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poster_hellcatsnavyDo you remember that president who started the era of trickle down economics and is the hero of the Republican party? Well, for you younger readers who may not know, this same U.S. President was once a Hollywood actor, and a democrat at that time. His wife, who later became the first lady during his terms in office, was also a Hollywood actor. However, the two only did one movie together, and since the theme for this month of Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner is the U.S. Presidency–and I needed a classic film to review for our month’s criteria of challenges–I decided to make 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy my classic of choice starring none other than Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

Hellcats of the Navy, named after the U.S. Naval submarine division specifically used to clear Japanese underwater minefields during WWII, is about sub captain Abbot, played by Reagan (former U.S. President 1981-1989), who finds himself under close scrutiny when his command decisions cost the life of a frogman whom he learned had an affair with his wife Helen, played by Nancy Reagan (former first lady–SAY NO TO DRUGS!). Abbot’s executive officer, played by Arthur Franz, is at the forefront of ensuring an investigation continues of Abbot’s actions, while the two officers and the seamen under their command attempt to carry out missions against impossible odds.

I always have to mention this when I’m writing a classic review. I have no choice but to hold these older pre-1970 films to the standard of filmmaking of which I was raised. Some may say, “You’re being unfair. This film was ahead of its time.” Well, how could I possibly know that if I was born in 1974? I judge films by my own personal criteria, from the era I was exposed to film.

That being said. There was nothing original about this film which would allow me to say it stands out, except that fact that it’s the only movie starring both of these two figures of modern American history. By this, I mean the writing. The script has pretty much every done-before storyline from a war standpoint and a romance standpoint. How many times, even in pre-1970 films have we seen two soliders in love with the same woman? Countless. How many times have we seen stories where two officers are at odds and their troubles cost lives of their men? Countless. This is the main problem I have with this film.

What’s more, not only has this lack of originality forced me to dislike this film, but it has brought down my level of enjoyment for other pictures I have enjoyed. Crimson Tide (1995) is all I could think of when I was watching this film, and how similar it was to the story of the war sequences from this classic. This feature actually made me realize how rehashed Crimson Tide was instead of how original I once thought of it. That’s pretty bad for one film to be so bad it brings down my opinion of more than one movie.

The acting, like most of the films in this era, was horrible. This community-theatre style of acting was so stiff and hard to believe, it’s hard to believe anything else from it, like military technicals and plot points.

The only thing I can say that’s good about the film was it’s special effects of the underwater scenes outside the submarine. They actually weren’t too bad. Of course, it’s 1957 and special effects were all models and slow motion photography, and it’s obviously that. However, I would have to say the effects are no better than what Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) had to offer during the mining cart chase sequence; almost thirty years later and the special effects hadn’t changed. So, based on that, I’d have to say this film impressed me.

Also, the action sequences were pretty well done. I mean, between this submarine setting and those of Crimson Tide and U-571 (2000), it’s evident there are only so many ways for a director to film action sequences in a submarine. Nathan Juran was at the helm of this production, the Academy Award winning Art Director of How Green Was My Valley (1941)–which totally sounds like a porn title. Juran, an Australian talent, was also a WWII veteran with the OSS which put his film production career on hold for those years. However, his most famous credit could arguably be 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Regardless of his resume and military background, I felt the submarine action sequences were exciting enough to be impressive where a handful of other war classics from the 50’s have not.

Overall, I didn’t care for this film at all. It wasn’t original. It wasn’t well acted. The production design pretty much looked like any other submarine movie, which I imagine makes it extremely hard for a film to stand out. This was the first time I watched an entire movie with Ronald Reagan in it, and for some reason, it didn’t give me that much of a thrill.

 

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poster_firstdaughterAs my review challenge this month, my movie writing cohort Brian G. Felts demanded I watch First Daughter, keeping with our theme of the U.S. Presidency. And that would have been appropriate had the movie used that vehicle to make itself unique, but of course, it did not and simply propelled itself into the outer sanctum of forgettable films.

First Daughter follows Samantha  Mackenzie, played by Katie Holmes (Batman Begins), having grown up in national politics and four years living in The White House, who is now headed to college in hopes of living a more independent life and feeling more like a normal teenage girl. Of course, with the Secret Service breathing down her neck at every corner, at the order of the President, played by Michael Keaton (Spotlight). She makes friends whom she eventually argues with, she falls for a guy at college who turns out to be an undercover Secret Service agent, but of course he falls for Samantha which is supposed to feel taboo but doesn’t because that’s how fruity this kind of movie is in the first place.

