Tag Archives: movie review

Movie Review – Moana (2016)

Water!  Pretty colors!  A stupid chicken!

BQB here with a review of Disney’s Moana.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING

The short version is that Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), demigod Maui (The Rock) and Moana’s incredibly dumb pet chicken set sail on a quest to return the island goddess Te Fiti’s heart (in the form of a jade stone) that Maui once stole because he’s kind of a jerkface.

Monsters big and small are fought. Moana’s chicken remains stupid.

Oh and lots of singing.

There’s not much else I can say without giving away the whole thing, but if you’re looking for something to do with the family this Thanksgiving weekend, you can’t go wrong here.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy and though I’m not a fan of 3D, it is worth seeing in 3D due to some awesome animation sequences where all kinds of crazy things happen with water.

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Movie Review – The Martian (2015) (And What It Does For Self-Publishing)

“You do the math. You solve one problem. And then you solve another. And then another. Solve enough and you stay alive.”

– Mark Watney, The Martian

An astronaut trapped on Mars.  A daring rescue mission.  Matt Damon.  Jeff Daniels.  Jessica Chastain.  Kate Mara.  Sean Bean.  Kristen Wiig.  The list of top actors on this movie is too long to keep rattling names off but the biggest star of all?

SCIENCE!

Yes, in an age where people want more explosions, sex, and what the hell, explosive sex, Alien director Ridley Scott made a movie that not only entertains but educates.

Put on your spacesuit, 3.5 readers, and let’s talk about what this movie does not only for science, but for the world of self-publishing.

The Martian – Twentieth Century Fox

OK, first of all, let’s address the proverbial elephant on the sofa, the gorilla in the barcalounger, if you will.

But BQB!  Aren’t you trapped in the middle of the East Randomtown Zombie Apocalypse?

I sure am, 3.5 readers.  Luckily, I’ve got Alien Jones’ plutonium powered space phone and the Esteemed Brainy One managed to stream it for my group of survivors last night.  It really lifted our spirits, because as you may have heard, we’re currently riding out the zompoc in Price Town, one of the last three stores still open at the nearly abandoned East Randomtown Mall.

HOW BIG WAS THIS MOVIE?

A “friend” of mine sent me an e-mail to let me know that this movie was so big that he’d never seen a line so long at the theater he usually goes to before.  The poor chump ended up stuck in that damn front row spot.  You know, the one where you have to keep your neck craned skywards for two hours and you have to look to the left when a character on the left is talking and a character on the right is talking.

What a jackass.  Guy probably should have taken into account how popular the movie would be and gotten there earlier.

Either that or he could have skipped the popcorn and soda.  God knows that fatty doesn’t need it.

Oh sorry, I shouldn’t speak ill of my friend on my blog.  Good thing only 3.5 people read this.

THE PLOT

A storm causes a team of astronauts to abandon their mission on Mars.  One of their teammates, Mark Watney, is impaled, presumed dead, and abandoned.

Whoops!  He’s still alive, but the the Red Planet is so far away that NASA won’t be able to get help to him any soon.

THE SCIENCE

One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to a) explain to the reader how a character is going to extricate himself from a sticky situation with enough detail so as to not leave the reader feeling cheated and yet b) not go overboard to the point where the reader feels like dozing off.

Enter Andy Weir.  The Martian is based off of Weir’s novel of the same name.

A computer programmer, Weir made all sorts of calculations, estimates, and scientific conclusions on how, in theory, an astronaut trapped on Mars could live long enough to find a way back home.

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,”  Damon, as Watney, says.

And science the shit out of it, he does.  Literally.  He uses his own shit as fertilizer for potato plants.  Potatoes then become Mark’s only form of sustenance and I’m willing to bet he reached a point where he never wanted to see another french fry ever again.

Aside from the potato plants, I don’t want to go into too much detail on the science angle.  A)  To do so would be to provide you with too many SPOILERS and b) some of it my brain was too feeble to understand and other parts I did understand but am not sure I could explain it correctly.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of brainy people involved.  NASA scientists on the ground work on a rescue plan while Watney on Mars works on his own survival.

For any kid out there interested in science, this film provides role models to look up to, not just in the form of the astronauts, but the people – technicians, engineers, specialists, scientists, etc. working to bring their colleague home.

Science, kids.  It’s the way of the future.

WHAT DOES THIS MOVIE MEAN FOR SELF-PUBLISHING?

The Martian started out as a free serial on Andy’s blog.  He as just a guy who really loved math, science, and space.  So he took his passions and funneled them into a project to entertain his blog readers.  (I bet he had more than 3.5 of them.)

As he explained in an interview with Johnny, Sean and Dave of the Self-Publishing Podcast, he put the novel on Amazon at the request of some of his readers who preferred an e-reader format over reading it on a blog.  Not out to make any money and not thinking it would go anywhere, Weir put his novel on Amazon, priced it at 99-cents, and let his blog readers know it was available.

