Saturday, September 19, 2015


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Everest Takes You Up Mt. Everest and Down in IMAX-3D. Hold On!

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Everest is riveting. IMAX-3D brings Mt. Everest into your lap and the courageous climbers peril into your heart. Because of IMAX-3D and its power, you will feel as though you are on the climb with them. If you want thrills, scares, extraordinary vistas and scenery this film is for you. Director Baltasar Kormakur makes a true story of death and survival from the book Into Thin Air written by survivor Jon Krakauer available to our souls. This is the story of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster which killed eight climbers due to a severe storm and lack of oxygen. To film remaining footage, on April 18, 2014, 16 Sherpa guides carrying supplies to the film crew were killed by an avalanche. Watching this film in vivid IMAX takes you there and you wonder how anyone could have survived.
But it because of a woman, Peach (Robin Wright) who is the wife of Dr. Beck Weathers (James Brolin) who calls her Embassy and demands that a helicopter fly in to rescue her husband. He is suffering blindness and frostbite and alone while struggling to return to the camp. He is high on Everest, not within safety of a helicopter flight. Helicopters cannot fly above a certain altitude. But the indomitable Peach Weathers persists. The Embassy obeys her firm command and he lives. Long live Peach Weathers. Though Dr. Beck Weathers loses his hands and nose to frostbite, he is miraculously flown out of the camp site on Everest to the safety of his home.
The stars of this film are the climbers both living and dead. Climber Scott Fischer, who is the leader of the Mountain Madness Expedition, is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall and fellow climber Rob Hall is portrayed by Jason Clarke, the New Zealander expedition group leader. Both of these stars are touching and effective in portraying the courage of the climbers but, after all, this is a movie and we must honor the climbers whom they portrayed and the fact that these climbers sacrificed their lives to rescue others. John Hawkes brings his usual sympathy to a mailman who was in the expedition of Rob Hall. And Emily Watson (Helen Wilton) gives her usual caring and empathetic performance of the woman on the ground "manning the expedition." It is Wilton's thankless role to report from the climbers during an avalanche and who are facing no oxygen. She must tell them that no help will come to them and then to report to the ground staff about the subsequent deaths. Keira Kneightley is moving as Rob Hall's pregnant wife and Michael Kelly plays Jon Krakauer, a journalist who lives to write the tragic but inspiring story, Into Thin Air. What is inspiring about Everest? A man's desire to triumph over nature. A man's desire to rescue in the face of danger. A man's desire to survive. Se

Thursday, September 10, 2015


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Movie Review: The Visit... Yawn!

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I had wanted to like The Visit as it was filmed where I live and that is the beauteous surroundings of suburban Philadelphia and its Chestnut Hill area, but The Visit is one big narcissistic flop. Waiting to be scared is boring. What a pity with the fine acting and excellent production values that the writing of The Visit is high school at best. It is written by the director M. Night Shyamalan. Too much control at the helm and no objectivity. Someone had to tell M. Night Shyamalan the truth during the creation of this dreck, but it is obvious that only compliments were in order. And so boredom set in after the first few minutes and continued for ninety percent of the film. And fine talent is wasted.
The Visit is about two children in their early teens who go to stay with their grandparents whom they have never met. Naturally these grandparents are elderly and suffering from sundowning which affects senior citizens with dementia. Their behavior is peculiar at best. If you can make it to the end of the film, all the odd mannerisms of the grandparents is explained in a shocking conclusion. But, alas, it took so long to get here that my interest had left the station. A failed attempt at self-involved humor concludes this film.
The use of silence as a sound track in the fleeting moments of fright works and was the star of this failure. Camera work was good as well, but the music in the finale was absurd. The child actors were charming, clever and skilled considering the mediocre material. The film stars Olivia DeJonge, as a precious Becca who is an aspiring director and making her home movie of her life. Ed Oxenbould is Becca's younger brother who is assisting Becca in making their movie, but is a frustrated teenage rapper who does this with great agility and charm throughout this film. Deanna Dunagan plays the grandmother, Nana, with conviction. Peter Mc Robbie is Pop Pop who is the caretaker of Nana who suffers from sundowning. Kathryn Hahn is the Mom who sends her children to their grandparents from whom she is estranged. Hahn is taking a much needed vacation from her children as she is a single parent. She lifts The Visit every time she appears on screen, pulling it from the doldrums of a film that tries to be scary but is one big snore.

