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The Heartbreak Kid
The Heartbreak Kid
DVD ~ Charles Grodin
7 used & new from $99.88

4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful dark, unromantic comedy, February 28, 2015
This review is from: The Heartbreak Kid (DVD)
Not to be confused with the bad 2007 remake, this wonderful take of Neil Simon's play and screenplay still seems relevant, even with the lack of a newly generated video disc. I actually caught the movie on Turner Classic Movies with no better options available. Directed by Elaine May, the film deals with the very Jewish relationship between Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin) and Lila Kolodny (Jeannie Berlin and Elanie May's daughter).

The pair appear to be a typical New York raised couple. The 21 year old Lila, however, is "saving" herself for marriage. And as much as he tries, Lenny can't get past second base. So what's a guy to do? He marries her and off they go headed to Miami Beach for their honeymoon. Driving his beautiful Triumph TR-6, they leave snowy New York behind. But in Virginia - the states are how Lenny remembers things - Lennie begins to question his decisions. Lila seems to like a play-by-play of how she's doing in the sack. She's a bit of a klutz which Lenny never realized. In a funny scene - in Georgia - Lila hems and haws over a lunch menu before ordering an egg salad sandwich which she manages to spread all over her face, seemingly unaware.

Once the couple arrive in Miami Beach, Lila eschews sun tan lotion against Lenny's advice. The result? A terrible sunburn, which keeps her in their room slathered with wet towels and cream. Lenny, now on his own heads for the beach where he improbably meets a Nordic goddess from Minneapolis. The stunning Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd) flirts and toys with the smitten Lenny. But Lenny isn't just happy to spend fleeting time with Kelly, he's determined to be with her...forever. Still, he just got married.

Some of the best moments are when Lenny has to explain absences over the next couple days, as Lila heals in her room. There are also some great scenes involving Lenny, Kelly and her parents (Audra Lindley and Eddie Albert). Watch in a dinner scene after they first meet, how motor-mouth Lenny explains how he has fallen for Kelly. The facial expressions of Kelly, mom and especially dad convey a whole gambit of emotions. Another key scene involves the "break-up" dinner when Lenny takes Lila out to a fancy restaurant. Berlin and Albert earned their Oscar nominations in these dinner scenes.

After Lenny ends his relationship with Lila, he heads off to Minnesota where below zero temperatures are the high for the day. He once again confronts coed Kelly, her bulky boy book carriers and of course Mr. Corcoran, who wants no part of Lenny in his or Kelly's life. The ending seemed a little out of place, but that is a minor quibble.

The film caused some controversy as I recall. Most thought of Lenny as quite the cad. I had to keep quiet once I first saw the film many years ago. But now I will say, I can't fault the guy. He made a mistake. He did his best to fix it. And he fell in love with Cybill Shepherd (who didn't?) and did something about it.


The Hundred-Foot Journey (1-Disc Blu-ray)
The Hundred-Foot Journey (1-Disc Blu-ray)
DVD ~ Helen Mirren
Price: $24.79
35 used & new from $15.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (BLU RAY REVIEW) 3 1/2 stars for an easy to swallow visual feast, February 26, 2015
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom has made a series warm, cuddly films over his career. Films like "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat,""Hachi: A Dog's Tale," and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" come to mind. I enjoyed them all, but at the same time there is nothing profound or even memorable about them with the possible exception of the Oscar nominated "Chocolat." This film fits the category, broad though it may be.

Helen Mirren is the big name here and she's terrific as Madame Mallory, a widowed proprietress of a well-known Michelin, one-star restaurant located in the French countryside. A family of Indian émigrés comes to her small town, having given up on their restaurant business in their native country. In an opening scene, we know the restaurant was pillaged and burned by some kind of protestors, but the overriding rationale is never explained.

