PATRIOTS DAY – INSPIRING SURVIVORS

There are some movies that are very hard to watch….but really should be seen.

Lone Survivor, Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ, all come to mind. These movies document the suffering and courage of people who  fight against terrible evil: Al Queda, Nazis, the Devil himself. Patriots Day is such a movie.
Patriots Day revolves around the men and women involved as victims, first responders, investigators, or keys in the relay race of evidence and capture of the Muslim terrorists who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon 2013.
The title of this article is intended to be two fold. This movie is about survivors who are inspiring, who, in turn inspire other survivors. Every American, faithful to the tenets on which our country was founded, should watch this movie.
Mark Wahlberg plays Tommy Saunders, the main protagonist but also the only major character not based on a single individual, but who is a composite of a number of first responders and police. Every other featured character is based on an individual real person.
In a bit of humor and irony Saunders is a detective under threat of suspension for an undetailed error who is on his last day in the dog house – Saunders must, Providentially for everyone involved,  spend one more day in uniform at the finish line of the Marathon. So a highly trained official is there at ground zero to help begin the coordination of the rescue and evidence gathering and ultimately the capture of the two bombers.
It starts slowly and plays out like a well edited documentary – which is meant to be a compliment. The film shows essential moments in time, at first seemingly unrelated,  parsed from post-event interviews, surveillance camera footage, security reports and other such transcripts. So it also starts a bit jumpily – moving quickly from introduction of characters to first responder moments to investigators’ efforts and ultimately to the moments and people at the edges of the net which finally captures the Muslim terrorists.
While not as graphic as Saving Private Ryan, do be aware that there are moments and images which adults, much less young teens, may find visceral, so use caution in deciding who should attend. Also, the language is understandably rough. Sometimes it seems like the only adjective anyone in Boston knows begins with the letter “F”. However, under most of the circumstances it is certainly not gratuitous.

I once witnessed a car accident and watched as several men – bystanders – launched themselves towards the smoking car to aid the passengers. Such bravery is on display here.

We owe it to the real people involved in the 2013 attack on our fellow citizens to see this movie. We owe it to history to be witnesses even second hand. We owe it to the surviving victims maimed in body but undaunted in spirit. We owe it to the first responders – whether official or civilian – who ran TOWARDS the source of ultimate danger to do what they could for the injured and vulnerable. We owe it to the investigators who worked tirelessly to literally piece together what happened. We owe it to the men and women who stood their ground against monsters shooting guns and throwing bombs in normally quiet residential areas. We owe it to the police and soldiers who open doors and step into rooms, knowing it might be their last act on Earth, in order to stop terrorists. We, survivors ourselves of the great evils in the war against Western civilization in general and the Judeo-Christian faith in particular, owe it to ourselves to be inspired by the survivors’ tremendous courage, faith and valor, who lived to witness the 2013 Patriots Day terrorist attack. And we owe it to those who did not survive to witness for them.

PASSENGERS – AN ALLEGORY FOR MARRIAGE

 
When my husband and I had been married for 15 years we volunteered to go through an Engaged Encounter Counseling training session. During that period of time we learned things about each other that we did not know! For example, his favorite color is blue. I thought it was tan. He always WEARS tan. Who knew?!
The process also reminded me about the dating/mating process. The early years when you become irresistably attracted. Then you wonder if you should take the risk of being a couple. After a time, as you consider you may be spending the rest of your life with this person – have I done the right thing? The infatuation. The sexual attraction. The sharing and adventure. The fun. And then you find out things maybe you hadn’t realized about the other. You fight. Maybe the fight seems to herald in the end of the relationship. But at some point you realize you would much prefer to journey through life WITH this person than without them – warts and all.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in Columbia Pictures’ PASSENGERS.
Perhaps it takes a personal crisis. Perhaps there is a moment when you see the resilient admirable core at the center of their being – the stuff that, even unknowingly, attracted you to them to begin with. Their morality. Their love of life. Their sense of fun….their courage in the face of life’s adversity. Something to which you can cling during the dangers and storms of life.
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In short, I have just synopsized Passengers. This movie is a brilliant allegory about just such a meeting, discernment, set of crises, resolution, determination and resolve that describe the stages of coming together in a marriage – not just the wedding, but truly the union of two people through thick and thin who commit selflessly to each other to face the life and death trials the world – or space – can bring.

Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are strangers. Passengers on a deep space colony ship whose 5,000 colonists and 100+ crew are put into hibernation for the length of a 120 year trip. 32 years into the journey the ship has an unexpected, unplanned run in with a comet storm which causes damage which triggers the opening of Jim’s pod. It also causes other damage which will not be fully noticed for another 2 years.  Jim finds himself alone on a 1,000 foot luxury cruise ship with every amenity except companionship. There is the quirky addition of an android bartender


(Michael Sheen) but that’s it. He spends much of his time for the first few months: trying to contact Earth (round trip answer to even his cry for help would take 55 years), accessing the bridge (NOTHING short of a proper access code will get him entry despite the fact he is a mechanical engineer), reading manuals, trying to reactivate his hibernation pod. Finally he resigns himself to at least enjoying the amenities on the ship but after another few months he begins the slow descent into madness. He ceases to care even about shaving or dressing and finally is inches away from suicide when he randomly, if not Providentially comes across Aurora’s pod. He checks out her video profile and the books she has written and falls in love with her humor, her writing and ultimately…her. He struggles for months with the idea of manually opening her pod – even consulting Arthur, but his desperation is too great and he does what he realizes is the unthinkable – he awakens Aurora 87 years too early.

