Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love and Other Drugs [2010]


MPAA (R) USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (2 ½ stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert’s review

There are a number of things that a person ought to know about the movie Love and Other Drugs prior to going to see it.

First, it is not really a “romcom” (romantic comedy). It’s about Maggie Murdoch (played by Anne Hathaway) who is suffering from Parkinson disease and Jamie Randall (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who is a good-looking, smooth-talking underachiever, who finds himself progressively falling for her perhaps precisely because her suffering with the disease makes her more than he expected.

Second, while much has been made of Anne Hathaway’s nudity in the picture, if that’s what would bring you to this picture, you’ll probably be disappointed. Yes it’s there (and yes, she is normally gorgeous). But the nudity in this picture is so matter-of-fact, so simply part of the story (it’s a romance after all) that you’d have to go out of your way to search for it and focus on it or it will pass you by.

It seems, in fact, director Ed Zwick’s intention to declare that the REAL PORN (and the real Comedy...) in this movie is to be found in the slick salesmanship by reps of pharmaceutical companies who vend drugs that, yes, do actually help people and can even save their lives, but sell them using hard sale techniques that would be more fitting of a car salesman pitching a red hot camero to a 40 something who may have gone to the auto dealership in hopes of simply checking prices on a minivan. And, we find, according to director Zwick’s opinion anyway, that truly everyone – from the receptionists, to the nurses, to the doctors at the end of the journey – can be manipulated, seduced and bought.

So this movie becomes Jerry McGuire meets Children of a Lesser God. Well acted and with several levels of messaging, I do believe it is worth seeing though obviously not for younger viewers. But even for the adults if you were expecting a light movie here, that it is not.


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Monday, November 29, 2010

Tangled


MPAA (PG) USCCB (A-1) Bill Zwecker (4 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb Listing - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0398286/
CNS/USCCB Rating - http://www.usccb.org/movies/t/tangled.shtml
Bill Zwecker Review - http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/zwecker/2919112,disney-tangled-review-112410.article

More than meets the eye ...

Tangled is a Disney adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ fairytale of Rapunzel a golden haired girl who gets locked up in a tower by a witch to keep her separated from the world. Despite this, a young man eventually comes by, Rapunzel lets him into her house, and here the real story of both of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale and Disney's Tangled really begins.

Disney does play with the story. There are aspects of the Disney story that some parents will not like. However, the Grimm Brothers version(s) of the story are quite pointed in their own right.

At its core, Rapunzel is the story of a young girl “growing up,” and it is cautionary tale to over-protective or even resentful parents who may try to impede their girls from doing so.

Hence, as is often the case when it comes to “Fairy Tales,” the kids will like the story (which Disney in characteristic fashion portrays in stunning and beautiful fashion) However, it is a story that _only_ the teens, young adults and _perhaps_ the parents will really understand.

There’s a lot more to this story than initially meets the eye. (A great article on the Rapunzel story can be found on wikipedia). That all can be good. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself being called “a witch” by your teen after seeing the movie. Of course there are times that teens may call their parents things similar to that anyway ;-). And it seems that even in the fields and forests of Germany hundreds of years ago, the same stories and conflicts were being played out as well. Happy parenting. ;-)


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Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part I [2010]


MPAA (PG-13) USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb Listing - http://www.usccb.org/movies/h/harry-potter-deathly-hallows.shtml
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/h/harry-potter-deathly-hallows.shtml
Roger Ebert’s Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101116/REVIEWS/101119969

I have to confess that this “review” will expose _my limitations_ as a movie reviewer. Up until starting this blog, I wasn’t much of a Harry Potter fan. I realize that half the world is, but Harry Potter did not grab me at the beginning of the craze and then it seemed rather late to jump on the bandwagon. So I hadn’t read any of the Harry Potter books, nor seen any of the Harry Potter movies. Yet, I realize that there will be all kinds of folks/parishioners/etc now who’d like to read a review of the latest Harry Potter movie since I’ve started my movie blog. So what to do?

Since I know that I’m _not_ the only one who’s never seen a Harry Potter movie and it’s not completely too late because there will be one more movie installment that will come in July, I decided to go to see the current installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part I, “as I am” – a complete Harry Potter neophyte – on behalf of those who like me hadn’t been yet touched by the Harry Potter craze.

What then can I say about the movie? The story telling is very good. The Harry Potter stories are set in a world that’s very much like ours (same clothes, same cars, same diners, etc). Yet it is also a world that isn’t like ours because magic is possible and there are various other races inhabiting Potter’s world (elves, etc) that of course don’t exist in our world. The cinematography is excellent. It makes me want to drop everything and go to Scotland sometime. The scenery is both real and at times mildly enhanced to give at times a positively enchanted feel. There is also a wonderful innocence about Harry Potter and his group of friends that make it child-family friendly. And as has been noted by other movie critics over the years, the Potter’s “band of friends” is happily diverse, boys, girls with even an elf, etc thrown in, reminding us that good comes in all shapes and colors.