The family is led by Papa (Om Puri), having lost his wife in the fire. The family includes 5 children, ranging in age from the 20-something Hassan (Manish Dayal) to a girl of about 10. Papa decides to buy a run-down former restaurant across the small road from the famed French restaurant. Hassan meets cute with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), an up-and-coming sous chef in Mallory's kitchen. After some renovations, Papa and his family open Maison Mumbai, which features Indian cuisine. Madame Mallory is no fan of the competition, but is more flummoxed by the music and the cultural invasion. Hassan, is a brilliant cook in his own right and eventually convinces Mallory to hire him, much to the dismay of his family and Marguerite. Even the reluctant Mallory agrees that his cooking has something she has been missing and damn, she wants that second Michelin star.

Like many dramedies like this, we can see where the story is going to go from the first act. There are no real surprises but I have to say I enjoyed the journey. Certainly the mixture of the food preparation and the chemistry between the cultures provides and easy to swallow visual feast.

The Blu ray transfer comes with a 1080p video resolution and has a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The movie was shot on 35mm film, a rarity these days and it looks very natural. There are occasions when CGI inserts are used. My guess is that even the restaurant exteriors were digital. Certainly when the fireworks go off (2 or 3 times), it looks a bit artificial. Still, the detail is excellent, flesh-tones are authentic and the colors are terrific. The wonderful cinematography of the French landscapes, the local farmer's markets and the food preparation are exceptional. Audio comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and it is equally excellent. Fully immersive, the surrounds are often in play with various ambient noises from the restaurants, the aforementioned marketplace and interiors. The dialog is clear and well positioned. Subtitles are available in French, Spanish and English SDH. Extras include a discussion with producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, a behind the scenes look, another piece called "On Set with Oprah Winfrey" (4 minutes) and a guide to making Coconut Chicken.


Still Alice
Still Alice
Price: $27.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American horror story...with stellar performances, February 23, 2015
This review is from: Still Alice (DVD)
Theatrical review. There are a couple reasons why this film hasn't been seen by most movie-goers. First, it didn't get much of a distribution and second, it deals with Alzheimer's disease. With Julianne Moore's recent and well-deserved Oscar win, I suspect more people will seek it out. And they should.

Moore plays a successful 50 year old linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin), is a highly regarded medical doctor (research) and the couple has the perfect family. A son, Tom (Hunter Parrish from TV's "Weeds") is also a doctor, Anna (Kate Bosworth) is a lawyer, newly preggers and married to a perfect man. And then there is the renegade youngest daughter, Lydia (excellent Kristen Stewart) who has shunned college for an acting career in L. A. Oh, the horror.

I suspect this beautiful family portrait was no accident, setting up a life defining tragedy when Alice (Moore) begins to forget words and getting lost on campus. It turns out she has early onset Alzheimer's and it is a rare, quickly progressing form. Lydia returns to New York and the family circles the wagons, realizing everything is going to change quickly.

The scripting is fairly simple and therefore relies heavily on Moore's acting ability to transform Alice from a brilliant lecturer to someone lost in her own mind. It is an amazing performance as Alice maintains her grace as long as she can. She creates her own little mind games to judge her capabilities and even creates a video to guide herself when she no longer has control. It is devastating and emotionally heartbreaking. Still, I think the filmmakers, including the ALS stricken director, Richard Glatzer and his partner Wash Westmoreland, wanted to provide information to the audience more than they were interested in making us shed tears. I never felt manipulated by the story, although the musical score might suggest as much.

The key is Moore's ability define Alice and her opportunity to control her destiny as long as she can. While the exchanges between her and her family are important, it is equally important to watch Moore as she moves about her routine in complete silence. It is a mesmerizing performance. The film was shot quickly and cheaply and sometimes it shows. But there is no taking away from the fine performances and the important message the film delivers.


Still Alice
Still Alice
DVD
Price: $14.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American horror story...with stellar performances, February 23, 2015
This review is from: Still Alice (Amazon Instant Video)
Theatrical review. There are a couple reasons why this film hasn't been seen by most movie-goers. First, it didn't get much of a distribution and second, it deals with Alzheimer's disease. With Julianne Moore's recent and well-deserved Oscar win, I suspect more people will seek it out. And they should.

