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Far From the Madding Crowd ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

This is the second film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel. The first was in 1967 and starred that mod girl Julie Christie. This one is better, though. It has Carey Mulligan (who played Michael Fassbender’s disturbed sister in Shame and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby) as Bathsheba Everdene. The story is set in rural England in 1870. Bathsheba is that rare animal in Victorian England, a free-thinking woman who doesn’t believe that a woman has to be dependent on a man to get along in the world. She has, as she says, an education and nothing else. When handsome sheep farmer Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts) proposes marriage to her on very short acquaintance, she tells him she doesn’t want a husband. That isn’t the end of him, though. Just about the time he loses his own small farm through a cruel twist of fate, she inherits a farm of her own from an uncle. Since she knows nothing about running a farm, she employs Gabriel Oaks to help her.

Meanwhile, Bathsheba has caught the eye of wealthy landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). He has a large, impressive house and anything a girl could want in the way of earthly possessions, but he’s dour, middle-aged and unexciting. When he proposes marriage to Bathsheba (as, with Farmer Oaks, on very short acquaintance), she turns him down, explaining that she doesn’t want to be any man’s property. Farmer Boldwood doesn’t give up easily, though; he believes he might be able to get her to change her mind.

A third man comes onto the scene and almost literally sweeps Bathsheba off her feet. He is handsome Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy. With his red uniform, pale skin, perfect physique and black mustache, he is too much for Bathsheba to resist. She enters into a hasty, ill-informed union with him, only to regret it almost the same day as the marriage. It turns out that he was supposed to marry another girl named Fanny Robbin (played by Juno Temple, who plays Texas-accented Dottie in Killer Joe), but when Fanny goes to the wrong church on the day of the wedding, she literally leaves him standing at the altar. When Frank meets Fanny again after he is married to Bathsheba, she is destitute and carrying his child. She and the child both die and Frank is grief-stricken. He tells Bathsheba that Fanny meant more to him that she (Bathsheba) ever could. He commits suicide (or seems to) by removing his uniform and swimming far out into the ocean. There’s a heavy dose of irony in how the story is resolved.

With this cast of characters and the setting, how could you go wrong? If you are of a literary bent and especially if you have read the books of Thomas Hardy, you will love this satisfying, beautifully photographed, perfectly cast version of Far From the Madding Crowd. Unless, of course, you prefer Fast and Furious 7, which is, I imagine, a lot like Fast and Furious 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Where will it all end?

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Mad Mad: Fury Road ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a post-apocalyptic world (yes, another one), in an arid desert wasteland, where warring factions made up of grotesques battle each other in enormous vehicles (1000 horsepower) called “war rigs” that seem to be made up of parts of old cars and trucks. These people have reverted to a kind of primitive state in which one person, named Immortan Joe (the most grotesque of them all), “owns” all the people because he “owns” all the water. A woman named Furiosa has “stolen” some of Immortan Joe’s “breed stock” (five scantily clad girls, one of whom is carrying his child) to free them and also to take them with her to the “green place” of her birth. We can see that Furiosa has not had an easy time of it; her left arm is missing below the elbow. She keeps the girls hidden in her war rig as she tries to flee with them.

Enter Max Rockatansky, or Mad Max (Tom Hardy). Max tells us right at the beginning that he is driven by his instinct for survival in this hellish world and is haunted by the people he wasn’t able to save, including, apparently, his own small daughter who appears in his vision at odd times. This is about all we ever learn of Max. He is taciturn in the way of movie heroes, not nearly as menacing as the other men in the movie, and is more than capable of taking care of himself and anybody else he wants to take care of. He joins forces with Furiosa and the breed stock girls, helping them to get to where they think they want to go and flee from their menacing pursuers. We see that Furiosa likes Max but there’s no room here for romance—everybody is in too much danger and too hot and sweaty.

Mad Max: Fury Road has everything you would expect from an action-adventure movie: loudness, fiery explosions, a pulsating music score, unintelligible dialogue, lots of frenetic action, death-defying stunts, and good against not-so-good. This one also has character names such as Slit, Nux, Rictus Erectus, and Toast the Knowing. I see on IMDb that it’s not a remake of the 1979 Australian movie with Mel Gibson but a different story using the concept and setting of the earlier movie. Everything that was at one time a movie hit (that is, made money) will eventually find its way into the forefront again if you give it enough time.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) is about a group of British retirees (or, let us say, “older people”), including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, etc., who go to live in a broken-down hotel in Jaipur, India, for different reasons. (Maggie needs a hip replacement, Judi is an impoverished widow looking for a way to live more economically, Tom wants to reconnect with a lost love.) It’s based on a novel called These Foolish Things and was successful enough that it has spawned a sequel named, appropriately, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

All the same characters are back (except, of course, Tom Wilkinson, who died in the first movie). The Evelyn Greenslade character (Judi Dench) is still the love interest of Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy), even though she is seventy-nine and he looks about fourteen years younger. Douglas’ wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton), witnessing the burgeoning dalliance between Evelyn and her husband, departed in a huff (or maybe it was a minute and a huff) in the first movie. She returns in the sequel, briefly, to ask Douglas for a divorce because, she says, men won’t want to date her if she’s a married woman. (This is a bit of self-delusion—men wouldn’t want to date her anyway.) Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) had just about given up on life, feeling cast out after her employer no longer needed her. She finds a new life, however, helping feckless Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) manage the hotel. She has the business sense (that he is lacking) that makes the hotel a going concern.

