Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2013 John Lee Hancock 125 PG-13 Saving Mr. Banks Perhaps a better title for this would be “Driving Miss Travers.” Although Tom Hanks stars in the role of Walt Disney, I would not consider this a “Tom Hanks Movie.” The principal character is Pamela Lyndon Travers, author of the book, “Mary Poppins” and portrayed very well by Emma Thompson. The movie is a dramatization of the process by which Walt Disney convinced Travers to sell him the movie rights to her book. Though perhaps, “wore her down” might be more accurate. When Travers arrives in Los Angeles, Disney provides her with daily limo service. The driver, Ralph, is played by Paul Giamatti. The platonic relationship that develops between Ralph and Travers is one of the better features of this screenplay. Thompson portrays Travers as a very straight laced woman who is a “fish out of water” in America (originally from Australia via England). And she is quite appalled by the ways in which Disney wants to change her book for his movie. In addition to the negotiations for film rights and the development of the songs for “Mary Poppins” this movie also tells a background story about Travers when she was a young girl (which is in fact relevant but I won’t say why). If you want to see a “Tom Hanks Movie” go see “Captain Phillips” but if you want to see an “Emma Thompson Movie” and learn a few things about “Mary Poppins” you probably didn’t know, then I think you will find this interesting.
2013 Peter Jackson 161 PG-13 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug An exciting action packed continuation of the story which began in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012). If the first film was the setup, this second episode is the cliffhanger, and the third film, scheduled for December, 2014, will be the conclusion. This film begins with a brief scene which takes place shortly before the main events of the first film, and then skips ahead one year to roughly where the first film left off. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), his dwarf companions and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) must navigate a scary forest to reach a lake town and on to Lonely Mountain. Along the way they encounter many dangerous foes and some reluctant allies, but their biggest problem is the fearsome dragon, Smaug, who long ago took over their former mountain home of Erebor. Smaug is a dragon that speaks and his film voice is that of Benedict Cumberbatch (who also supplies the voice of the evil “Necromancer“). The encounter with Smaug is the major set piece of the film. The special visual effects are outstanding as usual in these Peter Jackson films. If you enjoyed the first Hobbit film you will definitely like part 2. Like the first film, some theaters are showing it in 3D IMAX with the “High Frame Rate” which gives the images an eerie degree of clarity.
2013 David O. Russell 138 R American Hustle If you like a good con-artist story, you may enjoy trying to second guess this one. And if you like beautiful women in your movies, you can’t go wrong with Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence (both of whom won Golden Globes for their roles). The year is 1978 and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) owns several dry cleaning stores, but on the side he has a less honest line of work in the "finance" business. When he falls in love with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) he lets her in on both sides and as a team they become much more successful in their scams. But they are busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and strike a bargain with the FBI to help them nab several other bad guys. It gets fairly complicated and you have to keep wondering who is conning who. Further complicating matters is Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). The film also stars Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito. There is also a brief appearance by a very famous actor whom I will leave as a surprise, but he is not named in the credits. The sets, costumes and “bad” hair are very right for the period. It is an entertaining crime drama with a good sense of humor, but which probably could have been a bit shorter and maybe toned down some of the shouting matches. Though it did have good momentum most of the time. The “R” rating is primarily for the profanity and sexual situations (more of the teasing variety than explicit). Although it won a best movie award in the comedy category at the Golden Globes, it didn’t strike me as a comedy, in spite of the sense of humor I mentioned above. You might disagree, but it’s best if you approach it as a drama that may make you chuckle a few times.
2009 Louie Psihoyos 91 PG-13 The Cove A powerful documentary that exposed the secret slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The film makers had to go to extreme covert measures to document what the Japanese public and the rest of the world were totally unaware of. The local fisherman capture the dolphins in large numbers, first to sell them to entertainment venues and then the remainder are slaughtered to sell as meat. The consumers of this meat were unaware of the toxic levels of mercury in dolphin meat and it was discovered that it was being supplied to school lunch programs (this practice has been stopped). Featured in this film is Richard ”Ric” O’Barry, best known for his role in supplying dolphins for the TV series “Flipper” (1964-67), but who now opposes the keeping of dolphins and whales in captivity, as they have been shown to be very intelligent and quite probably self aware. Parts of this film may be quite disturbing to some viewers, but if you are concerned about these issues (and more people should be) you must see this. It won Best Documentary at the 2010 Academy Awards.
2013 Chris Buck + Jennifer Lee 102 PG Frozen I saw this movie on a day when the temperature outside was only 6ºF, which might seem fitting given the title, but you might rather see it on a hot day because there is so much snow and ice in this movie. My first reaction was, do we really need another Disney princess musical? Probably not, but in the end this may be one of the better ones. It is a story of two sister princesses, the older of which, Elsa, is cursed with a magical power to turn anything she touches to ice. She isolates herself to protect her younger sister, Anna, from potential harm from her touch. But when Elsa exiles herself from the kingdom, she inadvertently places the region in a perpetual deep freeze. So Anna goes on an adventure to find her sibling, hoping she will be able to undo the damage she has done. Two love interests are provided for Anna, Prince Hans and a mountain man named Kristoff. As is often the case in these Disney films, some of the secondary characters end up being the most likable. Here we have a reindeer named Sven and a “living” snowman named Olaf. I have to say though that I was completely misled by the one trailer I had seen for this film. It happened to be the one which features only Olaf and Sven, giving the impression this film was more like “Ice Age” (2002), with no clue that it was about princesses or in fact any human characters at all. So if you’ve only seen that trailer, be aware they are not the main characters and in fact the scene in the trailer is not in the movie. So talk about a movie not meeting expectations. But if you’re prepared for a fairy tale aimed at children, you may be in a better position to appreciate it for what it is.
2010 Michelangelo Frammartino 88 NR Le Quattro Volte Italian: “The Four Times.” This unusual film has no dialogue and so you won’t have to read any subtitles to understand it. On the other hand, you may have trouble understanding the meaning of it all. It is not silent because you do occasionally hear indistinct whispering or shouting in the background, along with all the natural ambient sounds of the location (a small village in the Calabria region of Italy). I came to this knowing nothing about it and came away completely baffled. I kept wondering when somebody was going to speak. According to the notes on the back of the DVD case, the director was inspired by the concept of "four-fold transmigration of souls," put forth by Pythagoras. And indeed the film is divided into four "episodes," starting with an old goat herder and ending with the construction of a charcoal kiln. Actually, you see the charcoal kiln first, making the rest of the film like a flashback. So, without any words to guide you, you have to get what you can out of it entirely through visual means. I had no idea that thing at the beginning was a charcoal kiln until they came back to it later in more detail. And there are a number of other details I did not understand, perhaps because of cultural differences. Knowing in advance the director’s intent may help you assign meaning to what you see. The pace is slow and unhurried but it is only 88 minutes and perhaps because of the mysterious nature of it, I was never bored. It may not appeal to everyone, but as the New York Times critic, A. O. Scott said, “You have never seen anything like this movie.” It is not rated, but there is no sex, no violence, no drugs, no profanity; the only thing thing that might make it “PG” rather than “G” is a scene showing the birth of a baby goat.
2013 Stephen Frears 98 PG-13 Philomena This dramatization of a true story was not as good as I had hoped it would be, but it did contain some unexpected twists and turns. Fifty years ago in Ireland, Philomena Lee (Sophie Kennedy Clark and Judi Dench) had become pregnant as a teenager and was sent to a convent where she gave birth to a son. But after three years, the nuns took the toddler away from her to be adopted. She never knew what had become of her son. Then a journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), was looking for a subject for a book and was introduced to Philomena and eventually agreed to help her in her search. The resulting book was the basis of this movie. I won’t say how the search turned out but expect some surprises if you don’t already know the story. I think the problem I had with this is that both of the main characters, Philomena and Martin, were not all that likable. Dench had some good moments here and there but she’s had better roles elsewhere.
1988 Hayao Miyazaki 86 G My Neighbor Totoro A very cute children’s animated feature, originally made in Japan (“Tonari no Totoro”), but available on DVD with English voices (the old 2002 edition I borrowed from the library did not even offer the original Japanese voices but it has since been rereleased under the Disney brand on DVD & Blu-ray in original widescreen with optional Japanese audio; also, Disney rerecorded the English track with different actors from the ones I heard on the older DVD). If you saw the director’s “Princess Mononoke” (1997) or “Spirited Away” (2001), you will already know how great his imagination is. This film is a story about two young sisters, about ages 5 & 10, who have just moved to a new house. While exploring their new territory, the little one, Mei, discovers a mythical creature known as a Totoro, living in the nearby forest. It’s hard to describe but it is sort of a cross between an owl and a cat, though I’m sure there are other equally valid interpretations. My understanding is that "Totoro" is Mei's mispronunciation of "tororu," the Japanese word for "troll." The girls become friends with the Totoro and have a number of magical encounters with him (it?). Definitely fun for all ages, but just to be on the safe side, I should warn that in spite of the “G” rating, there is a scene in which the father and his daughters take a bath together. Depending on your upbringing and other societal influences, you might be slightly shocked by this. I know I was.