So if you’re like me, who for whatever reason has previously missed the Harry Potter train, I would suggest the following: (1) don’t be afraid of the Harry Potter product. It’s good and family friendly, but (2) before going to see _this movie_ in the theater (where you’re going to pay a bundle of money to see it with your family without knowing really what’s going on) rent a couple of the earlier Harry Potter movies and watch them with your family at home. That way you’ll get up to speed. You may even be able to catch this one sometime later, be it in the theaters or on DVD, and you’ll be ready for the next/final installment that will come out in July.

Having taken one for the blog here (without seeing a previous Harry Potter movie beforehand) I am now taking my advice as well, having already sent out an order to the first installment of the Harry Potter series to start getting myself up to speed by the summer.

All in all, I liked Harry Potter installment currently playing in the theaters and appreciated both the movie’s innocence and positive message on friendship. As such, I’d recommend it to families wishing to see good, friendly family fare.


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Monday, November 15, 2010

Morning Glory


MPAA (PG-13) USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 ½ stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1126618/
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/m/morningglory.shtml
Roger Ebert’s Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101110/REVIEWS/101119994/-1/RSS

Morning Glory is another movie that's _not_ very complicated but _works_. Rachel McAdams plays Becky a young, optimistic, hardworking to workaholic producer of an early morning news show at a New Jersey television station who gets downsized. Work is all she’s known for years and so she’s disoriented. Her mother doesn’t give her much support “When you were eight, your dream of making it in television news was adorable. When you were 18 it was positively inspiring. Now at 28 it’s becoming a little embarrassing. Dear don’t let it become sad or pathetic.”

Undaunted, Becky goes through a series of embarrassing interviews with no luck in finding new work. Finally on recommendation from her previous boss that she was “the best morning news producer that he’s ever fired,” Jerry Barnes (played by Jeff Goldblum), the director of IBS Network News with far and away the worst network morning news program in the business, takes a chance on her as the new executive producer of the show.

Becky has her work cut out for her. She has to get a thoroughly demoralized and everyone out for themselves staff to work as a team and improve the ratings. Both competent and bouncy and ever optimistic, she sets herself to work. When the male co-anchor of the show gives her lip at her first staff meeting, she summarily fires him (though always with a smile) for insubordination.

This, however, requires her to go searching for a male to co-anchor with veteran of the show Colleen Peck (played by Diane Keaton). After going through a good deal of demo tapes of possible co-anchors for Colleen with her co-producer, she stumbles on an old tape of Mike Pomeroy (played by Harrison Ford) a Ted Koppel-like legend who was simply riding out the rest of his contract in semi-retirement at home after his hard (and presumably evening) news show had been cancelled. Since Pomeroy was a childhood hero of hers and her dad’s and despite the advice of just about everyone around her, she decides to pursue him to take the co-anchor slot. She finds in his contract with IBS that until his contract expires he is obligated to accept any legitimate news job that the network offers him. So she offers him the co-anchor job at IBS’ morning program and he _can’t_ say no.

He is, of course, a crotchety old prima-donna who sets off Colleen Peck as well, since she's something of a prima-donna too, though less so than Pomeroy.

Much ensues from hereon in. There are many, many funny situations and many, many funny lines. The best line of the movie? Pomeroy trying to refuse a direction he receives from the bouncy, ever smiling though tough as nails Becky: “Miss, I had my hand shot through while reporting in Bosnia. I pulled Colin Powell out of a burning jeep. I put a cold damp cloth on the forehead of Mother Theresa as she kneeled down to care for famine refugees during a cholera epidemic. There is no way I’m going to make potato salad on this show!”

Again, this movie treads familiar ground. What makes it work is both the writing and then the spot-on acting by both the headliners in this film (McAdams, Keaton, Ford, Goldblum) as well as the rest of the cast.

Morning Glory is a feel-good movie that most who play in it would be proud of. And I do think that Becky offers a GREAT role model for today’s 20-somethings: Just because you’re happy (and hopefully you are when you're young) does not mean that you can’t be both very skilled and very tough.