And then there’s the hotel itself. They (the British retirees) wouldn’t have gone there in the first place if they hadn’t been made to believe it was something it wasn’t. Hotel owner Sonny Kapoor makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in competence. After he (with a strong assist from Muriel Donnelly) makes the hotel a success, he wants to expand the operation to a second hotel. He is undercut by a rival, though, who buys the building out from under him and also tries to steal his fiancée. (Once again, Muriel Donnelly steps in with her working-class, no-nonsense approach.) To compound Sonny’s problems, there’s an American guest at the hotel (Richard Gere), who might or might not be a hotel inspector who could cause a lot of trouble if he wanted to. But—wait a minute!—there’s romance in the air for the would-be inspector, so maybe he won’t be so terrible after all!

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t quite up to the original, as far as story goes. That’s because the original was based on a novel and the sequel is based on the original. It is, however, a pleasant couple of hours, pretty to look at with a beautiful music score by Thomas Newman. The best thing about this movie, though, is that Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, or Will Ferrell are nowhere to be found.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Chappie ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Chappie

Chappie ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

If Chappie has the same look and feel as District 9, it’s because both movies have the same director (Neill Blomkamp) and same creative team. Both are science fiction stories set in and around Johannesburg, South Africa. Both have a gritty, grungy look to them (unlike similar American movies that have a slick, over-produced look). Some of the same actors (with difficult-to-understand accents) appear in both movies. The non-American actor Sharlto Copley, who played the lead in District 9, also plays the lead in Chappie, but he’s unidentifiable because he’s a robot.

In Chappie, the robot officers used by the Johannesburg police force are highly effective in fighting crime. The whiz who developed the robots, Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel), believes he can take the robots another step—he can make them think and feel, just like humans, but without human failings. It’s a no-go, though. His employers won’t let him do it.

When a group of thugs (led by the ultra-strange Ninja and Yolandi, with the most exotic hairdos you’ve ever seen) hear about the robot technology, they hatch a plot to use it to their own evil ends. When Deon Wilson is on his way home with one of the robots in his van that’s damaged beyond repair, the thugs intercept him, take him to their lair, beat him up, and force him to work on the damaged robot so they can use it to commit crimes. The result is Chappie, a shy (at first) machine with human thoughts, feelings and emotions. It seems that Yolandi isn’t quite as creepy as we first thought. She becomes a sort of mother figure to Chappie and helps him adapt to the world. Ninja, though, is all bad (not to mention gross and despicable). He mistreats Chappie and forces him to be a criminal like himself, much to the dismay of Chappie’s maker, Deon Wilson.

The emotional core of the movie is Chappie’s relationship with Deon Wilson and with Yolandi, whom he calls “mommy.” She is protective of him (he needs to be protected from the evils of the world) and decides at some point that he is more important as a being that she can love than as an instrument for perpetrating criminal acts. I suppose it could be said that Chappie brings out the mother instinct in her.

Of course, there always has to be villain (as if Ninja isn’t enough of one). The villain here is Hugh Jackman (speaking in his native Australian accent). He is bent on destroying Chappie and making sure the “thinking/feeling” technology of robots doesn’t go any farther. (I think I must have missed what is motivation is.) The Hugh Jackman character seems unnecessary and adds to the cluttered feel of the movie. But, then, if it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t have been the dramatic conclusion that opens the way for a possible sequel.   

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Kingsman: The Secret Service ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Kingsman, The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service ~ A Capsule Movie Review
by Allen Kopp 

Kingsman: The Secret Service is based on a comic book, so you know about what to expect. Wait a minute, though. It’s better than you probably think it is. It’s literate and well-made, full of action sequences (no matter how implausible they are) in the style of James Bond, without any of the tiresome romantic interludes with bosomy super models.

“Manners maketh the man,” agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, just before he single-handedly reduces a roomful of thugs to a pile of bleeding corpses. If manners maketh the man, so does his clothing. The well-tailored suit (not off the peg) is equivalent to the suit of armor worn by knights of old, says Harry Hart, and the secret service agent the equivalent of the knight.

Harry must find a suitable candidate to put forward to his bosses as a possible secret service agent to replace one who was killed. He recruits a young man from a squalid environment named Gary (known as “Eggsy”) Unwin (played by Taron Egerton). Eggsy’s father saved Harry’s life, so Harry has every reason to believe that Eggsy might have what it takes.

