Movie Review: Café Society

I would assume that most big fans of Woody Allen long for the days when his movies were exceptionally funny as well as well told stories. Good examples of this would be Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hanna and her Sisters. These examples of great Allen movies seem to be very far in the past now, perhaps due to his age or his extremely difficult personal life which seems to always come up after a few years, most recently at the Canne’s Film Festival. I for one am amazed at Woody Allen’s ability now at age 81 to write and direct a movie at a rate that is at least once a year especially when you add the stress of what people have been saying about his personal life since 1992. For over 30 years Woody Allen has been the captain of his own ship and has been able to write direct and produce his own movies his own way with his own company, with the new production company for this movie Amazon Studios. This ability to do everything his way for so long is probably unprecedented​ in the history of movies and because of this several all time movie classics have been created.

This new movie Cafe Society, is really two completely different movies that are not connected at all. One is a love triangle involving the main character played by Jessie Eisenberg and the other is about the Mafia-like criminal acts​ of his brother who during the movie kills about 4 people and places them into the same cement sidewalk. ​I thought it was very unusual​ that Allen would have two disconnected main and sub-plots in one movie, which is something that I have rarely if ever seen in any film that I can remember and this idea really does not work very well in this story.

The other actors in the love triangle include Steve Carrel who plays an important Hollywood producer and Kristen Stewart who plays his secretary. At first, the relationship between Carrell and Stewart is going to result in his leaving his wife to marry her and then he changes his mind and after that breakup Stewart’s character gets involved with Eisenberg only to have Carell change his mind again, leaving​ Eisenberg the odd man out who then returns to New York city.

One of the best and telling parts of this movie is when Carell and Stewart, now married, return to the nightclub Eisenberg is running in New York City with an attitude of total callousness, not caring for a moment how Eisenberg might react when he sees them together. This seemed like real life to me as I have often been amazed at the callousness and indifference some people can have concerning the feelings of others. After the breakup with Stewart, Eisenberg’s character met and married another woman, played by Blake Lively and they quickly had a child together. It seemed a little far-fetched that Eisenberg’s character would be able to get involved with two very attractive women at this level, considering his very average looks, so this part of the movie seemed to be a bit far-fetched. As this story and love triangle progressed​ there would be more scenes that involved Eisenberg’s Mafia brother and more murders, even involving​ a rude next door neighbor that felt very out of the place and had nothing to do with the main plot of this movie. For most movies sub-plots always have some kind of a related connection to the main plot but not in this film which I found to be highly unusual.

Cafe Society is not a bad movie but not really a good one either. I would have rather seen this same film with much more humor involved, maybe even including Allen himself as one of the characters and in this movie and he was the main narrator​ at certain points of the story. There are not too​ many laughs during this movie and the story seemed to be nothing special so for these reasons I cannot recommend Cafe Society.

Movie Review: Bad Moms

The writers of the comedy “Bad Moms” have done something that is very rare in my experience. They have made a life reality, namely the high stress, very often depressing and overwhelming true life of so many women and men in the real world and then tried and succeeded in making this funny. Even more impressive is that the writers of this movie Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are male and the writers of the 3 Hangover movies. One of best lines of this movie is where the main character, played very well by Mila Kunis says, “being a Mom is impossible” and you realize immediately whether or not you have kids or are a mother or father that this is true. It really is impossible, when you consider having to work for a living and all the stress and problems that come with every job, then the time constraints of PTA meetings, soccer practice, driving the kids to and from school, to the doctor, the dentist to a recital and then the potential of divorce along the way. This very funny movie addresses all of these things and does it extremely well. This film also makes some raunchy language and scenes funny which is something I have rarely seen in any comedies lately and most of the great lines in these scenes are delivered by Kathryn Hahn, who has never been funnier in any film I have seen her in.

The villain in this movie is played extremely well by Christina Applegate and she adds a tremendous amount​ of stress as the school bully to every mom in the middle school where she is the head of the PTA. Her presence is most of the time very funny, but her personality is based in reality as we can all think of bad people like this in our lives that make your day by day existence almost unbearable​. One example her bullying include a bake sale where she excludes just about every ingredient off the list of allowable foods. This is an over the top moment and it is an exaggeration,​ but it puts another spotlight on yet another unnecessary stress that is placed on overburdened moms every day by other people judging them in their private lives and on their jobs. Kunis also has another common problem in her part time job, a very annoying boss who expects everything from her even though she is a part-time​ worker who works only 3 days a week.

The point of this movie is that at a certain point a person can “take no more of this” and several moms played by Kunis, Hahn and Kristen Bell start to rebel and declare themselves “Bad Moms” to the ire of Applegate and her two friends played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Ann Mumolo, who seem to delight in terrorising and annoying every mother in the school. One solution is for Kunis’s character to run against Applegate for the head of the PTA which sets up the conclusion of this movie. As is typical​ of Hollywood films but unfortunately not real life, everything turns out fine in the end which for me did not take away anything from this very good comedy movie which I highly recommend.

