All Good Things

It’s hard to believe that sweet Ryan Gosling (who grew up to be James Garner in The Notebook) could be devious and mean. Actually, after that movie proved to be a breakout role for this very talented actor, he has played some very edgy characters.

All Good Things came out in 2010 but I only recently put it in my Netflix queue after it was recommended as a Movie for Grownups. MFG are movies with serious plots and excellent acting but have very few four letter words to assault the ears or sex scenes that makes one feel like a voyeur.

David Marks (Gosling) and Katie (Kirsten Dunst) meet, fall in love, marry and move to Vermont to run a health food store. But David is pressured by his father (Frank Langella) to go into the family business. The Family Business is ostensibly real estate, with a side interest in buying politicians.

The script is taken from news stories about a high profile unsolved murder in New York, the Robert Durst case. Newly discovered facts, court records and of course speculation is used to tell the story of the young wife who disappeared and whose body has never been found, the strange behavior of the young husband, and the prosecutors who could find no probably cause to bring charges until 18 years later when the cold case was reopened.

I am interested in creative non-fiction and cold case investigations, so this was a movie that held my interest to the very end.

You can read more about this case here

Silver Linings Playbook

When I review a movie, you can be sure of one thing: it is not currently running in theaters. I have mentioned before my fondness for Netflix and how well it works for my lifestyle. I very seldom see first-run movies in a theater. The most recent was Les Miserables last Christmas. The time before that was Blind Side several years ago. But I digress.

I was interested in seeing Silver Linings Playbook after it was nominated for so many awards last spring. In it, former teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) moves in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution. He is “undiagnosed bi-polar disorder” and resists taking any meds. His parents’ home may not be the best place for him because his dad (excellently portrayed by Robert De Niro) makes book on the football games and is in denial about his own obsessive/ compulsive disorder. Pat’s mother is an enabler. Pat is determined to reconcile with his ex-wife Nikki who left him when he discovered she was having an affair; he attacked her lover and nearly killed him. Nikki has no interest in making up; in fact she has a restraining order against him. Things get even more complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with some baggage of her own.

Bradley Cooper does a great job depicting the character with bi-polar disorder — mood swings, hair trigger temper, abject apologies. Actually, he’s so good it’s hard to watch. That and the offensive language caused me to pause and seriously think about whether to finish the story.  But seeing Pat work through learning about himself and what he must be to survive in the world, made the viewing worthwhile.

The screenplay was written by David O. Russell from a novel by Matthew Quick. I am thinking to buy Mr. Russell a thesaurus, since he used very few verbs, adjectives or adverbs that did not start with the letter “F”. This is a sign that the writer has a limited vocabulary or else all of his characters do.

An aside: IMDb (International Movie Database) has a Parents Guide link that will tell you why the movie received a certain rating and what amount of sex/ violence/ profanity you can expect to see. This is helpful in choosing movies for grownups too. In Playbook, the f-word was used 30 times.  And sadly, in my opinion, none of them were necessary to the plot.  The actors did such a good job of showing anger, frustration, etc. we didn’t need the words.

This movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and several cast members also received nominations for their roles. Only Jennifer Lawrence won that evening —  Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. She also captured a Golden Globe and Screen Actor Guild Award.

Do I recommend this movie? Over all, yes, but be warned about the language.

Buyer – and seller – Beware

We’ve all heard the saying “Buyer beware” … be sure you know what you’re buying. Well, there might need to be another. “Seller be careful … be sure you know what you’re selling.”

A few years ago a young man, who will be nameless because I don’t know his name, auditioned at Disney World. Orlando’s huge theme park is a great get-your-feet-wet/pay-your-dues venue for singers and dancers aspiring to greater gigs.

Joy of joys, the youth from small town Arkansas received a call back. He was to report to the Disney management on a specific date. The night before he departed for his dream job, his friends took him out on the town and they all got solidarity tattoos. When our young man appeared at Disney World, he was promptly sent home. In the family-friendly theme park, tattoos are taboo.

Some of you with a good memory (and very little social life) may remember the sitcom Felicity from 1998. The star, Keri Russell, had long flowing curly hair that apparently was admired and envied by her mostly-teen audience. Season One was a solid hit and the series was renewed for a second season.

