Rampart

New review from The Movie Snob

Rampart (C+).  OK, I didn’t set out to see this movie.  I misread a movie guide and went to the Angelika in Dallas to see this Iranian movie A Separation, but I was way off on the time and had to see something else.  I had read a good review of this flick, starring Woody Harrelson (Management) as a dirty cop on the L.A.P.D., so I saw it instead.  I don’t know.  I thought Harrelson was way over the top as Dave Brown, a chain-smoking, civil-rights-abusing cop working the barrio.  The department is already under scrutiny for some other scandal when Brown makes matters worse by getting caught on film beating a guy half to death after he crashes into Brown’s car.  His home life is none too good either, with two ex-wives that he apparently still lives with on some sort of time-share arrangement, and one daughter by each.  As the movie goes on, we find out more and more about Officer Brown, none of it good.  Although the movie felt long (it’s only 108 minutes), and was unbelievable in places, I still found myself wondering what was going to happen next.  And who was going to show up next–the cast includes a remarkable array of stars that I didn’t know were in it, including Sigourney Weaver (Heartbreakers), Steve Buscemi (Fargo), Ice Cube (Three Kings), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), and Anne Heche (Cedar Rapids), among others.  It’s arguably worth seeing, but note that its R rating for sex, violence, and language is well-earned.

Another Earth

The Borg Queen reports in.

Another Earth

A-

This movie was written and produced by its leading actress, Brit Marling, who plays Rhoda.  At the beginning of the movie, Rhoda is a reckless teenager and, after a night of partying, smashes into another car occupied by a family.  The mother and young boy die, but the father, John (played by William Mapother, who played as Ethan on “Lost”), survives.  That night is also the night another planet suitable for life is suddenly visible in the sky, though at this point it is just a small blue light in the sky.  The movie flashes forward to four years later when Brit is getting out of jail.  Brit is still carrying the burden of what happened on her shoulders and is generally somber and seemingly feeling as though she is not entitled to happiness or success.  She eventually finds John and goes to his house to apologize to him.  She sees him sitting inside his house, obviously depressed and lost about the loss of his family.  She loses her nerve when John answers the door and ends up pretending she’s offering a free trial for a cleaning service.  John ends up hiring her to come to his house once a week, not knowing that she is the teenager that killed his family.  Rhoda faithfully comes every week, cleaning John’s house and never cashing any of John’s checks.  The remainder of the movie revolves primarily around Rhoda and her struggle to deal with causing the death of John’s family, and the development of the John-Rhoda relationship–leaving us wondering if and when he will ever find out who Rhoda truly is and how he will react if he finds out.

Meanwhile, the other planet has come close enough to Earth that it is bigger in the sky than the moon, and its oceans and lands are easily seen by the naked eye.  When Earth finally makes  contact with the other planet, we discover that it is a duplicate Earth where everyone and everything that exists and happens here also exists and happened on the other Earth.  The movie never explains, or even tries to explain, how or why this other planet appeared and continued to move closer to Earth.  But it never really seems to matter–rather, it created an atmosphere of possibilities and wonderment.  You are often left imagining what is happening on the other planet and waiting to see how it will interact with John and Rhoda, if at all.  This film drew me in right in the beginning and kept me captivated until the end. This movie is excellent and definately worth trying.

Downton Abbey

This one gets Mom Under Cover’s seal of approval.

Downton Abbey–Grade A+

If you missed this PBS Masterpiece Theater mini-series last year, it isn’t too late–you can find the first season easily.  The second season wraps up Sunday (2-19) but is also available on DVD.  Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham), Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess–Lord Grantham’s mother) along with the three Grantham daughters–each searching for a beau–and a bevy of maids and footmen make this Upstairs-Downstairs saga a delight!  Elizabeth McGovern plays a wealthy American who brings her American fortune to the marriage which allows the Earl of Grantham to keep his vast estate and continue leading the life of the very privileged in Victorian England.  Though it is an arranged marriage, it is a tender and true one.  We meet the family before WWI when the priority is to marry off the eldest daughter (Lady Mary, played very well by Michelle Dockery).  The second season takes place during the first world war–and Downton and society will never be quite the same.