Moore plays a successful 50 year old linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin), is a highly regarded medical doctor (research) and the couple has the perfect family. A son, Tom (Hunter Parrish from TV's "Weeds") is also a doctor, Anna (Kate Bosworth) is a lawyer, newly preggers and married to a perfect man. And then there is the renegade youngest daughter, Lydia (excellent Kristen Stewart) who has shunned college for an acting career in L. A. Oh, the horror.

I suspect this beautiful family portrait was no accident, setting up a life defining tragedy when Alice (Moore) begins to forget words and getting lost on campus. It turns out she has early onset Alzheimer's and it is a rare, quickly progressing form. Lydia returns to New York and the family circles the wagons, realizing everything is going to change quickly.

The scripting is fairly simple and therefore relies heavily on Moore's acting ability to transform Alice from a brilliant lecturer to someone lost in her own mind. It is an amazing performance as Alice maintains her grace as long as she can. She creates her own little mind games to judge her capabilities and even creates a video to guide herself when she no longer has control. It is devastating and emotionally heartbreaking. Still, I think the filmmakers, including the ALS stricken director, Richard Glatzer and his partner Wash Westmoreland, wanted to provide information to the audience more than they were interested in making us shed tears. I never felt manipulated by the story, although the musical score might suggest as much.

The key is Moore's ability define Alice and her opportunity to control her destiny as long as she can. While the exchanges between her and her family are important, it is equally important to watch Moore as she moves about her routine in complete silence. It is a mesmerizing performance. The film was shot quickly and cheaply and sometimes it shows. But there is no taking away from the fine performances and the important message the film delivers.


November Man [Blu-ray]
November Man [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Pierce Brosnan
Price: $24.20
39 used & new from $10.95

3.0 out of 5 stars (BLU RAY REVIEW) 3 1/2 stars. An entertaining return of Pierce Brosnan as a secret agent, February 21, 2015
This review is from: November Man [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Pierce Brosnan returns to his James Bond persona as "retired" CIA operative, Devereau (still with that wonderful British accent intact) living the good life in Switzerland. He reconnects with one of his old buddies named Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), who is now one of the higher ups in the organization. Hanley wants to pull him back in, only to rescue a spy (Mediha Musliovic) who has gotten close to a rising politician in Russia (Lazar Ristovski) who will likely be the next president. Devereau is chosen because of a former romantic relationship with Natalia (Musliovic).

Something goes awry in this convoluted story and Devereau seeks answers from his former co-workers. Complicating matters further is a former protégé, Mason (Luke Bracey), is involved which moves the former partners toward an adversarial relationship. I give the filmmakers credit for not succumbing to a PG-13 rating (like Bond films). There are well staged gun fights, unnecessary killings, gratuitous potty-mouthing and a smattering of strip club nudity. And old 007, I mean Devereau, more than holds his own against the younger agents.

Key in the silly plot line involving a mass murder in Chechnya, is a teenage survivor of the massacre named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who is now all grown up. She and Deveriau reluctantly join forces to out the villains. The script certainly could have used some polishing and some of the alliances are ridiculous, seemingly changing for no reason. And then there are the usual head-shaking clichés, but the film moves along quickly and provides good entertainment for 108 minutes.

The Blu ray transfer comes with 1080p video resolution and a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Most of the film was shot in Serbia, and the look is near perfect. Excellent colors and good flesh tones throughout. Very good detail and black levels. I didn't see any abnormalities in the picture. The audio comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It is terrific. Fully immersive, it offers plenty of LFE (.1) action and has a real spaciousness to it. Dialog is clear and properly spaced. The soundtrack is nothing special, but plays nicely throughout the film. No complaints here either. Spanish and English subtitles are available. Extras include a "Making of" piece, another on Brosnan's return to action-films, one on Belgrade, a trailer and a commentary track with Brosnan, director Roger Donaldson and producer Beau St. Clair.


