macktan894

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Reviews

Das Boot
(2018)

Thrilling, intense sequel to the film
Sure I had my doubts at first, a huge fan of the film. But the very first episode hooked me, the series wasting no time in firing up the plot & putting the story in motion. This time we are treated to two stories of equally engaging quality, joined at the hip by the Strasser siblings: Frank, who is a radio officer of U-612, whose travails we follow throughout the series and Simone, a military interpreter who accidentally gets involved in the French Resistance while trying to complete an errand for her brother.

This is a thrilling series. The u-boat conflicts, both among the men as well as in battle, are intense. I think the breakout actor among the u-boat crew is Captain Wrangel, whose character is that of an aggressive, highly competent leader but also surprisingly devilish. As for the Nazis, well there is just no way anyone can depict them sympathetically and they aren't here.

I watched it twice because many of these actors look alike and I had a hard time distinguishing their roles. Also, the story moves quickly, so the first time around, you miss important details that flew by. (I should have reflected on that captain's hat floating in the sea in the first episode). If you were a fan of the film, you'll love this series!

The First
(2018)

Intimate, Intriguing, Inspiring
I had no idea what to expect from this series, but I respect many of the actors in this cast and for that reason, I decided to give it a shot. How I love to be surprised with the discovery of something special. This series envelops you with the intimacy among these explorers and their families, their struggle to have it both ways--a life at home with all its awful daily challenges and a life untethered from that, among stars and planets. It is often a grind, the getting there, but we are inspired by each little step and revelation. Sean Penn is just perfect as a commander astronaut who is burdened with tragedy in his family and Natasha McElroy has never been better in her role as the visionary who struggles with being human. This is nothing like the typical astronaut films that focus on the men preparing for a flight, surrounded by a worried but supportive family then shooting themselves off to glory. It's about teamwork, relationships, and facing the awful stuff that can bring us down. I absolutely loved this series and watched it twice.

Travelers
(2016)

Entertaining, well developed science fiction series
I'm really picky about the science fiction produced for TV, so I approached this series with considerable skepticism. After the first 2 episodes, I felt a binge coming on, put everything on pause and ran out to the grocery store to grab popcorn with extra movie butter and a 6-pack. That is my graphic for a rating between of 8 or over--worth breaking your diet for!

I'm a big fan of Fringe and lately of Colony & The Expanse. What these shows have in common is a strong cast of characters, specifically a close-knit ensemble that works together on a mission to save the world and defeat the threat. Travelers resembles Fringe in many ways (though just a step below in cinematically imaginative storytelling technique). But you bond with these travelers--soldiers from the future sent back to the 21st century to save the planet from destruction--and empathize over their unique challenges. They are always tested in surprising ways, governed by Protocols that determine how they should behave--"leave the future in the past."

If you liked the Fringe, you'll love this series!

Gomorra: La serie
(2014)

Gomorrah is not on the tourist map
We don't get to see this area of Italy much in films. In Gomorrah, we find ourselves in the ghetto--the projects--towering blocks of concrete crammed with small apartments festooned with the laundry out on the balcony. Surrounded by blatant drug traffic out in the open but protected by lookouts who'll yell "Mario" is they see a cop car. First impressions? Wow! The dealers take care of business without much police interference. You don't see any cops doing stop and frisk or harassing the poor or committing fearing for their lives executions. These criminal gangs have more reason to be scared of rival gang members who aren't beyond burning them out of their homes or cutting their throats. The rewards may be great but you'll have a short life.

Season 1 was full of unexpected plot twists and tense moments as two rival gangs, Salvastone vs Conte, duke it out over dominance. The most tragic character is Gennaro, son of Don Salvastone, a pudgy innocent not man enough to fight like his father. We connect most with Ciro, the lead thug in the Salvastone gang whose talents are valued but ambitions are frustrated by the family.

I'm not your number one crime genre fan, but this was as good as The Wire if not better, focusing largely on the gangs and their rivalries. Police are there to mainly cart off the dead bodies.

One last thing: the music is primo! Italian rap is much more melodic than its American counterpart. The haunting score to each episode's closing sequence is memorable. This takes place in an Italy you won't recognize, and I don't suspect many will want to seek it out the next time they visit Italy.

