Brief encounters with the movies

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Martian


Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Drew Goddard (screenplay); Andy Weir (novel)
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity

Synopsis (from Rotten Tomatoes website):
During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "the Martian" home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney's safe return.
My Thoughts:

A team of astronauts on a mission to Mars, forced to evacuate the planet, have to leave Matt Damon behind. How disturbing! This was a really good sci-fi flick. One of those instances where the hype was well deserved. No bug-eyed monsters or slime bombs, and no comic book style villains -- how refreshing is that?

My Rating at the IMDb: 7 stars out of a possible 10

There's Always Tomorrow


Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld (screenplay), Ursula Parrott (story)
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Pat Crowley, William Reynolds, Gigi Perreau, Jane Darwell

Synopsis (from the Rotten Tomatoes website):
Fred MacMurray is a toy company executive whose wife (Joan Bennett) and kids (Gigi Perreau, William Reynolds and Judy Nugent) take him for granted [boo-hoo]. Barbara Stanwyck is Fred's former girlfriend, whose own business activities result in a surprise reunion. MacMurray falls back in love with Stanwyck and prepares to leave his family. MacMurray's children go to Stanwyck and politely ask her to back off. She does so, and MacMurray's wife Bennett, who's been out of town during all this, is none the wiser. 
My Thoughts:

Another post-war film championing the cause of getting women out of the workplace and back into their aprons. Well, who wouldn't jump at the chance to trade a successful career in fashion design for the life of a household drudge?

Mainly interesting because of the pairing of MacMurray and Stanwyck once again.

My IMDb Rating: 5 stars out of a possible 10


USA / Disney Movies

Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Brenton Thwaites, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Sam Riley

Synopsis (by Google):
As a beautiful young woman of pure heart, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has an idyllic life in a forest kingdom. When an invading army threatens the land, Maleficent rises up to become its fiercest protector. However, a terrible betrayal hardens her heart and twists her into a creature bent on revenge. She engages in an epic battle with the invading king's successor, then curses his newborn daughter, Aurora -- realizing only later that the child holds the key to peace in the kingdom.
My Thoughts:

Disney does it again. Such a gorgeous fantasy film! Interesting take on the Sleeping Beauty tale, with Maleficent more victim than villain. Surprised I enjoyed it so much, since I generally find Angelina Jolie hard to watch. Not that she's not great to look at (duh!) -- she just never seems very believable. But she makes an excellent mythic being!

Don't think too much about this one, just let the magic kingdom envelop you.

My IMDb Rating: 6 stars out of a possible 10

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Blood Runs Cold


Directed by: William Conrad
Written by: John Mantley (screenplay), John Meredyth Lucas (story)
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Troy Donahue, Joey Heatherton, Barry Sullivan, Jeanette Nolan

What it's all about:
Headstrong young heiress (Heatherton) falls in love with a strange young man who may be insane (Donahue). The young man, Ben Gunther, believes he and the young woman, Julie Merriday, are the reincarnations of lovers from an earlier time. Ben convinces Julie of his beliefs and over the objections of her father (Sullivan), she agrees they should run away together. On Ben's boat, Julie finds evidence that Ben has been lying to her and that he is definitely unbalanced. Will she be able to save herself from his madness and convince him to find help before it's too late?

My thoughts:
That title makes you think you're in for some real gore and mayhem -- with Vincent Price or Christopher Lee making an appearance somewhere.  Nothing like that here.  This one is much more in the Hitchcock mold, suspense but no terror.

I really thought I'd seen all the movies Troy Donahue made back in the late-50s, early-60s, but this one got past me until now. Interesting story, with a fine supporting cast. Troy even does a pretty good acting job here, and Joey is just as cute as she could be, sporting an array of very fetching swim suits and casual beach attire. Not something that's going to exercise your intellect, but fun to watch.  Would have been a great date movie in 1965.

A couple more notes:
  • Yes, the director is that William Conrad, of "Jake and the Fatman" fame.
  • John Meredyth Lucas was a writer/producer for many classic TV shows from the '50s to the '80s -- most notably, the original "Star Trek" series.

My IMDb rating: 3 stars out of a possible 10

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hyde Park on Hudson


Directed by: Roger Michell
Written by: Richard Nelson
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Wilson
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief sexuality

Synopsis (by Google):
In June 1939, the reigning British king (Samuel West) and queen (Olivia Colman) visit President (Bill Murray) and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) at their New York home. War with Germany looms on the horizon, and England desperately needs the president's support. An unforgettable weekend unfolds as FDR tries to juggle international affairs with the complexities of his domestic arrangement, as seen through the eyes of the president's intimate confidant (Laura Linney).
My Thoughts:

Not great, but it had Bill Murray and that's enough reason for me to watch. I thought Samuel West made a very good George VI; likewise Olivia Colman as the Queen Mum. In fact, the entire cast was excellent and the whole film was quite enjoyable.

My IMDb Rating: 6 stars out of a possible 10



Directed by: Paul Haggis
Written by: Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Tony Danza, William Fichtner, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Chris Bridges (aka Ludacris), Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Michael Peña
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content and some violence

Synopsis (by Google):
Writer-director Paul Haggis interweaves several connected stories about race, class, family and gender in Los Angeles in the aftermath of 9/11. Characters include a district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his casually prejudiced wife (Sandra Bullock), dating police detectives Graham (Don Cheadle) and Ria (Jennifer Esposito), a victimized Middle Eastern store owner and a wealthy African-American couple (Terrence Dashon Howard, Thandie Newton) humiliated by a racist traffic cop (Matt Dillon).
My Thoughts:

That synopsis doesn't really begin to cover the complicated ins and outs of this stark, unsettling work. Every character in the film is allowed to show both the good and the not-so-good sides of their personalities. OK, I get it -- nobody's perfect; but it got a little monotonous after a while. And there was more coincidence and foreshadowing than you'd find in a Hardy novel, with each character touching the lives of the other characters in some way -- they weave in and out of each others' existence. It was a good idea, but could have been served up with more subtlety, I thought.

Best part of the movie? Surprisingly (for me, at least) -- Chris Bridges as the wannabe carjacker Anthony. The energy level soared every time he was on screen. But many of the other actors delivered fine performances as well. Too bad they didn't have more to work with.

My IMDb Rating: 4 stars out of a possible 10



Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn
Music by: Hans Zimmer
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

Synopsis (by Google):
In Earth's future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind's new home. 
My Thoughts:

I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. I'm not generally a huge Matthew McConaughey fan; but I do like sci-fi, and the rest of the cast sounded promising, so I took a chance. Glad I did -- it was so entertaining I didn't even mind that it was nearly three hours long. Of course, the "science" of time travel (if it might actually exist) is always going to be a little hard to nail down; everybody has a theory, and this spin was as good as any. And I even liked the idea of combining time travel and ghostly events -- something I thought would be annoying turned out to be very intriguing.

A few other stray thoughts:
  • Loved the robots -- very original designs.
  • Lots of visual references to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I suppose that's to be expected, but when does "homage" become "rip-off"?
  • Much more entertaining than that other recent sci-fi biggie, Gravity
  • With her hair chopped off, doesn't Anne Hathaway remind you of the young Liza Minnelli? But not quite as irritating, thank goodness.

My IMDb Rating: 6 stars out of a possible 10