#WeeklyRoundup – Movies I Reviewed Last Week

Here are links to the movie reviews I posted last week. I broke my average of 3/week and did one more this time.

‘Chariots of Fire’

Running is an endurance sport. Not everyone who loves this true-story movie is a runner but it touches them because we all must endure day to day. This film is a metaphor for life, faith, and the importance (or not) of achievement.

*This review contains spoilers.

The story of Eric Liddell is an inspirational one. The music by Vangelis in this film works to elevate the audience to a higher place than most of us usually experience. After all, not all of us will run in the Olympics. The evocative message in Chariots of Fire is strong and timeless.

chariotsoffire-poster

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Cast

Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Directed by

Hugh Hudson

Written by

Colin Welland

Other Info

Biography, Drama, Sport
PG

There was a poster in my running coach’s office when I was in High School that read: “The agony for the ecstasy.” That is why serious runners do it. I didn’t run anymore but in my twenties I knew the ecstasy of it. Chariots of Fire displays it masterfully. The film’s true story and anthemic music touched a generation beginning at its 1981 release.

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is the protagonist and he wants to win the olympic medal at any cost. He’s also a student at Harvard who is obsessed with running to run, second place is not good enough. As the Olympics near, he hears of another runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) vying to run in the Olympics. The difference with Eric is that he has a natural ability to run. Abrahams needs a coach and all manner of training to have a chance at winning. Liddell is also a Christian with high ideals. When he finds out the qualifying races are on a Sunday, he tells the committee he cannot run due to his Sabbath. This is the first time something like this ever happened to the committee so they hardly know what to do. Ultimately, they put Liddell in a different race category so he doesn’t have to run on Sunday. At the same time, Abrahams becomes tortured because he will never be able to prove himself against Liddell. This eats him up inside. 

The film is a psychological study of Abrahams. He is a “win at all costs” scrupulous fellow. Conversely, Liddell is a contented missionary in China doing the “work of the Lord” with his sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell).

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There are two speeches by Liddell: one sounds like a sermon and another like a funeral. In fact, the final speech is drawn from actual lines Eric spoke at Abrahams funeral in real life. While they were adversaries on the track, they did become friends. What’s the one thing you won’t do? If you can’t think of anything, you probably need to work on your integrity. Liddell’s live mat seem like a stoic life of service. Abrahams life may look more indulgence with a girlfriend, wine, and the finest of food while studying at the finest of universities. The irony is that Abrahams is always unsatisfied. He becomes jealous of Liddlell, not because he is a better runner which he is but rather because he is content and joyful. It tears Abrahams up that he himself lacks that calmness and self-acceptance.

The music by Vangelis is some of the most evocative and beautiful pop piano ever recorded. It has a synth drum sound which was only just beginning to be used in music. A combination of some ethereal sounds, the synth drum, and the analog piano made this music infectious. It showed up on the pop charts. As a personal anecdote, I was 11 years old when I saw this in the theater. My parents remained through the credits, an action they had never done up to that point and still haven’t since, just to soak in the incredible song.

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This is a British film for sure. Settings include London, Harvard, and a Scottish beach where the British Track Team runs. The beach run is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Whether a person runs or not, this film applies to all of us. We see Liddell’s idealism contrasted against Abraham’s determination and grit. There is some of both in all of us. The question to talk about over coffee at the end is: “What would I stand up for?” The second question: “Who am I more like: Abrahams or Liddell?” They are the two poles on the spectrum. It’s a very tough question to answer. I think it’s clear Liddell is happier but I’ll leave that up to the viewer.

There is a scene at the beginning that has all the members of the British Olympic Track Team playing a game of cricket. Everyone fits except Liddell. He is off to the side and he seems out-of-place. As a missionary, I imagine he felt out of place with those guys. He says “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure. His character makes it a very spiritual film. Sadly, Ian Charleson died of Aids in 1990. He is also known for his roles in Ghandi and Tarzan, the Legend of Greystoke. His role as Eric Liddell remains his most popular role. The fact that he was probably not a Christian, though I don’t know if he was or not, goes to show what a great job of acting he did in Chariots of Fire. In a world where ideals seem less and less important, Eric Liddell’s life stands as a beacon of what integrity and sacrifice means. I’ve seen this film 50 times or more. I watched it again today to write this review. It’s one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. I recommend it to you.

