A Secret (Un Secret)

It has been awhile since I have watched a good foreign film. The other night I selected A Secret, a French film that had won a few awards. I found A Secret to be an enjoyable, well-acted movie. It stars  Cécile De FrancePatrick Bruel, and Ludivine Sagnier.

A Secret, I learned, is based on a true story. It opens in France, a few years after World War II, where a little boy, Francois (Valentin Vigourt), lives with his emotionally distant father (Bruel) and his beautiful mother (De France), a champion swimmer. The family is Jewish, but not observant, and their surname was changed to disguise their heritage.

Quickly we discover that Francois' family has an important secret about their past. It is not until Francois is 14 that he is told of his family saga by his aunt (Julie Depardieu). This takes the movie back to the prewar years and brings about the movie's first of many twists. When the story goes back in time, the sight of the boy's father with a previous wife feels as strange to the viewer as it is surprising to the boy. The world turns inside out.

As previously mentioned A Secret is a good movie that I recommend.


American Hustle

The other night I decided to see the popular movie American Hustle which was based on the people involved in the Abscam FBI sting operation that videotaped politicians taking bribe monies. American Hustle was an interesting movie but not a really good movie. I did enjoy the excellent music track from the 70s. American Hustle stars Christian BaleAmy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Irving (Bale) is an unhappy man. He is the husband to an unstable wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), and is the adoptive father of her 8-year-old boy. Irving runs two legitimate businesses as he tries an entry into the criminal world in which he acts as the middleman for selling counterfeit art. In this pursuit, Sydney (Adams), a mysterious woman, enters his life. The two becoming a pair of con artists as they create a successful routine to sell counterfeit art. Of course, they fall in love along the way.

When the pair is busted by federal agent Richie (Bradley Cooper), they are forced to assist the FBI to avoid jail time. There first task is to set up the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine (Jeremy Renner), who’s looking to score a sizable amount of cash to help start casino gambling in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, Irving develops a friendship with Carmine, placing him in a bad situation. Things are compounded when the mob enters the picture, led by Victor (Robert De Niro). I think you get the idea of where this movie is going.

I think that this movie is entertaining and worth the 2 hours of viewing. However, it is not a great movie. I recommend seeing American Hustle.



Gravity is a film that has received a lot of attention and awards; thus, I thought I would see what all of the hype was about. Thus, I watched it last night and I was not impressed with this movie in the least. Possibly the hype was the result of seeing it in a theater in 3D. I am sure that the opening scene in space was spectacular in 3D on the big screen, but the special effects did not make this movie into something special. Actually I thought it was very average except for the acting of its stars,  Sandra Bullock, and George Clooney.

Gravity opens with two astronauts, Stone and Kowalsky, (Bullock and Clooney) high above the Earth where they are conducting a mission on the ISS. During the mission, Houston informs them of flying debris that, while moving at 20,000 miles an hour, will miss them. That is until the debris takes out a nearby satellite and moves itself closer in their proximity. Operating on a large satellite, both Stone and Kowalski split from ISS, but inevitably get struck by debris, sending them flying aimlessly in space. Finally they are able to tether themselves together, but things do not improve. They only get worse. 

While Gravity is not a great movie as many proclaim, it will hold your interest for its short 1.5 hours duration. I hesitantly recommend that you see Gravity.



The Book Thief

I was in for a treat last night when I watched The Book Thief, a best-selling novel by Markus Zusak that I just finished reading last month. I am happy to report that the movie followed closely this excellent novel, and was well acted by the principal stars Sophie NélisseGeoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson.

The Book Thief opens as we soar through the clouds as the voice of Death assures us that we're all going to die and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.  Yes, the narrator of this film is Death! Immediately, there is a conflict in your mind if this is a fairy tale or serious drama. Well
 The Book Thief is both. It shows us World War II from the perspective of a young German girl, Liesel (Nélisse). After the pronouncements of Death we find that it is 1938 and Liesel younger brother dies on a train that her mother is taking them to be placed with a foster family. Later we learn that her mother is a Communist and is about to be shipped off to a concentration camp. Liesel's new parents are a non-descript German couple, Hans (Rush) and Rosa (Watson).  After a frosty beginning the three form a close-knit family unit, growing together as Europe tears itself apart.

