third time to play Bond and I find he adds believability to the character that was missing from the previous Bonds.

Javier Bardem is the villain in Skyfall. He plays a former MI6 agent who has become a cyber terrorist and is seeking revenge against those he thinks betrayed him. Bardem once again turns in an excellent performance as a villain and is downright creepy with his bleached blond hair.

Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory is a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army and is a character we will be seeing in the future.

Judi Dench as M makes her seventh appearance in the role and, as always, is stern but concerned about her agents. This time she seems to have the pressure of the world on her shoulders.

Skyfall is a delight for us old-timers who were around for the first Bond 50 years ago and it should pick up some of the younger generation at the same time.

For a fun time with an old friend see Bond, James Bond, in Skyfall.

I give Skyfall an A.


Denzel Washington flies into turbulence in Flight



If you are a fan of Denzel Washington movies where he flexes a little muscle and flashes that wide grin of perfect pearly whites to save the day and win the girl, then you won’t like Washington’s newest movie, Flight.

In Flight Washington is not a desirable character, even though he is dashing in his pilot’s uniform. Washington plays airline captain Whip Whitaker who, after a night of sex, alcohol and drugs, must pilot an out-of-control plane and then answer many questions after a crash landing. He wakes up in the hospital a hero learning that he saved 96 of 102 souls on board.

On a journey of self-discovery Whip Whitaker must face his past, his ex-wife and son, and his demons of alcohol and drugs before facing a NTSB hearing. By the end of the movie the viewer is thoroughly disgusted with Whip’s antics and, just when you are about to give up on him, the hearing takes a dramatic twist.

John Goodman is a hoot as Whip’s drug dealer, Harling Mays.  Harling still lives in the drug culture of the 70’s and Goodman steals every scene he is in.

Don Cheadle, as Whip’s attorney provided by the airline, is the true pilot of this craft and keeps the film moving toward its dramatic conclusion. He is a calm steady presence in the midst of Whip’s chaotic life.

Flight is a thought-provoking and entertaining film and I highly recommend it. Just don’t watch it before or during a plane trip.

I give Flight a B.