Okkupert
(2015)

Wow! Intense Political Thriller
If you've never heard of this series before and skim the summary to decide whether to watch it, your first reaction is to probably guffaw and laugh it off. Norway turns away from fossil fuels, shuts down oil & gas production to promote thorium as an alternative energy source. The Green Party prime minister Berg is quite proud of his achievement until he is kidnapped by Russians in balaclavas and spirited away in a helicopter for a reality talk via Skype. He learns that his EU buddies have aligned with the Russians to use as their muscle to force Berg to resume oil production. Alternative energy is nice, but we must think about the economy, climate change be damned.

Berg decides to go along with all this to avert a war and publicly pretends to Norwegians that the Russian "guests" who've moved into the country to force the oil flow aren't occupiers and will leave in a few weeks. His cooperation doesn't go as planned, and almost immediately a resistance, first among the military then the people, is formed to fight the Russians and protect Norway's sovereignty.

This is no farce and the story as told instantly convinces you of its plausibility.Still, there are some aspects of the story that are a hoot. I'm told the Russians didn't like this series very much and complained about always being cast as the heavy in films and TV. The Americans, whom Berg believes are friends to Norway, come off badly...as usual. So much for the principles of sovereignty and commitment to solving climate change. Berg, as the cooperative prime minister, just loses it, decerebrating as the occupation becomes undeniable. He is chastised by his govt for undermining the party's original principles and therefore losing credibility. Credibility is very important to Norwegian politicians and the media. The woman who plays the Russian ambassador is magnificent! She knows how to play the game and push Berg and the other men around.

I'm eagerly awaiting Season 2.

The Blacklist
(2013)

One Glorious Actor Can Make A Difference
The Blacklist isn't the best TV show you've ever seen--it's not edgy or innovative with an original storyline or remarkable cinematography. It doesn't have distinctive, stylish features. Into its 3rd season, The Blacklist survives, it thrives despite its being no Breaking Bad, or Mr. Robot, or Fargo, or The Knick. How is this possible? Just what is its appeal?

James Spader as Red Reddington is the answer and the sole reason this show is so watchable. He's not only the captain of the ship, he's the crew and the ship as well. In short, his performance is everything that makes this show great and I suspect he's somehow improved the template like performances of his supporting actors over time. The man is just a joy to watch and makes an improbable character--govt spy turned international criminal mastermind-- delightful and believable. Every actor on that show ought to thank Spader for allowing them the opportunity to make money on a show that would have been cancelled its first year--perhaps mid-season--if he were not on it. It's the darndest thing, the difference one actor can make.

Still, I wish that the creators had chosen a different actress to play the part of Elizabeth Keen, the FBI profiler that Red Reddington is inexplicably fond of. Someone like Zoe Saldana would have been brilliant casting and added dimension to the mystery of the Keen-Reddington relationship. And perhaps better casting for that part would have inspired the writers to shape her role more credibly and sent the show into the stratosphere. While Megyn Kelly may be a solid actress, she does not yet have the chops to make something of the oddly inconsistent writing for her role. Too late to change this up now.

I'm hardly the only fan who tunes in to enjoy Spader's performance, marveling at how the dreamy young actor with long blonde hair evolved into this very charming, balding older man who can act his *beep* off. I give him an Emmy for just Being There.

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest
(2014)

Prison shouldn't always be the only solution
Mark DeFriest began his tenure as a prisoner because he took tools his father said he could have before probate had dealt with his father's will. That he was arrested for this, due to a complaint by his stepmother, is just tragic. It reveals a criminal justice system that is unable to deal compassionately with the minor mistakes and misunderstandings of ordinary people, most who are unfamiliar and inexperienced with laws and legal processes. Not every mistake needs to addressed with prison time. In this case, a judge might have asked DeFriest to return the tools or pay for them...whatever. But sentencing a young guy to prison, convicting him of a felony, over taking his dead dad's tools speaks volumes about what's wrong with the criminal justice system in the U.S.

My other observation deals with DeFriest's mental status. While he's no lunatic, he's clearly different and prison has just damaged his psyche even more. A smart guy, childlike really, he got bored in prison and did things to alleviate that boredom--like invent contraptions to break out. Clearly he lacked the upbringing and the nature to behave normally and was never destined to lead a typical life. Solitary confinement for 25 years is hardly an appropriate remedy for his personality aberrations...or for anyone, really. There was, however, an opportunity to divert his intellect toward productive output, which would be rehabilitation, but our criminal justice system has turned into a torture chamber and away from helping people rehabilitate o adapt for productive living.

