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Finding Nemo

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****

From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.

 

Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, © Pixar and Disney 2003.

Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, © Pixar and Disney 2003.

People were often surprised that I had never seen this movie. But it took me a long time to watch UpWall-E, and Monsters, Inc.  I am glad to have seen this movie now. Although I do not care for Ellen Degeneres she was quite good as Dory, the blue fish who aids Marlin in finding his son, Nemo. Albert Brooks plays Marlin, a worrywart of a father/clownfish, whose son gets captured by a dentist. It was kind of like Toy Story, but underwater and the toy world was the ocean. I find it hard to describe why I cared about these characters, but I did. It probably deserved its Oscar win as the Best Animated Feature, but I have not seen Brother Bear or The Triplets of Belleville yet. Hopefully either one of them is almost as good as this movie.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

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****

Duane, my friend, he was gone, and from then on my motions, my progress, became mechanical. In fact, I couldn’t care less if I would live or die. But then later on, there was this bear, this beautiful bear that was following me. It was circling me in fact sometimes. It was gone and I missed it. It was just like a dog, it was just like a pet. Of course I knew this bear was there, he was waiting to eat me. When I think about it, this bear meant death to me. And it is really ironic. That’s the only friend I had at the end, was death.

Lt. Dieter Dengler, USN, standing in Laos with a drawing of his escape plan from the prison camp he lived in for 6 months. © Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 1997.

Lt. Dieter Dengler, USN, standing in Laos with a drawing of his escape plan from the prison camp he lived in for 6 months. © Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 1997.

Werner Herzog directed and narrated this compelling documentary about Dieter Dengler. Those who recognize that name probably do so from the 2006 film, Rescue Dawn. What makes Dengler such an interesting subject is his attitude towards his terrible ordeal. How he acknowledges that it happened and how it haunted him, but also how he has moved on and is able to discuss it with dispassion bordering on bemusement. I do not know which to recommend first, this or Rescue Dawn. Christian Bale is so good that I do not know who was better as Dieter Dengler, Dieter or Christian. It did help to have Steve Zahn’s Duane in my head while Dieter talked about him. The most emotional he got was talking about Duane’s death, all those years later. The odd part of Dieter was not that he had some odd obsessive quirks—opening and closing doors three times, a multitude of paintings of open doors, and thousands of pounds of food hidden under his house. The odd part was how the Vietnam War prisoner of war ever recovered from his 98lb shell to have a few abnormalities. All this poor German kid ever wanted was to fly a plane like the Americans who attacked his village in World War II.

Saving Mr. Banks

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****

Winds in the east
Mist coming in
Like something is brewing
About to begin
Can’t put me finger
On what lies in store
But I feel what’s to happen
All happened before.

Those words may look extremely familiar. If they do, you are probably hearing them sung in the cockney accent of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Mary Poppins. They are also the first words, and the last words, of Saving Mr. Banks. I did not recognize the voice almost whispering them at the start of this movie because they seemed so familiar, and yet so very different simultaneously. Colin Farrell spoke them as P. L. Travers’ father, which we soon saw as the young, fun-loving, imaginative Dad who played with his young, fun-loving, imaginative daughter, whom he called (Princess) Ginty. Quickly we cut to a more modern, stern P.L. Travers, who appears to have none of the characteristics of her younger self. But those words Farrell said, especially the second time, evoked a strong emotional reaction from me. I have not seen Mary Poppins since I was probably in my early teens, so it puzzled me as to why this voice and those words could affect me so strongly.

The character I felt worst for in this movie was P.L. Travers’ mother. P.L. Travers wrote Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers also seemed to have been a fun, whimsical child in Australia long before she became the curmudgeon of this movie. She had a doting father—Colin Farrell, In Bruges—and a boring, killjoy mother—Ruth Wilson, the vivacious Princess Betsey Tverskoy in Anna Karenina. However that father was a consumptive alcoholic and the mother was just doing the best she could. Since this is P.L. Travers’ story much of it features the child version of her—newcomer Annie Rose Buckley.

