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I finally finished all but one of those ten movies I bought at Christmastime.  I’ve already reviewed five of them, but have three more I’d like to mention with mini reviews.

I was alone in the Blockbuster Video store, except for one female employee, when I was picking these out.  We got to talking and when she saw that I had picked out “Paranormal Activity,” she told me that, if I liked to be scared, I would be much happier with “The Fourth Kind.”  Since she had seen both, I took her advice.  Just so you know…

The Fourth Kind – For those of you not into aliens like I am, the fourth kind of alien encounter is abduction.  Anyway, the deal on this movie, or the shtick, I can’t figure out which, is that it is based on true case studies of psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler.  She investigated the phenomenon of people who have been vanishing from Alaska since the 1960’s.  To add to the authenticity, the movie often features actual archival footage taken by Dr. Tyler alongside of dramatic re-enactments.

The Blockbuster girl told me the movie scared her to death.  It didn’t me.  It just kind of creeped me out and not in a good way.  There’s not much story, but there’s a lot of screaming.  A body did levitate in the “real” footage and the re-enactment, but that wasn’t worth the price of admission.  I wish now I had stuck to my guns and gotten “Paranormal Activity.”

Crazy Heart – This is the movie for which Jeff Bridges won the Best Actor Academy Award this past year.  He plays Bad Blake, a boozy faded country western singer reduced to playing bowling alleys and bars.  He meets a journalist, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who causes him to re-evaluate his life and starts him down the road to redemption.

Story-wise, I just told it.  It could fit into a teaspoon.  Acting-wise, Bridges was brilliant.  After watching this movie, I felt like I had known this man my whole life.  The little nuances he brought to the role were masterful and touching.  And he definitely deserved the award, no doubt about it.  This is a movie certainly worth seeing, both for the acting and the music.

District 9 – Okay, I’ll be straight up with you on this one.  I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this movie!  The premise is that aliens appeared twenty-some years ago in a ship that hovered over Johannesburg, South Africa.  The aliens, who come to be referred to as “Prawns,” due to their insect/fish-like appearance, were exiled to a slum on the fringe of the city by a government agency.  After the newness wore off, they were victimized and exploited by humans.  Their presence causes so much civil unrest that, as the movie begins, they are being evicted from their shanty homes to be relocated further out from the city.

One government official is accidentally exposed to a strange alien chemical which changes his life and makes him the object of a manhunt by his own species.  Thus he has to rely on the kindness of the only two Prawns he knows.

This movie starts out as if it were a documentary and somewhere toward the middle transitions into cinematography to show the action sequences.  This movie has everything – action, tension, humor and moments of pathos.

My best recommendation is that, about three-quarters of the way into the movie, I discovered that I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, and had been for quite some time.  This movie so held my interest that I had no concept of time passing.  It was that good.  It is so creative and original that I’m sure you haven’t seen anything quite like it.  I’m going to try to watch it again this week.

So, that’s it for now, people.  Two I’d recommend and one I wouldn’t.  If you’ve seen any of these and want to leave your opinions, feel free.  I’d be interested.

Meanwhile, try to be good.

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I don’t run to the theater every time a new movie I want to see comes out.  As a matter of fact, since I was struck with double vision in July, I haven’t gone out to a movie at all, mainly because I feared that seeing TWO giant screens might drive me mad.  Anyway, I digress.  Usually when I see previews of movies that look good to me on TV, I remember the titles.  Then I go to Blockbuster when they’re having big movie sales and pick them up.  This year they had five movies for $19.99 which is roughly $4 per movie, which you just can’t beat.  I bought ten.  I watched five over the holiday weekend and was actually surprised at which ones I liked and which sucked.  So, I’m going to give you the equivalent of $2.00 movie reviews.  I won’t go into the directing, artistic merit, yada, yada, yada.  I’ll just share my impressions in a sort of shorthand way.