Wild [Blu-ray]
Wild [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Michiel Huisman
Price: $19.96

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No stronger performance this year than Reese Witherspoon, February 19, 2015
This review is from: Wild [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
In a recent interview, actor Reese Witherspoon said something to the effect that she started her own production company in order to make films she and her partners wanted to make and that they would have a strong female influence. If "Wild" is any indication of what will come, I can't wait. This film is based on the memoir, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed and was scripted by Nick Hornby. With Witherspoon as Cheryl, the film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club") with drama, humor and a deep look into the soul of the troubled woman.

The film opens with a hilarious scene of neophyte hiker Cheryl trying to attach her over-stuffed backpack to her shoulders. The backpack is literally as big and heavy as the woman. The film manages to go back and forth between events on the trail and those that led up to the woman attempting such a daunting test. That is, to walk a 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to Oregon. During the 3 month journey we learn how earlier events in her life led to a failed marriage, drug addiction and random sex. Seeing a brochure in a store, Cheryl decides to strike out on her own on the hike to Oregon where she has decided to settle. Along the way, she meets strangers, some friendly, some not. The journey is painful, both physically and emotionally, for both Cheryl, and I suspect Ms. Witherspoon.

There is a strong supporting performance by Laura Dern as Cheryl's mother Bobbi, but Witherspoon carries the weight, literally and figuratively in this award-worthy film. I can think of no stronger performance this year. The film is beautifully shot, using locations in Oregon and Washington. Cinematographer, Yves Belanger mixes the ruggedness of the wilderness with its natural beauty. Witherspoon and her business partner Bruna Papandrea were also heavily involved in this year's "Gone Girl." They are off to a terrific start. I love this film.


Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey
DVD ~ Dakota Johnson
Price: $17.99

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 1/2 stars in feeble defense of "Fifty Shades", February 18, 2015
This review is from: Fifty Shades of Grey (DVD)
Theatrical review. I'm having second thoughts about my review title, seeing how many of Amazon's reviewers loved the movie. Yet, most reviewers (Metacritic) and theater-goers (IMDb) are not so kind. Frankly,
I was never pumped up to see this film, having never read the novel. In addition, the "R" rating suggests that while the subject matter may have been titillating, the visuals would be somewhat restrained. Hell, in France, 12 year olds are allowed in the theater. So, I figured I'd just wait until an unrated version came out in Blu ray.

As it turned out, I bought a Blu ray of another movie and it came with a free ticket (via Fandango) to see the movie in a theater. So off I went to a matinee viewing at the local cinema, not expecting much. The first thing I noticed is that the technical aspects of the film are very well done. The colors, the shadings and the look of a rain-soaked Seattle looked great. Not to mention, the gorgeous (various hues of grey, of course), modern high rise digs of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the CEO of a communications conglomerate. The great soundtrack is another important character in the film, opening with Annie Lennox's kick-ass cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You." Unlike many motion picture soundtracks, nearly all of the songs on the CD find their way into the film.

Admittedly, I'm not talking much about the storyline. Unless you've been living on another planet, most people have some idea. Dakota Johnson stars as Anastasia Steele, a college student about to graduate. I don't know much about Ms. Johnson beyond her famous parentage, but she appeared in "Need for Speed" and "The Social Network." I don't remember her in either. Having said that, I found her terrific in the movie with just the right amount of wit, naiveté, charm, vulnerability and ultimately, moxie. Oh, and she's nice to look at. Ana, filling in for her ill roommate, Kate (Eloise Mumford), fumbles an interview, for the school newspaper, with Grey. But he's taken with her almost childish behavior. But as Ana says later, "he's intimidating."

