Friday, October 9, 2015

Dear Jodie - The Martian


The Martian film poster.jpgDear Jodie,

I've never thought much of Matt Damon as an actor. Oh, I've always found him to be competent and serviceable, but not great … or even good really. I'm not going to say that The Martian completely changed all of that for me, but it was a start.  He was good, quite good actually, and in a roll that if he had been only competent and serviceable the movie would have fallen flat on its ass.

Why is that?  Because he is alone for most of his scenes, and that is incredibly difficult to play. Tom Hanks did it well in "Cast Away."

This movie just rocked me … no pun intended.

For me, Ridley Scott's movies move a bit slowly sometimes and The Martian is no exception. In this case, though, I think it was necessary. We needed a little time to FEEL Mark's isolation. We need time to RELATE to Mark as he did things few humans can do, if any. I confess I have no idea whether it is scientifically possible to make water the way that he did. Is it possible?  I don't know and don't care, really. I believed it. We needed the time to CONNECT.

BAM! We have a movie!

I liked the Jessica Chastain character, Lewis. She owned her error … and I think she could have searched more in the beginning than she did. But, then again, I'm sitting in a theatre seat making judgments. I truly don't know if spit hit the fan whether I would have done any different … or as much. Regardless, she owned it, and made sure the decision to risk it all to save Mark was unanimous. When everyone agreed, she went into action to save him.

I'm thinking you really must have gotten into the human choices made … or not made.

Like NASA's decision whether to let him die, or go for it. Only when NASA determined that it would get out that they let him die, did they determine to do the right thing. It had nothing to do about saving a human being. It had to do with the decision best equipped to save their collective backsides.

Damn, that made me angry … just as Ridley Scott intended.

I also wanted a little more on the families of the astronauts. That was a helluva sacrifice they made, and we really didn't get much on that. It seemed glossed over.

Those complaints, though, are minor.

This movie was such a fun ride for me, Jodie! I'm giving it 8 out of 10!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dear Jodie - The Breakfast Club



Dear Jodie,

The Breakfast Club came out in 1985, which was the year of my ten-year high school reunion. My brother (nine years my junior) dragged me to see it kicking and screaming. That being said, I walked out of it knowing I had seen a good one. Now, thirty years later, I think it is one of the best movies ever made about school days.

John Hughes told the truth, even though that truth did not sympathize with the teaching staff. It sympathized with the teenagers and the intense pressures they faced every day, from home, school, and themselves.

The movie is talking heads, and pulling that off requires a superb scrip and fabulous actors. Hughes's dialogue is first rate, particularly his ability to capture the way teenagers speak, though I suspect he made at least one up.

Look, I can see you getting all bunged up for them making you wear these kinda clothes. But face it, you're a Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie!

Yeah, I suspect Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie is all John Hughes.

Ah, the actors. What can I say? All were wonderful, and perfectly cast. They lit the screen with their own particular stereotype then twisted and swirled until they blended with each other. Molly Ringwald's and Anthony Michael Hall's stood out for me because they were at least five years younger than the other three, but more than held their own. And some of the dialogue was improvised by the actors. For example, Anthony Michael Hall improvised the line …

Chick cannot hold their smoke. That's what it is.


That's my favorite line in the movie!

There were a few things that seemed like gaffs to me. I mean, come on … they run around the school within a few feet of Vernon and he can't hear them? In a relatively empty school, Vernon would have been able to hear them from a whole lot farther away. How about Claire's lunch? I like sushi, too, but I'm damn sure not going to eat it when it's been sitting out for four hours.

Claire - Can I eat?
Bender - I don't know. Give it a try.

But those "gaffs" really only endeared the movie to me even more.

Speaking of lunch, how about the size of Andrew's! That would feed three hungry people.

In order for the movie to work, the teens have to have their foil, and wasn't Paul Gleason perfect? That he played the mean, nasty assistant principal Richard "Dick" Vernon, honestly gave serious laughs to things like "I won't be made a fool of," when he turned around only to find the toilet seat cover dangling from his trousers. Or Bender silently mocking him on the "I'm cracking skulls" line.