Carriers – This was a “lethal virus wipes out most of the country” type movie, the kind I always like, particularly on Christmas day.  🙂 It features four young people (three I didn’t know and one, Emily Van Camp who plays Rebecca on “Brothers and Sisters”)  who are trying to make their way by car to a seaside resort which they think is remote enough that they will be safe.  The virus can be transmitted from an infected person by their breath or their fluids, so everybody wears a mask around their neck, just in case.  Gas is a rare commodity so, if someone wants you to stop on the road, you’re smart to keep going because (a) they might be infected and (b) they might kill you and take your car.  At the end of the world, laws don’t count for much.  I expected this movie to be mainly horror, so was surprised that it didn’t scare me so much as it touched me.  They do meet people along the way and it poses a lot of interesting moral questions.  I liked it even though it made me sad.

The Hurt Locker – Didn’t this movie win an Academy Award for Best Director?  I think so.  It stars Jeremy Renner as Staff Sargeant James, an expert at disarming bombs.  It’s set in Iraq and made me feel like I was there – the heat, the smells, the crowds and the danger.  He and his team go around disarming bombs and we come to realize that for some servicemen the danger is like a drug, making it impossible to ever live a normal life again.  It was good.

The Road – I had read countless glowing reviews of this movie by critics.  It is based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of a man and his son walking through a post-apocalyptic world.  Along with Viggo Mortensen as the father, Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron are also listed as co-stars, but the latter two play only cameo roles.  This is a BLEAK movie.  And by bleak, I mean it has scenes so horrific that I wish I’d never seen them.  One, in particular, regarding cannibals is seared into my brain.  In one of the early flashbacks we see the wife choose suicide rather than live in the world as it had become.  I think she had the right idea.  The movie felt authentic, but left me feeling empty.

Last Chance Harvey – This movie starred Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as two “older” adults who meet by accident in England and supposedly realize that “it’s never too late for a second chance at love.”  This was the movie I wanted to see.  The previews looked good.  I like Dustin Hoffman (“Kramer versus Kramer” is one of my favorite movies.)  I love England.  I should  have loved this movie.  All through it I kept telling myself it was good.  But seriously?  It sucked.  It was as if the writers liked the idea of the story but didn’t want to go to the trouble of actually filling in the details.  So it wasn’t witty and funny and romantic.  Actually, it made me feel tense.  Dustin Hoffman acted like Emma Thompson was radioactive, even though he seemed to stalk her throughout the movie.  There was never a tender touch or a romantic declaration.  The one time he kisses her in the entire movie, he kisses the SIDE of her mouth!  What’s with that?  Nope, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.  Emma Thompson acted frustrated through most of the story.  That made two of us.

The Perfect Getaway – This movie starred Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez and Steve Zahn.  It’s about honeymooners hiking a jungle trail to a remote Hawaiian beach.  Along the way they hear that the police are seeking two psychopaths who are stalking and murdering tourists.  They decide to go on anyway with another couple they meet along the trail.  When I saw the preview for this movie, I just knew I’d love it.  I mean, come on, psychopaths stalking you along a remote trail…what’s not to love?  I was ready to be scared and I was.  But what appears to be a perfectly predictable B-grade movie turned out to be anything but!  It was suspenseful and funny and had a wicked twist.

One of the guys looked so familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen him.  He plays one of those guys who think they’re so macho and he was really over the top.  It wasn’t until I saw Timothy Olyphant’s name that I realized it was him.  The last time I saw him was in three seasons of “Deadwood” where he played a totally serious, very straitlaced sheriff.  It was so fun seeing him in a role like this.   This was a totally enjoyable movie.

All in all, I’d recommend “The Perfect Getaway” for a good story, “The Hurt Locker” for an education, and “Carriers” for food for thought.  If you’ve seen any of these I’ve reviewed and want to chime in with your opinions, don’t hesitate.

After all, these reviews are probably worth just what you paid for them!  🙂

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Farewell to Tony

Tony Curtis died at the age of 85 on Wednesday at his Las Vegas area home of cardiac arrest.  When I heard that news, I realized that, one by one, all of the celebrities of my childhood are slipping away.  I remember having a bubble gum “movie star” card of him as a young girl.  He wasn’t my “boyfriend,” like Paul Newman was, but I really liked him and saw him in many, many memorable movies.

He was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in New York on June 3, 1925 to parents who were Hungarian immigrants.  At the age of eight, he was placed in an orphanage because of his parents’ extreme poverty.  He served in the Navy in W.W. II and then studied acting in New York until he was discovered.  In 1951 he married Janet Leigh (of “Psycho” fame) and they had two daughters, Kelly and Jamie Lee.

