Tuesday, August 31, 2010

War Games

The other day I was playing tic-tac-toe with Elliot and got the urge to watch War Games.  I don't know if this really launched Matthew Broderick's career, but it certainly gave it a boost.  The movie was huge when it was released in 1983, and it remains relevant and compelling today.
The story involves a military computer that runs war simulations.  It takes on a mind of its own and the U.S. military starts to believe the simulations are real, and the computer wants to initiate a launch of nuclear missles.  All of that was triggered by David (Broderick) hacking into computers looking for a video game company.  On David's shoulders rests the task of saving the world.  The technology is terribly dated, as you would expect; there have been tremendous changes in computer in the last 27 years.  But War Games broke new ground in its potrayal of the hacker culture.

I thought I would watch it with my kids.  I'm glad I didn't.  Even thought it stars a teen heartthrob of the day, it's really a movie for teens and adults.  The language and a few of the references deem it unsuitable for my kids.

Remember the scene where, in biology class, Broderick suggests that the origin of asexual reproduction came from the teacher's wife?  In my memory, I had pictured that in Ferris Beuler's Day Off, but it's actually in War Games.  Right actor, wrong character. 
The WOPR.  This was made of wood, painted to look like metal.
A special effects guy sat inside, controlling the display with an Apple II computer.

One other thing I didn't remember: In the first scene we see a shift change at a missle silo.  In the corridor outside the control room, we see a sign that says, "Anyone urinating in this area will be discharged."  Is that sign really found in military installations?  Is it necessary?  Has anyone ever been discharged for that offense?  Just wondering. . . .

This is a great movie.  I am biased because I saw it and loved it at an impressionable age, but I dare say it's a bona fide classic.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Monday, August 30, 2010


If you  have ever met someone with Asperger's sydrome, a form of autism, you may not have realized it.  They can be, in varying degrees, socially awkward, compulsive about sticking to routine, and obsessively interested in specific topics.  They can also be brilliant, prodigies in music, computer programming, or technical skills.  Adam featuers a character with Asperger's in a sympathetic, insightful portrayal of a young man at a time of crisis and transition.

Adam, a 29-year-old man, has lived with his father all his life in the same apartment.  Adam has a job, but his father helps support him and helps with his routines and unique needs.  When his father dies, Adam maintains his routine for a while.  Then he loses his job designing electronic toys; it seems he is very good at the technical applications, but not so good about staying within the requirements and budget for his projects.   Without his father's assistance, and without income from his job, he must quickly make some changes.
Amid this time of changes, a lovely young lady moves into his building.  She is not put off by his quirkiness, and they strike up a friendship that becomes a romance.  Whether the romance can last or is destined to fail is the story of the movie.  I won't spoil it for you, but I will say Adam has a happy ending.

There are some good laughs as Adam steps into unfamiliar circumstances, and moving scenes where he is pushed too far.  The comedy and the drama do not come across as overdone, but seem realistic and believable.  Pick up Adam.  It's not only a thorughly enjoyable human story, but it will change the way you look at Asperger's.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Boys are Back

I can't--don't want to--imagine a life where I'm left to raise my kids on my own.  The real-life Simon Carr, fictionalized in The Boys are Back as Joe Warr, faced the loss of his wife to cancer when his son was just 6.  (The comments herein refer to the movie; I have not read Carr's book on which the movie is based.)  Warr, an Australian sports writer, has taken his free-wheeling life for granted.  The loss of his wife hits him hard.  Not only does he decide to raise his 6-year-old son on his own, his teenage son from his first marriage comes to live with them as well.  Clive Owen plays the dad.  His performance, as well as both boys, are terrific.
At first Warr tries to replicate the order with which his late wife ran the household.  He quickly realizes that rules and discipline look different in the new scheme of things; he adopts a free-wheeling "just say yes" child-rearing philosophy.  Things get crazy, nearly spinning out of control, but the three men learn to live together and figure out how to make it work.

There are some touching scenes.  When Warr's wife died in his arms I could hardly stand it.  This is one of those realistic movies that draws you in and makes you think, "What if that happened in my family.  There's plenty of good, guys-having-fun humor, too.  Parents who prefer discipline and order in the home should stay away.  I don't know about the overall parenting model here, but I do know this: most of the time, it's better to say, "Sure why not!"  Messes can be cleaned up, stuff can be repaired, but memories of childhood last forever.  Enjoy this touching movie about treasuring your spouse, enjoying your kids and living a full life.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Silas Marner

Ben Kingsley is a great actor.  His performance in this 1985 BBC production of Silas Marner carries the film.  Overall, this is a great story, and the movie matches the pace and tone of the novel quite well, but, that said, the pace and tone of the book is slow and a little dark. So unless you're a fan of the book, or you like Masterpiece Theater-type movies, this may not be the movie for you.
I love the story: poor Marner, falsely accused of a crime and shunned by his community, moves away for a hermit's existence, committed to work and hoarding the proceeds of his work.  When a neighbor steals his gold and a little girl turns up on his hearth, his life is turned around.  This movie is faithful to Eliot's novel, but enjoyable on its own.  Just don't expect modern Hollywood fare.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Indigenes (Days of Glory)

