Monthly Archives: February 2014

Non-Stop

Movie:  Non-Stop

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Nervous fliers, whatever you do, do not board British Air Atlantic Flight 10 non-stop to London!  Oops, too late.  This advice was ignored by a haggard, middle-aged federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), and boy was he sorry.  Just before boarding, the frequent flier marshal needs a few belts of booze to steady himself for another long flight.  After take-off and folks settle in for the long flight, marshal Marks goes into the rest room and puts tape over the fire alarm vents so he can fire up a Bilson cigarette (great, now butt fiends getting on planes will be lugging on rolls of duct tape).  The marshal checks in on his secret federal telephone system, and types that all is well.

But wait!  Soon Marks get an unexpected message on his federal cell phone with a threat that someone will die in 20 minutes! Surely the airline food is not that bad!  What follows is a deadly cat and mouse game between a person or persons unknown, and an increasingly desperate federal air marshal looking to find the culprit who is able to send messages to his “secure” phone with impunity.  Without giving much away, demands are made to the authorities, and people die.  The tension slowly and continuously ratchets up as the passengers become aware there is something seriously wrong on their flight, and the authority figures make increasingly desperate moves to resolve the situation.  Movie fans who like tense movie thrillers will like this movie; it definitely holds your attention.

Other players of note in this film are Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson’s seat neighbor on the plane.  Michelle Dockery is a hard working flight attendant and confidant of Bill Marks.  Anson Mount is jack Hammond, a second federal air marshal on the flight, and Linus Roache is the captain of Flight 10.  I liked the film for what it was, a thriller that keeps you guessing about who is behind the mischief, and why.  The ending was a bit of a disappointment.  When you find out the “why”, it seems rather lame.  The writers needed to tie things up neat and tidy, and they rush it past the viewers as quickly as possible.

Huh?  What the …:   Okay, enough with the technology geniuses who can make like MacGiver and penetrate a super encrypted federal communication system with their cell phone.  Sigh, we have to buy into it to make the movie work.  But then we also have to buy into the notion that none of the passengers or crew spot the bad guy sending all these messages, even though they’re sitting right next to them.  People, pay attention!

Hey, no food or beverage service on this flight during the entire movie.  See if anyone flies on this crappy airline again!

Actress to Watch:  Oscar nominated Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) has a small role as a flight attendant.  A shame she didn’t have a meatier part in the film.

Dialogue Nugget:  Understatement of the year.  A passenger pulls up the shade on his window seat to see a fighter plane just off the wing tip of the aircraft and says, “That’s not good”!

 

 

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Saving Mr. Banks

Movie:  Saving Mr. Banks

Rating:  4 Stars (out of 5)

Review:   It is 1961, and for 20 years Walt Disney has been pleading and negotiating with author P.L. Travers so he can make a movie about Mary Poppins.  At last, due to fiscal constraints, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) agrees to fly to California to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his Mary Poppins creative team to see if a deal can be made.  However, Travers is not especially eager to consummate this deal and give up her rights to the book.  Upon boarding the plane to the U.S., she tells herself, “I hope we crash”….

Upon getting to her luxury suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, she finds the rooms chock full of Disney stuffed animals, fruit baskets and other goodies.  Singularly not amused, the stuffed animals are abruptly stuffed in a closet, and a war of wills is commenced between Travers and the world of Disney.  The next morning Travers strides into Walt Disney’s office and receives his most effusive welcome, where he gushes “I love Mary Poppins.  You’ve got to share her with me!”  Walt’s enthusiasm soon wilts under Travers’ relentless demands for control of her intellectual property, and her opinion that an agreement is impossible. After Travers’ departs his office, Disney’s bewildered reaction is a single word: “Damn”!