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Movie Review: Jason Bourne

The movie “Jason Bourne” is one of the very few movies I can remember seeing where I thought it was going to be great and it wasn’t. This movie is not really even that good and at best it’s a stretch to call this movie even average. The entire film is mostly about one thing. Following Jason Bourne from city to city, building to building, alley to alley to cars, planes and then another new city where the CIA is able to find out his whereabouts using their sophisticated computers, face recognition software and cameras which seem to be everywhere in the world.

The movie opens up during some kind of a riot in a foreign country and Bourne is practicing his fighting skills competing in organized street fights. He then reunites with another CIA agency Nicki Parsons, played once again by Julia Stiles. Then for reasons not really explained they are both chased by other CIA agents trying to kill them and the quality of the night action is murky​ which is hard to follow because of the strange camera angles, darkness​ and too fast movement​ of the chasing of these two people in and out of dark alleys and streets. One can only wonder whether the producers meant to have the film look so bad in this part of the movie on purpose or it was just a very poorly shot action scene. The movie from this point on is just the camera following Bourne, played again by Matt Damon as he walks very quickly​ into and out of dark buildings and streets. The highly sophisticated fight scenes which were so great in all of the previous 3 films with Damon are missing in this version and what remains are shorter and more brutal fights without the high-level​ Karate skill that we all saw in the previous movies.

Alicia Vikander plays a new CIA agent for the first time and is one of the few bright spots in this movie where the lead character had almost no lines and had almost no real understandable or relatable story. Vikander has been in many movies lately, having recently won a Best Supporting Actress win for the “Danish Girl”, which is also reviewed in this blog. She is an up an coming movie star who will have a long and great acting career ahead of her.

This film ends in the city of Las Vegas with a giant series of car crashes on a Las Vegas highway. Even this huge scene had its problems once again because of the darkness​ and the erratically​ moving camera. In the end, Bourne fans will gain some additional information about Bourne’s past including his father and the possibility that maybe he will go back to the CIA in the future, clearly pointing to another movie in this series.

This movie is not that good because of all the reasons I mentioned and for that reason I cannot recommend it.

Movie Review: Captain Fantastic

The movie Captain Fantastic asks the question of whether or not it’s possible to home-school and raise an entire family in the wilderness. At the end of this film, the answer to this question is both yes and no.  Like almost everything in life, no matter what you decide to do, there is an upside and very often an equal downside.  The children in this movie who range in age from 6 to about 18 are all extremely intelligent mainly because their parents brilliantly taught them just about everything. The older boy is so well educated he is able to get into just about all of the best Ivy League schools in the country, but the truth is that if all you know is just in books then you are missing something and you will have a very hard time fitting into the real world.

The idea to move into the woods with their family is because of the father played by Viggo Mortensen thought that he could help his wife with her bipolar mental disorder by getting her out of her law practice and into the wilderness. This seemed to work for a time but at the beginning of this film he finds out that she has committed suicide by slitting her wrists in the mental hospital she is in. Her husband and remaining six children are of course devastated but continue their Spartan life of constant education and exercise which even includes dangerous mountain climbing up the face of a mountain. This is one part of the wilderness life, along with learning how to fight with knives that could be considered child abuse.

When Mortensen’s wife dies he finds out from her father than he is not allowed to attend her funeral but like a true hippie and protester of everything that is considered normal and safe in the world, he decided to take his entire family to her funeral anyway, which causes great conflict between him and his wife’s mother and father. While at the funeral Mortensen’s tells the entire procession that his wife did not want to be buried, but instead she wanted to be cremated and flushed down a toilet! This revelation creates the ending part of the movie where the family intends to kidnap his dead wife’s body and grant her final wishes. After the funeral, his wife’s father played very well by Frank Langella tries to take the children from him, citing child abuse which is another conflict that creates the final act of this movie.

This film was filmed in the Pacific Northwest and some of the scenery that was shot is very impressive. The killing of a deer at the opening of this movie and some male frontal nudity from Mortensen are two rather disturbing scenes to sit through but overall, this movie is pretty average in terms of over the top scenes or dialogue. I do recommend this movie.


Past Movie Review: Mr. Hollands Opus

When Mr. Hollands Opus came out in 1995 I thought it was going to be a run of the mill average movie. It was also a very long time since Richard Dreyfuss had a big hit, the last time probably was the “Goodbye Girl” in 1977 where he won the Academy Award for best actor. Dreyfuss is another example of a very talented actor who was once at the top of the world and the lightning never struck again for him, proving what most of already know, that the acting profession is one of the most fickle and difficult ones to get in and stay in for the long term even after you achieve great success.