2012 Michael Haneke 127 PG-13 Amour French with subtitles. A retired piano teacher, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), suffers a stroke and we see how her loving husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), cares for her as she deteriorates. The acting is excellent but I must admit that parts of this are uncomfortable or disturbing to watch. Nobody wants to think about these things happening to them in old age but this film doesn’t hold back the realities. This is one of those films which starts with a scene lifted from the end of the story and then backs up to show you the events leading up to that. The actual end of the film does leave at least one fairly significant detail unresolved, but I’ll leave that for you to discover and ponder when you get to it. It’s a serious drama addressing a subject that may not appeal to everyone, but of its kind it is very good. It won many awards including Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards (though interestingly as an Austrian production rather than French).
2013 Spike Jonze 125 R Her A most unusual love story set in the not too distant future. That future will arrive when the development of Artificial Intelligence has reached the stage where a computer’s Operating System is so good at mimicking human behavior, that it could pass the “Turing Test.” Simply put, that means that a human, not knowing the source of the voice he is communicating with, would never suspect the source was not human. In this story, the human is Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). But unlike the Turing Test, Theodore knows he is talking to a computer. He installs the new “OS 1” on his computer and finds that it can be configured to respond to its user with either a male or female personality. Theodore specifies female and this intelligent Operating System, on its own initiative, names itself “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Similar to today’s “Siri” voice that iPhone users speak to, Samantha has full access to the Internet as a knowledge base, but unlike “Siri,” Samantha is under no restrictions from becoming intimately involved with her human user. With a future equivalent of a smartphone, Theodore is able to communicate with Samantha wherever he goes. Since Theodore is going through a divorce, you might say Samantha is catching him on the rebound. Samantha is so realistic it is like they are having a long-distance telephone romance. I won’t go into any details of the relationship but it does take some surprising and even weird turns. I liked it very much. Given the nearly inevitable arrival of this type of technology it really is food for thought about what kind of world it will become when stories like this are no longer fiction. You think people are distracted by their smartphones now! The film also stars Amy Adams and Olivia Wilde. The “R” rating is primarily for sexual content and profanity (some of which seemed rather gratuitous - though I admit it made me laugh). Anyone thinking they might become the inventor of a system like “Samantha” would do well to learn the lessons of this movie, before designing it.
2013 Brian Percival 131 PG-13 The Book Thief Although the setting is rather grim (Nazi Germany, 1938-1945), this is actually a very moving story about a girl whose mother gives her up as a foster child to an older couple. The story is told primarily from the girl's point of view, but there is an external narrator who is heard now and then, who is supposed to represent "Death." The girl is Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), a shy girl who was never taught to read and so is very excited about books once her new family gives her the opportunity to attend school. Her foster parents are Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). She meets a neighbor boy, Rudy (Nico Liersch), and they become close friends. Everyone is at first excited but then fearful of the war, but the residents of this town try to remain in the good graces of the ever present Nazi soldiers, even while some harbor secrets that could spell trouble. Not surprisingly there are some scenes depicting Nazi brutality, but nothing extreme, just enough to set the tone of fear. The film is based on the novel by Markus Zusak (2006). It's not some high drama with a complex plot, but I really enjoyed it.
2007 Yang Li 103 NR Blind Mountain Chinese (Mandarin): "Mang shan." The film is advertised as “Based on Horrific True Events” but I have no idea how much truth the screenplay contains. However, in the cultural context of 1990’s China, it is certainly believable that this nightmare could have occurred. Bai Xuemei (Lu Huang) is a young female college graduate who is lured to a mountainous region on the promise of a job which could help her pay back her parents for college tuition. Unfortunately it turns out to be a ruse and she finds herself having been sold to a pig farmer (Youan Yang) to be his wife and conveniently her identification has been stolen. But since the whole town is in on the conspiracy, she doesn’t stand much chance of escape. I found the film to be somewhat predictable and I felt that the ending was too abrupt. I really want to know what happened next. Also, there was one scene that seemed like a really big mistake. I won’t reveal the details but I’ll just say it was a scene in which the main character was in possession of an object which made no sense for her to have given very recent events. There is no MPAA rating for this film, but it might qualify as “R” for the sex scenes, which in the context of the story are really rapes.
2010 Bertrand Tavernier 140 NR The Princess of Montpensier French: “La princesse de Montpensier." A beautifully produced costume drama set in the year 1567. Interestingly the literary source for this story dates back almost as far, to 1662, in a story of the same name published by Madame de La Fayette. But the director chose to shift the original setting of the story back by a century, to the period of the French Wars of Religion (between the Catholics and the Huguenots (Protestants)). The beautiful Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry) is forced by her father into an arranged marriage to Philippe, Prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). She still has strong feelings for her boyfriend, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), but he is not the only man in the kingdom who covets the Princess. The Prince is easily aroused to jealousy and it doesn't help that he is often gone in the business of war. In this historical setting, the monarch was Charles IX of France under his mother, the Regent, Catherine de' Medici (Evelina Meghnagi). The principal weapon of the day was the sword and in this film many people die by it, so there is a considerable amount of that type of violence (though these scenes are often one of the weak points of the film). There is also sex and nudity, so this probably would have received an “R” rating had the MPAA granted one. It is an attractive period piece, but the story seemed a bit weak; perhaps the book is better.
2013 Neill Blomkamp 109 R Elysium Science fiction action thriller that takes the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” to new heights (pun intended). In the year 2154, the wealthy elite have totally isolated themselves to “Elysium,” an artificial paradise constructed in Earth orbit. But this is no mere space station. It is so big that it can be seen in the daylight sky from Earth’s surface. From that perspective it somewhat resembles the wheel-shaped space station featured in the film “2001: a space odyssey” (1968). But when revealed close-up, the design proves to be quite astonishing and will look very familiar to most serious fans of science fiction literature. In contrast, life on the surface of Earth is like one giant slum. Max (Matt Damon) is one of the lucky ones; he has a job at the robot factory. And his lifelong friend, Frey (Alice Braga), is a nurse. But when life takes a turn for the worse for Max, he seeks his only hope which is to get himself to Elysium. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) however, is in charge of Elysium security and will do whatever it takes to keep “non-citizens” from entering Elysium. To assist her from the surface, she calls upon the services of Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley). The exciting design of the Elysium space habitat will no doubt raise much discussion regarding its scientific feasibility. I wish however, that the film had devoted more time to an informative exploration of it, which I’m sure they could have done without extending the running time past two hours. Although I like Jodie Foster, she is no Meryl Streep when it comes to accents and I felt that it was pointless for her character to have one. And Matt Damon’s character was not as appealing as “Jason Bourne.” Apart from those complaints, it was a fairly good action film but not as good as, for example, “Oblivion” (2013). The “R” rating is for strong graphic violence and occasional profanity.
2007 Tim Russ 87 NR Star Trek: Of Gods and Men You might call this an “unofficial” Star Trek movie, as it did not come from any of the major studios that produced the original theatrical releases. It is a low budget production that was only released on the Internet, originally in two parts, but now available in its entirety as a YouTube video ( Note: the video starts with a 1-minute ad for a different Star Trek movie). This is the new world of movie making. It is long enough to be considered a feature-length film, but classifies it as a video because of the way it was released. Although it suffers from low-budget special effects and some occasionally lame dialogue, it is arguably better than at least one of the original movies (Star Trek V). It mainly serves as a tribute to all the Star Trek productions of the past, because it features many original Star Trek actors (and not just from the original series), at least six of whom reprise their original roles, and another six appear in new roles. Also, several original characters from various TV episodes are incorporated into this new script but portrayed by different actors. The story also borrows many elements from some of the original episodes and even the director is a Star Trek alumnus. The story takes place 12 years after the events of “Star Trek: Generations” (1994). Several crew members including Captain Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Captain Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) visit the planet which is home to the “Guardian of Forever” where they encounter Charlie Evans (William Wellman). Charlie steps through the time portal and alters history and the rest of the story is set in that alternate timeline. It won’t appeal to everyone; even some who consider themselves Star Trek fans may be disappointed. But having been a fan from the beginning, I appreciated the references to the TV episodes and seeing familiar faces and characters from long ago, placed in new situations. And the climax of the story is actually quite entertaining. It is a unique collaboration of actors and characters, many of whom never appeared together before in the same Star Trek episode. But what have you got to lose? It’s free.
