(2009, rated R) Sharito Copley (Wikas van der Murwe), Jason Cope (Christopher Johnson), David James (Col. Venter), Vanessa Haywood (Tania Smit-van der Murwe), Louis Minnaar (Piet Smit). Music: Clinton Shorter. Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchel. Director: Neill Blomkamp. 112 minutes.
Tags: Sci-Fi, CGI Bonanza, Xenophobia, Political
Notable: Inspired by incidents surrounding Johannesburg’s District 6, during the full reign of apartheid.
Twenty-some years ago, an alien spaceship comes to rest, hovering silently over Johannesburg, South Africa. The entire population of the ship — aliens who come to be called “prawns” for their crusty exoskeleton and mini-tentacles over their mouths — seeks refuge in an area referred to as District 9. Originally intended to keep them and humans separated for health reasons, the aliens become so disenfranchised that their area becomes something between a slum and a detention camp. There are now 1.8 million aliens in the encampment, and the Multi-National Union (MNU) intends to relocate them to a place some 200 kilometers away. The eviction, however, puts strain on an already tense situation, and when the head of that project, Wikas van der Murwe, appears to have become somehow “infected,” the entire project explodes into bloody warfare.
***ATTENTION: SPOILERS AHEAD** Continue reading “District 9”
(2014, rated PG) Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy “Murph” Cooper), John Lithgow (Donald), Michael Caine (Dr. Brand), Casey Affleck (Tom Cooper), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), William Devane (Williams). Music: Hans Zimmer. Screenplay: Johnathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Director: Christopher Nolan. 169 minutes.
Tags: Sci-Fi, Epic, Dystopian, Special Effects Extravaganza
Notable: Various aspects of “hard science” heighten the film’s believability; a PG-rated film with a single f-bomb in it, which used to make a film require an “R” rating.
In the mid-twenty-first century, the Earth can barely sustain life. Cooper (McConaughey) is a former NASA astronaut, now trying to eke out a life as a dust-bowl farmer after NASA had been abandoned some years before. His daughter Murphy finds a strange pattern in the dust on the floor of her room, a pattern she blames on a ghost. When the pattern keeps recurring, Cooper deduces that it’s a gravitic anomaly, that the lines are actually a binary code for geographic coordinates. Following them, Cooper discovers Brand (Hathaway), his old boss from NASA, heading a secret facility that has been researching the presence of an artificially-created wormhole, an opening in space that could lead to a planet that could sustain human life… if they can get there. Continue reading “Interstellar”
(1989, rated R) James Woods (Eddie Dodd), Robert Downey, Jr. (Roger Barron), Margaret Colin (Kitty Greer), Yuji Okumoto (Shiu Kai Kim), Kurtwood Smith (Robert Reynard), Tom Bower (Cecil Skell), Miguel Fernandez (Art Esparza), Charles Hallahan (Vincent Dennehy), Luis Guzman (Ortega). Music: Brad Fidel (“Busload of Faith” written/sung by Lou Reed). Screenplay: Wesley Strick. Director: Joseph Ruben. 108 minutes.
Tags: Mystery, Courtroom Drama, “Criminal Justice YRW”
Notable: Downey as a baby-faced 24 year old; spun-off short-lived TV series Eddie Dodd, starring Treat Williams.
Eddie Dodd was a crusading lawyer in his day; now, he’s a burn-out, defending drug dealers that he knows are guilty in order to make points about the unfairness of governmental and police procedural flaws… so he says. Roger Barron, fresh out of law school, was impressed with Eddie’s early cases, comes to San Francisco to work with him, not sure that he’s even meeting the firebrand of years past. The knifing of a prison inmate by another inmate calls into question whether or not young Shiu Kai Kim (the alleged killer) should have been in prison in the first place. After all these years of having lost his own belief in The System, Eddie now has a chance to defend an innocent man. The question becomes… can he? Continue reading “True Believer”
(1977, rated R) Chris Serandon (Michael Lerner), Christina Raines (Alison Parker), Martin Balsam (Professor Ruzinsky), John Carridine (Father Halloran), José Ferrer (Robed Figure), Ava Gardner (Miss Logan), Arthur Kennedy (Monsignor Franchino), Burgess Meredith (Charles Chasen), Sylvia Miles (Gerda), Deborah Raffin (Jennifer), Eli Wallach (Detective Gatz), Christopher Walken (Rizzo), Jerry Orbach (Film Director), Jeff Goldblum (Jack). Music: Gil Mellé. Screenplay: Michael Winner (based on the book by Jeffrey Konvtiz). Director: Michael Winner. 92 minutes.
