Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Misérables

Plot: Criminal Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) completes 20 years at hard labor in post-revolutionary France, and then skips out on his parole.  Valjean receives charity in the form of church silver from a priest and ten years later he is a factory owner. One of his workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway,) gets in a spat with coworkers and is fired. She falls in with prostitutes and is beaten by a soldier. Valjean somehow meets her, and takes her to a hospital where she dies. Valjean learns of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Siegfried) who is watched over by thieving innkeepers Thenardier & his Madame (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.) Time passes, Cosette is 15, and a revolution is brewing again. Young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne) falls for Cosette, but police commander Javert (Russell Crowe) is pursuing Valjean, and Valjean hides with Cosette. The revolution plays out, and people die. After the revolution, love wins out.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The good parts are good, and the bad parts are slow. There is grand spectacle with some dull parts. There is some heart-stirring emotion. Some really good songs.

Being a movie cast with famous actors, the songs are staged for drama and less for musical perfection. This makes for more dramatic feeling and less toe tapping. Here is a version of the music on You Tube. 

The best parts are the Anne Hatheway's song "I Dreamed a Dream." She gives a renders a tearfully sad version with enough emotion for Oscar buzz. Of course, Susan Boyle sings it better musically.

I liked the revolution scenes too. Every scene with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen is a highlight. 

As good as the good parts were, there were several songs that were weak both in musicality and in plot content, and  while the movie did not feel too long, I was daydreaming during the boring songs. 

The visuals are consistently great; the sets and the costumes were tops. 

Compared to other musicals, it is not as good as Evita or Moulin Rouge. I loved both of them. Les Misérables is better than The Hobbit. 

Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne

Directed by: Tom Hooper, based on the music by Herbert Kretzmer and the novel by Victor Hugo. 

Rating: 3.0 stars. I am glad I saw it.
More: I have not bought any songs from the soundtrack, but I am streaming the Youtube version of the musical. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D & high frame rate)

Plot: Gandolf (Ian McKellen) and a band of dwarves enlist hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Marin Freeman) to join them to fight a dragon in a far off mountain. We hear the backstory of how the dragon took over the mountain, an attack by orcs riding oversized wolves, a visit to Elrond (Hugo Weaving) at Rivendale, being trapped by goblins, another attack by orcs riding oversized wolfs,  and eventually get within sight of the destination mountain by the end of the film. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Not so great. While The Hobbit is the best of Tolkien's novels, this is the worst of Peter Jackson's films. Their are two reasons: the plot and the photography. The Hobbit is a great story with a villainous dragon, a  great climax and happy ending. The movie is not. It starts a silly comic party, and it ends with blah nothing. No dramatic structure.

I know the movie-makers spent millions on special effects, but live action scenes looked fake, especially the first 90 minutes. The computer generated scenes looked LESS fake.  Even the food on the plate at Bilbo's house (which had to have been real carrots and potato) looked fake. The characters just did not look like real people. They looked like over-dressed actors on a stage set. Why? I don't know, but I do know that  Cinematorgrapher Lesnie should get his Oscar revoked. 

It was not all bad. Computer generated Gollum/Smeagel was a highlight -- I loved him, but it did not last long enough. The computer animated characters looked good, and the giant eagles soaring were wonderful. The soundtrack was strong, and I even bought one song.

I have thought long and hard about whether the high frame rate was the problem, and I decided no. Even when the characters were still (perhaps especially when they were still) they looked fake. Cheap movies look more real than this. The high frame rate was good during the action scenes. The people fought and throw things at high speed, and I could see it all. In regular movies, action scenes can speed by faster than you can see them. 

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Rating: 1.5 stars: Not recommended. I previously gave 3.5 stars to Return of the King, and 3.0 stars to Two Towers. The photography and the lack of any dramatic structure that makes this unsatisfying. I don't know if I would have liked the 2D and 24 frame/sec version. 
More:  I loved Cate Blanchett's Galadriel.

More:  I heard about the fakeness of the high frame rate images, but I thought it was just curmudgeonlyness. It was real though and very distracting.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Plot: Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) rob a mob gambling house, and the mob bosses call in Jackie, an enforcer (Brad Pitt,) to kill the robbers. Jackie calls in NY killer Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help. The robbers get panicked, and people get shot. The movie is intercut with political speeches about the 2008 economic collapse and the election of 2008.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Killing Them Softly is a gritty movie about the criminal underclass.  It is advertised as a dark comedy, but it is actually a tragedy with some political sarcasm. The point being that American government is concerned with money and is a business -- just like running crime mob. Director Andrew Dominik was trying to say the political criminals and street criminals were the same, but in the action he showed they were different. 

