Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Judge

Movie:  The Judge

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a big city shark in the courtroom.  He is a highly paid criminal defense attorney with the ability to win almost any case, regardless of how guilty a scumbag defendant might be.  He is living the high life with a beautiful trophy wife, gorgeous house in the affluent suburbs, and a darling 8 year old daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay) that he adores.  Life is good.  Until he gets the fateful phone call of his mother’s passing.

Hank heads back to Carlinville, Indiana, where he grew up to attend the funeral.  He hasn’t been back in many years for several reasons, most of them revolving around his fearsome father, the Honorable Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).  There is a major rift between Hank and his father that time has not diminished.  Hank stays at the family home with his older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his mentally challenged younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong).  Things are tense at home, but Hank enjoys seeing some old friends and old flame Samantha (Vera Famiga).  Nevertheless, after a few days Hank is off to the airport to resume his life when he learns Judge Palmer has been arrested for murder, and is being defended by a hapless local lawyer C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard).

This movie is good; really good.  It works on a number of levels.  There is the legal case that slowly develops throughout the movie, with nuggets of information that slowly emerge to keep the audience on their toes as to what to believe.  I would put the film up there with legal classics such as Paul Newman’s The Verdict, and Jimmy Stewart’s Anatomy of a Murder.  Then there is the human element of the movie, which is constantly at play with Hank Palmer and his relationships within the family, picking at old wounds, and of course his emotional ties with an old flame are revisited.  Real life is complicated, and sometimes justice is also hard to define.  This movie does a brilliant job in exploring both of those avenues.

Actors To Watch:  So many great acting jobs in this film!  I don’t think it is going out on a limb to predict a Best Actor nomination for Robert Downey Jr., and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Duvall.  Billy Bob Thornton and Ken Howard have small but key roles where they excel.  I was impressed by Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of Hank’s younger brother Glen, and young Emma Tremblay shined as Downey’s daughter.

What The….Huh?:    Dale Palmer has a hobby of filming things.  There is a scene where no one thought Judge Palmer played chess until Dale showed the film.  But as far as I could tell, the significance was never made clear later in the movie.  Did I miss something?  Was there a deleted scene?  Beats me!

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Imagine a far away place, Hank, where people value your opinion.”

Hank:  “Innocent people can’t afford me.”

“You’re a civil servant in a corn-bang corner of Indiana!”

“I am the unplanned but happy result of a Wabash River float trip.”

Jury selection:  “Anyone who has seen a Sasquatch, those are our people.”

“You’re a shined up wooden nickel, Mr. Palmer, with a bogus bag of tricks.”

“We all waited for you to come home.  Quietly.  But you never came.”



Movie:  Fury

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)  

Review:   It is April 1945, and the 2nd Armored Division (“Hell On Wheels”) has fought its way into Germany.  The end of the war is only weeks away, but the remnants of the German army are still desperately fighting.  This is the story of one tank named Fury, and its crew.  The tank is commanded by Sgt Don Collier (Brad Pitt), who has kept his crew alive since they fought in North Africa back in 1942.  In the tank with Collier is bible quoting Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini Garcia (Michael Pena), and southern boy Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal).  The assistant tank driver was just killed in action, so green replacement Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a clerk/typist no less, is forced upon Sgt Collier to complete his crew.

The movie opens with Fury being the sole survivor of a tank battle.  They roll into their headquarters area of operations, and get briefed by Capt Waggoner (Jason Isaacs).  The front is fluid, and the American infantry units are in trouble up ahead.  No rest for the weary; the tankers are forced to refuel and push ahead.  If they run into German armor, they are in trouble, as the German Panther and Tiger tanks have better armor and firepower than the American tanks.

This is simply an amazing war movie, without a lot of moralizing to go along with it.  Sgt Collier and his crew are tired combat veterans who are trying to fight their way through to the end of the war.  Norman Ellison is a total innocent in that he knows nothing of combat or what it will take to survive, but he has been thrown into the maelstrom of war and is frantically trying to get his bearings and cope with his new environment.  The battle scenes are extremely authentic; after one fight, the tankers can barely catch their breath they are so stressed out.   The pyrotechnics of the fire fights are spectacular.  You don’t need 3D to appreciate how scary the fighting would be.  This is as close as you will ever get to seeing a live battle portrayed on the screen.  The acting is top notch, and the action flows seamlessly.  This is a movie that will stand at the top of the list for war movies in years to come.

