Kingsmen: The Secret Service

five cigars

Five cigars

 

It has been awhile since I went to see a movie and enjoyed it as much as I did this one. From the previews, this looked rather silly and I went in expecting to be bored. Not so.

This is a spoof on the classic spy movie, yet is a seriously well written, well acted film on its own.  All the elements of a good story are here.  Good guys, bad guys, action, humor, underdog, tension, emotion, and puppies.  Even though you know the good guys will triumph, the film takes you on quite a ride to reach that point. There is quite a bit of humor, both subtle and vulgar.  Based on the reaction of those around me, some of the subtle was lost on them.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the bad guy and like any film he is in, it is fun to watch him act.  Michael Caine is the head of the Kingsmen  and like Jackson, brings great talent to the film.  Interestingly, I did not recognize Mark Hamill who plays Professor Arnold.

Be sure and stay past what appears to be the last scene, the real last scene makes you say, “Yes!”.

This gets five cigars, and I may just have to see this one again.

 

Gone Girl

one cigar

One cigar

This film is based on the book by Gillian Flynn, and oddly enough she wrote the screen play.  Hopefully, you will read the book and skip the movie.

The book was good because it was suspenseful, the movie is not.  The book was good because a major portion of it was from the main characters perspective, Amy, through her journal.  The movie left most of this out.  The book was good because the husband, Nick, had a minor role, not so in the movie.  Ben Affleck plays Nick and was probably the worse choice for the part.  The book has his mistress constantly bugging him about their relationship, the movie left this out. In the book, Amy’s parents are extremely weird, not so much in the movie. In the book the tension is immense when Amy is robbed at the cabin she is staying in, the movie falls flat on this point.

The fact that Flynn wrote the screenplay confuses me because you would think she would want the film to honor the book, it does not. This one gets one cigar and again, if you haven’t seen the film, skip it, just read the book.

Lucy

one cigar

One cigar

On the surface, this sounded like a good premise.  A woman exposed to a substance that expands the amount of brain power she has until it reaches 100%.  The possibilities for a good story are endless.  Unfortunately, the writer decided on the lamest one.

The director had an easy job. Take two great actors give them simple directions and start filming.  In Morgan Freeman’s case, just stand and look dumbfounded.  For Scarlett Johansson, just walk around looking perplexed.  Throw in a car chase, machine guns in a confined space where no one is injured, and some footage from National Geographic and the film is complete.

In the film the character Lucy says, “Time is the only true unit of measure”.  True, and I just wasted 89 minutes of mine.  This gets one cigar, make that one short cigar.

Labor Day

four cigars

Four Cigars

 

Based on Joyce Maynard’s book, Labor Day is a study in the fragility of life.  It shows what can happen in a relationship to send someone over the edge.  In one case, into agoraphobia, in the other murder.

Set in a small town we find, Adele, a mother, whose husband has left her, raising a teenage son.  She has developed a fear of going outside which sets up her vulnerability.  When the mother and son encounter an escaped convict, who coerces them into taking him to their house, it is understandable how this could happen. The love affair that develops seems natural enough.

Through a series of flashbacks, we discover the reason for the incarceration.  The convict, Frank Chambers, accidentally killed his wife, who we learn has her own mental problems and has killed their child.  This helps in having sympathy for him as the story develops.

While this is a good film, I had two problems with it.  One, the flashbacks were confusing because in the beginning your not sure who they are about, Adele or Frank.  The second problem, is the ending, just a little to pat for my taste.

This film keeps you watching, and the tension is kept high as the climax approaches.

Four cigars for this one.

American Sniper

four cigars

Four cigars

Some movies make you laugh, some make you cry, this one makes you think.  It almost makes you think too much. When the movie ends and the credits start to roll, there is no background music, no sound, only silence.  This is fitting as one’s brain needs time to process what it has just observed.

 

The film is based on the true story of Chris Kyle (excellently portrayed by Bradley Cooper), who as a Navy SEAL sniper, was credited with over 160 kills while protecting U.S. Marines in Iraq.  It is directed by Clint Eastwood who manages to bring in just about every aspect of what being in combat is like, both for the soldier and those back home.  In some respects, it is too much to digest in one sitting.

The film begins by showing Kyle’s motivation for going into the military, love for his country, a desire to help defend America, the need to be part of a noble cause.  It shows the camaraderie that develops when men and women are thrown together in a life and death situation.

It dramatically shows the aftereffect of being in combat.  The disconnect between Kyle and his wife when he returns  between tours of duty is powerfully portrayed.  How can one person even begin to comprehend what combat does to another if they have never experienced it?

The film graphically depicts the realities of war and how a life can be taken so quickly.  There is an underlying message of just how this war, like Vietnam, was such a waste of life. The scene of a Navy SEAL being buried is poignant.  The soldier’s mother reads a letter (that I would love to have the words to) and then an officer hands the widow a folded American flag – the ultimate sacrifice of life, left with only a folded piece of cloth as remembrance.

In a discussion with his wife, Kyle is trying to relate to her, and makes the statement that while he and others are fighting a war, the people back home seem oblivious.  What an understatement! This country is so ready to send men and women into combat but also so willing to ignore the reality of it all.  Our biggest concern is how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter.  Ironically, a lot of the buzz over this movie is about how in one scene they chose to use a fake baby rather than about the messages of the film.