And so the courtship begins. The details of how the potential tragedy plays out, what her reaction is when she finds out what Jim has done, the reason why Jim's pod opened to begin with, and the resolution to their relationship I will leave to your watching of this amazing film.
Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the special effects, delighted by the story and impressed with the acting of two Robinson Crusoes and their bartender “Friday”. Pratt and Lawrence were terrific and Sheen endearing.
But it was my husband who recognized the analogy to marriage – how two people, against odds, found each other. That despite the hundreds of people around them it was up to ONLY the two of them to make a life for themselves, to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles and to triumph by self sacrificing to and for each other, recognizing their union may require foregoing other possible choices, binding themselves only to each other, and spending the rest of their lives making a life with each other. The perfect analogy of a courtship and marriage.
My only regret is that religion was sanitized out of the equation. There were Biblical elements: Jim willing to lay down his life for Aurora. Aurora willing to forgive Jim completely and his life becoming her life. They ultimately chose to cleave to each other, despite the fact Aurora was provided, by Jim, with another option. But there were no visits to a chapel, no praying to God in what was emotional extremity for Jim. No acknowledgement of the Hand of God and His Providence in their miraculously timed awakenings, finding each other or escape from mortal peril. And that’s a shame. Because with inclusion of the recogniztion of God this marital analogy would have been raised to the level of a sacramental union. There was even a clergy of sorts in the form of a Senior crewman (Lawrence Fishburne), who stood in the way of Captain for a time and who – before his demise – gave his “blessing” to them.
Despite this lack Passengers is a lovely, inspirational movie about the adventure of two people who bond for life…and who bond FOR life.

ASSASSIN’S CREED MANAGES TO KILL OFF…ITSELF

In the brilliant musical 1776 about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as his fellow colonial representatives continue to remove portions of the first draft they deem too derogatory, John Adams, in the extremis of frustration shouts: “This is a revolution, we have to offend SOMEBODY!!!”
Well kudos to Assassin’s Creed. They have managed to OFFEND EVERYBODY!
The story is about Sofia (Cotillard) who “rescues” Cal Lynch/Aguilar (Fassbender) after he is executed for the murder of a pimp (which back story sounded far more interesting than the main story turned out to be). Her plan is to use a machine to get him to access the genetic memories of one of his ancestors, an assassin of the 11th century who she believes knows the location of the Apple of Eden, an unexplained anachronism – a highly technological ball which holds the genetic code to Free Will created around or even before the 11th century……and yes, I know how dumb this sounds, but I didn’t write this, I am only warning you about it.
According to my son, who is far more familiar with the source video games than I am, the first two Assassin’s Creed games explored a relatively straight forward good guys versus bad guys, trying to keep the peace during the time of the Crusades. The third version was a stab at anti-Catholic propaganda which game fell flat on its face. SO, of COURSE THAT’S the one they decided to sink a whooping $125 MILLION dollars into as well as waste the talents of: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson.
I take particular exception to the barbs thrown at Templars. Contrary to this mishmashed script, Templars were NOT lunatic totalitarians who sought to eliminate free will. They were monk-like warrior priests who were sent to protect the Christian pilgrims traveling through the Holy Land from attack by Muslims. The absurdist rewriting of history is both ludicrous and might have been insulting if it were at all effective.
The Catholics were treated, predictably, as megalomaniacs. The Muslims were portrayed as cowards. Capitalists as shallow dictatorial control freaks. And the Templars were led by a woman, played, inexplicably by a CGI enhanced Charlotte Rampling. I was so puzzled by her CGI appearance that I had to check to see if maybe she had died in mid production, but, no, she’s still quite alive. And the age of the “Excellency” did not matter and would have even been enhanced by old age. So — I have no idea why they did that very weird thing.
And apparently no one opened a history book, much less read one, because not only were women NOT Templars, Templars were not even allowed intimacies with women – NOT even their own WIVES! So it’s a cinch that a woman would not be leading the Templars. And  finally, the Assassins were so shallowly drawn they were impossible to care about. Not even when the protagonist had a fighting companion at whom he continually made “goo-goo” eyes.
So, you had your choice between mind controlling totalitarian Templars, or complete anarchist Assassins who chanted that “there is no right or wrong…everything is permitted.” Hmmmm. So WHO are we supposed to be rooting for??!!
Continuing on the hit parade of stupid plot points was that the Templars spent billions of dollars building a machine to help them find the Apple of Eden, in order to eliminate Free Will, when the founder – the character played by Irons, readily admits that he thinks it is a moot point because people are so devoted to consumerism (a dig at capitalism, the other whipping boy of the liberals) that Free Will does not matter to them any more. At which point I wondered – well, then why don’t you just pack up and go home. What are you people still DOING out here!!??
Another dumb plot point is the keeping of the “rejected” assassin conduits in one security moderate facility armed with guards who will rush in single file towards a prison riot using only their batons into a facility FULL of display glass “protected” museum piece WEAPONS!!! What idiot would warehouse a gang of convicted (presumably executed) killers with swords and maces and knife studded gauntlets for crying out loud!!!
Meanwhile, from a purely plot-centric point of view the storyline wandered around aimlessly – from the inexplicable murder of our protagonist’s mother, witnessed by him as a young child, to the idea that there could exist, in the 11th century, a metal ball which could hold, or illuminate, or inhibit the genetic code of Free Will, to the concept that there IS such a gene, that the characters spend so much time fighting each other that you don’t really care who wins. Through most of the fight scenes, which in and of themselves were pretty well choreographed, I ended up just wishing ONE side or the other would kill the other side off so they would STOP JERKING AROUND THE CAMERA!!
I LOVE Jackie Chan movies, swashbuckling fencing matches, war films, super hero movies, and even the Rocky series. So I am no newbie when it comes to parsing out what is going on with quick editing action scenes. But the chase/fight scenes here were made of such short choppy edits that….let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not prone to epilepsy.
The best – read ONLY — good parts of the movie were the interactions of Cotillard with Irons, as daughter and father Rikkins, cutting edge scientists working to locate the Apple of Eden so they can eliminate violence and…. oh who cares. It is the DUMBEST plot device ever. But I could watch Cotillard and Irons read the ingredient label to a box of cereal and they would find a way to make it interesting.
And, for the record, I just GOTTA include a couple more random points:
1.Rikkin tells Cal he is not in a prison but they won’t let him leave and essentially torture him – worst vacation retreat—ever.