Friday, July 24, 2015


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Movie Review: Trainwreck... Bravo to Schumer et Apatow for a Celebration of a Woman's Rights

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Trainwreck is a celebration of a woman's independence. Amy Schumer is no train wreck, but a statement of a woman's right to promiscuity and not to be disparaged because of her desire for many sexual partners. Oh, heck, Romeo was admired, but a female Romeo is a slut! Not true says the adorable, talented witty Amy Schumer! Schumer's father drills into her when she was a child that monogamy was not realistic. Oh ,yeah, and Goldie Hawn has said that she does not know anyone in Hollywood who wants to be faithful.
In Trainwreck we have a modern day heroine who tries and tries to love men, but sends them out of her door when they fail to please her or to treat her with respect. Role reversal at its finest. With a 'man' at her helm. Yes, a man helps Schumer portray just how ridiculous many men are during the sex act. Judd Apatow. But it is Schumer's comedic timing and writing that is over the top. Still one must bless Judd Apatow for shining the light on a woman who enjoys many sexual partners much as men have for centuries.
This is a time for women. Dozens of women are speaking out against alleged rapist Bill Cosby and Apatow is championing their choirs. Girls starring Lena Dunham and which hauls ass in the 'let's get real and stop pretending we all want to be mothers' department is also championed by feminist Apatow. We have Taylor Swift singing Bad Blood in which she shouts about her bad relationships and Rachel Platton who sings Fight Song about a woman standing up for her rights. Strong women speaking up about abuse.

In Trainwreck Apatow directs Shumer and her writing with the softest kid gloves. The editing is gentle as one scene ends softly by just fading out. There is not the 'see I told ya so' kind of editing in too many films. Schumer takes the piss out of men in bed while she is doing the deed. She is strong and says to men what they have been saying to women in cinema and in life for years. She has her own determination, willfulness and courage sprinkled with self-esteem that makes for great comedy. A female set of balls. The laughter in the theater was so loud that many of the lines were missed. She is the kind of love 'em and throw 'em out leading lady that we also have in HBO's True Detective with that talented Rachel Mc Adams.
This is a rare time for women on screen. Let's hope the strength of these female characters continues into life. Bill Hader is smooth and does not miss a beat as the dude who finally wins the mercurial Schumer's heart. Lebron James is magical and one wonders how much of Apatow's fairy dust of champion directing made his performance the show stopper it is. But this story is about Schumer-- a "love em' and leave em' kinda gal" who finally falls long and hard for prince charming. She is a journalist for a magazine called S'nuff and assigned to interview Hader. Her editor, Tilda Swinton, kills Schumer's piece because she claims Hader is too boring for S'nuff. But after a night of debauchery during which Schumer has a disastrous one night stand with an underage fellow journalist at S'nuff, she is canned. Apatow and Schumer give us one heck of a finale during which we have one happy ending. Women now have Magic Mike, HBO'sTrue Detective and Trainwreck to cherish and flock to.

Friday, July 17, 2015


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Movie Review: Ant Man... CGI Reigns, But Not Much Else

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Paul Rudd is charming as the Ant Man. He is not too broad which he has a tendency to be, but plays it just right. He is Scott Lang a master thief who has lost custody of his daughter due to his attraction to all things criminal while Michael Douglas plays the not so mad scientist, Dr. Hank Pym, who rescues Rudd from his wayward ways by turning him into the Ant Man. Marvel Studios' brings a founding member of the Avengers to IMAX 3D and the flying ants have never looked so good. Dr Pym who created the Avengers, guards the secret behind the Ant Man suit from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) Mr. Evil, who is intent on destruction of most of the universe. Hope played by the perfectly beautiful Evangeline Lilly is effective as Dr. Pym's daughter who initially is ambivalent about Rudd's ability to don the spectacular ant suit invented by her father. This inventive suit of great retro design reduces ones size yet increases ones strength. But it is Rudd's final heist that must go smoothly to save the world.
Michael Douglas explained on a recent talk show that there were four set ups for each shot and the fourth was shooting from the perspective of the ant. He found working in the environment of CGI fascinating and went on to explain that while Marvel has gone big big big, it was time to go small as this was the only way left to go.
Michael Pena as one of Rudd's partners in crime plays a bumbling burglar with panache. Pena does not miss a beat with his lines and expressions. The dialogue written by Stan Lee, Paul Rudd, Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, Adam Mackay is snappy but could have been a bit wittier. Buzz words with an over the top hipness were few. But who's kidding, the CGI made Ant Man. Douglas himself was in awe of the special effects team with whom he worked. But stunning special effects can not resolve the problems in this Marvel wonder. Peyton Reed directed at a fast pace and predictability was kept at a minimum but overall, the story lulled in parts and ultimately was a snore. Yawning was kept at a minimum, but the excitement that a Marvel creation normally creates was sadly missing. .