The novel took off and the rest was history.

By the way, I recommend listening to Andy’s SPP interview as it is an inspiration to anyone interested in self-publishing.  Success doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t for Andy.  He started blogging way back in 1999.  A sixteen year journey to the big screen!

Keep plugging away, 3.5 readers/writers.  Success might seem so far away as to be pointless, but then again, you’re already ahead of those who gave up.

I’ve sought out opinions as to what this movie means for self-publishers.  Andy’s novel was originally self-published before he was approached by a literary agent and sold it to a big publisher.

Does this mean the general public will look at self-publishers in a whole new light?  That if one man was able to take a project on his blog and turn it into a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon and other stars, might that not cause people to pay more attention to self-published works?

One person I spoke with answered no.  His reasoning was the majority of the movie going public doesn’t really care who wrote a book or how the book was made.  They just want to be entertained and thus this won’t do a lot to bring attention to self-publishing.

Technically, I think he’s right, but therein lies the rub.

As self-publishers, our WHOLE GOAL is to provide a piece of entertainment crafted so well that no one notices it wasn’t made by a team of big shots.

Because at the end of the day, when you turn on the TV, do you pay that much attention if a show is on NBC, CBS, or Showtime or do you just pick and watch shows because they grab your attention?

Have you ever said, “Well, I’ll never watch THAT film because it was made by Fox and Goddamn it, this is a Sony household!”

Have you ever walked into a bookstore, strolled over to the clerk, and said, “Excuse me, will you point me to the Random House books because I’m ONLY a Random House reader and I’ll never allow a Penguin book to sully my eyes!”

No.  No one cares who was behind a piece of entertainment so long as it is entertaining.

And that, my 3.5 readers, is what I believe this movie does for self-publishers.

It gives their collective souls a boost.  Andy Weir becomes another Hugh Howey to look up to.  “If that guy did it, then I can do it too!”

After all, when Andy got his start, his readers weren’t saying, “Ugh!  This book was not put out by a traditional publishing house?  No thank you!”

They were saying, “An astronaut who gets trapped on Mars and has to figure out how to survive?!  That sounds so cool!  Sign me up!”

When you’re in the clothing store, do you check the label on that shirt that caught your eye?  Nope.  You’ll just buy it because you like it.

Write cool stories, 3.5 readers and if they’re entertaining enough, people won’t bother to check the label.

Thanks 3.5.  I have to go fight the zombie apocalypse now.

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Movie Review – Black Mass (2015)

All is forgiven for Mortdecai, Johnny.  All is forgiven.

I’d announce SPOILERS though all this stuff actually happened!  BQB here with a review of Black Mass.

“If nobody sees it, then it didn’t happen.”

So goes the advice of infamous Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to his young son after he got in trouble for punching another kid at school.  It’s a line delivered so eerily that it sets the whole tone of the movie.

It gives the viewer insight into just the kind of guy Whitey is.  Most parents would tell their kid not to punch anyone.  Whitey tells his to just make sure no one’s looking before he punches someone the next time.

Step aside Tony Soprano, as this true crime gangster flick shows  Whitey as one cold, calculating sociopathic serial killer, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake during his tenure as the boss of an organized crime family known as the Winter Hill Gang in South Boston from the 1970s to the 1990’s.

I was a fan of The Sopranos and the ongoing theme of that show was that Tony often felt bad about his crimes.  Of course, that didn’t stop him from being a murderer, but after the dirty deed, he’d feel bad, overeat, not sleep and walk around in his bathrobe and get so depressed that he’d need to go spill his guts to his confidant/ shrink Dr. Melfi.

Whitey, on the other hand – SPOILER – is able to strangle a hooker then take a nap and have dinner afterwards.

In one of the saddest turn of events in modern law enforcement history, FBI agent John Connolly struck a deal to use Bulger as an informant, but as we see in the movie, John becomes less concerned about justice and more about helping Whitey, his childhood friend, not to mention getting some extra gifts on the side.

Meanwhile, Whitey plays the FBI like a fiddle.  He gives them info needed to take down a rival Italian crime family moving in on his turf, but after that, pretty much feeds them bupkis.

If this sounds familiar, you might recall 2006’s The Departed, which was somewhat based on Whitey’s reign of terror.

I’ve always felt The Departed was one of the best gangster flicks I’ve ever seen and this one does meet it.

Johnny Depp solidifies his reputation as an actor who can become anyone.  He plays the ruthless yet somewhat quiet Whitey to a T and is barely recognizable on screen.