2013 Guillermo del Toro 131 PG-13 Pacific Rim An exciting, if somewhat preposterous, science fiction action adventure in the tradition of “Godzilla.” The premise is that huge monsters (on the order of 3000 tons) start emerging from a tectonic plate fissure at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and begin attacking cities all around the Pacific Rim. The monsters are known as “Kaiju” and are bigger than any dinosaur ever was. Someone decides that the best way to defeat the Kaiju is to build equally large robotic-looking machines, called “Jaegers,” which are operated by two-person crews. Complicating the operation of the Jaegers, the two crew members undergo a “neural mind bridge” so that they can think as one person during the mission. So basically this is a “save the world from the monsters” story. The cast is mostly unknown to me, with the exception of Ron Perlman as “Hannibal Chau,” a scavenger of Kaiju body parts. Impressive special effects and nearly nonstop action. It’s very well done, but the whole idea of these Jaegers struck me as a complete misuse of resources, when a beefed up military assault should have been sufficient. But that’s just my left brain talking; I won’t bore you with the other details that didn’t make sense. Apart from that, it is probably one of the best action films of 2013. Note: there is a short additional scene part way through the end credits.
2013 Gore Verbinski 149 PG-13 The Lone Ranger A thrilling action comedy set in the Old West, telling the origin story of The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp), complete with the strains of The William Tell Overture. The story is actually told to a young boy in 1933, by an aging Tonto, appearing as a historical figure in a carnival diorama. Back in 1869, John Reid (also Armie Hammer), a young man fresh from law school, travels out west by train to Colby, where his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is a Texas Ranger. But on that same train is a notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who is in custody and being taken to a hanging. But when Cavendish escapes, it sets off a series of events that ultimately teams up John and Tonto on a mission to recapture Cavendish in the name of justice. I’m really shocked at the number of negative reviews for this film. I found it enormously entertaining and I loved Johnny Depp’s deadpan humor (which isn’t all that different from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, also directed by Gore Verbinski). It also features some of what might be called slapstick humor. It was never boring in spite of being nearly 2-1/2 hours. This film is not attempting to directly recreate the old TV series, and so some of the more serious fans of that may have come to this movie expecting something different from what it delivers. But it has wonderful Indiana Jones-style stunt work, great special effects and classic western scenery in beautiful widescreen splendor. The film also features Helena Bonham Carter as Red Harrington, the operator of the town’s brothel. And Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, a businessman associated with the construction of the transcontinental railroad (which in reality did not pass through Texas). Be sure to watch the end credits because about two minutes in, there is an additional scene. Highly recommended.
2013 Gavin Hood 114 PG-13 Ender’s Game An exciting science fiction adventure which follows the course of a training program for teenagers to prepare them for a future war with aliens. In an unspecified future, Earth has already experienced one invasion by the “Formics” and even though Earth won, fifty years later Earth’s military anticipate that the Formics will strike again. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) is in charge of recruitment and training and has been tasked with finding the world’s brightest boys and girls for the program. The story focuses on one boy, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), whom Graff believes is the cream of the crop. The teenagers are put through a vigorous boot camp, training them in the weightlessness of space, to weed out the weak and promote the leaders. The story is based on the novel by Orson Scott Card (1985). Although I have not read the book, my understanding is that Ender is even younger in the book, not yet a teenager. If you have read the book you will no doubt discover parts that were left out of the screenplay along with other changes. The book and the film are probably both aimed at a younger audience, but I think it is done smartly enough that many adults will enjoy it as well. It was definitely not predictable (unless you read the book) and repeatedly surprised me. It makes extensive use of computer generated special effects, but not at the expense of the story. The film also features actor Ben Kingsley, but to explain his role would be a spoiler. Again, if you’ve read the book, I can’t promise this will meet your expectations, but for everyone else, I think you will enjoy it.
2014 Rob Minkoff 92 PG Mr. Peabody & Sherman A moderately successful attempt to give new life to a pair of cartoon characters from the 1960s. “Rocky and His Friends” (1959-64), later renamed "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," was one of my favorite shows as a boy. In addition to stories about the main characters, Rocky and Bullwinkle, the shows included short episodes such as “Fractured Fairy Tales” and "Peabody's Improbable History.” The latter being about a dog named Mr. Peabody and his adopted human son, Sherman. Mr. Peabody was a scientist who had invented a time machine which they called the WABAC (“Way-back”) machine. In each episode, they would visit some famous event in history, ending with a punch line that was always a pun. In the TV series there were no other characters in the present other than Mr. Peabody and Sherman, but in this film they expand our knowledge of their present time period by introducing such characters as Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter), a girl at Sherman’s school who bullies him, and Penny’s parents. In the first time travel adventure in this film, Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) and Sherman (Max Charles) visit the French Revolution. As the larger story develops, trips are also made to Ancient Egypt, The Renaissance, and The Trojan War. As you might expect, time paradoxes occur and have to be resolved. There are many historical figures included in the various subplots, such as King Tut (Zach Callison), Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci), Agamemnon (Patrick Warburton) and Albert Einstein (Mel Brooks). Expanding a five minute cartoon segment into a feature length movie is no small task, but I think they did a pretty good job of it. A few of the jokes fell flat, but I did laugh at quite a few others; naturally, many of them rely on your knowledge of history (which, in part, is why the film will appeal to adults as well as children). You don’t need to be familiar with the original cartoon, as Mr. Peabody explains everything. If you hold fond memories of "Peabody's Improbable History” you shouldn't expect this film to be as efficient and witty, but I think for many it will still be a good piece of light entertainment. In theaters, the movie was preceded by a short cartoon called "Almost Home" which is actually a sneak peek at another animated feature, “Home,” scheduled for release in March, 2015.
2010 Baran bo Odar 118 NR The Silence German with English subtitles: "Das letzte Schweigen." Superb crime thriller. Haunting and suspenseful. A murder cold case is reopened when a virtually identical crime occurs 23 years later to the day. The original detective on the case, Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaußner), has just retired but can’t resist conducting his own new investigation, while the police assign the official investigation to active detective David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg). The police retrieve the original evidence box and try once more to identify the killer of the first victim, hoping that will help solve the new case. Excellent performances by all, and it held my attention solidly all the way. Though it appears there may be a major continuity error resulting in a mismatch between the crime scene as shown to the audience and the miniature crime scene model found in the evidence box. The screenplay is based on the novel "Das Schweigen" by Jan Costin Wagner (2007). No MPAA rating was assigned but it probably deserves an “R” for the violent nature of the crimes, especially since the victims are children. There is also a somewhat gratuitous scene of full frontal male nudity (featuring a man who should not be seen naked) and occasional profanity.
2010 Paul Haggis 133 PG-13 The Next Three Days A thrilling and suspenseful drama that explores how far a man will go to keep his family together. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) lives in Pittsburgh, with his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and their young son, Luke. One day, out of the blue, Lara is arrested and convicted of a murder she didn't commit. When John believes all legal means to overturn her conviction have been exhausted, he begins to concoct a highly risky plan to get her out of prison. He even consults an ex-con, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), for advice. It was interesting to see Neeson in a non-leading role, but he was perfect for it. Not being familiar with the criminal underworld, John gets into a lot of trouble as he puts together the pieces of his plan. It gets pretty nail-biting at times. The supporting cast also includes Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy and Daniel Stern. A really solid drama worth watching. Trivia: this is a remake of the French film, "Pour elle" ("Anything for Her," 2008).
2014 Wes Anderson 100 R The Grand Budapest Hotel A rather bizarre comedy told as a story within a story within a story (it is rather difficult to be sure of how many layers there are). But without trying to explain all the layers, the primary story is about several current and former employees of The Grand Budapest Hotel. This is a fictional hotel in a fictional European country. The time period appears to be the 1930s & 40s. There are two narrators, both of whom are also visible characters. One is known simply as "Author" (Tom Wilkinson; also Jude Law as his younger self) and the other is the owner of the hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham; also Tony Revolori as the teenage Zero). Essentially, the bulk of the plot involves Moustafa telling "Author" the long and convoluted story of how he became the owner. A major character in Moustafa's story is Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel's concierge. With many characters and a complicated storyline it can be hard to keep track of all the details at times. I must admit that at first it seemed rather dull and not all that funny, but as it gained momentum it definitely got more interesting and more humorous. The supporting cast includes quite a few well known actors: Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban and George Clooney. Though some are little more than cameo appearances (Clooney is easily missed as he is on screen for less than half a second). An unusual feature of this production is that during the flashback story told by Moustafa, the film is displayed in the old-style 4:3 aspect ratio (perhaps in reference to the appearance of films from the represented period). The “R” rating is for occasional profanity and violence, some of which is a bit graphic. Overall it is quite entertaining but definitely requires alertness.