For many years the studio considered him their “pretty boy,” but his determination to be considered seriously finally paid off, first in the circus drama “Trapeze” with Burt Lancaster and then in “Sweet Smell of Success.”  Probably his greatest success was in the 1958 movie, “The Defiant Ones” with Sydney Poitier, a drama about two chain gang escapees who must overcome their own prejudice while evading the law.  He received a Best Actor nomination for his performance.  After that came his role in “Some Like It Hot” with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe and the unforgettable “Spartacus.”

When I think about him, I remember a lot of other movies in which he appeared – “Houdini,” “Captain Newman, M.D.” “The Boston Strangler,””The Great Race,” and “Sex and the Single Girl.” For me he was always one of the movie stars of the day.

In 1962, he split from Leigh and married his 17-year-old co-star from “Taras Bulba,” German actress Christine Kauffman.  They had two daughters.  Throughout his lifetime Curtis went through a lot of wives, finally marrying his fifth, Jill Vanderburg in 1998.

After a stint at Betty Ford Clinic in 1984 for drug and alcohol dependency, be began experimenting with painting and experienced no small success.  Some of his pieces are featured in museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

All in all, I’d say that Tony had a full life.  He has a list of movie credits longer than my arm.  His paintings still sell for thousands of dollars.  He had a life surrounded by people who loved him.  Not bad for a kid from an orphanage.  Not bad at all.

Rest in peace, Tony.  I, for one, will miss you.

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When I bought the complete series of “Six Feet Under,” I decided to only let myself watch it on Sundays so that I could stretch out my enjoyment and give myself something to look forward to every week.  Well, with 24 disks, it lasted from the end of December to April!  Thus, I established the institution of “Sunday Movie Afternoons.”

When I finished that set, I felt a bit lost until I realized that I had a whole library of VHS movies upstairs in my library that I hadn’t watched for years.  So, I decided to pick two every week and have a double-feature.

When I watched some of the older ones, it became clear to me that “back in the day,”
times were much more innocent in a way that I find comforting.

Take “How The West Was Won,” for instance.  This movie about the opening of the West spans fifty years and three generations of the Prescott family who became enmeshed in the adventure and violence of the times.  Back then you had your good guys and your bad guys.  You had the railroads being built and buffalo stampeding.  You had people with hopes and dreams who were willing to sacrifice everything for those dreams.  And they managed to do it without Facebook, cell phones or texting!  And when Hollywood made a movie back then, they didn’t scrimp on scenery or casts.  Here are just some of the people who were in that one movie – Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, and, it was narrated by Spencer Tracy!  Heard of some of them?  They wouldn’t be able to find enough real stars today to populate that movie!

Another oldie, but goodie is “The Magnificent Seven.”  It’s about a poor little Mexican town that hires seven gun men to protect them from an outlaw gang, led by Eli Wallach, which terrorizes them every year and steals their crops.  I know I must have seen this movie in the past, but I didn’t remember much of it.  Also, in this time of my life, I was surprised by how impressed I was by Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen.  Both of these actor just took up the whole screen with their charisma.  They don’t make them like that any more…

And then there’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” with Alec Guinness and William Holden about an Asian POW camp in W.W. II.  The Japanese order the soldiers to build them a strategically important bridge.  Alec Guinness, the Commander, considers it a matter of British pride to build the best bridge they could possibly build.  But William Holden, an American escapee from the camp is hell-bent on blowing it up.  It’s such a simple story, and yet, totally engrossing.

Every week has brought me different places and different memorable characters.  I’ve watched Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in “The Dead Pool,” in which he gets chased throughout San Francisco with a bomb-carrying remote-controlled car.  I’ve watched an American get attacked by wolves in the English moors in “An American Werewolf in London.”  I’ve watched “Hannibal,” the sequel to “Silence of the Lambs,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore, which takes place ten years after the original and which contains one absolutely gruesomely horrifying scene which, once you’ve seen it, you’ll never be able to  forget.  I’ve seen “As Good As It Gets,” a very funny movie if you could ever imagine Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt together, which I can’t, not even in my wildest imaginings. And I’ve re-watched, “The Accidental Tourist” with William Hurt, Geena Davis and Kathleen Turner which is an eccentric and yet deeply touching love story.

