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FALL MOVIE REVIEWS

 

 

PARKLAND

The movie Parkland is named after the hospital John F. Kennedy was taken to after he was shot. However, it could also be named Chaos. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the happenings after the shooting and how it affected the lives of ordinary people.

We have all heard of the Zapruder film but here we get to know who Abraham Zapruder was and the tremendous emotional toll the event took on him. We also meet Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother (I didn’t know he had a brother) and the difficulties he had wrestling with the knowledge his brother shot the president. His mother, on the other hand, thought she was an instant celebrity and continued making diva-like demands upon the security team assigned to them, the press, and others.

We are witness to the inner workings of the Dallas FBI office and the devastating affects it had on the agents when they realized the crazy kook they had been following was the shooter. We see the pain of the Secret Service agents and their reactions when they realize the president they are now guarding is President Johnson. We feel the pain of the Secret Service supervisor when he says that in the history of the Secret Service this is the first president they have lost and it happened on his watch.

We watch the chaos and shock in the hospital when the nurses and doctors realize their patient is the president. We are there for the last rites and watch Mrs. Kennedy place her wedding ring on her husband’s little finger. We feel the exhaustion and desperation of the medical staff when the events are over and the camera pans around the room at the massive amounts of blood covering the floor, walls, and people. The following day the staff is called upon to repeat the scene when Lee Harvey Oswald is brought in.

As they are preparing Kennedy’s body to be transported, the head nurse, played by Marcia Gay Harden, runs to her locker to retrieve a crucifix. She gives it to the priest who places it on the coffin. This is a touching and impromptu moment and only one of many that occurred.

Another revealing moment is when the Secret Service waiting on board Air Force One receive word the party is five minutes out. Someone suddenly asks where are they going to put the casket? They then begin frantically removing the last two rows of seats and must cut part of the door entrance before they can bring in the casket.

Parkland is done in the form of a black and white documentary making the events seem even more real. They also seamlessly combine actual news footage with the reenactments. Watching this movie is like suddenly turning back the clock 50 years. It should be seen by anyone not old enough to know of the events personally and any student of history.

Many fine actors appear including: James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, and Paul Giamatti.

This is an excellent film not seen by many. It was released in September to very little publicity and stayed in the theatres for only a couple of weeks. It is now out on video just 6 weeks after the theatre release but just in time to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. It has come under some criticism because it doesn’t address any of the conspiracy theories. But Parkland merely reports the events as they happened. These events occurred before the Warren Report and the many theories of single versus multiple bullets, other vague figures thought to be lurking in the shadows, and other possible conspiracies.

I urge you to see Parkland and help spread the word. This is truly one worth seeing. I give it a B+.

 

 

Captain Phillips

The movie Captain Phillips is based upon the true life drama of the hijacking of the MV Maersk Albama in 2009.

A small crew of Somali pirates boards the container ship in hopes of holding the ship and crew hostage in exchange for the insurance money. However, things don’t go as they had planned when the Maersk crew cuts power to the engines and lighting and captures one of the pirates. After some intense moments the pirates escape in the ship’s lifeboat along with Captain Phillips as their hostage.

The pirates plan to take Phillips to Somalia but the U.S. Navy arrives with orders to stop them at any costs. In addition, the pirates are having troubles on the lifeboat as they lose contact with their mother ship and run low on khat  which they chew constantly. While the pirates are fighting among themselves Phillips tries to escape and swim towards the ships. He fails in his escape attempt escalating the tensions even higher.

Almost anyone who follows the news knows what happened next when the SEAL team rescues Capt. Phillips. However, knowing the ending doesn’t lessen the final climax of the movie.

Tom Hanks who plays Capt. Phillips does an excellent job and we see a side of Hanks at the end that could be a big risk for an actor with the reputation of Hanks. There could be Academy Award nominations for both Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse, the leader of the pirates. It is hard to believe this is the first acting experience for Abdi.

My only complaint about the movie is the shaky camera work. That combined with the movement of the ship made me a bit seasick.

Captain Phillips holds your interest and rivets you to the seat from beginning to end as the tensions steadily build throughout.

I give Captain Phillips a B.

 

 

12 Years a Slave

Occasionally a movie comes along that is so powerful it should come with a warning label. 12 Years a Slave is such a movie but it should be seen by everyone—especially our country’s young people.

