Movie Reviews

Movie Review–Argo is an Oscar contender


Ben Affleck has gone from the Hollywood playboy linked to several prominent starlets, most famously with Jennifer Lopez, to a respected actor, director, husband, and father. Affleck’s latest project, Argo, will certainly add to his credibility.

Argo is a movie about a fake movie that was used as a cover to bring six Americans home who were hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence after the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. These Americans were employees of the embassy and managed to escape out a back door when the embassy was overrun by a crowd angered over the U.S. support of the deposed Shah.

Even though this event occurred over 30 years ago and we all know the outcome, the movie keeps you on the edge of the seat until the very end. This is a tribute to Affleck who not only stars in Argo but is also the director.

Argo is filled with action, tension, political games, and a bit of comedy to liven the mood. Veteran actors John Goodman and Alan Arkin remind you of Laurel and Hardy thrown in the midst of a James Bond thriller. Goodman and Arkin play the fake film producers putting together a sci-fi picture similar to the recent block-buster Star Wars. They take their jobs seriously and see to every detail from advance PR to storyboards.

Ben Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, poses as the director of the fake movie Argo and tours exotic locations with his team of movie personnel (the escaped Americans). They must drive through crowds in narrow streets and walk through the local bazaar in order to maintain their cover of scouting a location for the movie. Every moment they are outside the Canadian embassy walls you feel their cover might be blown. They have many close calls including showing up at the airport where their tickets have not been approved and receiving the OK only at the last minute.

We went to the movies after a very busy and exhausting weekend and I said to my husband, “This movie better be good or I’ll fall asleep.” Let me tell you that there was no snoring in the movie theatre, in fact, the audience actually cheered and clapped.

Expect to see Argo nominated for best movie, Ben Affleck for best director, Alan Arkin for best supporting actor, and perhaps several other nominations. Argo is a real winner and I give it an A.


Movie Review: The Master showcases masterful performances

The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams is a character study of a drifter after World War II. All three actors give superb performances which could result in many award nominations.

The story revolves around Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, a social misfit and alcoholic trying to adjust after the war and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. In a drunken stupor, he goes aboard a yacht one night and crawls into a berth to sleep while everyone is partying on the deck above. Here he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) leader of a quasi religious and philosophical movement known as The Cause.

Dodd decides to keep the stowaway because he likes him and because he enjoys his stash of homemade booze. He welcomes Freddy into the movement and subjects him to a series of exercises known as Processing during which Freddy must undergo psychological questioning and various other exercises.

Freddie, the constant misfit, responds to any negative criticism about himself, Dodd or the movement with physical fights. A key scene in the movie is when Freddie confronts Dodd’s son Val, played by Jesse Plemons (Landry from Friday Night Lights), for lack of enthusiasm over his father’s teachings.  Dodd’s son responds by saying his father is a fraud and is making up his teachings as he goes along.

There has been a lot of buzz about this movie since its inception due to its comparisons to Scientology. However, it is neither a biography of L. Ron Hubbard nor a documentary of Scientology. There are many comparisons between L. Ron Hubbard and Lancaster Dodd including their physical appearance, Navy background, and charismatic personality; but, writer/director and producer Paul Thomas Anderson said he also included deleted scenes from There Will Be Blood, tales of Jason Robards’ Navy days, and stories of the life of John Steinbeck.

What this movie is, is a study in mind control and the clash of strong personalities. We see the inner workings of a cult and how people can be broken down and remolded into a follower of a strong personality who promises them love and acceptance.

Lancaster Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams) doesn’t have as much screen time as the other two main characters but we know she is a powerful character behind the scenes. You might say she is a strong passive/aggressive person.

This movie is not what I expected and is a little dark at times. I should have known it is not a typical Hollywood movie since it is not playing at any of the many multiplexes around this big metropolitan area but can be found only at the single art-house movie theatre in the city.

The Master is powerful, informative, and well done and will probably produce many candidates for awards including best actor for Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Master is not for everyone. Some scenes are dark and various people may find them questionable but the outstanding acting balances out the negatives of the movie. I give The Master a B+.

