Tom Hanks embodies Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in much the way he became Walt Disney. Hanks and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as co-pilot Skyles are good partners in this movie. Eastwood does not develop any of the other characters and did not use Laura Linney’s talent–as Sully’s wife, she is seen mostly tearful and on the phone. Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), as one of the NTSB investigators, is also pretty one dimensional. The movie tells a story we know and still manages to create drama and deliver a hero. Be sure to stay for the credits (surely this goes without saying).
Another movie that feels like a play is Amazon’s first feature film adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished epistolary novella, Lady Susan. Whit Stillman (Metropolitan 1990, Barcelona 1994) kept the dialog sounding true to period, witty with barbs. Kate Beckinsale, as Lady Susan Vernon, delivers beautifully. The plot is much like a Shakespearean comedy. Lady Susan is a widow without means whose attempts to score a new hubby (Xavier Samuel as Reginald De Courcy) are almost undone when the intended becomes interested in Lady Susan’s daughter, Fredica (Morfydd Clark), who is much closer to his age. Solid performances by Stephen Fry, Justin Edwards, and Chloë Sevigny.
I don’t remember this film in 2014, but it’s worth watching. Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kristen Scott Thomas star in respected playwright Israel Horowitz’s directorial debut. Horowitz adapted his own play for the screen and it feels like a play. Kline arrives in Paris to check out the apartment he inherited upon his estranged father’s death to find that Smith has a sort of life estate in the apartment due to a quirk of French real estate law. Smith delivers the acerbic and witty lines we’ve come to expect from the Dowager Countess. Kline is a perfect scoundrel whose glib confidence gives way to a darker side. Scott Thomas, Smith’s dutiful daughter, is rightfully skeptical of Kline’s motives. As you might guess, these three have more in common than the apartment.
[For The Movie Snob’s rather different opinion about this movie, click here.]
After the news blip recently about President Obama appearing on Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, I had to check it out. Beware, you may get sucked in watching episode after episode of Seinfeld (who is apparently a car aficionado) describing a (usually) vintage car that he thinks suits the personality of his guest. Then he picks up the guest in that car and they drive somewhere for coffee. The show is much like Seinfeld–about nothing–just a couple of people hanging out. Yet, it is delightfully entertaining. Some episodes are better than others. Be sure to check out the episodes with Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sarah Jessica Parker, and, of course, Obama.
I saw Joy recently and would give it a solid B. The third movie directed by David O. Russell starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro has much the same feel as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This movie is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the miracle mop (among other items) that sold like hotcakes on QVC and later HSN (Home Shopping Network). Ms. Mangano had consulting credits and apparently approved of the film but the story deviates quite a bit from her life. Joy (Lawrence) pitched her mop to a QVC exec (Cooper) after a cash infusion to make parts for the mop by her father’s (De Niro) girlfriend played by Isabella Rossellini. Russell throws out every imaginable obstacle to thwart Joy’s success but Lawrence’s Joy isn’t down for long before she overcomes. I found the movie a little long and slow in parts but it made me curious enough to Google Joy Mangano–and learn enough to wonder if the movie would have been better if it had stuck closer to her story.
Downton Abbey‘s upstairs (Cousin Rose—Lily James in the title role) and downstairs (Daisy the kitchen maid—Sophie McShera as step-sister Drisella) meet in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action and somewhat diverse Cinderella. This visually stunning, mostly traditional telling of the classic fairy tale is a crowd pleaser for young and young at heart. Development of Ella’s back story adds substance to this Disney princess and explains her super power—kindness. Cate Blanchett is the only choice for the wicked step-mother and she delivers beautifully. The King (Derek Jacobi) gives Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden—Game of Thrones) the go-ahead on his deathbed to follow his heart rather than marry for advantage. Helena Bonham Carter is the quintessential Fairy Godmother—if only she had a little more screen time. The Oscar for costume design is in the bag for Sandy Powell. The computer animated transformation of pumpkin and mice to horse-drawn carriage is captivating. The lizards turned footmen are particularly clever. The highly anticipated Frozen short before the movie will delight the Anna–Elsa fans.
