Monthly Archives: December 2015

Pelican Dreams

pelicansDirected by Sundance and Emmy award-winning director Judy Irving, Pelican Dreams tracks a willful California brown pelican. The story begins when she is arrested on the Golden Gate Bridge. And, the story continues with her care at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and after the movie explores pelicans nesting grounds. The documentary shows a rich Pacific coast migration with unbelievable survival challenges. The movie is a visual story about wilderness, and how we are encroaching on the wild.  Perhaps we should be concerned about how we are caring too much for the wild. We should just let wilderness take its course whether tragic or not.

The poignant movie stars Gigi, the pelican named after the Golden Gate Bridge, and Morro, a urbanized pelican with an injured wing, and the wildlife professionals who care for these birds.

The movie is for those who love pelicans and birds alike.  For those who live near the coast, and see the birds almost every day, consider it a wonderful introduction and education of the wildlife around you.

Pelican Dreams is not a typical big budget documentary, but the story still shines through with Irving also wearing the hat as cinematographer with some amazing footage of pelicans in their breeding areas. Majority of the movie covers rescue and release facilities that rehabilitate sick and injured birds. The documentary shows the dedication these people carry out to save the pelicans.

Edited also by Irving the movie may seem a bit slow if you are not interested in pelicans. They are such wondrous creatures that the movie is worth watching. I highly recommended the movie for anyone who loves these amazing animals, and my hat goes off to Irving for all her hard work on this brilliant story of the wilderness.

Mississippi Grind

missippgrindDirected and written by both Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, Mississippi Grind follows two gamblers trying to hit is big. The movie opens with Gerry, played by Ben Mendelsohn, as he walks into a locally owned casino in Dubuque, Iowa. He is a regular because everyone knows him. Yet, a new face is at his standard poker table. He is a younger gambler named Curtis, played by Ryan Reynolds. Gerry is thoroughly down on his luck and professes he is in real estate. Curtis reeks of charisma and self-confidence. Both gamblers hit it off and at the spur of the moment decide to enter the “big game” in New Orleans.  The $25 thousand buy-in is worth the drive from Iowa. The movie plays out nicely as a road movie and character-driven independent film.

The movie deals with gambling as a subject of concern, and arrives at the point of addiction to gambling. Each gambler relies on superstition to pull off a win. Gerry is a likeable guy, who has a long list of failures. On the road trip he visits his ex-wife. The gut-wrenching sadness Mendelsohn portrays when he realizes she is remarried, and she didn’t even tell him is worth the watch. Curtis is a polarity of Gerry. He literally stinks of confidence. Gerry tells Curtis he is his lucky charm, and seeing them play off each other are good moments in the movie. The soundtrack by Scott Bomar is outstanding and features many of old blues artists and songs.

The movie is not your typical uplifting story, but it is not all that sad either. Clearly, the end is farfetched and the characters’ principles are non-existent. The movie should have ended a bit sooner, but continued with a happy ending, which isn’t bad. In real life, gambling is an unsuccessful venture. As a whole, people who gamble loose more than just money. They lose their dignity. Yet, I do like a Hollywood ending.

‘Tis the Season for Love

Tis The Season For Love DVD-fHallmark movies usually have a holiday theme in mind when they tell a story. ‘Tis the Season for Love definitely warms up to the countdown to Christmas.

Directed by Terry Ingram, we meet a New York actress named Beth, played by Sarah Lancaster. She is vying to land a role in a David Mamet play. After the audition and not hearing anything final, she receives a perfect gift from a close friend. An airline ticket back to her small hometown she left ten years ago.

Feeling like she needs a good rest, she arrives and soon finds her mother planning all of the Christmas things that the two need to do together.  She rather not do so much stuff, but compromises and visits the town’s Santa Claus, played by Gary Chalk. This simple visit may seem unimportant, but he does have a secret that leaves Beth wondering what the mystery is.

Along comes and old friend, Dean, played by Brendan Penny. He had a crush on her in High School, but didn’t act on it because she was dating Barry, played by Andrew Francis. Dean never felt the two belonged together since they had different interests. Dean is now divorced from Melinda and has twins while working as a fireman. Beth now finds him even more appealing. He boosts her self-confidence from her lack of nabbing acting roles she desires. The town’s Santa Claus is up to something inexplicable and situations get a little out of kilter.

Beth gets involved with a local theater production and really enjoys herself. The seed has been planted, and she is pondering whether or not she should stay in her small hometown for good. Confusion is the end result of her indecision, and what will happen to her future.

You can’t go wrong with a Hallmark movie because they have a formula they follow for each production. Like ‘Tis the Season for Love, each movie is simple but direct, and a love story is sure to flourish.

The Vatican Tapes

the vatican tapesMovies about exorcism are quite common in the horror genre since the 1973 novel by William Peter Blatty The Exorcist came to life on the silver screen. The Vatican Tapes is another horror movie added to the list and is available on both Blu-Ray and DVD. .