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2. If Cal was a descendant of this Assassin – who was the mom? Assassin Cal/Aguilar’s only girlfriend died and I really don’t see him stopping to fight long enough to even breed.
3. When (SPOILER) Iron’s character is killed – how does he die? There is no blood when Cal “slits” his throat OVER Rikkin’s shirt collar. The collar is not cut, mussed or soaked in blood. Did he die by bow-tie-being-untied?
3. At one point we see Cal’s assassin ancestor leap off a tall building – Cotillard’s character even tells him “jump” but we never see how he survives this enormous fall but we do surmise he dies much later from an arrow wound.
5. And how DID he make it to a ship to give the apple to (wait for it) Christopher Columbus with an arrow in his side?
6. Why did the Rikkins think their search was over just because they saw Aguilar hand it over to Columbus. Columbus was an EXPLORER – he could have put it anywhere in half of the world…or dropped it over the side into the ocean?
6. How did they successfully conclude it was in Columbus’ grave? I mean Aguilar did tell Columbus to take it to his grave, but….literally??!!

As a side note —- Is there a REASON WHY Irons keeps doing these kinds of movies??!! Eragon, Dungeons and Dragons, now this. I must assume his answer would have to be the same one Michael Caine gave when asked why he made Jaws 3 in the SAME year he made the Oscar winning Hannah and Her Sisters —- “Because I had a mortgage to pay.”
The writer to this garage sale quality puzzle-with-missing-pieces spent so much time trying to dis the Catholic Church and send a message praising anarchy that they forgot to actually come up with an understandable plot. Perhaps they should have followed the advice attributed to Sam Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”.
Ironically (a pun in and of itself given who plays Daddy Rikkin) Assassin’s Creed manages to bump ITSELF off.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – A CHRISTMAS TREE OF A MOVIE

Every year our family puts up a live Christmas tree. No matter how much trouble to go out and gather as many of the family members as are available for the traditional choosing and purchase, no matter how cold the night, no matter how much mess it makes dropping needles bringing it into the house, no matter how much care it takes to add water, and how much we get stabbed by the real needles, it is worth it for the individual beauty and the familiar smell of a real tree. The combination of the familiar and the unique newness of each tree every year is irresistible. While every Christmas tree is a tall green pine, each will have its own personality, its own positive and negative features – different bare spots, different sway to the trunk, different shade of green – and each will afford a different way to put up the lights and a different set of decorations from the pool of family ornaments. Yet each will be familiar in a reliable way wherein all the favorite ornaments can be hung, the lights brighten the room, and the angel on the top of the tree leads your eye to the completed picture. Each will be unique but each will provide that same element of Christmas delight to our home.
And so it is with any remake of a classic old movie. While you know what the basic structure should look like there’s a fine line between simply being a poor shadow of the classic and being so anxious to put one’s individual stamp on a great concept that you go too far out on a limb and lose what made it a classic to begin with. It is the sweet spot in the middle which can establish a new worthy sapling from that original tree.

Happily I think the new The Magnificent Seven achieves that balance. Both films’, old and new, plots are driven by the efforts of a desperate small town terrorized by bandits, to find the help of a champion. One of the greatest lines in the original was uttered by Chris (Yul Brenner) when the peasants offer him a small bag of gold which they explain is “everything they have”. Chris replies: “I have been offered a lot for my work but never everything.”