The reason for P.L. Travers’ rudeness and imperious behavior is the crux of the whole movie.  We are soon treated to a number of flashbacks of the young girl, about age 10, who adores her doting father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).  Father and daughter have an idyllic relationship, and her whole world revolves around their time together.  Unfortunately, growing up in the Australian Outback in 1906, times were not always easy for the Goff family.  Goff is a bank manager, and probably is not well suited for the life.  His daughter actually saves him from being fired when she shows up for their ice cream day.  Suffice it to say there are numerous flashbacks detailing bittersweet recollections of her father, and their struggles for a happy life together.

The memories of her childhood appears to be a driving force behind P.L. Travers actions, and the dictatorial persona that she hides behind when dealing with the modern world.  Unfortunately, Walt Disney does not know how to get past the barriers that P.L. Travers puts up, as she rams her demands down the throats of the Disney staff.   Her insistence that there will be no animation in the movie, and no color red are but a few of her directives.  And woe to the young woman who thoughtfully brought in a cake to the office shaped like Mickey Mouse, only to have Travers immediately push it back out the door.

Late in the film, all appears hopeless as P.L. Travers departs for London.  I will leave it to the viewer to see how Walt Disney breaks through the defenses of the Mary Poppins author, and finally secures the rights to the movie.

It is not often to see a movie that has a well written script with such tour de force acting jobs from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.  The development of the story along with discovering the inner workings of the characters was a real pleasure.  It is difficult to fathom how Hanks, and especially Thompson, were not in contention for Oscars with this film.  It is rare to leave a theater and want to think back on a film to squeeze more of the meaning out of it, but this is one that will stay with you.

Actor to Watch:  Not a newcomer by any means, but Paul Giamatti steals every scene that he is in as Ralph, the limo driver.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Emma Thompson’s character has most of the bon mots.  I especially liked her weary entrance to the Disney office one morning by greeting the creative staff with a sardonic, “What horrors do you have for my musical characters today”?

Post Credits Stuff:  At the end of the film while the credits are rolling, pay attention to the old tape recordings of an actual discussion P.L. Travers had with the Disney people during one of their work sessions.

Winter’s Tale

Movie:  Winter’s Tale

Rating:  2 1/2 Stars (out of 5)  (Sorry, Teresa….)

Review:  In 1895 a Russian couple land at Ellis Island with a baby boy, ready to work on their American Dream.  Alas, the husband fails the medical exam for immigrants, and the young family is scheduled for immediate deportation.  The man liberates a model boat that he finds in the terminal, and as the family is leaving New York harbor, the baby boy is launched towards shore with the hopes of a better life.  The lad, named Peter Lake, is indeed taken in and given a home, but soon it is 1916, and the grown man (Colin Farrell) has fallen under the influence of an evil crime boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  Peter somehow runs afoul of his depraved mentor, and we first meet him on the run from Pearly and his thuggish minions who have cornered Lake in an alley.  But wait!  There is magic at work here, and Peter flies to safety on a winged white horse.

Having escaped the clutches of Pearly Soames (at least for the moment), Peter goes about his trade which is burglarizing the homes of rich folks.  While going about this business, Peter runs across the ephemeral beauty Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).  Peter quickly surmises there is something magical about Beverly (“I am pulled toward her like air when I am under water”), and postpones his plans to flee the city.  Love blossoms rapidly, which is good because young Beverly has consumption, and is constantly trying to lower her body temperature.

Peter meets the father, Mr Penn (William Hurt), and manages to become a hero and save the family’s lives.  Soon Peter squires Beverly to a New Year’s ball, and love is in the air for the couple.  But in addition to magic, there is much evil at work as well.  The malevolent Pearly Soames corners Peter once again, and the young man’s demise seems certain.  Except…it is now 2014.

Peter awakes to a strange new modern world.  Everything has changed, except him; he still looks exactly the same.  He knows not what has happened to him, but experiences a growing realization that he has been saved for a purpose.