Directed by Mark Neveldine, the story begins when we meet Angela Holmes, played by Olivia Taylor Dudley, a young woman soon to be married. Her father Roger, played by Dougray Scott, is in the military and on leave. He arrives on Angela’s birthday, which is a pleasant surprise. During the birthday party, she is injured, ends up in the hospital, and she starts to act strange. Father Lozano, played by the wonderful Michael Pena, happens to be present to witness some of Angela’s behavior. Father Lozano curiosity or spiritual perception compels him to see more of her, and after some time he is certain she is possessed by the devil. Security footage of one of Angela’s strange fits is brought into the Vatican. After viewing the footage, a sound decision is made that only an exorcism can save the young woman.

The set up for the third act where Angela receives the exorcism is rather slow. The build up and suspense never really hits a high note of intensity. When the pivotal point finally arrives, the story begins to move in the right direction. The exorcism happens in a believable and suspenseful way. Sure enough, belongings and possessions make eerie noises with furniture and such bouncing all over the place. Angela performs back bends in unnatural ways of a possessed human, which is similar to other movies of the same genre.  A clever twist at the end is important to know in case you decide not to finish the movie or lose interest and miss the point. The twist is worth watching at the end of the movie.

Neveldine delivered a quality production were the acting shined. The scary scenes were okay, but nothing new for a movie about exorcism. The storyline may be done to death, but if you like the theme, you will probably enjoy the movie.

 

Get Santa

GetSantaI knew I was in for a treat when I saw Ridley Scott as executive producer in the opening credits of Get Santa.  Jim Broadbent plays Santa who ends up in jail because he tried to release his reindeer from the animal shelter. How they got into the animal shelter is about as sane as the movie gets.

The movie is a bit crazy and fun to watch compared to most traditional Christmas movies that are about the meaning of Christmas. Some are set around Christmas but really have nothing to do with the holiday. On the odd occasion, Hollywood releases a movie about the spirit of Christmas like Miracle on 34th Street,  A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life. Get Santa touches on the spirit of Christmas, but presents the story in a refreshing, hilarious and playful way.

Written and directed by Christopher Smith, Get Santa is strictly a British movie. The tale is filled with dry humor where Santa requests the help of a young father named Steve, played by Rafe Spall, and his son named Tom, played truthfully by Kit Connor. Santa needs them to go to the North Pole, ask the Elves to help them get the reindeer back to his sleigh. Then, Steve, who just finished serving time in jail, can help Santa break out of jail and deliver the presents to all the boys and girls around the world before Christmas.

The movie is full of crazy offbeat characters that keep the story moving along.  I had a great time watching it with my family. Broadbent is a master at his craft. He plays the most believable Santa I have seen in a long time.  Not the usual Christmas sentiment but still the message is clear, believe in Santa, so get a copy or watch it on Netflix.

American Ultra

americanultraDirected by Nima Nourizadeh, American Ultra follows Mike Howell, played by Jesse Eisenberg. He is clerk at an all-night convenience store in rural West Virginia. He is laid back because he smokes his pot and spends a great deal of time writing a graphic novel about a superhero monkey. Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart, is his anchor. She is sweet and loving as his girlfriend while she accepts his unconventional outlook on life. It’s all too perfect for Mike. Something is amiss, not quite right.

Mike is part of a failed experiment to form a force of super-soldiers.   Victoria, played by Connie Britton, ran the experimental program and decided to shut it down after critical psychological side effects were exhibited by the super-soldiers. She let Mike live and gave him a new identity after erasing his mind, then adding new memories.

Victoria discovers that Mike is set for extermination by an associate, Adrian Yates, played by Topher Grace. Victoria turns up where Mike works, says a phrase code and reawakens his previous training. Mike catches Yates team trying to bomb his car. Mike becomes super-soldier once again. The movie takes off in an R rated fashion with action-packed combat and brutal over-kills.

The movie shows tenderness and some humor. It is not super funny, but laughing is part of watching the movie. A neat and surprising twist at the end wraps up the movie nicely. The movie is not your typical action story, but it is pleasurable to watch and is entertaining. If you are a Stewart or Eisenberg fan, then you will definitely like the movie.

Zero Tolerance

zerotoleranceDirected by Wych Kaosm, Zero Tolerance seems like an action feature billed as a thriller. An ex-CIA operative, played by Dustin Nguyen discovers his estranged daughter murdered in Bangkok.  He hooks up with his former partner, played by Sahajak Boonthanakit, and together they delve into the city’s criminal world. They discover his daughter’s devious past and uncover her killer.

With names like Kane Kosugi, Dustin Nguyen, Gary Daniels and Scott Adkins, you easily suspect many hand-to-hand action scenes. Not so with Zero Tolerance because the movie graces only two full-length brawls. One brawl is a real karate fight, which is cool to watch as Nguyen and Adkins try to take each other down. If you go crazy over martial arts and hand-to-hand combat in movies, then you might be disappointed in the fight scenes.

The characters are strong in the movie with a weak storyline. Some plot points are left unclear and the pace is slow at times. Dustin and the other actors do a great job in playing the good guys against bad guys while dealing with amoral personalities.  One aspect about the movie I did not like is the repugnant strain of chauvinism. It is not just in one scene but throughout the movie, and even the good guys were abusing the women. I was taken aback by the abuse because this is supposed to be an anti-trafficking movie.