Travers, Martha and Baby Goff looking upon their new home in End-Of-The-Line Australia, 1906. Ruth Wilson & Colin Farrell in Disney's Saving Mr. Banks.

Travers, Martha and Baby Goff looking upon their new home in End-Of-The-Line Australia, 1906. Ruth Wilson & Colin Farrell in Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks.

Adult P.L. Travers gets Emma Thompson—Nanny McPhee. But we meet her twenty years after she has written the book. It would be interesting to meet her then. It is not that she is boring as a 60 year-old, but that she is simply unlikable as one. She has trauma in her past, but no compassion. On the other hand there is the oh-so-likable Walt Disney, but, as he says, he always gets what he wants, so how difficult is it to be likable when you get that? John Lee Hancock—director of The Blind Side—cast someone well suited to the role—Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips. Actually, based on those names Tom Hanks might have cast John Lee Hancock as the director! Hanks kills it as Walt. The creative team that works with Travers also does a wonderful job of being both funny in the moment and for the audience, which is always a sign of good acting. Those three excellent actors were Bradley Whitford—from the criminally under-appreciated “The Good Guys” and “The West Wing”, B.J. Novak—”The Office” and Inglourious Basterds, and Jason Schwartzman—Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Rushmore.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers in Disneyland.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers in Disneyland.

My favorite moment comes from Paul Giamatti. He seems extremely over cast in such a small role; he plays a limousine driver. His is a chipper, simple Californian who contrasts sharply with the rude, London-ian P.L. Travers. But then he has a truly touching moment that explain his character and his seemingly lighthearted comments about the weather. That summarizes this movie. Stars play people both mythical and minor and then ,when their characters seem chosen to fit superficial needs of storytelling, they each have something that resonates. And they did resonate, at least for me. Even though I am not a father, a creator, a writer, or an orphan, Watching this I felt human and that was enough of a connection for me and for these characters.

 

The Parole Officer

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Uh… no, it’s my penis.

This was a disappointing movie. It stars Steve Coogan. I love Steve Coogan. He even co-wrote it. But where is the genius behind Alan Partridge? Almost nowhere to be seen here. I think that I laughed about five times in the hour and a half. And three of those times came during an amusing scene on a roller coaster where Coogan’s character, the titular Parole Officer, vomits onto some children. Three times in a row! Ah well!

Hard to tell who is a cop and who is a con. From left to right, Steven Waddington, Steve Coogan, Emma Williams and Lena Headey. The Parole Officer, © 2001 DNA Films.

Hard to tell who is a cop and who is a con. From left to right, Steven Waddington, Steve Coogan, Emma Williams and Lena Headey. The Parole Officer, © 2001 DNA Films.

The three highlights are, in order:
1. Simon Pegg as an extra! And Pegg looks very flummoxed!
2. Omar Sharif—Dr. Zhivago from the classic Dr. Zhivago—has a cameo as “Victor” the greatest thief of all-time.
3. Lena Headey—Queen Gorgo from 300: Rise of an Empireplays the female lead, Emma, a police officer who is, for some reason, interested in this ditsy parole officer. She is bubbly and delightful! More than that, she also has a scene where she gets changed and she is very attractive. She is as attractive as this movie was stupid.

If you want to watch a good Coogan movie I recommend The Trip. For a good Lena Headey movie watch 300. For a good Simon Pegg movie watch Hot Fuzz. Lastly, for a good Omar Sharif movie watch The 13th Warrior. THERE! I said it. I enjoy The 13th Warrior. So if I can enjoy even that, trust me when I say that this was a piece of crap.

Great Psychological Thrillers: Part 2

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Here are Five More Great Psychological Thrillers. That said, they are not necessarily better than The Conversation. Which I put at #1 of my Best Psychological Thrillers currently available on Neflix. Ignoring those five flix, here are five more absolute classics of the genre.

Mr. CSI in Manhunter.

Mr. CSI in Manhunter.

