Past Movie Review: Contact

The movie Contact was inspired many years ago by the book Contact which was written by the late Carl Sagan. The premise of the book and the entire movie that came out in 1997 was that if there is no other life in the Universe than this would be a “great waste of space”. Clearly there is no arguing that logic, but the real issue is, if there is life, isn’t it equally as likely that it is so many millions of light years away, that it would be impossible for any alien lifeforce to travel that far or even find us, given that the Universe is so vast and traveling at the speed of light or greater than the speed of light is not possible.

Jodie Foster is the star of Contact in arguably one of her best roles. I thought that the science behind this movie was great to see, with the huge array telescopes that monitor all signals coming from space, and a series of complex computer software programs that are able to figure out where the signal is coming from and capture it so it can be analyzed. There are scenes in this movie after a message has been received that include some of the best science I have ever seen any science fiction movie and what follows is even better, where the message is figured out and a massive machine for interstellar travel is built from a message that is embedded in a television signal from the 1936 Olympics, which was held in Berlin Germany. The spacecraft and concept behind it that was built from the alien message was fantastic and one of the best ideas I have ever seen for space travel.

I also liked and strongly related to the real-life work backstabbing and credit taking that happens in this film, where Jodie Foster’s boss, played by Tom Skerrit, who was dead set against Foster’s career of listening for life in outer space only to later take full credit for the discovery and steps on all of Foster’s responses at every meeting with Government officials who rush to undermine her project. Matthew McConaughey plays of all things a member of the clergy and provides the religious perspective on aliens visiting from outer space, and James Woods does a great job playing the evil Government representative, who does everything he can to sabotage this amazing contact with aliens.

Where this movie fails, although not completely is at the very end where I thought that Foster’s encounter with some sort of alien presence was not a satisfactory or logical conclusion to what was a great story with great special effects up to that point. The shame of the ending scene is that it really doesn’t make any sense, given the great science before this scene, which is why the ending does not work. The only upside of the ending is that it does make you think about what could be out there and then makes you think about what was the real point of this whole story in the first place.

Despite this unsatisfactory ending, I have always thought that Contact is one of the best science fiction films ever produced and should be seen by everyone, whether or not you believe in extraterrestrial life. This movie is also expertly directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Past Movie Review: All The Presidents Men

It could be a considered either a fluke or a coincidence but the fact is that 40 years ago, in 1976, 3 of the most important films in movie history were released. The first 2 Rocky and Network are both also reviewed in this blog, the third is “All the Presidents Men”, which was about the break-in at the National Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, that created the greatest political scandal in this countries history, known as Watergate.

In my opinion the story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both young reporters at the Washington Post, and what they went through to get the most important political story of all time, is far more interesting than the Watergate scandal or Richard Nixon’s paranoia that lead him to make a huge mistake that ruined his presidency and ultimately his entire life. Woodward and Bernstein made literally thousands of phone calls, they were lied to hundreds of times by hundreds of people, they desperately tried to get information through interviews and tracking down hundreds of leads, most of which lead nowhere, but they never gave up, and because of their dogged determination were ultimately successful in uncovering a series of criminal acts by not only many people who worked for President Nixon but ultimately the President himself.

I found the acting in All the Presidents Men outstanding, about as good as it can ever get in any movie. Jason Robards won a best supporting actor for playing Ben Bradlee, who was the executive editor of the Washington Post but for some odd reason, neither Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman were not nominated for best actors even though in my opinion this movie represents one of the best movies either of them were ever in. I for one have long given up on the logic of the Academy Award nomination process. At least the movie was nominated for best picture which ultimately went to Rocky.

I found this entire movie fascinating not only with the great acting but with showing the process of uncovering an extremely difficult story that changed the history of this country. It is also interesting to see the technology from 40 long years ago and the use of typewriters and copy paper, which had to make the lives of any reporter so much more difficult than it is today with the use of computers and software. All the Presidents men represents for me one of the best reasons to go to the movies, to learn something about history that you didn’t know before. This movie was directed by Alan J. Pakula who was also not nominated for best director. The actress Jane Alexander was nominated for best supporting actress for her small part in the movie.

All the Presidents Men is a classic and hugely important film that should not be missed.