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Magic Mike XXL... Movie Review.... Still Perspiring

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Hot, hot, hot! Stuff a $100 bill in the crotch of the producers of Magic Mike XXL and Steve Soderbergh, the behind the scenes maestro, for making sex on the screen something you can not write home about. My, this is a long time coming. Far superior to Magic Mike One. Great writing and pacing. Magic Mike XXL builds sexual heat like a great strip tease. Funny dialogue which just makes you want to shout, "Take It Off!" The dancing is over the top, but I longed for more of the gyrations from those 'male entertainers,' Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) and Joe Manganiello. Watching these gyrating specimens of male pulchritude made my night and day and then some.
The women were no dogs either as Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie MacDowell held their own against fierce flesh. I remember when MacDowell's voice was dubbed in Tarzan because the producers claimed she could not act. Well, she can act and held up the image of all those women who long for sex who do not care about public opinion. MacDowell nailed these feelings. Bless the writer Reid Carolin for showing the heat of frustrated women longing for firm male flesh. The sleeper 'male entertainer' was Michael Strahan who began the procession of sultry passionate stripping and was refreshingly devoid of his smaltzy TV personality. He was genuine in his display to please a woman and totally blushworthy-- the Rhett Butler of the brothel of sorts run by Jada Pinkett Smith. Well, it's really a dance hall for African American women who have been neglected by their males and need to be told they are beautiful, sexy, loving and also specimens of proud flesh too often beaten down by their guys.
Gregory Jacobs directs Magic Mike XXL knowing his audience waits with baited breath and torn pantyhose for the moment when they "Take It Off!" He cleverly builds the crescendo and heat so that it finally explodes in the finale mc'd by that terrific comedian Elizabeth Banks who is the mistress of ceremony when they all finally strip. Another sleeper is Matt Bomer who is also great with comedy and delivers some of the best lines with a straight face, yet when he dances, he shows no humor, but is pure sex appeal. Magic Mike XXL works because the comedy is placed in the right moments and when it is time to "Take It Off!", the comedy is dropped and sheer passion oozes from the screen. Seconds? Count me in!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


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Movie Review: Inside Out...Convoluted

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After repressing several urges to walk out during the screening of Inside Out, I stayed until the conclusion. Alas, this is an overrated film directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen that is confusing. It is also childish and, yet, too complex for children. For adults, it is a drag. Yes, it is a clever thought, but it is not executed with a matching expertise. We all know we have a range of emotions and they are at war each other daily. But the animation of these emotions is subpar for Pixar. Up created by Pixar had a spectacular story line and the animation of the characters was stellar. The animation of the parents of Inside Out's Riley, our star, is up to snuff, but the emotions of Joy, (Amy Poehler) Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) are not clever to look at. They are not up to Pixar's ability to create inventive animated characters.
The story line is that these emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind. The play on words as in "head" "quarters" is as silly as is this film. Throughout the day these emotions speak to Riley and interact. Riley is at a crisis in her young life as her father has uprooted her from her Midwest life to live in San Francisco where he has a new job. As Riley struggles to adjust to her new life, chaos ensues in Headquarters. Alas chaos ensues in the plot which becomes chaotic without much reason. Chaos is not plot as my former mentor Norman Mailer would preach, but Pixar seems to have created a movie that should be called Chaos, instead of Inside Out. Oh, it is charming how Riley faces the new activities at school, the trials of moving into a home before the furniture arrives, and trying to fit in with her new classmates. But the story line was not enough for me. And as I struggled inside my being with should I or shouldn't I leave the theatre, I identified with the turmoil Riley was experiencing in her head, her headquarters. And while Sadness ends up being the emotional star of this movie, I did experience this emotion because I stayed until the end of this film and sadly left the theatre.