Oh man, it’s painful writing about this film already.

Here’s my biggest problem, one of many for this work but this is my biggest, is if you are going to set a film which uses the U.S. Presidency as an impending force on a character like the President’s daughter, there are a TON of issues the filmmakers could address and truly make the thing unique. None of those possibilities happened. Instead, the writers could have lifted the President as her father out of the story and replaced him with a famous rock star, or a famous author, or anyone famous for that matter. This story used its chosen vehicle in no unique or memorable way. Her struggles where not unique to that of someone in the shadow of the U.S. Presidency.

Another large issue I had with the movie was its total lack of empathy for the viewer. We had absolutely no way to empathize with Samantha or her situation. Unless one has BEEN the first daughter, I don’t think anyone could understand what it is like. What’s more, we hardly get to even know Samantha as her own person. If fact, thinking back, I don’t even think the movie told us what her major was, what she wanted to do with her life. What the fuck did she even want to do? Get liquored up and fuck a bunch of frat guys? Was that her dream? Go to college and get sick, wrong and sideways? Because that’s really all the screenplay inferred.

This lack of empathy set the entire film up for failure. We don’t care about Samantha wanting her “normal” life. We don’t care about the President pressured by an election year, and in fact, the only information the material gave us indicates President Mackenzie was doing a terrible job in his first term. Why do we even care about him and his inner motivations? We don’t. We don’t care about Samantha. We don’t care about the President. We don’t care about the terrible cookie cutter Secret Service love interest, played by Marc Blucas (We Were Soldiers). Why even keeping watching? Because Brian made me. Fucker.

My biggest disappointment behind the camera was in Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as this film’s director. I’m guessing the Academy Award winning actor’s name attached to this project was simply that, to gain the film notoriety rather than use his talents behind the camera. This was the last film he is credited as the director on his resume. Prior to that, he directed Hope Floats and Waiting to Exhale, both of which the strength of those films were in its cast, not directing. So as far as I’m concerned, Whitaker has yet to prove himself in this capacity.

Overall, the film is boring and thoroughly forgettable. There’s no one to care about and therefore I doubt anyone will care about the film itself. I only care about meeting my month’s challenges and thank gawd this one is done and over.

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poster_joyFinally, a movie directed by David O’Russell that doesn’t waste every other scene on senseless run time and hopeless attempts to engage. This one is finally legit.

Joy tells the story of Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), as she as always been a creative thinker. Divorced and supporting her divorced parents, Joy catches an idea for what later becomes the Miracle Mop and struggles with her investor, marketing and gaining sales, while others involved continuously attempt to screw her over and steal her idea. Eventually, Joy takes her success to the highest level with her own multi-million dollar venture capital company and a major role with the development of Home Shopping Network.

The story was inspiring for one. It encapsulates the American dream of having an idea with which a little luck, risk, proper motivation and extremely hard work can turn into ultimate success.

For the past few films directed by David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) from his own screenplay, the films have been extremely long and littered with useless scenes and dialogue. This one, albeit the timeline shifts started to annoy me, gave us something important in pretty much every scene. The characters were also a dynamic array of personalities, all of which crazy in their own respects, and the development of them particularly in Rudy, Joy’s father played by Robert De Niro (Dirty Grandpa), and her mother Terry, played by Virginia Madsen (Sideways) were a nice example of quality character writing.

De Niro and Madsen were nearly polar opposites and their performances really did support the production into demi-greatness. However, Lawrence being the center character was more than a solid casting choice. She has quickly become one of my new favorite actresses because of the chops she has shown and ability to show depth in her physical performance.

One of my favorite supporting performances was from Bradley Cooper (Aloha) as QVC producer Neil Walker who interested me from both a TV production stand point and a sales stand point. Cooper could have made this character way over the top, but instead he gave a high energy but believable character. I also appreciated how there was room to create a romantic storyline between Joy and Neil but the script didn’t take it that direction. They remains friends, close but friends. I respected their relationship and the movie for that. 

In just a handful of QVC scenes, I found it comical that Melissa Rivers played her mother Joan Rivers who had guest appearances regularly on the shopping network. 

