Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for March 1-7

March 1–March 7


RED RIVER (March 1, 10:15 pm): As I previously mentioned, I'm not a John Wayne fan, but this film - with Montgomery Clift in a brilliant turn as his adopted son - is outstanding. Wayne is great as a "bad guy" whose tyrannical ways cause a mutiny among those working for him on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in Wayne, who should get credit for not only agreeing to take on the role of the "heavy," but for doing it so well. Clift was one of Hollywood's brightest stars and was already an elite actor in this film, only his second movie.

LIMELIGHT (March 5, 12:00 am): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and greatest films, Limelight is tragic, touching, beautiful, captivating and funny. While Chaplin was the king of silent films, his "talkies" are my favorites. This 1952 film, Chaplin's final one made in the United States, has him playing Calvero, a washed-up clown looking to make a comeback. He meets Terry (Claire Bloom), a suicidal younger ballet dancer, and takes care of her while helping to revitalize her career. The two are wonderful together. The final scene is one for the ages with Calvero reuniting with his old partner (played by Buster Keaton) on stage making a comeback that runs the gambit of emotions. It's the only film to include Chaplin and Keaton, and one to not miss.


MONSIEUR VERDOUX (March 1, 8:00 pm): Charlie Chaplin undergoes a brilliant change of pace in this black comedy about a Parisian Bluebeard who marries and murders his wives for their money to support his family. When he’s caught and tried, he denounces a hypocritical society that see mass killing in a world war as acceptable, but punishes him for only killing a few people. The film is years ahead of its time and filled with wry humor. Watch for the scene between Chaplin and Martha Raye.

THE TRAIN (March 2, 2:00 am): Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield are at their very best in this John Frankenheimer film about a Nazi colonel trying to ship the paintings of France to Germany and the Resistance leader determined to stop him at all costs. Also staring Michael Simon, Albert Remy, Wolfgang Preiss, Charles Millot, Jacques Marin, and Jeanne Moreau in a small but pivotal role. There is never a dull moment to catch your breath in this action classic.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (March 1, 6:00 pm)

Ed: A. For those who have not yet seen this film, it is one the best war movies ever made. The Story of G.I. Joe follows the exploits of Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) as he writes of the fortunes of Company C of the 18th Infantry during their campaign in North Africa and Italy. He observes the stress combat takes on their minds – particularly during the battle of Cassino. He also befriends a few of the company, including Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum), who rises to Captain; Sergeant Warnicki (Freddie Steele) who wants nothing more than to find a phonograph on which to play a record of his son’s voice sent from back home; and Private Dondaro (Wally Cassell), who fantasized constantly about women to the point of even carrying around a bottle of perfume that he can sniff occasionally. One thing Pyle notes and the film makes clear is that the men live continually with the knowledge that they might not make it home. Ironically, Pyle never made it home, cut down by a Japanese machine gun on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. William Wellman directs the film both as a tribute to Pyle, who he met during the war, and to the men Pyle writes about for the audience back home. It’s the grittiness of this story about the lives and deaths of ordinary infantrymen that sets this movie apart from others. The strongpoint is its subtlety: character we get to know suddenly disappear from the screen without so much as a whimper. Such is war. Critic James Agee noted that: "With a slight shift of time and scene, men whose faces have become familiar simply aren't around any more. The fact is not commented on or in any way pointed; their absence merely creates its gradual vacuum and realization in the pit of the stomach. Things which seem at first tiresome, then to have become too much of a running gag, like the lascivious tongue-clacking of the professional stallion among the soldiers (Cassell) or the Sergeant's continual effort to play the record of his son's voice, are allowed to run their risks without tip-off or apology. In the course of many repetitions they take on full obsessional power and do as much as anything could do to communicate the terrific weight of time, fatigue, and half-craziness which the picture is trying so successfully to make you live through." It was Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite war film, a recommendation that should go a long way. 

DAVID: C+. In theory, I should love this movie. It's a based-on-a-true-story film of Ernie Pyle, a journalist covering World War II. I've been a newspaper reporter for nearly 25 years and love films about journalists. One of my favorite actors, Robert Mitchum, has a prominent role in the movie, playing Lieutenant/Captain Walker. And it's a war film about the humanity and insecurities of soldiers, among my favorite film subjects. That's nice in theory. While this film is considered by many critics to be among the best movies made about war, I don't share their opinion. There are some good moments in the movie, most involving Mitchum, but I found it plodding and somewhat cliché. An example of being cliché is the overuse of a puppy, the company’s “mascot,” who cries and whimpers during sad scenes to let the audience know this is a sad part of the film. For the most part, the casting is fine (with several legitimate soldiers playing soldiers), but the selection of Burgess Meredith as Pyle was a poor decision. He brings nothing to the film though that could be something that was done purposely as Pyle made the soldiers the center of his articles, and was a modest person. Whether that's the reason or not, it takes away from the overall film as Meredith makes Pyle seem like a boring cheerleader. Also, the editing toward the end of the film is choppy, a surprise to me as William A. Wellman, who directed the film, was one of the best and typically wouldn't let something like that get into the finished product. The movie isn't awful, but it failed to keep my attention, which is difficult because when I'm watching a film by myself I am completely focused on it. I found my eyes wandering away from this film a number of times.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