As the years go by Liesel experiences the domestic German experience during the war; witnessing book burnings, her schoolmates becoming indoctrinated into Nazism, Jews having their shops ransacked and bundled into cars and the men in her life gradually being conscripted into the Nazi war machine.  The most notable development is the arrival of Max (Ben Schnetzer), the Jewish son of an old war buddy of her adoptive father. The family hide him in their cellar and soon he and Liesel form a strong friendship, Liesel reading to Max from banned books she's appropriated from book burnings and private libraries and Max gently encouraging Liesel to express herself creatively through her writing.

I totally enjoyed this movie which means that I highly recommend that you see this excellent movie.





The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Last night I was in the mood to watch the second installment of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire. Having read this trilogy, I thought this second book was the best. This is not common because the second books of trilogies are typically not the best of the series. Again I found that the book was followed closely, and it was generally well done. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire again stars  Jennifer LawrenceJosh HutchersonLiam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

After their success at the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 to relax before being sent off on a victory tour to help President Snow (Sutherland) and the Capitol convince the demoralized districts that all is well with the world. Haunted by her previous Hunger Games experience and troubled by her incomplete relationship with Gale (Hemsworth), Katniss is weary because she is forced to play the role of contented girlfriend to Peeta as she hears rumblings of a rebellion developing in the Districts. Aided by Haymitch (Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta attempt to carry out their duty, selling romance as Snow and gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) prepare the Quarter Quell, a test of survival that involves previous winners of the Hunger Games.  As the ordeal plays out in a tropical location, Katniss is urged to form alliances with her fellow competitors to survive Plutarch’s game arena that contains plenty of surprises meant to kill her off, ending her transformation into a revolutionary figure. 

I enjoyed this movie; thus, I recommend that you see it if you are into The Hunger Games.


Ender's Game

Ender's Game, written by  Orson Scott Card, was a book that I enjoyed many years ago; thus, I was interested if Hollywood could do justice to this science fiction classic. While Ender's Game, the movie, was only average, I think they did good job with portraying the book as I remember it. Ender's Game stars Harrison FordAsa ButterfieldHailee Steinfeld, and Ben Kingsley. So what is the story?

Fifty years have passed since the Earth was attacked by the Formic, an insect species of space invaders.  At that time the military was able to defeat the Formic, but only due to the actions of one man, Mazer Rackham (Kingsley). In the present, signs indicate that there may be another attack from the Formic; hence, a new crop of young recruits of space warriors are needed to fill the ranks. These cadets will be the core of those that will be used to engage the Formic.

The film begins by introducing recruit Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) who wants to follow in the footsteps of his hero Rackman by trying out for the International Forces. We find Ender being caught in a misdeed and gets called into the office of Colonel Graff (Ford), leader of the school that trains the recruits.  Graff sees that Ender has potential for being a leader so he bumps him up to the next level, Battle School, where he'll train in space. We follow Ender as he progresses through the ranks, often seen as a threat to anyone who has aspirations of becoming a Commander of the Forces.  When Ender shows greatness in a zero gravity fighting exercise at Battle School, Graff opens the path for him to be the commander of Earth's forces.

Ender's Game is the story of Ender's rise to be the commander and how he unknowlingly engages the Formic. I recommend this good adaptation of the book.


The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Last night I wanted to watch something different, and what I found was a very different Italian movie that takes place in Rome entitled The Great Beauty. What I saw was an excellent movie that is thought provoking. It explores what it means to get older after having an active and fullfilling life. It stars Toni ServilloCarlo Verdone, and Sabrina Ferilli, and was written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

The movie follows Jep Gambardella, a central figure in Rome's night life. Jep came to Rome in his twenties, after having written a successful novel. Forty years later Jep is now a journalist for a high-class literary magazine. Jep has friends, who are just as frustrated and unsatisfied with their lives as he is, despite having all their red Ferraris and high-rise condos. Together they keep each other company and form a support group of sorts. The presence of other miserable people convinces them it's okay, that life is still worth living and the facade is still worth maintaining.

After all the years of partying Jep no longer enjoys his life, but has no will to change it either. Soon after his 65th birthday, Jep notes to himself that he no longer has the luxury to do things he doesn't want to do. Instead, he looks up his old friends. From one, Jep learns that his first girlfriend (who left him 40 years ago) and first love has died. From another he strikes up a relationship with this friend's daughter, a 41-year old stripper named Ramona. 