This doc is cleverly done. The animated parts underscore the childlike behavior of DeFriest, a kid in an adult body. It's also shocking and demonstrates why people flee the police who feel that prison and execution are solutions for almost everything.

American Odyssey
(2015)

So far, so good
I found this first episode quite entertaining. A special unit finds out they've killed a prize terrorist and can't believe their good luck. In addition, they discover a laptop full of arabic intel though one item is in English and appears to be a money transfer from an American firm. Soon this unit gets a call from the top commander ordering them to stand down, telling them that the Intel unit will be there to take care of bodies and all material. They find this order odd but are told it comes from the highest of all high. And with this, their troubles begin.

Meanwhile, back in the states, a former US attorney runs into an old friend who casually tells him of an investigation into a corporation that his legal team represents. That attorney informs his colleagues of the info and soon gets shut down completely when the Corporate Man shows up and says they are all clear.

Bring in the Occupy Movement who are protesting all kinds of corporate and govt malfeasance and you've got a brew all connected to this Corporate/Military/Govt Conspiracy.

I give the series a number of points for showcasing the Occupy Movement! I give it more points for highlighting a Syriana-type corporate/govt conspiracy. The remaining points go to the entertainment values. So, yes, I'd recommend you watch it and see some truth in it.

Whiplash
(2014)

Speechless with joy
I could tell just after the first 10 minutes that this film was an extraordinary experience. It is both intimidating and inspiring, packaged in a intense brew of bloody notes. Although it is specifically about a drummer and his teacher, it speaks to anyone who has struggled to soar beyond the mediocre and is willing to sacrifice everything to get there.

Wow. And my son thought I was tough as his Suzuki violin coach. While I would never go to Fletcher's extreme in shaping a musician, I do see his point. Too many people go at their craft half-heartedly and wilt under the faintest of criticism. Even worse, they become successful for unexceptional work product that only serves to limit their development.

The look on the drummer's father's face when he watched his son playing and realized that his son was more than a drummer--he was a galaxy.

Jimmy P.
(2013)

Intriguing film about traumatic loss of culture and identity
Each of us springs from cultures that form our worldview, guide our behavior, create our sensibilities. But non-whites, especially, are coerced into discarding that identity and, through acculturation, becoming someone that they really aren't, someone who, over time, can no longer understand why they dream of a bear, a fox, and a baby and what in the world those images mean. An early scene in Jimmy P shows a white doctor asking Jimmy to respond to a picture he's shown of some white demonic guy with a knife in what looks like an operating room. Jimmy can't free associate anything from that picture. Not because he's crazy, but because it's meaningless to him. But later he can uncover meaning in a dream that includes a bear, a fox, and a baby.

Over a generation or two, Jimmy has lost many connections to his own past and cultural traditions. Although he can still sense them, he can't interpret them as they relate to his own psychological issues. He's broken laws that the dominant cultural doesn't regard as criminal at all. Not understanding this, he punishes himself even though freed by a white court of law.

Although Thunderheart may have been more entertaining, Jimmy P is enlightening about the psychic damage that happens when cultural and ethnic peoples are punished for who they are and made to ape other cultures to become accepted.

Halt and Catch Fire
(2014)

Give this a chance
From watching just one episode, I'm intrigued enough to watch another. Although I'm hardly a computer specialist, I do admit that I've always been fascinated by the technology. I'm old enough to remember when they were purchased for the workplace and you had to learn commands and operate A & B drives using floppy disks. No internet. Out with the secretaries and IBM selectrics. You had to write your own reports and letters.

One of my favorite books is Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine, which won him all kinds of prizes, about the race to build the dream computer. So far, this show reminds me of that book.

Too early to judge whether this show will work out, but I liked the first episode.

Oldboy
(2013)

Low scores from Park fans skew ratings
Twice I tried to watch the original Oldboy and neither time did I ever make it to the end. I'm not queasy about violence or detached, normally, from the world of the bizarre, but when you combine both elements with Korean, it all becomes a bit much. The Chan-wook Park Oldboy a level of bravery to watch much like that required to volunteer for surgery without anesthetic or painkillers.

But I was curious about Spike Lee's version and following him on Twitter, I told him (or whoever tweets for him) that I hoped it would be a bit less "hardcore." And it is.