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Unstoppable


MPAA (PG-13) USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 ½ stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0477080/
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/u/unstoppable.shtml
Roger Ebert’s Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101110/REVIEWS/101119995

Unstoppable is not a complex story or a particularly original one.Trains been literally with us since the beginning of the motion picture era. Indeed, the very first movie to tell a story, The Great Train Robbery (1903). produced by Thomas Edison (inventor of the movie camera) himself, involved action and fighting on a train. Then one of the most iconic sequences in motion picture history, the “Damsel in Distress” tied to a set of railroad tracks before an onrushing train appeared first in the movie The Perils of Pauline (1914). These scenes have been repeated countless times in countless variations in Hollywood films since. And it’s because these stories work. There’s something primal and compelling about a large runaway machine. Sometime the runaway vehicle is an airplane (the Airport movies), at other times a bus or metro train (Speed). This time, it was a runaway freight train.

There are other stock elements in this story, the initial mutual mistrust between the young and the old, employees competing in “hard economic times” and the “big corporation” as crooked, unable to see beyond the bottom-line. Again these elements work because they ring true.

What makes a film like Unstoppable work is decent acting and then good editing. All the main actors in the movie play their part – Denzel Washington (playing Frank the old, suspicious engineer), Chris Pine (playing Will, the young, assistant engineer tired of being treated like a neophyte), Rosario Dawson (playing Connie, the super-competent but always overlooked hispanic woman dispatcher at a rail yard control center), Ethan Suplee (playing Dewee the unthinking screw-up in the rail yard whose missteps set-up the rest of the story), Kevin Corrigan (playing the federal inspector who happens to show up at Connie’s control center for a routine matter when the crisis first starts to unfold), and Kevin Dunn (playing Galvin, the middle level manager terrified of how this was going to look to the senior management). None of these roles are particularly difficult to play, but all the actors played them well. Then action and editing carried the rest.

Unstoppable is not a complicated movie, but it works and proves that it’s possible to spin a very good story even out of very familiar elements. Done as well as it is, it’s a movie that’s almost guaranteed to entertain.


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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Megamind


MPAA (PG) USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (2 stars)

IMDb listing - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1001526/
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/m/megamind.shtml
Roger Ebert's Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101103/REVIEWS/101109990

Tonight, I went to see Megamind. I’ve tended to be more of a Will Farrell fan than pretty much everyone that I know. And I’ve liked most of the animated movies that have come out in recent years and Megamind did quite well in the box office last weekend. However, I was not very impressed with Megamind.

To be sure, the movie had its moments, but it seemed to me Megamind was too much of a retread of a lot of those recent animated movies. In How to Train Your Dragon, the boy protagonist Hiccup’s side-kick was, well, a dragon. Megamind (voice by Will Farrell) had a sidekick as well, a somewhat ugly-looking fish named Minion (voice by David Cross). Speaking of minions, Despicable Me’s, Gru (voice by Steve Carell) had a legion of absolutely adorable “evil minions.” Megamind also had legion of minions, which looked more mechanical and somewhat more evil, but they just seemed to be a play on or small development of Despicable Me’s minions.

Then Tina Fey’s character Roxanne Richie looked and sounded a lot like Sharon Stone, Brad Pitt’s character Metro Man (the “Good Nemesis” of the more Evil Megamind) looked kinda like George Clooney. Even Megamind himself (voice played by Will Farrell) who didn’t look much like Will Farrell or any other famous actor, had a lot of lines that sounded more like things that Ben Stiller would say than Farrell. (Stiller is an Executive Producer for this movie). Jonah Hill’s character Tighten, however, looked almost exactly like an animated Jonah Hill. One wonders if there were some problems in casting this movie...

Then the plot and theme are also further confused. The main theme seemed to be a variation of Despicable Me's again: that it's not all that easy (or fun) to be completely Evil. Despicable Me was a rather straight-forward story. Megamind goes through a fairly large number of plot twists, not all necessarily bad. However, it makes for a rather messy movie.

All in all, I’m not sure if this movie is going to be remembered as the “best work” or any of the people involved -- Farrell, Fey, Jonas, Pitt, or Stiller helping to pay for it all. And I don't think the movie compares well to other recent animated movies like How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, or even G-Force.


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Monday, November 8, 2010

Conviction


MPAA (R) USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1244754/
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/c/conviction.shtml
Roger Ebert’s Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101013/REVIEWS/101019992

Initially, I found Conviction difficult to watch. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was excellently done. However, since one knew what was going to happen, it felt like watching a coming trainwreck: Kenny Waters (played by Sam Rockwell) a problematic man in his 20s, still stupid, reckless, and immature to be sure, finds himself accused of murder. And he finds that he has a boatload of townspeople, acquaintances and former girlfriends who could testify that he was erratic and at times violent.

Then the movie felt both very, very real, and very, very sad. Kenny’s sister, Betty Ann (played by Hillary Swank) remains utterly convinced that her problematic brother was innocent. What to do? Their family was always a mess. Both Kenny and Betty Ann spent time in multiple foster homes growing up. There was no dad to speak of, their mother who had nine children with seven different men, was no help.