I could go on and on, but my point is this.  Don’t ever discount movies made forty, fifty or even sixty years ago.  Sure, they may not have all the razzle dazzle special effects of movies today.  But what they lack in that, they make up in story, drama and flat-out great acting.  Why do you think Hollywood resorts to remaking movies from long ago?   Because they just can’t come up with original storytelling, that’s why.

So, if you ever have one of those days when “the world is too much with you,” do yourself a favor.  Snuggle in and watch an old movie.  You might be surprised at how good it will make you feel!  You might even want to start your own “Sunday Movie Afternoon!”

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Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  If you’ve read it, then there’s a good chance you’ve read the other two of the trilogy – The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

If you haven’t read any of them, let me just say that they were written by a talented Swedish author named Stieg Larsson, who died before the movies came out.  The first story, in general terms is about a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who accepts an assignment from a Swedish industrialist named Henrik Vanger to solve a “cold case” – the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece, Harriet, some 40 years earlier.  It is an epic tale of serial murder and the evil that lies within a wealthy family.  In the course of his investigation, Blomkvist employs Lisbeth Salander, who works for a security company and who is a brilliant computer hacker.

The story, itself, is interesting, but what makes these books so fascinating is the character of Lisbeth.  She is a 25-year-old, highly intelligent, talented private investigator.  She is also totally asocial, distrustful and emotionally damaged to the point where she has been declared emotionally incompetent and is a ward of the state.  She makes it very difficult to like her, but like her I did!  There’s just something about her.  As the story unfolds, we begin to understand why she is the way she is.  And we also rejoice in the ways she fights back.  I can’t imagine any woman reading this book who doesn’t find herself cheering Lisbeth on.  The story contains a lot of horrible violence, but it is necessary violence.  Once I finished the first book, I devoured the next two.

When I heard there was a Swedish movie version of the first book, I proclaimed loudly to all my friends that I absolutely would not see it.  The characters had become too important to me.  It was vital that Mikael and Lisbeth be portrayed exactly as they were in the books.  And what if they changed the story?  I felt I couldn’t risk it. And besides, the movie was in subtitles, which, as an American, I’m not used to.

So anyway, a couple of weeks ago I ran to Target to get something, which it turned out they didn’t have.  As I was leaving the store, I passed the movie section and there in the rack was one last copy of the movie.  Call it fate.  Call it idiocy.  Whatever it was, I felt I was meant to see this movie. I bought it.

It was with trepidation that I put it into my DVD player.  The first thing I noticed, besides the subtitles, was the fact that this Swedish movie had a different look than an American one.  It wasn’t as glossy.  People’s faces were shown with all their imperfections, men and women.  The actor who played Mikael, Michael Nygvist, looked like a real person, not a movie star.  But, after only a few minutes, I ceased to notice these things and got pulled in by the story.  But I was waiting for Lisbeth…

The actress who played her, Noomi Rapace, could have stepped out of the pages of the book, itself.  She was perfect.  She was the Lisbeth Salander I had been hoping for.  In fact, the whole movie was so true to the book that I fell in love with it!  It cast a spell on me and when the credits ran at the end, I felt a deep contentment that it had been done right.

The second movie has just been released and I’m going to wait for it to come out in DVD.  If it’s even half as good as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” it will be worth owning.

Meanwhile, there are many stories in the media about actresses who want to play Lisbeth in the American version of the movie.  Call me crazy, but I don’t WANT them to make an American version!  I know how Hollywood does things and I can’t bear to think of some bright-faced little spoiled diva trying to portray the intense, complicated, fascinating Lisbeth.  I don’t want them changing the story just because they can.

When will we learn that you can’t improve upon perfection? In case you haven’t guessed, if they do make the American version, and apparently they are, I won’t be buying a ticket.  I mean it.  No way, Jose′!

My advice:  Do see this movie!  (But read the book first.)

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One thing you need to know about me is that I LOVE science fiction and horror movies.  In science fiction movies, I love visions of the future, robots and aliens.  When it comes to horror movies,  I want to be really scared. I’ll even turn out the lights while I’m watching to heighten the sensation.  When I saw the previews for “Splice” and got a look at the creature, I knew I had to see it.

