Capsule Reviews

Larry Crowne: Not a very good movie. Sometimes a great notion, such as trying to relate to “the little guy” and his problems with down-sizing and losing his job and being a loser and finding uplifting meaning in education and salvation through teaching and mentoring and friendship, blah, blah….oh well, only that’s not what we’re getting from this movie.

What you see is a lukewarm attempt to tell the story of a downsized Willy Loman and we end up with a rather plebian tale of a man who meets a boozy teacher and develops a crush on her. That is the end game for this. ‘Nough said.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Brings back memories of my childhood. Going to an “Ape-arama” event where you got free bananas and could get in free if you wore a gorilla suit. That was the level of intelligentsia that surrounded the Planet of the Apes movies the first time around.

But this one looked to be pretty good. But …..nope, it turned out, it’s not. It was very disappointing, in fact. The pacing was terrible and we were left with some pretty big holes in the plot that you could just drive a truck right through. It is not to be recommended.

Zookeeper is for kids. But Kevin James is funny enough to play it for a few laughs. This is the same plot as Dr Doolittle or Francis joins the Navy, for that matter, but there are no bad scenes if you want to take the kids for some escapist fun.

Cowboys and Aliens: This could be called: Everything but the kitchen sink movie. Shamelessly, Hollywood has thrown out there every conceivable vehicle for a hit in order to avoid the failure of its summer movie season.
It has it all, cowboys & Indians, ghosts & aliens, supernatural events, a touch of Avatar thrown in, rising from the dead, Indiana Jones & Harrison Ford, Race relations, coming of age sub-plot, romance with a pretty girl/a dead girl/an alien girl-flashbacks…

Thank God for Harrison Ford. He carries the movie in several scenes where he simultaneously is tasked at being the pivotal force in the film for a): a coming of age story with a young child who must learn to be a man; b) a sub-plot with an Indian ranch-hand who looks up to him as he must learn to overcome the bigotry and hatred of the white man against the Indian; c) the sub-plot where he is the big-wheel Rancher who has to “settle a score” with the character played by action figure James Bond (I mean Daniel Craig).

There is a love interest for Craig that doubles as the alien supernatural plot, and in case we’ve missed something, there’s a dog and some romantic flashbacks thrown in for good measure. Shameless summer fun, I guess is what you might call this. It looked a bit suspect to me, but it turned out to be an entertaining film, which was the whole point. So I would definitely say you might go see this film if you have no expectations or illusions as to what Hollywood is about in the making of it….Enjoy! (After all, the business of intellectual enlightenment and the world of intelligentsia is not the playground of Hollywood movie producers, right?)

Midnight in Paris: Not his very best work, but his best in a long time. Owen Wilson is game to take on the Woody Allen character and he does a very credible job as the lovably goofy hero who is swept away by the romance of a period long gone in time. The drama revolves around a present day Allen character and the interactions he has with the various characters of Paris of the 1920’s.

The Killer Elite was Better than expected. I have not been an aficionado of action packed films starring Jason Statham but instead have been a big fan of Clive Owen. This movie is a remake that veers wildly from the original starring James Caan. In this instance, the degree of separation varies much more than 6 Degrees!

In this, the bad guys are the ones we somehow find ourselves rooting for. In the conventional action plot, we are supposed to root for the ones who are trying to figure out who the bad guys are. In this, we are supposed to follow the mysterious team of assassins who are doing the killing. The film has much more in common with the plot of “Munich”. The plot is similar at times and the screenplay could be a variation of less than 6 degrees on that common theme.

Through the twists and turns, one refreshing plot point of note is that the film is set in 1980. In some recent films, it can make one wonder, in this world of high-tech that is getting ever and ever more specialized to the nth degree, if the plot is irrelevant to the gadgets and wizardry of the special effects show being presented to the audience.

Yet this movie is set in a period where we are just beginning to realize the world is connected by electronic devices that make up the global village. Therefore, the plot must move forward with a series of actual meetings and verbal confrontations via phone and through the photographic lens, not by holographic illusion and extra-sensory perceptions.

This makes it somehow all the more believable and all the more human. One aside is that the character of Danni, played by Statham, is quite the Aussie mumbler whilst the character of Owen speaks with true clarity and succinct menace. The two somehow manage to balance the interaction well enough and apart from a few tired plot devices common to all action sequences, the aura of what is old is new again works for this piece,

The original film, by the way was made in 1975 by the director Sam Peckinpah . As stated earlier, not much of that plot is recreated in the new film.

Moneyball: was about ½ hour too long. It is a movie about baseball and beliefs. The belief is that this new way of playing baseball was being crafted by the GM of one California baseball team. The type of sports-based movie like this is one where the old standby applies: It’s gotta have “heart”. The heart of this is in the character of Billie Beane, the charismatic General Manager of the Oakland A’s.

Brad Pitt has to make us believe and to empathize with the character. He has been a bad-boy on screen and never needed to play the “grown-up” in the film. His has always been the ingénues role where he could roam out of the depth that is always needed to convey serious emotions that can wrench an audience and that can at times rivet their attention.

In this he does have to carry the whole film with his character’s ability to persuade others to buy into the new way of putting together a team to play baseball. It is off to a slow start in this movie and also with any connection with his character, but in the end, we are persuaded. Pitt’s coming of age film gives his face in moments an almost eerily similarity to Robert Redford-they could be clones-but his is a face that wears the years lightly and to that end, we feel the magnetism of a charming rogue in his character.

The Big Year:
A pretty good film Owen Wilson was surprisingly effective in the role of an experienced birder (they don’t like to be called bird-watchers) who is being challenged by two other men to sight the most birds in one calendar year.

Steve Martin is the eldest of the trio, and his newer, gentler form of laid back comedy gives his performance a kind of sweetness that is sometimes lacking in his past roles. Jack Black is also able to shine as the younger man who is seemingly lost and floundering at times, yet he is in some ways the most grounded of the three. He serves as narrator and this part comes through a bit confusing in the first half of the film.

The narration trails off at times but the film has a beautiful photographic feel seen in the ebbs and flows of the three birders as we trail them through the varied scenic vistas.

Two things stand out. The first is that this source of material is, if nothing else, refreshingly different. The other is that, as we’ve heard many times before: Comedy is hard. And this is a light-hearted attempt at humor, therefore the reviews don’t give the material credit. It’s a sweet film at times with a message of redemption in seeking what we believe to be the most important things in life. In the end, it’s a good message for our times.

Published by

MLJ

Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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