To complicate matters, Whitey’s brother was William Bulger, President of the Massachusetts Senate.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the South Boston politician well, delivering a powerful speech about how he’ll drive crime out of South Boston just as St. Patrick drove the Romans and British out of Ireland.

Ironic, given who his brother was.

What did William know about his brother, when, and what was his involvement?  Those are questions left on the table, though the film takes the standpoint that Billy basically suffered from being tied to a degenerate brother.

Can’t pick your family I guess.

Joel Edgerton turns in an excellent performance as Connolly, the fast talking Fed who always has a comeback ready to explain to his boss (played by Kevin Bacon) as to why Whitey’s being allowed to jerk the FBI around for his own personal gain.

Jesse Plemons (aka Creepy Todd from Breaking Bad) plays another creep, Whitey’s associate Kevin Weeks.  Poor Jesse’s stuck playing creeps I guess.

Adam Scott (known for comedic roles such as his part as Leslie Knope’s husband, Ben Wyatt on Parks and Rec) makes his first notable foray into drama as a Fed who’s suspicious of Connolly.

Overall, it’s a solid cast.  I could go into more detail, but I’d end up giving the rest of the story away.

Did Whitey win?  If you’re a news watcher, you know he went on the lam in the 1990’s after being tipped off by Connolly to an impending arrest, only to be caught in Santa Monica in 2011.

You might say justice was finally found.  Then again, Whitey was in his 80’s when he was nabbed so, he did get to live out his retirement years.

This is one of the first major Oscar contenders of the year and cements Depp as one of the greatest actors of our time.

If he takes home a gold statue for this, he will have earned it.

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Movie Review – No Escape (2015)

Hey 3.5.

Action.  Explosions.  Suspense and guess what?

Not a single dude in tights with a cape to be seen!

Hollywood surprises us with a winner with No Escape.

Be warned: there’s “no escaping” these spoilers.

Ha.  See what I did there?  That guy gets it.  Yes.  You sir.  Right there.  Thanks for reading.

The setup?  After his company goes belly up, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) moves his wife, Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters to an unnamed Southeastern Asia country.  It borders Vietnam and I could probably figure it out if I felt like looking for a map but I really don’t.  Since it wasn’t named, I assume the movie producers weren’t looking to criticize any particular country anyway.

Before I go on, am I the only one who thought Annie was played by Idina Menzel of “Let it Go, Let it Go” fame?

The whole summer I’ve been seeing previews for this film and I’ve been like, “Huh.  Elsa’s flexing her acting chops.  Good for her.”

And throughout the whole movie, I was like, “Wow.  That ‘Let it Go’ chick is really letting an ass whooping go on these bad guys.”

But it wasn’t Idina Menzel.  It was Lake Bell.  But I swear they look alike, so much so that Idina Menzel will probably get an award for being in this movie that she wasn’t even in.

Plus, I have to be honest, I’ve never heard of Lake Bell before, so now I’m wondering how many times I’ve seen her in other stuff and assumed it was Idina Menzel.

Mind=blown.

Anyway, the Dwyers aren’t settled into their new digs for more than a few hours when rebels storm the city, overrun the police and military, and start rounding up and shooting Americans/Brits/Aussies, various others they’ve identified as foreign devils.

It’s up to Jack to save his family as the Dwyers manage to stay just a few steps away from being slaughtered throughout the entire film.

People who are used to Owen Wilson being that happy go lucky, laid back mellow dude will be surprised to see him in this role. He still is that “dude” but this movie asks us to consider all the terrible things we might do to save our families, from taking a drastic chance that they’ll survive being thrown across a large gap between rooftops  (note in real life they won’t) to beating a man to death who refuses to keep quiet.

It’s like Dupree but with killing.

You, Me and Dupree.  God that movie sucked.  Don’t even get me started on Drillbit Taylor.  All is forgiven though, Owen, you’ve really redeemed yourself with this one.

Pierce Brosnan rounds out the cast as Hammond, a British badass adventurer type who comes to the Dwyer’s aid.  He’s a bit mysterious but we’re alerted to his badassery early on when he informs Jack’s kids that he extracted the tiger tooth he’s wearing on a necklace from an actual tiger.

Reviewers have referred to this movie as “stressful” and it is.  The stakes are high.  We’ve seen a lot of super hero movies this summer with cartoonish violence.  I’m not knocking them.  I love them.  But when a movie focuses around whether a family with two little kids is going to make it or not, it becomes a lot more real than, say, whether or not Iron Man’s suit gets a dent in it.

Love the comic book movies, but it’s good to see that Hollywood hasn’t completely forgotten that action can happen to the non-caped as well.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.

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Movie Review – Entourage (2015)

T.  A.  Ari yells at everyone to get his way.

Bookshelf Q. Battler here with a review of Entourage, the movie continuation of HBO’s comedy series that lampoons the Hollywood lifestyle and our obsession with it.

