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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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The Good Dinosaur (2015) – reviewed by George

This is the type of film I expect from Pixar: beautifully animated characters and special effects, beautifully rendered backgrounds, and a story that touches your heart as well as your brain.
In this story, 66 million years ago the comet (or asteroid) missed Earth completely. So – the Apatosaurs are farmers, the Tyrannosaurs are herders, and the Pterodactyls and other flyers are hunters (no change there). The family of Apatosaurs (according to imdb.com this assigned species comes from promotional materials, not the movie; I thought they were brontosaurs) that forms the heart of the film consists of Poppa and Momma (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand) and Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Ryan Teeple, later Marcus Scribner), and Arlo (Jack McGraw, later Raymond Ochoa). The three children were all hatched at the same time, and though Arlo was in the biggest egg, he is the runt. He is accident-prone, afraid of everything, and not terribly smart. But his poppa assures him he will grow and be okay… IF he can force himself to be brave.
When Arlo is separated from his family and in great danger he finds a companion. It should be noted that while the dinosaurs in the film talk, communication for other species is at a lower level. Thus the boy he finds runs on all fours, scratches himself with his hind paw (foot), and sounds like a dog, growling and howling (voiced by Jack Bright). Arlo names him Spot.
Spot is smart, hip to the wilderness and its pitfalls. The adventures Arlo and Spot share as they trek upriver to get back to Arlo’s family make up the bulk of the movie, and Arlo learns as he goes, largely by Spot’s example.
Some of the featured voice actors: Sam Elliott plays Butch, the tyrannosaurus father, Anna Paquin plays his daughter Ramsey, and Steve Zahn plays Thuderclap, a pterodactyl.
Directed by Peter Sohn, with a Story by Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann, and Bob Peterson, and with a Screenplay by Meg LeFauve, and Music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna. I really enjoyed it.

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Victor Frankenstein (2015) – reviewed by George

Surprising that a story so well-known could be tweaked and made so suspenseful. Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor and James McAvoy plays Victor, and the fact that this is really Igor’s version of the story is recognized by Daniel getting top billing.
Igor (though he is not called that yet) is a clown in a circus, beaten for laughs and disrespected outside the ring. He is a clown with a real hunchback, but he is also a healer, not only of illnesses requiring nostrums, but also of broken bones, and so on. He has a nice collection of medical tomes to read when he’s alone, which is all the time he’s not in the ring. One night the aerialist he adores from afar, Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), falls, and a broken collarbone is stifling her breathing. Calls for a doctor in the house bring Victor, and when he says get her to a hospital, but she won’t live if we can’t get there quickly, Igor saves her right there in the sawdust. Victor is very impressed and helps Igor escape the circus, and go to work for him, building a homunculus out of parts from dead animals, chiefly chimpanzees. Victor calls the homunculus “Gordon”. Victor also has a thought or two about Igor’s hunchback, and the men become friends.
In addition to the three leads, who all do remarkable work, we have Andrew Scott (Moriarty from the Cumberbatch/Freeman “Sherlock” films) playing Inspector Turpin of Scotland Yard, whose fundamentalism and complete confidence in his views as the only correct ones, lead him to ignore normal (read “legal”) police procedure in order to stop Victor and Igor from the “devil’s work”. Scott does an excellent job in an unsympathetic part (I wanted so badly for him to die!).
As a fully realized man with feelings and convictions, Igor is the moral compass of the movie and is a nice contrast to Turpin’s raging prejudices. When he and Victor retreat to a Scottish castle to animate a man, they think they are totally prepared for any eventuality.  Well, the best laid plans etc. The “man” to be awakened is certainly impressive, and the lightning storm is wonderful, but the thing you haven’t thought of can still undo man’s finest efforts. And Turpin is not 100% wrong about this particular effort.
Directed by Paul McGuigan from a story and screenplay by Max Landis, and with music by Craig Armstrong, this is a fine “Frankenstein” for the new century.

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Toddlers and Tiaras (2016) Reviewed by Anita 0*

I just have to share my thoughts on this reality show.  Toddlers and Tiaras is a window into bad parenting and installation of bad morals/character traits.  These little girls (who should be thought of as lovely and nurtured) are pawns in a game of ‘Mom missed out’.  They are spoiled and pumped up as if they deserve to be waited on hand and foot.  I am sure there are folks out there thinking beauty pageants are the way to go.  I don’t. I believe they give little girls a slanted view on reality.  Beauty fades but brains last forever.

