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The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An Indian family, the Kadams (father, three grown children and two smaller children), are displaced from their home and restaurant business in Mumbai, India, due to political unrest. Traveling in France, looking for a place to call home, they decide to stay in the little French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val after their van breaks down near there. After living in the village for a while, they open a restaurant and call it Maison Mumbai. One of the grown sons in the family, Hassan, will be the chef. Hassan learned everything about being a chef from his deceased mother and is really good at which he does, but how will an ethnic restaurant fare in such an obviously traditional place, especially since right across the road is an established restaurant run by one Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren)?

Right away Madame Mallory is not happy about having an Indian restaurant so near her own establishment. She doesn’t like the music, the bright lights, the gaudy embellishments and the disruption. A sort of war erupts between the two restaurants, with Madame Mallory playing little tricks on the Kadams such as buying up all the crayfish from the market, while the Kadams counter with trying to lure some of Madame Mallory’s customers away. When Maison Mumbai is firebombed and Hassan’s hands are injured in trying to put out the fire, Madame Mallory suspects that one of her employees is behind the incident. She fires him and decides it’s time for her and the Kadams to come to some kind of an arrangement whereby they might all peacefully co-exist.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is about the clash of two cultures and how those cultures might benefit each other by way of a little understanding. The romantic complications are predictable and resolve themselves predictably. Since Hassan is handsome and young, he just has to have a love affair with a pretty French girl, doesn’t he? (The girl is a rival chef, so that adds another dimension to the story.) Toward the end of the story when Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam seem to be drifting toward each other romantically, it’s a little bit cringe-inducing, especially since there seems to be so little chemistry between them.

The accents in The Hundred-Foot Journey are difficult to understand for people who speak American, but if you like European-based “art” films and are a fan of Helen Mirren, you’ll probably enjoy this movie enough to make it worth the time and effort. The food is exotic and pretty to look at, even if you don’t know what it is. What is that purple thing that looks like the bottom half of a bird? Do I eat it or display it on my mantel?

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Begin Again ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Begin Again

Begin Again ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Gretta (Keira Knightley) is an English girl, a singer/songwriter who is going along for the ride with her handsome, successful pop singer boyfriend named Dave Kohl (Adam Levine). Dave has girls crawling all over him and—guess what?—he’s unfaithful to Gretta with an Asian girl named Mim. Gretta slaps the you-know-what out of Dave (he deserves it) and leaves. She is staying with a platonic male friend when she is coerced into singing a composition of her own in a New York club. A frizzy-headed, unkempt, down-on-his-luck recording executive named Dan (Mark Ruffalo) just happens to be present in the club the night Gretta performs. He desperately needs a successful artist that he can promote to his boss and he sees in Gretta the raw talent that nobody else can see or appreciate. The best scene in the movie is when Gretta is singing her song (about being alone in the city) with just a guitar and Dan is visualizing an arrangement with other instruments. He “sees” the piano being played, although there is nobody playing it, along with double base, violin, cello and other instruments.

When Dan meets Gretta, he has just been fired from his job for a five-year run without discovering a successful recording artist. And his personal life is no better than his professional one. He lives in a dark, depressing apartment; he is estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener); his fourteen-year-old daughter goes to school dressed like a whore. He talks Gretta into recording an album of her songs and, since they don’t have the money for a recording studio and musicians, they will record at various locations around New York City with musicians who are willing to work for free.

You might expect a romance to develop between Dan and Gretta, even though he is a lot older than she is, but that isn’t where this story is going. He gives her confidence in her musical talents and she gives his professional career a much-needed boost, but we don’t have to see them smacking their lips together and rolling around together in bed. (Thank goodness!) You have to hand it to the creators of this film for eschewing the customary romantic sparks.