Denzel Washington stars in Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

That same poetry of purpose and honor purveys the new Magnificent Seven. Just as in the original, Chisholm (Denzel Washington) seeks out men who have special talents: whether it is skill with guns – Robichaux (Ethan Hawke), knives – Billy (Byung-hun Lee), explosives – Faraday (Chris Pratt), bow and arrow – Red Harvest (Mark Sensemeier) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) or just raw courage and honor –

Vincent D’Onofrio stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Jack (Vincent D’Onofrio). Together they inspire the townsmen to take up arms to defend themselves and take on a small army led by the evil Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The original bad guys were clearly and literally banditos, here I did take exception to an industrialist being painted as the evildoer. However, I must admit that capitalism taken to an extreme and without a moral compass can be as evil as Communism or any other totalitarian philosophy.

Both films follow a similar story line in the same way that all Christmas trees are evergreens. But like a new Christmas tree the decorations and lights are rearranged and enhanced, giving this 2016 Magnificent Seven its own individual but familiar heart and soul. The dynamics of the relationships are different, as are the motives which bring these disparate group of men together. And the techniques they use to hold the wolves at bay are clever and believable. But the core of the movie is the same.
I grew up with the Yul Brenner version and will always love it but the new one affords a deeper dimension. The original story was basically a variation on David versus Goliath. The 2016 film weaves the additional thread that even men with checkered pasts can be enticed into a second chance when it is for the glory of taking up Jesus’ challenge to offer one’s life for a friend…or an innocent stranger. That the good thief can find salvation in sacrificing himself for another. And this religious under tone is provided by the constant presence of the church as it: holds the townspeople, is desecrated by Bogue, manages to remain standing even after being burned and is the site of the final climactic confrontation. And if that is not enough there is Jack (D’Onofrio) a devout peculiar man reminiscent of a John the Baptist in his rough naturalistic attire and gentle bear of a man demeanor, who reminds us often of the presence of God and the need for prayer. D’Onofrio’s bigger than life character of Jack steals the show whenever he is featured in a scene.
That’s not to take away anything from the other performers. All are excellent and should be proud of the work they have done in this honorable homage retelling of a movie I would not have thought possible to successfully rework. But I should have known that such a reimagining was possible ………. I buy a new Christmas tree every year.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY – WORK OF ART

collateral_beauty_background1[1]Wow. There are some filmed stories that are not so much “movies” as they are works of art. Thus it is with Collateral Beauty, a film written by Allan Loeb and directed by David Frankel.

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The story emerges about Howard (Will Smith) who has retreated so far into himself after the death of his 6 year old daughter that his competency in the major advertising firm he has built with his friends is put in question. On the verge of a make or break deal, his partners, having tried everything from grief counseling to interventions, are in a precarious situation. Without either Howard’s active involvement or his retreat from the firm the FIRM and everything they have worked for will die. And Howard will not engage with any of them long enough to even discuss the issues. He just doesn’t care any more. All he will do is show up to work and make domino bridges (which you will find is a brilliant piece of cinematic analogy – that one event can begin a chain reaction).

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Whit (Ed Norton) has a chance encounter with Amy/Love (Keira Knightly) an aspiring actress with a three-man underground acting troupe, the other two being

collateralbeauty3[1]Brigitte/Death (Helen Mirren) and Raffi/Time (Jacob Latimore). Desperate, Whit comes up with a plan which should succeed either in getting Howard engaged in the world again or subject to a declaration of incompetency. See, Howard has written letters to Time, Love and Death, seeking answers as to why he lost his daughter. Whit decides to call Howard’s bluff and hires the out of work actors to play the personifications of the concepts for Howard’s benefit.

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The writing of Collateral Beauty is excellent, the plot both whimsical and practical, covering all the alternatives and reasons for the different twists and turns with grace. I always hate it when something peculiar is not pondered. For example, WHY would they go to such extremes? It is covered in one brainstorming session among the partners. How do they get the letters? Sensibly explained. How shall they proceed with the charade? It’s written as though we, the audience, were in on the entire situation and the actors speak for us.

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So it is with the actors who portray Death, Time and Love. They speak for those concepts in the way the actors speak for us. And this simple technique draws us in to the landscape, making the story personal.Collateral-Beauty-review[1]

Unlike many stories about death of a loved one, there is no “dread” moment. The death has already happened and is gradually eased in to. It is a very gentle movie and yet, at the same time, it will hit you like an emotional truck. But afterwards you will feel not destroyed but soothed.

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I don’t want to give much more away as the audience should let this unfold in the way the cast and crew intended, like a blossoming flower you should appreciate, one layer at a time.

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I will say to pay attention though. Everything everyone says means something – either conceptually or aiding the plot, every connection one character makes to another is meaningful. For example (without revealing too much) Raffi/Time connects with Claire (Kate Winslet) who is feeling tragically that her time to have children has passed her by. Amy/Love befriends Whit who comes to the realization that in the disastrous aftermath of his messy divorce he has lost the love of his daughter. Geddit?

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Collateral Beauty is part It’s a Wonderful Life, part Christmas Carol, part Fisher King (odd quirky Terry “Monty Python” Gilliam movie about a man who loses his mind after a tragedy), part Shadowlands (love story in the midst of mortality) and yet is unique unto itself.