By Jon Gallagher

A Good Day to Die Hard (20th Century Fox, 2013) Director: John Moore. Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, and Cole Hauser. Color, 97 minutes.

I’ve always said that if I ever see Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), I’d run, not walk, the other way very fast. See, she has a habit of having dead bodies turn up in relatively close proximity wherever she goes.

If I ever see John McLane, I’m gonna do the same because something’s bound to blow up any second.

Bruce Willis is back for the fifth, and hopefully last, installment of the Die Hard franchise, this time taking his explosion magnets to Russia and no doubt reigniting the Cold War. This time, McLane goes to Moscow because, for some unknown reason, he decides he wants to patch things up with his estranged son John Jr. (Jai Courtney). Unknown to John, Jack (which is what they call John Jr.) is a CIA agent trying to get a Russian physicist to safety.  John surprises Jack, then lots of things blow up, there’s a car chase or two, then a whole lot more things blow up, and then almost everything in the movie blows up. There are also lots of guns (big guns, little guns, anti-tank guns, etc.) and someone seems like they’re always shooting.

I’m not kidding. Well, at least not very much.

There’s some dialogue sprinkled in at opportune times (probably while they reset the charges on the next set of explosions). Gone are the snappy little one-liners that McLane is so famous for using (he does use his Yippee-Ki-Yay Mister Flubber line), but that’s probably due to one of two things. Either they would have had to hire real writers who could communicate a PLOT to the audience or… No, I think I hit the nail on the head. It was like watching one of Steven Segal’s We-Make-This-Up-As-We-Go movies that usually go straight to DVD.

There are a couple of plot twists, or should I say, attempts, but by the time they get around to doing them, you expect the twist and you’re so confused that you really don’t care. I’m still trying to work past the part where Jack is making his initial escape and nearly runs over his dad.

I would guess that there’s as much Russian dialogue in the movie (with subtitles) as there is English conversation. Because of that, there’s not a lot to report on with how the actors handled their roles. Bruce and Jai would exchange a line or two, then the stuntmen would come in, fall down a lot, then we’d see either a computer-generated explosion or car wreck.

It’s a total waste of time. Even if you’re a big Die Hard fan (which I am; the first movie is in my top five all-time favorites), you’ll be disappointed.  I won’t rent or own it when it comes out (look for it soon), not even to complete my collection. I think maybe we’ll just conveniently forget this one was ever made. I wonder, perhaps, if this was made as a vehicle for Courtney to continue on with the Die Hard/John McLane series.

I hope not. Grade: F.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Escape From Planet Earth in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Escape from Peru

By Steve Herte

Well, I didn't get to the restaurant I expected, but I will eventually. The day worked out nicely considering the setback caused by the blizzard. I seem to be spending a lot of time lately near Madison Park and I noticed that the new Museum of Mathematics borders on it, so, next staycation it's a destination. As for now, please enjoy the latest Dinner and a Movie.
Escape From Planet Earth in 3D (Weinstein, 2013) Director: Cal Brunker. The voices of: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, Rob Corddry, Sofia Vergara, Jonathan Morgan Heit, William Shatner, George Lopez, Craig Robinson, and Jane Lynch. Color, Dolby Digital, 3-D, 89 minutes.

Since animation is one of my passions and knowing the work that goes into creating characters that can perform believably on screen, I was anticipating this reverse space adventure. Scorch Supernova (Fraser), the planetary hero of planet Baab (pronounced Bob), is slated to go on a rescue mission to “the dark planet” (Earth) to save the most recent visitors, even though he’s been warned that all who go to the dark planet are never heard from again.

The movie opens with Scorch on a mission to save six baby Baabians from the baby-eating creatures of another planet. His older brother Gary (Corddry) is at Mission Control trying to guide his actions and keep him and the babies safe. However, Scorch is full of bravado and egotism, and ignores his brother’s advice to keep quiet and awakens the enemy. Now he has to run for his life and avoid their snapping jaws to get back to his space ship. Thanks to Gary’s sense of timing he leaps a ravine and deploys his grappling hook just in time to swing across and taunt his chasers before blasting off. He lands on Baab to tumultuous applause and media attention - newscaster Gabby Babblebrock (Vergara) swoons in his presence but regains her composure in time for her live coverage.