Past Movie Review: The Matrix

In this history of movies about science fiction, I would have to say that the Matrix series of 3 movies had the best scientific idea I have ever seen. The first Matrix movie came out in 1999 and was written and directed by Laurence and Andrew Wachowski, known at that time as the Wachowski brothers and who are now amazingly both transgender women, now known as Lilly and Lana Wachowski and this has to be one of the few times in the world that two brothers have both decided to become women later in life. The last two Matrix movies, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions came out 4 years later in 2003.

The idea of the Matrix series about machines and computers taking over the world and dominating humanity is not a new one. What was the great new idea was how machines dominated humanity in the Matrix, by creating a fake world generated by computers and injected into the sleeping brains of humans who were farmed in huge warehouses where they are used as batteries to power the real machine world. The Matrix was this computer generated World, and in order to break out of it, you had to be given a special pill that breaks you out of the fake Matrix world and into the real machine world which was a dark depressing planet ruined by nuclear war.

The other original and great idea about the Matrix fake world are the abilities that human beings can have when they are in charge of injecting themselves into it by using their own computers there they can have incredible Karate skills that are a central part of many of the action scenes in all the Matrix movies. In the second movie Matrix Reloaded, there is a highway scene in the Matrix that is arguably one of the best action scenes using cars and motorcycles ever filmed in movie history. The producers actually built a highway to shoot this incredible scene that involved huge crashes with cars and tractor trailer trucks that are extremely impressive to see. Keanu Reeves is the star of all 3 of the Matrix films and these movies were the highlight of his career, both in terms of acting and financially as the Matrix trilogy has made Reeves very rich.

If you have not seen any of the Matrix movies, you owe it to yourself to see one or all of them, as they are some of the best science movies ever made.

Movie Review: The Rules Don’t Apply

The last movie Warren Beatty has been in was Town and Country that came out in 2001 and was considered mostly a pretty average movie. The last movie that Warren Beatty wrote, starred in and directed was Bullworth and that movie came out in 1998 and was mostly considered a good movie. The new Warren Beatty movie “The Rules Don’t Apply” was both written, starred in and directed by Warren Beatty and one has to wonder if this is the last movie he will ever make, given the long period of time between movies he has been involved in. While watching this film, I was wondering how long he took Beatty to write the screenplay for this movie? Could it have been most of the entire 15 years or perhaps in erratic spurts where he wrote and re-wrote the same script 50 or 100 times over the years, always looking for that perfect story or perfect ending? Unfortunately, from what I saw, it looked like this movie was written and re-written way too many times and the end result was a boring, disjointed, and mostly bad movie, with numerous Hollywood current and former stars, all probably friends of Beatty with the one bright spot being Lilly Collins who should have a very long career as a major actress in Hollywood.

This movie is mostly about two things. The strange and very depressing life of Howard Hughes whose very wealth and family fortune could have been his ultimate undoing and Hughes involvement with Hollywood, moviemaking and young women whom he promised Hollywood stardom only to later rudely ignore them, probably more because of his OCD problems and insanity than any other reason. These two story lines are not really related to each other especially considering that most of the non-Hollywood part of this movie had to do with Howard Hughes involvement with the Aviation Industry. This entire two-hour film flipped back and forth from the possible stardom of Marla Mabry played by Lilly Collins and Howard Hughes to his assistants and his problems with bank loans and the Aviation field. Mostly due to this constant story flipping and boring story I was looking at my watch, wondering when this pretty bad movie was finally going to end. It doesn’t take a great deal of thought to wonder why this movie was made, but clearly in this case, it is because of Hollywood clout and the producer’s belief in the “built in” fans of Warren Beatty would come out to see this movie regardless of the story or the quality. I was surprised how mostly bad and boring this movie was, considering all the people involved, but I guess what this proves in that 15 years of writing and re-writing one movie is probably more of a guarantee of a bad movie than a good one. The good things about this movie are Lilly Collins, who is the daughter of singer Phil Collins and has great future potential and great Hollywood looks and a few minor moments of humor. The bad things are many, starting with and most importantly how very boring this too long two-hour movie was.

The movie The Rules Don’t Apply is just not worth seeing and I do not recommend it.