It’s the most understated performance by Will Smith of his career and while he probably doesn’t say more than three hundred words during the entire film, this is his most effecting, voluble, heart wrenching and loudest work. His character doesn’t speak of his grief – he personifies it in much the same way Mirren does Death or Knightly does Love.

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The beauty in this film is in the details – from the red in all of Amy/Love’s clothes to the care with which the dialogue plays out.99[1]

To use a quote from the film: “Just be sure to notice the Collateral Beauty,” for which you must listen and watch carefully or you might miss something important.

Dr. Strange and G.K. Chesterton

doctor-strange-11I went to see Dr Strange expecting a brainless sci fi shoot ‘em up adventure. And while it is all that, I should have known there would be more to it, since Cumberbatch stars. He IS the modern Sherlock, images10instilled a demonic but compelling personality to the animated Smaug, cumbersmaug-1476201and did a stage Hamlet 16-benedict-cumberbatch-hamlet-in-hamlet-at-the-barbican-theatre-photo-credit-johan-persson_jpg_1003x0_crop_q851different and still wonderful from the dozen I’ve seen before.

Without giving away too much I would encourage you, before you go see the movie, to read just a little teeny bit of GK Chesterton’s poem The Ballad of the White Horse. sylkfro1 220px-g-_k-_chesterton1White Horse is an epic poem (arguably the last written in the English language) published in 1911 and written by GK Chesterton, the lesser known friend and Christian docent of the famous CS “Narnia” Lewis. The poem is about the legendary exploits of Saxon king Alfred the Great as he expels the Viking Danes from England in the 9th century. But you don’t have to read the whole thing. The portion that will exploit a deeper appreciation of Dr Strange is a 4 line stanza in Book III titled “The Harp of Alfred”, lines 339 through 342. You can even get it online. The lines begin:

“Though all lance’s split….”

You won’t know why that is important until you get to the right moment and then you’ll instantly understand.

Dr Strange is beautifully filmed and CGI’ed. While I’m not a big 3D fan, the effects in this were quite good. They did NOT look like they had been shoe-horned in to be SURE you noticed them, as they did in the old ‘50’s “house of horror” type movies serveimage11or in the first few movies that restarted the trend. Movies like 47 Ronin and Avatar seemed to have some scenes filmed for the EXPRESS purpose of showing off the 3D techniques. Use or AB-use of said technology always reminded me of the old SCTV routine – “3D House of Beef”images2xbzu2f8 – where John Candy would shove a plate of pancakes towards the camera to demonstrate the “3D” effect – which, of course, didn’t exist because it was a Canadian parody skit ABOUT such things shown on the television – which gives you an idea of how much I generally respect 3D.

BUT the 3D in Dr Strange was done well. doctorstrange-benedictcumberbatch-space1

I actually FORGOT it was “3D” until something appropriate and unexpected sort of wafted or flew my way. Good job Scott Derrickson (director) and Ben Davis (cinematographer).

It’s also the first film I’ve ever seen Tilda Swinton in, in which she did not give me the creeps. She has played disturbing (White Witch in Narnia)smoke3-1024x6651  REALLY disturbing (incestuous vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive) RZ6A2886.JPGand funny, as twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker in the brilliant Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar!

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But she normally gives me a creepy crawly feeling. This uneasy quality she manages to normally spray like a firehose is toned done to a slight flavoring, blending into a beautiful performance as the Sinead O’Connor-“coiffed” mentor extraordinaire, The Ancient One.

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So – a little homework this time before viewing will make your experience of Dr Strange more effective and satisfying than the average super hero fare. GK Chesterton – Marvel….huh, who would have ever thought?

Allied – a Magician’s Trick

We all know how a magic act works – dazzle the audience with lights and pretty girls while the magician pulls off the most unlikely of actions and makes them, ergo, believable. I mean it MUST have happened the way he presented them because you saw it with your own eyes, right?

Well, Allied is the same way. The cinematography is beautiful (either that or the CGI technology has gotten a bit TOO good. Though they DID film on location in Fuerteventura, which actually does have dunes.) Directed by Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis the story is cogent, character driven and artfully told (no Deloreans though folks). The acting is very good. I am not a Brad Pitt fan at all (never even seen Fight Club – *gasp*) but he is well suited to the role of Max, the Allied spy who goes to Casablanca to meet with a woman he has never met but must pretend is his wife, Marianne played by Marion Cotillard.

Gotta digress here – Cotillard is wonderful in every role I’ve seen her in: from the beleaguered singing wife, 55b8e30dc7aebaac472dbb8c002dccb81Luisa, in Nine to the lunatic surprise bad guy, 4a54310bd52dec80eddcb8188121e5c41Miranda, in The Dark Knight Rises to inception-production-still-2-473x315-300x2341Mal in Inception. She’s done a LOT of French films too – makes sense because she is — well, French. I must admit she has never been able in anything I’ve seen to shake that very heavy French accent, but who cares? She could be holding herself out as an IRA member with that heavy French accent and her acting is so good I’d believe it…..which is actually part of the problem.