Better Call Saul

The criminal defense lawyer, Saul, from “Breaking Bad” is the focus of this spinoff. It is a prequel to “Breaking Bad.” Saul uses questionable tactics to defend his criminal clients.

Title: Better Call Saul
Network TV: AMC
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Year: 2015
Creators: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Top Billed Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn
Brief Synopsis: The criminal defense lawyer, Saul, from “Breaking Bad” is the focus of this spinoff. It is a prequel to “Breaking Bad.” Saul uses questionable tactics to defend his criminal clients. The first season explains why he is this way and what drove him to such desperate measures.
My Word to the Wise: This is binge-worthy TV. Saul is a likeable character who is put in trying situations that test his morality. The black humor mixed with well written drama is addicting. I’ve almost finished the first season in a few days (10 episodes).

‘Demolition’

Have you ever tried to put something broken back together again? How about a heart, stricken by grief. That may be what is happening in this film. That would explain a lot.

*This review contains spoilers.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper star in this film that may be better watched in a therapist’s office than in your DVD home theater.

demolition_poster

Demolition (2015)
Cast

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper

Directed by

Jean-Marc Vallée

Written by

Bryan Sipe

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 41min

I like most of Jake Gyllenhaal’s movies. They are usually a bit left of centre. Enemy was one of the strangest endings I’ve seen in a long time. I also adore Naomi Watts in just about anything she has starred in. The Impossible is one of my favorites. Chris Cooper is also a legend and a treat to watch. With all three of these in this film, you’d think it was an amazing piece of work, you’d think. There is a lot of fun going on here but, as is customary for Gyllenhaal, it’s odd fun indeed.

The story summary is as follows: Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is stricken with grief and apparently in denial after the death of his wife in a horrible car accident they were both in. Instead of grieving by taking off work and showing sadness, he decides to return immediately to work much to the dismay of his late wife’s father, played by Chris Cooper. It’s odd how he is so okay after the accident. What’s more, he seems preoccupied with the way things are put together. He is obsessed with taking household items like appliances apart and assembling them. I told you about the odd part. He meets Naomi Watt’s character and they start a sort of relationship. This doesn’t get much tread because he is usually rebuilding things or breaking things with a sledge-hammer. There is an interplay between Gyllenhaal’s character and his newfound girlfriend’s son. This oddly takes the film in a different direction. The boy suspects me might be gay and seems to draw strength from breaking things apart too. One thing I should note about Gyllenhaal’s character is that he really seems askew, almost “touched.” It’s endearing to watch him go through healing stages if you assume that is what is happening but his character’s outlandish actions of grandiosity discount his realism. He needed to be more human more of the time.

jomovie13 - Stills from the movie Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis##########jomovie13##########CATHEY-KERIS FILMS

I take this movie as an abstract map for grief. When you go through such a terrible loss, it breaks you apart. It leaves you to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. I think someone going through grief could find some solace in this film. Sometimes you have to break down to build yourself strong again. This is an interesting and possibly therapeutic film but as a typical box office movie, I felt it was just short of the mark. It didn’t feel like a movie. Instead, it felt like a gesture from someone like a director seeking to help those going through grief. That isn’t a bad thing it’s just not a movie thing for me, too simplistic and not interesting enough subject matter. And again, Gyllenhaal’s character was not real and not believable enough for me to care about him.