Scorch is tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed and attractive. Gary is short, skinny and bookish, the brains of the family. Gary’s son Kip (Heit) wants to be just like Uncle Scorch. His wife Kira (Parker) is supportive and the good housewife and mother. When the Earth mission is announced by Gary and Scorch’s boss, Lena Thackleman (Alba), Gary is reluctant because of all he’s heard but Scorch can’t wait to get going. In fact he has his ship all readied way before Mission Control can get up to speed. Gary argues with his brother and quits. Scorch takes off for Earth and is captured by Area 51 troopers at a 7-11.

When he learns about Scorch being captured/maybe killed, Kip tries to go to the rescue leading his Mom and Dad on a chase to the spaceport where they successfully stop him. At this point it dawns on Gary that he must go rescue his brother. He takes an escape pod, travels to Earth, crash lands, escapes the pod just as the self-destruct engages, and is captured by the same Area 51 troopers.

It is then we learn that General Shanker (Shatner) has been funneling all alien life into Area 51 to steal their technology and force them to build a doomsday machine meant to exterminate the home planets of ALL aliens. The machine only needs a sufficient power source and the General is wooing Lena (literally, he dresses up like Elvis whenever he’s on the video-com) to get it. Gary meets Thurman (Lopez), a slug-like creature with four arms and three eyes in his cell, Doc (Robinson), a bat-like alien in the next cell and Io (Lynch) a huge, one-eyed lobster-like alien in the last cell and they tell him what they’ve been doing for the General thinking they will be allowed to go home once it’s complete. The story goes back and forth between their plight and Lena’s fake love affair with Shanker until everyone realizes what’s really going on. Gary destroys the power source for the machine and when forced to reconstruct it programs a glitch into it that causes the machine to self-destruct.

Meanwhile Kira, having been inspired by the devotion of her son, has secretly boarded the ship Lena is using to bring the power sources to Shanker. They scuffle and Kira overpowers Lena and they turn back to Baab. The fleeing group of aliens on Earth makes it to Scorch’s disguised ship and nearly escape when Shanker appears wearing Scorch’s power suit and he puts a tractor beam on them. Gary and Scorch leap from the ship and disable the beam sending Shanker (and themselves) plummeting to Earth. At the last minute before impact all three are suspended inches from the ground by three “greys” (the aliens pictured on X-Files and animated on Stargate SG1 with the big heads, skinny bodies and almond-shaped black eyes). They explain that they were also being used by Shanker and are now free to rebel against him. Up to this point they never spoke and now they sound like the Beatles – that unmistakable Liverpuddlian accent. One even says Ringo-esque, “Guys, let’s not break up the group.”

All the aliens re-board the ship and head back to Baab, but shortly before leaving Earth the ship develops a problem with the steering controls. They call Mission Control and the only one there is Kip, who using techniques learned from flying a toy version of the spaceship, helps them escape the Earth fighter planes and land safely back on Baab. This success makes Kip now want to be just like his Dad at Mission Control and Gary is proud. Scorch embarks on his next and most dangerous mission, marrying Gabby, the music swells and everybody parties.

Escape From Planet Earth is a very colorful movie. The spaceport on Baab looks more like a candy circus carnival. The animation is nicely done and seamless and the computer graphics are convincing – even though the only character with fur is Doc. The story is as old as the hills and the comedy made me laugh one or two times (not exactly a laugh riot) but was clever. It doesn’t rank up there with other animated features I’ve seen where meticulous attention is paid to details. The science fiction angle is obvious and is made even more obvious when the physics goes astray in one scene. Gary is taking off in the escape pod and is totally enclosed in a transparent shield, but still his mouth flaps about as if the wind from his acceleration was affecting it (there shouldn’t be any wind). It’s a good film, not a great one, and probably will not make it to my collection. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
11 Madison Avenue (25th Street) New York

I recently had a conversation with my special friend about restaurants. She told me that we should find more South American restaurants to visit; that I should taste more of the cuisine. As she is Ecuadorian, I couldn’t well disagree. This week I noticed that a Peruvian restaurant was conveniently located near the theatre where our chosen movie for the week was playing, so it was no brainer of a choice. And we were glad we chose it.

The location of La Mar struck a note of déjà vu in me and it turned out to be accurate. Occupying the site of the former Tabla, a progressive Indian/American restaurant, La Mar took the two-story space to a new classy level. The bar area is on the main floor and a gracefully curving black staircase leads up to the main dining area. The well-polished black pedestal tables and low-backed matching chairs with turquoise webbing for support surround a circular hole overlooking the bar. Suspended from the ceiling above are hundreds of clear Mylar threads with pale green and blue glass beads attached at random intervals evincing the concept of rain frozen in time. The walls and ceiling are off-white and potted Ti plants add a little greenery. The overall effect is chic, cosmopolitan class.