Movie Review: Allied

Probably in many massive warehouses around the world, there are the stored vehicles, airplanes, clothing and millions of artifacts from the years 1939-1945, arguably the most significant 6 years in human history. You have to admire that when you see a vintage World War 2 film like Allied, the producers and directors of a movie like this are able to gather together all of these old cars and war planes and somehow get them all to run and look like they did 70 years ago. There are many scenes in Allied that show many cars and planes from this era as this movie takes place in occupied France in the 1940’s and then England. Perhaps one day it will no longer be possible to make a World War 2 movie because the old machinery will just be too old to get to run again and perhaps building cars from that era would be too costly, but that is where computer animation comes in. I also thought about how many thousands of movies around the world have been made about the most important 6 year period in human history and that has to be a very large number.

As far as the movie Allied I thought it captured the period during the early 1940s in France and England very well, and the special effects showing air raids and plane crashes were quite impressive. The story of this movie is about 2 spies for England who are stationed in occupied France to spy on the Germans, what follows are many scenes of espionage, spying and paranoia and then a love story between the two spies played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. As one would expect, a love story and eventual marriage and child between two spies in World War 2 would cause massive complications and as far as that aspect of the story, I thought it was well done. There are several love scenes between Cotillard and Pitt that are rumored to be one of the reasons for Brad Pitt’s recent divorce from Angelina Jole and from these scenes it is believable that this could be one of the causes. This movie is very well directed by Robert Zemeckis.

This is not a great movie about World War 2, just a good one and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Bad Santa 2

One thing that separates people who aspire to be funny either as a writer or a stand-up comedian is that some people are fascinated by why something is funny but most people just don’t really care, they just laugh never appreciating or knowing why they laughed. Why is something funny and something not funny? Is this something that can be figured out, or is too complicated to figure out?

Over the years there have been many raunchy foul-languaged laden movies that have come out and most are just not funny because of the simple fact that constant cursing and being raunchy by itself is not funny. There has to be something more. So why is Bad Santa and the sequel Bad Santa 2 so very funny? Is it the fact that Billy Bob Thorton is just a great comedic actor or does he deliver the sounds and personality of a broken down drunken loser of a person capable of non-stop and believable cursing and raunchy sexual behavior better and funnier than anybody ever has? Is it the writing and the comedic timing and the perfect comedy chemistry of Billy Bob Thorton who plays Willie Soke, and Tony Cox who plays Marcus Skidmore? Willie and Marcus are partners in crime in this movie, almost exactly as they were in Bad Santa, released a long 13 years ago in 2003. Both of them are criminals who pose as Santa Clause in order to commit some sort of robbery at the company they work for. In this movie, Willie’s mother played very well by Kathy Bates gets involved with Willie and Marcus latest scheme to rob of all things a charity in Chicago. Kathy Bates portrayal of Willie’s horrible mother, leaves no no doubt as to why Willy turned out so badly in his life.

From the beginning of this movie, the dark and horrific squalor of Willie’s life as a drunken and miserable person who has no money, somehow translates, only because of the skill of Billy Bob Thorton, as a comedic scenario that at its lowest level of darkness, actually becomes funny in a very unusual way that has never been approached by any other comedy movie that I have seen. In my opinion, the most important ingredient as to why these Bad Santa movies are so funny is because of the use of extreme contrast. For me, the main reason why this movie works is because of the polar differences between the disgusting and miserable demeanor of just about everybody else in the film and Thurman Mermon, played by Brett Kelly. In both films, Thurman is an innocent, naive, and depressingly stupid kid who follows Willy around like he is the greatest person and friend in the world, only to be rudely pushed away and cursed at time after time. There is something about the tirade of foul mouth cursing that Willie does around Thurman that is so funny because of this extreme contrast between the two characters. The pathetic differences between Thurman and Willie is the main ingredient that has had me laughing as hard as I ever have in any comedy movie I have ever seen. Not only is the cursing effective, but the tirades are so long and at times so insane, you just can’t help but laugh. Not a normal laugh, but a low-level diaphragm-like laugh that is so rare in life and definitely the great majority of comedy movies.

Bad Santa and Bad Santa 2 are not movies for everyone, and perhaps not even an acquired taste. There is a ton of foul language, some disgusting acts and raunchy sexual scenes, but in the end, both of these extremely well done and unusual comedy films reach a level of funny and unusual that is worth seeing.

I highly recommend Bad Santa 2.