The film left both my wife and I in a conversation about finding the next best thing for a niche market to find success for our family in our own entrepreneurship. Whether that happens or not we will see, BUT that’s just an example of how film and art can touch someone in a positive way and inspire. The movie left us hopeful and thinking creatively while past Russell films left us aggravated, talking about how we just wasted two hours or more of our time on Earth together watching a total pile of dogshit cinema.

Joy is exactly that. However, if I had one complaint it would be how half the time Joy, as a character, fell into this high stress victim mentality and push through it to overcome her next obstacle. She remained quietly getting kicked like a defenseless little bunny but would turn around and stand up for herself and her new business when she had to. The dynamic of her personality contradicted itself at times.

As for being inspired by actual events, Joy takes a small snippet of Joy Mangano’s story and fuses it with stories of other less notable women who struggled to realize a dream and make their invention translate to success. The character of Joy’s half sister Peggy, played by Elisabeth Rohm, was completely fictional but added a brilliant bit of inside adversity to the story. 

Overall, I’m happy with Joy and its director’s choices on this production. However, with so many bad movies to his credit, I’m walking not running into his next one. 

 

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poster_gamechangeI sure find this movie hard to believe, but as a work of fiction it was extremely well made and performed, including the best performance I’ve seen from Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights).

In a year when Arizona senator John McCain finally won the Republican party nomination for the U.S. Presidential election in 2008, and his campaign finding itself running against Barak Obama’s American Idol-like campaign efforts, McCain, played by Ed Harris (Apollo 13), and campaign manager Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games) decide to offer Alaska governor Sarah Palin (Moore) the post of his VP running mate. The point was to change the game of the campaigns, but instead, without doing their homework on Palin, the McCain camp soon finds itself in the middle of a nightmare between Palin’s ineptitude towards foreign policy and her inability to handle stress and criticism, the campaign must now shift its focus from the White House to ensuring Palin doesn’t cause the camp to completely self-destruct.

The biggest reason I enjoyed this film was hands down Moore’s career-topping performance. She WAS Sarah Palin, at least the Palin we’ve seen in the public eye. What she brought to the table to represent Palin as a character behind the campaign curtain was–I have to say–bone chilling. The prospect of Palin actually being mentally unstable made this movie so intense and engaging, it’s hard for me to forget it. The performance led her to win both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. 

That being said, it’s extremely difficult to swallow this material as inspired by actual events. Luckily, HBO Films never really labeled it as such. It simply marketed the film as Based on the Book by the same title. So if you are able to set aside the feeling that a couple of liberal Palin haters may have written a book based on conjecture which was turned into a movie, this movie and it’s material are solid entertainment. 

Jay Roach (All the Way) directed this work as part of his politically inspired resume of titles and teamed up once again with screenwriter Danny Strong (Recount), both of whom won Golden Globes for their contribution. Roach really has found himself a niche for this material and I am now a true fan of his. 

Strong’s dialogue is so comically subtle and clever it tickles me. “You know what Dick Cheney said when he found out we picked her?” Mark Salter, played by Jamey Sheridan (Spotlight), said. 

“What?” said Rick Davis, played by Peter McNichol (Ghostbusters II), asked. 

“You’ve made a reckless choice,” Salter said. “When you lose the moral high ground Dick Cheney, it’s time to rethink your entire life.”

I’m sorry, but that’s simply clever dialogue. 

Roach’s style is creative and clean, refusing to harrow down the material with confusing imagery and allowing the focus to be on what the talent needs to produce top performances.

This example provided Harris a Golden Globe win as McCain and a nomination for Harrelson as Schmidt for  a globe and Emmy. Sarah Paulson (Carol) also garnished a Golden Globe as Nicolle Wallace, campaign aide to Palin in the film, who also provided a heavy chop to her character which helped the viewer to truly feel the first hand of frustration with Palin as a character.

The production itself wasn’t without props overall. It took the Emmy for best motion picture in its category, giving Tom Hanks an Emmy as one of its producers. 

However, although the film is extremely well crafted, interesting and engaging to the point of developing a stomach ache of sympathy for Harrelson’s and Paulson’s characters, one’s ability to enjoy the movie I feel rides on a person’s ability to look past the indictments and assassination of Palin’s character. If you can really look at this film as a work of fiction, you will probably find it far more worthy of all its notoriety than if you not.

Now in all fairness, I will mention the real Steve Schmidt had come out after having seen the film and labeled the events depicted and Harrelson’s portrayal as accurate. Regardless of this, as psychotic as Palin is portrayed in the movie, it’s a hard pill to swallow. 