Tags: Horror, Suspense, Kitsch
Notable: Jeff Goldblum almost invisible; Christopher Walken with about three lines; presentation of a lesbian couple (who are, of course, evil).
Model Alison Parker catches a great deal on a Brooklyn apartment, with her few neighbors being a bit eccentric, particularly the old, blind priest, Father Halloran in the upper floor apartment who sits in the window, staring at nothing, and never moves. It takes some time for her and her lawyer lover, Michael Lerner, to discover that the building is actually the gateway to Hell… and Alison has been invited to join the occupants of the building permanently. Continue reading “The Sentinel”
(2012, PG-13) Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh), Toni Collette (Peggy), Danny Huston (Whitfield Cook), Jessica Biel (Vera Miles), Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman), James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins), Michael Wincott (Ed Grein), Kurtwood Smith (Geoffrey Shurlock), Richard Portnow (Barney Balaban). Music: Danny Elfman. Screenplay: John J. McLaughlin. (based on “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello). Director: Sacha Gervasi. 98 minutes.
Tags: Behind-the-Scenes, Bio-Pic
Notable: Good story about the making of Psycho, but the personal aspects ain’t actual history.
By all accounts, Alfred Hitchcock was a difficult man, as a person, as a director, and as a husband. The great gamble of his life was to make the film Psycho. The studio hated it, wanting him to fall back on thrillers like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, his first big success in the genre) and several dozen others. Hitch was becoming somewhat bored with the formula, even with brilliant films like Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Rear Window (1954) in his repertoire. The truth was that Vertigo (1958), which has long since been vindicated as brilliant, was a box office flop as far as the studio was concerned; North By Northwest (1959) did well enough, and Paramount wanted “another one like that.” They wanted to make money, and at that point, the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was making a ton of cash for the producers. Studio executive Lew Wasserman was so sure that Psycho was going to bomb that he banked on the rather “craptastic” Martin-Lewis debacle called Cinderfella, which came out that Christmas. Talk about flops… Continue reading “Hitchcock”
(2010, R) Val Kilmer (Mr. Nobody), Dylan Neal (Det. Alexander Black), Paul McGillium (Dep. Pine), Camille Sullivan (Dep. Hollows), Nels Lennarson (Dep. Sherwood), Christopher Gauthier (Desk Sgt. Gulloy), John Cassini (Dept. Hawkins). Music: Ross Vanelli. Screenplay: Joseph C. Huscat. Director: Michael Oblowitz. 91 minutes.
Tags: Thriller, Horror, Revenge
Notable: A few good twists on an old trope, with a deus ex puellita ending.
A drifter walks into a police station on a rainy Christmas Eve to confess to a series of murders, none of which has happened… yet. A terrible thing happened in this police station a year ago, and those involved are about to discover that karma is, indeed, a bitch. Continue reading “The Traveler”
(2017, Rated PG-13) Tom Bateman (Bouc); Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot); Penélope Cruz (Pilar Estravados); Willem Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman); Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff); Johnny Depp (Edward Ratchett); Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen); Derek Jacobi (Edward Henry Masterman); Leslie Odom Jr. (Dr. Arbuthnot); Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard); Daisy Ridley (Miss Mary Debenham); Marwan Kenzari (Pierre Michel); Olivia Colman (Hildegarde Schmidt); Lucy Boynton (Countess Elena Andrenyi); Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Biniamino Marquez); Sergei Polunin (Count Rudolph Andrenyi). Music: Patrick Doyle. Screenplay: Michael Green (suggested by the book by Agatha Christie). Director: Kenneth Branagh. 114 minutes.