We are so busy watching the acting and the cinematography and enjoying the artfully constructed story that we do not realize the story is….well…..stupid.

During the course of the movie, and I will TRY to avoid too many spoilers, we are asked to believe:

1. A brilliant accomplished spy could be manipulated into a corner as easily as your average unassuming citizen – James Bond, Bourne, or heck even John McClaine from Die Hard would have found an alternative.maxresdefault1

2. You can escape Vichy France during World War II after an assassination by just turning a corner noting that you were not followed – yeah, well tell that to Victor Lazlo.

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3. Any relevant current intel can be obtained from either an alcoholic one armed derelict in a local prison or from a long-term care wounded inmate of a hospital.

4. That a sexual lifestyle appropriate to the musical Caberet would be casually and openly accepted by the extremely straightlaced community of 1940’s London.

5. That a high ranking spy would entrust extremely classified information to his easily compromisable sibling smack dab in the middle of a time sensitive investigation JUST because he is upset.

6. That an accomplished and high ranking spy would host a wild raunchy guests-literally-having-sex-in-the-broom-closet party in his home where he admits that he does not even know who the identity of half of the people there, when sensitive information is IN THE HOUSE along with weapons much less, again, in the middle of a classified internal affairs investigation, or that his ranking officer would approve much less attend such party. THIS one was so dumb that I thought there MUST be a follow up red herring coming, but no.

And the BIGGEST sword which we’re supposed to swallow is that upon discovering a spy in one’s midst one is REQUIRED under pain of DEATH to dispatch them IMMEDIATELY. Do not pass go, do not collect $50 and certainly do not bother to INTERROGATE them or turn them over to the proper authorities or your intelligence superiors for questioning or EVEN POSSIBLY turning them into a double agent!! No, that would make far too much sense.

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So while an intriguing movie to watch it, much like getting a peek under the magician’s table cloth, you will be disappointed by reality if you examine it too closely. So watch for fun, watch for the actors, but do not watch it for any logical plot.

NOTES OF CAUTION: There are some raw words, particularly in one meal scene with our two protagonists. While it was NOT anachronistic as the word was in common usage, it seemed gratuitous. Additionally, there are two VERY steamy sex scenes 389fbe3600000578-3799205-impeccable_timing_brad_pitt_and_marion_cotillard_get_hot_and_hea-a-101_14744100202051and a few others not quite so detailed, but nonetheless certainly not appropriate for younger teens much less children. And a good deal of violence, but, after all, it was World War II.

The BEST Terminator in the Franchise

I can’t remember the last time I told someone this about a movie but if you plan to see the new movie Terminator: Genisys DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILERS! Also avoid even seeing pictures of the movie and don’t even look too hard at the poster. And it goes without saying do NOT talk to your chatty friend who LOVES to tell endings until after you have seen this movie.

I am going to – obviously – avoid telling you anything that will give pertinent facts away. I will tell you this was a surprise plot. Up to now I think my favorite Terminator of the series was Number 2. The first was a very innovative sci fi story.

Term 1 poster Term 1

Boy meets girl. Boy is from future to save girl from deadly robot also from future. Terminator 2 takes place about 14 years after the first and puts in some clever twists.

Poster Term 2

New boy, son of original boy and girl, original girl, and surprise guest go up against a new terminator from the future out to kill everybody.

Then there were three and four which were, in order, kind of boring in the former place (not a small trick when it is about the end of the world) and creepy and depressing in the latter.

It is tough to review this newest addition (or perhaps a better word – and you’ll see what I mean when you see the movie is – EDition) to the “family” without giving anything away. I will tell you that while Genisys is a stand alone it could not have existed without straddling the shoulders of at least the first two movies.

If you have not already I recommend you see numbers 1 and 2 before seeing Genisys. If you HAVE seen them at some time and you are a hard core sci fi buff (or just have some time to kill while healing up from getting your wisdom teeth removed or lying on the beach on a vacation) it would be worth it to watch them again before seeing newest one. Three and four are optional though I submit that the first two and the last look even better when compared to how badly a franchise can be screwed up.

I looked carefully at the available pictures for Genisys to find one that would not give anything away for those few – those happy few – who will go in not knowing anything about the movie, and I think it is safe to say that it is no spoiler to reveal that there is a TERMINATOR in the movie. Cue signature percussion DAH-dum—–dum-DAH-dum.

Genisys poster

WARNINGS: There are a few significant profanities and a smattering of smaller offenses in this movie but no sex. There IS full Monty nudity of both genders though it is neither gratuitous nor salacious and with the tactful positioning of cameras nothing inappropriate is seen. And – in case you having been living on an island and never even heard of these movies – they are quite violent. Most of it is, however, cartoonish in fighting with robots and some sci fi “icky” stuff. Older teens minimum definitely, but, as usual, check it out yourself first. Screenit.com is always helpful.

Smaug Does Shakespeare???

Hamlet - dinner tableAbsolutely not!!!!!

In 1982 there was a movie called My Favorite Year about a fictious appearance by Errol Flynn in the shank of his career appearing on the Sid Caeser variety show. Only Errol Flynn, in the movie, was called Alan Swann and was played hilariously by Peter O’Toole. And the Sid Caeser show was called King Kaiser. At one point in the movie Swann is called upon to perform before a live audience. Understanding his own thespian limits he panics, bellowing:My Favorite Year “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!!!!”