We think we know the story of slavery but we can’t really know the story until we see the fear, anguish, and ripped flesh of these long suffering people. 12 Years a Slave is both stomach-retching awful and delicately beautiful at the same time. The beatings and torture these people received is hard to watch but the photography, tenderness and dialogue is at times almost Shakespearean.

12 Years a Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup living in Saratoga Springs, NY as a free black man. He supports his wife and two children as a violinist and master carpenter. He signs on for a gig with two promoters but while having dinner with them he is drugged and later sold into slavery. He is then shipped to New Orleans where he is put up for auction and goes through a succession of owners, each meaner than the previous. Northrup, who is now called Platt, struggles to survive and maintain his dignity. Finally he encounters an abolitionist from Canada, played by Brad Pitt, who helps him return home.

Throughout his difficult journey, Northrup sees others who have it more difficult than he and he does what he can to help and encourage them. He also learns that not everyone can be trusted. The movie runs 134 minutes and almost every minute is wrought with emotion.

The acting is supurb and I expect Chiwetel Ejiofor (pronounced Chew-eh-tell Edge-ee-oh-for) who plays Northrup to receive a nomination for Best Actor. His depth of feeling and emotion is remarkable. There should be many other nominations coming from this including Best Director, Best Screenpay, and perhaps some nominations for other actors.

12 Years a Slave is so dynamic it should be required viewing for everyone over the age of 14. Due to the graphic violence it is not one you will want to see more than once but you must see it. It is currently in limited release so be sure to check your local listings first.

I give it a rare A+.

 

 

The Fifth Estate

If you are not internet savvy, a news junkie, or a political hound then this movie is not for you. However, if you fit into even one of these categories then you must see The Fifth Estate.

Traditionally, the press has been referred to as the Fourth Estate. The term originated in England denoting it as another branch, or estate, of the government. However, the U.S. uses the term “estate” to show the press’s independence from the government. The press, or Fourth Estate, is intended to be the watchdog over the three branches of government.

In today’s automated world anyone with a computer can write a piece, post it on a blog or internet bulletin board and call himself a journalist. Julian Assange took this concept one step further when he established the web site WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is intended to be a site where any whistleblower can post information anonymously exposing wrong-doing of a corporation, business, government, etc. which the public should know. This takes the Fourth Estate to the next level–the Fifth Estate.

This sounds good in theory but immediately the question arises as to how much information should be revealed. Should names be redacted? Will the information endanger others? Is it true? Will the information harm government informants or allies? Are lives at stake? How does this information affect government diplomacy? These are just a few of the ethical questions that face a worldwide phenomenon in its infancy. The typical laws and ethics that apply in the U.S. do not apply to the world wide web.

These questions and conflicts are examined throughout the movie through the relationship between Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, and his right hand man, Daniel Domscheit-Berg; various elements of the U.S. government; and newspaper reporters and editorial staff.

At the end of the movie we are left with many questions. Is WikiLeaks a grand experiment in freedom of the press or was it created to feed the giant ego of Julian Assange? How do we control the information flowing over the web, or should we control it? What are the consequences to others if this information is released or held? Is Assange a journalist or a threat to national security? Are Assange and Bradley Manning heroes or traitors?

As a reporter, journalist, writer, and blogger I have followed WikiLeaks and the questions it raises very carefully. In journalism 101 one of the first things we were taught was that with freedom of the press comes responsibility. The press has the duty to always be accurate, truthful, and responsible. These questions aren’t easy to answer and newsrooms are constantly weighing the pros and cons before a story is released. Those hosting websites and blog sites should also be asking themselves these questions.

The Fifth Estate gives a lot of background surrounding these questions and shows the consequences of releasing all information without some self control. The movie drags in a few places but I urge anyone interested in the question of freedom of the press and freedom of the internet to see it. An international dialogue needs to occur before governments begin closing down web sites, newspapers, and internets.

The Fifth Estate grades out at a B+.

 

 Last Vegas

What happens when you put together four Academy Award winners to do a buddy picture? Last Vegas is a movie that is more than a senseless, rowdy romp (The Hangover movies); but one that has a story with heart.

Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline join together to portray four long-time (or old) friends who meet in Vegas for a bachelor party for the only one of their group never to marry. Michael Douglas is the reluctant groom-to-be who finally proposed to his much younger girlfriend while giving the eulogy of his friend and mentor.

Each arrives searching for that missing component in his life, whether it is love or self-esteem, and all in need of a little craziness. A buddy movie wouldn’t be complete without a love triangle and Mary Steenburgen provides that element. She fits in well with the other award winners and holds her own throughout. She should as she has her own Academy Award to add to the mix.