Mr. Hollands Opus is about a music teacher in an average high school whose real ambition is to be a great music composer. At the beginning of the movie Holland takes the teaching job temporarily, hoping that his real life and career as a music composer will begin someday as he never stopped trying to compose a great symphony through the entire movie. This movie does a great job of reminding us all of life’s reality of having to make a living and raising a family can very often takes away our dreams and largely because of this reality Mr. Holland stays at this high school for 30 years until budget cuts take away his beloved job that eventually proved to be his true calling in life.

After a period of time Holland slowly starts to accept his new job never fully forgetting about his real dream of being a great music composer. He gets married and has a son, who turns out to be deaf which is ironic side story and caused major conflict because Mr Holland’s entire life was about sound and music. As the years go by students come and go and so does the 60’s, the hippie culture and the Vietnam War. Later in the film, Mr. Holland runs into a great singer who he meets during a school music production played by Jean Louisa Kelly. This young woman has ambitions of her own to run off to be on Broadway and slowly a relationship and almost an affair between the two of them begin, which even threatens Holland’s marriage. The musical numbers performed and especially the singing of Kelly during the school musical are outstanding and some of the best moments of the entire movie. At the end of the film, due to budget cuts the entire music department of this high school is eliminated and a surprise ceremony is organized to honor Mr. Holland. As a member of a high school band myself I found this closing scene (see vide below) as one of the best acted and emotional scenes in any movie I have ever seen.

Other outstanding actors in this film included Olympia Dukakis and William H. Macy. Richard Dreyfuss received an Academy Award nomination for this movie and in my opinion, he should have won. Mr. Holland’s Opus is an outstanding and flawless movie and a 100% must see.

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Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond along with the 2 other movies with this cast has spectacular computer-generated special effects. The special effects in these movies are equal to if not more important than the story or the entire script. The latest Star Trek Beyond is no exception and the special effects are great, perhaps even better than in the other two movies. The end of this movie has a pretty idiotic idea for killing these flying space bee’s which involves of all things – playing rock music to confuse the swarm, which I thought was way over the top. I have no problems with great imagination and new ideas especially in science fiction movies but when an idea or ending to a movie defies all logic and is just done for some Hollywood reasons, then this can be annoying pretty quickly. Aside from this one small flaw at the end, I thought this movie was entertaining and very well done. One thing different about this movie is that the cast spends most of the time separated on a planet rather than in space, but I thought this took nothing away from the movie.

For this latest Star Trek, the entire cast is back including the very unfortunate young man, Anton Yelchin who died in a freak car accident some months ago in his own driveway. Most tragically he was only 27 years old and as an actor was so fortunate to be involved with this Star Trek movie franchise. He will be very sorely missed as an actor and as Chekov. The death of the original Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy is mentioned at the end of this movie and a picture of the original Star Trek cast is found in some of Spock’s belongings. The showing of the picture of the original Star Trek picture is a reference to the fact that the original Spock is a time traveler to the past and visits the young version of the cast as this Star Trek series is a prequel to the original Star Trek.

Star Trek Beyond is very well done and a must see for anyone who likes science fiction or action movies.


Past Movie Review: The Social Network

This movie was written expertly by Adam Sorkin, arguably one of greatest screenwriters of all time and in my opinion, he is the best ever when it comes to great dialogue. There is no better example of this than in the opening few minutes of the “Social Network”, which is the story loosely based on the life of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of what is now a corporate conglomerate with one of the largest market capitalizations in the world, Facebook. When the Social Network starts, Zuckerberg, who is expertly played by Jessie Eisenberg is in a bar having beer with his date played by Rooney Mara. Their very intense conversation starts friendly and then quickly​ changes into a constantly mutating ​argument​ that escalates into the woman breaking up with Zuckerberg at the end of the scene. Zuckerberg’s desire to impress the woman with his genius and fast-talking backfires and he comes off like an arrogant jerk instead of impressing her.

What is most amazing about this entire movie is that this intense greatly acted opening scene has one of the best acting performances with two people I have ever seen and it is suggested that this one argument is the entire reason why Zuckerberg starts Facebook. In Zuckerberg’s desire to get back at the woman who just rejected him he tries to insult her using the internet by starting a “facemash” website that compares the looks of women in different local colleges and from this idea, a social website devoted only to Harvard students is formed. The opening scene between Eisenberg and Mara supposedly took 100 takes to get just right and this once scene alone (see video below) which lasts maybe 10 minutes for me was worth the price of admission. I find it quite amazing that something as huge and important as a company like Facebook could have been started because​ of a breakup between two college students, even though one of them is a genius at the level of Zuckerberg.

Other parts of the movie suggest that Zuckerberg could have stolen the idea for Facebook but my opinion of this possibility is that he borrowed some ideas about social networking but did not blatantly steal the entire idea. Despite this, this movie does not paint a very complimentary​ picture of Zuckerberg.