If you’ve been mourning the end of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan’s spin off is pretty good. Saul (Bob Odenkirk, Nebraska) has a new identity as the manager of a Cinnabon kiosk in a mall. The series opens in black and white as Saul tends store. At the end of a long day in his dumpy apartment, Saul reminisces about the good old days–puts in a videotape of his old TV commercials. The flashback starts–and black and white fades to color as we learn how small town struggling lawyer James McGill became Saul the lawyer to drug dealers. This series is the same black comedy and has the same pacing as Breaking Bad. You’ll recognize some familiar faces. Definitely worth watching if you liked BB.
This Canadian import on Pop network is hilarious! I am laughing out loud just remembering the third episode!! Think Green Acres for the modern era. The premise–the Rose family learns their business manager absconded with all their money. The only thing left is a town Mr. Rose bought as a joke for his son because of the name. So, they pack up their designer duds and move to Schitt’s Creek. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (Best in Show) are Johnny and Moira Rose. Chris Elliott (Scary Movie 4) is the mayor. Daniel Levy (Admission) and Annie Murphy (Lick) are the adult Rose children. Seriously funny!
I saw this over Christmas break and thought it was okay. However, I do keep thinking about it (perhaps I’m being taken in by all the Oscar buzz?) and I think it is better than okay. Bradley Cooper completely carried the show. He transformed himself into a reasonable facsimile of the real Chris Kyle. The movie is certainly violent but not gratuitously so. Without mentioning PTSD, director Clint Eastwood paints the picture well of the difficulty soldiers have in leaving the wartime reflexes on the battlefield and participating in life at home. You will want to have seen this before the Academy Awards and my money says it will take some of the Oscar gold.
Another potential Oscar winner. Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s Sherlock) shows his acting chops. I knew nothing of Alan Turing before this flick; Cumberbatch really inhabits this socially awkward savant who essentially created an early computer. Allen Leech (TV’s Downton Abbey) is fun to watch as another of the brain trust recruited to crack the German secret code Enigma during WWII. Keira Knightly is likable (not always the case for me) as Joan Clarke–apparently the only woman qualified to work on the code cracking team. Matthew Goode (who will join the DA cast as another potential suitor for Lady Mary) is dreamy as the cad of the bunch. This biopic is one to see.
“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.” –The Dowager Countess of Grantham
Season 5: Downton Abbey is on fire! (Literally)
DA looks to be returning to its roots. Violet (Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) continues to get some of the best lines. The personalities we love to hate seem to be coming back in spades. Lady Mary donned an air of humility last season while mourning Matthew’s death and struggling to bring Downton into modernity along with brother-in-law Branson. However, this season she returns to her selfish ways stringing along both Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake. Barrow continues to bully the servants downstairs and make trouble for downstairs-turned-upstairs chauffeur Branson by whispering to Robert that he found Branson upstairs with a girl from the village and implying there was more to the story than that. We still don’t know whether Lady Edith’s beau is dead or alive in Germany—but their love child is toddling along and being raised by a pig farmer in the village who knows Edith’s secret. The fire accidentally set by Edith was an odd sub-plot—but it secured conniving Barrow’s place downstairs after he saved Edith. It also exposed (pun intended) James/Jimmy the footman’s illicit romp with former employer Lady Ansturther. Look for Jimmy to get sacked next week. Love is definitely in the air—Moesely is keen on Baxter; Lord Merton is interested in Isobel; and Carson and Mrs. Hughes have something going on. Change is also in the air; Labour is now in charge–giving the servants hope whilst signaling the end of an era to Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess.
Other musings: How did Bates lose his limp? Why doesn’t Julian Fellowes use Elizabeth McGovern to her full potential? She seems to be wallpaper lately–maybe her band (Sadie and the Hotheads) are touring more…will Cora get the Spanish flu?