As you can infer this is a very different and complex movie. I highly recommend this beautifully prouced, thought-provoking movie.


The Counselor

Last night I thought that I could not go wrong by watching The Counselor which was written Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott, and stars  Michael FassbenderPenélope CruzCameron Diaz, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem, but what I saw was a rather average movie which barely held my interest. It is not a bad movie. The Counselor is just not a good movie.

The film’s plot is relatively simple. An unnamed counselor (Fassbender) gets willingly mixed up in a big drug deal with one of his clients, Reiner (Bardem) and his business partner (Pitt). The deal falls apart in spectacular and brutal fashion, thanks to a terribly strange coincidence that makes the trio look like self-serving thiefs to their Mexican cartel associates. Despite or perhaps because of its basic premise, McCarthy tries to make everything appear far more convoluted than it actually is in reality. Thus, it makes something simple seem complicated. This is what makes this an average movie.

I do not recommend that you see The Counselor. It is not worth the time or money to see it.



The Butler

For some reason I had not heard about The Butler until recently; thus, I decided to watch it last night. I found The Butler to be an excellent movie worthy of an Academy Award. I could only hope that more movies of this high caliber should be produced. It stars Forest WhitakerOprah Winfrey, and John Cusack, but has many stars in smaller roles, including Mariah Carey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, and Jane Fonda.

The Butler was based on a true story of a White House butler. It spans around 80 years and looks at some of the more important moments in the civil rights movement. The butler is Cecil Gaines who grew up on a cotton plantation near Macon, GA (this was the hometown of my mother), where he experienced much tragedy including seeing his father killed and his mother raped. Fortunately for him he is given an oppurtunity to become a butler.  Cecil became one of the best butlers on the plantation. As he grew older and reached a point of maturity, Cecil realized that unless he wanted to meet the same fate as his father, he needed to get out of the South and head North where the opportunities were slightly more improved for a colored man.

By the 1940′s, Cecil found himself in Washington DC working as a butler at the Hotel Excelsior, where he met his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and built a life for her and their two sons. In 1957, he was recruited to work at the White House, starting under the Eisenhower administration. On his first day, Cecil was asked to serve President Eisenhower (Robin Williams). Going through the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan administrations, Cecil tries to serve his country the best he can while his son is out doing the work of a foot soldier in the Civil Rights fight. Cecil and his son Louis don’t see eye to eye on Civil Rights and becomes a strain on their relationship as well as the entire family.

I highly recommend The Butler, an above-average movie.


Satellite of Love

Again I scanned through the available Prime movies on Amazon, I came up with Satellite of Love because I am tired of seeing action/adventure and scifi movies. Well, my selection was better than the night before. I enjoyed watching Satellite of Love, which is a rather well-done flick. It stars Nathan PhillipsZachary Knighton, and Shannon Lucio.

Satellite of Love begins  with three friends at a carnival, Blake (Knighton), Samuel (Phillips), and Catherine (Lucio). This turns out to be sometime in the past, presumably while the characters were best friends in college. We flash-forward to a period of time after graduation. Samuel has become a musician and bohemian of the world; Catherine and Blake got married and now run a restaurant together. The threesome might have been BFFs in college, but Catherine and Blake have taken a decidedly different path in life than Samuel.

Catherine and Blake are initially stand-offish when Samuel returns home, obviously still sore that Samuel did not attend their wedding. As an apology for his absence at their wedding, Samuel invites Blake and Catherine to the idyllic Nadi Vineyards for a week-long vacation. Samuel brings his sexy Spanish friend, Michelle (Janina Gavankar). The wines of the Texas Hill Country begin to flow with reckless abandon — as we all know, that can only lead to one thing … 

Catherine is essentially faced with a choice between two distinct personalities and lifestyles. Her husband Blake takes life seriously; he is a successful chef and businessman who is concerned with their economic well-being.  And even though women still love him, Blake is a devout monogamist. Samuel, on the other hand, represents the carefree notion of living life without any concerns for money. He is a free-spirited Australian who has adjusted well to the constant partying of the European lifestyle. Samuel has passion, while Blake is the personification of security. Despite their differences, Blake and Samuel are best friends — and they love the same woman. I will say no more. 

This is a good movie that I recommend.