Begin Again is a pleasant, lightweight movie that won’t give you a headache unless you already have one. There’s lots of music in this movie, some of it good and some of it on the annoying side. I like Keira Knightley’s singing voice and screen persona. She has appeared in costume dramas (Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice) and more contemporary fare (Never Let Me Go and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). I hope she never gets her teeth fixed because it’s natural not to have perfect teeth. There are too many unnatural-looking, perfect teeth in the world.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Cold in July ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Cold in July

Cold in July ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Cold in July starts out as a story about revenge but turns into something else. The time is 1989 and the place East Texas. Michael C. Hall (who I remember so well as the uptight mortician in the great HBO series Six Feet Under) plays regular guy Richard Dane. There’s nothing heroic about Richard Dane. He owns a small business and has a wife and son. When an intruder breaks into the Dane home in the middle of the night, Richard goes to investigate with a loaded gun. He ends up shooting and killing the intruder on the spot. The police arrive and identify the intruder as one Freddie Russell, a known felon. As it is an open-and-shut case of self-defense, Richard isn’t charged with any crime. He believes the ugly incident is over until Freddie Russell’s father, Ben (Sam Shepard), recently released from prison himself, shows up and begins making subtle threats, threatening specifically Richard Dane’s young son, Jordan.

When Richard sees a wanted poster showing the real Freddie Russell, he knows that wasn’t the person he shot and killed. The police, for some reason, are covering up. They want the world to believe that Freddie Russell is dead when they know in fact he isn’t. Richard saves Ben’s life when the police try to kill him by drugging him and placing his body on railroad tracks. He wants to convince Ben that it wasn’t his son he killed, but Ben, of course, doesn’t believe him. When they go and exhume the body of the person believed to be Freddie, they find a mutilated corpse with its teeth ripped out and its fingertips cut off. Ben knows from the face, however, that the body is not that of his son.

Richard and Ben are joined by good-old-Texas-boy Jim Bob (Don Johnson), a private investigator who wears cowboy boots and drives a flashy red convertible. Jim Bob and Ben go way back, having served in Korea together. The three of them set out to find out what is really going on and why the police are obfuscating the mystery. What they uncover is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

Cold in July is based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. It’s well-made, with some interesting, likeable characters. The character Ben Russell is frightening at first but turns out to be a decent, if eccentric, fellow. It’s his decency that drives the story to its violent end. The one thing that bothers me is how two men are able to dig up a recently buried body in a cemetery and not be seen. Isn’t that a crime in itself? Also, why is the body only a couple of feet down instead of the customary six? I guess these are things that don’t matter because movies don’t always deal in reality.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

Neighbors ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Neighbors

Neighbors ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

A couple in their thirties, Mac and Kelly Radner (played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), spend all their money to buy a house in a comfortable neighborhood. Everything is fine with them until the house next door is turned into a fraternity house. (Apparently a college is nearby, although it’s never mentioned.) Mac and Kelly try to be “hip” and “with it,” but they realize right away that having a fraternity next door is not going to be in their best interests.

When they are being kept awake by the late-night, raucous partying, Mac and Kelly decide to confront the rowdies themselves, instead of calling the police, and ask the fraternity boys to “keep it down.” They meet party-boy Teddy (Zac Efron), the muscular “president” of the fraternity who charms them in a way to make them think he cares about them. They enter into an agreement with Teddy whereby they won’t call the police if they are again bothered by the noise; all they have to do is call him and ask him to “keep it down.” Thereafter they are known by the fraternity as “the old people.”

The partying continues unabated. Mac, Kelly and their baby are being kept awake far into the night. Mac tries to call Teddy to ask him to “keep it down,” but Teddy isn’t available after ten or so tries, so Mac calls the police, even though he promised he wouldn’t. Teddy, of course, knows it was Mac who called and not somebody else in the neighborhood. Thereafter a sort of “war” exists between the fraternity and Mac and Kelly, the “old people.” Mac takes an axe to a pipe on the fraternity house, causing the basement to flood; he hopes that will be enough to get the fraternity to move. When the fraternity boys use the flooded basement to their own advantage, Mac resorts to other measures. He and Kelly pay a thousand dollars to a mousey college boy to claim that he was “hazed” by the fraternity. This ploy also backfires.