To give you an idea what it’s about, the storyline goes like this.  Two superstar genetic scientists (played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley,) splice different animal DNA and create two new little creatures they call Fred and Ginger.  The pharmaceutical company which is funding them, wants them to isolate a protein to create a cure for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  When the scientists want to push the envelope and splice animal and human DNA, the company forbids it.

Naturally, they go ahead and secretly do it just to see if it’s possible to create a hybrid.  Well, not only does it work, but their tiny little lump of a creature grows and evolves at an astonishing rate, learning how to think and reason.  “Nerd” is the first word she spells, so they name her Dren, which is nerd spelled backwards.

The story introduces all sorts of issues regarding nurturing, parenting, and crossing the line between right and wrong.  It starts out as a really interesting experiment which made me eager to know “what happens next,” but started kind of creeping me out (and not in the good way.) Dren as an adult was alternately sexy, human, creepy, pitiful and frightening.  Like the two scientists, the movie, too, crosses some lines and makes the audience a bit uncomfortable.  Toward the end it just deteriorated into a “run from the monster” film.  And after what seemed like the end, I knew there would be one last scene and exactly what it would be.  Sadly, I was right.

The special effects were very good as were the actors.  But I wasn’t scared…ever!  I waited and waited for that moment when I’d be climbing my chair like I did a million times in “Cujo” or “Pumpkinhead” or “The Birds,” but it didn’t happen.  😦

It wasn’t a bad movie, but I didn’t feel very satisfied at the end.  I guess it gives one food for thought.  For example, I learned that it’s never a good idea to splice animal and human DNA together.  But I hadn’t really planned on doing that anytime soon, anyway.  No,  I’m perfectly happy with cloning. With cloning you know exactly what you’re going to get, right?   So anyway, that’s my review.

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Entranced by “Babies”

The moment I first heard about the movie, “Babies,” my curiosity was peaked and I knew it was something I wanted to see.

If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the basic idea.  A French director, Thomas Balmes, wanted to do a documentary about four babies from four different parts of the world, capturing their first year of life.  Actually, he chose four loving expectant couples, because his cameras start rolling at the moment of birth.  From there, he records their everyday moments, their growth, their place in the family, and their dawning self-awareness.  When I say “documentary,” don’t imagine some dry, scientific  voice describing what you’re seeing.  In this movie there are no voice-overs, no narration, no sub-titles, just beautiful background music and babies being babies.  What really interested me about this project was the sociological aspect.  What would be the effect of these differing cultures on each individual child?

In Namibia, we meet little Ponijao, who lives with her mother and other members of her tribe outside her family’s dirt hut.  Bayar lives with his parents, siblings and a herd of cattle in a yurt in remote Mongolia.  Mari lives in an apartment in Tokyo with her parents, surrounded by educational toys.  And Hattie lives in San Francisco with her new age-y parents, attending Baby Yoga and Mother Earth celebrations.

This movie runs one hour and nineteen minutes and I wasn’t bored once.  the comparisons and contrasts were fascinating.  I felt the Japanese and American babies came off as pampered and over-protected, but maybe that was because of seeing how the other babies were so often left on their own and flourished.  Ponijao in Namibia wandered half-naked on rocky, dusty ground, putting anything she found into her mouth.  Little Bayar from Mongolia was often swaddled and left on a bed while his parents did their chores and seemed none the worse for wear.  When he was a little older, they tied rope around one of his ankles and the other end around the bed’s leg and let him roam in this limited perimeter.  This is apparently an accepted form of child care.  Again, he seemed to accept this with equanimity.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from all these sweet babies, but, if forced, I’d pick Bayar.  This little boy was almost walked on by a rooster, shared his bath with a goat and crawled amidst a herd of cattle just as nonchalantly as you please.  His unrelenting good nature got to me.  For me the movie almost argued that the African and Mongolian babies, being allowed to naturally interact with their environments, were less fretful and more sturdy than the other two, who almost suffered information overload in their worlds of media, toys and classes.

Here is the movie trailer which gives you a good feel for what the movie is like.

I would dare anyone to try to sit through this entire movie without cracking a smile or bursting out laughing.  It is so special and so entertaining.  And to think they do the entire thing without any dialogue is amazing.  Needless to say, I was enthralled.

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