All in all, great film. 

 

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poster_storksThere’s a trend of animated movies for the whole family. The trend is a tendency to slip in laughs for the adults who have to endure all the calls from their children for potty breaks and popcorn refills.

However, with this instance for the latest from the studio which created The Lego Movie, now there is a new trend of producing animated movies for adults, to which they can also bring their children. I haven’t held back as far as which movies I show my kids. With Storks, given the amount of violence and basic meanness, I felt guilty for bringing my kids to it.

Ah well, it’s for the future and all their murder victims’ families to decide if I did the wrong thing now. As for the movie…

Storks is about a company of baby-delivering storks which underwent a retooling into a competitive package delivery service like UPS. However, with the ineptitude of Tulip, a teenager who was raised at the factory after her delivery stork went rogue, a new baby was accidentally created and it is up to Tulip and Junior, voiced by Adam Samberg (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), who has been selected to take over as the managing director to deliver the new baby before any of the higher ups find out.

For the most part, this movie was pretty damn funny. My favorite aspect of the film was the adversity provided by the wolf pack which falls in love with the “little thing” Tulip and Junior were attempting to deliver. When the wolves constantly joined forces to create a new mode of transportation, “In the form of, a submarine,” I couldn’t stop cracking up.

The level of mean from the stork characters towards Tulip, the stork boss Hunter towards the little angry bird looking birds, etc. it all left me embarrassed watching it with my three kids under 6 years old. I certainly didn’t want them picking up any lines of dialogue from those moments and using them with each other. However, if my kids were not with me, I would have laughed my ass off. It’s basically what you would expect from the dialogue out of a Adam Sandler produced Grown Ups movie.

For the array of vocal performances, my favorite came from Stephen Kramer Glickman as the Pigeon Toady, that person we have all either worked with or have been friends with out of pity. Jennifer Aniston (TV’s Friends) shows up as well, which was a nice surprise but she hardly makes the movie worth it just by her vocal presence.

What does make the movie worth seeing, outside its adulterated humor, is the messages it attempts to convey, particularly when it comes to the storyline of the young boy Nate enlisting the help of his workaholic parents to set up a catch-all for his impending baby brother delivery from the storks. This movie wasn’t enough to choke me up or anything, but at least from the screenwriting standpoint, it tried.

If the movie had a fault, it simply didn’t deliver a cohesive production. Inner motivations from characters were muttled at times. It was difficult to swallow Tulip’s backstory. Outer motivations were clear, but the supporting cast of characters weren’t nearly as developed and strong as the principals, Tulip’s backstory aside. It’s also difficult to understand a fictional world where Tulip can arrive on the doorstep of the family to which she was supposed to be delivered 18 years prior and for them to know exactly who she was when they answer the door.

The story simply had too many weak plot points and development to say it was great. It’s a Redbox rental for a decent laugh, but it’s going to be forgotten fast enough.

 

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poster_recountAfter election night of the 2000 election for the U.S. Presidency, if some of you were too young to remember, the country was in unrest and confusion as to who the actual president elect was to succeed President Bill Clinton, who had left the oval office with happy juice stains in the carpet. The confusion came when the electoral votes for the state of Florida was prematurely given to George W. Bush, who eventually was confirmed the winner of the state in the electoral college.

You see, the margin of difference between the two candidates was so thin, it called for an automatic machine recount, and from there a whole mess of crap started with both right and left wing sides bending the law to meet what they were hoping for. The left? More votes for Al Gore, Vice President under Clinton. The right? Shutting down the recount and moving on.

Those ridiculous six weeks which followed the November election is the basis for HBO Films’ 2008 release Recount. Now if most of this above description doesn’t make sense to you. Don’t feel bad. That’s exactly why this movie is important and well done, to help those who either didn’t understand exactly what happened or were too young to understand.

For me, I was too self involved at the time. My life was undergoing a major change that year, and I was all about myself. In fact, I believe that was the only vote for the U.S. Presidency I did not participate in since I’ve been old enough to vote. I knew there was a problem deciding who won and it had something to do with Florida. That was about it.

However, this extremely well crafted production with an all-star cast sure helped me understand that dark month and a half of U.S. presidential election history. Let’s start with its director.