I enjoyed the scenes in the basement file area between Vernon and Carl the Janitor. Did you notice Carl's annual picture at the beginning of the movie? We get a little more insight into Vernon's character. I think since I was twenty-seven when the movie came out I realized early on that Vernon didn't want to be there either. He represented what Allison (Ally Sheedy) meant when she said, "When you grow up, your heart dies." In his case, I think "dying" would be a better word, because his heart was hanging on by a thread.

Love the pencil carousel!

I have to give this beautiful movie a 10 out of 10.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dear Jodie - 84 Charing Cross Road



Dear Jodie,

I am so happy you enjoyed 84 Charing Cross Road! When I mentioned it to you, I had just seen it again for the first time in a decade and immediately thought of you. Yes, for the reasons you mention in that the story is quite similar in ways to ours.

Just as importantly, I know of your love of relationship movies and thought you might enjoy it. I've recommended this movie two other times; both people hated it asking, "what's the big deal." Both times I said, "it's about friendship, and that's a very big deal to me." One shrugged. The other said, "I suppose so." Bless their hearts, it wasn't that they didn't value friendship, they do. They both were and still are friends of mine. It's just that they preferred a little more action in their movies. The Mission Impossible movies would be more to their liking.

Damn, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

What made this movie extra special to me was that this is a true story. As much fiction as I read and write I still have to pinch myself as a reminder that these events really happened, much of it in my own lifetime.

There was a Helene Hanff, pictured above, (1916 - 1997) who turned to FPD (Frank Percy Doel) and Marks & Co. in London for books she could not obtain in New York. There was a Frank Doel (1908 - 1968) pictured below with his family whose only job after completing his education was with Marks & Co.

Anne Bancroft was marvelous as the cigarette smoking, gin and tonic drinking writer (martinis in real life) and lover of non-fiction books. "I love 'I was there' stories."  The irony here is that her scripts were fiction! What a lovely Helene Hanff Bancroft created on the screen.

Anthony Hopkins shined as the family man, English football loving book buyer who found time to visit a ill colleague in the hospital, and take his young daughter's suggestion for a Christmas tree decoration, and who would always compliment his wife's dinner as, "Very nice. Very tasty."

One of my favorite supporting performances was Maurice Denham as the elderly George Martin. His lonely smile as he prepared his share of the food that Helene sent to the shop really touched me ... especially when we realized he would share it with his cat. Animal lovers always go to my heart. I would like to have known George Martin.

I would have loved to have visited him in that hospital where he was alone in a crowd.

We got a glimpse of the lives of a number of the staff as well.  Cecily Farr making a cake for her children. Bill Humphries bringing a smile to his great aunt's face with the ham. Frank and Nora having a coronation get-together with friends.

Beautiful moments, small moments that really make a difference in the course of a human life.

All of this, Jodie, because a woman in New York had a thirst for English Literature, and a book buyer in London went to great lengths to satisfy it.

What a glorious movie this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't say that Anne Bancroft's real life husband, Mel Brooks, he of Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein and so many other off-the-wall comedies, produced 84 Charing Cross Road.

 
I wish I had told you of this movie sooner so that you could have gone to the address while you were in London. Or maybe not. Had you gone there, you would have been able to see a plaque commemorating the address. True. Helene Hanff's memoir (1971), and the subsequent play and the movie, did make the address famous. You also would have been able to order a Big Mac for lunch. The building is still there, but the occupant of that address is a McDonalds.

Still, I want to go back to London. When I do, one visit I will make will be to 84 Charing Cross Road, even if I have to buy a Big Mac rather than Donne or Pepys!

Funny, I'm an American who has never been to New York City! London, yes.  Upstate New York, yes. But not New York City.  I'm going there, too. The apartment building where Helene Hanff lived at 305 E. 72nd Street has been named "Charing Cross House" in her honor. A bronze plaque next to the front door commemorates her residence and authorship of the book.

Yeah.  I want to see that, too!

Like you, I give this movie a solid 8 out of 10!

P. S. In real life, when Helene was in London, she did meet Nora Doel and Sheila, and a number of the former staff. They remained friends, and I hope Nora learned to pronounce Helene's first name!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Dear Jodie - Hector and the Search for Happiness



Dear Jodie:

The first part of Hector and the Search for Happiness dragged on a bit for me I have to say. Then, on the plane to Los Angeles, Hector the Psychiatrist encounters the woman with the brain tumor. There, in poker parlance, I went "all in."

