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Disney’s The Jungle Book

17 Apr

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Disney’s The Jungle Book.  First off it is safe to say this movie is less about Disney’s Jungle Book the animated version (1967) as much as it pays more attention to Rudyard Kiplings book.

The new version is live action with amazing CGI that brings you right in to the Jungle world of man-cub Mowgli, played well by new comer, Neel Sethi. The film has a PG rating and some scenes might be a bit too realistic for the very young. The casting is superb, Ben Kingsly as Bagheera the panther who found Mowgli as an infant and gave him to the wolves to raise as their own, Lupito Nyong’o plays the Raksha Mowgli’s wolf mother, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger who wants Mowgli dead, Scarlette Johansson as the snake Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louis the King of the apes, and the wonderful Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.
The only resemblance to the animated version is three songs lifted from that film:
1: Bill Murray as Baloo in an effort to befreind Mowgli after enlisting him into retreaving honey for him from live bees nests, sings the song Bear Neccesities with Mowgli. Rather than a disconnected musical number, Murray plays it as way to understand Baloo’s character and give dimension to his relationship with Mowgli. Not only is it pure Murray but it is a joy to watch, like a peacful float down a river.
2. When we first meet Christopher Walken as King Louis sitting on a throne in an ancient jungle temple, he comes across as The Godfather with a hidden agenda. He sings I Want To Be Like You so incidiously ,telling of his plot to get the red flower (FIRE), from the man-cub so he can take power and control the jungle, you can only think what a perfect choice he was to play the part. He sings it in a way that let’s you see inside him and understand just how power hungry and crazy he is. Not unlike any dictator he uses his underlings to capture the man-cub so they can negotiate face to face.
3. Lastly stay for the end credits, because there is a lot going on, a reprise of I want To Be Like You and the third song, Trust In Me sung by Kaa.
The film is a winner all around and incidently it is also Gary Shandlings last film he plays a minor character Ikki the Porcupine. (Very well too I might add.)
I saw it in 3D and the world you are drawn into like Avatar before it is complete and all consuming. Go and enjoy.
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Captain America the Winter Soldier

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Captain America, Steve Rodgers, returns to fight a new world order, in a modern world. When a S.H.E.I.L.D. colleague is attacked, Rodgers joins forces with Natasha, The Black Widow and Sam Wilson, The Falcon, as H.Y.D.R.A., once again tries to dominate the planet.

 

CAST:

Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce

 

Review: In the much anticipated return of Captain America, MARVEL has made one of the best movies so far, in their superhero war chest. The movie is non-stop action from beginning to end, the story is a tightly scripted action thriller, and there are enough laughs and back-story references to please any fan. In this sense the movie succeeds at bringing the old Captain America into relevance in today’s world.

The fun begins with a murder mystery, when Nick Fury is presumably assassinated; Captain America follows a trail with fellow agent The Black Widow. Along the way are many surprises and twists. His old friend Bucky Barnes returns as a ruthless assassin working for H.Y.D.R.A, with a mission to kill the good Captain. Steve Rodgers befriends a young soldier Sam Wilson, whom he trusts, and who admires him and his American values.

Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce represents S.H.E.I.L.D and is the money man who funds the operation through influencing a tight knit consortium of world leaders. Can he be trusted….? Is Nick Fury, really dead, will Bucky remember his friendship with Rodgers, will Stan Lee have a cameo?

In the bigger picture, Fury has built a secret arsenal underneath S.H.E.I.L.D headquarters. H.Y.D.R.A has been secretly funding the project through Pierce. When Fury figures this out, he confides in Rodgers and hands him a UBS storage disk that contains all of S.H.E.I.L.D’s secrets and in his presumably dying breath tells Rodgers not to trust anyone. The story continues along this line, as Rogers forms a team with Natasha and Sam.

There are cameo appearances by Gary Shandling, (comedian, The Gary Shandling Show) as a corrupt senator working for H.Y.D.R.A as well as the obligatory Stan Lee moment.