If you enjoyed Merchant Ivory productions (Remains of the Day) and some of the recent PBS Masterpiece offerings, you will quickly become enthralled.  The third season is currently in production and rumor has it that Shirley Maclaine will play Lady Grantham’s mother and an interesting foil to Maggie Smith, who, as you would imagine is brilliant in her role as the matriarch.  As with similar well done period productions, the costumes are lovely, the set rings true (the “upstairs” portions are filmed at Highclere Castle and the “downstairs” scenes are in a studio) and the characters are accessible yet authentic.  A definite must see!

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D

Mom Under Cover gets her Jedi on.

Star Wars –The Phantom Menace in 3D–Grade C. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a Star Wars aficionado.  My Star Wars education consists of viewing the original Star Wars in the ’70s and logging quite a few hours putting together lego Star Wars kits with my children. The lego Death Star (partially completed) occupies a prominent position in our game room–with various Star Wars lego people strewn around. 

As for the movie, the 3D effects ranged from almost non-existent to average.  There were a few scenes that did seem truly 3D.  The first underwater adventure to the hidden city home of Jar Jar Binks was good.  Generally, you can take off the glasses and not see much difference.  The pod-racing scene went on too long, as did the light saber fight between Darth Maul and the young Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-gon (Liam Neeson).  I was confused as to whether Padme, the lady in waiting to Queen Amadala (so tempting to call her amygdala–which truly annoys my children) was the same person but some kind of hologram of the Queen–as I thought both characters were played by Natalie Portman.  I learned that the Queen (who was really the decoy) was played by Keira Knightley–obscured by the funky makeup.  I understood there was a switch going on and the Queen was a decoy but somehow it was still confusing.  The triumphant parade scene near the end totally cracked me up as the Jar Jar people with big elephant ears (surely they have a name?) marched along like some kind of funky marching band.  My advice–if you are forced to take your kiddos to this flick, be sure to see it at Studio Movie Grill where you can order a fairly decent skinny margarita–or two.  Otherwise, pass.

The Artist

Movie Man Mike sounds off on another Oscar contender.

The Artist. (A-).  The more I think about this film, the more I like it.  I was skeptical about the idea that I would enjoy a silent film, but this one worked.  For the very reason that there was no talking (or almost none), it caused me to focus on the actors and their performances.  One complaint I have about many films today is that the special effects often overshadow any real story.  This film had a story and a message and it didn’t need fancy special effects to tell the story.  The film is set during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s at a time when film is moving out of the silent era and into the talking era.  The story is about fictional actors who had to make that transition, and what better way to show that than to show it using a silent film format.  Of course, to tell the story, this film needed great actors.  And that’s what it got with Jean Dujardin, as George Valentin—star of the silent film era, and Berenice Bejo, as Peppy Miller—who plays the rising starlet in a time of transition from silent film to talking film.  Both actors received Oscar nominations and they are well-deserved.  One member of the cast left out of the Oscar nominations was Uggie, who plays Valentin’s dog.  He’s so cute he deserves a special Oscar category all to himself.

Moneyball

A new review from Movie Man Mike.

Moneyball (B+).  Baseball is such a game of numbers and statistics, and this film takes the numbers to a new level.  I gained a real appreciation for baseball and for what Billy Beane tried to accomplish—to level the playing field and overcome the inequities in payrolls between ball clubs.  While I don’t follow baseball closely, I suspect that if all teams adopt the approach he championed, then the financial inequities are still there.  Nevertheless, the story is a perfect story of how the little guy triumphs now and then.  Brad Pitt gives a convincing performance as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s.   Jonah Hill is perfect as the egg-head, whiz-kid who runs all the numbers on the players and challenges the old ways of recruiting players.    One of the weaknesses in this story, in my opinion, is that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the coach of the Oakland A’s, is relegated to more of a background role.  I would have liked to have seen more direct evidence of the conflict and attitude he had with the new system.  It’s there, but it’s almost secondary because the story is presented through the eyes of Billy Beane.  I have to wonder if there was concern about changing the story from “the Billy Beane story” into the “Art Howe story.”  In any event, a very entertaining film and worth watching (even if you don’t follow baseball).