Amy

 Title: Amy
Genre: documentary, biography
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Asif Kapadia (Senna)
Brief Synopsis: The innocent beginnings of Amy Winehouse that lead to her sudden rise to fame, culminating in her untimely death.
My Word to the Wise: Powerful documentary. it portrays Amy as she was behind the scenes of her gifted yet troubled singing career. Through home movies and musical footage, the viewer can process the question of what went wrong and why. Some handheld camera songs are a bit sketchy and long. for that it lost one star with me.
4 Stars (4 / 5)

Better Call Saul

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Title: Better Call Saul
Network TV: AMC
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Year: 2015
Creators: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Top Billed Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn
Brief Synopsis: The criminal defense lawyer, Saul, from “Breaking Bad” is the focus of this spinoff. It is a prequel to “Breaking Bad.” Saul uses questionable tactics to defend his criminal clients. The first season explains why he is this way and what drove him to such desperate measures.
My Word to the Wise: This is binge-worthy TV. Saul is a likeable character who is put in trying situations that test his morality. The black humor mixed with well written drama is addicting. I’ve almost finished the first season in a few days (10 episodes).
5 Stars (5 / 5)

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

imageTitle: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Genre: Documentary, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2008
Director: Kurt Kuenne
Top Billed Cast: N/A
Brief Synopsis: The disappearance of a 28 year old man reveals dark truths. The documentary maker made this for his son and complications arose.
My Word to the Wise: Fans of Dateline and 48 Hours will likely enjoy this film. It’s a gripping true story told in news footage and interviews. It will likely infuriate as well as entertain. It is a masterful telling of a story with an ending you’d never expect. As a documentary it was too long for me. They do a lot of filler scenes that repeat content. For that it lost a couple stars.
3 Stars (3 / 5)

Still Alice

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  Title: Still Alice
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year: 2014
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Top Billed Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin
Brief Synopsis: A University professor discovers she has early onset Alzheimers as she and her husband learn to cope with along with their family.
My Word to the Wise: An excellently written story about the condition. It brings attention to the brain as a physical object and points out how important it is to take care of it. Though Alzheimers currently has no cure, we can understand what the patient is going through and be there for them. “Still Alice” helps us do that. This is a powerful and at times sad movie but an excellent one that I found educational and highly entertaining. The writer/director died a few months ago of a different brain ailment, ALS.
5 Stars (5 / 5)

Grandma

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Title: Grandma
Genre: Drama, Comedy
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Paul Weitz, known for “About a Boy.”
Top Billed Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden
Brief Synopsis: It’s great to have Grandma but it helps to have mom too. Nobody’s perfect.
My Word to the Wise: I’m a lifelong Lily Tomlin fan so this review may be biased. I think she deserves an academy award for best actress. Beyond that, the cast is all good. It is nice to see Sam Elliot again. While watching this movie I asked my wife, “When will we as a society stop judging each other.” To which she replied,

“We’ll never change, I think it’s in our DNA.” This movie makes me want to at least try harder. The themes are similar to those in “Juno” but with a much more real-life bent. Less comedy than drama, more human than appearances. We need more movies like this, they enlighten and advance the species.
5 Stars (5 / 5)

Legend

Title: Legend
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Brian Helgeland, known for “L.A. Confidential”
Top Billed Cast: Tom Hardy, known for “The Revenant,” Emily Browning, “A Series of Misfortunate Events”
Brief Synopsis: The rise and fall of two real life mobsters who happen to be identical twins.
My Word to the Wise: Has all the stuff that makes classic Gangster movies. The fact that it’s real makes it all that more captivating. Tom Hardy is again at an acting high. This excellent entertainment. Highly violent though, maybe needlessly so at times. For that reason, I have to say leave the kids out of this one. The twins played by the same person failed a few times technology wise, it looked fake. Overall though, the movie works on many levels. I think fans of the genre and/or Tom Hardy will really like this film.
4 Stars (4 / 5)

Tracks

Title: Tracks
Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year: 2015
Director: John Curran, known for “The Painted Veil.”
Top Billed Cast: Mia Wasikowska, known for “Alice in Wonderland,” Adam Driver, known for “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.”
Brief Synopsis:This is a true story of Robyn Davidson, a woman who went on a 1,700 mile walk with camels across the Australian desert. The movie is based on her book.
My Word to the Wise: This is an adventure but not in a Hollywood sense. Some time and patience is required to get the gold nuggets this film indeed has.

5 Stars (5 / 5)

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Robyn’s journey made very little sense to me at first. She goes through years of preparation just to show that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” There is no inner dialog, no traces of why she is doing this. I think that would hae made it a better film but it is flawless besides that.