While I did like the movie's political theme, it made me think about a book I am reading (The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker), about crime and how government control keeps people safe. In parts of the society without government control and do-it-yourself justice lots of people suffer and die. 

The title Killing Me Softly is supposed to mean Jackie kills people with a minimum of suffering. He shoots people repeatedly to make sure they die quickly, and he shoots from a distance. Are we supposed to admire that? 

The killing scenes were slow motion and artsy with a spray of flowy blood droplets in the air. There is some artistic photography of gritty street scenes too. 

The acting was strong, especially James Gandolfini, who was fun-to-watch as he drank and drank -- an unlikely highlight of the movie. 

I did not care for Killing Me Softly much like Flight, it is about gritty druggy street life with unlikeable people. 

Cast: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy

Directed by: Andrew Dominik

Rating: 2.0 stars: Not recommended, but with some strong parts.

More: The soundtrack is an interesting collection of tracks from various artists. Highlights were Moon Dance by Carl Stone and Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams by Nico, and I Think this Town is Nervous by The Wreckery.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Life of Pi (3D)

Plot: Pi (Suraj Sharma) is an adolescent boy travelling with his parents and their zoo animals aboard a freighter from India to Canada. The freighter sinks and Pi ends up on lifeboat with a few animals, notably a Bengal Tiger. The story is told in flashback by the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan.) At the very end the adult Pi gives the story a twist and then another. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Life of Pi is parable with symbolism on a million levels, and director Ang Lee patently draws out a lot of them before the shipwreck. During the adrift-at-sea middle of the picture, there is gruesome carnage that I found really very unpleasant -- I thought about leaving the theater. The animal violence bothered me more than any crime drama or movie.

The tiger is CGI, and it is perfect. I real cat would not have been as good. There are some very pretty fantasy sequences including a glow-in-the-dark whale, and an island with a zillion very cute CGI meerkats. 

Actor Suraj Sharma does a great job in showing fear, bravery or desperation. He was a strong actor. 

When the movie is done, you think about everything that happens, and all the allegories. For example, the tiger's original name was "Thirst." Thirst might drive survivors to do crazy things, and the tiger is some part of Pi.

Director Lee concludes with a line about choosing what to believe about God based on what story you like the best. That reminds me of Don Cuppitt, the controversial British theologian.

Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan

Directed by: Ang Lee, based on the book by Yann Martel

Rating: 3.0 stars because of its ambition, and the ultimate pay off as a parable. It was still quite unpleasant, and I would not recommend it to everyone for that reason. 

More: Like The Master, the movie is not fun-to-watch, and it is  way more fun to talk about later. 

Even More:  One reviewer, Moses Ma, said "just as pi is a mathematical construct that can never be fully comprehended, The Life of Pi is essentially unfathomable… as is the battle between religion, science and spirituality." The following link has another good blog post on the symbolism. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Plot: Lincoln starts during 1865 near the end of the war. Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis)  has just been reelected, and the lame duck congress is in session. Lincoln is contemplating the end of the war, and wants to push for the 13th amendment, which ends slavery. The main story is the legislative wrangling that ensues in the deadlocked House of Representatives -- it is simultaneously just-like-today and so much worse. The side plots illustrate Lincoln has husband, father, and commander-in-chief. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Daniel Day Lewis inhabits Abraham Lincoln bringing him to life in the midst of the Civil War. The war & slavery put emotional energy into speeches and arguments. This Lincoln seems to be true to his historical self -- although I have no way of testing that. 

The supporting cast was up to the task, especially David Strathaim as Secretary of State Steward, and Tommy Lee Jones as Rep. Stevens. 

Most of the visuals are historical scenes, where I was always thinking how small all the furniture was and how uncomfortable life was compared to today. There is a hospital visit scene that is memorable for its gross-out effect, and a battlefield scene that had massive carnage.

Lincoln tells a story about the past, but at the same time it is about people and failings today. It is about deadlock in Washington in 1865 and in 2012. It is about racial divides  both then and now. It is about gender inequality between Mary/Molly Lincoln (Sally Field,) Rep. Steven's housekeeper, and during the debate in the House. It is also about war and peace.

Even though, it is only moderately fun-to-watch, I liked it because of its thoughtfulness and heft.