As far as beauty goes, these little girls are made up like some of today’s leading actresses.  Fake teeth (because they are losing theirs).  Spray tans.  Fake hair pieces.  The dresses alone can cost as much as a house payment.  Also, the energy level must be a certain high vibe.  In the event little Jane is not feeling so perky we will just dose her with pixie sticks and Red Bull.  There is nothing like the melt down a 7-year-old little girl has when she has not won and has more caffeine going though her than a Crack Head on the street does.

Screaming.  Temper tantrums.  Disrespectfully blaming mom (which I do as well) for not winning.  Followed by Mom getting into a screaming match with the winner’s mother.  Better yet, when said mom hauls her darling out like a rag sack of potatoes to yell at the judges who have no idea what real beauty is, is just awesome.  One can see the child was set up for failure in the respect realm from the get go.

I do laugh at the melt-downs.  I get a kick out of them losing.  I giggle at the poor sportsmanship demonstrated by parent and child alike.  If you want to see what your little girl should not be watch Toddlers and Tiaras.  You will see it’s not little boys made of puppy dog tails and snails.  Trust me.

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The Black Pirate (1926) – reviewed by George

As the film begins, pirates are walking past their captain carrying the bodies of the seamen killed during the boarding of their ship. The captain checks the corpses’ fingers and removes any rings. The pirates march on, making a pile of the bodies. Other pirates have lashed the survivors to a mast and are laying a trail of powder from the bound men to the powder room. After the looting of the cargo is finished the pirates light the powder trail and depart. As they row away we watch the survivors struggle, and then in a long shot the ship explodes.
Douglas Fairbanks and an old man are the sole survivors. How is not explained; I guess they left the ship as soon as it was boarded. Doug gets his friend through the waves to an island, but the old man is spent. He gives Doug a ring and expires. Doug vows vengeance while, in an island hideaway, the pirate leaders divvy up the loot and make plans to hide the rest of the treasure in a secret place.
A title card says “MAROONED”, but I think you have to be marooned by people, not by happenstance. Doug is just stuck on an uninhabited island, which, in a pretty heavy coincidenca, is the secret place the pirates have been talking about.
There are sword fights, cannon firings, an underwater attack that made me think of “Thunderball”, walking the plank, saving the fair maiden from the pirates by claiming she’s a princess and so worth ransom, and a few surprises, and a happy ending. I liked the film a lot, but was not wild about it; the fantasy elements are just a little too big.
The film, in two-strip Technicolor, was directed by Albert Parker and written by Jack Cunningham from a story by Doug himself. The musical score by Mortimer Wilson is a lot of fun; very tuneful AND it references “Camptown Races” and “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest”. Incidentally, I’m sure this is the music written for the pianist or organist in the theater to play, because Wilson died in 1932, and I feel certain that’s before any restoration, or even any conversion to sound.
Doug plays the Black Pirate (his ID after joining the pirate band), Billie Dove plays Isobel, the love interest, Tempe Pigott plays her nanny-maid-duenna, Donald Crisp plays McTavish, the one-armed pirate most sympathetic to Doug, Anders Randolph plays the Pirate Captain, and Sam de Grasse plays the Pirate Lieutenant, the principal villain. And Doug’s real father plays his father in the movie.

One point of interest: I could not find any reference to the exchange rate between pieces of eight and British pounds sterling in any time frame, not just the one in the movie. Actually, I found one, but could not believe it. I was interested because the number of pirates appears to be huge – at least a hundred, possibly more – they fill the screen. And the ransom for the Princess and the ship she was on was 50,000 pieces of eight, which, according to McTavish, is 50 pounds per man. I wanted the exchange rate to calculate the number of men in the crew. Can anyone help?
August 19, 2016 – On the day I wrote this review I found a rate of exchange on Wikipedia, but it said that the piece-of-eight and the pound had the same value: 1 ounce of silver. I threw that out; it would mean 1000 pirates! Sure, the crew was huge, but not that huge. Today my daughter sent me a link (http://pirates.hegewisch.net/money.html) which reiterates the same value of the pound and the piece-of-eight, but also includes the information that the British crown routinely favored the pound by setting the exchange rate such that the value of the piece-of-eight was 1/2 or even 1/4 that of the pound. So taking the lower rate we now have 250 pirates. Wow! Must have been a bigger pirate ship than I thought. (Thank you, Jen!)