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Movie Review: Ted 2 Works

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Ignore the early moments of Ted 2 which are like a randy horse coming out of the confinements of an opening gate. Once set free Ted 2 lumbers unmercifully from one ribald gag to another. Some are riotously funny. Other gags miss, but just when you think, "This isn't working," Seth MacFarlane lands a whopper and you are back in the game of laughing and having a good time.
Humor is like that. Jokes are risks. And MacFarlane has some of the biggest balls in the comedy industry as proven by his risk taking. His writing falls on its face then bounces back with a gigantic grin. Several times I actually laughed out loud after thinking, "This film sucks."
MacFarlane holds no prisoners. No one is sacred. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald's name offers one of the funniest exchanges in Ted 2.
The plot is predictable and I am happy to say this film is not about plot. It is merely a vehicle for MacFarlane's curious, outrageous and lovable mind. As well as fellow writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. The film opens with Ted marrying Tami Lynn (Jessica Barth). They are riotously happy then in the next scene they are at each other's throats. Ted comes to the conclusion that if Tami Lynn and he had a baby, their domestic strife would evaporate. A sperm donor is sought. This evokes some of the funnier moments as Tom Brady has a small scene that lights up the screen. My, is he beyond handsome and a good actor who proved this by lying about inflatgate.
John (Mark Wahlberg), Ted's best friend, becomes the sperm donor and wrecks a lab in a good scene which ends with John being covered with sperm. (You have to see it.) The sperm idea does not work as Tami Lynn is unable to carry a baby. Hence Ted and Tami Lynn visit adoption agencies. This fails as well as the fact thatTed must prove to the government that he is human not property.
Ted and Tami and John seek a lawyer to sue for Ted's right to be recognized as being human. Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is hired as a pro bono lawyer. She loses her noble attempt, but as a paste up script would do, Patrick Meighan (Morgan Freeman) prances in during the final moments as a noble hot shot lawyer to save Ted's Day. The end is a bummer in laugh town, but if you go to a comedy with the desire to laugh, by the end of Ted 2, you are tired of judging laughs and just "Go with it." Judging the quality of laughs is not what Ted 2 is about. Laughing is.

Friday, June 12, 2015


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Movie Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a Must See

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Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a funny film about dying. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed this gem, which won best film at Sundance Film Festival and should do well. But, alas, the title is a downer, not the film. Norman Mailer taught me that a title should tell the audience what the book or movie is about. And yet, this title, I fear, will keep an audience away when this is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen this year. It is totally creative with a plot that is unpredictable and quirky. That's the word for this film. Quirk.
The actors are mostly unknown, save Molly Shannon, who adds a tremendous amount of quirk appeal. There is also Connie Britton, but she plays it straight as oddball teenage Greg's nagging Mom. Greg is played effortlessly by Thomas Mann, who has such an enormous appeal that his performance wraps your heart around his finger. Yet, it is Molly Shannon who almost steals the film playing the dying girl's mother, Denise, who needs her cocktail in her hand to face her daughter's terminal diagnosis. She does this with great acting chops and ease, yet keeps any overtly distasteful behavior on the back burner.
Greg is a loser in high school, and to light some gumption under his jeans, his mom tells him to make one visit to Rachel (Olivia Cook) to cheer her up. One visit he begrudgingly agrees to. This one visit turns into a deep friendship, and the addition of Greg's co-worker, Earl (R.J. Cyler), who becomes smitten with Rachel as well. Greg tells Rachel when he pays his first visit to her that he does not want to be there and would rather be somewhere else, but he promised his mother that he would visit her because she has terminal cancer.
This honesty makes Rachel smile, and slowly, these two teenagers begin their quirk. Their conversations are genuine, fresh, witty and not about death, but instead about laughing in the face of it. The writing by Jesse Andrews from Andrew's novel is stellar. Greg tells Rachel he is a filmmaker and has done some fourteen films. She begs him to show her one, then two, and thus, she becomes his fan of what are truly awful films.
They are parodies of the most famous films of all time, but are so silly that not even a grimace will appear on your lips. I assure you. Rachel has now found a chum who feels more odd about his identity than she does with her chemo head and its baldness. Earl confronts Greg that the co-worker line he feeds people about their relationship is just a cover up for his fear of intimacy. After all, they have been friends since childhood. Earl tells Greg that Greg is afraid to call him a friend as Greg feels Earl might abandon him and never show up on his doorstep again. These are poor working-class folk who hold each other up through cancer, through poverty, through whatever.
Holding each other up is what this film is about. Earl gives Greg the idea to make a film about Rachel for Rachel and this quirky film is the backbone of the quirky movie. Greg has a difficult time making it as he is getting closer and closer to having real feelings for Rachel, and knows she is dying. But the film must go on, and in the end, a delightful movie is made to pay tribute to Rachel who is her stoic, quirky self throughout this splendid tour de force. Telling you about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does not do it justice. You have to see it.