MARVEL stories always have a human touch and the relationships between the characters ring true. When The Black Widow flirts with the Captain, you can see what she is thinking inside. Rodgers is all about Truth, Justice and the American way and obviously thrives on trust and loyalty, Fury is all about distrust, protecting freedom and always ready to fight. The newbie to this scenario is Sam Wilson, The Falcon, whose loyalty to the Captain’s cause makes him a trusted and valuable friend.

This is a story loaded with intrigue; in fact some of the gadgets and technology are slightly reminiscent of James Bond films. The film has left enough loose ends to make a sequel, as with all good movie franchises, it also ties up the some unanswered questions from the first movie.

I must say, watching Robert Redford play the heavy, with his charm and understatement, makes him more insidious as opposed to over the top as most Bond villains are. He was perfectly cast and just how insidious he is, surprises you at various tense moments throughout the story.

I saw the 3D version of this movie and felt the effect never distracted, that said, the movie would be just as enjoyable with or without the 3D.

I hope MARVEL can keep up the good works and future movies in the franchise, such as the AVENGERS sequel, will live up to the bar as raised by this one.

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12 Years a Slave

17 Feb

12 Years a Slave

Synopsis:  In pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelf… Moreth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup)

 Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps)

 Benedict Cumberbatch (Ford)

 Paul Dano (Tibeats)

 Garret Dillahunt (Armsby)

 Paul Giamatti (Freeman)

 Scoot McNairy (Brown)

 Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey)

 Adepero Oduye (Eliza)

 Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps)

 Brad Pitt (Bass)

 Michael Kenneth Williams (Robert)

 Alfre Woodard (Mistress Shaw)

 Chris Chalk (Clemens)

 Taran Killam (Hamilton)

 Bill Camp (Radburn).

 Review:  Steve McQueen directs the story Solomon Northup, and gives us a compelling, unrelenting tale of abduction and slavery in pre-civil war years starting in 1841. The film is based on Northup’s memoirs entitled, “12 Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

Chiwetel Ejifor plays Northup as both a slave and an outside witness looking in. He does what he has to survive, thinking only of contacting his family left behind and his friends up north who can help him. He is abducted  in Washington, DC and sold by an English slave trader named Freeman. (Paul Giamatti). His first master Ford is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford has sympathy for the slaves but is helpless and can do nothing for them. He favors Northup and grants him every courtesy. During his time with ford he is taunted by the Ford’s overseer. When Northrup fights back, the overseer strings him up on a tree. It takes hours for Ford to come to his rescue, McQueen prolongs the shots of Northup hanging there, sweating in the sun with little water. Ford has no choice but to sell Northup in order to save his life. It is with his next Master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a mean, drunk, piggish, bigoted cotton plantation owner, that we see the reality of slave ownership in the deep south.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a slave girl named Patsey who Epps favors and Epps wife despises. She puts up with all manner of shame in order to survive. Nyong’o gives a bravura performance that tugs at your sympathies as she is whipped half to death at Epps’ wife’s request over a bar of soap.

Northup has a chance meeting with a Canadian Abolitionist, Bass (Brad Pitt) who after hearing Northup’s story sets the wheels in motion to get him released and sent home to his family.

McQueen breaks every Hollywood convention about slavery; this is no Gone with the Wind, or say The Little Rebel with Billy (Bojangles) Robinson tap dancing up a staircase with Shirley Temple. We see whippings, hangings and rape in a ways that are hard to take, but the restraint shown by Northup in long shots focused on his face as he internalizes his predicament, puts a human face on the chaos making it easier to swallow. You might say the same thing about Liam Neeson’s  performance as Oscar Schindler in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

The movie is harrowing, brilliant and a contender for a best picture Oscar.