2014 Marc Webb 142 PG-13 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Disappointing. I had generally liked the 2012 film to which this is a sequel, but the action and special effects here drowned out the story, which wasn’t that good anyway. It probably would have helped some if I had re-watched the prior film to refresh my memory on some of the secondary characters who were carried forward into the new story. I was lagging behind a bit as I struggled to recall their role in Spider-Man’s life. The film has proven popular with young people however, so I’m just not in the target audience. Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is once again struggling with his relationship with Gwen (Emma Stone) while continuing to fight the city’s villains. A new villain is introduced named “Electro” (Jamie Foxx), whose electrified powers really put Spider-Man to the test. Peter also tries to learn more about what really happened to his father and the secrets of his father’s employer, Oscorp. Sally Field reprises the role of Peter’s Aunt May. Marvel Comics fans will appreciate the cameo appearance of Stan Lee. If you are a devoted follower of the Spider-Man character you may be willing to overlook some of the deficiencies of this movie, but I think the character has worn out his welcome for me.
2013 Denis Villeneuve 153 R Prisoners A shocking abduction thriller that will surprise you. At first it seemed like just another run-of-the-mill missing child story, but as the police pursue multiple leads it gets much more compelling. And the investigation turns up some pretty creepy stuff along the way. The two little girls who go missing are best friends and the two families live a short walk apart. Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace Dover (Maria Bello) are the parents of one girl and Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) are the parents of the other girl. Representing the police in the matter is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film does contain some disturbing violence, resulting in the “R” rating, so be advised. But apart from that I found myself completely absorbed in this suspenseful and well crafted story.
2014 George Clooney 118 PG-13 The Monuments Men The history and the art are interesting but the movie is a dud. Until this movie was released, I knew nothing about this important episode of World War II. The story is based on the real life mission of a group of Americans who went to Europe near the end of the war, to search for and recover, thousands of works of art which had been stolen by the Nazis. The art world and those who appreciate art, owe the Monuments Men team a great debt. But a short documentary probably would have sufficed (in fact, there is a documentary, “The Rape of Europa” (2006), which might be worth checking out; it is only one minute shorter that this movie) . In spite of the impressive A-list cast, very few scenes really stood out: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett (probably the best performance in the film), John Goodman & Bob Balaban. And naturally some of the history was “adjusted” for the sake of entertainment.
2014 Doug Liman 113 PG-13 Edge of Tomorrow Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage in this high intensity science fiction action film. In some future time, a race of aliens known as “Mimics” invades Earth at a point somewhere in Europe. They are very scary looking creatures and are proving extremely difficult to beat. Refusing orders to participate in the next attack, Major Cage is stripped of his rank and forced to fight with the troops as a private. But a strange thing happens to him when he is killed on the battlefield. He wakes up back at the point where he first found himself stripped of rank. And thus he begins to relive the same day over again. And again every time he is killed. But like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” (1993), Cage learns from each repeat of the battle and survives a little longer. Of course nobody believes him when he tries to explain what is happening to him, but eventually he meets a woman soldier named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who does believe him because in a past battle it happened to her. Together, they combine their knowledge of this phenomenon to try to gain an advantage over the aliens. The story has its origins in a Japanese novel, "All You Need Is Kill." The screenplay that has been adapted from the novel is really quite efficient, with nary a line of unnecessary dialogue. Both Cruise and Blunt are very good, easily drawing you into this otherwise unbelievable situation. The battle scenes are quite intense, but if you are used to that in this type of movie, you will definitely enjoy this. UPDATE: now that this film is available on DVD, it is being marketed under the title “Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow.”
2013 Alexander Payne 115 R Nebraska A quietly amusing father-son bonding story, filmed in black and white. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a retired mechanic in Billings, Montana. He received a certificate in the mail telling him he had won one million dollars. He didn’t think it was safe to file his claim by mail and so decided to go directly to the prize office in Lincoln, Nebraska. But without a driver’s license that presented a problem. His son, David (Will Forte), doesn’t believe the certificate is legitimate, but eventually relents and agrees to drive his father to Lincoln, just to put an end to his father’s obsession. What makes this a great story is that it isn’t about the prize (Hitchcock would have called the prize the “MacGuffin” of the story), but rather about their shared experiences during the road trip. A large part of the experience involves a stop in the town where Woody grew up, Hawthorne, Nebraska, and the family and friends who still live there. I suppose you could call them stereotypical small-town characters, but they’re all well played and essential to creating the mood of the piece. Great supporting roles include June Squibb as Woody’s wife, Kate, and Angela McEwan as a former girlfriend of Woody. The movie is slow paced but the writing is good with just the right sense of humor to offset any pathos. The only reason for the “R” rating is a few strong words here and there for punctuation but not so much that you would actually think of it as an R-rated film. Both Bruce Dern and June Squibb were nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes.
2013 Pierre Coffin + Chris Renaud 98 PG Despicable Me 2 Not quite as good a story as the original “Despicable Me” (2010), but still offers a lot of funny characters and goofy action sequences. If you did not see the original I would recommend viewing that first, as this sequel assumes you know the background of the main characters. Gru (again voiced by Steve Carell) has given up his life of crime and is attempting to live a normal life with his three adopted daughters. But a secret organization, the Anti-Villain League, offers him the job of identifying and capturing a new evil doer who has just committed a theft on par with Gru’s past deeds. The writers decided to introduce a love interest for both Gru and his oldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), though it is unclear that Margo is actually old enough for that sort of thing. Gru’s attendant Minions are also present throughout the movie, just as wacky and hilarious as before. There were a few times where it felt like the story was dragging its feet and the writers were trying too hard, but most of the time is was pretty entertaining. As with the original, there are additional animated sequences inserted during the end credits.
2013 Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra 185 NR Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Hindi with English subtitles. Translation: “Run Milkha Run.” A lengthy but very good story inspired by the autobiography of Indian track star, Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar). As a boy he grew up during the time when India became partitioned into India and Pakistan and endured much hardship as a result. It was when he joined the Indian Army that he was introduced to competitive running and gradually advanced to becoming an international competitor on India’s team. The film starts during the 1960 Olympics in Rome and then uses flashbacks to various times in his life before that. It shows the terror he experienced when his village became part of Pakistan and later his personal struggles to focus on his running while being tempted by romantic entanglements. Being a “Bollywood” film the story pauses periodically for musical dance numbers but this was not as frequent or elaborate as it is in some Indian films I’ve seen. It was as if they were trying to tone down that aspect of the film in favor of the more serious story of their national hero. No MPAA rating was assigned to this film but it might deserve at least PG-13 for the violence in the India Partitioning scenes.
2014 Matt Reeves 130 PG-13 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes An action-packed sequel to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), the third attempt in feature films to tell the story of a planet with an upside-down society ruled by apes. [Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen “Rise” you may want to skip this review until you have] The original film series ran from 1968 to 1973, then after two TV series in 1974 and 1975, the 1968 film was remade in 2001 (but without any follow-up remakes of the other original sequels). Now the current series, almost certain to be continued in 2016, is unfolding a different version of the story, though clearly inspired by the original and definitely using the highest quality special effects seen in any of the series. “Dawn” takes place 10 years after the end of “Rise.” The ape society, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), that settled in Muir Woods, north of San Francisco, has not seen any humans for a couple years and so have come to assume they all died. But one day some survivors cross paths with the apes and a major conflict ensues. None of the human characters from “Rise” are among this community of humans, though the character of Will (James Franco) does appear in a brief reuse of film footage from “Rise.” On the other hand, five of the ape characters were carried forward from “Rise.” And in that regard, the apes were the best-developed set of characters in this film. I felt the new human characters were not developed as thoroughly. To quote the MPAA, the film features “intense and frightening sequences of action and violence” (to the extent permitted by PG-13), with which I completely agree. The armed conflicts between the apes and humans are perhaps overextended at times, but the overall film is supported by a good story, though I would have to say that “Rise” was the better film of the two. I viewed the film in 3D, but I don’t think you’re missing much if you only see it in 2D.
2013 Dean Parisot 116 PG-13 RED 2 A weak sequel to “RED” (2010). Although I was somewhat positive about the original, I think the problem here is that the novelty had worn off and not enough new ideas were added. The characters, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren), have been carried forward from the original film. New characters include Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) and Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones). As before, Frank is a retired spy who is trying to stay out of the spy business in order to keep his girlfriend, Sarah, safe. But old associates, such as Marvin, draw him back into the game. This time the government thinks Frank has knowledge of a secret government program. He doesn’t, but while evading assassination, attempts to find out the secret himself. When I reviewed “RED” I mentioned a stunt/special effect involving Bruce Willis and a moving car; here they basically repeat that but reverse the sequence of events. It’s still impressive visually but again, it contributed to the “more of the same” feeling. Apart from its connections to the original film, it pretty much stands on its own, so you could probably enjoy it without having seen “RED” since this would all be new to you. It does have a lot of exciting action sequences including the obligatory “driving down a public stairway in a European city.” With the action there is a fair amount of violence but not overtly graphic. It was occasionally funny, but I guess not enough to please me, again part of the “not new” problem.