Each of the other agents puts forward their own candidate, so there are eight or so at the beginning. (The number dwindles as they are disqualified one by one.) The training they are subjected to is grueling, difficult and scary. For example, when they are sleeping, the room they are in is flooded with water. They must think fast, as an agent would have to do, or they die. In another scene, they all jump out of a plane at 35,000 feet. They are told after they jump (by radio communication) that one of them doesn’t have a parachute. It’s up to the others to save the life of the one who doesn’t have the chute, while hurtling through space. And if that isn’t difficult enough, they must land in a small circle on the ground. It makes Navy Seal training look like kindergarten.

Of course, there always has to be an arch-villain in a spy movie. The arch-villain here is named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). He is an eccentric and colorful tech billionaire with a lisp. He is also an environmental lunatic who believes the earth will survive only if the population is reduced. He devises a plan whereby he offers free Internet and cell phone service to anybody who wants it. (If you give something away, people have to bite. Thus is human nature.) All people have to do is pick up their SIM card that will allow them to get the free service. The thing about the SIM card that people don’t know is that it makes people ultra-violent and instills in them a desire to kill each other. One half the earth’s population kills the other half. In this way the population is reduced and the planet is saved. How are the Kingsmen going to foil this plot? They need lots of help.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is clever and derivative, but aren’t all spy movies derivative of other spy movies? The characters are interesting and engaging. (I could have done without the bitch with blades for legs, though…ho-hum.) If this movie does nothing else, it revives a stale genre and makes it fresh by giving it a different twist. I see there are going to be a whole spate of spy movies out this year. Don’t people who make movies have any originality? I guess the answer to that question is: Whatever makes money. As the saying goes, “Everything that’s old is new again.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Imitation Game ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In the early days of World War II (1939, before America entered the war), Germany, with its sophisticated encoding system called Enigma, was winning the war. All of Germany’s communications (battle plans, troop movements, U-boat positions, etc.) were encoded. Britain desperately needed to break Germany’s Enigma code to have a chance of gaining the upper hand and winning the war. Many people believed the code was unbreakable because it was changed every night at midnight. If the team of cryptographers and mathematicians working on the problem had made any progress on any given day, the code the next day would have been completely different and they would have had to start over from the beginning. No one was able to break the code until a brilliant mathematician named Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch who is unlike any other actor) decided that a different approach was needed.

He invented a digital machine that, in effect, became the world’s first computer. As improbable as it seemed to his government employers (who thwarted him at every turn and wanted to fire him), and to almost everybody else, his “machine” did exactly what he said it would do. After many failures, much effort and much heartbreak, he was finally able to break the German code by “programming” his machine with the expectation that certain words would appear in every message; such words, for example, as “Heil, Hitler!” Breaking the code was, of course, a triumph, but, as Alan Turing said, “Now the hard part begins.” Germany could never know the British had broken the code. The knowledge (used by the British) of what Germans were thinking and what they were going to do next had to be used sparingly and strategically.

Alan Turing was a tortured genius. He was a homosexual in a time when being a homosexual was recognized as a crime by his government. His sexual predilections made him isolated and this on top of being a mathematical genius, a kind of personality not particular known for its charm and tact. He had no social skills and seemed at times to not know how to interact with people. That he was a genuine (though unlikely) hero in the war effort cannot, however, be disputed. At the end of the movie, we are told that his breaking of the Enigma code shortened the war by two years and saved approximately fourteen million lives.

The Imitation Game is a movie that is actually about something, instead of a fictitious story with made-up characters. The breaking of the Enigma code and its effect on the war effort is one of the most compelling true stories of the twentieth century. About Alan Turing it can be said, “The people from whom nothing is expected are often the people who do the things that nobody ever expected.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Still Alice ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Still Alice

Still Alice ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Still Alice is a weepy woman’s movie about a vibrant fifty-year-old woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, who will probably pick up an Oscar later this month for this role) has a fantasy life. She is a linguistics professor, something of an expert in her field who values communication above everything else. She has a successful marriage to a doctor (Alec Baldwin) and three perfect, grown children (an actress, a doctor and, you guessed it, a lawyer) who are just as dazzling and successful in their own right as their parents. In the middle of all this perfection, Alice begins to realize she has something wrong with her. She begins to forget the names of objects. She says the same things over and over and doesn’t remember appointments. Her husband is put out with her that she “blew their dinner plans.” She wets her pants because she can’t remember where the bathroom is in her own house. When she seeks the help of a neurologist, he discovers that she has a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that is genetic (familial) and that strikes its victims at an early age. Perhaps the worst thing about Alice’s disease is that she will most certainly pass it on to her brilliant children.

Still Alice is stuff we’ve seen before. It’s like a TV movie, one of those disease-of-the-week things. What purpose does it serve? (I suppose the answer to that is that it makes money for its investors.) The victims are always brilliant: poets, doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists. (We are told that a person with a higher level of education loses “it” faster than a person who only went to high school.) Wouldn’t it be just as tragic if the victim was a factory worker or an elementary school teacher? A mail carrier or a clerk in a department store? Maybe we never see the victim as an “average” person because it just isn’t as tragic, or as much fun, to watch the unsophisticated and uneducated degenerate right before our eyes. They just don’t have as much to lose.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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