David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network) latest offering, based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 best seller of the same name, is a dark thriller and a good one at that. (I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know whether the movie strayed from the novel.) The movie opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) stroking his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and wanting to crack open her skull…to know what she’s really thinking….and then it picks up with the search for the missing Amy. As the plot unfolds, we learn both partners are liars and cheats and the marriage is nothing like the storybook romance it appears to be. Affleck more than adequately portrays the shallow Nick, but it is Pike (Pride & Prejudice, An Education) whose performance mesmerizes. Perhaps the discipline she uses to turn her natural British accent into the American middle-of-the-country-lack-of-accent fuels her controlled, depraved presence as Amy. Neil Patrick Harris is sublime as the stalker. Oh, and if I had been reading the book instead of watching the movie, the ending might have caused me to throw the book across the room.
We’re the Millers – B+. If you missed this one in the theater, it’s worth a rent. Definitely NOT family friendly (explicit language and themes) but several laugh-out-loud moments. All four main characters hold their own as a group of misfits on a road trip to bring back a load of pot and get a small-time drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) off the hook. Jennifer Aniston plays the same character she always plays but has good chemistry with Sudeikis. Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric Roberts) and Will Poulter are terrific as the teenagers. Be sure to watch the out takes at the end.
For The Movie Snob’s rather different take on the movie, click here.
Mom Under Cover goes between the covers of Justice Sotomayor’s book.
My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor. (B)
Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography (or are they all memoirs nowadays?) recounts her childhood and adult life until her nomination to the U. S. Supreme Court. Readers familiar with The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls) will recognize a familiar story—a bright young girl whose parents are ill equipped to raise children. Sotomayor’s writing is plodding and lacks literary style, but an authentic voice comes through. Near the end I wanted to tell that voice to SHUT UP as she became preachy and grating. Nevertheless, I learned a number of things about her (she was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, married a high school sweetheart, and wanted to be a judge when she watched Perry Mason). Sotomayor is a self-proclaimed product of affirmative action. Her story demonstrates that in spite of meager circumstances (bordering on poverty), a child with at least one nurturing adult, some smarts, a chance to compete, and a little grit can make it after all.
Mom Under Cover versus The Greatest Monster of All
Godzilla – C (cf, three 10-year-old boys rate this flick an A).
I freely admit I must be missing the gene that allows me to appreciate sci-fi. I found this movie interminably long and boring. Rubble, dust, destruction and more rubble. The acting was surprisingly good (Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and briefly, Juliette Binoche). And, there is an interesting plot deviation from the original. Even so, skip this one unless you are a glutton for punishment.
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks (both double Oscar winners) headline this extraordinary story of how Disney’s “Mary Poppins” came to the big screen (albeit in a Disney-fied, whitewashed way). Thompson as author P.L. Travers has no intention of letting Disney turn her beloved Mary Poppins into a movie (and surely not an animated one) even though she needed money and books a trip to California in 1961 to pacify her agent. The movie details the 20 year pursuit by Disney (in order to fulfill a promise to his daughters) to bring Poppins to the screen and particularly, the two weeks Travers spent at Disney studios working on the movie. Thompson, as the prickly, buttoned-up Travers, seems almost overly obstreperous until you hear the actual tapes of the sessions between the real Travers and the Disney team (don’t forget to stay after the credits to hear these!); you will realize she held back. There is an interesting tension between Disney’s attempt to keep a promise to his children and the many promises Travers’ father failed to keep to her. Some reviewers thought there were too many flashbacks of Travers’ childhood, though I did not find them intrusive. It is only when Disney reveals some of his own rough childhood that Travers consents to make the movie. Perhaps a lesson to us all that communication requires honest transparency on each part.