The Social Network which came out in 2010 is a great movie and one of Sorkin’s best ever scripts. This movie is a must see.

Movie Review: The Infiltrator

“The Infiltrator” is the true story about an FBI undercover agent, Richard Mazur, who for many years risks not only his life but the life of his wife and 2 children to break into the world of drug trafficking as a money launderer. The end result of Mazur arresting so many bankers and drug pushers was successful but the risks he took were enormous, especially considering the murder and torture people like this are able inflict so easily and frequently to so many people. What surprised me the most about this story is why would the FBI or any other Federal agency would allow any person who was married and had a family take risks like this in the first place. It is also hard to understand why would anyone want to take risks like this considering the huge downside of your own torture and murder when you must realize that if you stop one or many of these dangerous criminals, more will just take their place soon after they are incarcerated or killed. Considering the overwhelming stress and fear undercover agents like this go through for so many years I find it amazing that anyone could even do this kind of job for any length of time.

This film took place in the 80’s when cocaine was flowing to this country mostly from Columbia at very high rate. When you consider all the efforts after 30 years to alleviate this problem it should be obvious by now that maybe just legalizing cocaine is the only solution because trying to stop the enormous flow of this drug from South America to the Unites States just has never worked for any meaningful length of time.

As far as this film, it was very well acted and the story was very well told. Bryan Cranston was excellent in the starring role as was John Leguizamo who also played an FBI undercover agent. There is some extreme violence in this film but not overly so and the level of tension is pretty high throughout the movie. Some parts of the story were not explained well and were at times hard to follow but overall I thought this was a very well told story.

I do recommend the Infiltrator.


Movie Review: Ghostbusters

The idea that someone had after 30 years to bring back the Ghostbusters franchise was a very good one. It was even a better idea this time, to have four women as the Ghostbusters. This idea should be a huge money maker especially if you include, like in the first movie, some very popular and talented Saturday Night Live cast members. What is not a good idea is to create an average story and script for a great concept of Ghost hunting or busting as it’s called in these movies. If the script is just average and not great like the first Ghostbusters was in 1984 then you run the risk of this movie not creating a new franchise to take advantage of the name recognition and the popularity of the first Ghostbusters movies. I suspect that there will be a Ghostbusters 2 movie like in 1989 but I doubt that there will be a 3rd Ghostbusters movie because this one was just not funny enough or entertaining enough. I do not agree with Richard Roper’s review of this film(see video below), giving it an overall rating of D-. For me, this movie was at best a C+ but like most people who will see this movie they will probably agree that they were expecting an A or at least a B.

Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig are two of the very best Saturday Night Live performers of all time so its a shame they were not used very well in this movie. Melissa McCarthy is probably the top comedic actresses making movies today but in this movie she was also misused. The last Saturday Night Live actor in this film is Leslie Jones who is funny in part of this movie, but once again not funny enough to make it that much better. It was nice to see almost the entire cast of the first Ghostbusters movie from 1984 in this movie in small cameo parts, which was a positive aspect of this movie, but this was not enough to make this anything but an average run of the mill type film.

I do recommend this movie for some of the scenes and special effects but I was expecting an A movie and it was only a C+.

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Past Movie Review: Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man which came out in 2005 is one of the greatest all-time boxing movies without any doubt. The boxing scenes, unlike movies like Rocky 3 and 4, were realistic and exactly like the fights were fought in history. This movie is about the boxer James Braddock whose career spanned incredible highs and lows all occurring the time of the Great Depression. The story stretches from his early career which was successful to the middle years where he could not even get a fight and had to work on the docks, constantly struggling for money and even having to ask his friends and trainer for handouts. Braddock had a wife and 3 kids and one can only imagine the struggles of raising a family during the Great Depression.

Braddock’s fight with Max Baer on June 13, 1935, is considered one of the greatest ever and in terms of upsets against a fighter who was not only knocking out but in 2 cases killing his opponents. Braddock’s fight with Baer is the equal to the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974 where like Ali, nobody thought Braddock had a chance and most were afraid he might be killed by Baer. Despite all the long odds, Braddock won in a decision and completed an amazing comeback to win the heavyweight championship.

Ron Howard directed this great movie and its one of his best ever. Russel Crowe was outstanding playing Braddock as was Renée Zellweger who played his wife. The actor who stole the entire movie was Braddock’s trainer, played by Paul Giamonte. Giamonte’s emotion and concern over Braddock and his enthusiasm for his comeback were the best parts of this move and he was nominated for best supporting actor for this role, arguably his best ever.

At the end of this movie, the audience I saw it with stood up and applauded, which is something very rare in my experience. Everything about this movie was great, the acting and the boxing scenes and the great story. Cinderella Man is a definite must see movie.