In the Hamlet we saw with Mr Cumberbatch, about the time our depressed aristocrat delivered his iconic “to be or not to be” speech my husband turned to me and uttered his ultimate complement about a performer: “He’s an actor, not a movie star”.

I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare. I’ve always been fond of it but started to take it seriously when our homeschooled children were quite young. I remember taking my then two oldest at 6 and 8 in 1996 to the 4 HOUR Kenneth Branagh uncut, unabridged, unaltered version of Hamlet at the movie theater.Branagh In preparation we had read over some of the key speeches with them. But, sensibly, I brought backpacks for each of them including: snacks, crayons, a coloring book and a small flashlight so if they got really bored we could forestall an early departure as long as we could. They never even unzipped the bags. At intermission, 2 hours in, right after his “fight for a plot [of earth]…which is not tomb enough and continent to hide the slain” speech I turned to each and asked if they understood what was going on. They each gave a wide eyed and excited version of the plot: that Hamlet’s uncle had killed his father and now Hamlet was REALLY mad. And they couldn’t WAIT to find out what happened next. Well, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. Shakespeare, as I explain to anyone who will hold still long enough, was the Steven Spielberg of his time. Playing to large audiences of the common man, he understood the need to entertain in an accessible way. But Shakespeare also respected the average person’s ability to understand a heightened language which afforded a verbal pallet 4 times richer than that used by other of even the most educated and talented writers of his time. No – literally. He used a vocabulary of 17,000 words – 4 TIMES that of the educated of his peers. He INVENTED 1,700 words!!! in that he was the first one to use them, changing nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives, accessing and plumbing the depths of the Latin language which was competing with the relatively new English one at the time, to invent new ways to say things: metamorphize, equivocal, fashionable, hurried, obsequiously, ode and varied being only a few of his gifts to the future Messeurs Merriam and Webster as well as the learned at Oxford and Cambridge.

I LOVE Shakespeare. And I’ve seen, to date, Hamlet played by a range from brilliant to terrible by: Ethan Hawke, Mel Gibson, Derek Jacobi, Kevin Kline, David Tennet, Lawrence Olivier, Nicol Williamson (only part of this one – it was pretty bad) and the BEST: Kenneth Branagh. Plus I have seen reduced, condensed and spoofed Hamlets. This one with Cumberbatch was innovative, fresh, dark, and clever. Hamlet - GertrudeHamlet - OpheliaHamlet - LaertesCumberbatch was amazing bringing new insight into the character just when I thought I was able to get all I could out of it (referring to my limited analytic talents, not a limit on the facets of the character). Hamlet w GertrudeHe managed to show me another variation, another explanation of the foundational reasons for Hamlet’s makeup by word and gesture of which I had never thought. And, while using all the original language (though with some rearrangement of scenes and some cropping of dialogue — I mean, it IS a VERY long play) Cumberbatch makes you believe you have never heard these words spoken quite this way before.

Hamlet - red coatThis Hamlet is an ill-fated man in a prolonged adolescence,Hamlet - poster internalizing and mentalizing all the righteous anger which should have spilled over into action, tragically prolonging intervention and responsibility until it is far too late. The analogy to the modern self-indulgent, overly spoiled, responsibility and moral dodging Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y -ers are painfully, honestly, bravely and deservedly tweaked.

At one point Hamlet bemoans the challenge his life now requires he overcome and laments: “Oh cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.” Well Cumberbatch was indeed born to set this role right, in one of the two most gripping versions of Hamlet I have ever seen.Hamlet - Yorick

Hopefully it will be out on DVD soon. Keep and eye on National Theater.org.

The Martian – MacGyver in Space

The Martian - aloneThe Martian reminds me of a MacGyver on Mars. You remember the old tongue-in-cheek  1980’s TV show about a secret agent who can make anything out of — well, anything. MacGyverThe old joke is that he could make a bomb with  some Scotch tape and a stick of chewing gum. Now that is NOT to denigrate The Martian in any way.

So maybe I should better go with the more obvious analogy —- BourneBourne in space, though if you say that without thinking you’d assume it was about a generational ship. LOL

I thought The Martian was a good story, well acted and kept me on the edge of my seat. The premise is that one Mark Watney (played beautifully by Matt Damon), astronaut, is part of an exploratory landing crew on Mars who (and this is not a spoiler as nothing you wouldn’t see in the trailer) is thought killed and left behind in an emergency evacuation.

Now, I might quibble with this premise as I have a hard time believing people smart and resourceful and careful and well informed as people who can get other people to Mars and back can not check – the weather? I also can not believe that, even if in the decades to come, we STILL can not *sigh* predict the weather properly (nor cure the common cold I presume) that the geniuses (and I do not use this term here loosely) who got them to Mars would not have anticipated the kind of situation our astronauts find themselves in and provided for it. In short: a bad storm comes up which makes their tower-shaped rocket begin to tip so badly that they must leave their landing site MONTHS prematurely and abort the entire mission!! Somehow I find it unlikely that the future equivalent of NASA would not have provided for an alternative which would have: kept the tower stable OR allowed the crew to come back down in a different spot OR let them telescope the entire rig down to a structure at least less vulnerable than a water tower. (I stayed through Hurricane Rita and I can tell you our city’s water towers were still there the next morning.)