Movie Trailer – Entourage – Warner Brothers – 2015

I have to admit I never really watched the series during its 2004-2011 run.  A toned down version was syndicated for awhile and I’d often leave it running in the background while I did other things, thus giving me a little exposure to the world of this group who left Brooklyn for California in search of fame and fortune.  In general, I knew that Vinny (Adrian Grenier) was the movie star and he never went anywhere without his brother, Johnny/Drama (Kevin Dillion) and buddy/manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) and his other friend/driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara).

The driving force behind the series was Vince’s agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) who comically threatened/swore/shouted at everyone to get his way, often stressing out to the point where it affected his marriage with his wife, who we’re only introduced to as Mrs. Ari (Perry Reeves).  Meanwhile, Ari heaps untold amounts of abuse on his assistant, “Gaysian” (gay asian) Lloyd, so much so that one wonders how any of it got on the air as the early 2000’s, though not as politically correct as today, was still a fairly PC time.  Of course, the whole point of the Ari/Lloyd interactions is to display Ari as a jerk, so maybe that’s why it flies.

As I took in the flick, I quickly realized that casually watching the syndicated version of Entourage did not give me the real experience of the show.  After all, editing out Ari’s swears, not to mention the other characters’ depravity, clearly made the show pointless in retrospect.  I enjoyed the movie to the point where I’ll have to check out the unedited series now.

Even so, people who know nothing about the show will ease into the film just fine.  There’s a brief explanation of who all the characters are.  At the start of the film, Vinny’s at the height of his career and wants to direct his next picture.  Ari has moved from agent to head of a major studio.  Kevin remains as Vinny’s trusted manager and the short jokes continue to come at him.  Drama is the running joke of Hollywood, that loser who has a bit part in every movie but can’t catch a break that will bring him to the big time.  Turtle has made a fortune in a tequila company but still drives Vinny anyway.

And Ari?  He’s still yelling, swearing and driving Mrs. Ari up the wall.

The film is basically one extended series episode.  Ari agrees to allow Vinny to direct the futuristic sci-fi flick, Hyde, a movie version of the classic Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde tale.  To everyone’s surprise, Vinny actually does a great job, though he does need an extra $5 million as he’s gone over budget.  Alas, the hijinx ensue when the Texas tycoon financing the film (Billy Bob Thornton) sends his dimwitted son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) to check out the film and see if it’s worth dumping more cash into.

Ari and the gang steadfastly defend the movie but Travis, who knows nothing of filmmaking, has tons of ridiculous changes he wants to make, thus giving the audience an insider’s view into some of the behind the scenes nonsense that goes on behind the production of their favorite films.

A party on a yacht with scantily clad models.  Another party at a mansion with scantily clad models.  Fast cars.  Beautiful scenery.  Obscenely good looking people.  Half the film makes you wonder what you did wrong to not find your way into this lifestyle yet the over half, with all the petty squabbling that goes on, leaves you thinking you might not be missing out on all that much.

Hollywood is a place where dreams come true and magic comes alive, but it’s also a place where good looking crybabies are spoiled rotten and insulated from the daily grind that normal people experience.  The series and the movie poke fun at both sides well.

Cameos are abundant with a number of actors, musicians, and sports legends performing walk-ons.  UFC fighter turned action star Ronda Rousey plays Turtle’s love interest, kicking his ass in the octagon in one of the funnier parts of the movie. (Admittedly, as Bookshelf Q. Battler, I’ve always been interested in finding a woman who is hot yet also large and strong enough to defend me from the Yeti and so Ms. Rousey has left me intrigued.)

Is it cinema gold?  No.  But that’s the point as the film makes fun of itself as well as the industry that pumps out the schlock that we’re glued to 24/7.

Will this film appeal to everyone?  Well, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.  If you have an idolized view of Hollywood or have a tendency to put your favorite actors/actresses on a pedestal, you might want to skip it.  After all, who wants to see how the sausages are made as long as they’re delicious at the end of the day?

STATUS:  Shelf worthy.

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Movie Review – Aloha (2015)

Recently, one of my noble 3.5 readers accused this blogger of mincing words.  I described San Andreas as “not the best film I’ve ever seen but not the best either.”

The aforementioned reader had a point.  As a reviewer, I need to take a side.

Luckily, Cameron Crowe’s romcom Aloha makes it easy for me to be clear:

Bookshelf Q. Battler here with a review of one of the worst damn movies he’s ever seen in his entire life.

Aloha – Sony Pictures 

Some movies are entrees – served up with expert precision, arranged on your plate in such a beautiful manner that you almost don’t want to eat them out of fear that once you do, the experience will be over.

Then, some movies are like a five dollar all you can eat buffet.  You shove a little bit of everything in your cake hole and the only result is that you leave feeling bloated and gassy.