(A funny anecdote. I entered the theater early and discovered 3 older, grandmotherly white women--probably in their 60s--all sitting together in the row in front of me. Amused, I walked over to them & said "excuse me, but you all don't look like the typical Oldboy fans to me." They all looked up at me with one face, "what are typical Oldboy fans?" One woman on the end was kinda smirking. I replied, "the original is somewhat brutal and bizarre--I tried to watch it twice and failed in both attempts." Then they started looking at each other and two pointed to the smirking woman. "She suggested it! We don't know anything about it!" Those women sat fully absorbed throughout the film.)

Which leads me to my next point. The Korean Oldboy was very much a spectacle that in many places was just really painful to sit through (if you're not the type to play gory video games on a regular basis). Lee's Oldboy does serve up some of that brutality, but there is a story attached to it that helps override the few (and less) gory parts. Is it better. On its own merits, it's okay. In fact, I probably will watch it again when it's released on DVD. It's not as spectacular and imaginative as Park's but it is engaging.

In some ways, it reminds me of the Pedro Almodavar film "The Skin I Live In," an equally bizarre story with an unexpected twist at the end and a film I truly admired. Don't let the low scores keep you away. It really is more worth your money than nearly all the other junk at the movies today.

The Fall
(2013)

Excellent Combo of Prime Suspect & Red Riding Trilogy
And note that both my nods to great crime thrillers were directed to British productions. The hunt for a serial killer gets a complicated but teeth-gnashing treatment in this beautifully produced series, The Fall. Gillian Anderson plays Stella Gibson, a focused, rather humorless, detective who takes control of the investigation once she ascertains that recent murders are indeed the work on one killer. She doesn't have to fight the battles that plagued Jane Tennyson, however. The male officers pretty much cede control and follow her lead & respect her authority and insight. But she is like Tennyson in that she's sacrificed the personal for the professional, indulging in the occasional "sweet night" to satisfy her sexual desires.

The first episode will definitely hook you. It is as creepy as anything I've seen as we watch the killer stalk his victim and commit his crime. Like the film, The Boston Strangler, we know who the killer is upfront--the thrill is in wondering if he'll succeed in thwarting the hunt. On many levels, the killer remains enigmatic through the season.

How I wish American shows--like the recently launched Hannibal--were as top-drawer as this one. Wonderful writing, good subplots, deftly drawn characters that present realistically, not cartoonishly. It's astonishing that yet another serial killer hunt series can provide a story that so skillfully hooks an audience.

Phil Spector
(2013)

Dreadful...mostly
I'm thinking that Pacino and Mirren must have had a lot of faith in David Mamet when making this horrible movie. It must be difficult during the filming to assess the quality of the work; it's done in bits and pieces so you leave the vision in the director's hands. Still, they must have had a clue.

There is really nothing worth critiquing in this dark and sad film. There are no human emotions demonstrated among any of the characters, especially among the crew of lawyers whose aim, it seems to me, was to give Spector a defense he could pay a million dollars for.

If you want to see Pacino in a terrific role for his increasing age, see him in HBO's "I Don't Know Jack," about Jack Kevorkian. As for this film, all I can wonder is why on earth Mamet did it.

Argo
(2012)

Quite suspenseful!
Ben Affleck continues hitting them out of the park. Based on a true story, Argo re-enacts the events that freed American foreign service employees from their hideout in the Canadian Embassy. The setup involves Affleck's character, Mendes, putting together the cover story of a Canadian film crew scouting locations in the Mideast for a sci-fi movie. Alan Arkin & John Goodman are hilarious as Hollywood hotshots producing this surefire scifi hit. The process follows Mendes as he enters Iran and has to BS his way to some skeptical and hostile Iranian theocrats who almost don't know how to respond to the possibility of a scifi movie set in Iran. Mendes must also deal with frightened and reluctant Americans who are being forced out in the open to pose as a movie crew. Affleck does a good job of injecting suspense and dread all through this section.

But the real nail biter is their exit from Iran. As in other movies of this ilk, the chase heats up with the Iranians on the heels of the Americans. Affleck throws into this chase a huge boulder of an obstacle when President Carter pulls the plug on the film crew ex-filtration & decides to go with Delta soldiers instead. If you want to know what happens, I advise you to see the movie or read the news accounts.

