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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Begin Again”  —  movie review
Today’s review is for the 2013 musical-drama “Begin Again“.  The movie stars Keira Knightley as Gretta James, a songwriter who has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Adam Levine as Dave Kohl, Gretta’s ex-boyfriend and a recently “hit” musician who cheats on Gretta, Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, a music producer who “discovers” Gretta in a dive-bar on an open mic night, Catherine Keener as Miriam Hart, Dan’s estranged wife – who cheated on him, (sensing a pattern here?), Hailee Steinfeld as Violet Mulligan, Dan and Miriam’s teenage daughter, James Corden as Steve, Gretta’s best friend from England, who has also moved to New York City to seek his fortune, CeeLo Green as Troublegum, a successful rapper who was discovered by Dan and who supports / funds Gretta’s (and Dan’s) album, and Mos Def (credited as Yasiin Bey) as Saul, Dan’s long-time business partner, who has pushed Dan out of their business because he (Dan) turned into an alcoholic flake.
The movie starts with an interesting (but confusing) sequence of Gretta singing and then flashes back to Dan hearing her sing.  This produces the most interesting (to me) scene in the movie where instruments begin to play themselves (much like the mop-cleaning-the-laboratory scene in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice“) and we get a feeling for what a “gifted” music producer must hear / feel when he is helping to create a “sound” / song.  I’d never seen this done this way before.  Normally, we see producers sliding knobs on a big panel and voila – a hit single.  This was (to me) a truer window into creativity.
Anyway, Gretta and Dan agree to make an album in NYC and most of the rest of the movie revolves around that.  And, it works!  The characters are fleshed out and there is a progression / growth across Dan, Gretta, Miriam (the wife), Dave (the cheating boyfriend), Violet (Dan’s daughter) and Steve (though he’s more in the background).  Spoiler Alert:  the movie ends with one person forgiving an “ex” and starting over together, and one person moving on and starting over on their own.  Hence, “Begin Again“.
So, I already said the movie worked for me.  The two other questions I normally ask / answer are: Was it any good?  And, was it entertaining?  The answer to both is yes.  I will say, I’m not a big Adam Levine fan.  I’ve seen him as some kind of music coach on TV and I guess he used to be the lead singer in a band at some point.  In any case, while his acting was okay, I didn’t think much of his singing performance(s).  Truth be told, I was surprised by Keira’s singing, which was much better than I thought it was going to be.  Not that I would ever pay money to hear her sing on an album, but as part of the movie performance, I thought she was pretty good.  I will add I felt Knightly looks (sadly) a bit anorexic in this film.  I don’t know if it was “just” makeup or if it was really her, but while she is almost always slim, her cheeks were positively hollow in a few closeups.  It was more frightening than attractive (IMHO).  Again, nothing to do with acting or talent, just a comment…
I thought Ruffalo basically steals the movie.  He carried the weight and most of the humor of the movie and he did it well.  Between his roles as the Hulk and some of the other films I’ve seen him in, I’m really becoming a fan.  Steinfeld (the actor who played the daughter) and CeeLo Green were both very good in their respective roles, too.
Final recommendation:  Strong.  A little bit of full disclosure here: I re-watched the BBC and movie version of “Pride & Prejudice” and was discussing Keira Knightley with my sister over the weekend.  I’m trying to get her to read the novel.  She said how much she loves Knightley and that this (“Begin Again“) is one of her favorite movies of all time.  We both agreed about the bar / music “imagination” scene being great and I told her: “Now I have to go back and re-watch the movie.”  The movie is rated “R” for language, but I did not find it egregiously so nor particularly offensive.
Dear Readers:  My apologies for not following up with a review (here) after my initial viewing last year.  To tell the truth, over the last 18 months, I’ve probably watched over 100 movies which I’ve not reviewed due to “life getting in the way.”  That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it…  I guess I’ll just have to re-watch them and get on with the reviews.  (Darn!)
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On This Day In:
2019 The Opening Step
Day 17/18: That Didn’t Take Long
2018 I’ll Trade You…
2017 Luv Me Some Meat Loaf
2016 Unless Your Name Is #AmnestyDon
2015 A Tentative First Step
2014 Making People
2013 On Reading Books
2012 On America
2011 Shiver, Me Timbers!
2010 Fiduciary Breakdown

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Failsafe” — movie review
Today’s movie review is for the 1964 military / political thriller “Failsafe“.  The plot revolves around a falsely identified aircraft entering U.S. airspace and the nuclear destruction which follows.  The premise is that both men and machines can fail when humanity trains specifically for world-wide destruction.