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Full Frontal (2002) – reviewed by George

There were 3 times I caught myself watching this film with my mouth open. Is it that bad? No, probably not. Is it that dense and cluttered and difficult to fathom where it’s going, and even who is who? Absolutely.
Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood are the top stars. They play Frances/ Catherine and Calvin/Nicholas. That is: actors Francesca Davis and Calvin Cummings, who are playing characters Catherine and Nicholas in a movie within the movie. So already you know more than I did going in; having read nothing about this film I had no idea there was a movie in a movie. I guess a little bit of pre-watching research could have helped, on the other hand I consider myself an average moviegoer, and I think the average guy should be able to figure out what is happening, but I was gaping at the screen because I was so confused.
Before the opening credits the stars are shown, identified as the actors Francesca and Calvin. Their ages are noted, a quote or a factoid is provided, and “Invited by:” is written last. For instance, both Calvin and Francesca are “Invited by: Gus, Personally”. The other “real” people listed are Lee Bright, Carl Bright, Arthur Dean (“Invited by: Not Invited”), and Linda Sharp. Then the movie begins with the credits for the movie within the movie, so all the names are fictional. We read: A Gus Delario Production/A Film by Constantine Alexander/ Francesca Davis/Calvin Cummings/”RENDEZVOUS”/…. followed by cards for editor, costume designer, production designer, DP, Produced by, and then /Written by Carl Bright and Arthur Dean/Directed by Constantine Alexander.
Why all this detail? I can’t tell you, because I don’t get it.
So the first five minutes or so we’re watching the movie within the movie, and then we switch to the movie we thought we paid for and meet Lee Bright (Catherine Keener), a studio executive, the VP of Human Resources, and her husband, the co-screenwriter (his basic job is for a magazine) Carl Bright (David Hyde Pierce), as they wake up and get ready for work. Lee tells Carl not to forget to make the brownies for Gus before he leaves for work. And she means pot brownies for the party the “Invited by’s” inferred.
About half-way through Francesca is talking to her personal assistant about boyfriends, both hers and his, while she eats the lunch the assistant has brought for her, and she has the best line from the whole movie, “That arugula is so bitter – it’s like my algebra teacher on bread.”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Coleman Hough, the movie has a very strong cast, which for me was its only saving grace. Enrico Colantoni plays Arthur Dean, Carl’s writing partner on “Rendezvous”, but his credit reads Arty/Ed, so he’s in “Rendezvous” as well. Mary McCormack plays Linda Sharp, Lee’s sister and a masseuse. David Duchovny plays Gus Delario, the producer. Brad Pitt plays himself doing a part in “Rendezvous”, and he appears at the end of the closing credits talking about how a preview showing (in progress behind him) is going. David Alan Basche plays Nicholas’s agent (in “Rendezvous”). And in cameos we have: Rainn Wilson, Eddie McClintock, January Jones, Sandra Oh, and Brad Rowe.
Since we keep getting intercuts between the “real” people of “Full Frontal” and the performances in “Rendezvous”, the whole thing is possibly confusing on purpose. Note: when we’re looking at “Rendezvous” we’re sometimes looking at a shoot in progress, but not always. When Nicholas is reading a letter while alone on camera, we’re looking at the finished product because the completed voice-over of him reading the letter is already there.
Nutshell review: The most insanely assembled movie I have ever seen. I won’t call it edited.

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Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) – reviewed by George