I liked American Hustle more than The Movie Snob. I would give it an A and totally understand why it won the Golden Globe for best comedy/musical. I found the opening scene a microcosm of the entire movie and a comment about life. Christian Bale (who underwent quite a physical transformation from his Batman days) is putting the finishing touches on his elaborate comb-over as he prepares to leave for the day. The things we do to feel comfortable going out in the world are a little bit of a con job. How much of it do we believe? How much are we really fooling others? In some ways, we are all conning each other and ourselves—just as these characters do. Sometimes we want to believe the façade we see even though clues abound. Bradley Cooper’s complete and utter confusion when he realizes Amy Adams’ character is not British is a good example. Cooper has the finesse to be totally believable as the FBI agent who thinks slightly higher of himself than he ought. J. Law rocks the ‘70s hair and makeup. The crazy schemes are a wacky laugh-out-loud romp.
Another good movie I saw recently was Philomena. B+. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan bring life to a real woman’s story about being forced by nuns to give her son up for adoption as an unwed, teenager mother. Stephen Frears (The Queen; High Fidelity) directed a well-paced, heartwarming tale in the style of an odd-couple buddy movie. The Catholic Church is scrutinized and found wanting for its treatment of young girls and their fatherless infants. You will leave the theater googling to find out how much is true (hint: all of it). Seeing the real Philomena at the Golden Globes was a kick.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Apocalyptic offering is profane, narcissistic, campy, and yes, funny. For me, it succeeded best as a campy horror flick. The premise is simple: James Baruchel visits his buddy Rogen in Hollywood and the two attend a party hosted by James Franco. All the actors play themselves. Also attending the party are: Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr and Emma Watson. The Apocalypse happens during the party. Some people are immediately sucked up to Heaven in a tunnel of blue light; others fall into a crevice that opens up in front of Franco’s house. The rest (all male with the exception of Emma Watson for a short time in a funny ax wielding performance) are left to navigate the post-Apocalyptic world complete with strange anatomically (enhanced) correct monsters as well as limited food, water and resources. The actors make fun of themselves but primarily the humor is pure frat boy (read: pot jokes, sex jokes, flatulence jokes, masturbation jokes) and the movie drags a bit. Confession: I suspect you will find this movie more funny than I did if you are up on all the roles these actors have played. The ending is bizarre–in a “we-didn’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie” kind of way. The suspense is well timed. This movie deserves its hard R rating. Don’t take your mom or your children!
This buddy movie proves that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have a certain chemistry on-screen that was not a fluke (Wedding Crashers). Billy and Nick (Vaughn and Wilson) are forty-something salesmen out of a job because no one wears wrist watches anymore a la Willy Loman. They enroll in the University of Phoenix to qualify as “students” for an internship at Google (which is portrayed as Nirvana). Despite their hilarious interview via Skype, Billy and Nick secure spots as Nooglers. The movie is predictable — the youngsters eschew Billy and Nick, but in the end, the old geezers have something to share with their younger counterparts and are not obsolete after all; the team comes together–Kum-bay-ya. For those of a certain age, Billy and Nick’s ’80s cultural references that fly over the heads of the co-eds are pretty funny. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s alluring love interest. Will Farrell has a cameo as a mattress salesman that is uncharacteristically flat. Go with low expectations and you will enjoy it.
Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is not great, but it is worth seeing. Fitzgerald’s prose is much of the novel’s allure which may be why Hollywood has not found a way to make a movie as memorable as the book. Leonardo DiCaprio makes a believable Gatsby; his performance is one of the film’s highlights. Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan) shows promise in her first scene but quickly becomes blasé. Mulligan looks the part, but her Daisy is way too boring to warrant Gatsby’s adoration. Joel Edgerton plays a very good Tom Buchanan–cad that he is. Most disappointing was this film’s Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). The movie opens with Carraway in a psychiatric treatment center recounting the events leading to Gatsby’s death. I found this plot device to be really corny. Maguire’s Carraway was so emotionless it is inconceivable that he was bothered enough by the tragedy to warrant counseling much less in-patient treatment. Viewers who have not read the book will assume that Carraway was a main character rather than the narrator. Perhaps it was the direction, but Maguire’s character was intrusive (that voice drove me crazy by the end of the movie) and flat. Luhrmann fans will not be disappointed by the Baz-matazz, over the top visuals and music choices.