HOWEVER, I usually give any movie at least ONE unbelievable premise as part of their needed McGuffin (the “THING” – whatever it is – without which the plot can not happen) to move things along. Because if everything was routine there likely would not BE a movie. And the emergency take-off and ENTIRE ABANDONMENT of what must have been YEARS and bazillions of dollars in the making ALL because of bad weather —- is the one gimme I’ll give it.

Now, the best parts of The Martian had to do with how Mark Watney  decides to fight to live. There is one line that sums up his character and it is a philosophy to which one should aspire. Faced with accidental abandonment on a planet where nothing grows he has to find a way to stretch his food supplies from a few months to years. He has to create water. He has to live in and keep repaired for years a habitat meant for a few months. He has to keep his waste and oxygen recyclers working with minimal equipment other than what was left behind in the emergency evac and some crew mementos. Reviewing the obstacles before him as he videos his assessment of his circumstances he could have (and I might add justifiably) broken down in despair. And for just one moment you wonder which way he is going to go. Then he states with the air of someone simply planning a challenging science project:Martian at video “I’m gonna have to science the **** out of this.” Lt. Gen. Harry W.O. Kinnard, when offered surrender by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, responded: “Nuts”. When General George S Patton heard about this he famously quipped: “A man that eloquent has to be saved.” So I similarly and immediately felt about Astronaut Watney. Whether he is or not – saved – I wil not spill, but suffice to say that, regardless of the outcome, the struggle made by Watney to not only survive but to do so with grace and courage and OPTIMISM was worth the watching and frankly inspirational.Martian making rows

This is the point at which I heave a small *sigh* and divulge a wish.

What I wish The Martian had been was more Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Now — hold on — there really WAS a movie with that EXACT name R C on Mars posterwhich sought to update the current myth of Robinson Crusoe and place it on Mars – only Mars had breathable air and the intrepid survivor ended up with a man Friday. R C on Mars w FridayIt’s very dated, but very quaint and an old classic flick.

But THAT Robinson Crusoe on Mars is not what I’m talking about. In the ORIGINAL story written by Daniel Defoe published in 1719 Crusoe was an adventurer and slaver, embarking on sea voyage after sea voyage against his family’s wishes. During one of his trips to transport slaves he is shipwrecked and left alone on an island for 17 years. He too learns to survive on an inhospitable “planet”, just as our astronaut Watney does. But one thing the first Crusoe did which our modern astronaut does not is repent and turn to God. R C - cross R C - bible

Once again, as I mentioned in the blog about Interstellar happens so often in today’s sci fi stories, in The Martian science becomes god. While the determination to “science the s*** out of —” something to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles is a worthy sentiment, it is not enough. No amount of science in the world will allow you to do more than stave off the inevitable – as Watney discovers (and no I’m not giving anything about the ending away because these set backs come throughout the movie).

The situation for our main character is extremely dire. The man is stuck in space 140 million miles away from Earth and the only people who have even a chance of saving him YEARS from now do not even know he is alive. Mark goes through his friends’ personal effects, he inventories supplies, he plays his captain’s disco music and he even scavenges the wood from a crew mate’s crucifix — but even here only a superficial nod is made to assistance from God for this desperate man’s plight. From a realistic POV I would imagine there to be a lot of discussion with God – and I also imagine not all of it very happy. I would understand anger and grief but ultimately the seeking of solice from and acceptance of God’s Will would have fit in with Mark’s efforts and his thoughtful sangfroid personality.

The Martian suffers from the same flaw as other recent movies about desperate people left adrift (one way or another) without the usual resources (family, equipment, communication with home) needed in a dire situation: likeInterstellar - 1 astronaut Interstellar andCastaway Castaway.

Gravity - wombGravity was much more akin to the original Robinson Crusoe and the original Robinson Crusoe’s themes, because the main character there was struggling with her atheism as an analogy for the isolation she felt from God in the face overwhelming obstacles and baggage of personal tragedy.

The seemingly deliberate avoidance in The Martian of any but the most tenuous and brief of nods to an acknowledgement of man’s need for help from his Creator is a disappointing affront to this and other worthy film efforts.

From an educational POV there is MUCH to be gleaned from Mark’s experiments and projects in biology 101: What is needed when one has almost nothing but sterile dirt to grow food? How DO you make large amounts of water when all you have is air? How do you cope when even your air is in limited quantity? Mark’s solutions are clever and realistic But they COULD have been – with a simple exercise in humility – profound.

Small warning – there is ZERO hanky panky. But the language can get a bit raw, though not at all gratuitous given Mark’s predicament. And given the positive nature of the themes and educational values, worth enduring. The plot is, obviously, quite tense. So I would suggest your initial consideration would be for mid to older teens. But definitely check it out yourself first or access  Screenit.com on The Martian for a helpful guide.

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