Last Vegas has been compared to The Hangover movies. The movies are similar in that they are both about a group of men meeting in Vegas to celebrate an event; but, in my opinion, Last Vegas is much funnier. It may not have the shock value of The Hangover movies but it has some truly laugh-out-loud scenes.

Last Vegas proves that a good time can be had by all—no matter the age. Fun should not be age specific.

If you want to relax and have a few laughs I recommend Last Vegas. I give it a solid B.

 

Lee Daniel’s THE BUTLER

The Butler is an up close and personal view of the Civil Rights movement and 20th century American history as told by a White House butler. We have a rare view of society and racial divide from Cecil Gains’s perspective who was a product of a southern cotton farm but gained status as a well-respected butler of the famed White House.

Gains is caught between two worlds; his son is a Freedom Rider fighting for equal rights while he serves the rich and powerful. The Civil Rights conflicts are reflected in the struggles between the father and son. However, by the end of the movie we see Gains stand up for his beliefs and fight the White House policies for equal pay and opportunities for the black staff. We then see father and son join forces and stand up against African apartheid.

This is an excellent movie with many well-known stars including Forrest Whitaker as Cecil Gains and Oprah Winfrey as his wife. I expect both to receive awards and recognition for their performances.

For a different view of history and society I highly recommend The Butler. I give it an A-.

 

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is listed as a comedy, drama; however, I can’t remember anything funny about it. It is an intense film about a New York socialite who loses it all when her husband is exposed as a swindler, similar to Bernie Madoff.

Blue Jasmine is quite different from the typical Woody Allen film however some critics are saying it is his best in years. Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine who is forced to leave her New York apartment, Hamptons summer home, yacht, and wealthy friends behind when her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) divorces her. She is forced to live with her sister, who she formerly looked down upon, in her lower middle-class apartment in San Francisco.

We watch Jasmine gradual lose her mind as she goes from desperate to delusional. There is a glimmer of hope when a wealthy and promising politician wants to marry her but then all is lost when she is exposed as a liar.

The film is expertly crafted as only Woody Allen can do and Cate Blanchett gives an award-worthy performance. I give Blue Jasmine an A.

 

Now You See Me

Now You See Me is perhaps one of the best movies of the summer. It has a complicated plot with so many surprises it is hard to summarize here but you will be glad you attended this magic show. I have read a sequel is in the works.

Four magicians are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to rob banks and shower the audience with the money. Members of the audience are composed of people who either were denied insurance benefits or received reduced benefits. Of course, law enforcement is brought in to investigate in the form of an FBI agent and an Interpol agent. Throughout the movie you are kept guessing as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

Now You See Me has an all-star cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Common, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. Each plays his role to perfection never giving any hint as to the real culprits.

I won’t tell you anymore because I don’t want to spoil any of the fun. Now You See Me gets an A.

The Way, Way Back

Do you remember those awkward times as a young teen and never feeling like you fit in.? The Way, Way Back will take you back to those days of self-doubt, your awkward first kiss,  being torn between the adult world and the kid’s world, and not knowing who you are.

Young Duncan is 14 and forced to go on vacation with his mother, her boyfriend and his teenage daughter. To make matters worse Trent, his mother’s boyfriend, takes it upon himself to instruct and discipline Duncan but his efforts turn into emotional abuse. To escape the madness at the beachhouse, Duncan finds a girl’s bike in the garage and explores the area where he finds Water Wizz and its zany staff. Here Duncan feels he finally fits in.

The film is populated with many drunken and dysfunctional adults and it all comes to a climax at a 4th of July picnic. I will just say “the bombs bursting in air” aren’t the only fireworks that night.

The Way, Way Back has an excellent cast with Allison Janney as the crazy, drunken neighbor; Toni Collette as a mousey divorced mother; and Steve Carell as an obnoxious control freak.

Although there are many coming-of-age movies, this one will stay with you for a long time. It is painful and warm at the same time. It is one of the most financially successful films to come out of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and has out performed well known entries and Oscar nominated films from the previous year. All those people can’t be wrong. I give The Way, Way Back an A-.

P.S.—the title refers to the backwards facing rear seat of a station wagon—a  place where Duncan liked to sit.

The Lone Ranger

One of my biggest disappointments this summer was The Lone Ranger.  As a kid I loved the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto and I was eagerly looking forward to this movie.