The couple play cute for a while. He shows up at her job at a hardware store. OK, why not. He gives her first editions of literary masterpieces, knowing her major is literature. He takes her around via helicopter, she living in Portland and all. But Christian has secrets, deeper than his need for S & M sexual activity. For those of us who haven't read the book or the sequels, we're only guessing, but given a few clues and having seen a lot of movies, I have my own ideas.

What really does the story a disservice is the clunky, if not stupid, script from Kelly Marcel. And I don't mean Ana's lip biting. Sorry, but that worked for me. As far as the sexy stuff. I will say that while the film doesn't stretch much into S & M, (if you really want to see that check out Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac") there's enough foreplay and skin to get most pulses elevated. If anything, those looking for more of Dornan in the all-together, will be disappointed. I've seen some reviews that go on about the boring nude scenes. I didn't find seeing Ms. Johnson in her birthday suit ever boring.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough in this movie for me to rave about, (aside from the soundtrack) but in an era of big budget, comic book sequels, there should be a place for a little $40 million movie. Given the boxoffice haul, I wish I had a piece of that action.


If I Stay
If I Stay
DVD ~ Chloe Grace Moretz
Price: $19.99
23 used & new from $14.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chloe Grace Moretz isn't enough to make this film much more than an OK teen drama, February 16, 2015
This review is from: If I Stay (DVD)
Possible spoilers. The wonderful Chloe Grace Moretz ("Kick-Ass," "Let Me In") stars as a 17 year old cello progeny whose life is put on hold as the result of a tragic car accident. This happens early in the film and all of the trailers show the comatose Mia, struggling to live. The film has an unusual twist as the ghost-like Mia can watch her earthly body hooked up to a variety of tubes and monitors. Her conscious self is free to move about, but she cannot be seen or heard. This Mia takes us back in time to several events that will ultimately determine if she has the will to live or should she just give up.

These flashbacks are mostly innocuous in that they show a fairly normal life with her aging, former hippy-rocker parents (Mireill Enos and Joshua Leonard). They are encouraging as she figures out if she has a life ahead as a musician. Things become more complicated when one of the seniors named Adam (Jamie Blackley) notices her. He's the guy all the girls want. He's cute and he is the front man for an up-and-coming rock band. And of course, he's nice, smart and considerate. The only thing missing is that he's not the quarterback too.

As they fall in love, Adam graduates and the band gets picked up by a record label. He must go on tour locally (Pacific Northwest) for days at a time. Mia in the meantime decides to apply for the Julliard School of Music, located across the country in New York. She doesn't expect to even get an audition, let alone get in, so Mia doesn't tell Adam. But guess what? Yep. So as the unseen Mia sees the results of the car accident and the impending romantic break-up with Adam, she must decide whether to fight for her life.

The film drops plenty of hints along the way that might have resolved this but an uncooperative, if not criminally negligent hospital staff snuffs efforts that would have ended the movie an hour earlier. That wouldn't have necessarily been a bad thing. Chloe gives a nice performance and the rest of the actors, especially Stacy Keach as Mia's grandfather, are very good as well. Director R. J. Cutler and screenwriter Shauna Cross don't help much with a convoluted script and manipulated tear inducing scenes to make the film standout. As it is, I'm sure the film has an audience, but I found it just OK and too much like something found on the Lifetime channel.


Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman: The Secret Service
DVD
Price: $12.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3 1/2 stars for a fun, action-packed spy thriller, February 16, 2015
Theatrical review. There may be spoilers.
Matthew Vaughn has a small resume of directed films, but it's a good one (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class). He brings elements of all plus a healthy injection of James Bond and "Kill Bill" to this fun action-based film. The biggest influence would seem to be the James Bond films, especially given the title. But these secret spies don't work for the British government, or any government for that matter. They are independent do-gooders, headquartered in London and organized based on King Arthur and his knights. In fact, each spy is given a code name based on the knights. You know, Galahad (Colin Firth), Lancelot (Jack Davenport), and Arthur (Michael Caine). Not to mention the trainer, Merlin (Mark Strong).