With several storylines that meander all over and never quite hit their mark, Aloha, I’m sad to say, is one of those buffet movies.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING

I’m sad to say it because it’s not the star studded cast’s fault.  Bradley Cooper (Gilcrest) is charming, Emma Stone (Captain Ng) is adorable, and Bill Murray (Welch) is his usual zany self, though he’s more reserved these days as an elder statesman of comedy.  Rachel McAdams (Tracy) aptly plays Gilcrest’s long lost love while John Krasinski provides one of the funnier (dare I say redeeming) scenes of the film as Woodside, Tracy’s husband who, despite his strong silent type demeanor is able to communicate all he needs to say to Gilcrest with a few looks and a shoulder grab.

Plot lines are tossed at the audience like they’re tennis balls stuffed into a serve-o-matic machine stuck on the automatic setting.

Gilcrest and Tracy have to deal with their baggage.  Woodside has to learn how to communicate with his wife with actual words.  Ng is all business and is a zealous defender of native Hawaiian culture, Gilcrest has to choose between his job or his new love interest.  Welch is trying to launch his own space weapon in the guise of a communications satellite and those are just the highlights.

Character development isn’t the film’s strong suit.  We’re shown a brief Afghanistan flashback scene where Gilcrest is so distraught over his life that he doesn’t care when he’s shot by (I guess they were terrorists?  It wasn’t really explained).  Welch lobs an accusation that Gilcrest took a hundred thousand dollar bribe during his time in Afghanistan and that enormous plot line is never fully resolved, thus putting me in the awkward position of being expected by Hollywood to hope that an alleged traitor to his country will overcome the obstacles standing between him and his new lady love in true sappily sweet romantic comedy fashion.

No thanks.

Sadly, the film has two important messages that get lost amidst all the tomfoolery:

1)  All those vacation brochures you drool over that make you wish you could be in Hawaii right now are all well and good, but America isn’t in it for the macademia nuts and pretty scenery.  Hawaii serves as the lynchpin of America’s sphere of influence in the Pacific.  Seeing as how the islands play a vital role when it comes to U.S. global interests, we could probably do more to help the native people who call it home, many of whom aren’t exactly thrilled that we’re there.

2)  Over the past several years, space exploration has moved from government to private business control, with the claim fed to the populace that this is somehow a great move, that the uber rich will be able to dump more money into space technology than governments can.  That may be true, but as this film warns, people like Welch might use that power for unsavory purposes, though a billionaire trying to launch his own weaponized satellite seems like it’s more fitting in a James Bond film than a romcom.

Overall, the movie isn’t so much a cooked to perfection filet mignon so much as it is a bubbling over gumbo where Crowe, as chef, just tossed everything in his kitchen into the pot.  Is this a story about one man’s attempt to find hope again after the world has put him through the ringer?  Is it about love?  Is it about the military industrial complex?

The best description I can give is that Crowe took his signature work, Jerry Maguire, mixed it up with one of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, then went heavy on the romantic comedy angle, shortchanged the seedy, dirty military contractor angle and left the audience thinking that sadly, the no plot action film starring the ex-wrestler in the theater next door might have been the better choice this weekend…

which isn’t saying a lot.

STATUS:  Not shelf worthy.

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Movie Review – San Andreas (2015)

Holy Crap it must suck to live in Los Angeles.

At any given moment you could be burnt up in a wildfire, carjacked by hoodlums, or hell, you could be practicing your putt on the back nine when friggin’ Harrison Ford lands a damn antique World War II plane directly on your face.

On top of all that, earthquakes are always a constant danger for the west coast due to the San Andreas fault and thanks to big blockbuster special effects, audiences are given a front row seat to experience just how horrifying it would be to trapped in the middle of one.

“Shut your mouth and know your rule, you 9.0 on the Richter scale, jabroni!  Can you smell what the Rock is cookin’?”

Because…you know…the Rock used to be a wrestler and he’d call his opponents jabronis and ask them if they can smell what he’s cooking?

Never mind, 3.5 readers.  Bookshelf Q. Battler here with a review of this summer’s wide scale disaster film, San Andreas.

(I know.  I’m disappointed that it wasn’t about the video game that took away a large chunk of my early  to mid 2000’s.)

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING

Trailer – San Andreas – Warner Brothers Pictures

I’m sorry.  I forgot we have to refer to the lead actor as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  He’ll always be the Rock to me, but I don’t want to quibble with a guy who could rip my arm off and beat me with it.  I don’t think he would, he seems like too nice of a guy, but the point is he totally could so why chance it?

Johnson stars as Ray, an LA Fire Department rescue chopper pilot.  He’s in the process of a divorce with his wife Emma (Carla Gugino).  Together, they scour the California coast in search of their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), braving a non-stop onslaught of falling buildings, debris, explosions, floods looters along the way.