You won’t need to use your brain at all when you see Neighbors, which has humor deriving from college kids who never attend class or study, sex, pot smoking, drug use, breast milk, dildos, condoms, etc. It’s a likeable, harmless movie if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s also a huge success with the public. It made back its production costs on the first day of its release and is the number one movie right now. Draw your own conclusions.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Railway Man ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Railway Man

The Railway Man ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In 1980 Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a pleasant-seeming, middle-aged man who meets a recently divorced woman named Patti (Nicole Kidman) while indulging in his passion for railways (“I’m a railway enthusiast,” he says.) After they are married, Patti discovers that Eric has deep psychological scars from his experiences in World War II. She wants to help him but doesn’t know how. She is afraid he will commit suicide, as did one of his friends who was with him during the war.

As a young British officer, Eric was held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He and other captured Allied soldiers were forced to work for the Japanese to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, a job that was deemed almost impossible—and very cruel—because of the mountain and jungle terrain. It was a hellish life from which most of the men were expected to die.

By stealing different radio parts, Eric secretly builds a small radio receiver so he and his fellow captives can hear something of the outside world. They hear news from home, particularly how the war is going. (“We’ve got Hitler on the run!”) When the Japanese guards find the radio, Eric admits that he built it and that it was his idea, to spare his fellow officers from punishment. The Japanese believe the radio is a transmitter to send information about them to their enemies. Eric is beaten savagely and tortured. His body eventually heals but his mind never does.

Eric discovers, all those years later, that his principal Japanese tormentor and torturer in the prison camp, one Takeshi Nagase, is still alive. He operates the World War II prison camp where Eric was held as a sort of tourist attraction. In other words, he is profiting from his war crimes. Eric travels from England to confront him and to somehow exact revenge. He wants, above all, to let Nagase to know he also is still alive and how his treatment at the hands of the Japanese affected his life after the war.

The Railway Man is a true story, based on a book by the real-life Eric Lomax, who died in 2012. Those seeking light-hearted, escapist entertainment will not find it here. The scenes of torture are grim and graphic. It’s a story about the brutality of war, but, more than that, it’s about the scars that are left behind long after the war has ended. 

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Godfather ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Godfather poster

The Godfather ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In any list of the best American movies of all time, The Godfather is always near the top, along with Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz. It was a huge critical and financial success at the time of its release and still resonates with audiences forty-two years later. It’s a multi-generational story about the American dream that touches on the themes of loyalty, honor and family; an epic gangster film on a lavish scale with a running time of almost three hours.

The Godfather covers the period from 1945 to about 1955. Marlon Brando plays Vito Corleone, the humble Italian immigrant who becomes one of the most feared and respected crime bosses in America—the Don, the Godfather. People kiss his hand as if he is a pope or a king. They come to him for “justice,” for favors that only he can grant. He doesn’t do their bidding, however, without expecting something in return—loyalty and friendship, if nothing more.

When we first meet Don Vito Corleone, he is old, nearing the end of his productive years. He has three sons: the hothead stud Sonny, the fool Fredo, and straight-arrow Michael, who has a Barbie doll-like girlfriend and an illustrious war record. One of the sons will one day take over the family business. He also has a daughter, Connie. When the story begins, the family is celebrating her marriage. Her choice of a husband, however, proves, in time, to not be a happy one.

When Don Corleone is shot five times by his rivals early in the movie while buying fruit, his son Michael (played by Al Pacino) steps in and takes charge of things, even though he seems constitutionally unfit to lead a criminal empire. He is sensitive and seems physically slight in comparison to his brother Sonny. He wants to marry his girlfriend and have a quiet, peaceful (crime-free) life, but he is being pulled in the opposite direction. When he shoots and kills two of his father’s rivals, he hides out in Sicily for an extended period, where he falls in love with, and marries, a young Italian girl. When she is murdered by a car bomb that is meant for him, he eventually returns to the United States, a hardened man, determined to take his place as head of the Corleone family. He becomes the new Don as his father (who recovered from his gunshot wounds but was never the same again) recedes into the background and eventually dies of a heart attack.