5. Manhunter — I alluded in my last Psychological Thriller post to Hannibal Lecter having a different original actor. Well this here is that movie. This has the original Hannibal, Bryan Cox. I learned of him through Super Troopers and then marveled at his acting ability as William Stryker in X2: X-Men United. But he is not why I chose to watch this movie. The villain, The Tooth Fairy—Tom Noonan, the really tall guy in Heat—who was excellent, was also not why I chose this movie. It was for its protagonist—Will Graham, played by William Petersen—”CSI”. CSI is a show I loved to watch while I played sudoku and over time I came to really like Petersen, but it seemed like he was not in anything else. That Michael Mann directed this made me need to see this. That Joan Allen was in this, as a blind woman it turns out, helped too. If you enjoyed the remake, Red Dragon, then I assume you will love this. Unless you hated Miami Vice and Collateral, in which case you hate Michael Mann, but then what is wrong with you?

psycho_tony_perkins

4. Psycho — “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” NO! No, Norman Bates she is NOT his best friend. This is how perfectly nice thieves wind up getting slashed by Norman Bates—Anthony Perkins, best known for, obviously, Psycho. Another nice thing about this classic is it’s atypical structure. Much like how No Country for Old Men survived the death of its protagonist, Psycho switches off into the antagonist’s path, as did No Country. The even more interesting aspect is how long the viewer waits to meet its antagonist-cum-main character. This is also a good film to see through the lens of the Hays Code. Here the basic tenet of the Hays Code being that no criminal can get away with it. In that light, how else could Hitchcock have Janet Leigh get slashed in a shower?

Not Bjørn Floberg–Robin William–and not Stellan Skarsgård–Al Pacino, © 2002 Warner Bros.

Not Bjørn Floberg–Robin William–and not Stellan Skarsgård–Al Pacino, © 2002 Warner Bros.

3. Insomnia — What? There are two of this movie? Then you will have to choose which one to watch. Or you will at least have to choose which one to watch first. Well if you like Stellan Skarsgard—Thor & The Avengers & The Dark World‘s Erik Selvig—then watch the Norwegian original. If you prefer Christopher Nolan—The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception & Memento—then watch the English language one. This is a win win proposition though because they are both very good. Another way to decide is to see how loud it is where you are right now. If it is loud enough to want subtitles, then you should do Norwegian and maybe eat some pickled fish. If you can hear the movie just fine, then go American and eat some cannoli or a boston cream donut.

TheSecret

2. The Secret in Their Eyes — also known in the original Spanish as El secreto de sus ojos. Ricardo Darín stars in this masterful rape-murder investigation that jumps across from twenty years ago into the present. The same actors play both versions of themselves, but it works, especially for Darín who manages to show youthful exuberance and the weariness of time. I have difficulty explaining why this is better than, say, Sleepers, but it just is. Maybe it is just the mature attitude it has towards such terrible events. Maybe it comes from the moral weight it leaves on the viewer. While it has unpleasant events, it truly is a great film.

Zodiac

1. Zodiac — I have had mixed experienced with showing people Zodiac. Some people do not like its length. Some people do not like its ending. For me, I think that its director, David Fincher–The Social Network, has always had problems with wrapping things up neatly and this is finally a movie that lets him excel. He has the room to fully explore the themes and characters that inhabit this world. He evokes excellent performances in a variety of styles. This is probably Jake Gyllenhaal’s best role. I am not sure where it ranks for Robert Downey Jr.–Iron Man & Sherlock Holmes, but it has to be in his top five. When I try to picture Chloë Sevigny—American Psycho Boys Don’t Cry—this is the only version of her that comes to mind. And Mark Ruffalo? He gets to play the inspiration for Dirty Harry without being a self-parody.  Unlike Harry “Over the top” Callahan, Ruffalo’s Dave Toschi seems like a person you could run into at a bar, restaurant or at the police station. All told, this is a great movie for anyone who is not watching it at night in California.

Breach

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***½

I had all these answers for her. ‘He’s misunderstood.’ ‘He’s trying to fix the bureau and no one will listen.’ ‘He was born in the wrong century.’ ‘His father’s a jerk.’ I got a whole list. But you know something Sir, at the end of the day it’s all crap. You ARE who you are. The why doesn’t mean a thing does it? DOES IT?