Indeed, despite all this, up to this point Betty Ann had made something of a life for herself. She was married and had two small boys. But she simply refused to give-up on her brother. With no resources to speak of to continue to pay a lawyer, she decides -- in her mid-late twenties -- to first finish college and then GO TO LAW SCHOOL in hopes of finding a way to prove Kenny’s innocence. In probably the saddest line in the whole picture, even Kenny confesses that he doesn’t see much hope, telling Betty Ann during a prison visit: “Innocent or guilty, who really is going to care about a scumbag like me?” Yes, his previous life had made it difficult to have great sympathy for him but being something of a low-life “good ole boy” doesn’t make one a murderer.

The rest of the movie is a chronicle of Betty Ann’s struggle to prove Kenny's innocence. Obviously, she succeeds in the end. This is a Hollywood movie afterall and despite the R-rated language and somewhat gruesome crime evidence actually feels like a Hallmark Channel or Lifetime Channel movie.

But by the end of the movie, I found it to be very thought provoking: Would YOU do this for a loved one? Would you sacrifice so much of your life (16 years) to, yes, save a family member, but she was in the midst of creating new family with a husband and two kids? Would there be any point where you'd stop? I found these to be great questions which came to mind as the movie approached its conclusion, because it was so clear that this was not a cost-free "project." Betty Ann sacrificed a lot during the course of those 16 years.

Finally, a word about the rating of this movie. Conviction is rightly Rated R. There is language, there is blood, but most importantly, I simply don’t think a child or young teenager could really grasp a movie like this, nor would I want to inflict it on a child or young teenager for no just reason. IT IS A PAINFUL though VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING movie to watch. As such, I would truly tend to recommend this movie to only to adults. This does not mean that it is a bad movie -- I thought it was one of the best acted movies that I've seen all year -- It's just NOT for most kids or young teens.


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inside Job


MPAA (PG-13) USCCB (not rated) Roger Ebert (4 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb Listing – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1645089/
Roger Ebert review – http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101013/REVIEWS/101019990

I believe Inside Job to be a fairly good documentary directed by Charles Ferguson on the run-up and aftermath of the current financial crisis. It explained for the “layman” what derivatives, cdo’s (collateralized debt obligations) and cds’s (credit default swaps) are, and how the concoction and marketing of these “complex financial instruments” to investors the world-over led to the 2008 crash.

As perhaps could be expected, the documentary’s thesis was that the crisis was not an accident, that its arrival could have been predicted beforehand, that its root cause was a deregulationist ideology that entered American mainstream under Ronald Reagan and has largely continued (with some ebb and flow) under every administration, Republican or Democrat, since (though the GW Bush administration was the most reckless since Reagan’s) and finally that this deregulationist ideology resulted in “freeing” the financial services industry to become increasingly irresponsible until it drove the U.S. economy over a cliff.

None of those arguments are particularly surprising, even if they are well catalogued in this documentary. Perhaps less known to the public was the corruption of the investment rating services like Moody's and Standard and Poor's, which were paid apparently only if they gave good ratings to the financial services companies and the products those companies sold. As such, all the investment and insurance firms that went bankrupt, were bought out at the 11th hour at firesale prices or were taken over by the federal government -- Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and AIG -- had moderate (A2) to excellent (AAA) ratings just days before their collapse. Dragged before Congress in the aftermath of the Sept 2008 crash, the executives of these previously highly respected rating services defended their ratings services saying that their firms were merely "giving their opinions" of the soundness of the other firms and the riskiness their products, which investors could presumably "take or leave." Indeed...

Where the documentary really strikes new ground is in its condemnation of the nation’s business and economics schools (Harvard, Colombia, UC Berkeley, etc) which the documentary argued have also been corrupted by Wall Street money. A good portion of economics professors’ income comes from speaking engagements to, testifying on behalf of, and writing position papers for Wall Street firms. Since these are the professors who are teaching the next generations of economics and business majors in this country, one is left fearing that it make take as much as a couple of generations for the nation to get out of this financial mess as the same ideological mistakes that caused this current crisis will be repeated over and over again especially since there is good money to be made in lying on behalf of rich patrons.

The documentary ends by noting that many of Obama’s economics advisors -- notably Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (who used to work for Goldman Sachs), Lawrence Summers (former Clinton advisor and Harvard University President who has been one of those who’s made millions of dollars a year in speaking fees to Wall Street firms while technically serving in academia), and recently re-appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke -- come from basically the same group of people who brought about the 2008 collapse and that this does not bode well for real change in the way Wall Street operates.

Where there is power and money there is inevitably corruption. But I do think that this documentary does make one pause, because it shows that the trail of corruption goes all the way to the economics and business schools teaching our nation's next generations of economists.


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