Category Archives: Movie Reviews

EVEREST

Everest is the true story of a tragic 1996 climb that resulted in the deaths of several hikers. There is beautiful scenery and there are touching emotional interactions. There is that most important feature of a really good story: self-sacrifice. There is suspense, moments of fright, deep sadness.

You can’t help, when watching this movie, to wonder what your “Everest” should be or could be. What is that thing you absolutely must do to make your life full? The tippy-top of your To-Do List. The thing that, were you to fail to do it, you would regret most.

Maybe there is nothing you think of like this, but perhaps there is. My husband wants to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s been talking about it for many years. He needs to do that. Climbing mountains and taking long hikes aren’t my cup of tea. Instead, I did law school and passed the California Bar Exam. I needed to do that.

Maybe there’s something you should do.
Do that.

You also can’t avoid the question posed by this movie, “How cold is too cold?” It is asked in every possible way: How far is too far, how painful is too painful, how little oxygen is too little oxygen, how close to death and/or divorce can you get without imploding, and so on. It’s not just a question for adrenaline junkies and “because it’s there” folks. It’s a question we can ask about all sorts of things.

Because, you know, climbing Everest is a loony-tunes thing to do. The mountain is trying its darndest to kill you, so you’d better have a really good reason for attempting to walk brazenly up its forbidding faces, scramble over its glaciers, and push forward into its crevices just so you can touch its summit and plant your little flag there.

I’m just saying, when you pick that thing you want to do (and I’d say you don’t really pick such a thing: it picks you and shakes you around until you can’t do anything else than make the attempt), be sure it’s worth it. Count the cost. Check with the people who matter to you (not necessarily the same as the people to whom you matter). Then strap on your gear and jump out of the plane, apply to the CIA, enroll in ROTC, take up the oboe, tell everyone off because you are too going to be a stay-at-home-dad and damn the torpedoes, or cut off the toxic people in your life. Take up skateboarding. Take up culinary school. Take up politics. Heck, take up mountain climbing.

But remember the simple lessons brought to you by this movie:

1. Check the weather. Storms may loom.
2. Keep your communication lines open.
3. Be ready to turn around 100 yards from your goal if it means the difference between living and dying.
4. Before you decide not to turn around, remember there are people who love you and want you alive.
5. Thank the Sherpas. They went ahead of you to stash the oxygen tanks and secure the ropes and ladders that made your attempt possible.

I don’t think I have to spell out for you who the Sherpas in your life are. You’re smart enough to know who they are. Thank them. They are the ones who deserve the applause. everest

BLACK MASS, starring Johnny Depp

johnny

The Departed, under the direction of Martin Scorsese, gave us a fictional look at the life and violent times of James “Whitey” Bulger, crime kingpin in South Boston in the 70s and 80s. That movie, though deeply disturbing, distances the audience from Bulger’s crimes simply because it is a “based on” story.

Black Mass, on the other hand, is fact-based. This is what happened. These are the people Bulger killed. This is the culpability of Bulger, of the FBI, of everyone who looked the other way, pretended not to see, ignored, passed by, or straight up refused to talk.

This is a movie that grabs your chin in its hand and says, “Look at me. Reflect that this actually happened.” Children were made into drug addicts. Personal disagreements led to executions. Government employees were complicit in the expansive evil.

Johnny Depp is superb as Bulger. Ruthless, barbaric. I hope he gets an Oscar nomination for this work.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, Senator William Bulger, but somehow it’s not distracting. Turns out (at least for me) it’s Cumberbatch’s British accent that kills the ladies. When he speaks with the same dulcet tones, but in “American,” he’s just an actor. (Good thing Khan Noonien Singh spoke Brit, amirite?)

Not for children. Language and brutality throughout.

AN ASIDE REGARDING SCRUPLES

Definitely, however, for adults everywhere. I hear often from people who have scruples against seeing R-rated movies, and I’d like to take this opportunity to address this.

The scripture verses most often offered in connection with such scruples are (1) “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes,” and (2) “whatsoever things are lovely . . . think on these things.”

Let’s speak to (1) first:
I don’t know what King David is particularly considering when he says this, but it isn’t violence or brutality. King David is known in the Bible as a man of war. He did violence on the daily for years, and the Bible speaks of him as a man after God’s own heart. Lots of soldier’s language and strewn body parts in King David’s world. So the wicked things he’s avoiding looking at in the above-mentioned verse are not violence and war.

