MOVIE REVIEW: Million Dollar Arm

milliondollararmI suppose I should not have been surprised that the Daughter expressed tremendous interest in seeing the film Million Dollar Arm. She watches these annoying Disney shows on TV, and i imagine they have promoted the movie incessantly. A Memorial Day matinee trek to the Spectrum Theatre was in order.

There is an inherent problem with most movies based on real life. Additional issues come from sports movies, which generally slip into cliche. Still, the premise was interesting: a struggling sports agent, JB (Jon Hamm) comes up with a wild idea. What if he could find a baseball pitcher or two from India Continue reading

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MOVIE REVIEW: Philomena

Philomena_posterI was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently, and Steve Coogan was on talking about the movie Philomena. I must admit that I had no real idea who he was. When I was talking at work about the fact that The Wife and I gave the movie two thumbs up after we had seen it a couple weekends ago at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, one of my colleagues said, “But doesn’t it star Steve Coogan?” After I confirmed this, she indicated that he always plays a real jerk in movies, particularly in some comedies I had never seen.

As “world-weary political journalist” Martin Sixsmith, Coogan’s character is more than a little arrogant as he lowers himself to investigate “the story of a woman’s search for her son, Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: American Hustle

Neither the Wife or I had not been to a movie designed for grownups since July. The autumn was WAY too busy for our liking, and we missed Gravity and Saving Captain Phillips, a couple movies we might have otherwise seen. Finally, during Christmas break, we got a child sitter so we could go out to the Spectrum 8 Theatre in Albany.

Frankly, at that point, I would have seen ANY of the films playing there except The Hobbit (didn’t see the first one, so seeing the second in a trilogy made no sense.)

My spouse picked American Hustle. I knew little about this Continue reading

Reluctant, late BOOK REVIEW: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

The intrepid New York Erratic asks:

What’s the most recent fiction book you’ve read?

You ask a simple question, and I have a simple, then complicated, answer.

The book was Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, which became a New York Times Bestseller.

Lucky Kyle wins a spot as one of the first twelve kids invited to a gala, overnight library lock-in filled with of fun and games. Continue reading

Video review: Singin’ in the Rain

After noting in this blog that I had not seen the 1952 film in its entirety, it was total coincidence that The Wife decided the family ought to watch together Singin’ In the Rain.

I did not know this until watching the extras, but the film was MGM producer Arthur Freed’s plan to use his catalog of songs, written with Nacio Herb Brown, and used in previous MGM musical films, mostly from the 1930s. It became the job of screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create a script that would make sense. They decided that making a film that shows one studio’s foray into talking pictures in response to the real game changing film, 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Hollywood is usually good at showing Hollywood.

Singin’ In the Rain is mostly marvelous. Gene Kelly not only plays Don Lockwood, “a popular silent film star with humble roots as a singer, dancer and stunt man, ” he also co-directed it with Stanley Donen. He performs the iconic title song sequence, which I had seen often, but it works so much better once seen in context.

Don’s leading lady in the silent films is Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen, doing her best Judy Holliday routine. She has a voice made for silent films.

Donald O’Connor, as Don’s best friend Cosmo, is marvelous dancing with Kelly, particularly in Moses Supposes, a Roger Edens/Comden and Green piece new for the film. But O’Connor is most extraordinary in his solo stint, Make ‘Em Laugh.

Debbie Reynolds, not yet 20, plays Kathy Selden. Don, avoiding his fans, accidentally lands in Kathy’s car. She feigns disinterest in his “undignified” film career, but later Don discovers she is not a stage actress but a chorus girl. Eventually, romance is kindled.

After the disastrous preview of The Dueling Cavalier, Don, Kathy and Cosmo come up with the idea to change it into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier. It’s at this point the marvelous dance Good Morning with those three characters takes place, up and down a flight of stairs, among other tricks. Reynolds, a gymnast but not previously a dancer, managed to keep up with Kelly and O’Connor.

I understand it from a historic context, but the one part of the movie I wish were a bit shorter was the flashy Broadway Melody Ballet. Not sure what I would have cut out, although it would NOT have been the parts with Cyd Charisse as Kelly’s dance partner. Incidentally, Reynolds’ rendition of You Are My Lucky Star, sung to a billboard showing an image of Don, was cut; nicely performed yet unnecessary in advancing the plot.

All in all, Singin’ in the Rain is a quite enjoyable film, and a cultural icon to boot, referenced in everything from A Clockwork Orange to Glee. The extras, showing where the songs had been used in previous films, was entertaining, as was Debbie Reynolds’ recollections of the filmmaking.

MOVIE REVIEW: Stories We Tell

This hasn’t happened in a very long time: the Wife arranged for a babysitter, and we went to a movie about which I knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. When we got to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on Monday night, I noticed on the movie poster that the director of Stories We Tell was Sarah Polley, who starred in the very good, but kind of depressing The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and directed the very good, but kind of depressing Away From Her (2006).

This movie was a documentary about the family of Sarah Polley. There’s a lot of chatter early on with several players you can’t possibly keep track of- but you will soon enough. The conceit of the title is that we can all tell a story, but it may not be the same one, even regarding the same person and the same events.

I could spend two or three paragraphs explaining how the narrative weaves from Sarah recording her father Michael’s recollection of Sarah’s late mother Diane to others remembering her, not always the same way. But it shall have to suffice to say that the narrative structure was extremely clever, very much like the layers of an onion being peeled away.

In the exploration of the story, which involves incredibly personal revelations, it seems that most of the players were in a better place as a result of the journey that the film captured, reconstructing the truth of their collective and individual lives. Sometimes the participants reacted to Sarah as director, whereas other times as daughter or sister, as they muse on family history.

It’s interesting to me that the critics liked it more on Rotten Tomatoes (95%, at this writing) than the movie-going audience (82%). The Wife and I, and especially the guy sitting in front of us, who had a hearty laugh, really liked the film. Yet I noticed that three or four people of the 14-16 people in the room left the film with about 15 minutes to go, when a film technique was revealed; did they think it was a cheat in a documentary? (I thought it was, if not obvious, then a likely tool.)

I don’t really want to say more, except that I think you’ll find it quite worthwhile. If you see it on DVD, try to see it in one sitting to glean the maximum effect.

Movie review: 20 Feet From Stardom

It pretty much starts off with Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”: “And the colored girls go do doo doo, do doo …”. The movie 20 Feet From Stardom is an exceptional documentary about the generally ignored, unknown, but tremendous backup singers, often black women, who perform on some the biggest hit songs and albums of all time.

Meet Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear, and Judith Hill, most of whom are or were figuring out whether they had the egos necessary to be solo artists, or Continue reading

Movie Reviews: Oscar-nominated live-action short films for 2012

On my birthday this month, I decided to see the Oscar-nominated short films at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. This was predicated on the fact that I might see Zero Dark Thirty on video, but might be less likely to find these. As it turned out, it was the very last day of its three- or four-week run. The program ran 115 minutes. The films were interspersed with commentary by Luke Matheny who won a couple years ago for God of Love, which as I noted at the time, was probably my least favorite of the nominees. Unlike the commenters for the animated films this year, I didn’t think Matheny brought that much insight to the table. It didn’t help that he was trying to be wryly humorous and the films, for the most part, were not.

Film descriptions were from the Spectrum website.

Death of a Shadow (France and Belgium/Dutch, 20 minutes) Continue reading