After a comfortable settling-in time, my waiter brought a glass of water and a cup of plantain chips with a delightfully spiced dip tasting of pimiento and asked for my cocktail order. I chose the Chicha Tu Ma, an exotic, blood-red combination of pisco quebranta (grape juice), chicha morada (a Peruvian beverage made from purple maize), orange liqueur and organic maracuya (passion fruit). It’s a very compelling potion. 

The two-page menu is divided into Cebiches, Tiraditos (Peruvian Sashimi), Causas (whipped potatoes topped with seafood or chicken), Ensaladas (salads), Almuercitos Peruanos (combinations), Empanadas (stuffed pastry), Anticuchos (skewered meats), Piqueos (Peruvian appetizers), Platos De Fondo (Main courses), and Desserts. Having assured David, my waiter that I knew what cebiche (sometimes spelled ceviche – a salad-like, slightly vinegary, cold fish dish, variously spiced and served mainly as an appetizer) was and that I knew it was the national dish of Peru, I mentioned that in a Philadelphia restaurant (Pasion!) they served a sampler of three. David suggested that the chef could do the same at La Mar and after a short wait while enjoying my cocktail three little bowls were set before me. On the left was a traditional cebiche of fluke called Elegance, a light, tasty, slightly tart concoction with Bermuda onion and cilantro. In the center was a mixed seafood cebiche called Limeño with calamari, octopus, scallop, in a zesty orange garlic sauce that tingled on the tongue. On the right was a yellow fin tuna cebiche called Nikei in a sweet/sour red Asian sauce with daikon, sesame seeds and cucumber overtones. All three were wonderful.

I ordered a 2008 Argentine Malbec named Añoro, which was full-bodied and rich, and perfectly complimented the Peruvian flavors. At that point I asked David why there were no Peruvian wines on the wine list. He explained that the Peruvian wineries are still in their infancy and the chef decided that they weren’t up to the quality of the food he was serving. Maybe 10 years from now. Well, I was sold on the quality of the food.

My main dish was Sudado - Atlantic Halibut, manila clams, yucca, kabocha squash, onions and tomatoes in an aji Amarillo (yellow garlic) white wine broth – wonderful. The halibut was delicate and flaky, the clams tender and the vegetables full of flavor. I had to comment to David that each bite tasted like more. I noticed that the lovely raven-haired lady across from me in the strapless black dress was enjoying her dish as much as I. The side dish, Tacu Tacu was a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes made from lima beans (seriously, forget everything you ever knew about lima beans, this was awesome) nicely baked and redolent of cinnamon.

Even after finishing all this with tears of joy in my eyes I was eager for dessert. Enter the Suspiro Loco – Peruvian dulce de leche (sweet milk), spiced cannoli, port wine reduction, and helado de nata (ice cream with whipped cream). Wow! With a double espresso and a glass of Dolc de L’Obac (a dessert wine from Spain tasting of cherries and chocolate) I was ready for a tour of the Andes. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana has restaurants in Bogota, Lima, Panama, Sao Paolo and San Francisco, and as of September 2012, New York has the sophisticated taste of Peruvian cuisine. Viva restaurante numero 2,520!

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Well, we won’t know until Sunday night.

But Steve Herte in his Dinner and a Movie feature and Jon Gallagher of Gallagher’s Forum have reviewed almost all of the films nominated in the major categories.

We’ve put them into one easy-to-access post.

Enjoy! The reviews are far more interesting than the Oscar show if the past is an indication.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained




Wednesday, February 20, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for February 23-28

February 23–February 28


MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (February 24, 2:30 am): Largely fictional (after all Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay) but compelling account of an American (played by Brad Davis, who died seven years after the release of this 1978 film) caught attempting to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. He ends up in a Turkish prison in which the inmates suffer through a horrific existence. It's brutal, it's violent, it's exciting, filled with action and tension, and an excellent story of how prisoners relate to each other. If you're looking for historical accuracy, you're not going to find it here. But if you're interested in an excellent film that is based on a true story, this is one you shouldn't miss. Also, the soundtrack, particularly the movie's theme, by disco-synthesizer writer/producer Giorgio Moroder is catchy.

DODSWORTH (February 26, 8:00 pm): This 1936 film is one of the greatest film you haven't seen. If you have seen it, you know what I mean. Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife. Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. I won't ruin the ending. Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with William Wyler as the director, the movie is filmed and paced perfectly.


THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (February 23, 8:00 am): A great evocation of a child’s nightmare, written by the great Dr. Seuss himself. Tommy Rettig (who later went on to star in TV’s Lassie) dreams he is sent to a music school run by the mad Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid), whose dream is to have 500 pupils play with 5,000 fingers on the world’s largest piano, which happens to be his. Tommy aided by Peter Lynd Hayes, fights two men connected by their beards and builds a bomb that absorbs sounds right out of the air. If you remember this classic as a child, you’ll want to see it again. If you haven’t yet seen this, then it’s must viewing.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (February 28, 9:15 am): In this reviewer’s opinion, this s not only the best film to come from Ealing Studios, but possibly the sharpest satire ever filmed. Alec Guinness is Sidney Stratton, a monomaniacal scientist who will take the lowliest job offered – provided it’s at a textile plant, where he can get into the laboratory. Why? So he can perfect his idea: a suit that never wears out ad never needs cleaning. He actually pulls it off, initially to the excitement of everyone – until they realize this invention would end up putting them all out of business. With sterling support by the deliciously feline, beautiful Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, and Ernest Thesiger as the “Mister Big” of the textile industry. They’ve never been made any better.


ED: A++. There are few post-1985 American films I would consider essential. This is one of them. It’s a wild joyride through a world where seemingly nothing makes sense unless we adjust ourselves to its world. Bob Hoskins is Eddie Valiant, a Standard Issue, dyed-in-the-wool Film Noir detective. He doesn’t like toons, but he likes money more, so he’s hired by studio chief Marvin Acme to look into allegations that studio star Roger Rabbit’s wife Jessica is playing pattycake with someone else. But when Acme is murdered, Roger is framed and Hoskins has a new client. Go from there into the wildest scenario since Porky in Wackyland, as Hoskins meets a virtual Who’s Who of cartoon characters as he works to prove Roger’s innocence. The melding of animation with live action is seamless, and after a while we begin to believe along with Eddie Valiant that the toons are real. It’s Hoskins who makes the movie so enjoyable, as he seems to be having the time of his life in Toontown. Another highlight is Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit, who tells Valiant, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” It helps, of course, if you like animation to start, but if you haven’t yet seen this masterpiece, by all means tune in and discover the time when cartoon were made for adults instead of children. 

DAVID: C+. I love cartoons, particularly Warner Brothers classics with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Sylvester. When Who Framed Roger Rabbit hit the theaters in 1988, I was genuinely excited to see the film. This was likely to be the first and last time anyone would see Bugs and Mickey Mouse in a scene together, Daffy and Donald Duck interacting as well as dozens of other legendary cartoon characters from various cartoon studios together in one movie. While technology today makes interactions between people and cartoon characters look legitimate, it wasn't easy back in 1988. Yeah, Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse in 1945's Anchors Aweigh and there were other movies with somewhat similar scenes, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit made it look authentic and effortless that you believed the interactions between the people and 'toons are real. Also, Bob Hoskins was an excellent "post-film-noir" actor (he announced his retirement last year because he has Parkinson's disease) though I greatly prefer his performance in Mona Lisa made two years prior to this film. Hoskins is solid in Roger Rabbit as Eddie Valiant and seeing the characters from the different studios together is cool. But, unfortunately, that's all that is good about this film. The plot is supposed to be outrageous and funny. I found it forced and contrived. It relies too greatly on the 'toon cameos and the ability to have them interact with people. The plot has some interesting twists, but in an effort to be clever, it comes across as ridiculous at times. The entertainment value of the film is severely damaged by its over-reliability on the old cartoon characters and lack of focus. The plot is predictable. There's a deadline to find the will of the murdered owner of Toontown or else an evil character (played by Christopher Lloyd) will take over the town and turn it into a money-making roadway. What do you think happens? The technology used to make the film is excellent. Unfortunately, the quality and plot of the movie doesn't come close to matching the exceptional technology.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

By Jon Gallagher

Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia, 2012) Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Reta Kateb, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, & Jennifer Ehle. Color, 157 minutes.

I went into this movie expecting great things. After all, it’s been nominated (along with EIGHT other films) for Best Picture this year, and Chastain, the female lead, is up for Best Actress.

I came away a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, or as much as I had hoped.

One thing I was curious about was the storyline itself. National Geographic had already shot and aired a movie based on the hunt for and the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was okay, but focused more on the team of Navy SEALS who went into the Pakistani compound on this mission.

This movie starts on 9/11 with some sound bites from that awful day in 2001. It then follows the CIA’s efforts, particularly those of a woman named Maya who had made it her life’s work to find the world’s most wanted terrorist. We see her on her first assignment, watching as a seasoned CIA vet uses torture to extract information from detainees. We follow her as she realizes what it will take to get information from dedicated Al Qaeda members. As the years pass by, she becomes more frustrated, not only with the lack of intelligence coming out of Afghanistan, but finally with the U.S. government and their unwillingness to act. More than four months pass between the time she first notifies her boss that she thinks she knows where bin Laden is holed up and the time that action is taken to capture or kill him.