Here's timely theme for us to consider: Muslim fighters fiighting a war on our side.  I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true.  There are Muslims in the U.S. military, of course, and some U.S. allies are Muslim nations.  But I never thought about Muslims fighting for the Allies in WW2.  Indigenes follows a group of Muslims from the French-colonial North Africa who were recruited to fight for France.  They fought valiantly, but suffered indignity and discrimination, not from their enemies but from the French themselves.
Like many good war movies, Indigenes has gripping, realistic fighting scenes, relatable characters with whom we can sympathize, and moral challenges.  The war really provides the backdrop for the Muslims' struggle for acceptance and equal treatment.  The great story and filmmaking won Indigenes an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, and the great acting won the cast a Best Actor award at Cannes (Apparently it was awarded to the male ensemble cast.  I don't know how often that happens. . . .).

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Stoning of Saroya M.

This movie is shocking.  It's surreal to think that in modern times women may be stoned for adultery.  The Stoning of Saroya M. is based on the true story of Saroya, who lived in a village in Iran.  Her husband had tired of her, and kept a mistress, but Saroya would not agree to a divorce.  He falsely accused her of adultery, convinced others in the village to lie and corroborate his story, and had her tried and sentenced.  Saroya's husband and sons were among those who threw the stones.
The story was uncovered when Freidoune, a journalist, met Saroya's aunt, who bravely tells him the whole story.  Although she was helpless to prevent the horrible injustice, through Freidoune she exposed the villagers' crime.  Even though the very title of the movie gives away the ending, the tension throughout the film kept me on the edge of my seat and caused my blood to boil against the mindset, religion, and system which made the inevitable possible.

The powerful performances and the portrayal of life in Iran make this well worth seeing.

Bottom line, 3 stars

Postscript: Even though this movie is set in the 80s, and much has happened in that part of the world, stoning remains an issue.  I read in this morning's paper of a married man and his unmarried lover in northern Afghanistan stoned to death for adultery.  At least they were consistent and stoned the man and the woman, instead of just the woman.  This was officially condemned by the government, but it demontrates the Taliban's power and lack of commitment to human rights.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Some of my all-time favorite movies were directed by Terry Gilliam.  The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Brazil were brilliant.  I also enjoyed Time Bandits and Twelve Monkeys, and, of course, his Monty Python work is terrific.  So any time Gilliam comes up with something new, I get excited.  Of course, I am sometimes disappointed.  The Brothers Grimm was pretty good, The Fisher King was OK, but I loathed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, perhaps his most imaginative work, and one of his boldest efforts, left me with mixed feelings.  As you would expect, if you know Gilliam's work, the movie is visually stunning, overloading the viewer with images.  The titular Imaginarium, actually the mind of Dr. Parnassus, through which people can experience their dreams, takes the form of a travelling sideshow act.  Dr. Parnassus, his daughter, and a couple of assistants travel around giving people the opportunity to have their dreams come true, even if for a few moments.

Along the way they pick up Tony, a drifter who they find hanging from a bridge.  Tony's role, mostly played by Heath Ledger, morphed into a face-shifting role when Ledger died during the filming.  Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell each filled in on scenes that Ledger had not completed.  This does make for an interesting movie-making story, showing the adaptability of Gilliam and the cast to complete the project in the aftermath of Ledger's death.  But for the viewer, it makes a manic, confusing role even more confusing.

Imaginarium is, at times, fun to watch, but the story, in which Parnassus tries to win back his daughter, who he's about to lose in a bet with the devil, doesn't work well.  This is not Gilliam's worst movie, but it doesn't rank with his classics.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sleuth (2007)

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted a movie review!  I had some publish while I was on vacation, but I haven't published one since we returned on July 26.  And I have a backlog of a dozen or so movies I haven't reviewed, so I'd better get busy.

I'll start with an easy movie to review: Sleuth.  Back in January I reviewed the original film version (here).  Both movies are based on the play by Anthony Shaffer.   The key attraction of this film is the casting.  IN the original film, a young Michael Caine played Milo, who was having an affair with Andrew's wife.  Andrew was played by acting legend Lawrence Olivier.  In this new version, the young Jude Law plays Milo, opposite Michael Caine, now an acting legend in his own right.  Both versions showcase two talented actors, but the new version is even less enjoyable than the first.
I know getting these two talents on the screen together in what is essentially a two-man show sounds good, but rather than an opportunity to shine as actors, the two compete as they mug for the camera.  The exaggerated performances and manic turns distract from what could be a decent, if a little twisted, thriller.

Like an overbearing companion at a dinner party, who, despite the quality of the fare, forces you to keep looking at your watch, these two forced me to wonder, how much longer can this movie go on?

Bottom line, 1 and 1/2 stars.