(2):
Whatsoever things are honest and lovely and pure cannot mean we are only to sit primly thinking about roses and kittens, lambs in springtime. If we did that, George Muller wouldn’t have delved into poverty and filth to raise orphans. Prison ministries would not exist. You could never grapple with any serious moral issue in any meaningful way.

So, I conclude that these phrases must mean something else than “don’t look at disturbing images” and “don’t think about profoundly violent things.” I’m not going to attempt to preach to you what these passages might mean, only to say that they can’t mean what they can’t mean.

Back to Black Mass, I don’t care if you see it or not–it’s just a movie–but it’s a window into our country’s history, a story of what happens when might is right and the law slinks away in fear and self-seeking. We need to look at real people in real situations doing real things. We need to see the world as it is. Avoiding raw stories, ignoring harsh reality, doesn’t preserve one’s moral or mental purity–it merely advances one’s ignorance of society. These stories are rated R so that young children are not exposed to the brutality, not to protect adults from important knowledge and societal understanding.

Evaluating a film for adult consumption can be tricky. Some people are so disturbed by the F-word, they can’t focus on the story, so they miss a lot of great story-telling. Some people are morally disturbed by graphic sexuality or even not-so-graphic sexuality, so they will miss some great stories. All I’m saying here is that if you are an adult, you should be able to consider adult themes, adult conversations, adult situations without freaking out. You should be able to see, for example, Shawshank Redemption, for the friendship, self-sacrifice, grace, heartache, joy, and victory, that is displayed within the stark setting of a prison wardened by a religious freak and staffed by criminally-brutal officers, without reacting like a fourteen-year-old.

You should be able to see The Departed for the beauty of the direction, the script, and the general man-candy (DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlburg) and for what it says about humanity, with an eye to reflection on our shared condition: our hopes, dreams, failures, betrayals, without believing you’ve failed God for watching it because of the various “fucks” it contains. (Pretty sure God doesn’t cringe and hide when He hears this word.)

If you are a grown-up and you want to limit yourself to Disney flicks, that’s your prerogative, of course. I don’t care what you watch. But I would be pleased if sometime, when you have leisure and nothing else to do, that you try something less macaroni-and-cheese and more intellectually sophisticated that might make you consider your place in the world, how others live, and the tragedy that people in America live and die, having spent their whole lives in hunger and fear, poverty and ignorance, and that, in that condition, often, people give love and are loved in return, as are a couple of sweet women in this movie.

Please stay for the first part of the credits. Simple gripping images put a stamp on the real-ness of the story.

ALOHA, starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone

aloha

This film is a mishmash of every possible idea: love story, love triangle, who’s the daddy, global thermonuclear war, American imperialism, kids saving the world, etc. I’m not sure what they were going for, but they tossed all these ingredients into the blender and out came a movie, at the end of which, my daughter Emma looked at me and said, “That was really bad, right?” Right.

So, here goes (spoilers galore):

Brian (Bradley Cooper) used to be somebody, but then he stole $100K from somebody in Afghanistan and got shot to heck by a missile. He’s fine now and hired by billionaire Welch (Bill Murray) who wants to be the king of space. Too bad there’s a king of Hawaii who has to be consulted about moving one of the gates at Hickam Air Force Base, so (get this) Welch can have easy access from a factory he is going to build to the base.

That’s dumb. Oahu isn’t that big. If the gate at Hickam is here or there, there isn’t going to be a substantial difference in Mr. Welch’s access (absent having to navigate the Middle Street Merge at commute). Plus, it’s a pedestrian gate they are moving. What, is he walking his satellites from the not-yet-built factory to Hickam? I’m at a loss.

The gate is important to the story, because without the need to move the gate, Brian wouldn’t have had any reason to go to Oahu to get the new gate blessed by the kahunas, and without that need, he wouldn’t have had to hike into some isolated Sovereign Nation of Hawaii lands that are overseen by the rightful king himself, who is called Bumpy. If he hadn’t needed to hike up to see His Majesty, we wouldn’t have known that Captain Ng (Emma Stone) is all authentic Hawaiian and likes to play the Waimanalo Blues. More importantly, we wouldn’t have known that King Bumpy is afraid that the Air Force is going to deploy weapons in space, and if they do, the blessing idea for the new Ped X-ing is all pau.