During the summer hiatus, Ms. Russell says, she just got tired of messing with all that hair and (like our young man) thinking it was her decision to make, she had her curls cut off into a short bob. She showed up for work after her break minus the long locks.

She wasn’t fired, but the ratings took a dive. The lost curls were held responsible and while the series limped along for another year or two, it never regained its momentum. Keri Russell now makes short-lived TV series and two-star movies.

Show biz folks like to think that it’s their talent that’s the thing. And how they look or what they do or say is not a factor. But that’s not the way it is … at least there’s no guarantee it will work out that way.

Three Critiques – Some good, some not so much

The primary forms of entertainment for me are theater, reading, watching movies.  And this was a week for all three.

Friday night I saw Honk, the Center on the Square KidStage (sponsored by Land O Frost) summer production. This is a musical adaptation of the story of the Ugly Duckling.  After a month of theater workshop, the kids (grades K-12) were able to show their stuff in a professional-looking performance.  KidStage Kids were the actors and singers and with help they worked on lighting, staging, make-up and costumes.  The result was fantastic. The energy fairly radiated from the stage and if there was a fumble or missed cue, I never saw it.  Five stars for this great show by a bunch of talented young folks.

Land O Frost KidStage is an ongoing program at Center on the Square with classes twice a week during the school year as well as the summer workshop. For more information about KidStage go to www.centeronthesquare.com.

I finished reading John Grisham’s The Summons. I don’t read a lot of Grisham, but found this novel at Goodwill. It looked brand new and it’s shorter than most of his books so I took a shot.  I’ve seen most of his movies and usually enjoy them. While I did finish reading the book, which says something, I’ll have to rate The Summons meh.”

My latest Netflix movie was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.  I was expecting a lightweight chick-flick and was pleasantly surprised by a movie that was both amusing and poignant. Steve Carell is so much better an actor than he gets a chance to be in Office Space. And Kiera Knightley always hold up her end of the deal. I recommend this movie. IMDb.com gives it a score of 6.7 (out of 10). I might rate it a little higher … but that works for me.

Larry Crowne

I have mention before how much I love Netflix, both streaming and dvds. While cruising around their site, I ordered Larry Crowne primarily because it stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. I didn’t know they had made a movie together.  The one-line synopsis reads, “After losing his job, a middle-aged man reinvents himself by going back to college.”   Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is also in this film.

It’s really a delightful movie. It just seems unusual to me is that it’s the sort of film these heavy dramatic actors might have made 20-25 years ago … think Big, Pretty Woman, or Amazon Women on the Moon. Tom Hanks in a chick-flick? in 2011?

Tom Hanks wrote (with Nia Vardalos) and produced this picture but, in my fantasy, I can hear him calling up Julia and Bryan and saying, “Hey, what are you doing next week? Let’s make a movie. Bring the kids. Come on … it’ll be fun.”  Because it looks like they probably had fun making this movie.

There are cameo roles by Cedric the Entertainer, Rita Wilson (Tom’s wife), George Takei (of Star Trek fame), and Chet Hanks (son of Rita and Tom). Mr Hanks also gave work to a lot of unknown or new-to-the-business actors, technicians and crew (credits rolled forever).

All in all, this effort turned out to be a good story about a how a guy whose life has stalled gets jump-started again … how a college teacher (Roberts) who has lost her passion for teaching finds she can still make a difference in her students’ lives. And it all happens without sex, violence or obscenities. How refreshing.

I definitely recommend this movie.

31 Days of Oscar

Sunday afternoon is my usual day to post but today there is stiff competition for my time and attention.

On February 1, Turner Classic Movies began their 31 Days of Oscar Celebration. It’s rather self explanatory: for 31 days they will show films that are Oscar winners or nominees. Since this is year number 84 for the Academy Awards, there are many films to choose from.  A lot of awards are given, both technical and directorial as well as acting.

This afternoon’s offering was Mr. Roberts, a favorite from 1955 starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell and a young Jack Lemmon.  This was originally a novel by Thomas Heggen adapted into a Broadway play by Heggen and Joshua Logan before it became a movie. It’s the story of Lieutenant (J.G.) Doug Roberts (Fonda), stuck on a cargo ship during World War II with a Captain (Cagney) who is a tyrant.   Mr. Roberts wants to get into the war, serve on a destroyer, but the Captain will never approve a transfer. This movie is funny, touching and a little sad.  The supporting cast of sailors includes Ward Bond and a crew that could be identified as “young actors who will later be big in television.” Though I consider Mr. Roberts an outstanding movie it did not receive an Oscar nomination. Jack Lemmon won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and that’s how the movie qualified for the 31 Days Celebration

On tap for the rest of the day today is Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell, The Music Man, with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones (and five-year-old Ron Howard), and My Fair Lady, featuring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.