Even though the two films tell the same story with the same end result, the points of view are entirely different, even during the portion of Zero Dark Thirty when the raid takes place.

As for the movie itself, it’s another long one. The first hour gives us background and drags. I’m not sure we need to know or see quite as much as we do. Some of the scenes of the CIA torturing terrorists might cause some sympathy in the wrong direction. The authenticity is good, with many of the informants using heavily-accented English. But the accent, combined with the forced delivery after having been tortured, makes them extremely difficult to understand.

The second hour of the movie picks up quite a bit. It’s after terrorists begin bombing others and targeting characters in the movie that the plot seems to move along.

The last 30 minutes or so are dedicated to the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Shot in night-vision green, it’s very hard to see, and although very authentic, not very satisfying by the end. Maybe it’s because the episode is so fresh in my mind (after all, it only happened two years ago), there wasn’t much drama to it. I knew going in that we got bin Laden and that none of the SEALs were hurt, so unlike Argo, the suspense element was sorely missing.

The big question that remained was, “How are they going to show bin Laden being killed.” I’ll only say that I was disappointed.

Although it’s based on real events, I’m sure most of the characters are composites of real life people, done for their personal safety. Chastain does an incredible job with her role and if she walks away with the Best Actress award, you’ll hear no arguments from me. Clarke handles Chastain’s mentor role superbly, generating all sorts of emotions from the audience with his portrayal. We fear him, we loathe him, yet we like him. It was a solid performance as well.

The film is rated R due to the violence and language and rightfully so. It’s not a movie for kids, and I wouldn’t be interested in letting teenagers see it either. The length brought it down a couple of notches on my grading scale, not so much because it was so long, but because the first hour was boring. It was nominated for Best Picture, but all those I’ve seen in that category are better than this.

I’ll give it a solid C due to the storyline and the performances of Chastain and Clarke. I won’t be renting it when it comes to DVD and I certainly won’t be purchasing it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Identity Thief

By Jon Gallagher

Identity Thief (Universal, 2013) Director: Seth Gordon. Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, John Cho, John Favreau, & Amanda Peet. Color, 112 minutes.

Got to be careful with this one. Rex Reed is in hiding after his review of this movie…

The hype has been second to none. Its trailers have been playing during prime-time for what seems like years. It’s one of those movies that probably shows all the funny parts during the trailers.

Not so. It’s actually a very funny movie that surprised me by making me like it.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an accountant in Denver who falls victim to a lady con artist in Florida who steals his identity and his credit cards. While life unravels for him in the Mile High City, she’s living it up on the coast of the Sunshine State.

Sandy the guy is married with two little girls and a baby on the way. He’s slaving away for a boss who’s a pompous ass while trying to save money to buy a house for his growing family. Other accountants at his job decide to start their own firm and they offer Sandy a position at five times what he’s making currently.

Meanwhile, Sandy the gal (McCarthy), is running up his credit cards, ruining his credit, getting mixed up with drug dealers, and skipping out on court dates. It doesn’t take long for Denver police to pick up Sandy the guy and arrest him on Florida warrants. Once they discover his identity has been stolen, they let him go.

The problem comes from the clients of the new accounting firm who are reading all sorts of nasty things about Sandy Bigelow Patterson on the internet. His new firm wants to fire him, the police can’t help because the thief is half a country away, and poor Sandy is fit to be tied.

It’s at this point that he decides to go to Florida, capture the fake Sandy, and bring her back to Denver where authorities can take her into custody and straighten out the problems with his work. While that’s a nice though and a superb plan, someone forgot to tell Sandy the thief about it and she begins to throw truckloads of monkey wrenches into the mix.

Sandy finds his alter ego and they begin a cross-country trek after he promises her that she won’t have to go to the police, just talk to his new bosses. Shortly after that a pair of drug dealers who’ve been ripped off by her, and a bounty hunter who’s been offered $50,000 to bring her in, converge on the action.

I enjoyed the movie and found it funny. It kept me smiling clear to the end and even as the credits were rolling. It is NOT, however, a kid friendly movie. The “F” word is used extensively (along with other words and phrases you could expect to hear should your identity be stolen), and there’s a sex scene that I think could have been easily left out. Older teens might be okay with it, but I guarantee you that they’ll be extremely uncomfortable, sitting in the same row as Mom and Dad during that part. You, on the other hand, will be uncomfortable if you’re in the same theater as they are.