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Jurassic World... Frightening Fun

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Chris Pratt will make you want to hug him instead of your neighbor during the many guaranteed-to-grab moments in Jurassic World. IMAX has never looked so good and been so powerful. Twenty-two years in the creation, Costa Rica's Isla Nublar now has a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, the pet project of John Hammond for his monster pets. Because attendance has been on the decline, scientists have created a new creature to be fawned over, but early on in Jurassic World things begin to smell rotten in Isla Nublar.
A new prehistoric terror is created in the Aviary and much bedlam pursues as flying beasts light up the Costa Rican skies and devour. It seems usually larger people are the targets of terror or undesirable souls, and thus the plot can be predictable, but Jurassic World keeps a lid on predictability and still gets you to jump due to unexpected "yikes" moments.
One of the more terrifying moments is when a gigantic living fish is fed to a gargantuan-sized shark in Jurassic World's pool surrounded by paid visitors who watch the death of the fish at the jaws of the shark with applause, amusement and vulgar glee. "Too much," I said to my friend as I watch the horror of the delight in the patrons of the park as the fish was killed. Later I realized this was the point of the entire film. Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two Jurassic Parks,, co-produced this dinosaur of a film along with Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley. Together they have generated caring feelings for the mammals, animals, reptiles et al, Hence Jurassic World is more than a monster movie.
Bryce Dallas Howard is the darling zoo keeper to the dinos, and stunning at that. Her transformation from fastidious bureauocrat to warrior out-to-save-the-park is spot on. Pity her eye makeup had to come along for the journey. In the final scenes her natural beauty radiates, but throughout a large part of the film, she manages to have perfect makeup while running for her life and trying to protect Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) from the danger that turns them on. The most disturbing scene of Ms. Howards is of no fault of her own. The director Colin Trevorrow who does a masterful job except for one slight flaw -- his choice of posing the beauteous Ms. Howard as though she were a poster girl modeling for a calendar amidst the monstrous dinosaurs much like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. This pose imposed upon Ms. Howard makes a really frightening part of this film downright silly.
The children in danger about whom we are to really care are Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, and while they perform their acting chores adequately, a cuddly let's-really-protect-these- cherubs-from-being-eaten-by-the-big-bad-dinos quality is lacking in their personas.
Iffran Kahn, best remembered for his stellar performance in Life of Pi, plays Masrani who is nobly running Jurassic World against Hoskins portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio with the necessary evil though his big bad wolf character could have been a bit more menacing. When Masrani is flying in a helicopter to hunt for the creepy dino on the loose unfortunately, his expressive eyes are hidden behind dark sun glasses so intimacy with Mr. Kahn's wide array of emotions is limited
A delightful scene between two employees Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson who feel close yet must separate due to the impending doom of this bizarre play land for prehistoric pets is charming and well written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Their wit comes at an appropriate moment and adds a youthful and hip feel to the dialogue which until this moment is let's-move-the-plot-along-rapidly-so-the-dinos-can-show-off kind of writing.
But it is Chris Pratt who along with the special effects combine to pull this film together into one big fun fest if a good scare will do ya. And Chris Pratt is oh-so-handsome and with the kind of good looks that make you just yearn for him to be the one to rescue you from an island infested with prehistoric creatures who haven't eaten for centuries.
In the mid-seventies I had the privilege of being invited to see Imax at a planetarium in San Diego by a friend, Dean Tavoularis, who was Francis Ford Coppola's production designer. Coppola was inspecting the technology as he wanted to film Apocalypse Now in IMAX, but he concluded it was too expensive to install cameras in movie theatres. Bravo to technology which has advanced to allow us the awesome experience of seeing not a war between men but a war between man and mammals et al which is the heart of this story. Warning! Jurassic World could turn you into a vegetarian.