2014 Jaume Collet-Serra 106 PG-13 Non-Stop A very exciting action thriller aboard a non-stop flight from New York to London. There have been many movies about things going wrong on a plane, but the plot here has a lot of good surprises to make it worth watching another one. Air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), who ironically doesn’t like to fly, is made aware of a threat to the passengers on his flight. His efforts to gain control of the situation are repeatedly confounded by the very clever mystery terrorist. The film also stars Julianne Moore, as “Jen,” a passenger who takes the window seat next to Bill. There is of course some PG-13 violence but nothing too graphic. Definitely one of the better action films of this year.
2012 Michael McGowan 103 PG-13 Still Mine This is a great “senior” movie that unfortunately received only limited play in theaters in 2012. And then it didn’t appear on DVD until just two months ago (May 2014). I only discovered it when it turned up at my local Redbox outlet. Based on a true story ( ), it’s about a Canadian couple in their eighties, coming to terms with memory loss and building codes (though, truth be told, both actors were only in their early seventies). Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) and his wife, Irene (Geneviève Bujold), live on a farm in New Brunswick (where most of the movie was filmed). She is starting to experience signs of dementia and he decides they need to move to a smaller house. But for financial considerations, he knows that is only possible if he builds the house himself (which is qualified to do) on an unused portion of his land. Unfortunately the local building inspector keeps getting in his way. Cromwell and Bujold give excellent performances in this very touching story. Highly recommended (I should warn though that there is a bit of “senior nudity” that probably wasn’t really necessary, though you could argue that it adds to the character development).
2014 Bryan Singer 131 PG-13 X-Men: Days of Future Past An impressive display of special effects, stunts and makeup in this latest addition to the “X-Men” series of feature films that began in 2000. I did not actually follow this series after seeing the first one, which I found lacking in the story department, but when I heard this latest installment included a time-travel theme and noticed how highly rated it was, I decided to check it out. I’m happy to report that I did enjoy the new story. For a series that has spanned so many years, a surprising number of actors came back to reprise their characters from 2000, except that “Mystique” is now played by Jennifer Lawrence rather than Rebecca Romijn (Lawrence first played this character in “X-Men: First Class” (2011)). Hugh Jackman again gets top billing as “Wolverine” and Patrick Stewart is back as Professor X(avier). However, since the time-travel element divides the story by 50 years, younger versions of the characters appear, such as young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) - with the older version of Magneto played again by Ian McKellen. Also featured is Peter Dinklage as Dr. Bolivar Trask. In short, the plot involves a major threat to the X-Men in the form of terrifying robots designed specifically to wipe out all X-Men (in the year 2023). Professor X sends Wolverine back in time to 1973 to try to convince the younger Xavier to assist in preventing the sequence of events that led to the creation of those robots. The story injects a good sense of humor at times, which in at least one instance made very clever use of one of the special effects. Although you probably don’t have to see any of the previous X-Men films to enjoy this, some knowledge of who and what they are might help. The so-called “sci-fi violence” is intense at times, but nothing unusual for this type of film. Please note that there is a brief additional scene after the end credits, which is very mysterious and no doubt has something to do with the next film in this series.
2014 Jon Favreau 114 R Chef A fun father-son story “suggested by actual events” and set in the context of the food service business. It will probably make you hungry. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau - also the director), is a chef in a restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). While struggling to keep is boss happy, Carl is trying to bond with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), from his failed marriage to Inez (Sofía Vergara). When things don’t go well at the restaurant, Carl tries to get other work in the food business and teach his son the ropes. Also featured are Scarlett Johansson as “Molly” and Robert Downey Jr. as another former husband of Inez. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale provide good supporting performances as Carl’s underlings at the restaurant. It’s a great story and is very contemporary in the the way it incorporates the use of social media by most of the characters, which is a source of a lot of the humor. My only complaint is that it contains an unnecessary amount of profanity and sexually suggestive situations to result in an “R” rating. If you take that out it would probably fall back to PG. Other than that, it was very enjoyable and has done well at the box office; I was surprised to find it still playing at a first run theater over two months after its release, in spite of all the bigger summer movies that have been released. Note: There are scattered additional scenes and even one “behind the scenes” clip during the end credits.
2014 Luc Besson 89 R Lucy This film is more about style and action rather than trying to be something that actually makes sense. I knew that it was questionable from the reviews but with a director like Luc Besson and stars like Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, I figured maybe it had some merit. It starts by perpetuating the myth that humans use only 10% of their brain. Medical brain scans show that this is clearly not the case. In any event, Johansson, in the title role, makes a bad choice of a boyfriend and gets caught up in a drug smuggling operation based in Taiwan. The details are a bit gory but the upshot of it is that she experiences a massive overdose of a powerful drug and it starts to enhance her brain. She develops abilities such as telekinesis, mind reading and lightning fast learning, and that’s only the beginning. While being pursued by the drug dealers, she reaches out to neuroscientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), because of his theories on brain usage. The story-telling style is atypical and very visual but does offer some thrilling action sequences with the help of many special effects. Johansson’s approach to playing Lucy was interesting and I enjoyed watching the character adapt to her circumstances. The whole thing is admittedly preposterous, but if you allow for that you might not think it is so terrible. And it is over in less than 90 minutes, though the ending may be disappointing. The “R” rating is mostly for strong violence, some of it a bit bloody.
2014 Richard Linklater 165 R Boyhood Boring (especially the first hour), disjointed and too much profanity, not to mention, too long. It sounded like it might be interesting because of the unusual conditions of the production process. Specifically, to tell a story that spans twelve years in the life of the main character, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from age six to eighteen, the director spent twelve years filming it, so that you see the same actors really aging twelve years over the course of the film. And obviously demanding an unprecedented commitment by the actors. Not to mention the risk that some of them could become unavailable over that time span. It is a novel idea but I don’t think that alone is enough to make a great film. The critics are raving about it, so I am apparently in the minority here. It may prove more popular with young people, though the “R” rating (for profanity) may limit how many under 18 actually see it. Among the adult actors featured are Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as Mason’s parents. The director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, plays Mason’s sister. At best, this is overrated.
2014 James Gunn 121 PG-13 Guardians of the Galaxy Yet another action-packed adventure featuring superhero characters taken from comic books (Marvel Comics in this case). However, even if you are a big comic book fan, these are probably not characters you grew up with, as they first appeared in print in 2008. Normally at this point I would summarize the beginning of the film to setup the plot, however, since what happens at the beginning is not revealed in any of the trailers I saw, it seems best to leave the beginning as a surprise. Jumping forward then to the main story, the central character is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a lone space explorer who discovers an alien artifact, referred to as the “orb.” It quickly becomes apparent that it is an object highly prized by multiple potential buyers who will stop at nothing to own it. In the process of trying to maintain possession of the orb without getting killed, he crosses paths with four unusual characters who, with Peter, form an uneasy alliance. They are: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). You don’t actually see Cooper or Diesel, as they only contribute their voices to computer-generated characters. Basically what this turns into is a bonding story for this unlikely quintet of diverse beings. Although there is a great deal of entertainment value in this film, my main problem with it is that there was too much action (or maybe I’m just showing my age). It was an exhausting two hours. I also found some of the humor to be rather lame; at times though I did hear others in the theater laughing when I did not, so don’t rely entirely on my reaction there. My favorite character was Groot. I won’t give away his details but will say he may remind you of a character from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), though he proves to be much more complex than that. I have a feeling that this is a film that I may feel better about if I watch it again, now having the benefit of hindsight, though I’m not sure I will change my opinion about the excess of action. The “Guardian” characters do grow on you as the plot develops, and by the end you’ll probably feel pretty good about them, in spite of first impressions (though I would say Peter is the weakest character of the five). In some ways it is refreshingly different since these characters are all new to the big screen. Final note: watch for extra scenes during and after the credits.
2013 Woody Allen 98 PG-13 Blue Jasmine Is this a comedy or a drama? Cate Blanchett, as Jasmine, is the core of the story and gives a strong dramatic performance, as a woman who is not reacting well to the changes taking place in her life. But her interactions with the supporting characters do result in some amusing situations. I was a little confused at the beginning of the film because I did not immediately realize that part of it is a flashback. In the present, Jasmine is a woman who used to enjoy the high life on Park Avenue in New York, but has now been reduced to rooming at her sister’s home in San Francisco. Ginger (Sally Hawkins) on the other hand is already at the lower end of the economic scale, and hoping Jasmine won’t stay too long so that her boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale) can move in. In the flashback, you see Jasmine with her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), while Ginger is married to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). The periodic flashback scenes little by little fill you in as to how Jasmine and Ginger ended up in their present situations. Jasmine’s story is a socioeconomic fish-out-of-water tale and her downward spiral, while surrounded by “normal people,” generates many of the comedic moments; particularly amusing was a scene in which she is baby-sitting Ginger’s boys and tries to give them a bit of her life philosophy. I hadn’t heard the name Andrew Dice Clay in a long time and in fact did not realize who was playing Augie until the credits rolled, but in spite of any prior reputation he had, he was quite good in this role. And in fact most of the cast gave great supporting performances. I’m not always a fan of Cate Blanchett, but she is quite good here (she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this role). Overall it is a very good story but it will probably depend on the degree to which you are entertained by the drama versus the comedy (ideally both).