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The Monuments Men

17 Feb

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Synopsis:  Directed by George Clooney and based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

 CAST

George Clooney (Frank Stokes)

 Matt Damon (James Granger)

 Bill Murray (Richard Campbell)

 John Goodman (Walter Garfield)

 Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont)

 Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz)

 Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries)

 Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein),

 Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone)

 Holger Handtke (Colonel Wegner)

REVIEW: George Clooney has directed a likeable film, in the old school, familiar style reminiscent say of a Guns of Navorone. George, (Frank Stokes),  leads his band of men through Europe during the last days of World War II. His job, as assigned by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to find and return the world’s art and cultural treasures, stolen by the Nazis under Hitler’s orders. It reminds us that Hitler didn’t just want to kill the Jews but destroy their culture and any knowledge of their existence off the face of the Earth. Most of the art was owned by private Jewish collectors, and Jewish families, past down generation to generation, the art priceless, the cost of lives, infamous, heinous and we must never forget the result of the Nazi holocaust.

In the telling of the tale, Clooney treaded the fine line of heavy handedness and lightheartedness. Given the implications of the subject matter these are hard issues to navigate and in this regard the movie becomes uneven. The film remains buoyant by the all star cast, Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone a Parisian who is forced to document every art piece taken by the Germans, also works for the French Resistance. Her performance transcends the material she is given and you understand her as she trusts no one, even Matt Damon, (James Granger), who tries to enlist her help for the Monuments men. Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin add to the light heartedness of the characters, their mission is clear and they are all experts in their creative fields. Each one has an ironic sense of duty vs. reality.  Murray and Balaban are experts at playing irony and are a joy to watch. John Goodman is always winning and teaming him with Jean Dujardin works on so many levels.

Hugh Bonneville, (Donald Jeffries) is the British counterpart who works with the Monuments Men, and is a friend of Clooney’s. Clooney enlists him as a way of saving him from a fall from grace he has had with bouts of alcoholism. Bonneville, who is so wonderful in Downton Abbey, adds certain class to the film as he tries to recover Michelangelo’s,  Madonna and Child statue.

The story becomes a race against time as the Monuments Men  must recover the last of the art before the Russian Army takes claim to it for war reparations caused by the lives lost by the war. The story could have been more involving, the pace perhaps a little quicker as the sense of urgency, however, the Monuments Men is a good story and deserves a look-see just to be reminded of what could have been, if not for brave men and freedom fighters, like these.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

5 Feb

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Synopsis: Martin Scorsese directs the story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort. From the American dream to corporate greed, Belfort goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late 80s. Excess success and affluence in his early twenties as founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont warranted Belfort the title “The Wolf of Wall Street.” — (C) Paramount

 CAST

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort)

Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff)

Margot Robbie (Naomi)

Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hanna)

Kyle Chandler (Patrick Denham)

Rob Reiner (Max Belfort)

Jon Favreau (Manny Riskin)

Cristin Milioti (Teresa)

Jean Dujardin (Jean-Jacques Saurel)

REVIEW:  Martin Scorsese has directed a controversial, raw story, of greed, debauchery, and addiction, filled with humor, shock and  lots of sex thrown in. The story is based on the autobiographical book, The wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, the founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.

Within the first few minutes, the film introduces us to Belfort, played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, he describes his life as images depict him snorting blow off the posterior end of a prostitute, crashing his helicopter down on the front lawn of his Long Island mansion  and various othe unbridled deeds of debauchery. The story grabs you and never lets  you go, it is at once comedic and tragic.

The film in flashback , recounts a young married Belfort getting his first job on wall street where his naiveté is obvious. His boss Mark Hanna, played by Matthew McConaughey, takes Belfort under his wings and explains the ropes of large commissions in what is possibly the funniest luncheon moment I have ever seen. Hanna starts to do a primal chant, to raise his energy and urges Belfort to do the same. He also urges Belfort to do cocaine as an brain opener followed by self release to temper the energy. The scene is hilarious and starts Belfort on his road to greed, addictions and debauchery.