Blake teams up with two British blokes, her love interest Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ben’s little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as they face all sorts of mayhem on their own.

Paul Giamatti lends his fine tuned character acting skills to bring us Lawrence, the Cal Tech professor who was able to predict the earthquake was coming but no one listened.  Once the carnage ensues, people are all ears it’s it up to Lawrence to save as many lives as possible by getting across the message that more large scale seismic activity is on the way.

Overall, the film is more of a thrill ride on screen than a vehicle to deliver any sort of a plot, though it does have its dramatic flair moments.  Ioan Gruffodd of the original Fantastic Four films plays the cowardly Daniel, the man Emma’s left Ray for only to instantly regret it once his true colors are shown.

(Between you and me, 3.5 readers, in a film about a man flying around in the middle of a major earthquake, the most far fetched concept is the idea that a woman would dump the Rock in the first place.  I mean, I don’t know, I’m not a woman but I’d venture that few are able to resist the smell of what the Rock is cooking.)

If the movie serves any social purpose, it would be that once all of the CGI eye candy is digested, the very real danger of earthquakes and other devastating natural catastrophes are something that we should be preparing more for.

I’ll have to consult with Dr. Hugo because I honestly have no idea what kind of warning systems are in place and what evacuation procedures are available for Californians other than to run around with their arms flailing as the chunks of cement come flying overhead as illustrated in this film every two seconds.

As disaster flicks go, it wasn’t half-bad.  Not the worst film I’ve ever seen but not the best either.  It’s definitely something you’ll enjoy more on the big screen so it’s worth a trip to your local theater.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy

PS – Am I the only one who didn’t know that guy’s name is Ioan Gruffudd?  I feel like I’ve seen him in a zillion movies/TV shows over the years but never did I once suspect he was packing a moniker like “Ioan Gruffudd.”

Kind of sounds like he could be the villain in the next Star Wars movie.  “Quick!  Use the force or Ioan Gruffudd will conquer the galaxy!”

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Movie Review – Foxcatcher (2014)

Steve Carrell.  Channing Tatum.  Mark Ruffalo.

And so many scantily clad dudes rolling around on the floor that I swear I caught Aunt Gertie staring at the screen just a little too longingly.

Bookshelf Q. Battler here after FINALLY having had the chance to catch last year’s Foxcatcher.

I’m loathe to use the word “SPOILERS” for a film about a horrific crime that’s nearly 20 years old but honestly, while I’d generally heard about the case, I didn’t know the specifics until I began reading about the film.  If you’d like to find out on your own as you watch, you might want to rent it first and then read this review later.

Movieclips Trailers – Foxcatcher – Sony Pictures

Wealth.  For some it’s a blessing.  For others it’s a curse.

Throughout history, there have been people who have been born into great circumstances, their lives preordained before they even opened their eyes and took a look at the world for the first time.

Some individuals take the vast resources at their disposal and do their families proud, achieving new levels of greatness.

Others party hearty and are destined to become paparazzi fodder.

In the middle, there are folks who enjoy their riches, coast along and somehow manage to make jackasses of themselves.

Then there’s John du Pont.  Heir to a massive chemical company fortune, he’s an odd duck to say the least.  He’s socially awkward, almost painfully so.  It’s like he knows what he wants to say but has a hard time expressing himself, assumably because he’s lived such a sheltered life.

The majority of the film takes place in the late 1980’s, when du Pont is in his late fifties.  He lives on a sprawling estate which he dubs Foxcatcher Farm, fox hunting having been a popular activity for well-to-do visitors to the grounds.

The movie makes it clear – du Pont believes himself to be a great man and he wants the rest of the world to agree.  He doesn’t really want to do anything to achieve that goal.  He just wants to spend large sums of money and purchase the acclaim he believes he deserves.

At the heart of his need for glory?  A rivalry with his mother Jean (played by one of the few remaining Old Hollywood stars Vanessa Redgrave) leaves him with a burning desire to prove his worth to her.

One gets the impression that the rivalry is one sided.  Jean trains show horses on the estate and proudly displays her trophies in the family mansion.  du Pont envies the horses and wants his mother’s attention.  Despite being almost 60 years old, he’s like a little kid yearning for Mommy’s approval.

Meanwhile, brothers David (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum) Schultz have each won an Olympic gold medal for wrestling.  Keep in mind we’re talking about real wrestling, the kind that involves knowledge of various moves and techniques, and not the scripted garbage on Monday night.

From the film, it’s clear the brothers have a deep love and admiration of one another, but while David has found happiness with a loving wife and family, Mark is alone, living on ramen noodles in a tiny house and at the start of the film, earning a twenty dollar gratuity for speaking at an elementary school (it’s made obvious that Mark needs that twenty bucks).