The Master – Official Trailer (2012) [HD] – YouTube.htm





Movie Review—The Campaign gets my vote

Will Farrell has made some pretty stupid movies but The Campaign isn’t one of them. This is a movie that actually has something to say.

The Campaign starring Will Farrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, and Dylan McDermott is a satire on today’s politics. With almost every scene you see something familiar whether it is Cam Brady’s (Farrell) hair that is an exact replica of John Edwards’ or Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) homespun philosophy and lack of sophistication all wrapped up as neat as a glass of Southern Comfort.

Cam Brady is a career politician accustomed to running unopposed but when he is involved in a sex scandal (imagine that!) the Motch brothers (as in Koch brothers), sleazily played by John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd, decide to back a naive candidate who can be easily controlled, Marty Huggins. Huggins is an effeminate tour guide, husband and father who wears wild eye-crossing sweaters.

Although The Campaign is meatier than some of Farrell’s other movies it still has some of his trademark physical and slapstick comedy such as when he accidentally punches a baby. When Huggins decides to test Brady’s true conservatism and challenges him to recite the Lord’s Prayer the scene will be long remembered as his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) acts out a charades to feed him the lines. One can’t help but laugh as Brady mumbles through the prayer and asks “Give us this day our daily pizza.” Oh Lord, forgive me my trespasses if laughing at this is considered sacrilegious but it is funny. The scene also points out the ridiculous lengths candidates go to today in trying to be a more devout Christian and a better American than the opponent. In fact, Brady’s trademark slogan is “America, Jesus, freedom!”

 As the movie continues with one ridiculous incident on top of another a nagging thought persisted—this would be really funny if it weren’t true. The Campaign, directed by Jay Roach of HBO’s political dramas Recount and Game Change, manages to show us how insane our political process has become and does it in a humorous rather than an insulting and shouting way. For a thought-provoking and entertaining evening be sure to see The Campaign.

The Campaign gets my vote—I give it a B+.


THE ARTIST—Everything Old Is New Again


Who would have thought that a little known French director and his two French stars could do a silent movie and turn it into a hit in the days of everything electronic and computerized? The Artist turns the world upside down and proves that you don’t need 3D, CGI, and other fancy electronic tricks to make a spell-binding movie.

It is refreshing to sit in a darkened movie theatre and be at one with your senses and emotions. We learn there are other ways to communicate rather than with words. Between the actors’ expressions and the mood of the music we have no problem understanding what is happening on the screen. The audience is taken through a wide range of emotions and by the end of the movie we realize we have experienced hubris, joy, happiness, sadness, fear, tragedy, pathos, loyalty, and much more without a single word ever spoken.

The Artist parallels the decline of a silent movie star with the rise of a young starlet at the beginning of talkies. The movie begins in 1927 when George Valentin, a dashing and somewhat narcissistic silent movie star, literally bumps into Peppy Miller, a young woman eager to break into the movies. They are immediately attracted to each other and he becomes responsible for her big break by insisting she be in his next movie.

The Artist then jumps ahead to 1929 when the whole world changes. George Valentin is informed by the studio head, Al Zimmer (played by John Goodman), that talkies are the future. Valentin laughs at this prospect and walks out to write, direct, and finance his own movie. As fate (and old movie melodramas) would have it, his movie, and that of his protégée’s, Peppe Miller, both premier on October 25. Her movie is a big hit while his flops drastically leaving him financially ruined. In addition, we all know what else happened the end of October 1929. The great depression hits sending Valentin into a deep alcoholic depression of his own.

I won’t go into any more plot detail because I would like the reader to go see the movie for yourself, however, it is safe to say that, as in any good old-fashioned movie, we have to have a happy ending.

The movie has already won a lot of awards and is guaranteed to win more before the awards season is over. It is nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a leading role, and Best Actress in a supporting role. Jean Dujardin, who plays George Valentin, seems to have a rubber face as he goes through a wide range of emotions. Berenice Bejo is appropriately perky and peppy in her portrayal of Peppy Miller. And, John Goodman is bigger than life as he plays the cigar- chomping, studio boss. Although each actor is excellent, I must say my favorite is Uggie the Jack Russell dog. He is Valentin’s faithful companion and provides the comic relief.