When one of the knights is killed on a mission, an opening occurs and each of the remaining members gets to nominate one candidate. Harry Hart, aka Galahad, nominates a troubled young man who is the son of one of his compatriots who was killed years earlier and in the process saved Harry's life. Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) has been raised by his widowed mother (Samantha Womack) who is now living with a bullying jerk.

Once Eggsy agrees to be considered, he and the other candidates are put through a rigorous training regimen where ultimately only one will be chosen. While all of this is going on, the evil master villain named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, working a lisp) is set to fix the planet of its climate change problem by reducing the Earth's population on his own terms. Using cell phone SIM cards, he will be able to control human emotions. See, I told you it was just like a Bond flick.

Given the "R" rating, this would have been a great opportunity to see what a more violent, profane and explicitly sexual a Bond film might look like. Unfortunately, the film is a bit of a letdown on that last opportunity, showing just a flash of bare butt, albeit with an element of naughty language. As far as the violence and the profanity, we're not disappointed, unless that isn't what you came for. The best scene is when Harry infiltrates a Tennessee church containing extreme elements of fundamentalism. The leader preaches hate that would give the KKK pause. As a trial, Valentine is going to try out his new gizmo on this sample. The result is a bloodbath that is only missing Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit.

The film falls a bit short of excellence only when it shifts into traditional chase mode as hordes of bad guys in white uniforms chase our hero inside Valentine's secret lair. Everyone's a bad shot except Eggsy. Aside from some quibbles, this is a fun, witty "R"-rated romp and provides some great entertainment.


The Wall
The Wall
DVD ~ Martina Gedeck
Price: $19.30
18 used & new from $13.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 1/2 stars for a beautiful story of survival, both physical and emotional, February 12, 2015
This review is from: The Wall (DVD)
I was alerted to this movie by someone who had commented on my Amazon review of "Night Train to Lisbon" (2013) which featured Martina Gedeck (Best Foreign Film Oscar winner, "The Lives of Others"). Here, she is the only human actor of any consequence. I debated whether to watch it. After all, it tanked in U. S. markets when it was originally released. But the story seemed compelling.

Gedeck plays a woman who with 2 travelling companions, drives deep into the Austrian mountain side for a short respite from their normal life. We don't get any information about any of this. As soon as they arrive at the cottage, the companions hike back into the village to get supplies. The woman (Gedeck) stays behind along with the couple's dog, Lynx. The location of the cottage has only one way in and one way out, so when the couple doesn't return, The Woman (no name) and Lynx walk a ways to see if they had trouble. They literally run into an invisible wall that cannot be penetrated. There is no explanation.

The woman returning to the cottage finds another couple, seemingly frozen but again, behind the invisible barrier. The film is told in flashback by the woman who has obviously been there a while and is making hand written entries into a journal, which she calls a "report." The narration feels very much like the novel is being read, but with motion pictures replacing a broader written explanation. This is certain to drive some viewers crazy. But I thought it was innovative and well written.

As time and the seasons come and go, the woman becomes very close to Lynx and he to her. The woman and the dog discover a cow roaming the meadow and take her in. Later she delivers the pregnant cow's bull. A couple cats find their way to the cottage. The woman has no particular survival skills and by the look of her, isn't involved in a profession that requires manual labor. And then there are the eloquent words she puts in the report which indicates she is well educated. But she has some food, tools, rifles and wood.

Directed and written by Julian Polsler, adapted from Marlen Haushofer's novel, the film shows the impact of isolation and the will to survive. The companionship between the woman and Lynx will warm dog lover's hearts. The film also shows some beautiful scenery as the seasons change from pleasant summers, to colorful falls, to cold but picturesque winters and new beginnings in the spring. Bernd Jungmair's classical score seems the perfect accompaniment to the film. The movie isn't for everyone and never provides enough clues to figure out what has happened. After a while, I just forgot about the wall and went along for the mesmerizing ride. I loved it.


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