Of course, there’s much more to the story that we see in The Godfather. Two years later, in 1974, there was The Godfather Part II, which explores the early life of Vito Corleone, and The Godfather Part III in 1990. It’s a story that goes on and on.

The Godfather has been digitized and restored and looks flawless in its current iteration on the Cinemax network. If you haven’t seen it in a long time, as I hadn’t, it’s worth seeing again, if for no other reason that to see how much Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and others, have changed in forty-two years. Abe Vigoda, at the current age of 93, still looks about the same. Some people never change.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

Heaven is for Real ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Heaven is for Real is based on a book and is supposedly a true story. Greg Kinnear plays a down-to-earth, small-town Nebraska minister named Todd Burpo. (I know—that’s kind of an absurd name.) He has a wife and two children. His son, named Colton, becomes inexplicably sick with a high fever. When Todd and his wife take Colton to the hospital after four days (why didn’t they take him sooner?), doctors find he has a ruptured appendix. They rush him into surgery but he is seriously ill and might not live. He eventually recovers, though, and the life of the family resumes as it was before Colton’s illness.

Soon, however, Colton begins to speak in a matter-of-fact way about things he saw when he was sick. He says he left his body (how could a four-year-old understand an out-of-body experience?) and saw himself on the operating table from above. He knew where his parents were and what they were doing while he was unconscious. He saw winged angels flying down toward him and when he was in heaven, he sat on Jesus’ lap and the lap of his long-dead great-grandfather. He met a little girl in “heaven” who, we find out later, was his sister who died before she was born, an event that Colton never knew about.

Were these “visions” just a childish fantasy, or did Colton really experience them? How is this story going to affect the community and Todd’s family? Believers continue to believe, but there’s plenty for scoffers to scoff at. Questions of faith are raised. Do you believe blindly, “taking out your brain and replacing it with the Bible,” as one character says, or do you harbor a certain amount of skepticism? When one child lives and another dies, what is the reason? Of course, there aren’t any answers to these questions, but people continue to ask them. Colton’s mother says at one point, during all the attempts at analysis, “Why can’t it just be a mystery?”

Heaven is for Real is a portrait of a family and a community. Like The Son of God earlier this year, it’s the kind of mainstream movie you don’t usually see at the multiplex. With all the Spiderman, Captain America, and X-Men movies being fed to the public these days, it’s good to see a movie every now and then that examines questions of faith and other issues that actually affect people’s lives.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Transcendence ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Transcendence

Transcendence ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Transcendence has all the elements of a summer movie and it isn’t even summer yet: a one-word title, a big-name movie star (Johnny Depp) and a fast-paced techno plot with plenty of action. Johnny plays Dr. Will Caster (a part that almost any actor could have played). Dr. Caster works in the field of artificial intelligence. He and his team (including his wife, Evelyn, and his best friend, Max) are working on a computer system so advanced that it far surpasses human capabilities. The potential for helping mankind, curing illnesses, healing the planet, etc., are staggering. The one problem they can’t seem to figure out, though, is how to make the AI system “self-aware.”

A radical group wants to end the study of artificial intelligence, believing it has the potential to bring about the end of the human race, and murders some of the researchers. When Dr. Caster is shot, the gunshot doesn’t kill him, but it seems the bullet that entered his body was treated in some way to cause him radiation poisoning. He has only a short time to live. Before he dies, though, he will “upload” his consciousness into the computer system, providing the missing element of self-awareness that has hitherto been lacking. His fellow researchers, Evelyn and Max, are complicit in this plan. Evelyn sees it as a way for Dr. Caster to live on after his physical body has died. Max is more skeptical.

So, Dr. Caster is dead but his intellect and consciousness live on in the sophisticated, highly advanced artificial intelligence computer system. His wife is delighted at first that she can still talk to him and interact with him, but after a couple of years she sees where the whole thing is headed: he has a god complex. He believes he is so far superior to “simple organic” life (meaning humans) that he comes to see himself (the computer system) as the future and the human race as a thing that is completely unnecessary. He is sort of a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein in that he ventures into an unknown place where man is perhaps better off not to go.