It gets worse. Brian promises free cell phone service and a mountain or two (or half, as it turns out) to the King of Hawaii in exchange for the blessing, but wait, as it happens, Billionaire Welch is going to launch a nuclear weapon into space after all. How do we know? We know because Brian’s ex-girlfriend’s son–because he lives at Hickam in officer housing, because his dad who never speaks is a major who flies around all the time we don’t know where–sneaks into a hangar at midnight and gets footage of said weapon, because, oh I don’t know, because you live in on-base housing, the entire base is open for you to walk around and look into classified projects after midnight with your camera videoing away. When you’re ten.

It gets even worse. Brian realizes that the Air Force is unwittingly launching a weapon. Unwittingly, because the Air Force doesn’t know what it is launching, because these dang civilians won’t tell them what is in the payload of their satellites, (I was crying by this time for the stupid.) and of course a government who can tap all our phone calls can’t get the inside scoop on a satellite it is itself launching.

The Air Force is less astute, apparently, than a 10-year-old boy, because the boy is able to tell simply by looking at the satellite in his video footage that the payload is illegal, whereas the Air Force personnel overseeing the Hickam hangars have no idea. Maybe fifth graders really are smarter than everyone else.

Good thing Brian’s there! If he wasn’t, then there would have been no one at all who could have stopped the Chinese from hacking this satellite at the last second. “Go ahead and launch! I’ll get the Chinese hack turned off in time!” He does this–good thing he needed to come over to liaise with King Bumpy, otherwise the nuke would have gotten into orbit with the Chinese in charge of it. Global thermonuclear war averted without even the need for tic-tac-toe.

At the last second, as the rocket is rising and the Chinese hackers are probably being executed somewhere for their failure, Brian looks deeply into Captain Ng’s eyes and decides, “Yo, howdy, it ain’t right we’re launching weapons into space; I’m going to blow it up!” So he calls his friend out at the Ka’ena Point tracking station and says, “Dude, send all that sonic info up there and blow it up.” Sonic means sound, but, weirdly, when friend says, “Sure, dude, I’ll send up a sonic blast of all sounds ever recorded and blow up a $100 million dollar satellite,” there seems to be a visual component because everyone’s computer monitors are suddenly alight with random shots from old television shows. Don’t ask me. I have no idea.

The sonic blast works, the satellite breaks apart, nothing happens to Brian for destroying a zillion dollar project, except now Captain Allison “I’m a fighter pilot!” Ng is now in love with him. Two days later, everyone who matters finds out there really was a nuclear weapon on board and that the whole project was an attempt by Mr. Welch to become lord and master of lower earth orbit so he could do whatever it is lords and masters do, which probably if you have a nuke at your disposal involves blowing people up.

The satellite comes apart without exploding (I guess the sound wasn’t that bad after all), so somewhere out there must be a nuclear bomb doing whatever all the other trash out there is doing–waiting until gravity wins.

Throughout the movie there is a bizarre love storyish thing going on between Brian and his ex-girlfriend, the ex-girlfriend and her very stressed out husband, and Brian and Captain Ng.

Captain Ng is an absurdly-drawn character. Her role is to host Brian as he liaises between the USAF, Welch’s private space company, and the King. Of course these hostessing roles always to go F-22 pilots, right? I mean, what else would an F-22 pilot have to do but escort some private-sector guy around Oahu for a week or two? My best guess is that the Air Force has an entire staff of people trained in wining and dining visiting contractors and therefore has no need to take skilled and valuable pilots off their training for such work.

Also (and granted, I don’t personally know any F-22 pilots), my guess is that the women who fly combat aircraft for a living don’t flit around like this particular woman does here. She’s ditzy and perky. I may be wrong, of course. Maybe you can get a Hello Kitty flight suit like this girl obviously wishes she had. (Apologies to Right Stuff flying women if I’m wrong about this and you’re all sitting around comparing nail polish colors.)

I liked the look at authentic Hawaiian culture, the mention of menehunes, mana, Pele and Lono, kahunas, the 1893 overthrow, and so on.

I disliked the ending immensely. Short version: turns out Brian is the biological father of ex-girlfriend’s daughter, but ex-girlfriend has never told anyone, including her husband. In the final scene, Brian stands outside daughter’s hula school watching her. She sees him. He nods knowingly. She dissolves into tears and runs out to throw himself into his arms. Because, apparently, when you’ve never told anyone at all this very confidential news of who the Real Father is, you suddenly decide to tell your daughter who is 13 and who is completely bonded to her Actual Father who has raised her. Or perhaps no one told her and she just sensed it from seeing Mom’s Stalky Ex-boyfriend hanging out at the hula halau.