Henry Fonda stars as the (un-named) President of the U.S., a young Larry Hagman of “Dallas” and “I Dream of Jeannie” fame is the translator working for the President, Ed (Edward) Binns is the flight commander attacking Moscow, Frank Overton plays General Bogan (in command of the Strategic Air Command (SAC)), Fritz Weaver plays Colonel Cascio who believes the Soviets are actually attacking and tries to mutiny against Bogan and the President, Walter Matthau plays Dr. Groeteschele, an academic / Pentagon consultant who wants to use the “mistake” to initiate an all-out attack / war against “the Communists”, and Dan O’Herlihy plays General Black (“Blackie”) a college friend of the President who is called upon to bomb New York City to compensate for Moscow and to prevent a full-scale nuclear exchange.
To “understand” the movie, a little historical perspective is required…  In the previous year (1963), the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. faced off in what would come to be known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis”.  As far as we know, this is the closest humanity has ever come to nuclear annihilation. Earlier in the year (1964), another movie of a similar vein (“Dr. Strangelove“), but more of a political / military satire was also released.  Both involved a rogue aircraft destroying a Soviet city.  However, in the first movie, the Soviets have a world destroyer which is activated.  In this movie, the President acts to placate the Soviets and save humanity from destruction.
So, is this movie any good?  Is it realistic?  Is it entertaining?  Yes!  Yes!  And, yes!  The film is an interesting throw-back to the days of the black and white drama.  This role and Fonda’s role in “12 Angry Men” are the two signature roles which I remember Fonda for.  “The Grapes of Wrath” and “On Golden Pond” are both equally memorable, but the former was before my time / interest and the latter was at the very end of his long career (he appeared in over 60 films).  And, of course, in my day, EVERYONE was compelled to view “The Ox-Bow Incident” in high school.  For me, the title is more memorable than the film – of which I have almost no recollection.  (Just sayin’.)
Is “Failsafe” realistic?  Yes, particularly compared to “Strangelove“.  Aside from the B&W filming, the technology was “advanced” for its time and quite well done.  The acting was tense and there were a lot of close, sweaty shots which brought the tenseness which real participants would have felt if we were approaching nuclear war.  An interesting side note:  the Air Force did not want to promote the idea such an event (“mistake”) was possible and therefore refused to participate in production.  The film uses stock footage of planes to depict a fictional bomber and a mixture of other aircraft to represent U.S. and Soviet fighters.
Entertaining?  Yes!  I haven’t seen this film in over 40 years and I could still feel the “moment” of the film.  The number of times you see actors with shaky hands and sweaty forearms really high-lights the nervous energy which the movie conveys with virtually no music score to “artificially” build emotional impact.
Final recommendation:  Very Highly Recommended!  This is a movie which should be viewed widely in America.  In 2020, the world is racing to a different type of annihilation (climate change), but it is important to remember there are multiple nuclear powers in the world and any one of them could initiate the end of humanity through either human or technical failure.  The moral of the story is one of personal responsibility and taking action to ensure nothing like this film portrays ever happens in real life.
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On This Day In:
2019 Is #45 Warning Alabama Again?
Day 11: 49ers Win
2018 Worry (x2)
2017 Still Working
Gold In The Morning Sun
2016 Power Inside
2015 Sometimes I Feel Small
2014 It Slipped Away
2013 Corollary
2012 Working Retired
2011 The Web Is Not Authoritative! (Really?)

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  —  movie review
TMNJ (2014) is a mixed, live action / computer generated / science fiction / action / comedy film based on the characters of the same name which I assume was released aimed at the pre-teen market and / or adults needing to feel nostalgic.  It is a reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series from the 1990’s (and cartoon TV series from the 1980’s).   The film stars Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and William Fichtner as the main live actors.  The Turtles are computer generated with voice-overs.
Full disclosure:  I am coming to this party late.  I have never seen a single episode from the series or any of the prior movies.  Consequently, my review is only of this movie – well, with the popular culture facts I was aware of.
So, there is a rat (“Splinter”) who raises four genetically modified turtles in the sewers of New York City.  The rat teaches them the martial art of Ninjitsu.  The four turtles are named after four famous Renaissance artists: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael.  I’m not sure why.  The only explanation was the genetic experiment they were party to was called “The Renaissance Project”.   Anyway, the turtles are raised to fight crime – mainly the “Foot Clan” which is led by another martial arts expert named “Shredder” (who has a vague resemblance to “Edward Scissorhands” in an Iron-Man suit).  I gather that if you are familiar with either the TV show or the prior movies all of this is standard background.
Basically, the movie is action, one-liners, action, special effects, pause for family overcomes all message, more action, more special effects, and end with credits.  I think the movie was supposed to be more comedic, but Fox and Arnett couldn’t carry it off and their bits fell flat.
Was the movie any good?  Acting?  Special effects and action?  Yes.  No.  And, pretty good.