For good movie viewing without commercials, Turner Classic Movies is the place.  They really are usually classics.  To see the line up for 31 Days of Oscar, visit 31Days.tcm.com

The 2013 Academy Awards air February 24 on ABC.

The Left Hand of God

One night, during the Christmas break, I was pleased to see the listing of a favorite old movie, The Left Hand of God from 1955. This story features Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney, though this is not one of the most mentioned films during discussions of these actors’ resumes.

A man in priestly robes (Bogart) appears at a small Catholic mission in China.  He is presumed to be the long awaited Father O’Shea. Although his demeanor and behavior are different from what one would expect of a priest, his rough tactics prove successful with the local bullies.  (It’s 1947 and China is dissolving into civil war and revolution.)  To further complicate matters, the mission nurse Anne (Gene Tierney) seems attracted to him and he to her.

When he can struggle with this no more, the man confesses his name is Jim Carmody, recently escaped from the camp of a Chinese warlord (played by Lee J. Cobb).  Carmody’s confrontation with (and victory over) the warlord leave the villagers believing he is a saint and this was a miracle.  The Bishop, though not happy at the deception, is more concerned with the disillusionment of the Chinese converts if Carmody is found out. So, ‘Father Shea’ leaves quietly after telling Anne of his true feelings for her … leaving us to wonder if they will ever see each other again.

The novel, The Left Hand of God, was written by William E. Barrett. He wrote several books that dealt with men who were forced to look at their attitudes about faith and God.  Humphrey Bogart was a good choice to play Jim Carmody, since Bogart usually portrayed a hard boiled cynic who in the end shows his noble side.  Reviewers call The Left Hand of God an adventure story with a religious theme; the story of one man’s faith journey.

You may find the book in your local library or chance upon it in a used book sale. Watch for the movie on cable or, while I’m not sure it’s out on DVD yet, it might appear one day in the sale bins of the big box stores.

I recommend both movie and book.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Last night I watched the American Film Institute’s 50th Anniversary presentation of To Kill a Mockingbird. This was shown on the USA Network with only four well-place commercial breaks.

This is my favorite movie, and possibly the best movie ever made.  An AFI survey a few years ago listed Citizen Kane as the number one film of all time, but I can’t stand Citizen Kane, so I just might be biased.

Earlier last week I also watched (on Netflix) the documentary, Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, made in 2010 for the 50th anniversary of the novel.

The book and the movie can almost be reviewed as one, they are that close in plot and dialogue. Harper Lee was a consultant on the movie and much of the original writing from the novel made it into the screenplay.  This happens so seldom it is worth mentioning.

I fell in love with the book 52 years ago when I bought it from the Book of the Month club. Not only did I love the book, everyone did. It later won a Pulitzer Prize.

Today, watching the movie, most agree that no one but Gregory Peck could have played Atticus Finch.  That’s certainly my point of view. However, in casting the part both Spencer Tracy (well maybe) and Rock Hudson (shudder) were considered.  The casting director combed the South for the perfect Scout and Jem, locating newcomers Mary Badham and Philip Alford.

Mary Badham received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Scout (She lost to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker). She never appeared in another major film production, though she has made a decent living with television work. Philip Alford later won a role as one of James Stewart’s sons in Shenandoah, but since then has had small roles in big movies or vice versa.

Some said To Kill a Mockingbird, both book and movie, rode the wave of the Civil Rights movement to achieve the success it did. Actually, the book seems not so much about race relations as it is about human kindness and respect for others. Atticus gathers Scout in his arms and talks to her about ‘climbing into the other person’s skin and walking around.’ Thus to find understanding and empathy for the new trying-too-hard teacher, the poor kid in class with no lunch money, Boo Radley and Tom Robinson.

The book is now required reading in most junior high and high schools, often initiating discussions about the characters and their motivations.