I found out after viewing the movie that the scenes with Adkins and Kosugi were shot a couple of years after the unreleased movie was canned.  I didn’t even notice, but still it doesn’t save the movie. It is decent enough if you are a diehard martial arts fan. You can rent it or catch it on cable.

Ascension

ascensionOriginally introduced as a miniseries for the SyFy Channel, Ascension is now available on DVD.  The movie is set against stimulating and enormous elements on which the story plays more with the human approach to drama.

The story is looks great for a miniseries, offering a spacecraft built in the 60s. The attention to detail is extraordinary, and draws the viewers into the experience.  The direction allows the actors to do stellar work with such notable talent as Tricia Helfer, Gil Bellows, Brian Van Holt, Andrea Roth, Brandon P. Bell, and Brad Carter. They all work together and keep the plot moving forward with memorable performances.

The CGI is well done with a few amateurish looks to scenes when viewing the exterior shots of the spacecraft.  Keeping in mind that the SyFy Channel produced the movie, the special effects comparably are not that bad.

The storyline is what wins the movie for me. In 1963, in the gripes of the cold war, we guard against our future survival by launching a huge interstellar ship call the U.S.S. Ascension. With 600 or more people aboard to guarantee our survival, the ship is little over 50 years out on a 100 year mission. Threatening the crew is an unprecedented domestic murder.

The movie is promoted as “Mad Men in Space” and I agree it is the best way to describe it. The twists and turns in the story is a little too much like a soap opera, but it keeps you on your toes with the plot moving along nicely.

All in all, I was surprised how good Ascension actually is for a low grade cable show. I really recommend it.  There is a lot of entertainment value for sure.

The End of the Tour

The End of the TourDirected by James Ponsoldt, The End of the Tour brings to life the true story in 1996 when Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and writer David Foster Wallace, played brilliantly by Jason Segel, hang out together for five days.

Some might call it an intellectual movie, a road movie or dramedy.  The movie begins in 2008, when we are informed that Wallace has committed suicide. Lipsky is invited to present a tribute on NPR.  Here he slowly flashes back to 1996, when Wallace’s book Infinite Jest is released with worldwide praise, including a citation from well-read magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. Lipsky thinks it would be a great idea to interview Wallace and pitches it to his editor. He agrees that it is about time Rolling Stone did a piece on a gifted writer and off Lipsky goes to Ohio for his interview.  How the story plays out is what the movie is all about, and I rather not spoil it for you. Though, there are some interesting points about the movie I’d like to point out.

The movie is based on Lipsky’s memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.  Published in 2010, the book was well-received by his peers.   Wallace and Lipsky hit it off right away, and engage in philosophical conversations about loneliness, love, writing, fame, and the meaning of life. In other words, they spend time looking for the answers to life that plaques them.  Clearly, the movie is not for everyone. It lacks action-packed drama that populates our movie theaters today.

Jason Segel is very good as Wallace, and this role is quite a contrast to his other characters in movies like The Muppets and The Five Year Engagement. Watching him in this movie is pure pleasure because there is so much depth to Wallace as a sovelist, short story writer, essayist, and college professor.

The sound track by Danny Elfman is brilliant and engages the story.  Elfman adds a bit of spice to the movie with songs from REM and Tindersticks, an English indie rock band.

If you don’t know about Lipsky and Wallace, then it might be difficult to understand and follow the movie.  It is worth watching, though, for the acting is great, including the supporting actors.

Flowers in the Attic Movie Series

flowerattic4movDoppleganger family is known in the bestselling book series with a large fan base and devoted followers. Now, all four movies are out as one package in a DVD set.  The Lifetime network produced these four movies, and they are Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, and Yesterday of Seeds. Covering all four movies can be cumbersome, but let’s take a look at Petals on the Wind. The movie is the second adaptation of a series based upon the V.C. Andrews books about the Doppleganger family.  The movie is somewhat better than Flowers in the Attic, which is the first book and movie in the series.

Like all the movies in the disc set, it is hard to cram the whole book into two hours. Unfortunately, it shows in the movies. The Petals on the Wind includes the most vital parts of the story, and if you read the books, you will not suffer as much.

If you happen to only watch the movies, keep in mind that the series is based on incest between the two main characters. The incest plays a major plot point in the whole series.

Petals on the Wind starts ten years after the children (Cathy, Chris, and Carrie) leave the attic, which happens in the first movie. They run away from a horrifying situation. Cathy, the dancer is sharp, persuasive and strong-willed to get the justice that is awaited. Chris, the doctor is quiet, good-looking and devoted to Cathy. Carrie is sweet, weak and disorientated.

The three characters discover a healthier life. Yet, the undercurrents of what happened to them in the attic will never be forgotten.  They fight illicit feelings of guilt, hidden anger and endless pain. Trying to ease their discomfort, Cathy assures she will put an end to their mother because she ruined them. She pretty much threw them away.

It is important that you watch these movies in sequence because so much happens in these four movies. It will be hard to understand the undercurrents of the prior movies. I am sure ardent book fans will love the series even though it was made for Lifetime not movie theaters.