There’s a lot of physical humor, almost to the point of being slapstick, but it’s not overdone. Violence is kept to somewhat of a minimum, but there are a lot of car crashes and some gun play involved.

Both Bateman and McCarthy are excellent in their respective roles, playing believable characters. Somehow, they get us attached to both of them rather than rooting for one over the other. There has been talk on the internet about how it was wrong of Reed to badmouth McCarthy because of her weight, but this movie required the female lead to be overweight and obnoxious. It just would not work with someone like Reese Witherspoon or Amy Adams playing a Southern-type gal to Bateman’s average man. The physical comedy wouldn’t work and the whole movie would have to be changed. The way they had it was perfect. The chemistry between the two was some of the best I’ve seen for a while.

I’ll give this one a B+. I enjoyed it enough to give it a high grade, and this is one I might end up owning. I won’t be showing it to my youngest daughter or my grandkids, though, and that’s what held it back.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Over the Hedge

By Steve Herte

It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature! Gee, I had a good movie lined up last Friday night and a wonderful (hopefully) Italian dinner when who should arrive but Nemo. Why someone got the idea to give a name to two low-pressure fronts joining off the East Coast to become a blizzard, I don't know. I knew that the movie, Les Miserables, was 2 hours and 37 minutes long, so I had scheduled leaving the office an hour early. I figured out from various websites and forecasts that it could be possible to do my normal Friday functions and still get home before all Hell broke loose. But the forecasts kept changing. The last one I saw said that the bulk of the snow would come at 6:00 pm (my dinner reservation was for 6:45) and the "blizzard" would start at 9:00 pm (about when I would be waiting for a bus home after the subway ride). Good Grief! I cancelled everything. The building management for my office closed the building at 2:30 pm giving me another hour I didn't need and I had the most horrendous two-hour commute back to front with the dregs of humanity. I arrived home, had dinner and, from time to time, looked out the window to check the weather. The last time I checked was 11:00 pm and there was only two inches of snow on the ground and I almost flipped. I could have gone ahead with my plans. It wouldn't have been all that pleasant, but it was doable. Anyway, thus end my rant. Instead of a Dinner and a Movie column this week, I viewed one of my newest DVDs. So here it is for your enjoyment.

Over the Hedge (DreamWorks, 2006) Director: Tim Johnson, Kerry Kirkpatrick. Starring the Voices of: Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell, Wanda Sykes, Willam Shatner, Nick Nolte, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Sami Kirkpatrick, Shane Baumel, Madison Davenport, Avril Lavigne, Allison Janney, Omid Djilili, & Thomas Haden Church. Color, Widescreen, 83 minutes.

If I hadn’t had a great friend who bought this DVD for me for Christmas, I definitely would have bought it myself as a part of my collection of animated features that survive several viewings. In fact, I remembered seeing this delightful DreamWorks creation in the movies and loving it then, but reviewing it brought back all the clever dialogue, hilarious scenes and eye-popping animation.

The story is of R.J. the raccoon (Willis), a wisecracking sneak thief always on the lookout for an easy meal. The movie starts and ends at a vending machine where R.J. is trying every which way to get the last bag of corn chips stuck in its clip and at the end; after the credits he just bangs the full machine and all the bags drop into the hopper for his new friends. The DVD uses the vending machine for its Main Menu. The viewer can choose to watch the movie, several short features (including “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure” and “In Hibernation” featuring Vincent the bear), a great behind the scenes “making of” video, or several games – one of which I played; “Get the Food” (a really fun, concentration-type game) – which unlock other special features such as wallpapers.

Most important of all is the film. The story starts when R.J. enters Vincent’s (Nolte) cave and discovers his stash of food. “Only take what you need,” R.J. whispers to himself, and then proceeds to load everything onto a little red wagon. All goes well until greed overwhelms him and he switches a tube of “Spudies” (potato chips) Indiana Jones-style with an empty coffee container right out of the bear’s paw. Even this doesn’t wake the hibernating bear, but then he opens it and the little hiss it makes wakes Vincent. R.J. tries to talk his way out of it, the loaded wagon rolls off the cliff to the highway below intact, then gets hit by an 18-wheeler and destroyed. Vincent threatens to kill R.J. but gives him until the full moon to get it all back.

Meanwhile down in the forest, a hollow log comes alive with awakening creatures. We meet Verne the turtle (Shandling), Stella the skunk (Sykes), Hammy the hyper red squirrel (Carell), a family of porcupines – Lou (Levy), Penny (O’Hara) and their litter; Bucky (Sami Kirkpatrick), Spike (Baumel) and Quillo (Davenport), and Ozzie (Shatner) a father opossum and his daughter Heather (Lavigne). They discover, thanks to Verne that they were nine berries short of starvation and need to restock the log for next winter. Foraging for food Hammy discovers a “big scary thing” (the Hedge) that “goes on forever” in both directions. The group inspects the formidable obstacle. “What is it?” “Let’s call it Steve.” “Why Steve?” “It’s a nice name. Then it won’t be so scary.”