For whatever reason, Harper Lee never published another novel. I’m sure she was encouraged (hounded?) to write a sequel. That’s a compliment; it means your characters are strong and likable. But how could she craft a story that compared in any way to the one she had already told?

She reportedly started another novel and got bogged down in the research. She told a close friend she had ‘nowhere to go but down.’   She tired of the limelight and declined to give any more interviews.  Even Oprah could not lure Nelle Harper Lee to sit on the couch with her.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it or watch it. With my recommendation.

Room With a View

The Netflix package my children gave me for Christmas (Thanks Kids!) allows me to cruise through hundreds of movies and documentaries and choose something to watch when there’s nothing good on cable or the networks. Which happens oftener and oftener.

So, last night I chose Room With a View, an English movie adapted from a 1908 novel by E. M. Forster.  Mr. Forster used much irony in his stories about the hypocrisy involved in the class conscious culture of the day.

The movie, made in 1985, stars a young and beautiful Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch and Julian Sands as George Emerson. Daniel Day Lewis gives an excellent performance as the prim and proper Cecil Vyse.  They were ably supported by Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in character roles. The rave review on imdb.com says this film captures the spirit of the book.  All of us who have been disappointed when a favorite book is made into a lousy movie, can understand the satisfaction when the movie actually does indeed capture the spirit of the book.

Room With a View is a love story about a young girl (Lucy) who must decide between two suitors, exuberant, passionate George or steady, predictable Cecil. Should she go with convention or take a chance on love? The limitations and expectations placed on young ladies during the Edwardian Era play a big part in her decision making.

The background music is spectacular — arias by Puccini and selections by Victor Herbert adding to the drama.

I do have to mention one particular scene that surprised me. The vicar comes upon two young men, waist high in water, bathing. They invite him to join them and he promptly drops trou and steps out from behind the bush completely naked. He jumps in the water and he and the young men engage in splashing and horse play, chasing each other in and out of the pool for a few minutes, before the story line moves on.

Today, when I checked the Parents Guide for this movie the concern listed was: “Full frontal nudity in a non-sexual way.”  True.  The rest of the movie everyone stayed fully clothed, skirts down to the floor and collars up to their chins.

I never figured out the point of this scene, which would lift right out of the film without changing the plot a bit.  Unless it was to shock the daylights out of this grandma!

Room With a View is worth your while and I would recommend it. Just keep your finger on the fast forward button.

Midnight in Paris

When a movie is nominated for an award, it’s rarely a film I have seen. Most of my movie viewing is done on basic cable or through Netflix.  Which means, the movies must be at least old enough to be released on dvd.   But this week, only days after it won Golden Globe Award, I saw Midnight in Paris.

This movie stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, two of my favorites, and features Kathy Bates, another favorite, in a smaller role.  Wilson was nominated Best Actor, and Woody Allen scored two nominations, for directing and for writing the screenplay.  The musical score is beautiful, good enough for an award nomination, except awards are given only for original scores.  This sound track contains a lot of Cole Porter and other songs from the early Twentieth Century.

Midnight in Paris is different from most Woody Allen movies in that, while it is quirky, as his films usually are, it is rated (only) PG-13 — for sexual innuendos and smoking.   No F-bombs or nudity in this cinema.

On a visit to Paris with his fiance’s family, Gil Fender (Owen Wilson) falls in love with the city. He has become an aspiring novelist after achieving success as a Hollywood screenwriter and he senses Paris is the perfect place to write. While walking the streets one midnight, he steps back into the Paris of the Roaring Twenties.  Great writers and painters together, partying, drinking and living their Bohemian lives. Meeting and talking to the literary geniuses of this era changes Gil’s writing and his life.  Who wouldn’t want to flesh out their ideas with Ernest Hemingway, or have Gertrude Stein critique their work? In the end Gil comes to realize that today’s reality can be as exciting and rewarding as the past. It’s up to us to make it that way.

Because Woody Allen is Woody Allen, some of the 1920-era characters are humorously over the top, written rather tongue in cheek. Hemingway talks like he wrote, all about heroism, bravery, war, and deep, true feelings (for women in particular).  The slightly mad personalities of Picasso and Dali are fodder for Allen’s pen.

Woody Allen won the Golden Globe Award for writing the screenplay.  The Golden Globes are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

This is really a delightful movie that I recommend.