Sunday, November 25, 2012


     Impeccable acting all around is the only reason to see this history lesson brought to life by director Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into the role of Abraham Lincoln. He embodies the role as he does in all of his movies. He's a wonderful actor but in this instance, his Lincoln resembles little more than the anamatronic Lincoln I remember seeing at Disneyland's Hall of Presidents. Actors who do bring the movie to life include a scene stealing Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as William Seward and an excellent Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. There is also a large supporting cast of well known actors that are directed with precision by Mr. Spielberg.

      The film concentrates on the last few months of Lincoln's life, trying to end the Civil War and pass the 13th amendment. Beyond the opening battle, the rest of the film is a war of words between the Republicans and Democrats arguing in the House of Representatives over the  amendment to end slavery. Tony Kushner's script might as well have been made a TV movie on the History channel if not for Mr. Spielberg's signature flourishes. Sweeping panoramic views, John Williams overly dramatic score, Janusz Kaminski's great cinematography, and a very well directed cast. The film may well be a perfect recreation of history but somehow misses the grit and energy of past work's like "Saving Private Ryan". I'm sure history buffs will still flock to the box office and not be disappointed.

           Mr. Spielberg is a master at manipulating his audience and of course you will leave the theater moved and feeling patriotic. You've just seen one of our most beloved president's finest hour, but I felt the same way visiting the marble statue of the man in Washington D.C.  In striving for perfection, Mr. Spielberg has achieved excellence but it's a hollow victory.

Monday, November 19, 2012


    The latest installment from over 50 years of James Bond adventures is an excellent addition to the series. Ian Fleming would be proud of Neil Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade for creating a fresh, compelling story that also pays tribute to it's colorful history. Director Sam Mendes, so well known for his dramatical work, does a fine job balancing a strong plot with the fun and excitement we've come to expect from 007.

        Daniel Craig is back for the third time as Bond and after the disappointing "Quantum of Solace" (still trying to figure out what that means), he is better than ever in a role he has clearly made his own. Judi Dench returns as "M" and for the first time, becomes a major part of the plot and finds herself in the middle of the action. New additions Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw are all in top form in various roles of British Intelligence. Berenice Marlohe plays the beautiful and omnipresent "Bond Girl", Serverine and Javier Bardem is terrific as the villainous Silva.

         The film has all the typical "Bond" elements; a fantastic pre-credit opening sequence that sets up the story, beautiful and exotic locations, all the action you would expect but unexpectedly, a strong emotional story never really seen before in a James Bond film. This time, rather than world domination at stake, the story is personal and digs deep into Bond's past. The witty dialogue is always present but there is a serious undertone that takes the film in a new and interesting direction. There are also some fun nods to past Bond elements that fans will surely enjoy.

         I would be remiss if I didn't mention Adele's terrific theme song and Roger Deakins always excellent photography. "Skyfall" will leave you shaken, not stirred. And happily, "James Bond Will Return".

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

                 On the surface, this is just another teenage "coming of age" movie but there is much more depth to this story than you would expect. Serious issues lurk in the shadows and are brought to light during the course of the film. Of course there are plenty of lighter moments as well and writer/director Stephen Chbosky brings his novel to the screen in a very natural way exploring many teenage themes simultaneously.

                  The cast is outstanding, led by Logan Lerman as Charlie and Emma Watson as Sam. Mr. Lerman is stunning in a complicated role as a troubled teen and Ms. Watson breaks out of the Harry Potter series in a big way in her own complex performance. Rounding out the three leads is Erza Miller (so good in "There's Something About Kevin) as Patrick, Sam's step brother and the first person to befriend Charlie in his new school. There is great chemistry between the three actors and the rest of cast. Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh play Charlie's parents but take the background graciously. Paul Rudd has a small part, playing it straight as Charlie's favorite teacher. Mae Whitman and Melanie Lynskey also have pivitol roles that drive the story.

                   It's hard to say more without revealing too much but I can say that  while I found "Perks" to be entertaining, it is also surprising and very moving.

Monday, November 05, 2012


           The new film from director Robert Zemeckis is a powerful drama that is more about alcoholism and addiction than piloting a commercial jetliner. Denzel Washington stars as Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot who crash lands a disabled jet with minimal loss of life. It is clear to the audience from the start that Whip is a heavy drinker who is drunk at the time of the crash but to everyone around him, he's a hero. Things become more complicated when the FAA begin to investigate the crash.

            Mr. Washington has never been better as a man struggling with the tragic results of his actions. It is an Oscar caliber performance of a man battling his inner demons. He is joined by Kelly Reilly in her biggest role to date, as a junkie trying to get straight. Their lives cross when both end up in the same hospital. Ms. Reilly holds her own with Mr. Washington in scene after heartbreaking scene. The film co-stars Don Cheadle as the Pilot Union lawyer and Bruce Greenwood as the Union rep, both trying hard to protect Whip from his circumstances as well as himself. John Goodman steals his few scenes as Whip's drug dealer and Melissa Leo, in a cameo, is seriously effective as the lead FAA investigator.

            The crash at the start of the film is one of the most harrowing sequences of a plane crash on film. Mr. Zemeckis is a master director who knows his way around a special effect. The authentic look and feel of the crash will set your nerves on end. And When Whip testifies in front of the FAA, Mr. Zemeckis creates the same nerve wracking suspense without any special effects at all, a testimony to his direction of actors as well as special effects.

            I could nit-pick John Goodman's "theme" music (We get it. It worked the first time. No need to repeat it. ) or the "call" of the mini bar in one scene but why bother. This is a serious, authentic, drama that is both entertaining and sobering at the same time.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Sessions

      Helen Hunt and John Hawkes star in an unconventional story of love based on the real life of crippled polio victim, Mark O'Brien. When Mark (played by Mr. Hawkes) decides to discover his sexuality (with the blessing of his priest, played by William H. Macy), he enlists the help of a sex surrogate to help him achieve his goal. Away from the big screen for a while, Ms. Hunt has chosen a daring performance for her return. As surrogate, Cheryl, Ms. Hunt has scenes of full frontal nudity and intimate interaction with Mr. Hawkes.

      The film is billed as a drama/comedy and while there are a few humorous scenes (mostly involving Mr. Macy's conflicted priest), it is most definitely a drama that is both touching and uplifting. As a surrogate, Cheryl must remain unemotional with her clients but Mark's unwavering spirit and poetic nature slowly wins her over. However, this is not a typical story of two people falling in love. It is more about the nature of love itself among all the characters. Besides Mr. Macy the film also features Moon Bloodgood as Mark's aide and Adam Arkin as Cheryl's husband. The relationships among all these people are forever changed when Mark begins his "sessions".

       While Ms. Hunt gives a wonderful performance, it is clearly Mr. Hawkes that shines in a remarkable role. When not in an iron lung, he is either lying prone on a gurney or lying in a bed. He has a body that has failed him. As he explains, his is not paralyzed, it's just that his muscles don't work so well. He  conveys his inner thoughts in voice-over and a full emotional range with just his face. And yet, this physical shell of a man still has the capacity to discover his sexuality and his scenes with Ms. Hunt are so honest and tender, it's difficult not to be moved.