Miracle On 34th Street

Young Natalie Wood is skeptical about the existence of Santa Claus. A few verification tugs on his beard get her on the long path to believing.

This film is such a great Christmas classic on many levels. You have the black and white retro props which weren’t retro in the 40’s when this was made. In other words, the props are real! Beyond that you have a timeless story with powerhouse and legendary actors.

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This is one of those family films that has appeal for both kids and adults. Its written in such a way that there is something for everyone to relate with. For example, there is a drunk imitation Santa who gets his just desserts. There’s a young man who plays Santa as part of the union and gets advice from the man himself. Theres a hardened divorcee trying to raise her daughter without make believe and her suitor bachelor who sees a flaw in that. Finally, among many entertaining characters is Kris Kringle, the man who almost gets committed to an asylum for claiming he is Santa Claus.

There is a romance here along with a court drama, intelligent comedy, and a hint of childhood Christmas magic. I recommend to all.

American Crime

Crime shows are great because they’re interesting and fun. This new show is a crime show that definitely lives up to that reputation. It is also gritty. It presents cases in full light rather than just the attractive aspects.

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I binge watched S01 and really enjoyed it. The story is well written and the acting is superb. Felicity Huffman is my favorite character in the season, she plays a somewhat cold mother of a murdered son who is driven to colder extremes based on the way the court and law enforcement system puts her through the ringer.

Timothy Hutton also does a great job as her ex-husband. He’s trying to make it in the world after some troubles with the law. We see a few examples of that as we follow this case to its season conclusion. There isn’t much “feel good” material here. It starts with a murder and rape and through the course of the season we learn probably more than we want to about both. It is a bit like a mystery and in the end there are a few twists.

It is not a feel good show and therefore not for everyone. It can be quite violent but the violence serves to drive the story and make things more believable.

I really enjoyed this crime drama. I recommend it to fans of the genre and for those who enjoy revealing legal details and tacit rules the police and legal system follow, often in secret.

The Exploding Girl

College can be a rough time, even for those who are 100% healthy. In this case, we have a protagonist with epilepsy. She’s trying to find love that eludes her time and time again.

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I like films like this that look almost like hidden camera footage. When a girl and her roommate stay up watching TV, hanging off the couch talking about life, you are among them. It’s really a hard time when you’re out of high school in your early years of adulthood. You want the job, the enjoyment, and the love that culture promises and yet, it doesn’t translate that way.

We see a girl who is stuck in unrequited love, trying to improve a relationship tat is sadly one-sided. When one is new at love, there is so much that has to be learned the hard way. Then, there is the “Ducky” type of friend who shares her apartment. Is their friendship destined to stay platonic or will it grow into a sexual thing.

Thes are the basic elements of this film. My wife thought it dragged on a bit. I, on the other hand, liked the mysterious ether-like feeling of the film. For me, it was a peering into the life of a brave young girl with no answers. I found it inspiring in an odd way. Maybe because I don’t yet have the answers and I felt for her in that stage of life. I recommend it as a thoughtful romantic drama.

4.

The Edge of Seventeen

This film was marketed incorrectly and that’s too bad. I think some will pass on it because it looks like Emma Stone getting an easy a or some derivative of a party and sex themed high school movie. It’s not like that at all.

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This film is about real people going through changes in life. It has dark segments and dark comedy as well. There are elements of the high school comedy but they only serve to drive the depth of the story. It is all interwoven especially well.

This film shows what its film-making generation can do at a pristine level. Instead of relying on recycled paradigms of successful party films.

The acting is great. I’d say her brother is too huge and too buff. I might have opted for a more “Ducky” sort.

Other than his though, which is only just less than perfect, all the performances are fantastic.

One topic delved into is the mental-health topic of depression. With high schoolers, it can be hard to draw a clear line between regular growing pains and depression. This films shows the blurred line and then lets the audience draw its own distinction.

The protagonist is beautiful, I hope to see her in more films. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I recommend it to all, preteens through adults.