The saddest part is showing the cost to those who have returned and have lost limbs, sight, or the ability to cope.  The scenes in a VA hospital remind us of the real cost of a war.  One of the stains on this country is how we treat our veterans.  So willing to spend on war but not on those who have fought.  This is amplified by the ending where a Marine that Kyle was trying to help shoots him.  We are not told much more than that but he obviously was not mentally stable.

This movie makes you think.  It makes you angry.  It makes you proud. It makes you sad.

I give it four cigars, the fifth one I am going to smoke and reflect more on what I have just seen.

 

Chef

one cigar

One cigar

When I mentioned to people that I had seen The One Hundred Foot Journey, and how it inspired me to go deeper into the things I cook, they said, “Oh, then you need to see the Chef“.   Well, I tried.

It is not often that I start a movie that I don’t finish, but this was one.  There was nothing here that was inspiring nor worth watching.  Part of the problem was the film wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama, it failed on both fronts.  The story line was not plausible, the acting was mediocre, and about half way through I had had enough.

One has to ask why actors like Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, and Robert Downey Jr agreed to show up in this film.   I say show up because none of them were acting.   The lines they had were stiff and delivered as if they were reading a prescription bottle.

As for any kind of inspiration into cooking, if I used what this film brings to the table, I would just go back to frozen dinners from Swanson’s.

This one gets one cigar and that is being generous.

 

The Gambler

three cigars

Three cigars

THIS REVIEW COMES WITH A SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

This was a very interesting film.

First, the actors. Talk about a mixed bag of really good actors, some in incredibly small roles. George Kennedy plays the grandfather who ironically dies as the movie starts.  I say ironically because I thought George was dead already. Andre Braugher, who was incredible in the TV series Homicide, has one scene, about two lines, and then is gone. Jessica Lange plays the mother and is amazing. If you have never seen her in Cape Fear, you need to. John Goodman, who is always good, takes on a very serious role and in my mind deserves an Oscar nod for this one. Mark Wahlberg gives an outstanding performance for the most part, although in some of the scenes his acting ability falls short.

What makes the movie, however, is the dialog. The philosophical discussions are riveting.  From Goodman’s diatribe on what constitutes one’s ability to say “Fuck You”, to Wahlberg’s lecture on what it takes to succeed above all others. The classroom discussions are a bit unnerving, and capture how many professors must feel. One of the lighter moments is the encounter of Jessica Lange and the bank officer is when she is trying to take out money.

The only real weakness is the middle drags a bit, and there are some scenes that are added without explanation. This is due to poor editing and makes the film not as good as it could have been.

The original movie, in 1974, starred James Caan and was one of his better acting roles.  It is interesting that in that film the debt was $44,000 and in the new version is $260,000. But the big difference between the two is the ending. In the original, one is left wondering, in the remake the ending is clearcut. Not to spoil it, but as the tension builds, even though you can guess the outcome, there is still some doubt. Wahlberg’s run at the end is a great metaphor for the freedom of having shed an addiction.

This could have been a four cigar movie, but I have to give it three cigars and a few ashes.

Interstellar

four cigars

Four cigars

 

This film has been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. To say it is better, to me, is an exaggeration.  If you want to say it is the best space movie since then, okay, I might agree, as long as we don’t include Aliens.

Having said that, this is a good film on several levels.  The special effects are outstanding, supposedly no green screens were used.  The acting is superb, especially Mackenzie Foy, who plays Murphy (Matthew McConaughey’s daughter) as a child. The depiction of relativity is a bit mind boggling, as it should be.  But the real story here is the willingness of man to survive at any cost, even deception on a grand scale.

If there is one truth that the film leaves us with, it is that love, above all else, is the one thing that can conquer all.  Not a bad message for the world we find ourselves in today.

This one gets four cigars.

Fury

four cigars

Four cigars

Having grown up going to war movies I was curious about Fury.  In the 50’s we had war movies that were more about the heroes, depicted by actors like John Wayne or even Audie Murphy (who was an actual war hero).  While some of the old films dealt with the emotional aspects of the men fighting, and to some extent the gore of war, they did not measure up to films like Saving Private Ryan or this one, Fury.

This is a well acted, dramatic account of what it was like in a tank outfit during WWII.  It is a coming of age film showing how a young “clerk typist” can evolve into a man willing to kill.  The process he goes through makes this a good film.  Sargent York starring Gary Cooper dealt with this issue but with less depth.   It is disturbing, emotional, and depicts the degradation war brings to both sides.   The scenes in the apartment of two German women is a great study of trying to bring civility to a situation in the midst of chaos.

The film reminds us of the last war fought with a purpose.  There was a clear enemy, an obvious goal, an army backed by a nation, and a distinct end point with a visible outcome.

This one gets four cigars.

 

Dracula Untold

four cigars

Four cigars

 

 

Being a Dracula fan since age of eleven when I first saw “The Horror of Dracula” (1958), which scared me badly enough I put garlic on my windowsill for about a month after, I am always interested in a good vampire film.  “Dracula Untold” was not scary but it is a good film.

Having seen the trailer, my expectations were low.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well this movie was done.  The acting is good, the plot is good, the special effects were not overdone, and the dialogue was very good.  The ending does set us up for a sequel, which if made, I can only hope is as good as this one.

The only real flaw, without spoiling anything, is that if the sun can destroy one vampire, then it should be able to destroy all vampires. If you see the film you will see what I am talking about.  Although, one could argue the case for why this happens.

So this one gets four cigars and is on my list of the better vampire films, even though it didn’t make me put the garlic back out.