Jay Roach. I am officially a fan. He has put his touch on so many political and important stories to U.S. history, at least for me, I feel like I understand so much more about presidential elections and the entire process because of them. Maybe part of it is, I had to learn election regulations and law in my own state, volunteering to help a third-party candidate get on the ballot here for president…which I did. And from that, my synchronicity on the subject is more enriched, so these movies make more sense to me now. But nonetheless, you can have movies which tackle these events which are simply dry and not entertaining. That’s just not what Jay Roach does. I don’t think Roach has a single dry bone in his director’s body.

Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) played Ron Klaine, Al Gore’s former Chief of Staff, who was one of the leaders of the recount efforts from a legal standpoint. His contribution to the movie helped it feel legitimate. I loved his inner motivation, which was revealed to a colleague, that he didn’t even like Gore but rather he had a passion for ensuring all votes were counted and mattered. “I just want to know who won the damn thing!” he grimaced at one point. He was a good balanced character for the most part.

I also enjoyed the little nuances from the side of the goals for the Republican side of things. They felt real. They felt what they were doing was the right thing. They felt the recount was hurting a country’s people who just wanted and needed its change of leadership to commence, instead of things getting dredged through the mud.

Spacey was surrounded by a great supporting cast including Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Wilkinson, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Denis Leary, John Hurt among many others. My favorite performance of the supporting roles was Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), however, as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, of whom the film basically left the entire mess at her feet. She had so many moments that were almost surreal and very difficult to see the actress in the character.

For the most part, the film was quite balanced with slight favoritism to the left. I can only imagine Roach and the pre-production team wants to do the story justice, but at the same time, they have Hollywood friends who want everything left sided. As for this movie, its pretty middle aisle, slightly left, and definitely not to an annoyance point.

With this, I also liked how the film did not concur either of the candidate’s camps were attempting to “steal” the election. Both sides’ characters insinuated it at times, but nothing was drawn to a conclusion. All the film stuck to was, not all qualified and registered voters were given the chance to vote, regardless of the “hanging or dimpled chad” argument, and that alone wasn’t right. With 20,000 voters being turned away because their names were similar to that of convicted felons’, and with the count being so close, we don’t know exactly know who won that election. However, the law prevailed and announced Bush the winner. And there is comfort in that as well. Like I said, no real politically motivated conclusions, just trying to point out how a group of passionate people were attempting to achieve what they felt was the right thing to do for a nation in need.

The best thing about the movie was its beats. Writer Danny Strong found the perfect timing for introducing new pieces of law or case law or any kind of political “talking point” to the story without overwhelming those of us who don’t necessarily think politically. Strong is a bit actor who’s first screenwriting credit was Recount. Years later, he and Roach turned in Game Change in 2012, another politically charged production, and Strong went on to pen the final two installments of the Hunger Games saga.

Overall, the film was extremely well written, acted, crafted and politically balanced. It’s informative and the subject matter is important to know as an American voter. Above all, it’s really entertaining which is all we can ask for from a movie in the first place.

 

 

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poster_sufferagetteI can understand why this movie never went into mass nationwide release. With a populous which would back Donald Trump and his large penis for president, why would the same populous want to see a flick about the early days of the feminist movement.

I don’t have a lot to say about this movie since it was boring and I fell asleep for the last 30 minutes I think, but here goes.

Suffragette is about Maud, played by Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), who becomes a foot soldier for the early days of the feminist movement in Great Britain. What was once peaceful protesting becomes a subversive army of working women who fight for equality among the educated class of England’s finest.

The best thing about this movie was the production design. The locations, sets and costumes made the movie more believeable than its low budget technology shooting it. That’s about it.

I didn’t really care for the characters. Even when Maud’s son was taken away from her because of her associations as a domestic terrorist, I didn’t care.

It felt like is work was more a historical film rather than set out to tell a compelling story. In typing that sentence my autocorrect wanted me to use the word Sorry. And yes, maybe this film was a compelling sorry as well.

In the end, Maud never gets her kid back and the film doesn’t even show how the suffregette movement of that time eventually won the right to vote in the country’s democratic process.

The film showed nothing except a handful of oppressed women firebombing some mail boxes. They achieved nothing according to the film. No goals were reached. No clear message was shared. No point was made. It sucked and is a waste of time showing a pivotal movement in world history.

Suffregette is about as poingent as a movie about the POW/MIA movement starring Pauly Shore.

If you see this film at a RedBox or on Netflix, give it a pass. This is proof that not everything Meryl Streep agrees to do doesn’t automatically make the movie credible or even decent.

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