Snowden

I’ve seen paranoia around the ideas of NSA among friends and co-workers. I thought most of it was unfounded until I saw this film, Snowden. I’ll modify what I just said just a hair, I’ll replace the word “paranoia with “awareness.” People need to be aware of the surveillance going on in our private lives.

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Snowden is quite a character. I really enjoyed watching this movie. I can’t say I would give up a posh home in Hawaii and a romantic lover just to inform the press about the snooping the government does. That’s just what he did though. Furthermore, he’s given up any chance of walking down Central Park or swimming at the California beaches. He did it for “us?”

Most of us know our employers monitor our internet use along with things like keystrokes on our work computers. They could have cameras everywhere and often do because they are your employer and they’ll fire us if we don’t like it. What I didn’t know until I saw this enlightening true story is that they have access to our wi-fi and other monitoring mechanisms in our homes. They monitor the world in hopes of preventing terrorism. I guess it’s working pretty well right? There hasn’t been another 9-11?

We see Snowden rise up in the ranks of the FBI and reveal for us the many ways the NSA peers into our private lives. It’s fairly well done. The way one reacts to is will depend on ones political sensitivities. Snowden is a real guy. You can Google him. AS a movie this is pretty good. It’s the subject matter that truly makes it worth the watch. But as you do, just remember, they may be watching you. You might ask yourself, as I did, if Snowden is a hero or just a guy who had enough. I recommend it for fans of the drama and mystery genres as well as those interested in the subject of internet privacy.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hands on activities are always better for kids. Getting away from a desk and into the wilderness would be an effective way to foster problem solving skills in a child. What’s more, real life problems yield better solutions than ones in book at a desk in a public school. These are ideals I agree with, even as a public school teacher myself.

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This is a quirky and strange movie if you don’t pour some sort of meaning into it. Early on, I had a meaning I got from it and that’s why I think I enjoyed it so much. I’ll tell you what it was, as long as you remember that movies are like all art: you get out what you perceive from it.

The evil social worker lady represented the restrictive educational policies of George Bush. They were called. as most will recall, “No Child Left Behind.” She in fact repeats this phrase many times as her battle cry to find the protagonist. It’s also derived from the bumper sticker wisdom: “All who wander are not lost.”

This film looks a lot like Moonrise Kingdom in its silliness and campy presentation. Some will find humor in that alone. A preteen juvenile delinquent keeps escaping from school and eventually, after his caretaker aunt dies, he goes on a wilderness expedition with his “step-uncle.” A bunch of stuff happens, some interesting, some funny, some dull. At any rate, it becomes another aphorism: “Life is a journey.” It’s made to show how much more this child gets out of surviving with his uncle than he would in public school, or the juvenile correctional system anyway. The actors are all speaking in australian accents which makes it seem like an independent film (which in fact it is).

If you’re willing to sit through a whole movie of goofiness to see this director’s point about open and unbridled education, you’ll probably laugh a lot. I’ve seen better quirkiness like this in the film Nacho Libre. That’s also about an underdog who emerges victorious … and the jokes are funny. I’d recommend this film for fans of understated humor and who don’t agree with restrictive educational policies. I’d say it will be liked six and one half-dozen the other by the general public.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Asking me to rate a Harry Potter spinoff/prequel is a lot like asking a mean old man in the mid 1950’s to rate a Beatles album. To him it’s shit. To me this is shit. I was twisting and turning in my seat the entire time. I related with very little, which is an important feature for me in a film.

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I had some interest in the Harry Potter films, emphasize SOME, but this new film has just enough in it to keep the die-hard-trekkie types reeled in. I even saw a compatriot teacher I recognized dressed in a Harry Potter hooded witch costume, replete with wand and glasses. That’s when I knew I really shouldn’t have come.

I won’t waste your time saying much about this film, I’m simply not qualified due to my lack of interest in Harry Potter films. The beasts are as cool as to be expected. J.K Rowling is a billionaire from her many Harry exploits so it stands to reason she would spare no expense in creating cool CGI beasts. The trouble is, you don’t see them much. In fact, you have to wait very long before you get to gaze upon them for any length of time. I loved some of these beasts. They should have had them gracing the screen much more than they did.