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook. Tommy Lee Jones

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Rating: 4.0 stars: The superb acting coupled with a substantive topic make this a top film. 

More: This film is all about the end of slavery, but one speech foreshadows the suffragette movement that begins right after the Civil War. 

Even more: Another boring, emotionless soundtrack from the over-the-hill composer John Williams. He needs to retire.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Plot: Patrice steals a list of all Nato's secret agents and their cover identities, and Bond (Daniel Craig) is in hot pursuit in Turkey. During the chase, he gets shot by another agent, Eve, (Naomie Harris) and declared dead. The theft's mastermind, Silva, (Javier Bardem) is obsessed with getting revenge on M.  Silva hacks into the computers at MI6, and creates a gas explosion. Soon M is under pressure from politicians, and soon she become a decoy in a trap to capture Silva. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Skyfall has some great parts. The opening scene in Turkey is a great chase scene with a lot of variety. I liked the bitterness that Bond develops when he is double-crossed, and how the Silva, the villain, plays on it to question Bond's loyalty. (See more on the moral dilemma in the Super Giant Spoiler section below.)  It was smart to give Judy Dench's M a large part and let her act, since she is so good at being tough while being thoughtful. 

This is a darker Bond with few jokes, not very much womanizing, and socializing with the wealthy. The jokes that there are about gadgets from older Bond movies.

Like newer spy movies, the villain is corrupt spy, rather than a business man or a government.  Silva is a British Jason Bourne striking back at his spy masters, specifically M. 

The sniper sequence in Shanghai was a highlight with black silhouettes and blue lights -- very  cool. I don't know why the giant blue jelly fish were swimming outside, but I liked them. 

As the movie goes on Javier Bardem's Silva gets more of the spot light, and the movie becomes uneven. Bardem is best when he is the crazy hacker who someone thinks of M as a mother figure. He is weakest when he running around London and Scotland with a gang of thugs. The gun play and fist fighting are only average.

The music is very good, and the photography is excellent. The scenes of the house in Scotland are tops.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naome Harris

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Rating:  3.0 stars: a better than average movie that does not contend for greatness. Fun to watch and a little bit thoughtful.

More: We actually get to see what Skyfall is, although it is hard to understand why someone would call it "Skyfall."

Super Giant Spoiler [Seriously don't read this.] At the beginning M orders Eve to shoot Patrice on the train even though Bond will also be shot.  Later M justifies this with a Utilitarian argument that many agents are being saved from death, even if Bond has to die. The moral Good being the case where the fewest people die. However at the end of the movie, Silva, offers a double suicide to M. That is she can shoot Silva and herself both together -- the same utilitarian morality applies, but M can't shoot. Bond saves the day, but M's moral authority is diminished, and she dies of her wounds in true cinematic justice.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Plot: Pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington)  was partying with stewardess Katerina (Nadine Velazquez,) using drugs and drinking all night until dawn, and then flies an early morning flight though a storm. He lands the plane successfully after great heroics in a farm field. After the plane lands, his blood test results show alcohol and cocaine. Katerina dies in the crash, and soon The crash occurred because of a mechanical defect in the plane, but Whip is in danger of going to prison anyway.  He meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) in the hospital, and she moves in with him. Whip battles drinking and internal demons. Nicole dries out and goes to AA meetings.

Bruce Greenwood plays a pilot's union advocate, and Don Cheadle plays a union attorney. John Goodman plays an over-the-top drug dealer who gets Whip cocaine and enables his other vices. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Flight is a straight-up drama about fairly well-drawn characters managing their problems. It is a message movie, but the anti-alcoholism message does not get in the way of the story at all. 

The action scene on the plane is dramatic, and demonstrates the deep personal problems that Whip has. It is fun to watch, and sets up the drama that follows. The plane scenes are relatively short. The final scenes are surprisingly suspenseful. 

Flight has a strange balance of gritty reality and unlikely larger-than-life events. We have the unlikely flight crash story coupled with Whip's substance abuse problems and relationship problems -- and the gritty world that Nicole inhabits. IMHO Whip never seems real, I don't believe at 0.26% blood alcohol he could have flown the plane so well in that emergency. I don't understand how someone can exist in a gritty cigarettes, drugs and drunken world, hold it together at work, and later successfully evade CNN and the paparazzi . 

Because the Whip character is not well-drawn, I don't blame Denzel for not handling it well. Several supporting actors were strong including Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle. John Goodmas stole every scene he was in. 