As expected the movie is very funny. As not expected it has a lot of heart, a lot of tender moments, and in two scenes made me weep.
As amusing as it may be to see an unwitting person who simply loves music and performing so much that they let themselves be open to really cruel comments (and the clever director Stephen Frears and equally clever writer Nicholas Martin have made these sections funny, mostly by showing that Florence is unaware, and therefore not susceptible to being hurt, and by the fact that she really is bad), there are moments when the laughter comes crashing down into tears. For one thing Florence has health issues. And for another she thinks the people who praise her are genuine, and some are; she’s a dear lady full of kindness and attracts many types of friends. Her current husband, St. Clair Bayfield,  tries valiantly to protect her from “mockers and scoffers”, but it just isn’t possible when she’s willing to put herself out there, and her most out there notion is to book Carnegie Hall and then donate 1000 seats to the armed services (during WWII). Most NYC reviewers have never been able to hear her, but this concert will be a chance for them, and Bayfield can’t bribe them all to stay away, nor can he physically keep them all out of the hall. And Earl Wilson, who is not a music critic, but who writes celebrity and society gossip for the New York Post, is the most stubborn and awful of them all.
Meryl Streep is wonderful as Florence, and made me believe that if she just had someone who had the courage to say, “Never sing coloratura; let’s try some mezzo, or even contralto”, that she would have been okay. After all, it’s ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah stuff like The Bell Song from Lakme that proves her undoing. She tries manfully (or womanfully) but with the notes choppy, she tends to flat out as the melody climbs.
Hugh Grant is great too as St. Clair Bayfield, protective and loving despite the mistress he keeps (played beautifully by Rebecca Ferguson).
But the real revelation in the cast is Simon Helberg as Mrs. Jenkins’s accompanist Cosme McMoon. There is just no trace of Wolowitz here. He gives a smooth affecting performance as a serious musician who finds himself in a position that could dash his hopes for a concert future, so that he must decide: accompany Florence at Carnegie Hall or head for the hills.
Christian McKay plays Earl Wilson with just the right amount of smug righteousness, and Nina Arianda and Stanley Townsend stand out as the Starks – friends of Florence’s from a circle a little different from her own.
Alexandre Desplat has written a background score that is also marvelous. Stick around for the closing credits just to listen to his music played behind them.

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Way Way Out (1966) Reviewed by Anita *****

If you like the Flintstones, The  Jetson, and 1966 you will really get a kick out of this movie.  Way Way Out is one of the best all time romantic comedies (in my opinion).  Filmed in 1966 it is actually about 1989.  We are in the Space Race with the Soviet Union and the race is getting closer and closer.  United States astronauts currently stationed at a weather station on the Moon have gone mad as Hatters.  Huffman (Dennis Weaver) and Schmidlap (Howard Morris) have been in space too long.  They are starting to get to each other.  For example Schmidlap is regularly tieing up Hoffman, even knocking his front teeth out.  While poor Hoffman is bound and gagged the sex-starved Schmidlap sketches pictures of naked woman.  I told you, they are NUTS.  They need off the moon, bad.

The head of things here on earth is worried.  The Russians have sent an unmarried couple to man their station and Mr. Quonset (Robert Morley) sees a really embarrassing scene unfolding soon.  So he (Quonset) comes up with a plan to send a MARRIED couple to the moon.  Brilliant solution right?  Well, this is when things get hairy.  Just as everybody is all set to head to the moon our lovers (James Brolin and Linda Harrison) split and there is no reunion on the horizon.  With days dwindling into to hours before the launch Quonset comes up with  astronauts Peter Mattemore (Jerry Lewis) and Elleen Forbes (Connie Stevens) to go.  The couple agree with the condition they are married in name only.

Misunderstanding, sabotage, sexy Russians and lots of vodka create a comedy of chaos.  You will laugh from start to finish.  Especially at the take 1966 had on 1989.  It’s hilarious.  Lewis and Stevens are pure magic together as Mr. and Mrs. Mattemore.  Director Gordon Douglas should pat himself on the back.

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Inside Out (2015) – reviewed by George

Pixar has earned a reputation for making animated films full of color, humor, action, and genuine emotion. This film, about a little girl and the emotions that drive her, should be one more in a highly successful and beautifully realized list. All of the elements are present, and the film succeeds to an extent. The problem for me was that some of the obstacles faced by the characters seemed invented purely to make the movie longer. During those sections of the film I lost interest, not in the plot’s through-line, but in the machinations of the moment.
The film looks good and sounds good, but I felt that the voice-over work carried the whole thing on the very strong backs of a remarkable list of actors.
As Riley, the little girl star of the show, Kaitlyn Dias was excellent. So were those playing her emotions: Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Lewis Black as Anger, Bill Hader as Fear, and Mindy Kaling as Disgust. And a special word for the work done by Richard Kind as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, the elephant clown. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s parents were also excellent, as were the following in smaller roles: Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, Flea, John Ratzenberger, Rashida Jones, and Laraine Newman. The list of actors in the credits was quite long, and I have listed only those I recognized. My sincere apologies to all of the others.
It’s already been suggested to me that my “lack of involvement” (I challenge that description) is because Riley was an 11-year-old girl rather than an 11-year-old boy, But I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I did identify with Riley’s problems and frustration rising from the fact that she had been moved by her parents to a new town and a new school. I think everybody can identify with that discomfort, that feeling of not knowing what to expect next. I simply think the inventions that made the movie a long-enough commodity actually slowed it down. Like, how long can a train ride be? The writers keep it going forever by coming up with ever less interesting problems.
I did very much enjoy the scene where Riley shows anger toward her parents for maybe the first time, and then we see the same five emotions driving her mother and her father.

