Monthly Archives: October 2015

Rock The Kasbah

Movie:  Rock The Kasbah

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   The career path of Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) has bottomed out.  The music promoter and sometime agent is scraping along hustling fees out of wanna-be singers, promising them he can make them stars.  Finally he gets a chance at a real gig, taking  talented singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) to Afghanistan as part of a USO tour to entertain the troops stationed in the Paktia Province.   It turns out that Ronnie is not a good flier, and likes Afghanistan even less when she gets there.  Suffice it to say that Richie Lanz has his hands full handling the talent for this tour.

Richie quickly makes the acquaintance of Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis), a contractor warrior who guards convoys in and around the city.  He often works for a pair of happy-go-lucky arms merchants played by Scott Caan and Danny McBride.  It is a crazy war, and these two knuckleheads hope it lasts forever, because they are making a fortune selling bullets and bombs.  Another entrepreneur that Richie runs into is Ms. Merci (Kate Hudson), a former school teacher who is working her butt off selling…well, her butt.  And various other body parts.  Somehow Richie and Merci bond, don’t ask me how.

But the real story is that while Richie Lanz may be a hustler and devoid of most ethics and morals, he is at heart a talent scout.  And in the most unlikely place and circumstances, he may have discovered a major musical talent in Salima (Leem Lubany).  The question is, what can Richie do about it in a country like Afghanistan?

This film is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to see Bill Murray do his shtick.  He does play the nutty but still likeable loser in this dark comedy that morphs into a surreal drama.  Doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but just go with it.  Bill Murray seldom plays the main lead in films anymore, so just enjoy this off the wall story.

Huh?  What the….:  Pretty sure that you can’t pick up TV reception inside a cave in the middle of a desert.  Just sayin’….

For you aging SNL fans, in one scene Bill Murray channels the spirit of Nick, his lounge singer character.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Richie – “Life is finding an open door and walking through.  Obviously some asshole has changed the locks on me, but I’m still in the game.”

Richie’s Daughter to Dad – “They don’t have casbahs in Afghanistan.”

Ronnie – “This is a G–damned death trip!”

US Soldier to Ronnie and Richie – “Make sure you get a room in the back (of the hotel) away from the flying glass.”

Merci to Richie – “Sweets, I can do things to you that are illegal in every civilized country in the world.”

Merci to Richie (Part Deux) – “This is Ms. Merci’s 401K retirement tour.  You do not want to miss it.  Buckle up, cowboy!”

Richie – “I am not a loser.  I am a quitter!”

 

 

Bridge Of Spies

Movie:  Bridge Of Spies

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In the 1950s the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak.  Nuclear arsenals were growing, political leaders for both countries rattled sabers, and the CIA and FBI were in a constant war with the Soviet’s KGB spy networks.  It was a time of great tension for the average American citizen, and schools held drills for children to get under their desks in case of a nuclear strike.

In 1957, the FBI had been watching a suspected Soviet spy in Brooklyn, NY, and finally sprung the trap and arrested him.  It turned out that they had snared Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a colonel in the KGB who was running a spy network in the U.S.  The American public, ever fearful of the Russians, demanded swift justice be dealt out to this spy.  A number of prominent attorneys were asked to represent Abel as his defense lawyer, but turned it down.  Finally, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an attorney for an insurance firm who had experience as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crime trials, agreed to represent Rudolf Abel.

Fast forward to 1960, and the United States were using the secret U2 spy planes to make long flights over the Soviet Union to photograph their installations.  Flying at 70,000 feet, it was believed that the U2 planes were impervious to attack from the Russians.  This belief was shattered on May 1, 1960 when an SA-2 surface to air missile tore into the wing of the aircraft flown by Lt Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who was captured by the Soviets and put on trial as a spy.  The United States was embarrassed to have been caught using their spy planes, but officially left Lt Powers high and dry in the clutches of the Soviet Union.  Once again, James B. Donovan was called into service, this time to “unofficially” try and rescue Powers and bring him home.

This is a very powerful story based on real historical events, and the film  focuses on portrayals of the individuals that played key roles in the outcome of these events.  Tom Hanks is outstanding in his performance of James Donovan, a devoted family man, and a stalwart defender of the law.  He gives us insight into the character of Donovan as a man of the highest principles who would always do his duty to the utmost of his ability, even when it was unpopular with the government and the general public.  Don’t bother penciling in Tom Hanks’ name for a Best Actor nomination; use ink.   This is one of the best films of the year, and one of the best historical dramas ever filmed.

Acting Kudos:  Aside from Tom Hanks, there are other great performances.  Of particular note is Mark Rylance as Colonel Rudolf Abel.  Rylance plays the Soviet spy as a man of few words, but manages to convey him as a man of honor trying to do a difficult job for his country.  Abel also comes off as a man who is stoic, but with a dry sense of humor that is appreciated in such a serious role.   Rylance successfully pulls off a difficult task, which is to make a Soviet spy a real human being, and even likeable to some extent.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Donovan – “You can’t accuse Abel of being a traitor.  He’s not an American!

Donovan – “Frankly, everyone else has an interest in sending you to the electric chair, but you don’t seem alarmed.”  Abel – “Would it help?”

Judge to Donovan – “He will receive a capable defense, and God willing be convicted.”

CIA Agent – “The East German agenda and the Russian agenda may not be the same thing.

Donovan to East German – “Is there any outcome here where I will not be detained or shot?

Donovan – “Powers is the most hated man in America.  After Rudolf Abel…and me.”