2013 Rawson Marshall Thurber 110 R We’re the Millers This could have been a very good comedy, but for my sensibilities, some of the sexual humor was just too offensive. Drop that and you’ve got a great story. Admittedly the main theme of the plot is drug smuggling, but the writers did weave a very funny story around it. David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer in Denver (apparently before they legalized pot there). He owes a lot of money to a higher-up dealer, Brad (Ed Helms), who forces David to agree to smuggle some marijuana in from Mexico. David decides it would be less conspicuous if he travelled to Mexico as part of a family. He manages to talk three other people, who are little more than strangers, into becoming “The Millers” and off they go to cross the border in a ridiculously large RV. Rose (Jennifer Aniston) takes the job as his wife; Kenny (Will Poulter) pretends to be his son; and Casey (Emma Roberts) goes along as his daughter. Needless to say, not everything goes smoothly, but they do get themselves into some pretty funny predicaments. But as I said, some of the humor is rather obscene. There is also quite a bit of profanity. But if you have a thick skin for that sort of thing, you might like it.
1965 Elliot Silverstein 96 NR Cat Ballou This may have been popular in 1965, but today seems very dated. It’s a Western, but certainly a bit outside that box, with it’s singing narrators, Nat 'King' Cole (who, sadly, died before the film was released) and Stubby Kaye. These singers, known as “Shouters” in the credits, sing the story of Cat Ballou to the audience, but remain “invisible” to the other actors on the set. But I would not go so far as to call this a musical. At the opening, Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Jane Fonda) is about to be hung for murder and then the rest of the movie is a flashback to tell us how she arrived at that dire situation. We learn that a corporation is trying to acquire her father’s farm through strong-arm tactics and she hires gunslinger Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) for protection. If you think you’re seeing double, you’re not, because Marvin also plays the opposition hit-man, “Tim Strawn.” At the same time, Cat finds herself harboring two outlaws, Clay (Michael Callan) and Jed (Dwayne Hickman); she alternately loves and despises Clay. Apart from the attractive Jane Fonda, the most entertaining actor is probably Lee Marvin. His character is often hilariously drunk but there is an impressive sobering-up scene that is worth watching. If you accept the datedness of this, it’s probably not that bad.
2012 Nicholas Stoller 124 R The Five-Year Engagement This started out very funny and romantic but unfortunately quickly went downhill with a lot of obscene jokes and gratuitous profanity. And if that wasn’t enough to garner an “R” rating, there were also a number of vigorous sex scenes (though not much nudity). It was also too long. Briefly, this is the engagement story of Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) and Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt). Tom is a chef in San Francisco and Violet is originally from England. He defers to her education plans over getting married right away and as the title suggests, her academic path ends up being a bit longer than either had imagined. But with the story stretched out to two hours, it felt a lot longer than five years. I should mention that this review is based on the theatrical version of the film; the DVD includes an “unrated” version which I did not bother to watch.
2001 Farhan Akhtar 185 NR Dil Chahta Hai Hindi with English subtitles (some English is spoken but they seem to randomly alternate between Hindi and English). Approximate translation: “What the heart wishes/desires.” Long movies are pretty much the norm from India, but I still think this could have been shortened a bit. It would have allowed me to more quickly get to the point where I started to feel involved in the story. Most of the story is told in a very long flashback, though I think it best not to mention the “present context” from which the flashback is told, lest that turn out to be a spoiler. The main plot revolves around the love lives of three bachelors, recent college graduates, Sid (Akshaye Khanna), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Akash (Aamir Khan). Long time best friends, they each struggle to find the right girl to marry. Each handles relationships in very different ways and with varying levels of maturity. The relationship amongst the three men is also a constantly changing dynamic. The three more prominent love interests of the men are Shalini (Preity Zinta), Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) and Tara (Dimple Kapadia). This Bollywood film includes seven song segments, though unlike many such films I’ve seen, most of them are love ballads; only two of them are big dance productions, though the second of those was interesting for a clever visual trick. Overall it is a very good story but again, the length does weigh it down some. And as I have found with some other Bollywood films, the acting style is sufficiently different from American films that I tend to down-rate the performances. It appears to be highly rated amongst Indian viewers, so I blame cultural differences for some of my less enthusiastic response.
2008 Jonathan Demme 113 R Rachel Getting Married Some weddings are more dramatic than others, and this one is right up there with plenty of sparks and friction amongst the members of the family of the bride, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). The primary catalyst for most of the disruptions in this otherwise joyous occasion is the bride’s sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway). Kym has just been released from a rehab facility in time to attend the wedding. She attends “12-Step” programs to deal with her substance abuse problem. As a result of this past history she is often unstable in social situations. The family is further dysfunctional in that their parents are divorced and their father, Paul (Bill Irwin) has remarried, but their biological mother, Abby (Debra Winger), does attend the festivities. Anne Hathaway gives a very strong performance as a woman with a lot of emotional and psychological baggage and the movie is clearly about her character, Kym, rather than about the wedding. It is almost guaranteed you won’t like Kym as a person, but you will definitely come to understand where she is coming from. If raucous family squabbles in a film turn you off, then you might want to pass on this one. The majority of the film is devoted to the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself. The rehearsal & dinner scenes were quite entertaining and the theme chosen for the wedding will almost certainly strike you as a bit odd. It is a very harsh contrast between Kym’s outbursts and the fun everyone else is having, so I can understand how this may reduce the overall enjoyment of this drama for some viewers. But for the type of story being told I think it is very good. At least now you know what to expect. The “R” rating is primarily for profanity, which I think they used a bit more than necessary. I should also mention that this film was shot using hand-held photography, so beware if that bothers you (I’m perfectly fine with it in most cases).
2003 Julie Bertuccelli 99 NR Since Otar Left... French: "Depuis qu'Otar est parti..." - actually this film was a co-production of France, Belgium and Georgia, with spoken languages of Georgian, French and Russian. So you really do need the subtitles. A marvelous story about an elderly grandmother, Eka (Esther Gorintin) in Tbilisi, Georgia, who proves to be much more capable and tenacious than her daughter, Marina (Nino Khomasuridze) and granddaughter, Ada (Dinara Drukarova) give her credit. Otar (seen only in a photograph) is Eka’s son, who has been living in Paris for some time. Eka dreams of seeing Otar before she dies, but there are numerous obstacles, both financial and political. I can’t reveal much more but there comes a point when Marina makes a choice that puts everyone in an awkward position, creating an amusing air of suspense. Esther Gorintin’s performance is definitely the highlight of this film (she was 90 when the film was released and managed to live to within two weeks of 97). Filmed on location in Georgia and France.
2004 Wong Kar Wai 128 R 2046 Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin) with English subtitles. A most unusual and occasionally confusing story of romance in Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1960s. Mr. Chow (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) narrates the story of various women he dated in that period, some with greater success than others. Interestingly, this is the same character Tony Leung played in the director’s earlier film, “In the Mood for Love” (2000), and in fact most people feel that “2046” is a sequel to that film, though the director prefers to think of it as an “echo.” But the connection is loose enough that you don’t need to see “In the Mood for Love” to enjoy “2046.” The title turns out to have (at least) two meanings. On the one hand it is the room number of Mr. Chow’s next door neighbor in the Oriental Hotel. But at the same time Mr. Chow is writing a science fiction story about the year 2046. He says that people can travel to 2046 on a special train, but that no one ever comes back, except for “me” (his story’s passenger on the train). The visualization of the story Mr. Chow is writing makes use of some of the same actors who appear in Mr. Chow’s real life. His romances are not told in strict chronological order, so that contributes to the confusion. It is very likely you will need to watch this film more than once to really understand it all; even after seeing it twice, I’m still not clear about everything. It’s moody, atmospheric and sometimes scenes run a bit overtime, but it is a fascinating look at one man’s approach to looking for love. The “R” rating is for several lovemaking scenes, though by American standards they are relatively tame.