The Lone Ranger has all the action you would expect and a spectacular chase scene set to The William Tell Overture; but it lacks character. More specifically, the Lone Ranger’s character lacks substance. In the beginning John Reid (The Lone Ranger) played by Armie Hammer, is a nerdy attorney who believes in the law so much he says his bible is “Two Treatises on Government” by John Locke.  Later in the movie people think he is dead and that is when Tonto (Johnny Depp) hands him a mask and white hat to conceal his identity. Once he takes on the personae of the Lone Ranger I feel the nerdiness should be dropped and the Lone Ranger should be a little more macho. Hammer and Depp have good chemistry together but I had a hard time adjusting to Lone Ranger the Dork.

Johnny Depp’s Tonto is also a big departure from the traditional Tonto. Depp based his character and costume on a painting of a Native American called I Am Crow by Kirby Sattler. As we know by now, Depp gives all his characters a strange twist and this one is a whopper. He not only wears a dead crow on his head but he continues to feed it throughout the movie.

But the strangest twist of all is how the “powers that be” (writer, director, producer?) chose to tell the story.  It is told in a series of flashbacks as Tonto, sitting in a sideshow of a Wild West show, tells a young boy about the legend of John Reed and how he became The Lone Ranger. This method is unnecessary and confuses the viewer.

The Lone Ranger has some giant explosions for the pyrotechnic freaks and some funny lines between John Reed and Tonto but, overall, it is a jumbled mess. Sadly, I give The Lone Ranger a D.

 

Iron Man 3

I have never been much of a fan of comic books, especially super-hero comics, so when Iron Man first came out I didn’t want to waste my money on it. I waited until it was on video and then reluctantly agreed to rent it one night when there was nothing on the TV. I was pleasantly surprised. Robert Downey, Jr. has a way of drawing you into the story and at the same time keeping a child-like sense of humor and curiosity about the world around him.

Robert Downey, Jr. aka Tony Stark aka the Iron Man is once again out to save the world; however, this time it is much more personal as his home is destroyed and those close to him are threatened. He is forced to dig deep within himself and rely upon his instincts to defeat the enemy, the Mandarin. Throughout the process he is finally able to answer a question that has haunted him—does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

The movie is dark in places and has, as you would expect, a lot of shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up scenes; but the mood is lightened by the appearance of Sir Ben Kingsley, an out-of-his-mind actor, as the Mandarin.

Of course, we have to have a love story and Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts. (I love that name.) She loves Tony but is disgusted with his constant tinkering in his laboratory. If possible, she is jealous of the suits as they get more of his attention than she does.

Iron Man 3 is a fun movie with many excellent actors. In addition to those mentioned above it also includes Don Cheadle returning as James Rhodes aka the War Machine and Stark’s aid, Ashley Hamilton as Firepower the villain, and James Badge Dale as Eric Savin. If you want a pleasant evening when you can sit back and put your mind in neutral then rent Iron Man 3—you won’t regret it. It is great entertainment.

I grade it a strong B.

 

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a story that has been told many times. The tale, first told by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is one of money, power, greed, love, lust, and loss. It vividly paints a picture of the excessiveness of the roaring 20’s but it could just as easily be set in current times.

The movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan, is full of beautiful sets and extravagant costumes. Nick, the narrator, quite often quotes from the book as Fitzgerald’s words appear on the screen, which is a technique I loved as I am a huge fan of Fitzgerald. However, another innovative technique used was the use of contemporary music which I felt clashed with the era as if Gatsby suddenly showed up wearing stripes, polka dots, and plaids.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie but I am deducting some style points because the use of jarring contemporary music. I give it a B-.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

The latest installment of the Star Trek series is another summer blockbuster. It is captained by the same team that oversaw the last Star Trek movie and this one lives up to the usual expectations of a Star Trek picture.

Captain Kirk faces many personal challenges and matures during the experience. Because he disobeys orders he loses command of his starship the U.S.S. Enterprise. However, war and politics make strange bedfellows and after a turn of events Kirk is once again the captain of the Enterprise with his usual companions of Dr. Spock and company rounding out the staff. They fly off into the universe to capture a former Starfleet member turned terrorist.

This movie is full of the usual explosions and special effects you would expect but it is a fun ride and you don’t need to know the previous plots to understand this one. It is self-explanatory—the good guys versus the bad guys.

I give it a B.

 

Man of Steel

We all know the story of Superman—or do we? We know he was sent by his parents from his dying planet to earth to save humanity. But when you think about it, that is all we know of Superman’s back story.