Young FBI trainee Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) confronts suspected spy Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) in the thriller Breach. © 2007 Universal Pics.

Young FBI trainee Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) confronts suspected spy Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) in the thriller Breach. © 2007 Universal Pics.

This movie was not bad. I have the bar set pretty low for Ryan Phillippe movies,¹ but he was legitimately solid in this performance. Chris Cooper’s performance was a little more interesting, but it was also more restrained. Laura Linney had very little to work with, but she was fine also. The casting surprise that I enjoyed most was that of Gary Cole—Ricky Bobby’s father, who coined the saying, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Whom did they play? Real people. Phillippe portrayed Eric O’Neill, a young FBI employee who wants to become a full agent. Linney played Agent Kate Burroughs, who assigns O’Neill to clerk for, and spy on, veteran Agent Robert Hanssen–Cooper. Hanssen appears smarter and more bitter than everyone else, including his superior Rich Garces, played by the wonderful Gary Cole. Since these were real people and their actions were also real, I feel that talking about the plot will not *spoil* it. However, you may disagree, so feel free to stop reading now.

Hanssen was a perverted traitor who sold out his country for over two decades. The FBI lacked the proverbial smoking gun that would incarcerate, or preferably execute, Hanssen. O’Neill only knows that alleged perversion, so he stands in for the audience as Hanssen goes from being a rude tool to something like a socially inept mentor to O’Neill. This assignment strains O’Neill personally and romantically, as his wife—Caroline Dhavernas, former star of “Wonderfalls”—gets sick of the lies and creepiness that Hanssen rubs off on O’Neill.

There is a scene that takes this solid *** movie and gets it that extra ½; it comes after Hanssen has been caught. The agent riding with Hanssen, played by the Allstate Man Dennis Haybert, provides the advice that they will go easier on him if he talks, even if all he tells them is why. To that Chris Cooper responds that he supposes a man might do what he has been accused of to point out the flaws in the system for patriotic reasons, or he supposes it might be to feel powerful as the leader in a room of agents all searching for someone and that someone is you. Then he declares that these are just suppositions and what truly matters is what someone did. Note how I said Cooper, not Hanssen, because this is an actor portraying a traitor whose true motivations remain a mystery, so the best he can do is offer theories. Perhaps Hanssen/Cooper is right though, when someone betrays his country and gets people killed, is there an explanation that will outweigh the wrongs he has done?

¹ This anti-Ryan Phillippe of mine is irrational. Ignoring his own performances, this is an actor with major roles in Gosford ParkCrashThe Lincoln Lawyer, and The Bang Bang Club. Those movies rang from pretty good to Gosford f’n Park! So what if he was in The Way of the Gun? So was Benicio Del Toro and I still really like him.

Duck Soup

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***

Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.

Groucho and Harpo Marx, Duck Soup, © 1933 Paramount Pics.

Groucho and Harpo Marx, Duck Soup, © 1933 Paramount Pics.

I loathed the first 25 minutes of this movie. It made me question the critics and fans alike who label this a classic. But then I started to enjoy the repartee between Grouch Marxo, as President Firefly, and Chico Marx, as the spy Chicolini. Director Leo McCarey also had a dedication to gags that took something stupid, like having a motorcycle with a sidecar and having them not be attached and presented it repeatedly. Once I started to enjoy jokes like these then the movie really becomes enjoyable. That said, I still do not understand Harpo, as the mute spy Pinky, so he grew on me less than the other two did.

The slapstick style acts kind of like a collection of Garfield comic strips. Maybe the first 20 “jokes” will not elicit laughter, but if you power on through 50, or 100, you cannot fight the laughter. That is incongruous with modern comedic sensibilities, or at least those of good modern comedies. On a more technical note, there was some interesting editing and montage during the war, the last act. Also it is very interesting to see the idea of war in a post World World I world. This was also a time when war could be funny.

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