2007 Francis Ford Coppola 125 R Youth Without Youth A most unusual and original story that blends a number of genres, but I think the one to emphasize is the paranormal/supernatural. And from the director of such films as “The Godfather” (1972) and “Apocalypse Now” (1979), this is something you don’t expect. The director wrote the screenplay based on the novella by Romanian author, Mircea Eliade. And in fact the setting for much of the movie is Romania, and was filmed there. It begins in 1938, where 70-year-old Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) is struck by lightning in the street. His physician, Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), is astonished to observe the bizarre manner by which Dominic recovers. But his recovery comes with some unusual side effects which draw the attention of the Nazis, so he escapes to Switzerland. Years later he meets a young woman, Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who experiences a similar accident. In addition to the paranormal, there is also mystery, fantasy and romance. Altogether this may prove too strange for many viewers. I was drawn into it because you just never know what weird turn of events is coming next. In some ways this is like a two-hour episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Although English is the primary language of the film, eleven other languages are spoken (including one invented by Dominic) but no English subtitles are provided (the DVD offers optional French subtitles but that won’t help most American viewers). However, if you are able to activate Closed Captioning, you will see subtitles for most of the foreign dialogue (but of course the CC will also subtitle the English dialogue). In some films, brief bits of foreign language are left untranslated because what the actors are saying is unimportant or can be generally inferred, but in this film I believe that the foreign dialogue is important, and thus it was a mistake to not provide the appropriate subtitle capability on the DVD. The “R” rating is for a few scenes containing nudity and sexuality.
2012 Henry Alex Rubin 115 R Disconnect Very good contemporary drama about several families whose lives are changed forever as a result of the various ways they each made use of the Internet. It’s a bit of a wake-up call and a nightmare. Viewers who are more aware of the dangers of the Internet and have read about real life incidents that are similar to these, may find a few things in the plot that are predictable, but in spite of that I felt they put together a really good story with characters that keep you interested with drama, emotion and suspense. And some great acting to go with it. Some of the featured actors you may know include Jason Bateman and Hope Davis, but also important roles by less familiar names, Frank Grillo, Andrea Riseborough and Alexander Skarsgård. The “R” rating is mostly for nudity and some profanity, but nothing extreme. It’s too bad it got such limited exposure in theaters but at least now it’s available on DVD.
2009 (2011 USA) Caroline Bottaro 101 NR Queen to Play French: “Joueuse” (literally, Player). A rewarding story about a woman who discovers how to improve herself through a hidden talent. Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a housewife and mother, living on the island of Corsica, who maintains two housekeeping jobs, one at a hotel and another at a private home owned by an American, Dr. Kröger (Kevin Kline). One day at the hotel, she observes a young romantic couple playing chess on their balcony, as she cleans their room. She suddenly takes an interest in the game, about which she knows nothing. After learning that her husband, Ange (Francis Renaud), shows no interest, she discovers that Dr. Kröger plays and asks him to teach her. Very good performances and I believe this is Kline’s first French-speaking role, which he handled very well. It was filmed on location in Corsica and the scenery is quite beautiful. Not rated in the U.S. but probably would have been assigned PG-13 at most.
2013 Teller 80 PG-13 Tim’s Vermeer A fascinating documentary about a man who discovered what he believes is the secret behind the photographic quality of the paintings by Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). The man is Tim Jenison, who is not a painter, but is familiar with video and digital imagery. Apart from his real job, he became fascinated by the works of Vermeer and their incredible realistic quality, almost like a photograph or a video. Other people before Tim had explored the idea that Vermeer might have secretly used a long-forgotten technology to achieve this effect. But Tim was determined to actually construct the necessary equipment to enable him to put these theories to the test. With painstaking detail, he recreated the original conditions that Vermeer lived with in his time and attempted to duplicate Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson.” Certainly if you enjoy art you will probably find this a revelation. Watching Tim’s process at times is a bit tedious, but it gives you an appreciation for what Vermeer must have experienced, if in fact this is how he did it.
2014 Christopher Nolan 169 PG-13 Interstellar A thrilling, though very long and sometimes confounding space epic, clearly influenced by “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). It was very exciting and at times very moving, but I have to say that Internet voters have gotten a bit carried away with their ratings, because, as I write this (11/19/2014), they have ranked it as the #12 movie of all time. It’s good, but it’s not better than “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Even the aforementioned “2001” only ranks #102. In comparing “Interstellar” to “2001” I am not saying it’s the same story, but if you are as familiar with “2001” as I am, you will definitely spot common themes and visual sequences. I am well aware of how baffling and tedious “2001” was to many people, so I’m here to say that “Interstellar” was not tedious, but was occasionally baffling. “Interstellar” takes place in a future when Earth is running out of food and crops are failing due to massive dust storms. This Earth needs farmers, not engineers or pilots, so Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) feels his skills are going to waste on his father-in-law’s (John Lithgow) farm, and hopes for a better future for his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy). But when Cooper is presented the opportunity to participate in a space adventure that could save the human race, he reluctantly says goodbye to his children and heads for the unknown. Other well-known actors making an appearance include Ellen Burstyn, William Devane, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon and Michael Caine. This film will take you, like “Star Trek,” where no one has gone before, through space, time and other dimensions, but don’t expect the science part of the science-fiction to always go by the book (though they do make nice use of Einstein’s relativity). A word about the theatrical presentation of this film. The “fine print” on one of the movie posters says “Select sequences filmed with Imax cameras.” The key word is “select.” If you have an opportunity to see this in an Imax theater (which I recommend), without knowing that, you may think you are being cheated. Until the story moves from Earth to space, it appears like any other widescreen movie, not making use of the full expanse of the Imax screen; sort of like watching a “letter-boxed” movie on TV. But when you get into space, it suddenly fills the entire screen. However, even after that, it sometimes falls back to the widescreen aspect ratio. Thus, if you see it on a standard movie screen, the Imax scenes will not carry the full impact intended by the director.
2014 David Fincher 149 R Gone Girl A gripping crime thriller with twist after twist in the plot right up to the end; and even then I thought for certain another twist was coming. The life of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is turned upside down when he discovers his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing, on what was supposed to be a happy occasion: their 5th anniversary. So the girl in the title is really Amy; this is not about child abduction; and apart from the title, the movie never attempts to mislead you on that point. Interleaved with the police investigation, are many flashbacks, some from his point of view, some from hers. I really can’t say any more about the plot, but I do have to warn you about the violence. There is not a lot of it, but one scene in particular is extremely graphic; not for the squeamish. There are also a number of fairly graphic sex scenes. So it is no surprise this is rated “R.” But for those who are accustomed to that in movies, it will definitely be entertaining. Also featured in the cast are Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris and Sela Ward.
2012 Tobias Lindholm 103 R A Hijacking Danish: "Kapringen" (much of the time the actors use English, but there is also Danish & Somali; the optional subtitles only translate the Danish). This film tells a story very similar to the Somali hijacking featured in “Captain Phillips” (2013), which, being an American film, got much wider distribution. “A Hijacking” had only a limited release in the U.S., but it was four months before the Tom Hanks film. There are two important differences; the American film was an action movie and based on a true story. This film has very little action and is entirely fictional (though the director/writer says he was influenced by the hijacking of two Danish freighters in 2007-8). Here the plot focuses on the tense telephone negotiations between Peter (Søren Malling), the CEO of the Danish shipping company, and Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the English-speaking representative of the pirates. But the crew is in just as much danger in both films. Also featured in the negotiations is the ship’s cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk). Very good acting in a suspenseful drama that holds your attention well. Very little on-screen violence and the only reason for the “R” rating is the use of profanity.
2012 David Koepp 91 PG-13 Premium Rush “Premium Rush” is an adrenaline rush on the streets of Manhattan. Lots of thrilling, nail-biting, action, seen from the point of view of a bicycle messenger. Watch as he rides at break-neck speed, weaving in and out of traffic; time is of the essence. Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has no interest in taking a 9-to-5 desk job and would rather be risking his life to make important deliveries on time. But on this one day, he has been handed a delivery by Nima (Jamie Chung), that is “too hot to handle.” In the process he makes a lot of people upset with him, including a character named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), but that envelope must be there by 7pm. It’s a simple action story; no complicated plot, just fast paced fun and impressive stunt work. Wilee’s girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) is also a messenger, and apart from being the romantic interest, plays a key role in this important delivery. There is also a rivalry with Wilee’s co-worker Manny (Wolé Parks), to further complicate Wilee’s task. Wilee’s boss, Raj, is played by comedian Aasif Mandvi. It isn’t really very hard to follow the story, but be aware that it is told in segments that are not in strict chronological order, however they do help you out by displaying the time now and then. It turns out actor Gordon-Levitt was injured during filming and there is a brief 12-second “behind the scenes” clip made just after the accident, which you will only see if you watch the end credits. There is some intense action and a bit of profanity, but not enough to exceed “PG-13.” It’s no Oscar winner but it is very entertaining.