Movie Review: Bleed for This

The movie “Bleed for This” is about the boxer Vinnie Pazienza who has probably the most amazing comeback story in the history of boxing and perhaps in all of sports history. After going through a difficult boxing career with highs and lows and then turning things around to win the lightweight boxing championship, Vinnie broke his neck in a head-on car crash. Despite everybody telling him he should get his spine fused so he could walk again and everybody telling him his boxing career was over, he defied all the odds and returned to boxing again, winning another championship at a much higher weight class against Roberto Duran. From the beginning of Pazienza’s boxing career, you had to wonder why he was even allowed to be a boxer because he just did not have a nose for the sport and his nose was broken in just about all of his fights. How any person can continue to fight considering the pain of a broken nose that is being hit over and over again during a fight and the obvious problems this would cause with breathing is an amazing feat in itself. Pazienza was a very tough fighter who paid a huge amount of dues to be a boxer and lived in his parents home during most of his boxing career. From his surroundings where he lived and trained in Rhode Island, it seems he did not make that nearly enough money during his career considering the dues he paid and his fame within the sport of boxing. Pazienza also had a severe gambling problem during his career, that caused him many financial problems along with so many other boxers who followed the same path.

The part of Pazienza is played very convincingly by Miles Teller who is a great up and coming actor whose breakout role was in Whiplash where he played an abused drummer in a high school band. Overall, I thought this movie was well made and the acting was good. You have to admire the athletic trek that Miles Teller had to go through to get into boxing shape for this movie, proving that acting is not always the imagined easy path of just memorizing your lines and hitting your marks. The actor Aaron Eckart does an effective job of playing Vinnie’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, who was the same trainer who trained Mike Tyson.

This movie is an above average and well-made boxing story and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

In life, we all know that there is a price to pay for everything. Everything we buy and everything that most of us sometimes take for granted. There has always been a huge price for being young. Most of the time you have no money of your own, you are at the mercy of your parents which can be both good and bad, you have to worry about fitting in at school and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life and for many of us, 17 or 18 is too young of an age to know what you want to do as an adult. In recent years bullying has become a huge problem in this country mostly because there are so many more ways to bully someone with the advancement of the internet, social media and smartphones. It seems teenagers are now even more cruel now than they have ever been which makes the entire difficult task of becoming and adult that much more challenging. Add to this the stress of tests, SAT’s, hormones, confusion, trying to figure out who you are and it is a wonder any of us were able to survive 4 years of high school. The unique phenomenon of bullying is all about some sick damaged kid trying to find some kind of temporary sadistic relief from their own misery with the thrill of making some other kid feel worse than they do. The problem of bullying is rampant and it seems there have been no real solutions offered in the last few years.

Since the 2008 crisis the plight of 20-year-olds has become much worse, with the incredible rise of college costs, the guaranteed money you will probably owe when you graduate from college and facing the impossibility in many cases of ever getting any decent job for a long period of time. The realization that owning your own home is going to be much more difficult than it was for your parents, if this ever happens for you and facing a life long possibility of having to rent an apartment where the rents increase every year, mostly due to the housing crisis in 2008. If that were not enough, the realization that social security will probably not be there for you when you need to be able to retire is another problem facing you in the future. These are not good times for young people in this country, unfortunately.

The movie “The Edge of Seventeen” is a very good story about the very difficult late adolescent years of a 17 year old girl Nadine, played extremely well by Hailee Steinfeld, who has proven herself to be not only a great dramatic actor with her Academy Award nomination in 2010 for True Grit and a very good singer, but now a highly skilled comedic actress in this movie. Ironically Hailee herself was bullied while in high school, which eventually lead her to be home schooled. There are a series of life events in this movie, some depressing but many funny, especially the conversations between Nadine and one of her teachers played very well by Woody Harelson. Woody and Hailee have a very strong chemistry together and the contrast between her manic nervous personality and his extremely calm laid back demeanor is one of the many highlights of this very well made film. The actress Kyra Sedgwick plays Nadine’s mother and Nadine’s best friend is played by Haley Lu Richardson and both were very good in their roles. This movie was both unusual in dealing with the very common problem of adolescence and growing up which is more difficult now than it has ever been.

I thought this movie was well acted with a very solid story line and was also very funny despite the sometimes very difficult story. This movie was also produced by James L. Brooks which is another sign of the great quality of this production. I highly recommend this film.