You could start a cult with this film. It teaches self-actualization through destruction. There is a lot you can do with destruction, we all want to know what’s inside things. Sometimes it’s tempting to break them open and see it immediately. I think if one looks at the movie as a therapy session, it will make sense and one can have a good experience watching it. If one can’t buy my reading and doesn’t have a framed purpose for this plot, it will get extraordinarily boring very quickly. To close, I’d say it works on one level but not another. People who have been through grief are more likely to enjoy it. For those not interested in grief or the psychological study of it, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Secret in Their Eyes

“Jess: Life Sentence Ray Kasten: For you as well.” When you catch murderers for a living, it must bite that much harder when they murder your child. When you know the wheels of justice grind slowly, it must be hard not to take the law into your own hands. Secret in Their Eyes (2015) Cast … Continue reading

Jess: Life Sentence
Ray Kasten: For you as well.”

When you catch murderers for a living, it must bite that much harder when they murder your child. When you know the wheels of justice grind slowly, it must be hard not to take the law into your own hands.

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
Cast
Chiwetel Ejiofor

as Ray Kasten

Nicole Kidman

as Claire Sloane

Julia Roberts

as Jessica Cobb

Directed by
Billy Ray
Written by
Billy Ray, Juan Jose Campanella
Other Info

Mystery, Thriller, Crime
Rated PG-13
1h 11min

Secret in their Eyes is a mystery thriller that started advertising far before it was released. The Julia Roberts factor was likely the reason there. Her movies almost always draw in the minions but sometimes they do fail to convince them. I wonder if her being listed at #3 on the IMDB cast page has to do with that. In the days of “Erin Brokovich,” “Pretty Woman,” et. al. the list goes on, she would likely have appeared first. Now, the two above her are a much hotter commodity.

It’s a great thriller! I don’t understand exactly why the critics have been so hard on it. It has a strong backbone of a story that was adapted from a 2009 Argentine film, “The Secret in Their Eyes.” That film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. As I watched this film I felt empathy, revulsion, anger, and so much more. I felt I was among the characters, not just in the audience. I think it’s a universal theme of revenge.

There’s a twist at the end some may not see coming. The movie is made very well but it was a little predictable for me. Some viewers will enjoy the thriller aspect of this film as it unfolds while others will find the locations limiting and the events unbelievable. Takes on face value, this is an excellent thriller. I definitely enjoy watching it to the credits even though there were times I could clearly see what was going to happen next. After all, Jess Cobb’s daughter is brutally murdered and she becomes a basket case. I knew for sure some sort of retribution would happen, and it does. The manner and details of that retribution are what they hope you’ll go to see after the trailer. It’s a very cool thing, I recommend it!

Holidays (2016)

This post is part of a series I am experimenting with where I review the films now streaming on Netflix. I’m attempting to make them non-spoiler previews.

Holidays is an anthology of horror stories that share the theme of holidays including Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. They range from creepy and unsettling to gory and outright macabre. Anthologies can be great because they get to the conflict and solution much faster than other genre films. There are some truly scary anthology horror films out there, but can this one compete? Let me tell you what I think.

Among the directors is Kevin Smith of Tusk fame. Since that is one of my favorite horror films from 2014, I had high hopes for what he did her. I’ll go ahead and say there isn’t anything as horror-comical as Tusk but there is some stuff just about as twisted. In one, religious folk may be offended. If you decide to give it a go, keep your mind open with the jaws of life. I think I’ll be a recovering religious person my whole life and I loved it. Traditionalists should steer clear. The first three are generally vanilla.

The 5th, Halloween, stars Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and gets into sex webcams. The girls say fuck quite a bit, which is not necessarily bad depending on how much you enjoy hearing that from cute girls. Basically the 5th takes you into the twisted, vengeful mind of Kevin Smith. I’ll hold back on details but I can safely tell you we see an asshole get his without spoiling anything.

I’m a big horror fan. I love watching what can be done in this genre. Kevin Smith pushes the limits and gets great results in my opinion. Smith’s contribution may be seen by some as unimaginable but when you’re dealing in vengeance art, you never know what will appeal to people. I’m reminded of the rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The 6th, Christmas, stars Seth Green. It’s fun to watch but not unique to me. See Brainstorm 1983 for more info on that (what’s a little remake posing as plagiarism between friends?). Oh, there’s a little sleight of hand from Dexter playing in there as well. For the genre of anthology horror, I’d say this one is worth my time. How open minded do you have to be? Well, enough see a climax per sequence which, if you think about it, better than the single big one we’re usually limited to. The final sequence takes place on New Year’s Eve and I will call it the most predictable. The anthology could be better in places but it also could be a lot worse overall. My verdict: Worth watching.

