Friday, September 26, 2014


Based on the true story of Robyn Davidson and her solo trek across the desert of Australia. Mia Wasikowska plays Robyn and we follow her from nearly the beginning of her decision making process to embark on the trip, including over a year of preparation. She has to apprentice with a couple of camel farmers in order learn how to handle the animals and how to use them since they will be her primary lifeline on this massive trek. She also has her dog who follows her all along. The trek portion of the story is remarkably tension free, with the plot conflict coming from the relationship between Robyn and her financial sponsor (National Geographic) and their photographer. Somehow, the solo trek must include this photographer popping up at regular intervals to document the trip. It turns out to a love/hate relationship as Robyn grapples with her desire to be solitary and simultaneously her loneliness. In many ways this is a self discovery film that lets the self discovery lie subtly in the background. Afterwards, I wondered what was learned, what was appreciated, what personal growth took place? And surprisingly, my anticipation for a landscape film was only moderately satisfied. Big sweeping vistas and the context of the Australian desert did not overwhelm me, or awe me with its vast scope. Maybe this was the filming, I don't know. So while this was entertaining and I found myself enjoying the film, both in real time and in memory, it was not complete. It left me wanting more. Definitely see it. But don't expect to love it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

IP Man 2

Sequel to IP Man, it is now after the war and IP Man is setting up his own school for Wing Chun style of martial arts in Hong Kong. He encounters masters of other styles, along with the British overseers in Hong Kong. Fascinating as a loose biography, as well as in comparing martial arts styles and the class/racial issues going on in Hong Kong in the 50's.

3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3 Days to Kill

Kevin Costner is a CIA spy on the retirement side of life. He wants to spend more time with his family (daughter, ex-wife), get cancer, takes on "one last job" in order to get access to a secret cancer treatment drug. So many things wrong with this premise. But he does it, and everything goes wrong, and Costner wins in the end. Funny how that works.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out of the Furnace

A couple of brothers (Christian Bale the ex-con and Casey Affleck the PTSD Veteran) struggle through life. Bale is blue-collar and solid. Affleck is aggressive and flighty. They get mixed up with the underworld bare-knuckle fight scene (managed by Woody Harrelson) to make money... at which point I was so bored that I quit. The first half was slow, ordinary, dark, and predictable. I predict that it got more ordinary and darker, a betrayal, Affleck getting in over his head, Bale rescuing him, brotherly love and angst. There was no real chemistry between any of the actors, with even Harrelson playing his now caricature-crazy guy. No love here.
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Two Lives

This 2012 Norwegian film tells the story of Katrine. During World War II, many Norwegian children were sent to orphanages in Germany and the repatriation of these children was an ongoing political issue for many years. Every so often, one group or another would make progress in declassifying information or extracting reparations for the families involved. Katrine is one of these children and when a reporter arrives at her house after the latest small progress, she is loath to reopen old wounds. The remainder of the film proceeds to tell the history of Katrine, both in flashback and current investigation and interview. Part of the story includes spies, betrayal, murder, secrets and love, in many ways presented as a traditional thriller. But it also feels very plain and ordinary, with a feel similar to The Lives of Others, also set in East Berlin.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thor: The Dark World

Thor is my least favorite of the Avenger comic hero clan. However, he still rates above film versions of Spiderman (which is strange to me since I loved the Spiderman comics as a kid). But I figured it would be an adequate late night intro to the weekend. In this version, the nine realms are again aligned (after thousands of years) which weakens the boundaries between them. Because of this weakness, Natalie Portman is ported to a remote planet, absorbs some "evil", and ports back. The Dark Elves, who were defeated by Odin during the last alignment and were relieved of their "evil" are still mad and plan on getting it back. Thor has to defeat the Dark Elves again while protecting the nine realms and his girlfriend. Nothing here (acting, strength of story, special effects, etc.) to make me change my original assessment. Thor is my least favorite of the Avenger comic hero clan.
2 stars (out of 5)

Escape Plan

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) wrote the book on prison security. But writing books is boring so he takes on jobs to personally test the security of prisons. That is, for a large fee, he gets himself "admitted" to a facility and proceeds to break out, and then sends a nice report to the warden outlining the facility weaknesses. With the stage set, Stallone takes on a big, top secret, government black ops, big money job. It is a bit different, but his ego gets him to take the job and he is put into a prison that is really unbreakable. The warden has a well-worn copy of the Breslin book on his desk. Inside, Stallone meets up with Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the two work together to break the prison. This isn't a real novel tale, and it (obviously?) isn't built around Oscar caliber acting. But it is a clever script that was well paced and provided a consistently interesting story arc. Probably safe to categorize it as a high quality, mid-level heist film.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

IP Man

Donnie Yen (who I just saw in Special ID) plays IP Man. He is the undisputed martial arts master in a Chinese town known for its martial arts schools. He does not take on students and lives a life of luxury with his wife and child. He gets involved in local disputes as a benevolent and honorable town judge. Then the Japanese invade and IP Man tries to live under the radar. But he becomes a local inspiration, training workers to defend themselves and ultimately challenges the occupiers. Yen is fun, beautiful and fluid with his martial art, and full of composure as an actor. Much enjoyed.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Trip to Italy

A sequel to The Trip, which I did not see, this film uses the same gimmick, but moves from England to Italy. A couple of friends (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) play themselves, hired by an English paper to travel around Italy, eat at fancy restaurants and provide commentary. Even though they are not food experts, they are entertaining enough for the paper to want six articles. For the film viewer, the two are entertaining enough to just sit back and enjoy. It is like watching a couple of friends who have known each other so long that the know exactly how to joke and push and play. Add that to the fact that these guys are professional impersonators and we get long segments of what I am sure are improvised stand up riffs just making each other laugh while trying to perfect a particular voice. Walking out, one of the viewers was overheard saying "That was so self-indulgent", and while probably true, I don't even care. It is light hearted and fun, made me laugh. And there were 4 or 5 short scenes, usually the just before lights out, or walking away from an event, that the film captures a look or expression that puts the entire thing back into reality (a couple guys who are friends, working, and trying not to think about "real life"). These are glimpses, not major, but long enough to provide perspective to keep the film balanced.
4 stars (out of 5)