The bottom line is this movie is based on Mark Helprin’s celebrated novel from 1983, and the book needed 800 pages to work all of it’s magical storylines.  This movie tried to boil it down to two hours, and too much had to be jettisoned along the way.  For viewers who just want to see the movie as a magical love story, it is fine on that level.  For the rest of us, major actors like William Hurt, Graham Greene and Eva Marie Saint got the bum’s rush, along with necessary sub plots.  Not to mention the brief appearances of Pearly Soames’ boss, Lucifer, played by a major star that shall be nameless here.

Huh?  What the ….:  Okay, some plot devices have to be tolerated to make the film work.  But what are the chances that an immigrant about to be deported is going to be allowed to wander about and get his hands on an oversized model ship, never mind be allowed to cart it back aboard the ship?

Somebody tell me what was the deal with the dude flipping the coin in 1916, and the same guy (looking the same) flipping the coin in 2014?  Another  plot from the novel that got snipped?

Dialogue Nugget:  “Inside of us we all have one miracle, which is only for one person”.

Post Credits Stuff:  None

 

RoboCop

Movie:  RoboCop

Rating:  2 1/2 (out of 5)

Review:  It is always a perilous venture to remake a movie that was a critical and commercial success, as was the 1987 film RoboCop starring Peter Weller.  The new version tries mightily by putting a fresh spin on the story, and employing better special effects than were possible 27 years ago, but ultimately this RoboCop falls short.

The story takes place in 2028, and crime is rampant.  Mega-corporation Omnicorp is lobbying the U.S. Congress to overturn the Dreyfus Act which restricts armed robots from being employed in the United States for military or police duties.  Omnicorp does its best to demonstrate the value of using their robots by putting on a demonstration in Tehran known as Operation Freedom.  The robots, big and small, seek out and riddle all terrorists that dare to oppose them in an impressive show of force.  Despite this success, Congress insists on a human touch for law enforcement.  So when Officer Murphy is seriously injured, Omnicorp steps in and saves his life by inserting his broken body into a metal torso and creating – RoboCop.  The mechanized man of war starts out impressively cleaning up the streets of Detroit (aka “Murder City”), but Murphy’s human brain keeps bringing up clues to the day he was injured, and RoboCop becomes increasingly unpredictable.  As Murphy unravels, so does the movie.

The cast is first rate, although the main guy playing Murphy the RoboCop (Joel Kinnaman from AMC’s The Killing) lacks sufficient charisma to carry the movie.  Murph’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) is attractive and supportive of her policeman husband.  Dr Norton (Gary Oldman) is the brains behind Omnicorp’s creation of the RoboCop prototype, and the conscience of the project.  Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is the CEO of Omnicorp, a slick operator, and holds much of the plot together.  Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) is Omnicorps technical weapons expert and lacks scruples, decency and a few other human qualities.  Then there is the recurring TV show “The Novak Faceoff”, starring Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), who periodically provides lurid updates to the public on the RoboCop project.

Anyone familiar with the original RoboCop will recognize the familiar elements of the story.  There are enough differences to give it a face lift, but it doesn’t really take off on its own.  Jackie Earle Haley taunts Murphy as being the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, and even plays the song, “If I Only Had a Heart”.  But that what this movie is lacking, a heart.  Just once I wanted RoboCop to confront a bad guy and say, “Your move, creep”!  Keaton and Oldman give yeoman efforts, but ultimately can’t quite give this movie the spark it needed.  Basically, it seemed like we were watching a special effects driven Xbox game.

Huh?  What the ….:  A key element of the story is an explosion witnessed by Officer Murphy, but later on RoboCop is able to generate that explosion from his data banks.  The glitch is that there should not be a memory of an explosion where Murphy not only sees the explosion, but also himself at the site of the explosion.

Actress to Watch:  It was nice to see Aimee Garcia (a recurring character from the Dexter TV series) have a role in this movie.

Dialogue Nugget:  Samuel L. Jackson finally managed to work in his trademark M-F word at the end of the movie.

Post Credits Stuff:  Nada