Girl power! In the 1970’s, the women’s movement was trying to show that women can do everything men can. By the late 1990’s this waxed and waned. Women had already proven it and they had the equal heart attacks and psychiatrist bills to show for it. Many women have now opted to be “SAHM”‘s. It’s important to remember this was less a choice and more a life sentence in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Robyn’s journey is her own and her experiences are encouraging to anyone with a dream of doing the extraordinary. Oh yeah, and the guy from Star Wars, Han Solo’s son, is the Nat Geo photographer but he really adds nothing to this amazing film.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Title: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Guy Ritchie, “Snatch,” “Rock N Rolla”
Top Billed Cast: Henry Cavill, “Man of Steel,” Armie Hammer, “The Social Network,” Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina”
Brief Synopsis: A film adaptation of a late 1960’s television crime drama. Themes, soundtrack, and visuals are very similar to 007 and “Mission Impossible” films. The story that involves time/date appropriate and overused cold war tensions.
My Word to the Wise: Guy Ritchie does a good job with visuals. He must have some cool apps for editing. Much of the film is spliced up like my “PhotoGrid” app on my iPhone 6 plus. Story, not amazing. I do like Henry Cavill’s voice. When he speaks, you can’t help but wake up. There are some cool stunts as well.
2 Stars (2 / 5)

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Guy Ricthie can boast of being married to and divorced from Madonna. He can’t say he went to film school. In fact, he’s known for saying film school graduates make boring films that are “unwatchable.” I think Guy Ritchie should have gone to film school. He has a big mouth that his movies so far, for me, can’t back up. This film is shallow and not much more than an undergraduate’s best effort, given access to all the big boy director toys. Somehow this guy knows how to get in with the big dogs, unfortunately he can’t run with them. I’ll send him an application to Cal Arts. God knows he can afford the tuition. Having said that, it’s a nice presentation visually. It would be a good one to put on the HiFi surround sound on low at a cocktail party. Not much stayed with me.

Inherent Vice


Title: Inherent Vice
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2014
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, “Boogie Nights,” “The Master” …
Top Billed Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro …
Brief Synopsis: Los Angeles in the 1970’s was a place where many lived double lives. This film follows a hippie PI through some of that as he uncovers more secrets than he bargained for.
My Word to the Wise: The cast and acting is amazing. I’m not too crazy about the story. To follow it you need x-ray focused attention and even then it’s hard to follow. I didn’t feel the payoff was worth the wait. That subtracted two stars for me.
3 Stars (3 / 5)

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Best scene by far is when Brolin is transporting Phoenix to the station while making oral love to a frozen banana. There are some great dramatic scenes by Brolin as well. Phoenix does a good job. I liked him better in this with disheveled hair and huge sideburns than his clean-shaving character in “The Master,” also directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. You might say he has a face for a beard. I have a feeling the story as laid out in the book is much better than the convoluted presentation in the movie.

Anomalisa

Title: Anomalisa
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Duke Johnson, not many credits to his name, Charlie Kaufman, known for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Top Billed Cast: David Thewlis, known as Remus lupin in the Harry Potter films, Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “The Hateful Eight,” Tom Noonan, “12 Monkeys”
Brief Synopsis: What kind of story about our humanity can better be told through animation?
My Word to the Wise: Some will quickly turn off to this quirky, sometimes slow animated film. Others who have the patience to see what’s in here will be delighted by the characters, the sets, and the messages that are open to interpretation. It is a life we are watching, maybe it’s a microcosm of our own?
4 Stars (4 / 5)

Source: Listen to Charlie Kaufman’s One-Hour, Career-Spanning Talk with Marc Maron

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Michael Stone is the main character here, voiced by David Thewlis of Harry Potter Fame, and he is working his way to a conference in Cincinnati where he is be the keynote speaker supporting his book. The book is on customer service. In a taxicab and soon after that in a hotel room, he begins having visions of his boring life. All the women he meets have a man’s voice as well, I should tell you that in case it becomes important. Through a sequence of events, Michael has a one night stand with Anomalisa.

He regards her for many reasons but mostly, probably, because she is the only woman in his world who has a woman’s voice. One more significant thing, at one point, Michael’s face falls off and he has robotic lights underneath. Such is the oddity of this film.

I liked it because of the beautiful sets and amazingly real looking stop action animation. If those two items don’t get you motivated to see it, you might save it for a rental. If you’re looking for something different, this dreamlike film definitely qualifies.

I found it oddly entertaining. Because it is too quirky at times and some of the messages, not all, are obvious and take a lot of screen time, it lost a point with me.