Good!?  Really?   Yes.  The movie was actually enjoyable.  It wasn’t great or original or anything like that, but it was modestly fun and I’d watch it again.  Acting?  Fair to poor.  Fichtner was acceptable (barely), Fox is attractive enough, but can’t really act, and Arnett is just plain bad (awful).  To be honest, aside from the CGI Turtles, Splinter and Shredder are the two best “actors / characters” in the movie.  The Turtles “make” the movie and either you can get into them or you can’t.  I did, so I enjoyed the movie.  All humans (actors) are just along for the ride.
Special effects and action?  Like I said, pretty good.  Enough to keep my attention and enjoy the film.  There’s a lot to quibble about, but that’s mostly the plot and actors and not the FXs.
Final recommendation: moderate for a normal person who’s into comic-book action movies.  I think “highly recommended” for the pre-teen target audience.  Reasonable action and special effects, together with the teen-age banter between the Turtles make this an enjoyable film.
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On This Day In:
2014 Book Return
2013 Keep Writing Your Truths
Perilous Times For The U.S. Military
2012 The Victor
2011 Forging Away At My Deadlines
2010 Try This With Your Shoes…

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Last night I finished binge viewing the new Marvel super-hero series “Daredevil” on Netflix.  My initial reaction was / is: “Wow!!”  Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock (the good guy) and (so far) Vincent D’onofrio plays the arch-enemy (the bad guy) Wilson Fisk aka: the Kingpin.  This is comic-book storytelling writ large in a 13 hour multi-episode/chapter story for the first season of the Netflix show/series meant for adults.
First off, this is not a show for young children.  I would give it a solid “R” rating for graphic violence and topics.  I am less bothered by the “adult” language because it is infrequent and consistent with the storylines.  If any use of foul language upsets you, you will have a problem with this show.  Like I said, “meant for adults”.
The show is dark and gritty in an oily, smudgy, inner-urban way.  Even when it’s sunlight out, the city mostly looks run-down.  Now, I’ve only been to New York City once and I’ve never been to Hell’s Kitchen, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the show’s rendition of the area, but that’s the impression I came away with.  That’s not good or bad, it’s just the impression I have.  This is important because this is the “goal” for the protagonist and antagonist is to “win” Hell’s Kitchen and help to drive it’s fate into the future.  Of course, the good-guy wants it for the benefit of the common man, while the bad-guy wants it for his own wealth and ego aggrandizement.
I think it is a sign of the times that TV / Internet shows are now using corporate malfeasance and greed as the new “evil” in our urban society.  This show has a heavy political/economic tone/message which has been infrequent or absent in recent years (at least since the early to mid-Reagan Presidency).  So, it seems, we are coming full circle…  Within this context we are asked two additional questions: can one person make a difference; and, how far can a “good” person go before they become a “bad” person.
There are, of course, multiple levels to review this show:  Netflix / binge-ing, super-hero action series, TV drama.  Let’s start with binge viewing:  I did this.  Two days/nights, eight episodes and then the concluding five the following night.  It’s a long haul, but it’s “worth” it.  The stories are well told.  The characters have time to develop depth and quirks which add to the stories.  This is not a story which could have easily been translated into a 2 or 3 hour movie format.  So, yes, the Netflix streaming worked very well (IMHO).  The only question is would I have watched the same episode 4 to 6 times before the next one came out if they were released one per week.  I don’t know – almost certainly – at least when I was younger – for certain.  Does Netflix “lose” by this?  I guess it depends on how many times I go back to re-watch.  I must admit to being a fan of the instant gratification of seeing the next episode immediately if I want to.
Super-hero actions series:  graphic violence and very well sequenced fight scenes.   Interestingly, characters get hurt and take time to heal across episodes.  Is the “graphic” violence necessary to the story?  No.  I don’t think it really is required, but it does add a sense of realism lacking in most TV shows and action movies.  After one of the beheadings, I said to myself: “That could never make it on regular TV!”  Of course, there is no realism in the amount of punishment the hero takes (and survives), but then you have to remember: it’s not just TV, it’s a comic-book adaptation.
TV drama:  Excellent!  Good vs evil and one person making a difference are always (to me) story arcs of interest.  This show tells a story (as unrealistic as it may be) and the characters develop.  Even characters who seem major because they span multiple episodes – are introduced, developed, breathe, have a life beyond the main arc, and (frequently) die.  But, it is mostly very good drama.  To be honest, I was surprised at the quality of the writing and acting.
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  This sets a much higher bar for TV series super-heroes – particularly comic-book based.
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On This Day In:
2014 I Blame Robocop
2013 Future Trustees
2012 Praise Not The Day…
2011 Educated Living

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