Mark feels that even though he’s earned his notoriety, anything he does is overshadowed by his brother.  If he has success, the public attributes it to David’s mentorship of Mark and not Mark himself.  Mark wants to accomplish something on his own, and to make matters worse, he needs money.

Enter du Pont with a miraculous offer for the Schultz brothers.  du Pont wants them to come to his estate, select a wrestling team, train themselves to compete in the upcoming 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and train their team mates while they’re at it. He’ll pay them and give them houses on his property to live in for free.

David, not wanting to uproot his family, isn’t interested.  Mark, seeing a chance to break out of his brother’s shadow, takes the deal.

And for awhile he excels at Foxcatcher.

But alas, it is an understatement to say that du Pont is weird.

He insists that people refer to him as “America’s Golden Eagle.”  He orchestrates a large awards ceremony for himself, and in a sad commentary about society, it’s well-attended by the rich and the powerful.  He wants to be a wrestler too and organizes a senior citizen wrestling competition, only to pay off his geriatric competitor to take a dive.

That’s not all.  du Pont purchases a tank with the ease that one might order a book from Amazon.  When it arrives, he throws a fit that it doesn’t include a 50-caliber machine gun as promised and refuses to sign for the shipment.

He snorts cocaine with reckless abandon, takes his helicopter everywhere, and its not-so-subtly implied that his generosity towards the sport of wrestling might have been a front to allow him to roll around with young sweaty men.

Throughout his Pennsylvania community, du Pont is known as a gracious benefactor, a man who doles out the cash just so he can be a part of everything.  The local police department practice on his shooting range and he shoots guns alongside them.

Poor and crazy?  You’re crazy.  Rich and crazy?  You’re eccentric.  Not to fault the movie, but if you perform a web search on du Pont, you’ll come up with an endless supply of allegations, many of which weren’t portrayed in the film.  That’s not a knock on the film at all.  It’s just that the man was so nuts that there just wasn’t enough time to capture it all on screen:

Some of the allegations I was able to find on the web that weren’t featured in the film:

  • That du Pont put razor wire in the walls of his house because he thought it was haunted by ghosts
  • He crashed multiple cars into a pond on his property
  • He bought a look-alike police car and pulled over people who drove near his property.
  • Believed that Nazis and Russian spies were frequenting the property, often demanding that his employees search for them.
  • Kicked black wrestlers off the team claiming “the KKK runs this place”
  • That du Pont, after his mother’s death, sets her horse barn on fire with the horses inside.  The film only shows Carrell let the horses go.  Perhaps horses being burnt up is too graphic for the screen.

Again, there wasn’t just enough time in the movie, but the film more than manages to portray the fact that the man just was not right in the head.

Steve Carrell is no stranger to playing characters who aren’t exactly grounded in reality.  After all, he played the dimwitted bumbling boss Michael Scott on The Office for years.  But while Scott’s antics were relatively harmless, du Pont’s instability is (and as we see later) a disaster waiting to happen.

Barely recognizable under gray hair and a large prosthetic nose, Carrell earns his Oscar nomination as he plays du Pont, capturing his overall style of a hopelessly depressed ego-maniac slash elderly man child.

If I keep going, I’ll give too much of the film away.  It climaxes when du Pont, spurred on by his ongoing desire to achieve greatness (by letting others earn it for him) makes David an offer he can’t refuse to come be part of the Foxcatcher wrestling program.  Mark, who’s been sucked into du Pont’s unhealthy drugging lifestyle, feels betrayed by du Pont (at one point du Pont tells Mark he understands and supports his desire to win on his own), that he’s lost his chance to win without his brother’s help, not to mention he’s under intense pressure from du Pont to succeed.

Later, Ruffalo as David makes a face as if he’s losing his soul when a documentary film maker du Pont has hired to produce a glowing film about himself asks David to say du Pont is his mentor.  David is perhaps the most genuinely lovable character of the whole film, caring for his family, concerned for his brother’s well-being and at a crucial moment in the film, stands up to du Pont on Mark’s behalf.

SPOILER ALERT (Again, I hate using that term here but I have no idea what else to say.)

After losing in the 1988 Olympic games, Mark leaves the Foxcatcher program and the film ends with du Pont driving his car to David’s house.

Here’s the scary part.  I’ve known for years that du Pont shot David Schultz just because it was a well-known, highly reported on crime.  And I’ve been reading more about it since the movie came out.

Yet, even though I knew it was coming, I just wasn’t prepared for it and was startled anyway.  While David is standing in his driveway, du Pont pulls up, asks, “Do you have a problem with me?” then shoots David.

An employee riding with du Pont who had no idea what his boss was up to tries to stop him.  David’s wife comes out of the house and du Pont points his gun at her, sending her back in the house.