What does Hector do when he encounters her and gives her his first class seat? He listens. That's all. But he listens unlike he had been listening to his clients, probably for a long time. He doesn't feel that he did a thing except tell her what she already suspected, that she was going to die. She tells him her dream of the carousel and her family, and then says, "This is my last ride, isn't it?"  Hector says simply and effectively, "yes." That is the point that I saw Hector (and Simon Pegg) open, though he couldn't see it and disclaimed any praise. But the woman saw more than that and tells him that "Listening is Loving," which I suspect he eventually wrote in his journal, but not until saying goodbye to the woman at LAX.


"Listening is Loving."

I went all in at that point, Jodie, and you know that it was rather late in the movie, but it was because Hector went all in.  And as charming as he was throughout the first part of the movie, I thought he really nailed it beginning on the plane.

The early parts of the movie didn't quite do it for me.  For example, when he was in the jail with the one ­— and only one — rat (and a friendly one it was, too) in Africa I just kept wondering whether he would get his journal, wallet, and passport back when they let him go.  And I think that was because these events just sort of came along with no rhyme or reason. They didn't come from any real place and became way too episodic.

That was the first part.

The rest of the movie played out marvelously well, though predictable as hell.  Toni Collette was excellent as Hector's old flame Agnes.  Christopher Plummer gave an always-solid performance as Professor Coreman, the guru of happiness.  I did love how the eventual colors of his brain scan reflected the different colors of the pennants at the monastery blowing in the breeze.

And I don't mind predictability as long as it's well done. The last part of this movie was well done.

Just looking back at the movie, it was a bit like The Wizard of Oz with Clara being both Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and the Wicked Witch of the West. And through it all, Hector always had the ability to click his heels together and proclaim, "There's no place like home."  But he had to discover that for himself, and, to my mind, he did … once they reached Los Angeles.

Had the movie concluded as it began, I would have given it 4 out of 10. The last twenty minutes or so bumped it up for me to a 7 out of 10.

Yep.  "Listening is Loving."

So 7 out of 10 it shall be!

What did you think, Jodie?


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dear Jodie - Woman in Gold


Woman in Gold film poster.pngDear Jodie,

Woman in Gold is, on the surface, a story about an elderly Jewish woman's attempt to get back some valued paintings (heirlooms) stolen from her family by the Nazi's, sometime after the Anschluss.

Her name is Maria Altmann.

But it's about so much more than that, isn't it?

I don't even know where to start really.  My emotions are still running wild having just seen it.  And maybe that's the brilliance of this movie; its emotional impact.

I ran the gamut, as I watched this elderly woman fight so hard to come to terms with her horrific past despite her fear, and this young man risk so much to come to terms with his future.

I loved the flashback integrations and thought that Tatiana Maslany was every bit as wonderful as the ever-brilliant Helen Mirren. Unfortunately, I think Woman in Gold was released too early in the year to get serious Oscar notice, otherwise I think this might be the third time in which two women were nominated for Oscars playing the same role in the same movie.

I can't say I hated the Austrian government in the movie. I just thought that this is what governments do, unfair though it may be, and it was damned unfair.

I completely agree with you that the most gut-wrenching scene in the movie was Maria's farewell to her parents!  I could not help but cry, especially when her father smiled and spoke English, "the language of your future home."

The biggest surprise for me in the movie was the performance given by Ryan Reynolds. I was so afraid of getting the Green Lantern, but he was quite good.

I completely agree with you that this movie was about relationships, the most compelling being the one between the older woman so grievously damaged in her youth, and a young man living in the shadow of his grandfather who changed Western music forever with the "twelve-tone technique."

That, then, makes the Klimt paintings the Macguffin.

One lovely moment I would like to mention is the place where the Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin admits to the Jewish Maria Altmann that his father was a Nazi. Her reaction was perfect, patting him on the hand and telling him that he is a good man. The real Maria said of him, "Without Hubertus, there would have been nothing." The real Hubertus died in 2006 at the age of 50 of mastocytosis, his obituary saying, "Believing in justice for Maria Altmann kept Czernin alive."