Wondering what you’ll see? Let me know in the comments. Then, get on Netflix where it’s currently streaming and see for yourself.

8/10

Grandma

Title: Grandma
Genre: Drama, Comedy
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Paul Weitz, known for “About a Boy.”
Top Billed Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden
Brief Synopsis: It’s great to have Grandma but it helps to have mom too. Nobody’s perfect.
My Word to the Wise: I’m a lifelong Lily Tomlin fan so this review may be biased. I think she deserves an academy award for best actress. Beyond that, the cast is all good. It is nice to see Sam Elliot again. While watching this movie I asked my wife, “When will we as a society stop judging each other.” To which she replied,

“We’ll never change, I think it’s in our DNA.” This movie makes me want to at least try harder. The themes are similar to those in “Juno” but with a much more real-life bent. Less comedy than drama, more human than appearances. We need more movies like this, they enlighten and advance the species.

Sleepwalk With Me

This started out a pretty great movie. It’s as if they lost steam in the writing and acting 3/4 of the way through. Still, it stands up as a decent drama/romance flick. The comedy is sorely lacking. I really felt for the main character’s girlfriend. I was shocked she stayed with him for 8 years in the story.

Title: Sleepwalk With Me
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Bio
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2012
Director: Oren Moverman. Known for The Messenger (2009), I’m Not There. (2007) and Love & Mercy (2014).
Top Billed Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose
Brief Synopsis: A wannabe stand up comic has to decide if he’s going to marry his girlfriend of 8 years. A running theme throughout is Mike’s sleepwalking diagnosis.
My Word to the Wise: This started out a pretty great movie. It’s as if they lost steam in the writing and acting 3/4 of the way through. Still, it stands up as a decent drama/romance flick. The comedy is sorely lacking. I really felt for the main character’s girlfriend. I was shocked she stayed with him for 8 years in the story.


He’s a deadbeat, marginally funny, stand up comedian. I don’t think any woman would wait that long to be married. I won’t offer any spoilers. It holds your attention and raises questions about relationships. Sleepwalking, I’m afraid, is just not all that interesting. The over reliance on that as a theme made it lose a star. Other than that, the jokes weren’t very funny so that subtracted another. It’s decent though, worth watching. Not a must see though.

Amy

Title: Amy
Genre: documentary, biography
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Asif Kapadia (Senna)
Brief Synopsis: The innocent beginnings of Amy Winehouse that lead to her sudden rise to fame, culminating in her untimely death.
My Word to the Wise: Powerful documentary. it portrays Amy as she was behind the scenes of her gifted yet troubled singing career. Through home movies and musical footage, the viewer can process the question of what went wrong and why. Some handheld camera songs are a bit sketchy and long. for that it lost one star with me.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

“Wayne’s World” rocked us when it came out. Then there was Harold and Kumar. It’s just as “Dude” stonerriffic with just the added bit of cultural references it needs to be relevant to a slightly younger crowd. Of course, that was 2004. It might need another incarnation here in 2018.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
R | 1h 28min | Adventure, Comedy | 30 July 2004 (USA)

A Korean-American office worker and his Indian-American stoner friend embark on a quest to satisfy their desire for White Castle burgers.
Director: Danny Leiner
Writers: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Stars: John Cho, Kal Penn, Ethan Embry

Our director here, Danny Leiner, is the “Dude” in my book because he is the director of “Dude Where’s my Car?” This fits in perfectly with the type of film we’re talking about here. You might call it a “stoner comedy.” Jess Spiccoli, Bill and Ted, etc. These films are great for drinking parties and the like. Do they stand up in the decades that follow? Maybe not so much. Still there’s enough humor in this one that still works to keep your attention. It’s a light-hearted comedy that tries to be a slightly older “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” I laughed but the crude humor might turn some off. I gave this one a 6/10