The crash scene was well photographed -- very realistic. The music is mostly R&B oldies, but a few were well chosen and fun to listen to. (There is no soundtrack album however.)

Cast: Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Rating:  2.5 stars: always interesting, and it has a message. 
More: The films starts out with a lengthy nude scene that seems to be "sexposition," which is showing nudity while doing exposition of the film's backstory. On cable TV "sexposition" keeps the ratings up. Except for Denzel mooning the camera, it is the only nudity in the movie.  It is presumably director Zemeckis' way to get people interested in the story. 

Even more: The movie is surprisingly tough on fundamentalist Christians. It seems mean-spirited not sarcastic. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Plot: There are six interlacing stories with the same actors in different places and times. There are a slave and a lawyer crossing the Atlantic while the lawyer is being poisoned. Another is a rebellion in a future Asian city called Neo Seoul. Another is a modern woman visiting a primitive island people. Another is a group of senior citizens trying to break out of a sanatarium.  Another is an investigative reporter trying to shut down a nuclear powerplant that has safety defects.

There are too many characters to name all of them. Check out the  [imdb]  link. As the story progresses through time, there is a theme of interconnectedness and Karma.   [photos]

Review: Here is an art movie that I loved. Lots of interesting characters and lots of interesting stories. It takes a while to understand what is going on, but before long you recognize the theme of people working together and also against each other.

If you like straightline plot progression you should absolutely stay home, but once you get the idea that it is one story about interconnectness playing out across history, it gets better.  I thought it worked, and the ambition of the project and quality of the execution and the depth of the characters made this a top film.

My favorite sequences were the two future plot lines in NeoSeoul and a the primitive island (post-apocalyptic  Hawaii.)  I really liked the Sci-Fi action that invoked Blade Runner and Soylent Green. The NeoSeoul scenes easily have the coolest graphics. I liked the whole idea of a slave race of clones that never gets to go outside, and the battle against "Unanimity" -- the government ideology.

Lots of people die in this movie, and it is tough when some of the likeable characters die badly. On the other hand, these actors show up in other stories in future. So we get the message how the story continues even though the people die.

The interconnectedness philosophy is not very complicated.  They needed to make the message obvious so that literal-minded viewers could figure out what was happening. There are probably other layers of the onion to see on the second viewing. Even though I thought it was obvious, it was clear after the movie that many in the audience didn't get it.

I enjoy movies that have a message, and this was good in that it was fun and it was thoughtful. 

Cast: Tom Hanks (6 characters), Halle Berry (6 characters), Jim Broadbent (5 characters), Hugo Weaving (6 characters), Jim Sturgess (7 characters), and Doona Bae (6 characters), Hugh Grant (7 characters), and Susan Sarandon (4 characters)

Written and directed by: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski based on the novel by David Mitchell

Rating: 4.0 stars - fun to watch and serious both. Top Hollywood entertainment. I want to see it again. 
More: I knew Wachowski brothers were brothers and so I wondered if Lana was another member of the family. Lana was formerly known as Laurence Wachowski.

Even More: I loved the pidgin that the island people spoke. You could understand it, and you couldn't. Here is a link to the pidgen used on Big I, the primitive island that the book tells us is Hawaii in the future.

Yet More: In an election year -- people will suspect it is pro-Obama -- because of the theme of caring for each other, and the anti-business aspects of the power company and NeoSeoul plot lines. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Introduction: I had a double dose of "Perks of a Being a Wallflower" today, because I spent two and half hours finishing the novel before going to the movie. I really liked the combined experience because both are thoughtful and emotional. It is a seamless experience because author Chbosky is also the screenwriter and director. 

The book is outstanding, and the movie is excellent too. Like the book says, a movie is good when you feel different after you leave.

Plot:  Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a freshman in a new school. He falls in with seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Charlie and Sam find a bond because they both had traumatic childhoods. They have high school adventures with first dates, getting high, making out, getting in fights and also reading classic novels. In the end, the seniors all get ready for college, and Charlie learns not to be a wallflower.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Director Chbosky and actor Lerman have mastered how to convey nervousness at everyday high school situations, and he does it with humor.  I could not help sympathizing with him in all these  situations. 

Ezra Miller's Patrick is so fun and full of life that everyone would like to know someone like that. Miller is the best actor in the group. Watson's Sam is cute and quirky and hints at a dark side that we never quite see. 

Unlike Breakfast Club and Juno, the dialog is less the important than the events the characters experience. Director Chbosy, who also wrote the movie, throws in some philosophy into the dialog which either makes it "meaningful," or makes it "preachy," but I liked it. I think it earned the right to be preachy with all the authentic experience of being an out-sider.