In Man of Steel we get to know more about Superman, what shapes and forms his character. He was raised under the moral guidance of his adoptive parents with good mid-western values and was inspired by the holographic message from his father telling him he was sent to earth to be its protector. We watch Clark Kent struggle to find his place in a world alien from his own.

We also see a new Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, who shows us an intelligent and hard-working journalist. I was happy to see that even when she discovered Clark Kent’s true identity she wasn’t fooled by the glasses. Even as a kid I could see that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person and a pair of glasses couldn’t disguise an identity.

This film brings Superman into the 21st century and gives us more information about the principal characters’ back stories but just when the movie starts to draw you into the characters it suddenly makes a shift and becomes a battle of the universe that goes on much too long. The whole second half of the movie is one explosion after another. I began to think just how many times can they blow up the earth?

Man of Steel has many wonderful actors with the super hunk Henry Cavil playing Superman, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his earthly parents, Russel Crow as his birth father, and Lawrence Fishburn as the editor of The Daily Planet. The actors alone make the movie worth seeing.

Because of the non-continuity of the plot and the heavy, dark feel of the movie I give it a c-.

 

Will Red Tails Bring Red or Green to George Lucas?

 

Would you spend 23 years working on a project with no guarantees it will ever come to fruition? That is what George Lucas did with his latest release, Red Tails.

Red Tails is about the Tuskegee airmen in World War II who flew planes distinguished by their red tails. It is a movie with an all black cast with a few exceptions and is today’s Top Gun. It was an expensive movie to make with elaborate aerial scenes and that is the reason major studios refused to pick it up. They felt they would not make enough green stuff to offset the expense of the movie. Even smaller distributors, who normally back black films, wouldn’t support it because they felt it would not have enough world-wide appeal.

However, George Lucas felt so dedicated to the Tuskegee airmen’s story that he backed it with his own money. It is a story of patriotism and racism—a story of pride and prejudice. Few people have even heard of the Tuskegee airmen even though they were one of the most successful units in WWII. They successfully completed their mission to bring home alive their charges, those flying the bombers over Sicily and Italy. They were kept out of the action during a good part of the war because no one felt Negros would make capable pilots. They were assigned menial surveillance and escort duties far behind the battle front.

The heavy and clumsy bombers were being blasted out of the air, almost at will, because they had no means of protecting themselves. Those who were assigned to protect them were often off making aces of themselves, leaving the bombers unprotected. When the Red Tails (named after the distinctive red tails of their planes) first showed up on the scene the bomber pilots felt they were, once again, at the mercy of the Gerrys (or Germans). It is a sad but true scene in the movie when the Red Tails pull up alongside the bombers to signal their presence and wave a friendly hello, the bomber crews were shocked to see they were under the protection of Negros! However, it didn’t take long for the Red Tails to prove their worth and win their respect. Ultimately, these flying aces brought home all their charges alive and never lost a bomber. That is a record to be proud of.

The movie has received praise for the aerial scenes and criticism for the story and dialog. George Lucas explained in an interview with Jon Stewart he was trying to capture the feel of the 1940s which was characterized with patriotic jingles. In the same interview Lucas said he made the movie to provide hero models for teenage boys.

Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. make a good team as the leaders of the squadron. Terrence Howard has the right amount of egotistical savvy to make his character believable. In the movie he says he has been accused of being cocky and he is proud of that. It took someone with a strong sense of self to achieve what he did. Cuba Gooding Jr. is another strong character with the right amount of reverence for his commanding officer. The other characters weren’t as strong and I felt at times they lapsed into stereotypes.

This is a movie definitely worth seeing. It shows us the pain of prejudice and segregation. If it had not been for the determination and stubborn persistence of the Tuskegee airmen, the outcome of the war could have been different. Thank God we did not let prejudice dictate protocol during the war. What we see in Red Tails is only a small part of the story of the Tuskegee airmen and Lucas says he has a prequel and sequel planned if this movie is successful. We know that when they returned to the states it was a difficult adjustment for everyone. They went from the freedom of flying the skies to forced segregation of colored restrooms and drinking fountains. I can only imagine how Lucas will handle that.

I urge everyone to support Lucas in his bold endeavor. The Tuskegee airmen and their Red Tails is a story destined to become part of the fabric of our national pride. I give the movie a B.

English: The P-51 Mustang flown by the Red Tai...

Image via Wikipedia

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© © Copyright 2012 Sheila Dobbie, Gahanna, Ohio
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