R.J. is on a tree branch hearing all this and hatches a plan to use this group to further his own ends. “It’s called a Hedge.” He says. He has seen what’s beyond the hedge and it’s a huge housing development, which by the way, has surrounded what is left of the forest – now a small park, as he later demonstrates on a map. He convinces everyone but Verne that the food over the hedge is miles better than foraged food by opening the bag of corn chips and flooding their senses with the gold-dust aroma within (much like Moses parting the Red Sea) evincing an excited “What is THAT!” from Hammy. Ignoring Verne’s protests the group helps R.J. amass an enormous amount of food and it looks like he’s going to make his deadline, when Verne brings the whole thing back.

R.J. tries to reason with Verne but he won’t budge. At this point R.J. notices the dog chain leading to the dog house and tries in vain to quiet Verne. Verne steps on a squeaky toy, a big dog appears barking the single word “Play?” Verne backs onto another squeaky toy and the chase is on. Needless to say, the load of food is scattered everywhere again.

The many incursions by the forest creatures do not all go unnoticed. Gladys (Janney), the president of the local community group sees all this “vermin” attacking her neighborhood and calls in the “Verminator,” Dwayne (Church) who drives up in a truck topped by an animated exterminator repeatedly hitting a bunny on the head with a sledgehammer. He supplies Gladys with every kind of trap possible, including one that’s so lethal it’s illegal – a Wile E. Coyote electronic affair with a dial that can be set anywhere from a squirrel to a bear and which crisscrosses the lawn area with laser beams.

Nothing stops R.J. though. He hatches another plan to get into Gladys’ house (she’s planning a party and he saw the load of food being delivered). He uses Hammy to switch off the major trap by zip-lining him to the roof and getting him to chase a laser spot down the downspout to the off switch of the major trap. Then Stella is shorn of her white hairs, deodorized, corked and coaled to look like a female cat. This is to obtain the collar of Tiger (Djalili), Gladys’ Persian cat, which has an electronic device to open the cat door. Again, all is going fine until R.J. sees a container of Spudies and his efforts take the last few seconds of time until Gladys wakes up and discovers the “vermin” in her house. Dwayne arrives in a second and catches and cages everyone but R.J. who escapes with the load of food.

When Vincent sees R.J. with the “recovered” stash, he’s happy, but he tells R.J. exactly what R.J. doesn’t want to hear: that he’s a selfish sneak, a thief and a betrayer of his friends and is no better than the bear himself. R.J. realizes what he’s done, kicks the wagon and rides it down the mountain to rescue his friends with the bear in hot pursuit. The hilarious scenes that follow involve a crash with the Verminator’s truck, the three porcupine babies driving it, the bear getting lofted away by some huge balloons and the truck winding up in the upper story of Gladys’s house. Now she’s really mad. She and Dwayne chase our group into the hedge from one side and the bear (whose claws popped the balloons) is on the other side.

What to do? Up to this point, R.J. has been avoiding giving Hammy a high-caffeinated soda since he’s already too hyper. Now he’s their secret weapon. After downing a can of the soda, Hammy goes into hyper-hyper drive, the entire world slows down on its axis (a view from space) and Hammy calmly strolls through the hedge to the major trap, sets it for “bear,” has time to pick up a chocolate chip cookie while the lasers are slowly coming on behind him and gets back into the hedge. R.J., on top of the hedge, has one last Spudie, taunts the bear while eating it. The bear leaps over the hedge, R.J. ducks, and the bear lands on Dwayne and Gladys as the trap springs launching a terrifying beam (a la Transformers III) to the sky above and encages the two humans and the bear.

Explanations are made, apologies accepted and R.J. is made a part of a new family. Oh, and Stella has a boyfriend. Tiger has no sense of smell and comes running through the hedge calling her name (he gets to scream it in a previous scene as in A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Over the Hedge has many dimensions and the characters are remarkably well created – down to the last hair - they become real to the viewer. Just the lighting demonstration in the “behind the scenes” feature of the DVD is amazing. I can’t wait to fire it up again and investigate the other special features. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

TRIVIA: Over the Hedge was based on a syndicated comic strip written and drawn by Michael Fry and T. Lewis telling the story of a raccoon, a turtle, a squirrel and their friends who come to terms with their woodlands being taken over by suburbia, trying to survive the increasing flow of humanity and technology while becoming enticed by it at the same time. The strip debuted in June 1995. When it came out I never missed reading it.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.