In the book and the movie some aspects of the plot are left vague. It is unclear what Aunt Helen's relationship to Charlie really was, and how this related to whatever mental illness Charlie had.

Downsides are that Perks can be overly sentimental, and that it spells out its messages rather than letting people figure them out on their own. The book is especially open to this at the end, but it worked for me.

The music is split between late 80's music and a forgettable orchestral score. The photography is uninspired. 

Fun to watch. Worthwhile.

Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

Written and directed by: Stephen Chbosy, who also wrote the novel.

Rating: 3.5 stars -- because I liked it so much. It might not get any awards, but you should see it. 

More: A key scene is driving out of Fort Pitt tunnel immediately into downtown Pittsburgh. In real life the contrast between being the tunnel and then suddenly downtown is striking, and in the movie it is more so on the back of a pickup with cool music. I wonder what another director could have done with that moment. I spectacle of the real drive does not translate to the screen. 

Even more: The book is better than the movie. On the other hand, someday I want to see the movie again, and I doubt I will re-read the book. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Plot: During the Iranian revolution in 1979, the American embassy was overrun, and six staffers escaped to the Canadian ambassador's house. Tony Mendez (Ben Afflack) sets up a back story involving a fake movie, and attempts to smuggle the refugee staffers out of the country as a film crew. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Argo makes good use of the tension of the revolution to make the hostage-taking event immediate and gripping. The over-running of the embassy is dramatic, and the actors appears to be afraid, although maybe not afraid enough. 

Ben Affleck's role is much larger than anyone else's. He acts well, but is too cool and non-emotive. Besides Affleck, only Bryan Cranson's Jack O'Donnell has a sizable part. Cranson does a great job in depicting stress and tension as he thrashes around at the CIA HQ. 

Argo creates echoes of the more recent terrorist plots and middle eastern political drama make this more immediate and poignant. 

I liked the Tehran bazaar scene which was so colorful and confrontational. I liked the way they argued with the merchants. The John Goodman and Alan Arkin scenes in Hollywood provided lightness, and made the movie a bit more realistic. I also liked the preamble where we get a bit of Iranian history that includes the 1941 revolution that brought the Shah to power. (This was a little more Americo-centric than it might have been.) The post-script where we see the real characters was pretty cool too.

There were a several plot that (I thought) were contrived Hollywood additions to add drama at the end. This is the weakest part of the movie. I did not expect a documentary, but it would be more impactful if it stayed realistic. See Even More below.

Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranson.

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Rating: 2.5 stars: Positives are the true story and revolution scenes, but downers are the plot devices to create tension that are too cumbersome to be believable, and the acting that was hit-and-miss. 

More: The real story was not as cut and dried as the one in the movie. Actually the people stayed in multiple locations, for example. 

Even More: [SPOILER] Three things feel too Hollywood for me; the phone ringing in Hollywood and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) busting past the security guard to answer it on the last ring, the reservation just showing up when they are standing at the ticketing agent, and the police cars underneath the wings of the plane upon departure. Just does not feel right. If this really happened -- it would be pretty cool though. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Master

Plot: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is in the navy on a beach with other sailors, and he makes a sand sculpture of a naked woman, and then has sex with it -- as the other sailors watch and laugh. Later when the other sailors are gone, he lies on the beach with the sand girl, his arm around it -- as two lovers might lie in bed.  Freddie gets in trouble for fighting, and a navy doctor shows he is sex obsessed. Freddie is pathetic and unlikeable.

When Freddie gets out of the navy, he stows away on a ship leased by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman.) He makes a hootch, a cocktail made from paint thinner and liquor, and he shares it with Lancaster. Lancaster sees himself in Freddie -- and this symbolic link between Freddie and Lancaster is basic to understanding the rest of the movie. Freddie is the dark side of Lancaster.  Freddie signs on a sailor on the ship, and afterward joins Lancaster's troupe as he travels the country teaching. 

======= Spoilers after this point. Start reading again at the Review paragraph to avoid. ======

Lancaster is a spiritual guru with a program called "The Cause", and his crowds become large. Lancaster gives lessons including "Processing," which involves repetitive questions and hypnosis. At one lesson a skeptic argues with Lancaster, and afterward Freddie kills him. 