David struggles to crawl to safety but du Pont shoots him twice more in the back then drives back to his house to hole up.

The expressionless face, the clear lack of interest in the gravity of what he’s done…Carrell as du Pont arguably portrays a villain in that short moment that rivals Hannibal Lecter.

But while Lecter made it clear he wants to eat you, du Pont is one of those people who seems off, but no one realized just how off he was or what he was capable of until it was too late.

Accounts I’ve read online typically describe the situation in that du Pont was known throughout his community as being an oddball but his antics seemed harmless and people were happy to take advantage of the generous donations he offered, thus placating his bad behavior while failing to realize he was a ticking time bomb all along.

One can’t help but feel sorry for the Schultz brothers throughout the film.  Olympic wrestlers are in a tough position.  They’re paid no money to train and yet have to a) train all day in order to compete and b) still somehow find a source of income to pay their bills.

A benefactor swoops in and offers to pay them a salary and gives them houses on his estate to live in while they practice the sport they love?

Hell, be honest.  You’d ignore the tank too.

If you’re interested in reading more about the case, here are two articles I found helpful:

CNN – “Foxcatcher – The Crazy du Pont Next Door” – Reporter Ann O’Neil discusses what her childhood was like living near the Foxcatcher Estate

A Millionaire Madman Murdered My Olympic Champion Brother – Jane Ridley, New York Post.  Mark Schultz provides his account of the tragic loss of his brother.

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Movie Review – Hot Pursuit (2015)

Reese Witherspoon is short!  Sofia Vergara’s accent is hilarious!

This movie is dumb!

Bookshelf Q. Battler here with a review of a movie so goofy that even the pimply faced teenaged usher asked “Really?” when he ripped the ticket I bought for it.

SPOILERS (if such a concept is possible for a movie like this) AHEAD.

“This is the performance of a lifetime!”

And thus, with a quip said without a straight face during the ending credits blooper reel, Witherspoon totally negates any ability for this reviewer to bust on the film.

This is a throwaway movie, one designed to make you chuckle, something you can check out when you’re bored but not feeling up to the emotional rigamarole of a heavy drama.  I know it, you know it and even the lead actress knows it: don’t take this flick too seriously.

It’s a mild comedy – not so lame that you won’t laugh yet not so raunchy that Grandma can’t enjoy it.  In fact, Aunt Gertie opined that it was a hoot and a half.

(I only brought her because she paid for the popcorn.  My blog stats took a major hit while she was watching this damn thing.)

The setup?  Vergara is the wife of a drug cartel informant who’s agreed to testify against his boss. Witherspoon, a police officer who’s been riding the pine in the evidence lock-up ever since an unfortunate mistake on the job tarnished her reputation, is selected to accompany a U.S. Marshall in transporting the couple to Dallas.

Shots are fired, foul play ensues, and the film turns into a mad cap buddy comedy/road trip romp as it’s up to Witherspoon to get Vergara to safety.

It’s a downgrade for Witherspoon, who we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in acclaimed dramas like the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line or the more recent Cheryl Strayed inspired film Wild.

Arguably, it’s an upgrade for Vergara, as this marks her first top billing in a major feature film.  And while this is a movie I’m not going to rush to watch again anytime soon, there were a few moments where Vergara shines, thus making it known to Hollywood that she has more to offer the world than a pair of miraculous bosoms and a funny accent.

Speaking of Vergara’s signature accent, the film even busts on that in an ironic manner.  Witherspoon uses a heavy Southern accent and at times both characters claim to not be able to understand each other.

I saw this movie so you won’t have to, 3.5 readers.  No thanks necessary.

STATUS:  Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to rush out to the theater to take it in either.  Might be worth a rental.  Might even be the movie that allows Vergara to branch out and take on heavier roles.  Alas, doesn’t earn a coveted spot on the magic shelf.

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Movie Review – The Age of Adaline (2015)

It’s an eternal romance that makes you think about the fragility of life and love.

Bookshelf Q. Battler here to review the crap out of The Age of Adaline.

Warning:  spoilers to come.

The incomparable Blake Lively, star of stage, screen and many of Bookshelf Q. Battler’s fantasies stars as Adaline Bowman.  Born at the turn of the Twentieth Century, she experiences a freak accident that leaves her ageless.  No matter how many years pass, she continues to remain young and beautiful.

TRAILER – Age of Adaline – Lionsgate

When Adaline hits her forties, people begin asking questions about how she’s managed to remain so youthful and so her life of solitude begins.  Afraid to reveal her secret, she packs up and moves to a new place every ten years, taking on a new identity every time she does so.

Tragically, she refuses to look for love as she figures it will be too heartbreaking when she grows old while a significant other remains young.

Continue reading

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