 

 

 

 

The Intern

Movie:  The Intern

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   All of us dream for the day we can retire and get out of the rat race and just enjoy ourselves.  Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro) felt that way after 40 years of working his way up to a position in his company as a V.P. and retired to the Good Life.  But Ben missed his wife who had passed away, and doing Tai Chi in the park and finding hobbies was not enough to occupy Ben’s life.  So he applied for a job as a Senior Intern in a new start-up company About The Fit, run by it’s youthful founder and CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).

Jules is young and dynamic, full of fresh ideas, and her young work force love working for her.  Her company is only 18 months old, but already they are experiencing the growing pains of too much success.  No longer a niche company, Jules is working crazy hours to micro manage the company, seldom spends enough time with her husband Matt (Anders Holm) and daughter Paige, and is thinking she needs to hire an experienced executive to act as CEO.  In the midst of this upheaval, Ben Whitaker is introduced to Jules as her personal intern.  But Jules has difficulty delegating work loads, and Ben is left to his own devices to piddle around helping where he can in the office, and becomes a bit of a father figure to two young interns.  One day Ben is called into service to become Jules’ driver, and slowly Jules begins to realize what an asset old Ben Whitaker could be, both to the company and as her advisor.

My closest friend tells me there are no good romantic comedies any more, much to her dismay.  This is not exactly a romantic comedy, but it is an adult comedy with friendship and mutual admiration working for it, so let’s call it a friendship comedy.  Whatever it is, it is a welcome change to the summer movie fare, with an intelligent script and two academy award winning actors giving solid performances.  The storyline may be fairly predictable, but you will like it all the same.  Trust me.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Ben – “I still have music in me.  I am absolutely positive about that.”

Ben’s job interviewer – “What was your major?  Do you remember?”

Jules to Ben – “The job ages you.  Which won’t be good in your case.”

Ben – “You know those sycamores on the other side of the building?  I remember the day they were planted.”

Ben – “You’re never wrong if you do right.”  Jules – “Who said that, you?”  Ben – “Yeah, but I am pretty sure Mark Twain said it first.”  (See comment next section)

Woman to Ben – “You brought a date to a funeral?”  Ben – “I definitely think it’s a good idea to take first dates to a funeral.  It’s a real ice-breaker.”

Jules wails to Ben – “I will be buried in the single section of the cemetery!”

Huh?  What the….:  Don’t think Ben had a legitimate Mark Twain quote.  Closest thing to it is Twain’s famous line, “Do the right thing.  It will gratify some people, and astonish the rest!”

Bonus Twain quote:  “Never argue with a fool.  Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

A Bit Of Nepotism:  Robert De Niro’s adopted daughter, Drena De Niro, has a minor part in the film as the hotel manager.

 

 

The Martian

Film:  The Martian

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:    NASA launched Ares III, a manned space craft that successfully landed on Mars.  The crew was scheduled to stay for two months to perform scientific experiments before heading back on the long return voyage to Earth.  But with almost no warning, a dangerous dust storm blew across the Martian surface endangering the safety of the crew, and threatened to topple the space capsule that would return the crew back into space.  All but one crew member, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), made it back to the capsule.  With the safety of the crew at risk, the commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), certain that Watney was dead, reluctantly gave the order to abort the rest of the mission and return to earth.

Thus begins the saga of Mark Watney, lone inhabitant of an entire planet, aka the Martian.  He does have a shelter left behind by his crew, and provisions for about 60 days.  He has no way to contact Hermes, the recently departed space craft, or even NASA back on earth.  The next planned mission to Mars, Ares IV, is not scheduled to arrive for another four years.  Watney has his astronaut training to rely on, he is a botanist by trade, and has a strong will to survive.  But is that going to be enough for Watney to stay alive?  As he assesses his situation, he concludes:  “I’m left with one option.  I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

It is just as well that Mark knows nothing of what is happening on Earth.  NASA director Teddy Sanders has announce the tragic death of Mark Watney to the world, and memorial services are held.  NASA goes back to planning their next launch four years down the road, and the crew of the Hermes settles into a routine as they while away the days on the long journey back home.  And the Martian begins to work and make plans….

This film is an amazing story, and I don’t give movies the Full Monty (5 stars) for nothing.  The story is based on a novel by Andy Weir, and both the novel and film director Ridley Scott had major assistance from NASA to get the science right.  The picture has plenty of thrills for action fans, and one heck of a story line.  Matt Damon carries this movie on his back, but gets plenty of help from great actors such as Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  It is a bit early in the Oscar season, but count on this film being a lock for a Best Picture nomination.  Do yourself a favor and go see this film.  The two hours and 21 minutes will fly by before you know it.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Hermes pilot – “Commander, I need you to verbally tell me to launch!”

Watney (to himself) – “I’m sorry, Martinez.  If you didn’t want me to go through your stuff, you shouldn’t have left me for dead on this planet.”

Sanders – “Congress won’t authorize us for a paperclip if we put a picture of a dead astronaut on the Washington Post.”

Watney – “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am the greatest botanist on Mars.”

Watney – “Basically, I colonized Mars.  In your face, Neil Armstrong!”

Watney – “Truth is, to stretch the rations four more days is a real dick punch.”

Kapoor – “You want to send him up into space under a tarp?”

I’m A Believer:  I have always heard duct tape can fix anything.  Now I believe it….

Favorite Scene:  Mark Watney tear-assing over the surface of Mars in a Rover grooving to the sounds of Donna Summers singing Hot Stuff on his tape deck.  Awesome.