2013 Sebastián Cordero 90 PG-13 Europa Report This struck me as a fairly realistic representation of a possible future manned space flight. The title refers not only to the name of the space ship but also its destination, Europa, one of the more interesting moons of Jupiter. Europa is fairly large as moons go, being only slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. It is covered by ice with possibly a water ocean below the surface. Thus it provides the intriguing possibility of alien life. The search for signs of life was the purpose of this mission featuring a crew of four men and two women astronauts. The story is told in the form of a post-mission documentary, assembled from video transmitted back to Earth (though not entirely in chronological order). It is a very matter-of-fact account, essentially like watching unrehearsed video of activity that takes place every day on the International Space Station, but with a little bit more excitement and suspense. So there are no distracting subplots, romantic or otherwise. Just six people focused on the mission. Not even any actors you’ve ever heard of to distract you with their stardom. I won’t tell you how the mission turns out, but it does involve a manned landing on Europa, with the main craft remaining in orbit. I said it was realistic but let’s face it, only a real mission will look exactly right. For example, the communication delays between the spacecraft and Earth were unrealistically short and a reference to absolute zero did not fit the circumstances. The weightless scenes looked very good, though no attempt was made to simulate Europa’s low gravity. The use of NASA photos of Europa helps add to the realism and all the visuals in space and on the surface were very pleasing to watch. It’s a story of scientific determination and dedication to exploration, though it also involves some questionable decision-making by the astronauts. I’ve read some pretty scathing criticisms of this low-budget film but overall I enjoyed it. I think this will appeal to many science fiction fans thought I admit it can’t compete with major blockbusters like “Interstellar” (2014).
2014 Phil Lord + Christopher Miller 100 PG The Lego Movie For me, this was basically just a boring, cheesy cartoon. I had seen the trailer and was not impressed, but when I became aware of so many good reviews, I thought maybe it was just a bad trailer, but still I waited until it was available for rental. I should have trusted my reaction to the trailer (though you can get burned both ways with that). It’s supposed to be a cute, funny story about a construction worker, Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt) who is recruited to save the world from the evil “Lord Business” (Will Ferrell). Was there anything to like about it? Well, the only character who was consistently funny, was “Vitruvius,” and that was in part due to his voice being that of Morgan Freeman. And there was only one scene that made me laugh out loud, but I had to wait till the last ten seconds of the movie to see it. There is also a totally unexpected dimension added to the movie in what I guess you’d call the third act, which completely changes the whole nature of the story, but I’ll leave that as a surprise if you choose to see this. Perhaps it is worth noting that although virtually everything in this movie is made from Lego blocks, the animation is computer generated, as opposed to stop-motion animation with actual Legos. Try to see the trailer online before you make a decision. Oh, and if you’re not already tired of the expression “awesome” you will be after this.
2014 Francis Lawrence 123 PG-13 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Continuing right where the second “Hunger Games” movie left off, the story takes a sharp turn away from the games and into the beginnings of civil war. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has destroyed Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) home district, and is prepared to use any amount of force to prevent the rebellion from spreading. Katniss is of course in the rebel’s camp in District 13, whose local president is Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Because of Katniss’ high public profile after her participation in the last two games, they try to persuade her to be the spokesperson for the rebellion. As the title suggests, there are two parts to the story of this war, so just like the last one, this film has no definite conclusion. It’s basically the same characters and actors as before, but in a somewhat darker story. Jennifer Lawrence sings a song in her own voice which is kind of interesting, in that she isn’t really a singer, so it somehow makes the moment a bit more authentic. It’s certainly worth watching if you are interested in the series as a whole, but I did feel it wasn’t as well done as the first two installments. There were things like overuse of tears on the cheek, old clichés, and somewhat less than convincing emotional responses. The action is definitely more intense than the other films, being in a war situation as opposed to a hunt. Hopefully the next film in the series will make up for the lapses here.
2011 Ralph Fiennes 123 R Coriolanus Ralph Fiennes both stars in and directs this Shakespeare tragedy (for some reason, the characters in the film pronounce Coriolanus with a long ‘a’). It is generally one of the least popular of Shakespeare’s plays, but here Fiennes tries to revive it by placing the action in a more-or-less modern setting, complete with cell phones, modern weaponry and CNN-like television broadcasts of events. Although a title card refers to the setting as “Rome,” they make no attempt to make it look like Rome of any era. Coriolanus, the character, starts out as Caius Martius, a Roman general and defender of the republic. The story pits the Republic of Rome against the Volscian People, who rely on Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), as their military leader. Also featured in the cast are Jessica Chastain as “Virgilia,” wife of Coriolanus, and Vanessa Redgrave as “Volumnia,” his mother. Brian Cox plays his friend, “Menenius.” Because of the comparatively convoluted and unfamiliar Shakespearian English, it is at times difficult to understand what is going on, though I felt I was becoming accustomed to it by the second half (I have never read the play). Because of the much more graphic violence displayed here (Rated ‘R’), than you would see in any stage production, the film may come across as more exciting than the play. It is a powerful drama, but as I indicated, is difficult to appreciate at times. I’ll admit that I prefer my Shakespeare in its original settings and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But many do enjoy such translations to alternate time periods and locals, and it did receive many good professional reviews.
2014 Clint Eastwood 134 R Jersey Boys If you enjoy the music of the 60’s group, “The Four Seasons,” with Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), you will really enjoy this biographical drama directed by Clint Eastwood. If you remember hits like "Sherry,” "Big Girls Don't Cry" or "Rag Doll,” this is for you. It tells the story of how a group of young street kids from New Jersey, formed a band called the “Four Lovers,” which eventually became “The Four Seasons.” And it continues through Valli’s solo career and an eventual reunion in 1990, when they were admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the film, the other band members are Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Also featured is Christopher Walken as the mobster, Gyp DeCarlo. The musical numbers are great and the actors sang their parts live on the set for maximum authenticity. In an unusual move, the members of the band, individually, occasionally look directly at the camera to provide bits of narration; one of them even did it during a musical number. The “R” rating is for is for the use of profanity, which, unfortunately, is somewhat frequent. But overall this is a great piece of entertainment, especially for those who grew up in the 1960s.
2014 Todd Douglas Miller 95 PG Dinosaur 13 If you know anything about dinosaurs you’ve probably heard about “Sue” the T-Rex dinosaur, the 13th and most complete T-Rex ever collected. It is currently on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. But you may not be aware of its troubled legal history; I certainly wasn’t. This documentary film tells the story of how, shortly after being extracted from the land where it was found in South Dakota, in 1990, the Federal Government swooped in with a ridiculous amount of force and confiscated the dinosaur bones, claiming they had been acquired illegally. And indeed the legal technicalities of ownership turned out to be very complex. The film covers the initial discovery and extraction of the fossil remains, the federal court trial and the eventual auctioning of “Sue” by Sotheby’s. It’s a very good “little guy” vs. “The Government” story, sad but true. Both educational and entertaining.
2014 Wally Pfister 119 PG-13 Transcendence Like the movie, “Her” (2013), this movie provides a glimpse of a possible consequence of letting artificial intelligence (AI) loose in the world. In “Her,” the intelligent software was entirely the result of human-written code which then took on a life of its own, as any form of intelligence would. A slightly different situation exists here. Will (Johnny Depp) and Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple, both in the business of developing AI systems. But there is a domestic terrorist organization plotting to put a halt to all AI, out of fear of what it might do to human society. Little do they know how close he is to creating their worst nightmare. Faced with losing everything, he uploads his own mind into the computer (anyone remember “Max Headroom”?). Pure science fiction of course, but some form of AI will be upon us eventually. The capabilities displayed by this human-computer hybrid are difficult to believe in 2014, but who’s to say what of 2114? Though some of the ideas presented would likely take even longer to be realized, if ever. So in the present context, much of this story seems very far-fetched, but as sci-fi entertainment it proved to be better than I expected. Certainly not the best sc-fi picture of the year, but I enjoyed the fantasy. The cast also includes Morgan Freeman as an associate of the Casters, Joseph Tagger.
2014 Anton Corbijn 122 R A Most Wanted Man A very well constructed spy thriller set in Hamburg, Germany. Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman - sadly one of Hoffman’s last roles) is a German intelligence agent working in a “black-ops” anti-terror unit. Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is a recent Chechen arrival in Hamburg, who is on Günther’s radar. Issa’s intentions are mysterious, but he obtains the assistance of a lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who helps put him in touch with a German banker, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). Even Günther’s true intentions are not always clear. It definitely gets more and more interesting as the cat and mouse game proceeds. Great performance by Hoffman, with strong support from the others. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, this is not an action movie. It is deliberately paced but with a very intelligent plot. There is just enough profanity to qualify for the “R” rating, but not much more than that. The story is based on a John le Carré novel and the DVD includes an interview with the author.