Tags: Remake, Mystery, Avoid-At-All-Cost
Notable: Single most idiotic portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the history of the known world (Branagh); sets are better than the actors.
Having solved a case in Istanbul, the famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot is recalled to England for a consultation. Securing travel on the Orient Express — the famous train that runs from Istanbul to Paris — Poirot finds himself embroiled in a mysterious murder. With the train snowbound, the murderer must be one of the passengers in the main coach… but which, and how? Poirot must engage his “little grey cells” to solve one of the most complicated crimes of his career. Continue reading “Murder on the Orient Express (2017)”
(1979, Rated R) Al Pacino (Arthur Kirkland); Jack Warden (Judge Rayford); John Forsythe (Judge Fleming); Lee Strasberg (Grandpa Sam); Jeffrey Tambor (Jay Porter); Christine Lahti (Gail Packer); Sam Levene (Arnie); Robert Christian (Ralph Agee); Thomas Waites (Jeff McCullaugh); Larry Bryggman (Warren Fresnell); Craig T. Nelson (Frank Bowers). Music: Dave Grusin. Screenplay: Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson. Director: Norman Jewison. 119 minutes.
Tags: Courtroom Drama, Social Satire
Notable: One of the finest courtroom “opening statement” scenes in movie history, with the oft-misquoted line, “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial’s out of order!” (Pacino)
When corrupt Judge Fleming is charged with rape, idealistic lawyer Arthur Kirkland is quietly blackmailed into defending him. Kirkland has had problems with the judge in the past, including one incident when the judge wrongly sentenced his client, Jeff McCullaugh, because of a technicality. As Kirkland prepares this and two other cases, he faces a series of moral and legal dilemmas, including the possibility that the judge is guilty.
With the hearings regarding Judge Brett Kavanaugh going on, now is a great time to revisit this particularly relevant film. Continue reading “And Justice For All”
(2008, PG-13) Dennis Quaid (Agent Thomas Barnes), William Hurt (Pres. Harry Ashton), Matthew Fox (Agent Kent Taylor), Forest Whitaker (Howard Lewis), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sam), Sigourney Weaver (Rex Brooks). Music: Roy Budd. Screenplay: Barry L. Levi. Director: Pete Travis. 90 minutes.
Tags: Mystery, Suspense, Political Thriller
Notable: Plot twists that are both relevant and well-resolved — unusual in modern thrillers.
American President Harry Ashton is in Spain to promote an historic anti-terrorism summit when he himself is struck by an assassin’s bullet. Eight different people were direct witnesses to what happened, but the question that Secret Service Agent Tom Barnes — himself a witness — has to answer is what, exactly, did they see… and what does it mean? Continue reading “Vantage Point”
(1988, Rated PG) Anthony Edwards (Theophilus North), Robert Mitchum (James McHenry Bosworth), Harry Dean Stanton (Henry Simmons), Anjelica Huston (Persis Bosworth Tennyson), Mary Stuart Masterson (Elspeth Skeel), Virginia Madson (Sally (Sarah) Boffin), Tammy Grimes (Sarah Bailey Lewis), David Warner (Dr. Angus McPherson), Hunter Carson (Galloper Skeel), Lauren Bacall (Amelia Cranston), Cleveland Amory (Mr. Danforth). Music: David McHugh. Screenplay: Janet Roach, John Huston, and James Costigan (based on the novel Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder). Director: Danny Huston. 92 minutes.
Tags: Farce, Comedy, Period Piece, Slice-of-Life
Notable: Anthony Edwards gives up the Nerd franchise for a great starring lead; all-star cast happily lured in by Huston family involvement.
Newport, Rhode Island — 1926. To this quiet, exclusive resort town, a young Yale graduate arrives, hoping to earn his way as a tutor. His unusual ability to generate electrical shocks is taken by some school children to be magical. When rumors abound that he’s actually a faith healer in disguise, the otherwise sensible residents of Newport find themselves in a madhouse farce of “shocking” proportions.
This film is such a complete delight that it almost needs no comment… but hey, it’s me. Continue reading “Mr. North”