I lost myself in this movie. I completely lived the depiction of the Anschluss, and the coldness of the modern day Austrians (loved those kangaroos, huh?). I travelled back in time with Maria and loved how modern day Maria finally joined them in the ending scene letting us know how much she was able to let go.

Simon Curtis's direction was amazing!

Most of all, though, Jodie, I lived in the emotion of the film.  This is one of those rare ones for me. When it comes out on DVD, I'm buying it!

10 out of 10


I'm sure the brownies were amazing!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dear Jodie - Still Alice



Still Alice - Movie Poster.jpgDear Jodie,

I read the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova in one day, mostly with my mouth agape.

I'd heard of early onset Alzheimer's disease just like I'd heard of a unicorn. A phenomenon (creature) far out there in the distance unlikely to enter my mind except as a rare fleeting thought.

Harry Potter brought back the unicorn for me.

Still Alice brought home early-onset Alzheimer's disease

Still Alice made me laugh and cry. It thrilled me in the sense that I could not put the book down.  And oh how it made me think.

I'm still thinking.

I'm thinking about a painful interview I saw with Burgess Meredith (Mickey in the "Rocky" movies) when he mentioned no less than three times that his first movie was "Winterset," and a couple of times looked like he didn't know where he was.

He was 88.

I'm thinking about the moving announcement Charlton Heston made regarding his Alzheimer's diagnosis …

"If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why.  And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway." 

A plea from Moses.  A plea from Ben-Hur.  A plea from Charlton Heston.

He was 79
"
I am already seven years older than Alice Howland was when she received her diagnosis. Fifty years old, Jodie!  So young! The morning after finishing the novel, I couldn't find where I had put my empty wine glass from the previous evening (I'd put it on the fireplace mantel rather than the sink). I couldn't find a particular shirt I wanted to wear that day (it was in my laundry basket to be washed). I had to force myself to recall that no member of my known family has ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My uncle is 87.  My aunt is 94. Both still hale, hearty, and in possession of their minds.

But my father died at 48.  My sister died at 45.  My mother died at 65.

Might they have been …?

I thought about it too, Jodie.

The book brilliantly shows us a family dealing with the effects of a disease we just don't hear much about. We hear about Alzheimer's, yes.  Not early-onset.

Powerful moments strike everywhere in the novel like when Alice tells Anna and Tom of her condition. Later Tom says, "I don't have the mutation."  Then Anna says, "But I do."

I cried as Alice replied, "I'm sorry."

Wow!

The book went well into the genetic testing so that Anna can have children without the mutation.

The movie did not, but should have.

The novel rocked, Jodie.  I'm right there with you on that one.  So much so that while I am referencing passages for this review, I am resisting reading the novel again.

The novel is full of small moments that resonate, too.  Here's one. When Alice is checking out the Alzheimer's facility, she remarks that there are only three male residents.

"Actually, only two out of the thirty-two residents are men. Harold comes every day to eat meals with his wife."

I like Harold.

Unfortunately, Alice saw no other loved ones, and the two male residents sat together away from the others.

Let me get to the movie. I did think more of it than you did, but not by that much. Julianne Moore's performance alongside that of Kristen Stewart (yes, there is life beyond "Twilight") was the movie for me, and I thought both were wonderful. Moore's preparing for her talk with the written copy of her speech that she highlighted as she read, moved me as well.  And her last shot with Kristen Stewart brought me to tears.

I did not like Alec Baldwin (I haven't liked him in much since "The Hunt For Red October"), and Kate Bosworth came off as a bit too … painted for my taste. Certainly nothing like an attorney.

In responding to your questions on the changes made, the producers probably shot at Columbia in New York because Harvard wasn't available or too expensive (or not).  As for the Yogiberry?  Product placement dollars (or sheer petulance)?

Yes, they bothered me, too.  Harvard was perfect, a world-renowned university. How many people even in the U. S. know about Columbia University in New York?

I once heard a screenwriter remark on why he made certain changes from the novel. "It's my story, now."

One that also bothered me was that they changed her from a Psychology Professor who specialized in psycholinguistics to a Linguistics Professor. What was the point? And why did the movie have her removed as a Professor, instead of her understanding her own condition after awhile and resigning as she did in the novel?