The whole thing is a tangled mess. I didn’t even get to the part where the General (Alec Baldwin) says–two days after the explosion–“Man, you’re actually a hero for exposing this.” Because that doesn’t happen. When you expose something big you shouldn’t know about, you have to quick run to another country and hide there even after everyone has acknowledged you did the right thing. Save your money. Don’t see this movie.

TOMORROWLAND

tomorrowland

The people who make these dystopian futuristics really irritate me. Like, really? The whole world is going to be blowing up and there will be garbage in the streets and people will starve and the government will be all tyrranical unless you, Little Girl, can fix it, because only you are great.

Tomorrowland asks, “What if all the great minds got together and fixed everything?” Dummies, that is what happens! That’s why there are clean-water wells in Africa and AIDS medications and chemotherapy and advancing literacy and a cell phone in every hand and women voting in Iraq and household appliances that would make our great-grandmothers cry for joy and a life expectancy that is increasing and no more USSR and three women on the Supreme Court and the fact that we speak English instead of German here and social security and WIC and the Panama Canal and the American flag on the Moon. Because the great minds DO get together to do amazing, incredible, impossible, miraculous things every day of the week.

There is no more smallpox. Ebola is treatable. Shortsightedness can be surgically repaired. Obesity can be conquered by a one-hour surgery. The blind see, the deaf hear, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. Dystopia is a lie, but if you’re going to tell it, tell it as good as they do in Hunger Games. Otherwise, stop.

Of course, the only way to kick-start Utopia is for Casey to escape Real World and go to Tomorrowland. Happily, she can get there in a bathtub with George Clooney rather than having to get there via the It’s a Small World ride. Anyway, there’s something about George Clooney and a bathtub, I sort of forget.

I’m not going to tell you the story, because you’re going to see this movie even after reading how much I didn’t like it, because it’s a Disney movie, and we’re all required to see all Disney movies, because Disney is probably more American than Thanksgiving and the New York Yankees and the OK Corral. But I will tell you why I didn’t like the ending.

In the end, all these sweet little kids are hired as recruiters to find all the best minds that can save the world from being overrun with garbage and war and human extinction, but weirdly, the kids only recruit adults. The whole point of the movie was that bright kids can bring hope to mankind, but in the end, the kids give it up and leave it to the grown-ups. Whatevs. Enjoy the movie.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

far from

Based on the 1875 novel by Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd was, as you might suspect, attended by me and four other middle-aged women, all of whom reeked of English degrees and irrelevancy. Still, there was much to be learned from this movie. Too bad the people who need to learn from it probably won’t see it.

To wit: young single women (who should already know all the below things from seeing, as I keep urging you to do, He’s Not That Into You, a must-see).

Because young single women won’t see this, I offer a short list of insights to save them from lives of misery and what-ifs.

1. Don’t marry a man because of how handsome he is in his military uniform. You should have learned this from the Lydia Bennett-George Wickham disaster, but you didn’t. Because you think your soldier is different, and no one understand him like you do, and isn’t he handsome? Yes, he’s handsome, and probably no one understands him they way you–you mature thing, you–do, but don’t marry him because of the uniform. Lots of people have these uniforms, and most of them are not for you, dear.

2. Don’t marry a man because when he kisses you, you get that melty feeling inside. That is the feeling that accompanies kissing, so don’t imagine that just because you get that feeling from this particular hunk o’ man that he is the man whose last name you should now suddenly practice signing as your own future surname. This particular feeling will present itself again and again with each new person you kiss. Don’t base your life decisions on this particular biological response.

3. If you have made decisions based on 1 and 2 above and now realize that these decisions were wrong and not in your best longterm interest, disentangle yourself and move along. The sooner the better. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier.

4. Don’t lead a gentleman on because you don’t want to hurt his feelings by rejecting him right away. Do the rejecting and get it over with. You know he would have no such qualms about rejecting you, so return the favor. If you lead him on by saying, “I’ll answer your proposal by Christmas,” you might find out that he thinks your are engaged and start doing all kinds of creepy stalky stuff like having things engraved with your first name and his last name, ala how creepy you were in #2 above by practicing the hoped-for signature. At least you could crumple the paper up so no one would see, though, so you are better than he is with all his obvious stalkiness on display.