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Deadpool (2016) – reviewed by George

Best Superhero Movie Ever Made!

1. The opening credits are not names, but descriptions – unflattering descriptions.

2. Seven minutes in marks the start of a car chase sequence that is the most exciting, most thrilling car chase that I’VE ever seen. It’s a brand new classic – fuhgeddabout “Bullett” and “The French Connection”. Of course CGI has a lot to do with that, but hey, that’s the way we do it today! The chase is all about Deadpool’s desire to stop Ajax (AKA Francis), played by Ed Skrein.

3. Deadpool, or Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), is a bit gender-nonspecific, and the X-Men, represented by Colossus (voice of Stefan Capicic) and Negatonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hidebrand), have a seriously phallic spaceship.

Then the opening is over and a flashback begins: a tragic discovery is made, and the Best Superhero Movie Ever gets downgraded to merely one of the best, saved from plummeting even lower by the heavenly presence of Morena Baccarin, as Wade Wilson’s girlfriend Vanessa.

And then, still in the flashback, Wade turns down a recruiter (Jed Rees) for Francis’s gang (at this point he does not know Francis), heads to the bar, and says, “His drink’s on him.”, and my ranking of the film starts to climb again.

Leading us to: 4. Wade has a great line to Colossus : a question about Dr. X. And when he decides to use the name Deadpool to hide his identity, there’s a line about a franchise. And Deadpool has a great line while he’s driving a zamboni (don’t ask).

Lots of humor, lots of snark, lots of snarky humor, and lots of talk about sex and the bits and pieces that make it work. And remember when Monica and Chandler asked Phoebe to help them move to Connecticut and she said, “I could… but I don’t want to.”? Well, here Wade’s friend says, “I’d go with you, but I don’t want to.” So there’s even a small homage to “Friends”.

Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and directed by Tim Miller, and featuring Leslie Uggams as Blind Al and Karan Soni as Dopinder, and using old songs like Angel of the Morning, Calendar Girl, Mister Sandman, Hit the Road Jack, You’re the Inspiration, and Careless Whisper, and Deadpool’s instructions to those wise enough to hang on past the closing credits; hell, it IS the Best Superhero Movie Ever Made!

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The Bad Seed (1956) Reviewed by Anita ****

Is it horror?  Is it reality?  I say kind of both.  The Bad Seed is a crazy spiral into the hell  a loving mother and a beautiful little blond psychopath are locked in.  Director Mervyn Leroy put together all-star cast for this very controversial film from the 50’s.  Staring Nancy Kelly as Christine a mother on edge, and the amazingly talented Patty McCormack as the dangerous Rhoda, these two characters play out the fear every loving mother has and that is the discovery the child is in charge.  In this case that power of control ends in murder for anyone crossing the little darlings path.  This devilish 10-year-old Rhoda is creepy and charming at the same time.  What makes McCormack’s performance so remarkable is how the talented young girl is able to show a range of all emotions while showing no emotions at all.  It is very impressive.  

As the story unfolds we become aware of the juxtaposition of Rhoda’s artificial sweetness with her total lack of empathy making this child a very complex individual.  The dialog is dated but really well written.  It makes the black and white film that much more disturbing.  As I said this is a controversial film, little girls (or children) did not act like Miss Rhoda.  When Rhoda is seen and not heard you just know she is plotting something.  Black and white just enhances its creepiness to a Tee. 

The director of the film asks the viewers to not share what the film is about in total so not to spoil it for others.  As the director requests I’m not going to share anymore then this, it will shake you up and make you wonder if your children really LOVE you.  Watch The Bad Seed and keep a close eye on those little loves you call children.  You might be next.

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