This just goes to show you that not all CIA covert actions are led by armed fighters like Jason Bourne and launched by the Treadstone department. Affleck's character doesn't even carry a gun--he carries a script instead.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
(2012)

Wassup, Will?
About 30 minutes into the film, I realized that the use of Lincoln as the protagonist was really nothing more than a jokey gimmick designed to attract an audience to a Batman Begins movie set during the 1800s. Why else watch this movie except for the titillating idea of Abraham Lincoln perhaps having been involved in something from the occult?

If you're going to involve an important historical figure in your work, I'd think you'd try to marry the history to the activity--what is it about vampire hunting that suggests a different bit of insight about Lincoln?

Lincoln was a very formal man of his times. He certainly wouldn't have used the American language in the ways he does here. Nor do I see Lincoln as having the kinetic range of a Neo in Matrix. He was a tall man with a deliberate gait and not at all as animated as he's presented here. This is a character "named" Abraham Lincoln, not "being" Abraham Lincoln.

I was bored because I was watching a substandard super hero comic book kind of movie. All that research supposedly done to convey realism was a waste of time and effort. Someone should have researched language and customs.

I forced myself to stay through the train fight video game, then simply walked out on the film. I felt tricked into watching a bad movie that I wouldn't even pay a $1 for in the box.

The Iron Lady
(2011)

If not for Meryl Streep...
...I wouldn't have even watched this film, given my lifelong left-wing principles which make me despise ultra conservatives like Thatcher, Nixon, and Reagan, and Dubya Bush. But my admiration for Meryl Streep, who has an incredibly magical talent for becoming a character, tempted me to take a look, despite my loathing of Ironpants.

If it weren't for Streep, this film would have been nothing. It's really a one-woman film focusing on Thatcher's drive to power, her marriage to beloved Dennis, her twins. While we aren't forced to sympathize with her views and policies, Streep does an effective job at revealing the person who comes to the same juncture that we all march toward--old age, aloneness, debility--and prompting our sympathy for someone who has reached that point in time where we have more memories than future. Getting old is not something to look forward to, being a grown up baby in need of minders. Personally, I dread the prospect and look gratefully to the Hemlock Society the moment my drivers license is taken away from me.

Meryl Streep could play anyone convincingly. I look forward to her tackling Nina Simone.

Miss Bala
(2011)

Sometimes real life stories need some work
I gave this film a 7 instead of a 6 because, despite its late half problems, the film is quite watchable and absorbing...if not somewhat enigmatic. Laura is an ordinary Mexican girl who wants to cash in on her looks by becoming Miss Baja Mexico. Unfortunately, an outing with a friend at a popular club propels her into the midst of a drug cartel war where she is ultimately and easily taken hostage (thanks to a corrupt system) and then forced to involve herself in a string of illegal activities.

Where this film begins to falter is with the personality of Laura. She sort of becomes an Elizabeth Smart, the young girl in Utah who was kidnapped from her home and forced to live with her captors and who, despite several good opportunities, never made an effort to escape or resist. Laura's passivity is distracting as we wonder what's wrong with her--is she shell- shocked, does she have Stockholm syndrome, is she just stupid? The director tries to convince us that her motivation to do as she's told comes from her desire to protect her little brother from any retaliatory flak that might come from her disobedience...but you never get the idea that she's being threatened in that way, especially in the last half of the film.

I immediately thought of Maria, Full of Grace when I watched Miss Bala--a much better film about a young girl's involvement with the drug trade, with a solidly built narrative.

The Beaver
(2011)

A surprisingly excellent film
I just rented the DVD last night and must admit was not all that enthusiastic about the choice. Who wants to see a film about a guy who takes up with a toy beaver? But, amazingly, the more I got into the film, the more engrossed I became. Mel Gibson does a brilliant job as Walter Black, a darkly depressed middle aged man whose despair over his lack of feeling leads to lethargy and destroys everything in his life, predictably resulting in thoughts of suicide. No one really wants to die--death is forever. So it's a perverted attempt at self rescue when Walter finds a beaver puppet in a trashcan and converts it into an alter ego--with an Australian accent!-- that restores him to life.

Anyone who's suffered from depression knows what a debilitating, painful mental illness it is. Many turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping-- anything to relieve them of their agony. It is a slow dark march toward death. That Walter bonds with a puppet to drag him back from that march is initially absurd but also laudable. That he succeeds in convincing others that his remedy is acceptable is ludicrously uplifting...at first.