Huh?  What The….:  Okay, one small nitpick.  There is a scene in the movie where dozens of American infantrymen are riding on top of tanks into a battle zone.  My Dad fought in WW II as an infantryman, and he told me you would never ride on top of tanks unless you wanted to get your ass shot off.

Actor To Watch:  Brad Pitt has found the role of a lifetime.  If he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor there is something wrong with the system.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Wait till you see what a man can do to another man.”

Collier to Ellison:  “Do what you’re told.  Don’t get too close to anybody.”

“Do you think Jesus loves Hitler?”

“There weren’t supposed to be no more Tigers!”

“All tanks.  Start squirting that tree line.  Light ’em up!”

Ellison:  “Why would I shoot them?  They are already dead.”  Garcia: “What are you, a doctor?”

“It will end soon but before it does a lot more people gotta die.”

Post Credit Stuff:  As credits roll after the movie, you can see real WW II war footage.


Dracula Untold

Movie:  Dracula Untold

Rating:  2 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:  Oy!  Another retelling of the Dracula story.  Was this really necessary?  Actually, it started out as a promising fresh version, following a little bit of actual history.  It starts out with Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) trying to protect his little kingdom in Wallachia (somewhere in modern Romania).   Vlad is a loving husband trying to protect his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon), his son, and his subjects from the rampaging Turks led by Sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper).  Vlad knows how ruthless the Turks can be, having been forced to live with them and fight with them, courtesy of being sent as a hostage by his father (another bit of historical fact).

Sadly, the Ottoman Empire is vast and its army nearly invincible.  The Sultan demands an exorbitant tribute from the tiny principality ruled by Prince Vlad.  Soon Vlad finds himself in a secluded cave and meets a horrible creature with awesome powers known only as the Master Vampire (Charles Dance).   Faced with a hopeless dilemma, Vlad must choose one course of action and live with the consequences.

I actually thought this might be a good movie, or at least a fresh take on the historical Vlad and Dracula tales.  Alas, at some point it becomes another vampire biting flick.  Pity.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “They brought war to our land, and they will pay dearly for it.”

“Do not ask me what happened on this field tonight.”

Vlad:  “I’m going to win this war in three days!”                                                                                     Close aide:  “Why not two and really impress us.”

“A message from Prince Vlad.  He asks if you enjoy the view.”  (ick)

Kill The Messenger

Movie:  Kill The Messenger

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In 1996 investigative reporter Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) for the San Jose Mercury News slowly pieced together an amazing story.  Briefly put, Webb found evidence that the CIA was in cahoots with drug cartel types to transport huge quantities of cocaine into the United States in return for kickbacks of profits, which in turn the CIA used to finance and buy arms for the rebel units fighting in Nicaragua.  Of course, all of this CIA activity was highly illegal and very top secret.

The Mercury News prints the story…and all hell breaks loose.  Just in case you see the movie, this is the real message; what happens when a relatively small time newspaper breaks a major national story.   Especially when the government is the target.  Trust me, it isn’t pretty.

This is a taut well written movie that feels almost like a documentary.  It is a movie with a message, and you really feel for Gary Webb and his family.  This is the greatest democracy in the world, but there is still some scary stuff going on.  This film is not getting any marketing, but if you get a chance it is definitely worth seeing.

Actors To Watch:  You seldom get as many top actors in one movie to do supporting and cameo roles.  This film managed to get Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick, Paz Vega, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “National security and crack cocaine in the same sentence; does that make sense to you?”

“I gave him six million a week – allegedly.  I was just an elf; Blandon was Santa Claus.”

“Now that you know the truth, you will be faced with the most important decision of your life; whether to share it.  Do you have a family?”

“My friend, some stories are just too true to tell.”