Transcendence is engaging enough (more in the first half than in the second) for what it is, but there’s nothing unique about it. It’s in the cookie cutter mold of American movie making. There are other movies with the same look and feel. Now that summer is coming on, there will be lots of them because they make a ton of money and then are quickly forgotten until they turn up on TV.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Oculus

Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An antiques-loving yuppie couple purchase a quaint, old, full-length mirror that hangs on the wall. The couple don’t know it, of course, but the mirror has a history, going back four hundred years, of bringing about violent death to its owner. An evil spirit resides in the mirror and this spirit protects the mirror from destruction as if it (the spirit) and the mirror are the same.

The couple, the Russells, have two children (Kaylie, age 12 and Tim, age 10). The father of these two becomes withdrawn and secretive. He won’t let anybody go into one room in the house that he calls his office. (It’s the room where the mirror is kept.) Kaylie, when she and her brother are playing in the yard, sees a strange woman embracing her father through the window, when she knows there is nobody else in the house except her parents. The man’s wife, the mother of the two children, becomes suspicious of her husband’s activities and begins doing some investigating on her own. This, as one might expect, leads to tragedy. Kaylie and Tim make a vow to each other that, when they are grown, they will do whatever they can to find out exactly what happened and to clear their family of wrongdoing.

Eleven years later, Tim, age 21, is being released from a mental institution, where he has been since he was 10. Kaylie, his sister, is now 23. In the intervening years, she has discovered the history of the mirror and is determined, with the help of Tim, to make good on the vow they made to each other 11 years earlier.

Oculus is an acceptable horror movie with a cast of unknown (at least by me) actors. While it doesn’t have the chills of Insidious or Mama, it’s intelligent and well-made with a few tense moments. It isn’t junk or schlock. If you are a fan of good horror films, like me, you will like it. If you try to dissect it too much, though, you’ll expose the holes in the plot, so just enjoy it without getting too analytical.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Noah ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Noah

Noah ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The long-awaited Noah is finally in movie theatres. Russell Crowe plays the biblical patriarch for whom God has assigned a special task: build a gigantic wooden boat, an ark, and place on it (or, according to the movie, allow them to come voluntarily onto the boat) one pair, male and female, of every animal on earth (everything that crawls, flies, walks or slithers, including snakes because they serve a purpose). Noah has a wife, Naameh (played by Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth). God is disappointed in man and is sending a flood to wipe out every living thing on earth. Only Noah, his family (including his sons’ wives), and the animals on the boat will survive, the idea being that they will start afresh after the flood waters have receded. God has chosen Noah because he is a righteous man and hasn’t been “ruined by the world,” as, it seems, everyone else has.

Anyone expecting a faithful adaptation of the biblical story of Noah is going to be disappointed by this movie. While it is a slick and well-crafted piece of cinema, it’s a fictionalized account. Not enough is known about Noah to make a dramatic two-hour-and-fifteen-minute movie, so the filmmakers have had to improvise, creating events and people that never existed. For example, the wicked world is represented by the fictional character, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who wants to live so badly that he stows away on the ark and is aided and hidden by Noah’s son, Ham, who is taking revenge on his father for not saving a girl he liked from the trampling hordes who were storming the ark.

While Noah and his family are on the ark, waiting for the flood waters to recede so they can once again walk upon dry land, tensions arise over the question of whether man will continue after Noah and his family are all dead, or if the world will be another unspoiled Eden in which only animals will live without the wicked and evil man to spoil everything. Noah is all for letting man die out with them, while his wife wants their children to live on in their own descendants. When Shem’s young wife, Ila, who is supposed to be unable to bear children, discovers she is going to have a baby, Noah vows to kill the baby unless it’s a boy.

While Noah is worth seeing, it’s not worth taking seriously. It’s entertaining in its way but no more believable than movies about hobbits. When the “Watchers” (fallen angels, who, as punishment from God, have become huge beings made of rock and mud) first appear early in the movie, you know you are in the realm of fantasy and not in a world that anybody is supposed to believe exists or ever existed.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp 

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