But the puppet is perhaps the mania edge of Walter's bipolar malady. And eventually he finds himself in conflict again, in descent.

What's remarkable about this film is Mel Gibson's performance. He committed 1000% to this role and played Walter Black as a man wrangling with mental illness and trying to deal with it as best he could. I found him totally believable and empathized with him completely.

The major subplot dealing with Walter's son who is more like his father than he's willing to consciously accept is perhaps a bit neat, a bit heavy handed, but it is interesting and does work. Kudos to the screenwriter for whom this script was a first time effort and first sale.

Mel Gibson has had some personal problems also played out spectacularly in the media. I suspect he's not far from Walter Black himself. As a black person, I should be upset at him. But I'm not. I don't believe he's a racist for some reason. I believe he was, he is, a man under pressure and an unhappy man rooting around for a joy in living that once came so easily for all of us. I've always been a Mel Gibson fan and will continue to be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(2011)

Not really better than the original
Why do an English language version of a stunning foreign film? There are all sorts of reasons to do so and good ones. Perhaps the foreign culture got in the way of Americans appreciating the story fully, or perhaps the film was not well distributed in English-language countries. The North American market is huge and there are plenty of dollars for a film that probably played mostly in art houses (e.g. Pour Elle became The Next Three Days--practically duplicates). Tattoo, however, had a robust DVD viewing, so it's not like it lacked exposure. And sometimes a director has a particular point of view that he or she thinks will enhance or illuminate the story -- perfectly reasonable.

But I really cannot say why David Fincher took on a redo of this film. He brought nothing new to it. It's a copy tweaked here and there and not near as gritty as the original. And I'm not all that enthusiastic about some of the changes he made in Lisbeth's or Blomquist's character or in the story wrap up.

The first hour is quite slow--I even nodded off for a few minutes. It picks up when Lisbeth and Blomquist finally begin working together, although this Lisbeth is somewhat more into Blomquist. Despite Lisbeth's severe goth look, it's not as hard and realistic as Rapace's. Rooney Mara is Hollywood Lisbeth. Rapace has more street cred,she wasn't pretty & looked somewhat boyish.

I love David Fincher, think he's one of the best storytellers in film today. But I can't see compelling reasons for his efforts in this film. In any case, you'll enjoy the movie...again. But you won't leave the theatre in shock and awe.

Boss
(2011)

A Role in Search of a Series in Chicago
Kelsey Grammar is outstanding in this role as a mayor of Chicago who's suffering from an incurable neurological disease. His obsession with power includes some demoniacal activities that I hope Chicago mayors have not indulged in. However most of the story lines just aren't up to snuff to give Grammar his ovation. For one, there is way too much soft porn and nudity worked in for no reason other than to titillate. Sex may occur in Chicago, but not to this extent.

My other complaint centers on the lack of an authentic Chicago feel to the show. When Boss's wife referred to his birthplace in Bridgeport, I choked on my popcorn. No way Kelsey Grammar behaves or speaks like someone from Bridgeport. In fact, there are few characters on this show that are recognizably Chicagoan. Without the background shots, this could be about the mayor of Hollywood. Refinement is not Chicago's fine point. (If this took place in Evanston or Wilmette, the characters might be more believable although the mayor would certainly go to the gas chamber).

Coming from Chicago, the inauthentic-ness really bothered me. Not even the drug dealers rang true. If Starz intends to continue Boss, it should get some real Chicago actors who can convey the city, hire a Chicago writer. It's a city with a rich culture that would only help this series were it re-created in a more genuine fashion. If not, I suggest you re title the series-- The Godfather, for example.

An update regarding Season 2: The new season is much better than the first. The story lines and characters are more deeply presented, outside of their sexual proclivities. Producers seemed to realize the Kelsey Grammar is what makes this show so he is on camera a lot and shown from an array of viewpoints. His infatuation with Sanaa Latham's character is provocative...and sad. You often veer from hating to pitying to admiring this man. I wish the other characters were as magnetic as Boss.

This still has nothing to do with the reality of chicago, its people or its politics. Throw in a little Streets and Sanitation, a little O'Hare, a little lakefront and voila! This story is really not about the city of Chicago, it's about a King who is losing his mind and trying to hide it to keep the buzzards at bay. Definitely enjoyed this season so far.