I won’t attempt to give you the story line here because it isn’t interesting and this film really didn’t resonate with me enough to care to do that. I usually give a summary, here I won’t it isn’t worth your time. I haven’t walked out of a film in several years. The last one I recall walking out on was The Passion of the Christ (2004). I’ve actually never reviewed that film and for good reason. It falls into the Mel Gibson line of beating the hell out of the protagonist. I guess I wasnt in the mood that day.

Eddie Redmayne was just ok in this. I wanted to slap him he mumbled so much. I wasn’t impressed by his wand either. Why is Ezra Miller in this? I usually like him too but all I could think about when seeing him was: “Oh crap, another big name actor that will merit making a backstory thereby making this film longer.”

I could go on but I won’t.

The only people I can recommend this for are those with Harry Potter action figures and costumery. They are so starved for a new film, they may enjoy this one. As for me? I’m glad I walked out and went through the mall to buy my wife See’s caramels instead.

Vote for My Pick: Movie of the Month ‘A Christmas Story’ at the LAMB

Hey friends! I need your help. I really want to win this and I know you’ll agree it’s the best Christmas film on the LAMB list. Head over there and vote for the ultra amazing and classic A Christmas Story. It’s already playing traditionally in our house. Vote today!

Head over there and vote for the ultra amazing and classic A Christmas Story.

The Grapes of Wrath

My wife and I watched “The Grapes of Wrath” recently and while it was a bit tedious at times, it packed some powerful and therapeutic messages for me.

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The adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel was about the Joads, a family from Oklahoma, traveling in the 40’s to find work. It is during the ferocious dust bowl period that made farmers’ land fallow. Those who once owned the farms were now vagrant/migrant workers. The greed and selfishness of the banks and landowners is an eerie backdrop to this realistic fiction. With our country in such financial crisis it seems it could return to this. Maybe it’s not so bad to be afraid of that.

The whole “aura” of the movie always gets to me emotionally because my grandpa came to Bakersfield, CA from Arkansas when my dad was just a kid. Certainly my dad was younger than Tom Joad being born in 1945. I see the Joads as “my people.” It is quite a powerful movie when you really connect with the messages. Those messages re about life, death, family, faith, hard work, government, and more.

Favorite scene: When the Joads ask to buy a loaf of bread for a dime in a diner. They are told the bread is 15 cents a loaf and not for sale anyway. This being all they had, the storekeeper lets them have it for 10 and lies about how much the candy costs so the Joad kids can have some swirl sticks. The movie is great from beginning to end, but that scene is forever etched into my mind.

Arrival

I sort of have a degree in linguistics. My MA is in English with an emphasis in “language, writing, and rhetoric.” I enjoyed Amy Adams’ character in this film as a linguist. I have reservations about nearly all the rest of this popular film.

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My wife and I just saw this last night on opening night at an antique theater in Santa Barbara. Please be warned:

The rest of my review contains spoilers.

Fans of Interstellar may enjoy Arrival most. It has to do with time and getting outside it. I personally feel this has been beaten like a dead horse in movies. Here, Villanueva uses the theme in attempt to “Ooh and Ahh” audiences once again, in my armchair opinion.

It didn’t move me.

Amy Adams plays a linguist and single mother who has a daughter who dies of cancer. Forest Whittaker commissions her to translate an alien message. It climaxes when she realizes that language determines how you see reality and therefore because she learns the alien language, she is outside of time. She then realizes she married a guy she works with and had her daughter but after sharing all this with her husband, he doesn’t “look at the daughter the same way,” assuredly because he knows she will die.

The big idea is to choose to have the daughter with her short life even if you know she is going to die. Carpe diem.

In short, there are so many effects like the gravity of the space “stones” that are never explained. I wasn’t impressed with the aliens nor with the whole “a language makes me see through time” concept.

It was just ok. I was moderately entertained. Mostly, in the daughter/mother scenes and flashbacks, I was glad I had popcorn and red vines for distraction. I recommend this film for people who have lost someone too soon and fans of Interstellar. Too bad, this could have been a science fiction film as advertised.