The subtitle tells it all and though it seems like hyperbole, it isn’t: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Dr. Brown’s TED Talks have gone uber-viral and that certainly helped catapult this book to the success it has enjoyed thus far. Nevertheless, it is an excellent call to and roadmap for living an authentic life–the primary ingredient of which is being fully present both physically and emotionally. Brown conveys the research she has done over the last decade or so in readable, digestible portions and sprinkles her Texan colloquialisms in just the right measure. One critic noted that this book is a rehash of some of Brown’s earlier work in more of a how-to format. Having not read any of the earlier books, I cannot comment. However, I feel confident that every reader will find some insight into wholehearted living and find implications for all aspects of life.
This collection of essays showcases Ephron’s (Silkwood, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Julie and Julia) finely honed wit. She exposes the vain ploys women take to stave off the aging process. Ephron’s wry sense of humor in addressing topics like motherhood and marriage (when did “parenting” become a competitive sport?) make the tender observations all the more unexpected and rich. There are also some interesting tidbits about Ephron’s early life as a journalist. Girls, this quick read serves up laugh-out-loud moments and will appeal to a wide age range (even if we aren’t there yet, we can see it from here). Men, you may want to skip this one–unless you are curious why your woman is doubled over laughing.
Mom Under Cover is mad for Mad Men. (Arguable spoilers follow.)
Mad Men Season 6 (2 Hour Series Opener) (A-)
The Mad Men season opener did not disappoint. Megan (Jessica Pare) and Don (John Hamm) on the beach in Hawaii sipping blue drinks signals a brighter more vibrant color palette this season. Ironically, death is the pervasive theme–and Don’s fascination with it. Not surprisingly, a few years have passed since the show ended last season. In typical Mad Men fashion, Matthew Weiner (The Sopranos) sprinkled clues as to the exact year throughout the broadcast: references to President Johnson, new stories about the first successful heart transplant, and hippies in San Francisco. The upcoming Cotton Bowl – Aggies v. Crimson Tide – confirms the date: December 1967.
Season 6 promises to delve into an experience Don had in Hawaii, one that may be unraveling him. Megan’s acting career has taken off; she’s landed a role on a soap opera. John Slattery is at the top of his game as Roger in psychoanalysis. Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) is thriving in her new job. January Jones still may be the weakest actor. Betty is still wearing the fat suit. She almost comically unconvincingly delivers lines to her husband Henry (Christopher Stanley) about raping a 15 year old friend of Sally’s (Kiernan Shipka). Oh, and we learn the answer to the question posed in the Season 5 finale. Though Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Don appeared to switch personalities last year, did we really think think Don would change his stripes?
This quick but provocative read is aptly described by the subtitle: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Before you think “hokey”, give it a chance. Dr. Alexander spent 7 days in a coma caused by a rare case of E-coli bacterial meningitis. His case is so rare, that he is the only adult known to have contracted such a severe case of E-coli meningitis and the only adult known to have survived it. A self-described skeptic, Dr. Alexander had certainly seen miraculous cases in his medical career, but believed that, while they may have appeared to be miracles, there was surely a scientific explanation that just had not been discovered. In short, he worshiped at the altar of science. That was before his journey to Heaven. The book alternates between Alexander’s telling of his near death experience (NDE) and his explanation (after reviewing his medical records) of what could and could not have been happening in his brain. Alexander weaves in details from his personal life, the NDE literature, and neuroscience to create a convincing proof that the soul is real and Heaven exists right here, right now.
The Farrelly brothers originally released this film in 1998 with Cameron Diaz in the title role. Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott and Matt Dillon play major roles. (Don’t forget that surprise appearance near the end by a famous gridiron guy.) If you saw this movie back in the day, there are a few scenes that are indelibly inked in your memory . . . they are just as funny when you know what’s coming. Ostensibly about Stiller’s character wanting to reconnect with his high school crush, the film tells the tale of a gaggle of Mary’s admirers whose affections range from puppy love to psycho stalker. Virtually every character in the movie is not what he or she appears, which makes for clever hilarity. Not family friendly–but adults will be laughing long after the credits roll.