50/50
(2011)

Lame
I looked forward to 50/50. I enjoy JGL's acting and thought I'd get a kick out of seeing him play a young guy who learns he has a very serious form of cancer that might take his life. One reviewer suggested that the film would remind you how every day is a gift. Being unemployed with bills, I needed that kind of reminder.

I'm still depressed. I didn't think this movie was funny, insightful, touching, or distinctive. A young guy finds out he might die from cancer, his shallow girlfriend can't hang, but his buddy does and keeps his outlook positive by encouraging him to use his cancer to get laid. In most films, I can get lost in the story and film as a whole world. In 50/50, however, I always got the sense that these were actors running scenes and they were all strung together to voila! Make a movie. The relationships between characters were for the most part cliché--the annoying mother, the shallow girlfriend, the inhuman doctor, the loyal buddy. And, if I were facing death, I would probably request an experienced doctor and not allow to be a guinea pig for a 24-year-old trainee.

But I gave this film 6 out of 10 because the last 20 minutes were indeed quite heartfelt. If I were you, I'd wait until this comes to red box near you.

Meek's Cutoff
(2010)

Like "Somewhere" on the trail
I wasn't a big fan of the film "Somewhere"; if its purpose was to show the emptiness of life, it succeeded. Meek's Cutoff resembles Somewhere in that not a whole hell of a lot happens. A group of settlers hires a guide to take them over the Oregon Trail. The experienced guy tries for a shortcut and gets everybody lost. Now this is where I first napped--when I woke up, the settlers had captured a Comanche and were debating whether to kill him or force him to help them find their way and also find water.

There is really little to spoil in this film--that, in fact, may be a spoiler in itself.

Unknown
(2011)

Not as good as Taken, but mildly entertaining
The first half hour of this film is excellent. Somewhat Hitchcockian in theme and atmosphere, the film focuses on Dr. Martin Smith, in Berlin with his wife for a biotechnology conference where he's a presenter. But his briefcase is left at the airport; he goes back for it...and there the fun begins.

In many ways this movie reminded me of the Harrison Ford film "Frantic," in which Ford played a doctor visiting Paris to attend a conference. After checking in to his hotel, he loses his wife. Did he even have a wife? With everyone so skeptical of him, he has to investigate her all by himself, at some point picking up a young hottie who gets drawn into helping him.

Unknown is the same thing, only different. The problem in in the second act where the story should be developed...convincingly. There are a number of twists, but they pop up too late and too abruptly so you end up guffawing at them. Despite those flaws, I did find it entertaining in spots and wouldn't mind watching it again...on DVD.

Considerable acting talent was employed in this film. Liam Neeson, Bruno Ganz, and Frank Langella are la creme de la creme. I'm sure both Langella & Ganz knew the script was entirely working, but, hey, a payday is a payday.

Taken, by comparison, is a superior movie. This film is like Frantic, the Bourne Identity, and the Long Kiss Goodnight all rolled together but not blended very well.

Biutiful
(2010)

Thought about giving it up
Ordinarily I like these kinds of films about people struggling to overcome the odds of a bad deal.But in this film, Uxbal, the protagonist, has to struggle against every bad thing can ever happen to a person and all in a very short window of time. Death would be a welcome relief. Javier Bardem plays his role extremely well though; I felt his anguish over his children and the immigrants he "managed." His story gets weighed down, unfortunately, by the number of tragedies he must endure and the tasks he must execute. The director could have eliminated/edited a few of the off-point character traits and side stories to streamline the story for impact, which would have helped the film deliver more of a meaningful punch, not less.

In addition, the summary of this movie says Uxbal must suffer a number of tragedies on the way to redemption. I'm not sure there is any redemption here. In Children of Men, the protagonist endures a lot and struggles through his own character defects to protect an black female fugee whose pregnancy provides hope for the human race. We feel joyful at the end of CofM because he has accomplished his task despite the odds. The ending of Biutiful, however, lacks a clear meaning and we're unsure of everyone's fate except for Uxbal's. The experience was depressing.

I gave the movie an 8 because it was beautifully produced and well acted; the story was original, an uncommon view of Barcelona and the immigrants who go there for work under terrible conditions. But I doubt if anyone would want to see this film more than once.

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