Lancaster's wife, Peggy, (Amy Adams) hates Freddie as he represents the evil side of Lancaster. He tries to reform Freddie, and later to send him away -- because she is trying to shape up Lancaster. Peggy is seen to be the real power in "The Cause," but remains on the side in the shadows.

At a party, Lancaster is singing and dancing, and both Lancaster & Freddie are imagining all the women naked -- as if to say that "The Cause" is a way to fuck with people's minds in Lancaster's case and to fuck women in Freddie's case. 

Lancaster gets a new motorcycle, and they go riding in the desert. Freddie gets on and never comes back. He visits his old girlfriend's house, but she married and moved away. At the end, he visits Lancaster, who has moved into a very large building with many students, and Lancaster begs him to stay, but his wife (Amy Adams) sends him away. Lancaster begs him to stay by singing him a love song; Freddie cries and then goes.

The movie ends with Freddie picking up a girl at a bar, and asking her Lancaster's "Processing" questions -- as he has sex with her. This makes literal the metaphor about "The Cause" fucking with people. In the end Freddie is shown lying on the beach with the sand sculpture girl from the beginning of the movie -- rather than the real girl he picked up in the bar -- which shows the Freddie has not changed. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This movie is always interesting, but it is really slow paced. "The Master," is more fun after the film when you can think about what it meant, then while you are there where it is gruelingly slow. Freddie Quell is unlikeable: dirty, angry, base, and no friend to the women that he fucks.  It is not fun to watch him for so long. 

Phillip Seymour Hoffman shows (again) that he is a master actor, and his craftsmanship is fun to watch. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is probably just as difficult technically, but it did not draw attention to itself as being outstanding. He did cry during the closing song, which has got to be hard. Amy Adams is great, but her part is small. She is, of course, too young for Hoffman.

The music is pretty special -- I bought five songs from the soundtrack. The soundtrack was written by Johnny Greenwood, formerly of Radiohead. There were some very nice visuals especially the water churning under the boat. 

The naked party scene has this allegorical value described above, but it is too much like a Showtime/HBO movie where they use nudity to keep viewers because the plot line is too complicated and slow to watch otherwise. 

After ninety minutes, I was slouched over the side of my chair because I couldn't generate the energy to keep sitting up straight -- I did not sleep though because the plot moves -- just slowly. 

Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams. 

Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: 3.0  stars:  A substantive movie that is not fun-to-watch, and more enjoyable as you talk about it afterwards. 

More: There was press that "The Cause" was actually Scientology, and that Lancaster is actually Scientology founder "L Ron Hubbard." This isn't really true. Most Hollywood movies that are actually biographies are barely factual, and this film has many stories with no relation to Hubbard or Scientology. 

Even more: The Master's title slide plays silently on a black background, and then the screen fades black as the audience waits for the film. Movies that start like this are never "Fun-to-Watch." It shows the director's contempt for the audience. The Master is a drama, but a beginning like this in a comedy is a cue to leave the theater, and slip into another movie at the megaplex.


Saturday, September 29, 2012


Plot: Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an assassin who kills victims sent back from the future. One day Joe's older self (Bruce Willis) is set back to be killed by younger Joe. Old Joe survives and soon young Joe and countless villains are chasing old Joe around. Old Joe is trying to kill his future adversary as a child to change the future -- like the Terminator  movies. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Looper has a complicated Sci-Fi story that enables some clever interplay between a young man and his older self. This is the best part. The weakest part are the alternate future scenarios that sometimes did not make sense. We see future Joe coming back to young Joe three times -- I still don't understand that.

The future scenarios set up the paradoxes for the final scene -- the final scene is one of the great science fiction endings. It pays off all the investment in the Sci-Fi premise and puzzling out who is who and when is when. 

The character interactions between the two Joes and Emily Blunt are interesting enough to make this a solid movie that people will be downloading for years to come. 

Aside from the time-travel, the floating motorcycle, and the new model cell phones, the future seems pretty retro. Emily Blunt is living in a simple farm house. The child plays with toy fire trucks. 

The special effects and production values are not so great, and the sound track is forgettable. There is no humor in the entire film. 

Having said that it was interesting throughout, and I enjoyed it. 

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Written and directed by: Rian Johnson

Rating: 3.0 - stars:  Interesting and enjoyable. One of the great Sci-Fi endings.

More: The idea that the best way to assassinate people is to ship them to the past seems silly. There have to be easier ways like tossing them in the ocean or sending them back to dinosaur times.  Director Johnson needed this premise is to set up the time loop at the climatic resolution, but he should have worked harder on it.