Ah, Jodie!  Julianne Moore is usually hit or miss for me, but in this one I think she shined, far more so than Meryl Streep did in Iron Lady for which she won the Oscar. This is a very different and more powerful Julianne Moore than the one in Mockingjay Part 1. Or as Clarice Starling in the wretched Hannibal.

I just thought it was her time and her role.

As is usual for me, the novel far exceeded the movie, but I cannot say the movie disappointed me.

Book 9 out of 10.  Movie 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dear Jodie - The 2015 Oscars


Dear Jodie,

The 2015 Oscars have come and gone and have left me with a number of impressions.  First, Lady Gaga can sing! Truly sing! She even impressed the great Julie Andrews.

And what about Julie Andrews?  She still looks wonderful, and always full of class and grace.

On the other hand, John Travolta seems to be returning to his John Revolta phase of decades past. Has he stopped touching Idina Menzel's (aka Adele Dazeem's) face yet?  What about blind-side smooching Scarlett Johansson? I'd be saying yuck, yuck, double yuck.

Hell, I am saying it.

A great line from Neil Patrick Harris: "Benedict Cumberbatch is what you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck."

The winners won. The losers didn't.  My predictions weren't even in the ballpark.  But a couple of acceptance speeches stood out.

I liked J. K. Simmons thanking his wife and kids and encouraging folks to call their mom and dad.

I loved Common's and John Legend's acceptance speech for the Best Song Oscar.  Really moving!

I wasn't so thrilled with Patricia Arquette's acceptance speech. I happen to agree with her, women still aren't compensated as well as men, but feel that the Oscars … an award/entertainment show…isn't the right place to make that point, or any other point not directly related to the movie she won for. "Boyhood" was not about the inequality of the pay scale between men and women.

There's an old saying that you catch flies with sugar, not vinegar. I felt her rant sprayed too much vinegar over an unsuspecting audience.

"Still Alice" on the other hand was about dealing with Alzheimer's disease (please, my fellow Texans, can we not call it "Oldtimer's disease" anymore), and I loved Julianne Moore's acceptance speech.


She, very deftly and kindly, mentioned shining the light on Alzheimer's disease. Completely appropriate.  She brilliantly laced her observation with sugar and a touch of cinnamon.

I'm also glad that she won. Julianne Moore is hit or miss with me, but she hit big in "Still Alice."

Oh, and Eddie Redmayne. I rooted for him, not because any of the other nominees sucked, they didn't, but his, I felt, was the more difficult role to play. Physically demanding, and limited in the scope of his expression, Mr. Redmayne truly brought Stephen Hawking onto the screen.

This is just me, Jodie, but I only felt like three of the performances were worthy of the Oscar.  Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Bradley Cooper.  The other two were good performances, but not particularly memorable to my mind.

Am I the only one who noticed that Joan Rivers was not in the "In Memorium" presentation? Was this an oversight? Or was Hollywood really sick of her acerbic jokes at their expense?  Either way, the Academy should address the omission, I think.

And then Sean Penn strikes again.  While presenting the Academy Award for Best Picture ("Birdman") to the Mexican-born Alejandro González Iñárritu, Penn said, “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?”

Iñárritu later graciously said, "I thought it was hilarious," but … it sure didn't have the ring of hilarity.  Between really good friends in private, fine. But not in public. Not at the Oscars.  Not good, Sean!

Overall, I thought Neil Patrick Harris did an excellent job of hosting the Oscars. Ah, but Jodie, I have nothing to say about his appearing in his briefs onstage a la "Birdman." It reminded me of an old Eddie Murphy routine, "If I ain't got no bulge, I ain't modeling no underwear."

I rooted for people to win who didn't, like Kiera Knightley for Best Female Actress in a Supporting Role. Others I rooted for won, like Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore. I didn't particularly like Birdman winning. The movie, it seemed, was more about the camera technique than a story.

Oh, well.

Overall, I loved the 2015 Oscars, even with all of the hiccoughs.  It is my Super Bowl every year. It is an event.

I'm already looking forward to next year.

I can't wait to find out what you thought, Jodie!