When Belfort loses his job, due to the stock market crash of the 1980’s,  remembered as black Monday, he finds a job as a penny stock salesman in his home town on Long Island. He literally becomes their best salesman ever, 50% commissions on every sale, he decides to start his own company. He puts together a team of cronies and phonies, which also happen to be some of the best character actors around, the first person he recruits is a nebbish, Donnie Azoff, played hysterically by Jonah Hill. The two of them create an empire of selling selling junk stocks to the rich by first offering them blue chip stocks to gain their confidence. The commissions they make are staggering and the money seems to pour in.

Belfort creates the firm of  Stratton Oakmont as his success continues. He hires con-artists and salespeople with no brokerage background and makes them all millionaires with his schemes. As a reward he throws big parties with hookers, drinking ,drugs and becomes the leader and spokesman of his cult of believers.  His addictions grow exponentially with his power and greed, he and his cohorts partake in bacchanalian orgies, he downs Quaaludes like candy, divorces his home town wife, marries a super model, is stalked by the FBI for insider trading  and so on and so forth. Scorsese does not miss any sordid or hilarious detail. One question comes to mind, is this comedy about American business as usual?  If so, should we as a species ask ourselves what motivates people to act this way and is this a true look at who we really are?

The film never disappoints and has a energy and a style that only Scorsese can deliver. DiCaprio is becoming a true super-star and his bravura performance, supported by a superb ensemble of character actors, makes this a must see, to believe  film. Some people may be offended by the themes of misogyny and addiction, but the film does deliver with a one-two punch. The film has been nominated for a best picture Oscar for the upcoming 2014 academy awards.

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GRAVITY

31 Jan

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Director – Alfonso Cuaron, Screenplay – Jonas Cuaron , Screenplay – Alfonso Cuaron

  Synopsis:  Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. — (C) Warner Bros.

CAST

Sandra Bullock – Ryan Stone

George Clooney – Matt Kowalsky

Ed Harris – Mission Control

Orto Ignatiussen – Aningaaq

Amy Warren – Explorer Captain

 

Review: Gravity is a pulse pounding, thrill ride of a film that is less cerebral than say Kubrick’ s, 2001 A Space Odyssey , less fantasy visually  than Cuaron’s Pan’s Labrynth, and certainly not based in the Star Trek/Star Wars style mythology. Gravity is a visually stunning “what if” adventure concerning itself with survival, if faced with abandonment, in a routine space walk  and disaster strikes.  Sandra Bullock as Medical Engineer Ryan Stone, on her first venture into space with George Clooney as veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky are busy working outside their space shuttle when they get an urgent message from NASA, the Russians by demolishing one of their obsolete satellites, causing fragments of debris, metal parts, and various other satellite parts to fly at enormous speeds in the path of the shuttle. All hell breaks loose causing Clooney and Bullock to spin out of control. Clooney manages to stop his spin, Bullock, who is now spinning away from the shuttle is alone and out of touch with NASA.  The silence, horror and panic in the vastness of space is as terrifying and real a moment, in brilliant use of 3D yet, that propels the events that ensue.   In Bullock’s character we learn her back story and come to realize this is a woman who lost a child and is about to confront her maker, and the changes that take place as she manages to save herself. The movements of Clooney and Bullock are tense as they clock the time the debris will orbit back and hit them again. Bullock’s face beneath the helmet she wears shows the desperation as she listens for Clooney’s voice to talk her through it. With their colleagues dead, you can only hope that these two manage to save themselves.   Using a thruster pack Clooney and Bullock make their way to the nearby International Space Station (ISS) only to find it damaged and unusable. En route to the ISS, the two discuss Stone’s life back home and the death of her young daughter. As they approach the substantially damaged but still operational ISS, they see its crew has evacuated in one of its two Soyuz modules and that the parachute of the other capsule has accidentally been deployed, rendering it useless for returning to Earth. Kowalski suggests the remaining Soyuz be used to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong, 100 mi (160 km) away, and board one of its modules to return safely to Earth. Out of air and maneuvering power, the two try to grab onto the ISS as they fly by. Stone’s leg gets entangled in Soyuz’s parachute cords and she is able to grab a strap on Kowalski’s suit. Despite Stone’s protests, Kowalski detaches himself from the tether to save her from drifting away with him, and she is pulled back towards the ISS. As Kowalski floats away, he radios her additional instructions and encouragement. The rest of the story is about Bullock’s rebirth and survival as she confronts her own demons and past. Cuaron uses imagery to depict Bullock as baby in a womb as Bullock floats through the Soyuz.