The director, Michel Hazanavicius, has successfully made a beautiful homage to movies. He said he had fantasized about making a silent film for years because many of the filmmakers he admires emerged in the silent era and because of the image-driven nature of the form. He chose the form of the melodrama because he felt that many of the films that had aged best were melodramas. He did extensive research about 1920s Hollywood and studied films to find the right techniques to make the story comprehensible without having too many intertitles to explain the actors unspoken words.

Throughout the movie I couldn’t help but make comparisons to famous actors and scenes from the past such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Valentino, Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, and many more. The Artist is a visual masterpiece with just the right amount of highlights and shadows to make a scene memorable. It is also a joy to sit back and listen to the score which dances around our emotions evoking every feeling possible and then crescendoing to an unforgettable climax.

The Artist is more than just a work of art it is a work of genius. It is a must see for any serious movie buff, lover of the arts, or anyone tired of loud crash’em up, bang’em up movies. It is a breath of fresh air in today’s hectic world.

 I give it an A.

MOVIE REVIEW ON VIDEO: The Conspirator Is for those with Inquisitive Minds

Lithograph of the Assassination of Abraham Lin...

Image via Wikipedia

The Conspirator is an excellent movie but not everyone’s taste. If you are in the mood for a mind numbing movie to kill a couple of hours then this is definitely not the movie you want; but, if you are a history buff and want your thinking and beliefs to be challenged, then you are in luck.

This post Civil War drama (directed by Robert Redford) centers on two minor characters in history who were on the fringes of the Lincoln assassination. Even though they were insignificant players, they played a major role in our legal system and the reconstruction period. It is the story of the trial of the conspirators behind the plot to kill Lincoln and one very unlucky and lonely lawyer appointed to defend one of the conspirators. Frederick Aiken, brilliantly played by Scottish actor James McAvoy, must defend Mary Surrat (Robin Wright) owner of the boarding house where the plot was constructed. As he fights for her rights he is abandoned by his fiancé, friends, social club, and colleagues.

Aiken, a Union war hero, becomes the unwilling defender of Mary Surrat, a southern sympathizer. Aiken tries to get out of the appointment but gradually begins to believe in her innocence. She is being tried in a military court even though she is a civilian and he sees that her rights as a citizen are being violated. He argues she is being denied her right to be tried by a jury of her peers.  However, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, played by Kevin Kline, wants her tried quickly to quiet the unrest and help the country heal after the devastation of the war and death of a president. What is implied is that he also wants her found guilty as quickly as possible so the uproar can be put behind them.

The real conflict of the movie is whether or not the rule of law will prevail. The rule of law, as defined by Lexis Nexis, an online legal source, is the principle that no one is above the law….The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy.

Mary Surrat was found guilty and hanged; but was she guilty or not? According to Roger Ebert’s review, “They require us to think our own way through the case and arrive at our own opinions.” After the trial Aiken was instrumental in creating a law that requires civilians to be tried in civilian courts—not a military tribunal. The case and its consequences have relevance today. Can you imagine the hysteria if a similar scenario happened today? We would have 24 hour news services screaming for justice (remember the Casey Anthony case?) and angry mobs everywhere.

Our country is founded on the rule of law. That is, the law—not a single person, monarch, or even mob—has the final say. Our legal system and government aren’t perfect and many decisions have been handed down that were not popular; but it is the best system around. We have over 200 years that prove it. Look at what is happening in Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc.

Major criticism of the movie is that it is slow and I am sure it is to those accustomed to bang’um up and shoot’um up movies. However, I found it very engrossing and thought-provoking. I am happy to see that the producers, The American Film Co., have two other projects in production. One is a story about abolitionist John Brown and another about Paul Revere’s ride. I strongly recommend Sarah Palin see that one.

 I highly recommend this for history buffs, attorneys, and those with inquisitive minds. It brings a brief but important moment in history alive and puts us right in the center of it. You can almost feel the heat and contention in the courtroom.

I give it an A-.