5. If you are the proposer, and your proposee says, “I’ll let you know by Christmas,” this means no. Unless it’s Christmas Eve around 11:58 p.m. and his/her eyes are shining with joy. If someone has to think about it for several months, you should probably (a) not get your hopes up, (b) not want to marry him or her anymore, (c) and definitely not get stuff engraved. The answer you were looking for was, “Yes! Of Course I will!” and anything other than/less than that is not a yes. At least not the kind you want to go through life with.

6. If, before any of this happens, you meet the kindest, most handsome man on the planet, who adores you and begs for your hand, MARRY THAT ONE. Especially if he is a shepherd in the English countryside. Don’t wait around for the plot to thicken and bubble and explode in all that fire and abuse and stalking and death.

7. Don’t think that if you break these very wise rules, you will eventually get out of all your trouble and end up with The Gorgeous Hardworking Farmer, because likely you won’t. You’ll be stuck in some horrible relationship you can’t get out of because of custody or finances or family pressure. Do it right the first time if at all possible.

8. Having not done it right the first time, I offer these suggestions as observations, rather than rules, with enormous gratitude that I was able to escape when escape was necessary and able to move along when moving along was required and blessed with a second chance at great happiness, comfort, and peace, which I know not everyone gets.

PITCH PERFECT 2

fat amy

When I was in high school, the coveted musical group to be part of was the A Capella Choir. Which rarely sang a capella, probably because Mrs. Folden was such a wonderful pianist. Or maybe because we couldn’t do all those boom-clickety-snap noises with our mouths to accompany “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” with any reasonable believability.

In PP2, unlike at Brethren High School, white college students (token Black, token Asian) are able to replicate the entire range of percussion instruments with their mouths, having never lived (as many of my schoolmates did) in Compton. It’s ethnically and culturally amazing, really, but hey, progress since the 1970s.

Speaking of cultural and ethnic commentary, this movie is full of that, to a degree possibly more offensive than even my Compton-comment above. One of the judges of the singing competitions, in particular, is fast and loose with full-throated racism, sexism, size-ism, and so on, and is only funny because we are not laughing with him–we’re laughing at him, the bigoted turd. Even his judging colleague (Elizabeth Banks, or, as we love to call her, “Effie Trinket”) lets us know by pained facial expressions that she isn’t buying into at least some of his offensiveness, i.e., “Girls don’t belong in college; they’re all going to be pregnant soon anyway.” (Ms. Banks also directed this very funny film.)

The story is that a college women’s a capella group, The Bellas, is going to compete in the World A Capella Championships in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen after graduation. The film is about growing relationships, crumbling relationships, hard work, and devotion to one’s persistent nagging dream–that thing inside that says, “Yes, I can, and darn it, yes I will.” Hard work pays off, and the Bellas find themselves in the finals, going head-to-head with (I have to say it) the teutonic might of Durmstrang Institute, complete with a very scary Viktor Krum. Actually, I don’t know what his name is–but you know who I mean. The scary German stereotype who wants to tear your vocal cords out and set fire to them. And that’s just the girl. The scary man German stereotype was carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself and then wound up to dance and sing. It’s quite a show, and frankly, these people get robbed.

The sweet little American girls actually are little, if not completely sweet. the most memorable of them is Fat Amy, who is very comfortable in her fatness, and has to be so, since everyone is laughing at her fatness, which is mean and horrible, but inevitable, given the tight clothes and in-your-face attitude, because, dontcha know, fat girls s’posed to be all quiet and hidey, not have opinions and stuff. Certainly not dance. How dare she? How dare she own the name “Fat Amy” all proprietary and “You can’t judge me shut up and go away right now.” Ditto for the black lesbian who’s all, “I’m here to sing; get over it.” There’s an Asian girl I am thoroughly at a loss to explain, and I am pretty much terrified by her.

There’s some sexual innuendo. Not for kids. There were some kids in my audience. Not sure what the parents are thinking. But then, here’s a confession: when I had three toddlers, I once took them with me to see Chicago, because (1) I wanted to see it, and (2) they would never remember it. Fast forward 12+ years. Earlier this year, a 15-year-old said to me, “Mom, remember that movie where there were these two ladies and they killed people and they went to jail, but then they got out and had a dancing act?” And I said, “YOU WERE TWO. STOP IT!” Different kids have different skills, and the moral is, think twice before taking kids to questionable movies.

Oh, I almost forgot. The Clay Matthews moment is worth the price of admission if you’re a Packers fan. Dude brings it.