Movie Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

The movie “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is without a doubt the most unusual war related movie I have ever seen. Within the first 30 minutes it became pretty obvious that the entire purpose of this film and the reason why it was made was to prove that treating war hero’s like Football stars or like any other celebrity makes absolutely no sense, most especially when they are first returning home from some battle scarring incident and they are still recovering from the mental and physical damage. The question I asked myself within the first 30 minutes of this movie was, “is the obvious point this story is trying to make enough to justify and sustain a two-hour movie?” My conclusion for the most part when the film completed was, that no it was not. Much to my surprise I found a great deal of this film rather boring because most of the story involves a group of soldiers and the main character Billy Lynn, played by newcomer Joe Alwyn getting ready for and attending a halftime ceremony for them during a football game. Another backstory involving a film producer, played by Steve Martin had to do with putting these soldiers in some kind of a movie portraying what they went through in IRAQ and for the most part I thought that this part of the story was unnecessary and could have been something that was added on to make the movie last a full two hours. The director Ang Lee directed this film and from the trailers I have seen and Lee’s involvement, I was expecting a classic war movie, but instead I was overall pretty disappointed.

The acting was good in this film, including Kristen Stewart who played Lynn’s sister and Vin Diesel who plays an army Sargent and squad leader in IRAQ were both very good in their roles, but unfortunately not enough to save this film. The comedy actor Chris Tucker also makes an appearance in this movie as a Hollywood agent trying to negotiate a movie deal for the soldiers. I thought that he seemed to be somewhat miscast in his role and the entire movie idea did not really work, given the subject matter. There are many flashbacks in this movie showing the main battle the soldiers and Billy Lynn were involved in and the movie did a good job showing some of the psychological damage war can do to anyone, including even the insane desire to return to battle after miraculously surviving certain death.

I give this film a very marginal recommendation, mainly because it was way too boring for too high a percentage of time and the point of the story was not compelling enough to warrant a two-hour movie.

Movie Review: Arrival

While watching the beginning of this excellent science fiction movie about the arrival of aliens entitled “Arrival”, I remember thinking after seeing the tragedy the main character in this movie Dr. Louise Banks goes through in the very beginning of this story, “How can anyone get through something like that and go on with their life afterward?” Then I thought that one way would be to be called to help the United States Military to communicate with Aliens that just arrived in the form of 12 egg-like pods around the world. At least the importance and the enormity of a task like this would be something that would at least distract her from her recent tragedy, so that just maybe she would be temporarily able to move on with her life. As it turns out this tragedy at the beginning of this film, is a thread that connects all the elements of this entire story and results in a surprise ending that might be considered as surprising and impressive as “The Sixth Sense”, that was released in 1999.

The part of Dr. Banks is played very well by Amy Adams is a world famous professor and linguist and should a miracle on the scale of aliens visiting us from some other world, millions or billions of light years away ever happen, who better to be called than an expert on Language and Communication and Mathematics. The Mathematics professor role is also played by very well Jeremy Renner. Over the years many movies about aliens visiting us from other planets have been made but this is the first one I can remember that had everything to do with the cerebral aspects of such an event, rather than the same old special effects and war confrontations almost every other movie like this has been made before. For the first time in my experience with movies like this, the science aspects of how the world would handle this kind of an amazing event was addressed. During an an alien visit like this one, we would have great difficulty communicating with the aliens, they would not look like us at all (in this case they looked like Octopus-like creatures), everything about the way they think would be different including how they would interact with all the laws of physics including most importantly, the aspect of time. In this movie it was suggested that these aliens do not think of time in a linear way, instead, their concept of time can exist at any point in time. Any alien method of writing and communicating would be vastly different that ours; in this case, the aliens write using smoke-like circular symbols that Dr. Banks works on translating during a majority of this film. I thought all of the science and mathematics behind trying to understand these very complex smoke circles was extremely well done in this movie and even believable, when the communication codes behind them were finally understood towards the end of the story.

As would happen in real life, the Unites States military is involved with the alien arrival and the head of the operation Colonel Weber is played very well by Forest Whitaker. During the movie, there are several conflicts between the scientists and the military as well as the decisions of other countries in dealing with the other alien spaceships that have landed in 11 other locations around the world. When the word “weapon” comes up during the conversations with the alien creatures, several countries starting with China overreact and this causes some major conflicts as the movie concludes. The conclusion of this movie is both surprising and outstanding and ties everything together perfectly and for me reminded me of the ending of the Sixth Sense.

The movie Arrival is a great production and gets my highest recommendation.