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This is a first class adventure movie; the use of 3D enhances the story in a way I have never seen before. You feel the sense of insignificance as alone and floating in the silence of space can be. The film is up for 2013 Best Picture Academy Award and Bullock is up for Best Actress.

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Nebraska

28 Jan

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SYNOPSIS: Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) takes the helm for this black and white road trip drama starring Bruce Dern as a tempestuous Missouri father who’s convinced he’s won a million dollar magazine sweepstakes, and Will Forte as the son who grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings.

CAST

Bruce Dern – Woody Grant

Will Forte – David Grant

Bob Odenkirk – Ross Grant

Stacy Keach – Ed Pegram

June Squibb – Kate Grant

Devin Ratray – Cole

Mary Louise Wilson – Mrs. Grant

Rance Howard – Uncle Ray

REVIEW:  Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, tells an American tale, of Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, as an old timer who believes he has won a million dollars from a magazine sweepstakes. The story is filmed in black and white, and takes on a journey through the bleak Midwest. Grant is stubborn and willing to walk from his home in Omaha to Nebraska to claim his winnings. His son  David begrudgingly agrees to drive Woody, and an journey of family discovery and Woody’s past unfolds. Bruce Dern’s portrayal alone is enough to see the film, the icing on the cake is the bleak journey of discovery and family secrets we are taken on. The “Grapes of Wrath Setting” adds to the determination of Woody as he slowly but surely gets to his destination of Lincoln, Nebraska. This is a post modern depression tale of middle America as it is today, you might say an up to date American Gothic. This is wonderful cinema and aside from Dern’s tour de force acting, the rest of the cast is a delight as well.

June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the exasperated wife of Woody. She is at her wits end with Woody’s antics and wants him in a home so someone else can watch him. Her portrayal is humorous, real and at times a bit saucy. You can’t help but love her for being outspoken.

Will Forte portrays David Grant, Woody’s youngest son, who reluctantly agrees he should take his father to Lincoln knowing the letter was a scam. David and his father learn to get along during the journey, they drink together, and David even put’s up with his father’s demands. David is determined to either make his dad face reality about the million or see him through to the end of his dream.

Stacy Keach plays Ed Pegram, Woody’s ex-partner in a car mechanic shop in Woody’s home town of Hawthorne Nebraska. Ed is convinced Woody is rich and wants to $10,000 in reparations from all the business that was lost over the years from Woody’s drinking and screw ups.

Rance Howard plays Ray, Woody’s brother and the two hardly say two words together, apparently they have nothing to talk about. Their moments together are comical and paint an unflattering family portrait.

As David and Woody visit the town of Hawthorne, Woody spills the beans about the million, he has been drinking and boasts a little about the letter. When word gets out Woody is rich, although not really the whole town treats him like a celebrity.

The following day, Ross, Woody’s other son portrayed by Bob Odenkirk and Woody’s wife Kate arrive in Haawthorne. They all try to cope with dad being the town celebrity as Woody just can’t wait to go to Nebraska and claim his fortune.

The film has won many accolades since its’ release, including The American Film Institute calling it one of the top ten films of the year and Bruce Dern has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

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